In this harrowing history of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Paul Ham argues against the use of nuclear weapons, drawing on extensive research and hundreds of interviews to prove that the bombings had little impact on the eventual outcome of the Pacific War. In this gripping narrative, Ham demonstrates convincingly that misunderstandings and nationalist fury on both sides led to the use of the bombs. Ham also gives powerful witness to its destruction through the eyes of eighty survivors, from twelve-year-olds forced to work in war factories to wives and children who faced the holocaust alone. Hiroshima Nagasaki presents the grisly unadorned truth about the bombings, blurred for so long by postwar propaganda, and transforms our understanding of one of the defining events of the twentieth century.
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About the Author
PAUL HAM is a historian, specializing in twentieth-century conflict. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Kokoda. A former journalist, he has worked for the Financial Times Group and was the Australia correspondent for The Sunday Times of London for fifteen years. Paul was born in Australia and educated in Sydney and London. He now lives in Paris with his family.
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The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and their Aftermath
By Paul Ham
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Paul Ham
All rights reserved.
In Japan there is a philosophy of death and no philosophy of life.
Kiyoshi Kiyosawa, Japanese historian, January 1945
... there is a point beyond which we will not tolerate insult. If [the Russians] are convinced that we are afraid of them and can be bullied into submission, then indeed I should despair of the future relations with them and much else ...
Prime Minister Winston Churchill to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 1945
THE BIG THREE SMILED AT the world from the grounds of the Livadia Palace in the Crimean resort town of Yalta. It was February 1945. The chill blowing off the Black Sea pressed the leaders into greatcoats and fur hats: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Marshal Josef Stalin were meeting here to carve up the old Continent devastated by war and decide the outline of the postwar world.
Peace in Europe was at hand. The destruction and unconditional surrender of Germany were imminent; Japan's defeat would assuredly follow. Roosevelt had honoured his agreement with Churchill to defeat 'Germany First', and the bulk of Allied troops were then in Europe. From the west, over the previous six months, General Eisenhower's armies had swept across northern France, freed Paris, defeated Germany's last stand at the Battle of the Bulge and reached the shores of the Rhine. From the east Soviet tanks, troops and artillery had rolled across the Baltic, smashed the Nazi grip on Poland and stood on the threshold of the Fatherland, 65 kilometres from Berlin. No conflict had matched in scale and fury the battle on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army and the Wehrmacht were locked in the vestigial shambles of total war; millions of troops had been killed or wounded and countless civilians slaughtered, raped or left homeless. From his Berlin bunker, the Führer continued hysterically to issue orders that imagined pristine armies on the march where there were only ragged columns of bleeding, hungry, broken men.
Winter kept them warm: the Big Three made a great show of friendship at Yalta, hosting banquets, raising toasts, joking. Photographs present Roosevelt, perhaps the greatest Democrat, now very sick, sitting up in his wheelchair wrapped in a black cape, evoking the patrician hauteur of a Roman tribune; Churchill, lounging about in his greatcoat like a breathless bulldog, radiating delight at the top table, cigar smoke trailing in the direction of his loquacious argument; and Stalin, small and sharp amid the gathering darkness, in his flashing eyes and faithless smile a fixity of purpose that seemed to concentrate the air of menace that preceded him like a personal storm.
In the closing stages of the conference Stalin offered an eloquent expression of goodwill tinged with a warning: 'It is not difficult to keep unity in time of war,' he toasted his comrades-in-arms, 'since there is a joint aim to defeat the common enemy ... The difficult talk will come after the war when diverse interests tend to divide the Allies. It is our duty to see that our relations in peacetime are as strong as they have been in war.'
Mutual distrust between Anglo-America and the Soviet Union simmered at Yalta. The Big Three brought deep suspicion and clandestine intent to the table. Several great issues threatened to destabilise, or possibly break, the West's alliance with Moscow: the question of German and Polish borders; the political status of Eastern Europe; and the terms of Russia's involvement in the Pacific War. Long before Yalta the 'danger' of the Soviet Union had occupied anxious discussions in the State Department. For its part, Moscow was determined to reject any Anglo-American attempt to limit its hegemony over Eastern Europe. On both sides, anxious suspicions were about to flare into fierce disagreement.
* * *
A secret that would astonish the earth – had its contents been revealed – lingered over the Yalta talks: Roosevelt and Churchill arrived bound by a private agreement, signed on 19 September 1944 at the President's Hyde Park Estate in Washington, not to share with the Soviet Union or the world the development of an extraordinary new weapon that, in theory at least – it had not been tested – drew its power from an atomic chain reaction. The British codenamed the weapon project 'Tube Alloys'; the American government dubbed it 'S-1'. The Hyde Park Agreement conceived of an Anglo-American duopoly over the development of an atomic bomb, ruled out any international controls over the new weapon and named, for the first time, its future target:
'The suggestion,' Churchill's one-page agreement with Roosevelt stated, 'that the world should be informed regarding tube alloys with a view to an international agreement regarding its use and control is not accepted. [The weapon] should continue to be regarded as of the utmost secrecy ... but when a "bomb" is finally available, it should be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender.'
A handful of British and American officials were aware of Tube Alloys (or S-1): Churchill's and Roosevelt's closest cabinet colleagues and those entrusted with leading its construction. The then vice-president Harry Truman, most American and British politicians, and just about everyone else were ignorant of the project. Stalin and his top officials, via their spies (chief of whom was Klaus Fuchs, an exiled German physicist working in the US), were, however, already well informed. Indeed, at this time, Stalin knew more about work on the atomic bomb than virtually every US congressman.
One Washington insider was Henry Stimson, a conscientiously Christian, Ivy League alumnus who served as Roosevelt's Secretary of War. At 77 Stimson's long life bracketed the sabre and rifled musketry of the late 19th century, the machine guns of the Western Front and the recent firebombing of German cities. He now contended with the prospect of nuclear war. His outlook was Victorian; his morals, patrician. An 'unabashed elitist', Stimson believed 'richer and more intelligent citizens' should guide public policy, and that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the 'lesser breeds', as he was apt to say. He also dedicated his term as War Secretary to eradicating the nastier aspects of war: he detested the submarine; embraced the 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact that called for the renunciation of war; and campaigned tirelessly for arms control, international co-operation and mutual trust. Indiscriminate slaughter vexed the conscience of this fastidious gentleman.
Stimson had no illusions that S-1 could be kept secret, and yet he believed sharing the secret of the new weapon with Russia should deliver something in return to America. Stimson knew the Russians 'were spying on [S-1]', as he recorded in his diary on 31 December 1944, and told the President so, 'but ... they had not yet got any real knowledge of it and that, while I was troubled about the possible effect of keeping from them [the work on the atomic bomb], I believed that it was essential not to take them into our confidence until we were sure to get a real quid pro quo from our frankness'. Roosevelt had said he agreed.
At Yalta, however, Roosevelt's mood changed. Notwithstanding Stimson's advice and the Hyde Park pact, the President felt tempted to divulge the atomic secret to the Russians. Circumstances had shifted: several French and Danish physicists knew of the bomb; and FDR pondered whether candour might remove the risk, and diplomatic uproar, of the French revealing it to Stalin first. Churchill was aghast: 'I was shocked,' he told Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, before Yalta, 'when the President ... spoke of revealing the secret to Stalin on the grounds that de Gaulle, if he heard of it, would certainly double cross us with Russia.' Paramount in Churchill's mind was the preservation of Anglo-American control of atomic technology; only the British and Americans, Churchill believed, could be entrusted with it: 'You may be quite sure,' he told Eden, 'that any power that gets hold of the secret will try to make [the bomb] and that this touches the existence of human society.'
* * *
In the event, FDR kept the secret. Nobody spoke openly of the bomb at Yalta; the early atomic manoeuvring played out in private salons and the minds of men. The delegates' top priority was the division of Germany, whose defeat loomed as inevitable. The Big Three formulated an ultimatum to Berlin, which they announced on 11 February 1945: 'Nazi Germany is doomed,' it warned:
It is our inflexible purpose to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world. We are determined to ... wipe out the Nazi Party, Nazi laws, organizations and institutions, remove all Nazi and militarist influences from public office ... It is not our purpose to destroy the people of Germany but only when Nazism and militarism have been extirpated will there be hope for a decent life for Germans ...
The words may have been written for Tokyo: by extension, Roosevelt would accept nothing less than the 'unconditional surrender' of Japan. The popular phrase would prove a dangerous hostage to fortune. FDR first used it at Casablanca in January 1943, as an unintended ad lib at a press conference. A prior disagreement between two French generals reminded him of commanders Lee and Grant: 'We had a general called U.S. Grant,' he told reporters, 'he was called Unconditional Surrender Grant. The elimination of German, Japanese and Italian war power means [their] unconditional surrender.' The President's words surprised his listeners, appalled the State Department – which had not been informed and feared it would prolong the war and, initially at least, delighted Churchill: 'Perfect!' the British Prime Minister exclaimed. 'And I can just see how Goebbels and the rest of 'em'll squeal!' Under the terms of unconditional surrender, the Germans and Japanese would have to lay down their weapons, yield all territory won by conquest, and abandon the whole infrastructure and philosophy of militarism – or face annihilation. There would be no negotiation.
Churchill had gnawing doubts about the wisdom of the policy's extension to Japan; he well understood the Japanese people's fanatical devotion to their Emperor, and wondered whether the wording might be softened to encourage Tokyo to disarm. No doubt he continued to believe, as he told US Congress in May 1943, 'in the process, so necessary and desirable, of laying the cities ... of Japan in ashes, for in ashes they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world'. Yet might not a subtle relaxation of the surrender terms avoid further Allied losses, he wondered. And so at Yalta, alone among his American and Soviet colleagues, Churchill suggested that 'some mitigation [of the terms of surrender] would be worthwhile if it led to the saving of a year or a year and a half of war in which so much blood and treasure would be poured out'. The President dismissed Churchill's proposal. The Japanese would interpret leniency as weakness, Roosevelt argued. The American people would not tolerate peace negotiations with an enemy who had killed or maimed tens of thousands of American soldiers.
* * *
Japan had to be defeated before she would surrender. To this end, Churchill and Roosevelt openly sought Russian entry in the Pacific War. Whatever their personal view of the Soviet dictator – and Churchill loathed the tyrant George Orwell had recently described as a 'disgusting murderer temporarily on our side' who had packed off millions to the Siberian Gulag – the Americans and British needed Soviet help, not least because the Chinese, a spent force, had failed to defeat the Japanese occupying forces, who showed every sign of fighting to the last man. Hence London and Washington desired Russian entry 'at the earliest possible date', stated the US Joint Chiefs of Staff in November 1944. Russian military aid would, however, come at a cost, cautioned Roosevelt's right-hand man, the wily James Byrnes, on several occasions: the more America appealed for Soviet military assistance, the more Stalin would demand in return.
However, the Soviet position in the Pacific was complicated. Until Yalta, Stalin had trod a careful line between threatening and appeasing the Japanese. He initially praised the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact, which had been ratified on 25 April 1941 at a lavish party in Moscow where Stalin had 'danced around like a performing bear', embraced and kissed the Japanese delegation and even toasted a 'Banzai!' to the Emperor, according to witnesses. The pact stipulated 'peaceful and friendly' relations between the two countries until it expired in April 1946. Moscow, however, had had no intention of honouring the spirit of the agreement: in 1941 it bought time for Stalin to re-arm and confront the German threat, safe in the knowledge of a neutral Tokyo in his rear – hence the Generalissimo's performing bear act. In time, however, he resolved to turn his great armies east and avenge Russia's loss to Japan in the war of 1904–05. Indeed, Moscow's successive breaches of the spirit of the pact were drumbeats to the invasion of Japan. In late 1944, Stalin ratcheted up the stakes in anticipation of striking a better deal at the peace. He fixed his hungry eye on the spoils of Japanese conquest. He wanted to be 'in at the kill', as he said, to recoup his down payment of men and materiel likely to be lost in the Pacific. His price included territory Japan had seized from Russia in 1905. In November 1944, Stalin reasserted his price for Pacific entry to Averell Harriman, the US ambassador in Moscow: the Kurils and South Sakhalin should be returned to Russia, along with leases on Port Arthur, Dairen and several railway lines; Outer Mongolia, which had in fact been under Soviet control since 1921, should remain 'independent'. Harriman saw no serious objection and Stalin's timely denunciation of Japan as 'an aggressor on a plane with Germany' cheered their relationship along.
Stalin further pressed these demands on the table at Yalta. He aimed to cement the Soviet Union's strategic claim on Asia. Britain and America acquiesced. On 11 February 1945, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed a Top Secret 'protocol': 'The former rights of Russia,' it stated, 'violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904' would be restored, and the islands and leases 'handed over' to the Soviet Union after the surrender of Japan.
Roosevelt said nothing of this deal, struck the day after he was officially supposed to leave the Crimea (Stalin had personally asked the President to stay another day). The strictest secrecy prevailed; Byrnes, hitherto one of the President's most trusted advisers, later claimed he was unaware of the deal; Congress was not informed. The President believed the agreement fair: '[The Russians],' he said later, 'only want to get back that which has been taken from them.'
* * *
The 'Russian Protocol' was a rare moment of unity at Yalta. In fact deep divisions flared over the break-up of Germany and pushed American and British relations with the Soviet Union to the point of collapse. The argument was technically over the nature of the political system in the recently liberated countries of Eastern Europe. The dispute, however, went to the heart of the question of whether liberal democracy or Soviet communism would prevail in the post-war world.
Stalin's brutal pragmatism outmatched Churchill's florid eloquence on the future of Poland. Replying to the British leader's rosy defence of Polish freedom, Stalin barked that 'twice in the last 25 years the "Polish door" had opened and let hordes of Germans overrun Russia ... Russia was determined this time that it would not happen again'. Stalin proved the 'real boss' of proceedings at Yalta and a formidable adversary; his generals jumped to his elbow at the slightest nod.
Excerpted from Hiroshima Nagasaki by Paul Ham. Copyright © 2011 Paul Ham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Winter 1945
Chapter 2: Two Cities
Chapter 3: Feuersturm
Chapter 4: President
Chapter 5: Atom
Chapter 6: The Manhattan Project
Chapter 7: Spring 1945
Chapter 8: The Target Committee
Chapter 9: Japan Undefeated
Chapter 10: Unconditional Surrender
Chapter 11: Trinity
Chapter 12: Potsdam
Chapter 13: Mokusatsu
Chapter 14: Summer 1945
Chapter 15: Tinian Island
Chapter 16: Augusta
Chapter 17: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945
Chapter 18: Invasion
Chapter 19: Nagasaki, 9 August 1945
Chapter 20: Surrender
Chapter 21: Reckoning
Chapter 22: Hibakusha
Chapter 23: Why
Epilogue: Dead Heat