David Swanson History

Hiroshima Is A Lie

Why do U.S. history teachers in U.S. elementary schools today — in 2021! — tell children that nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan to save lives — or rather “the bomb” (singular) to avoid mentioning Nagasaki?
Mushroom cloud of unspeakable destruction rises over Hiroshima following the first wartime dropping of an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 (US government photo)

By David Swanson / World BEYOND War

In 2015, Alice Sabatini was an 18-year-old contestant in the Miss Italia contest in Italy. She was asked what epoch of the past she would have liked to live in. She replied: WWII. Her explanation was that her text books go on and on about it, so she’d like to actually see it, and she wouldn’t have to fight in it, because only men did that. This led to a great deal of mockery. Did she want to be bombed or starved or sent to a concentration camp? What was she, stupid? Somebody photoshopped her into a picture with Mussolini and Hitler. Somebody made an image of a sunbather viewing troops rushing onto a beach.[i]

But could an 18-year-old in 2015 be expected to know that most of the victims of WWII were civilians — men and women and children alike? Who would have told her that? Certainly not her text books. Most definitely not the endless saturation of her culture with WWII-themed entertainment. What answer did anyone think such a contestant would be more likely to give to the question she’d been asked, than WWII? In U.S. culture as well, which heavily influences Italian, a top focus for drama and tragedy and comedy and heroism and historical fiction is WWII. Pick 100 average viewers of Netflix or Amazon and I’m convinced a large percentage of them would give the same answer as Alice Sabatini, who, by the way, was declared the winner of the competition, fit to represent all of Italy or whatever it is Miss Italia does.

WWII is often called “the good war,” and sometimes this is thought of as principally or originally a contrast between WWII, the good war, and WWI, the bad war. However, it was not popular to call WWII “the good war” during or immediately after it happened, when the comparison with WWI would have been easiest. Various factors may have contributed to the growth in popularity of that phrase over the decades, including increased understanding of the Holocaust (and misunderstanding of the war’s relationship to it),[ii] plus, of course, the fact that the United States, unlike all the other major participants, wasn’t itself bombed or invaded (but that’s also true for dozens of other U.S. wars). I think a major factor was actually the War on Vietnam. As that war became less and less popular, and as opinions were deeply divided by a generation gap, by a division between those who had lived through WWII and those who had not, many sought to distinguish WWII from the war on Vietnam. Using the word “good,” rather than “justified,” or “necessary,” was probably made easier by distance in time from WWII, and by WWII propaganda, most of which had been created (and is still being created) after the conclusion of WWII. Because opposing all wars is considered radical and vaguely treasonous, critics of the war on Vietnam could refer to WWII as “the good war” and establish their balanced seriousness and objectivity. It was in 1970 that just war theorist Michael Walzer wrote his paper, “World War II: Why Was This War Different?” seeking to defend the idea of a just war against the unpopularity of the war on Vietnam. I offer a rebuttal to that paper in Chapter 17 of Leaving World War II Behind. We saw a similar phenomenon in the years 2002 to 2010 or so, with countless critics of the war on Iraq emphasizing their support for the war on Afghanistan and distorting the facts to improve the image of that newer “good war.” I’m not sure many, if anyone, would have called Afghanistan a good war without the war on Iraq or called WWII a good war without the war on Vietnam.

In July 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump — in arguing that U.S. military bases named for Confederates should not have their names changed — proclaimed that these bases had been part of “beautiful world wars.” “We won two world wars,” he said, “two world wars, beautiful world wars that were vicious and horrible.”[iii] Where did Trump get the idea that the world wars were beautiful, and that their beauty consisted of viciousness and horribleness? Probably the same place Alice Sabatini did: Hollywood. It was the film Saving Private Ryan that led Mickey Z in 1999 to write his book, There Is No Good War: The Myths of World War II, originally with the title Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of the “Good War.”

Before rushing back in a time machine to experience the glory of WWII, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Studs Terkel’s 1984 book, The Good War: An Oral History of World War II.[iv] This is first-person accounts from veterans of WWII telling their memories 40 years later. They were young. They were put into a non-competitive brotherhood and asked to do great things and see great places. It was tremendous. There was smoking, and swearing, and alcohol so you could bring yourself to shoot at people, and vicious violence with the simple goal of survival, and stacks of dead bodies in trenches, and ever-watchful vigilance, and deep wrenching moral guilt, and fear, and trauma, and virtually no sense of having made a moral calculation that participation was justified — just pure dumb obedience to be questioned and regretted later. And there was the stupid patriotism of the people who didn’t see the real war. And there were all the people who didn’t want to see the horrifically disfigured survivors. “What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought anyway?” asked one veteran.

The myths that make up most of what most people think they know about WWII don’t resemble the reality, but do endanger our real world. I examine those myths in Leaving World War II Behind, which exposes the fact that the United States and other world governments refused to save those threatened with genocide by the Nazis, that activists struggled in vain to get the U.S. and UK and other governments to take any interest in saving millions of quite savable lives; the fact that the United States engaged in an arms race and provocations with Japan for years and sought to generate a war and was not surprised by it; that the Nordic Race and other eugenics theories used by the Nazis were concocted principally in California; that the Nazis studied segregation laws in the United States and used them as models; that U.S. corporate funding and supplies were absolutely necessary to the Nazi war effort; that genocide was a Western practice in no way new; that the war never needed to happen; that the U.S. government viewed the Soviet Union as the primary enemy even when allied with it; that the Soviet Union did the vast bulk of defeating Germany; that nonviolence was highly effective against Nazis; that there was significant resistance to the war in the United States; that war spending is not the best way to boost an economy; etc.; etc.; and of course that nothing we’re told about Hiroshima is true.

There is a myth that by participating in WWII, the United States did the world such a favor that the United States now owns the world. In 2013, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to bankers at Goldman Sachs in which she claimed that she had told China that it had no right to call the South China Sea the South China Sea, that the United States could in fact claim to own the entire Pacific by virtue of having “liberated” it in WWII, and having “discovered” Japan, and having “bought” Hawaii.[v] I’m not sure how best to debunk that. Perhaps I can advise asking some people in Japan or Hawaii what they think. But it’s worth noting that there was no flood of mockery for Hillary Clinton of the sort experienced by Alice Sabatini. There was no noticeable public outrage over this reference to WWII when it became public in 2016.

Perhaps the strangest myths, though, are those about nuclear weapons, especially the idea that by murdering huge numbers of people with them a far greater number of lives, or at least the right kind of lives, were spared. The nukes did not save lives. They took lives, possibly 200,000 of them. They were not intended to save lives or to end the war. And they didn’t end the war. The Russian invasion did that. But the war was going to end anyway, without either of those things. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, “… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”[vi]

One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War and, by his own account, to President Truman, prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower.[vii] Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bard, prior to the bombings, urged that Japan be given a warning.[viii] Lewis Strauss, Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy, also prior to the bombings, recommended blowing up a forest rather than a city.[ix] General George Marshall apparently agreed with that idea.[x] Atomic scientist Leo Szilard organized scientists to petition the president against using the bomb.[xi] Atomic scientist James Franck organized scientists who advocated treating atomic weapons as a civilian policy issue, not just a military decision.[xii] Another scientist, Joseph Rotblat, demanded an end to the Manhattan Project, and resigned when it was not ended.[xiii] A poll of the U.S. scientists who had developed the bombs, taken prior to their use, found that 83% wanted a nuclear bomb publicly demonstrated prior to dropping one on Japan. The U.S. military kept that poll secret.[xiv] General Douglas MacArthur held a press conference on August 6, 1945, prior to the bombing of Hiroshima, to announce that Japan was already beaten.[xv]

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy said angrily in 1949 that Truman had assured him only military targets would be nuked, not civilians. “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,” Leahy said.[xvi] Top military officials who said just after the war that the Japanese would have quickly surrendered without the nuclear bombings included General Douglas MacArthur, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, General Curtis LeMay, General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, Admiral Ernest King, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, and Brigadier General Carter Clarke. As Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick summarize, seven of the United States’ eight five-star officers who received their final star in World War II or just after — Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower, and Arnold, and Admirals Leahy, King, Nimitz, and Halsey — in 1945 rejected the idea that the atomic bombs were needed to end the war. “Sadly, though, there is little evidence that they pressed their case with Truman before the fact.”[xvii]

On August 6, 1945, President Truman lied on the radio that a nuclear bomb had been dropped on an army base, rather than on a city. And he justified it, not as speeding the end of the war, but as revenge against Japanese offenses. “Mr. Truman was jubilant,” wrote Dorothy Day. Weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan had sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” President Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor. So, the desire to drop the bombs may have lengthened the war. The bombs did not shorten the war.[xviii]

Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to “dictate the terms of ending the war.” Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.” Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and “Fini Japs when that comes about.” The Soviet invasion was planned prior to the bombs, not decided by them. The United States had no plans to invade for months, and no plans on the scale to risk the numbers of lives that U.S. school teachers will tell you were saved.[xix] The idea that a massive U.S. invasion was imminent and the only alternative to nuking cities, so that nuking cities saved huge numbers of U.S. lives, is a myth. Historians know this, just as they know that George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth or always tell the truth, and Paul Revere didn’t ride alone, and slave-owning Patrick Henry’s speech about liberty was written decades after he died, and Molly Pitcher didn’t exist.[xx] But the myths have their own power. Lives, by the way, are not the unique property of U.S. soldiers. Japanese people also had lives.

Truman ordered the bombs dropped, one on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. The Nagasaki bombing was moved up from the 11th to the 9th to decrease the likelihood of Japan surrendering first.[xxi] Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons — burning Japanese cities, as it had done to so much of Japan prior to August 6th that, when it came time to pick two cities to nuke, there hadn’t been many left to choose from. Then the Japanese surrendered.

That there was cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That there could again be cause to use nuclear weapons is a myth. That we can survive significant further use of nuclear weapons is a myth. That there is cause to produce nuclear weapons even though you’ll never use them is too stupid even to be a myth. And that we can forever survive possessing and proliferating nuclear weapons without someone intentionally or accidentally using them is pure insanity.[xxii]

Why do U.S. history teachers in U.S. elementary schools today — in 2021! — tell children that nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan to save lives — or rather “the bomb” (singular) to avoid mentioning Nagasaki? Researchers and professors have poured over the evidence for 75 years. They know that Truman knew that the war was over, that Japan wanted to surrender, that the Soviet Union was about to invade. They’ve documented all the resistance to the bombing within the U.S. military and government and scientific community, as well as the motivation to test bombs that so much work and expense had gone into, as well as the motivation to intimidate the world and in particular the Soviets, as well as the open and shameless placing of zero value on Japanese lives. How were such powerful myths generated that the facts are treated like skunks at a picnic?

In Greg Mitchell’s 2020 book, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, we have an account of the making of the 1947 MGM film, The Beginning or the End, which was carefully shaped by the U.S. government to promote falsehoods.[xxiii] The film bombed. It lost money. The ideal for a member of the U.S. public was clearly not to watch a really bad and boring pseudo-documentary with actors playing the scientists and warmongers who had produced a new form of mass-murder. The ideal action was to avoid any thought of the matter. But those who couldn’t avoid it were handed a glossy big-screen myth. You can watch it online for free, and as Mark Twain would have said, it’s worth every penny.[xxiv]

The film opens with what Mitchell describes as giving credit to the UK and Canada for their roles in producing the death machine — supposedly a cynical if falsified means of appealing to a larger market for the movie. But it really appears to be more blaming than crediting. This is an effort to spread the guilt. The film jumps quickly to blaming Germany for an imminent threat of nuking the world if the United States didn’t nuke it first. (You can actually have difficulty today getting young people to believe that Germany had surrendered prior to Hiroshima, or that the U.S. government knew in 1944 that Germany had abandoned atomic bomb research in 1942.[xxv]) Then an actor doing a bad Einstein impression blames a long list of scientists from all over the world. Then some other personage suggests that the good guys are losing the war and had better hurry up and invent new bombs if they want to win it.

Over and over we’re told that bigger bombs will bring peace and end war. A Franklin Roosevelt impersonator even puts on a Woodrow Wilson act, claiming the atom bomb might end all war (something a surprising number of people actually believe it did, even in the face of the past 75 years of wars, which some U.S. professors describe as the Great Peace). We’re told and shown completely fabricated nonsense, such as that the U.S. dropped leaflets on Hiroshima to warn people (and for 10 days — “That’s 10 days more warning than they gave us at Pearl Harbor,” a character pronounces) and that the Japanese fired at the plane as it approached its target. In reality, the U.S. never dropped a single leaflet on Hiroshima but did — in good SNAFU fashion — drop tons of leaflets on Nagasaki the day after Nagasaki was bombed. Also, the hero of the movie dies from an accident while fiddling with the bomb to get it ready for use — a brave sacrifice for humanity on behalf of the war’s real victims — the members of the U.S. military. The film also claims that the people bombed “will never know what hit them,” despite the film makers knowing of the agonizing suffering of those who died slowly.

One communication from the movie makers to their consultant and editor, General Leslie Groves, included these words: “Any implication tending to make the Army look foolish will be eliminated.”[xxvi]

The main reason the movie is deadly boring, I think, is not that movies have sped up their action sequences every year for 75 years, added color, and devised all kinds of shock devices, but simply that the reason anybody should think the bomb that the characters all talk about for the entire length of the film is a big deal is left out. We don’t see what it does, not from the ground, only from the sky.

Mitchell’s book is a bit like watching sausage made, but also a bit like reading the transcripts from a committee that cobbled together some section of the Bible. This is an origin myth of the Global Policeman in the making. And it’s ugly. It’s even tragic. The very idea for the film came from a scientist who wanted people to understand the danger, not glorify the destruction. This scientist wrote to Donna Reed, that nice lady who gets married to Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, and she got the ball rolling. Then it rolled around an oozing wound for 15 months and voilà, a cinematic turd emerged.

There was never any question of telling the truth. It’s a movie. You make stuff up. And you make it all up in one direction. The script for this movie contained at times all sorts of nonsense that didn’t last, such as the Nazis giving the Japanese the atomic bomb — and the Japanese setting up a laboratory for Nazi scientists, exactly as back in the real world at this very time the U.S. military was setting up laboratories for Nazi scientists (not to mention making use of Japanese scientists). None of this is more ludicrous than The Man in the High Castle, to take a recent example of 75 years of this stuff, but this was early, this was seminal. Nonsense that didn’t make it into this film, everybody didn’t end up believing and teaching to students for decades, but easily could have. The movie makers gave final editing control to the U.S. military and the White House, and not to the scientists who had qualms. Many good bits as well as crazy bits were temporarily in the script, but excised for the sake of proper propaganda.

If it’s any consolation, it could have been worse. Paramount was in a nuclear arms film race with MGM and employed Ayn Rand to draft the hyper-patriotic-capitalist script. Her closing line was “Man can harness the universe — but nobody can harness man.” Fortunately for all of us, it didn’t work out. Unfortunately, despite John Hersey’s A Bell for Adano being a better movie than The Beginning or the End, his best-selling book on Hiroshima didn’t appeal to any studios as a good story for movie production. Unfortunately, Dr. Strangelove would not appear until 1964, by which point many were ready to question future use of “the bomb” but not past use, making all questioning of future use rather weak. This relationship to nuclear weapons parallels that to wars in general. The U.S. public can question all future wars, and even those wars it’s heard of from the past 75 years, but not WWII, rendering all questioning of future wars weak. In fact, recent polling finds horrific willingness to support future nuclear war by the U.S. public.

At the time The Beginning or the End was being scripted and filmed, the U.S. government was seizing and hiding away every scrap it could find of actual photographic or filmed documentation of the bomb sites. Henry Stimson was having his Colin Powell moment, being pushed forward to publicly make the case in writing for having dropped the bombs. More bombs were rapidly being built and developed, and whole populations evicted from their island homes, lied to, and used as props for newsreels in which they are depicted as happy participants in their destruction.

Mitchell writes that one reason Hollywood deferred to the military was in order to use its airplanes, etc., in the production, as well as in order to use the real names of characters in the story. I find it very hard to believe these factors were terribly important. With the unlimited budget it was dumping into this thing — including paying the people it was giving veto power to — MGM could have created its own quite unimpressive props and its own mushroom cloud. It’s fun to fantasize that someday those who oppose mass murder could take over something like the unique building of the U.S. Institute of “Peace” and require that Hollywood meet peace movement standards in order to film there. But of course the peace movement has no money, Hollywood has no interest, and any building can be simulated elsewhere. Hiroshima could have been simulated elsewhere, and in the movie wasn’t shown at all. The main problem here was ideology and habits of subservience.

There were reasons to fear the government. The FBI was spying on people involved, including wishy-washy scientists like J. Robert Oppenheimer who kept consulting on the film, lamenting its awfulness, but never daring to oppose it. A new Red Scare was just kicking in. The powerful were exercising their power through the usual variety of means.

As the production of The Beginning or the End winds toward completion, it builds the same momentum the bomb did. After so many scripts and bills and revisions, and so much work and ass-kissing, there was no way the studio wouldn’t release it. When it finally came out, the audiences were small and the reviews mixed. The New York daily PM found the film “reassuring,” which I think was the basic point. Mission accomplished.

Mitchell’s conclusion is that the Hiroshima bomb was a “first strike,” and that the United States should abolish its first-strike policy. But of course it was no such thing. It was an only strike, a first-and-last strike. There were no other nuclear bombs that would come flying back as a “second strike.” Now, today, the danger is of accidental as much as intentional use, whether first, second, or third, and the need is to at long last join the bulk of the world’s governments that are seeking to abolish nuclear weapons all together — which, of course, sounds crazy to anyone who has internalized the mythology of WWII.

There are far better works of art than The Beginning or the End that we could turn to for myth busting. For example, The Golden Age, a novel published by Gore Vidal in 2000 with glowing endorsements by the Washington Post, and New York Times Book Review, has never been made into a movie, but tells a story much closer to the truth.[xxvii] In The Golden Age, we follow along behind all the closed doors, as the British push for U.S. involvement in World War II, as President Roosevelt makes a commitment to Prime Minister Churchill, as the warmongers manipulate the Republican convention to make sure that both parties nominate candidates in 1940 ready to campaign on peace while planning war, as Roosevelt longs to run for an unprecedented third term as a wartime president but must content himself with beginning a draft and campaigning as a drafttime president in a time of supposed national danger, and as Roosevelt works to provoke Japan into attacking on his desired schedule.

Then there’s historian and WWII veteran Howard Zinn’s 2010 book, The Bomb.[xxviii] Zinn describes the U.S. military making its first use of napalm by dropping it all over a French town, burning anyone and anything it touched. Zinn was in one of the planes, taking part in this horrendous crime. In mid-April 1945, the war in Europe was essentially over. Everyone knew it was ending. There was no military reason (if that’s not an oxymoron) to attack the Germans stationed near Royan, France, much less to burn the French men, women, and children in the town to death. The British had already destroyed the town in January, similarly bombing it because of its vicinity to German troops, in what was widely called a tragic mistake. This tragic mistake was rationalized as an inevitable part of war, just as were the horrific firebombings that successfully reached German targets, just as was the later bombing of Royan with napalm. Zinn blames the Supreme Allied Command for seeking to add a “victory” in the final weeks of a war already won. He blames the local military commanders’ ambitions. He blames the American Air Force’s desire to test a new weapon. And he blames everyone involved — which must include himself — for “the most powerful motive of all: the habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not even to think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede.”

When Zinn returned from the war in Europe, he expected to be sent to the war in the Pacific, until he saw and rejoiced at seeing the news of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Only years later did Zinn come to understand the inexcusable crime of enormous proportions that was the dropping of nuclear bombs in Japan, actions similar in some ways to the final bombing of Royan. The war with Japan was already over, the Japanese seeking peace and willing to surrender. Japan asked only that it be permitted to keep its emperor, a request that was later granted. But, like napalm, the nuclear bombs were weapons that needed testing.

Zinn also goes back to dismantle the mythical reasons the United States was in the war to begin with. The United States, England, and France were imperial powers supporting each other’s international aggressions in places like the Philippines. They opposed the same from Germany and Japan, but not aggression itself. Most of America’s tin and rubber came from the Southwest Pacific. The United States made clear for years its lack of concern for the Jews being attacked in Germany. It also demonstrated its lack of opposition to racism through its treatment of African Americans and Japanese Americans. Franklin Roosevelt described fascist bombing campaigns over civilian areas as “inhuman barbarity” but then did the same on a much larger scale to German cities, which was followed up by the destruction on an unprecedented scale of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — actions that came after years of dehumanizing the Japanese. Aware that the war could end without any more bombing, and aware that U.S. prisoners of war would be killed by the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, the U.S. military went ahead and dropped the bombs.

Uniting and strengthening all of the WWII myths is the overarching myth that Ted Grimsrud, following Walter Wink, calls “the myth of redemptive violence,” or “the quasi-religious belief that we may gain ‘salvation’ through violence.” As a result of this myth, writes Grimsrud, “People in the modern world (as in the ancient world), and not least people in the United States of America, put tremendous faith in instruments of violence to provide security and the possibility of victory over their enemies. The amount of trust people put in such instruments may be seen perhaps most clearly in the amount of resources they devote to preparation for war.”[xxix]

People aren’t consciously choosing to believe in the myths of WWII and violence. Grimsrud explains: “Part of the effectiveness of this myth stems from its invisibility as a myth. We tend to assume that violence is simply part of the nature of things; we see acceptance of violence to be factual, not based on belief. So we are not self-aware about the faith-dimension of our acceptance of violence. We think we know as a simple fact that violence works, that violence is necessary, that violence is inevitable. We don’t realize that instead, we operate in the realm of belief, of mythology, of religion, in relation to the acceptance of violence.”[xxx]

It takes an effort to escape the myth of redemptive violence, because it’s been there since childhood: “Children hear a simple story in cartoons, video games, movies, and books: we are good, our enemies are evil, the only way to deal with evil is to defeat it with violence, let’s roll.

The myth of redemptive violence links directly with the centrality of the nation-state. The welfare of the nation, as defined by its leaders, stands as the highest value for life here on earth. There can be no gods before the nation. This myth not only established a patriotic religion at the heart of the state, but also gives the nation’s imperialistic imperative divine sanction. . . . World War II and its direct aftermath greatly accelerated the evolution of the United States into a militarized society and . . . this militarization relies on the myth of redemptive violence for its sustenance. Americans continue to embrace the myth of redemptive violence even in face of mounting evidence that its resulting militarization has corrupted American democracy and is destroying the country’s economy and physical environment. . . . As recently as the late 1930s, American military spending was minimal and powerful political forces opposed involvement in ‘foreign entanglements’.”[xxxi]

Prior to WWII, Grimsrud notes, “when America engaged in military conflict . . . at the end of the conflict the nation demobilized . . . . Since World War II, there has been no full demobilization because we have moved directly from World War II to the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. That is, we have moved into a situation where ‘all times are times of war.’ . . . Why would non-elites, who bear terrible costs by living in a permanent war society, submit to this arrangement, even in many cases offering intense support? . . . The answer is quite simple: the promise of salvation.”[xxxii]

[i] Sabatini ended up suffering from depression, panic attacks, and bad health. See Luana Rosato, Il Giornale, “Miss Italia, Alice Sabatini: ‘Dopo la vittoria sono caduta in depressione’,” January 30, 2020, https://www.ilgiornale.it/news/spettacoli/miss-italia-alice-sabatini-vittoria-depressione-1818934.html

[ii] Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Guardian, “The Myth of the Good War,” December 9, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/dec/09/-sp-myth-of-the-good-war

[iii] Raw Story, Youtube.com, “Trump mocks renaming Confederate bases by suggesting naming them after Al Sharpton,” July 19, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7Qer5K3pw4&feature=emb_logo

[iv] Studs Terkel, The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (The New Press, 1997).

[v] WikiLeaks, “HRC Paid Speeches,” https://wikileaks.org/podesta-emails/emailid/927

[vi] United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Japan’s Struggle to End the War, July 1, 1946, https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/research-files/united-states-strategic-bombing-survey-japans-struggle-end-war?documentid=NA&pagenumber=50

[vii] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 164.

[viii] Bard Memorandum, June 27, 1945, http://www.dannen.com/decision/bardmemo.html

[ix] Christian Kriticos, The Millions, “An Invitation to Hesitate: John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ at 70,” August 31, 2016, https://themillions.com/2016/08/invitation-hesitate-john-herseys-hiroshima.html

[x] Christian Kriticos, The Millions, “An Invitation to Hesitate: John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima’ at 70,” August 31, 2016, https://themillions.com/2016/08/invitation-hesitate-john-herseys-hiroshima.html

[xi] Leo Szilard’s Petition to the President, https://www.atomicarchive.com/resources/documents/manhattan-project/szilard-petition.html

[xii] Report of the Committee on Political and Social Problems, https://www.atomicarchive.com/resources/documents/manhattan-project/franck-report.html

[xiii] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 144.

[xiv] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 161.

[xv] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 166.

[xvi] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 176.

[xvii] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), pp. 176-177. The book says six of seven, rather than seven of eight. Kuznick tells me that he did not initially include Halsey because he received his star after the war ended.

[xviii] On the possibility of modifying the surrender terms and ending the war earlier without nuclear bombs, see Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), pp. 146-149.

[xix] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 145.

[xx] Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past (The New Press, 2014).

[xxi] Greg Mitchell, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The New Press, 2020).

[xxii] Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (Penguin Books, 2014).

[xxiii] Greg Mitchell, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The New Press, 2020).

[xxiv] “The Beginning Or The End = Classic Film,” https://archive.org/details/TheBeginningOrTheEndClassicFilm

[xxv] Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 144.

[xxvi] Greg Mitchell, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood — and America — Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (The New Press, 2020).

[xxvii] Gore Vidal, The Golden Age: A Novel (Vintage, 2001).

[xxviii] Howard Zinn, The Bomb (City Lights Books, 2010).

[xxix] Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t and Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014), pp. 12-17.

[xxx] Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t and Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014).

[xxxi] Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t and Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014).

[xxxii] Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t and Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014).

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.He is a 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

18 comments

  1. This is proof positive that I was not meant to be born into this world to see ther horrors and inhumanity of war, greed, corruption, insanity, starvation, disabling injuries, and the aftermath and abomination of how we treated our (heroes) when they came back. My fathers two cousins came back from WW2 refusing to ever say a word of what they saw, keeping it to themselves despite the many family outings where small talk always lead to the questions of how they served America. Their silence was deafening. They could not determine if they were lucky to come back or whether to die in battle would have been a better result. America is no panacea, no great State, it is as bad as any thought of war and killing. Until it practices peace it will not change.

  2. A great reference into the decision-making to nuke Japan is Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.

    August 6 and 9 1945 are ‘date[s] which will live in infamy’, and the Democratic Party should thus forever should live in infamy also, as the party of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As many have pointed out, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the last shots of WWII but the first of WWIII. And it’s highly likely a Democrat president will launch the first strike to ignite its final 90 minutes.

  3. Here is what I hate about WWII. It was sold to the average GI as a moral war, but when fighting was over, when those dead who fought for something they thought or at least were led to believe was worth fighting for, what did their country, that they sacrificed so much for do? The CIA secretly brought over a thousand nazis to our “democracy” and embedded them in our military and bioweapons programs as well as elsewhere. Reading George Monbiot. Hope someone somewhere got answers to the corporate takeover off our country.

  4. This is such a damning document, as well as a ‘critical’ piece of what I have just dubbed “critical history theory” for the way it recognizes and call out the mythology and pure propaganda which has been foisted on, hidden from, and papered over by the powers that be, and fed to us endlessly. My father usedto say…’This used to be a hell of a country.” Now, I’m certain that’s not true, and we are led, at least since the end of the ‘good war,’ by business interests, oligarchs, and elected psychopaths who ‘represent’ us.

  5. James Lowen, in his otherwise excellent book “Lies my teacher told me: Everything my American history textbook got wrong“ has an index item for World Wide Web but nothing for World War II.

    Worse, there is no index item for either Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    It would be sppropriate for Dr. Loewen to issue a new updated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and WWII edition of the book – or for him or someone else to write a textbook entitled “Lies my teacher told me about World War II” that includes all the information in this article plus detail and including actual contrasting and contradictory mythological excerpts and lies from actual American history textbooks.

    Perhaps a pivot toward pressing for curriculum revision including adding a couple of Hs for history and humanities to the fascist STEM centric curriculum plus an A for arts, an N for Nature, an Sc for Scientific Method and P for learning lifelong healthy physical activity — would be in order for the peace and antiwar movements.

  6. Where did this idea of WWII being a “good war” come from? A shelf in a West Point library? Why would anyone write those two words down together ? What kind of bar mitzvahs have these authors been attending? I never saw it while studying international relations at university in the UK, and it’s a bit of an anachronism to see it discussed here.
    Talking of anachronisms, how bad an anachronism it is to have people still having to make posters to remind us that black lives matter, over fifty years after MLK taught all of us how to live up to the true meaning of our creed! The terminology itself is annoying. What is a black life as distinguished from another life? What a senseless distinction! As Ruskin put it, there is no wealth but life itself; we might as well write that “life matters”. It is a pity to have to acknowledge such a distinction still existing in the minds of some people by drawing it ourselves, on the poster. Now Chris Hedges might perhaps excoriate me for anomie for not marching, but hey ho, at least I don’t feel conflicted; I think Wittgenstein might back me up on this point.

    1. This commentary on BLM (“what a senseless distinction”), so common in some (white) corners of what passes for a Left in this country, is simply ignorance of the kind that should be embarrassing to anybody who considers themselves a critical thinker. BLM i a direct criticism of the way the United States, now and since before its formal inception, has found ways to make Black lives cheap and expendable, to NOT MATTER to the courts, the general public, the health systems, etc.

      That so many White leftists consider this struggle to be “identity politics” and a terrible distraction from pure Marxism, anarchism or any other formal political philosophy is nothing more than the self-delusion of people who think they care about humans but are really primarily either a)self-interested or b) more invested in a rigid ideology than the struggle for liberation, justice and better systems of governance and society.

  7. Justifiable critique of Hiroshima, the Cold War etc is diminished and contaminated by the inclusion of quite a lot of garbage here. “That the U.S. government viewed the Soviet Union as the primary enemy even when allied with it” is sheer lunacy – a logical impossibility.

    Or this myth, emanating from the extreme right:
    the fact that the United States and other world governments refused to save those threatened with genocide by the Nazis, that activists struggled in vain to get the U.S. and UK and other governments to take any interest in saving millions of quite savable lives;

    Essentially a ridiculous and insane lie – a “Big Lie” – which only became current long after the war. It can be traced to the Revisionist Zionist (extreme right-wing then) against mainstream Reform Jewish leaders then. Hillel Kook (Peter Bergson) versus Stephen Wise. An unsuccessful lie then when people could see what was happening in front of their noses. What many such activists struggled in vain for was diverting funds from US Jews to the extreme Right Zionists in Palestine. And I would say that is a good thing.

    For instance, young US Jewish men of that era – who saw their relatives being murdered – couldn’t think of anything else to do but join the armed forces (at twice the rate of the general population). Nobody else, then and now, could think of anything else to do either. But this lie repeated by Swanson is smashingly successful as history rewritten by and to serve the needs of the extreme Right. A lie repeated by US Presidents, Republican and Democratic alike.

    In the real world, the US and the allies very publicly denounced Hitler’s genocide as soon as they knew it was actually happening. A matter of a month or two. International statement, front page New York Times etc.

    And there were no “millions of quite savable lives.” This is a gross insult to everyone who served in that war and defeated the Bad Guys. There was one and only one path to saving lives of millions, and it was followed about as well as anything ever goes: Winning the war against those who started it and used it as an occasion to slake their crazy thirst for genocide.

    William Rubinstein’s The Myth of Rescue is one book debunking this lie. He had earlier believed and propagated the bullshit that millions could have been rescued – with sorcery I guess. Robert Rosen’s Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust is another.

    Generally speaking, this is just one instance of the behavior of a thundering herd of idiot “Leftists” of today who write about the history of the 30s & 40s. Recycling myths and lies of that era’s extreme Right, the “Roosevelt-Haters”, even outright fascists, and presenting them as their own shocking! new! myth-busting! discovery. Do your own reading, and you will find that the “myths” are usually better supported than these supposed “discoveries” dispelling them.

    1. Not an expert in this area, but this commentary seems to elide the gross negligence/cruelty of the West much earlier when the rise of Anti-Semitism and Hitler in Germany led to the exodus of Jews who saw the handwriting on the wall. There is the case of the St. Louis, of course, which was a symbol of a larger problem: The Depression meant countries were loathe to accept the refugees. Furthermore, the 2-year delay in opening a “Second Front” to relive pressure of the Soviet Union, which Churchill demanded in order to build up enough strength was challenged by communists in the West as cynical or immoral considering what was happening (both the Holocaust and the horrific suffering, including mass starvation, on the Eastern front).

      Can there be a middle ground where fantasy of rescue is rebuked while also at least questioning the priorities of the industrialized west before, during and after the war?

      From the Holocaust Museum (DC):
      “After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 and particularly after the Kristallnacht pogroms of November 9–10, 1938, nations in western Europe and the Americas feared an influx of refugees. About 85,000 Jewish refugees (out of 120,000 Jewish emigrants) reached the United States between March 1938 and September 1939, but this level of immigration was far below the number seeking refuge. In late 1938, 125,000 applicants lined up outside US consulates hoping to obtain 27,000 visas under the existing immigration quota. By June 1939, the number of applicants had increased to over 300,000. Most visa applicants were unsuccessful. At the Evian Conference in July 1938, only the Dominican Republic stated that it was prepared to admit significant numbers of refugees, although Bolivia would admit around 30,000 Jewish immigrants between 1938 and 1941.”

      And from the same source:
      During the second half of 1941, even as unconfirmed reports of the mass murder perpetrated by the Nazis filtered to the West, the US Department of State placed even stricter limits on immigration based on national security concerns. Despite British restrictions, limited numbers of Jews entered Palestine during the war through “illegal” immigration (Aliyah Bet). Great Britain itself limited its own intake of immigrants in 1938–1939, though the British government did permit the entry of some 10,000 Jewish children in a special Kindertransport (Children’s Transport) program. At the Bermuda Conference in April 1943, the Allies offered no concrete proposals for rescue.

      1. I am very glad to see rescue rightly called a fantasy.

        “this commentary seems to elide the gross negligence/cruelty of the West much earlier when the rise of Anti-Semitism and Hitler in Germany led to the exodus of Jews who saw the handwriting on the wall. There is the case of the St. Louis, of course, which was a symbol of a larger problem: The Depression meant countries were loathe to accept the refugees.”

        “The West” is a complicated matter. Chamberlain for instance was arguably not an appeaser, but a colluder with Hitler – consciously giving him a free hand in the East to attack the USSR, their feared common enemy. See Alvin Finkel, Clement Leibovitz, Christopher Hitchens- The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion- James Lorimer (1997) for Chamberlain. But Swanson laughably accuses the US of this! I know the USA & its history the best – and judged by sane standards FDR and the New Dealers had very little to apologize for from 1933 on. FDR in particular was so far-seeing and successful in general and in opposition to Hitler that he is usually judged by standards of perfection more appropriate to divinities than human beings. So lumping in the US with the rest of “the West” is wrong. The US immigration laws were not FDR’s doing. He and the rest of his government had no power to repeal them. As you say, the Depression only made those laws more popular. When FDR tried to circumvent the laws during the war, setting up a refugee camp in Oswego, Congressmen proposed an impeachment resolution.

        I wrote much of the wikipedia article on the St. Louis. The common understanding of the episode is crucially distorted and inverted. FDR’s State Department, Morgenthau etc deserve credit, not blame for finding refuge for all its passengers. Neither they nor anyone else could know that Hitler would soon invade most of those countries of refuge and kill hundreds of them. I strongly suggest reading Rosen’s book to get a rational big picture, an antidote to the mythologists’ dominance. Or look at his website www dot savingthejews dot com, which has some excerpts and additional material. His views are endorsed by Gerhart Weinberg, leading authority on WWII, author of the standard one volume work on it, many other historians, and much of the Jewish press.

        But do people really think it is an accident that there is so much meretricious criticism here and elsewhere of the left-most US president ever?

  8. America left the truth so far behind for so long that for most, if they did actually hear it they wouldn’t believe it. Americans believe themselves to be “special” and “exceptional” but if you asked them what made them special or exceptional they wouldn’t be able to tell you beyond…Merica Hell Yeah Man…

    The people have abdicated their rational thinking, their morals and ethics to those who rule while they endlessly wallow in the cult of me.

    To me that makes us the least special and perhaps least exceptional people of all. Unless of course for exceptional delusions.

  9. The author leaves out the truth filled lies of Ken Burns in his scold of your cognitive distortions, otherwise the implied theme is a settled high school debate.

    No one embraces redemptive violene, we know all about Hollywood, we understand propaganda, there is and was no myth about WW II.

    The US once again will have to go to war and slaughter untold thousands of people or the world will end. Swanson along with the rest of the psychological Yakuza (with the FBI – this is social media after all) will do their part to make sure those efforts are successful much as they did before.

  10. Dear Moderator, no thanks for calling my comment on BLM ignorant, self invested, embarrassing to anyone who considers themselves a critical thinker, and more; but it’s hard to land such assertions about my comment as the blows of a true critique when you miss the point.
    Did you ever see the film Sophie’s Choice, where Meryl Streep’s Sophie has to choose which of her children to give up to a Nazi who faces her with that decision or with losing both? My point is that the lives of black people are equal under the law but that by making the statement that they matter, when they matter by right of being human lives, and this should go without saying, you are doing what Sophie does in agreeing to distinguish between her children in any way, rather than rejecting any distinction. In taking this position you should consider whether you are not complicit in the racist thinking, which was the Nazi’s intention in giving her the choice. I regret that I have never lived in your great country, but in my own I still have to watch the news in which people in the U.S. stand around filming the police murdering George Floyd without intervening.
    I think you have your own problems with disengagement before suggesting that the White ( your capitals) Left, which to Americans appears to be anyone consenting to live in a mixed economy, is too caught up in Marxism to notice the genocidal tendencies of whites in America. I made the point in earlier post that we all need to stop hyphenating the appellations of Americans who aren’t white (or call “African-Anericans “Americans by Demand, since the white immigrants dragged them out of their homes in Africa, where, incidentally they still think of themselves merely as men, until in moving outside Africa their skin colour becomes an issue in some places inhabited by whites; and my comment above backs all this up; the language is part of the problem. Hence the reference to Wittgenstein, for whom reformulating the language of the question was the first step to identifying the answer. And as to Marxism, I didn’t know enough about Marx to know that everything he said is coming true, until I read Chris Hedges. So Sophie may lose both children but they will all go down together, as a non- discriminatory family, an entity on which the State should model its own regulations.

  11. The title is completely misleading. The author called the passage HIROSHIMA IS A LIE . No sane American author who feared reprisal would call it HOLOCAUST IS A LIE. (Being an American author in this case because scheerpost is an American publication and there are certain things you cannot say in American media)

      1. Wow, what a powerhouse of an article! The only part missing, yet, ‘suggestively concealed’, is that the real reason for the intentional dropping of the two bombs was as a warning to the then USSR, that America could destroy Stalin and his “regime”.

  12. Everyone needs to read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” as an introduction to all of the bullshit we are taught in school….

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