SINCE the fall of Soviet communism in 1989, the spectre of nuclear war has faded from public consciousness.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - on Monday August 6, 1945, and Thursday August 9, 1945, respectively - remain the only ones deployed against human beings. But the destructive power of today's weaponry is thousands of times greater.
It's salutary to recall the circumstances in which nuclear weapons were once used, and their ghastly toll.
Sydney resident Craig Collie is better known as a television producer-director than as a writer, and he had a daunting act to follow. This momentous subject has been traversed by three generations of historians, with Richard Rhodes's masterpiece The Making of the Atomic Bomb deservedly winning a Pulitzer prize in 1986.
Nagasaki is not in that class but Collie brings some original research and fresh thinking to the issues. His aim was to explore "what the people of Nagasaki were doing after the first bomb and before they got their own". He tracked down and interviewed six Japanese survivors of the blast; children or young adults in 1945, they are now elderly men and women.
The narrative is multifaceted. Collie describes the experiences of 50 ordinary citizens of Nagasaki - Japan's most Christian city, founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century - as well as a small group of Australian prisoners of war who were interned there. He also tracks events through the eyes of the American airmen who flew the two missions, and the military and political leaders of Japan, Russia and the US.
It's a compelling, frequently astonishing tale, and Collie undermines a lot of conventional wisdom. For a start, he reminds us that the second mission was nearly a fiasco. Whereas all had gone to plan for the crew of Enola Gay (the name of the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima), the crew of its sister plane, Bockscar, encountered a raft of problems.
Their target was supposed to be Kokura, an industrial town 180km to the north. Bad weather, mechanical failure and human error necessitated a change of course in mid-flight, and a one-chance-only pass over Nagasaki.
The bomb - which was live and had cost $US2 billion to make - otherwise would have had to be dropped in the ocean. In the event, Bockscar made the drop and limped home. After an emergency landing at Okinawa it finished only 3m from the end of the runway, with less than a minute's worth of fuel in its tanks.
Collie explores another, rather more disturbing, fact: that US president Harry Truman did not authorise the dropping of either bomb. Truman had assumed the presidency only a few months earlier, following the death of Franklin Roosevelt.
As Collie observes, he'd been unaware of the Manhattan Project while vice-president. He was soon briefed about it when he become commander-in-chief and, thereafter, kept periodically updated. But the formal order to use the first two bombs on Japan was issued by an unelected military officer, General Thomas Handy.
The day after Nagasaki, Truman insisted that any further use of nuclear weapons would require his express authority. It was just as well: the day before, Collie points out, four high-ranking US generals had been urging the use of a third atomic bomb on Tokyo.
They were already looking ahead to the Cold War, mindful of the fact the Soviets had their own nuclear program in train. (The Nazis and the Japanese had had theirs, too, albeit never far advanced.) [Ron: This is incorrect. The Germans were the first tp ptoduce an atomic bomb but its use on the Russian front or elsewhere was nver authorised. This represents another fundamental difference between the Jew controlled Western Allies and Germany. Moreover, the US did not have sufficient refined uranim or plutonium to produce atomic bombs. The US military were able to steal the necessary materials from the Germans in Southern Germany near the end of WWII. Without it, they could not have bombed Hiroshima or Nagasako.].
Were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings necessary to defeat Japan? Collie makes a good case that the answer is no. Japan, he argues, was already doomed. For months, its cities had been subjected to fire bombing on a vast scale. Its navy and most of its factories were in ruins. Fuel and food were scarce.
True, Japan had ignored the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, requiring "unconditional surrender". Publicly its leaders still made belligerent noises, but they knew defeat was inevitable; behind closed doors, the only issue that divided them was how to go about extracting the least humiliating terms. [Ron: This is a distortion! The only requirement the Japamese had was for the Emperor to remain. That was necesary to avoid chaos and anarchy and to ensure that the Japanese people would accept surrender.].
Some hardliners, including war minister Korechika Anami, who ultimately committed suicide, advocated holding out longer to try to save national honour.
But the Americans knew prime minister Kantaro Suzuki and foreign minister Shigenori Togo - as well as the emperor, Hirohito - were working for peace at almost any price. [Ron: YES! That is correct. any other suggestion is bullshit.].In the end, during the night of August 9-10, 1945, it was the emperor who belatedly decided that Japan "must endure the unendurable", and surrender.
Now here's the kicker. Collie shows that, contrary to mythology, the atomic bomb was not a significant factor in Japan's decision. Outside Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese people remained largely unaware of what had happened (the result of strict media censorship) and even the powers-that-be did not completely understand.
The atomic bomb was but briefly discussed at the key cabinet and imperial council meetings of August 8-10. The deciding factor was Russia's decision on August 9 to enter the Pacific war. The Red Army invaded Manchuria to the north, dashing Japan's last faint hope: that the Soviets might intervene on their behalf in negotiations with the Allies.
It's hard to escape a mortifying conclusion: the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were victims of monstrous geo-political machinations. And what suffering they endured. It was better to be vaporised instantly, as tens of thousands were, than to survive maimed or irradiated for a few days or weeks.
Collie reproduces some horrifying photographs and quotes many witnesses. One saw "shadowy people with eyes hanging from their sockets, fried hair and skin peeling off in strips". Victims moaned for water or begged to be killed.
A young postman, Collie writes, "gathered up . . . scattered mail and put it in his bag, letters to addresses that no longer existed".
Amid the carnage there were tales to lift the spirit. A 25-year-old draftsman named Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts. A doctor and nurse at the wreckage of Nagasaki's main hospital treated victims as best they could; their marriage a few years later was long and happy.
But let the last word belong to the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Robert Lewis. Just after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, he wrote in his logbook: "My God, what have we done?"
Roy Williams is a Sydney-based lawyer and writer. His latest book is God, Actually.
Nagasaki: The Massacre of the Innocent and Unknowing
By Craig Collie
Allen & Unwin, 338pp, $32.99
Japan in WWII: A Casualty of Usury? Was WWII Fought to make the World Safe for the Bankers? See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Japan-in-WWII-A-Casualty-of-Usury-Was-WWII-Fought-to-make-the-World-Safe-for-the-Bankers.shtml
Why did Japan surrender? See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Why-did-Japan-surrender.shtml
HARRY S. TRUMAN War Criminal. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/HARRY-S-TRUMAN-War-Criminal.shtml
Was the Atomic Bombing of Japan Necessary? See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Was-the-Atomic-Bombing-of-Japan-Necessary.shtml
The Tokyo Fire Raids, 1945: The Japanese View. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/The-Tokyo-Fire-Raids-1945-The-Japanese-View.shtml
The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story. See:http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/The-Bombing-of-Nagasaki-August-9-1945-The-Untold-Story.shtml
THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE ATOMIC BOMB WHY HIROSHIMA WAS DESTROYED. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/THE_SECRET_HISTORY_OF_THE_ATOMIC_BOMB_WHY_HIROSHIM_3558.shtml
Why Hiroshima Was Destroyed The Detailed History Of An Infamous Er. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Why-Hiroshima-Was-Destroyed-The-Detailed-History-Of-An-Infamous-Era.shtml
Truman Lied, Hundreds of Thousands Died. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Truman-Lied-Hundreds-of-Thousands-Died.shtml
The Great Hiroshima Cover-up. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/The-Great-Hiroshima-Cover-up.shtml
Bombs on Japan to April 1945. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Bombs-on-Japan-to-April-1945.shtml
United States bombings of other countries. See: http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/United-States-bombings-of-other-countries.shtml