The Atomic Bombings, With Reference to American Historical Scholarship Regarding Them Since August 9, 1945
On August 6, 1945, the United States Army Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later on August 9, 1945, the USAAF dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The death and destruction these two bombs wrought was immense, but it was no greater than the death and destruction previously wrought by the aerial fire-bombings of Germany and the Japanese mainland by the Allies in 1944 and 1945. What was new about the atomic bombings was that a single bomb caused so much damage and loss of life, and it could (obviously) be delivered by a single airplane. It was also suspected that missiles of the type developed late in the war by Germany would be capable of delivering atomic bombs to their targets in the near future.
The atomic bombings of Japan were followed almost immediately by her surrender and the end of World War II, and for twenty years there was a consensus among American historians that the bombings were necessary to cause Japan’s surrender without an invasion of the Japanese mainland by American troops, an invasion that the American military predicted would result in hundreds of thousands of American dead and wounded.
But in the late 1960’s, a school of “revisionist” historians arose, who argued that: (1) by July, 1945, Japan’s surrender was immanent; and, (2) the atomic bombings were not necessary to obtain Japan’s surrender on the same terms as actually obtained after the bombings, and this was known by the American government on August 6, 1945; and yet, (3) in order to convince the USSR both that America had the military might to oppose expansion by the Soviets anywhere in the world (and especially in Western Europe) - and to convince the USSR that America was prepared to use atomic bombs against her - the United States dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan.
The dean of this revisionist school of the history of the atomic bombings is Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, in College Park, Maryland.*
It is less clear who is dean of the American school of traditional history regarding the necessity of dropping the two nuclear bombs on Japan in order to end the war without an American invasion of mainland Japan, but certainly a good candidate is John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at YaleUniversity.**
John Lewis Gaddis, Between Admirers (2005)
I strongly side with Gar Alperovitz and the revisionist school, but as almost 65 years of American hegemony in the world draws to a close, these arguments over its beginnings seem increasingly irrelevant. In this article I try to say something new with pictures, since pictures may be worth several words per pixel, and to say something which can best be brought home by the article’s pictures. To wit, the use of atomic bombs can end all human life on the planet earth, and it must be brought under international control before it does so.
There follow two actual pictures of the mushroom clouds rising from the bombings of Japan, and one picture of the United States’ hydrogen bomb test in the Bikini Atoll in 1954, all three from Wikipedia. The three photographs are followed by three charcoal-on-paper works by the artist Robert Longo; Longo’s works depict the mushroom cloud from the atomic bomb over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945; the first Soviet nuclear test’s mushroom cloud, over Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, near the Siberian border, in 1949; and an undated American test of a nuclear weapon in the Marshall Islands.***
Actual photographs of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945, and The United States’ biggest Bikini Atoll test explosion, in 1954:
Little Boy's Mushroom Cloud Over Hiroshima (August 6, 1945)
Fat Man's Mushroom Cloud Over Nagasaki (Aug 9, 1945)
Castle Bravo, American Bikini Atoll Hydrogen Bomb Test (1954)
"I think I make art for brave eyes. I don't want to make art that will pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be okay. I want to make something that's much more confronting….It looks at you as much as you look at it. - Robert Longo (1986)”
Robert Longo, Nagasaki - 1945 (2003)
Robert Longo, The First Soviet Bomb Test at Semipalatinsk - 1949 (2003)
Robert Longo, Marshall Island Test (Query Date) (2003)
* See the following titles by Gar Alperovitz:
Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965).
Cold War Essays, with an Introduction by Christopher Lasch (1970).
The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb (1996).
** See the following titles by John Lewis Gaddis:
The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (1972).
We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997).
The Cold War: A New History (2005).
*** All text in quotation marks and the images by Robert Longo are courtesy of artnet and its Artist Works Catalogues. At its AWC, there is this: “artnet offers these catalogues free to the public as an educational resource. Simply click on an individual artist's image to begin, and check back often to browse new catalogues.”
Author's Bio: "How could I fail to speak with difficulty? I have new things to say." I graduated from Stanford Law School in 1966 but have never practiced. Instead, I dropped back five years and joined The Movement, but it wasn't until the 1970's that I began writing serious prose. By 1978, I was too old to live on the streets and sweat out going to jail, so I got a serious job as a GS-4, clerk-typist with the US Forest Service. I retired 23 years later, as head of the regionwide Claims Program in the California Region, headquartered in San Francisco for 20 years and then moved to Mare Island, in Vallejo. (That early school training always catches up with us, sooner or later.) I still live in the greater Vallejo area, and I still have radical politics. Last year my major project was contributing to the ending of the Iraq war, with a minor in ending the embargo of Cuba. This year, I'm a little confused, but what the hey, who's not?