America’s Cycles of Change

The Shadow of Nanjing That Hangs Over Hiroshima

Wed, 20 April 2016

The 2016 G7 foreign ministers meeting this year is being held in the Japanese port city of Hiroshima, a city of destiny in more ways than is generally realized.

Hiroshima of course was the target of the first nuclear bombing against a human target in history. A US Army Air Force B-29 called the Enola Gay – the name of the flight commander’s mother – dropped the Uranium-235 implosive device. Around 75,000 people were killed immediately and another estimated 125,000 died in the following years from the radiation and other injuries they sustained.

Three days later, the only other use of nuclear weapons so far against a human-inhabited target took place when another US B-29 bomber carrying a more powerful plutonium device destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki.

In the more than 70 years since those awful events, Hiroshima has become the symbol of the feared new nuclear age. It is, therefore, understandable that the Japanese media are stressing the issue of nuclear non-proliferation, or NPT that should be the priority issue at the foreign ministers meeting. That is especially the case since it follows so rapidly after the conclusion of US President Barack Obama’s latest Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC.

The NPT goal is absolutely justified. But both the Washington and Hiroshima meetings mask enormous hypocrisies and vastly more irresponsible policies followed by the US and Japanese governments.

For monstrous as the use of nuclear weapons against two civilian cities was in 1945, US policymakers led by President Harry S. Truman approved the attacks as a desperate measure to end World War II without having to launch Operation Olympic, the allied invasion of the home islands of Japan.

Sober US military assessments based on the repeated fanatical Japanese army defense of islands across the Pacific estimated that the invasion might cost hundreds of thousands Americans dead and millions more Japanese casualties.

The war that Truman wanted to end as rapidly as possible had already cost, by most recent estimates, 80 million lives including at least 27 million Russian dead, 16 million Chinese, overwhelmingly civilians and the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

But what is always forgotten across the United States and Europe is that the terrible war did not begin with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939: it began with the Japanese invasion and effort to conquer China in 1937.

In the first nightmarish summer of war in 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army drove west directly up the Yangtze River Valley, slaughtering everyone in their path. When they reached the Chinese capital of Nanjing, they carried out the first monstrous atrocity of the war, the Rape of Nanjing, killing at least 300,000 people and the mass rape of untold numbers of innocent Chinese women. The atrocities were so terrible they even shocked card-carrying German members of the Nazi Party who witnessed them.

Ironically, the city of Hiroshima played a fateful role in these awful events. For Imperial Japanese Army’s military headquarters from which the drive up the Yangtze and the subjugation of Nanjing were directed was based in Hiroshima at the time.

The late David Bergamini in his highly controversial and enormous 1971 book “Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy” explicitly drew a moral parallel between the Nanjing war crime that truly launched the merciless fascist onslaught on the world in 1937 and the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945.

Bergamini’s controversial work accused the late Showa Emperor Hirohito of being the effective head of the planning and direction of the Japanese war. His book was never translated into Japanese even though he cited more than 20 pages of original sources, all in Japanese. The book was ignored or ridiculed throughout the United States driving Bergamini to a premature death at the age of only 58.

However, more recent books, especially Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking” in 1997 and Herbert P. Bix’s Pulitzer prize-winning monumental “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan” in 2000 supported and, in Bix’s case, independently confirmed many of Bergamini’s most controversial conclusions.

Bix’s book caused no storm in Japan and was critically acclaimed in the United States. More open attitudes had evolved in the 30 years since Bergamini sought to expose the truth so fearlessly and too soon.

But as today’s government in Tokyo supports the confrontational US maritime policies in the South China Sea, they would do well to recall the reckless, headlong charge into war of the militarist Japanese governments of the 1930s.

For the road to Hiroshima truly began – as Bergamini rightly recognized – with the atrocities of the drive up the Yangtze eight years earlier.