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As we commemorate the deaths of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, feelings will cover the gamut of emotions from remorse to anger. I am horrified by the events of August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945 for several reasons. All the people who died were innocent civilians who were not involved in the war. As well, Japan was already defeated and was desperately trying to surrender on any terms. Then there is the evil in humankind that can murder so many people just to demonstrate to your post-war enemy, as a form of blackmail, that you have a powerful new weapon. In addition, careful study of the facts reveals that the U.S. leadership was guilty of genocide for bombing these two cities.
It is important to realize that Japan was completely defeated by the time the decision was made to drop the nuclear weapons. As the allies marched relentlessly toward mainland Japan, they crippled the Japanese war machine. In the battle of the Philippine Sea and Marianas, the Japanese decided to throw everything they had at the American fleet in one final desperate attempt to destroy the American Pacific Fleet. Both the air and naval battles were decisive as Japan lost 476 planes and two carriers. Japan would never recover from the crippling blow to its air power.
As early as 1943, the U.S. was destroying unprotected merchant vessels with attacks by submarines. By the end of 1944, the U.S. had sunk half of Japan’s merchant fleet. The loss of its merchant vessels had severely diminished Japan’s supply of natural resources, food, and oil, and by the summer of 1945, American submarines had a choke hold on the traffic of merchant vessels serving Japan. The lack of incoming supplies was causing starvation among the Japanese people.
To execute the coup de grace, the U.S. airforce fire-bombed Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Yokohama, and Kawasaki gutting over 40 percent of these urban areas. At this point in the war, Japan’s cities had been severely damaged, the industrial base virtually destroyed, the navy and airforce rendered useless, and the people suffering from starvation.
One of the major issues to be considered was whether an invasion of Japan would cost substantially less lives than dropping the bomb. This is one of the mythical justifications to support the use of nuclear weapons because the President did not have any serious discussions with the military about the potential loss of lives and in addition, most military leaders rejected the use of the bombs. For example, Fleet Admiral William D. Leay, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan”.
Japan had been sending out peace feelers to a number of embassies including the ones in the Soviet Union, Portugal, and Germany. The German Ambassador to Tokyo sent a cable reporting that the Japanese would surrender even if the terms were hard. When the Potsdam Papers were published four years after the war, it became very clear that Truman was well aware of these peace feelers through intercepts of Japanese communications.
Before assessing whether dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were genocide, it is important to determine when a legitimate military action crosses over the line into war crimes. Given that the Japanese military machine had been crushed, defense industries had been destroyed, major cities had been fire-bombed, and the embargo was depriving the Japanese of vital supplies in conjunction with the fact that the two bombed cities were not in any sense military targets, it is safe to conclude that using the bombs was not a legitimate action.
In Article ii of the Genocide Convention, it states that “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group such as: 1. Killing members of the group.”
The group in this case is a part of a national group, namely the Japanese people. There are many precedents to show that the “in part” in this case meets the criteria of the Convention. For example, the International Criminal for the former Yugoslavia concluded that “The killing of members of part of a group as such located in this small geographical area”.
To prove intent, it is only necessary to show that Truman knew that Japan was defeated and was desperately seeking to surrender and at the same time, he did not consult his military commanders. He also postponed the Potsdam meeting, much to Churchill’s chagrin, until after the bomb was successfully tested.
The bombing of these two Japanese cities meets the criteria of the Genocide Convention and therefore constitutes genocide. It was a horrific, unconscionable act that stands as the first use of a weapon capable of destroying life on this planet and as an example of the depths of evil to which we can sink.
DAVID MODEL is a Professor of Political Science at Seneca College. He is the author of States of Darkness: US Complicity in Genocides Since 1945. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org