By Matthew Rothschild on August 09, 2010

Today is the 65th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki—one of the largest single-day atrocities ever committed by a war power.

The bomb instantly killed about 70,000 people, mostly civilians, and thousands more died painful deaths later from radiation.

The Nagasaki bombing, even more than Hiroshima, was inexcusable.

Both were unnecessary, because the Japanese were already trying to negotiate a surrender, and the United States could have used a “demonstration bomb” over an uninhabited island to prove the destructiveness it was prepared to deliver.

But Truman and the Pentagon were dead set on dropping the bomb.

In Howard Zinn’s final book, The Bomb, he writes: “The persistent notion that the Japanese were less than human probably played some role in the willingness to wipe out two cities populated by people of color.”

Zinn also demolishes the “military necessity” argument. He notes that “the Japanese Supreme War Council authorized Foreign Minister Togo to approach the Soviet Union ‘with a view to terminating the war if possible by September.’ ”

And he quotes a July 13, 1945, wire from Foreign Minister Togo: “Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. . . . It is His Majesty’s desire to see the swift termination of the war.”

Zinn cites the scholarship of Gar Alperovitz and argues that the chief reason for the bombing was to intimidate the Soviet Union.

“The United States was more anxious to show the world—especially the Soviet Union—its atomic weaponry than to end the war as soon as possible,” Zinn writes. He quotes Harry Truman’s comment after learning that Stalin was intending to invade Japan: “Fini Japs when that comes about.”

Zinn comments about Truman: “It seems he did not want the Japs to be ‘fini’ through Russian intervention but through American bombs.”

Zinn also quotes General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s dissent at the time. “I voiced to [General Stimson] my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

Even if you accept the “military necessity” argument for the Hiroshima bomb, which Zinn rejects, how can you possibly justify Nagasaki?

The United States, just three days before, had annihilated 140,000 men, women, and children in Hiroshima. That makes Nagasaki the most lethal redundancy in military history.

“The preparations had been made and just went ahead without further thought,” Zinn writes. “One reason for the absence of discussion may well have been that while the Hiroshima bomb fissioned only uranium atoms, the Nagasaki bomb used plutonium, and there was a question whether the plutonium would work as well.”

Kurt Vonnegut called the gratuitous bombing of Nagasaki “the most racist, nastiest act by this country, after human slavery,” in an interview by David Barsamian in The Progressive.

President Obama had the decency to send U.S. Ambassador John Roos to Hiroshima’s memorial service on Friday. He should have had the decency to send Roos to Nagasaki, too.

At the end of Zinn’s book, The Bomb, he urges us to “refuse to accept the idea, which is the universal justification for war, that the means of massive violence are acceptable for ‘good ends.’ ”

They are not.

That’s the universal meaning of Nagasaki.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “Judge Vaughn Walker’s Landmark Ruling on Marriage Equality.”

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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