60 years after Hiroshima: Nuclear proliferation makes socialist change more urgent

60 years after Hiroshima: Nuclear proliferation makes socialist change more urgent

HIROSHIMA, 6 August 1945, 8am. The ‘all clear’ sounded, signalling
the end of an air raid by US bombers. Workers and school children left
their homes, putting out fires, clearing damage and going to work. At
8.45am a single US bomber flew across the city, dropping an atomic bomb
that exploded above. The bomb killed over 100,000 people and injured
another 80,000.

Lynn Walsh

The allied powers had already inflicted mass death and destruction on
German and Japanese cities, but the atomic bomb was qualitatively
different – a single weapon killed as many people as wave after wave of
conventional bombers.

On 9 August, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing
over 70,000 and injuring a similar number or more. The atomic bombs also
left a terrible legacy of traumatic social damage and genetic

US imperialism, with the support of Britain and other capitalist
powers, had ushered in a new era of weapons of mass destruction.
Totalitarian regimes – Germany, Italy and Japan – that came into
conflict with the Western powers and the Soviet Union perpetrated the
most barbarous crimes against humanity, including genocide.

Nevertheless, the strategy of mass terror against civilian
populations carried out by the Western powers, particularly in the
closing stages of the second world war (1939-45), were also monstrous
crimes against humanity.

Why did the US nuke Japan?

THE US president Truman and his top officials and military commanders
argued that the use of nuclear weapons was essential to bring the war
against Japan to a speedy conclusion. They claimed it could save the
lives of a million US troops. With the high US casualties from the US
capture of the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, this not
surprisingly struck a powerful chord with most Americans.

They did not reveal, however, intelligence assessments predicting
that the Japanese regime would soon surrender. The official US Strategic
Bombing Survey later concluded: "It is the Survey’s opinion that
certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1
November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had
not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no
invasion had been planned or contemplated."

The Japanese military machine was cracking. In March 1945, the US Air
Force firebombed Tokyo, killing 80,000 people.

Sections of the regime were exploring terms of surrender with the
Western allies, particularly through talks with the Soviet government.
The US was demanding unconditional surrender.

The Japanese ruling class wanted an assurance that Emperor Hirohito
would not be tried as a war criminal and would be allowed to remain as
emperor under US occupation. Truman rejected this condition, though
later the US readily accepted it – after dropping two nuclear bombs.

Why was US imperialism so determined to use nuclear weapons? The
historian Herbert Feis sums it up. The rush to use the bombs, only a
month after the first test in the New Mexico desert, was driven by
"the impetus of the combat effort and plans, the impulse to punish,
the inclination to demonstrate how supreme was [US] power…".

The demonstration of US power was particularly aimed at the Soviet
Union. In accordance with earlier agreements between the allies at Yalta
in February 1945, Stalin was committed to launching a military offensive
against Japan on 8 August.

By mid-1945, however, the underlying antagonisms between the ‘allies’
had come to the surface. Threatened by deadly fascist enemies, Germany,
Italy and Japan, US-British imperialism was forced to rely on the Soviet
Union for military support.

At the end of the European war, however, the Stalinist regime – a
bureaucratic dictatorship ruling over a centrally planned economy –
occupied Central and Eastern Europe, forming a massive counterweight to
the power and influence of Western capitalism.

The last thing Truman and Churchill wanted was the occupation of
Japan by Soviet military forces. They were determined to pre-empt
Stalin’s military offensive, dropping the first atomic bomb on 6 August
and a second on the 16th. This enabled US forces under General MacArthur
to occupy Japan.

A former scientific adviser to the British government, PMS Blackett,
later commented: "… the dropping of the atomic bombs was not so
much the last military act of the second world war, as the first act of
the cold diplomatic war with Russia now in progress."

Capitalist leaders continue to justify the use of nuclear weapons
against Japan in 1945. But the historical record is clear. Hiroshima and
Nagasaki were not necessary for US imperialism to bring about a rapid
defeat of Japanese fascism. Atomic bombs, weapons of mass destruction on
an entirely new scale, were used purely to demonstrate US power.

Nuclear arms race

THE MAJORITY of the top scientists (124 out of 150) working on the
‘Manhattan Project’, the massive US scientific-industrial effort to
build nuclear weapons, came out against the use of an atomic bomb
against Japan. Many favoured a public, demonstration explosion, giving
the Japanese government time to surrender.

While it was believed that Hitler could be preparing nuclear weapons,
the scientists felt it was justified to work on a US bomb.

After the defeat of Germany, however, they considered nuclear weapons
no longer had any moral justification. The political representatives of
the US ruling class brushed aside these scruples.

In a letter to Truman, a group of scientists, including James Franck
and Leo Szilard, warned that the use of the atomic bomb would trigger an
unlimited race for nuclear armaments. Their warning was amply borne out.

In response to the US development of the even more destructive
hydrogen bomb and intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear
warheads, the Soviet Union developed its own massive nuclear armoury.

Smaller powers, like Britain, France and China followed suit. The
powers accumulated enough nuclear warheads to wipe out the planet many
times over. This weaponry absorbed a huge share of available resources
for science and technology, which could have been directed to socially
useful projects.

Trying to justify nuclear weapons, Western leaders argued that the
balance of nuclear power, with mutually assured destruction, ruled out
war. But while nuclear weapons ruled out a world war between the
superpowers, which would have resulted in mutual destruction, they did
not prevent an endless series of ‘small’ wars, which were often
manipulated by the powers for their own ends. Between 1950 and 1989,
these wars claimed the lives of between 20-30 million people.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union after 1989, Western leaders
claimed there would be a ‘peace dividend’, with the reduction of nuclear
stockpiles and armament spending generally. True, the number of nuclear
warheads has been reduced. But there are still around 27,600 warheads
(2,500 on ‘hair-trigger alert’) with a destructive power of 5,000
megatons (equivalent of 5,000 million tons of TNT).

And whereas the Cold War produced a relatively stable relationship
between two superpowers who dominated rival blocs of regional powers and
client states, today, there is a much more unstable, dangerous

Over 40 states have nuclear weapons or the capacity to rapidly
produce nuclear weapons. Superpowers may regard nuclear weapons as the
absolute last resort. But can it be totally ruled out that regimes like
North Korea or Pakistan, given a regional conflicts and internal
upheavals, would not resort to a nuclear strike against their enemies?

The major powers claim that they are committed to arms reduction and
nuclear non-proliferation. But this is completely hypocritical. Even now
the US is developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. In
Britain, Blair is secretly preparing to replace the ageing Trident
nuclear force – at an estimated cost of at least £15 billion.

In 1945, Franck, Szilard and other Manhattan Project scientists
warned: "Protection against the destructive use of nuclear power
can come only from the political organisation of the world." Sixty
years later, the failure of the United Nations and numerous
international "arms control" treaties to stop the
proliferation of nuclear weapons shows this to be a utopian dream under
capitalism. The competitive drive of national capitalist states for
ever-greater wealth and power makes arms accumulation and wars

"The political organisation of the world" requires a
world-wide change in the social system: Democratic economic planning
instead of the anarchy of the market. Socialist democracy instead of the
predatory rule of capitalists and landlords. Only the democratic control
of society by the working class can provide the basis for real
international cooperation and global planning.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are perpetual reminders of the barbarous,
destructive potential of capitalism. Today, as a result of deepening
global crisis, the world has become a much more volatile and dangerous
place. The alarming proliferation of nuclear weapons makes socialist
change even more urgent.