Many Top Military Leaders Opposed Atomic Bombings

Every year the four-day period August 6–9 brings to mind the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. This year is marks the 77th anniversary of those horrific acts. Given recent U.S. withdrawal from 3 nuclear treaties and US boasting about spending a trillion dollars to upgrade our nuclear stockpile, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight in 2020. That’s the symbolic closest we’ve come to nuclear winter in the entire nuclear age.

I learned of the atomic bombings 71 years ago at age 6 and have been haunted by them ever since. For the first decade afterward, I swallowed whole the US fairytale that the military and political elite were unified in dropping the bombs to prevent a US invasion and its estimate of a million US casualties.

Few if any reputable historians buy that version today. They point to a number of top military leaders who opposed the nuclear attacks, for good reasons. Most prominent was US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall who argued not using the Bomb would strengthen America’s prestige and position in post war Asia. He even advocated for inviting the Russians to view our July 16, 1945 test. Navy Secretary and later Defense Secretary James Forrestal argued the bombings would impede our post WWII relations with the Soviet Union. Fleet Admiral William Leahy, senior US military officer on active duty in WWII, called the proposed bombings “barbaric”. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy told Truman that neither invasion nor atomic bombings were necessary. Japan would surrender if we avoided terminology ‘Unconditional Surrender’ since any surrender would amount to that without saying so. McCloy even advocated telling Japanese leaders we had the Bomb as additional incentive to quit the war.

Though not involved in the Bomb decision process, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was furious we dropped them, telling Secretary of War Harry Stimson shortly after the attacks, “I voiced my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated so that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary. 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 required to save American lives."

Ike, McCloy, Leahy, Forristall, Marshall and others were right; Truman and his supporters were wrong. Seventy-seven years on America is still the only country to explode nukes in anger. Current belligerency against maintaining nuclear agreements, routinely threatening imagined enemies with “all military options are on the table”, spending a trillion dollars to upgrade our nukes, all bode ill we’ll make another 77 years nuclear attack free.

Walt Zlotow became involved in antiwar activities upon entering University of Chicago in 1963. He is current president of the West Suburban Peace Coalition based in the Chicago western suburbs. He blogs daily on antiwar and other issues at www.heartlandprogressive.blogspot.com.