Sending a message

To the Editor:

Just as is the case today, 72 years ago this month, U.S. officials were having a problem with Russia.

Seventy-two years ago, it concerned Russia’s claims regarding Poland in the aftermath of the European part of World War II. Today, it is accusations of Russian interference in our electoral system, though in the absence of real concrete proof of Russian “hacking” of the Democratic National Committee or voting infrastructure, it more likely relates to our geopolitical resurrection of the Cold War in recent years.

Be that as it may, in 1945 the U.S. was the only kid on the block with nuclear weapons. Today, the situation is different. But there is a similarity – a U.S. military policy embracing the concept of a pre-emptive first strike. The only difference is that while now it is stated policy, then it was unstated.

In 1945, Secretary of State James Byrnes wanted to “hold a gun to the head” of the Russians, and he finally found one in the atomic bomb. He alone among all of President Truman’s political and military advisers wanted to drop on of those bombs on a populated city to make sure the Russians got the message.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki had nothing to do with Japanese surrender. The Japanese were stumbling all over themselves to find an honorable way to surrender but were deliberately stymied by Byrnes’s removal of a provision that would let them keep their emperor as a symbol.

Even without a surrender, the War Department had calculated potential casualty numbers of 25,000 for a November invasion, 46,000 for a full-scale invasion the following spring. Yet we have been told ever since, falsely, that the bomb was necessary to save 1,000,000 servicemen’s lives.

It is likely that the almost incomprehensible horror unleashed by those two bombs has held in check the lust of many subsequent high-level military men for nuclear war. There always will be arguments over whether a quarter of a million Japanese lives was a justifiable price to pay for that protection from Armageddon.

But about one thing there is absolutely no doubt. The documents of the time make clear that the nuclear destruction of cities had nothing to do with Japanese surrender or saving a million American lives at the end of World War II. It had to do with sending a message to the Russians.

In this world, with accident-susceptible nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert and a seeming mass amnesia about their horror, we’d do well to pause and consider where the present anti-Russian fervor is headed.

Dick Atlee

Southwest Harbor

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