Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me to this hallowed ground, given meaning like the fields of Gettysburg by those who died here, far more than any speech can pretend to add.
Those deaths, here and in Nagasaki, those hundreds of thousands of lives taken in a pair of fiery nuclear infernos, were the entire point. After 70 years of lying about this, let me be clear, the purpose of dropping the bombs was dropping the bombs. The more deaths the better. The bigger the explosion, the bigger the destruction, the bigger the news story, the bolder the opening of the Cold War the better.
Harry Truman spoke in the U.S. Senate on June 23, 1941: “If we see that Germany is winning,” he said, “we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.” This is how the U.S. president who destroyed Hiroshima thought about the value of European life. Perhaps I needn’t remind you of the value Americans placed on Japanese lives during the war.
A U.S. Army poll in 1943 found that roughly half of all GIs believed it would be necessary to kill every Japanese person on earth. William Halsey, who commanded the United States’ naval forces in the South Pacific during World War II, thought of his mission as “Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs,” and had vowed that when the war was over, the Japanese language would be spoken only in hell.
On August 6, 1945, President Truman lied on the radio that a nuclear bomb had been dropped on an army base, rather than on a city. And he justified it, not as speeding the end of the war, but as revenge against Japanese offenses. “Mr. Truman was jubilant,” wrote Dorothy Day on the spot, and so he was.
People back home, let me be clear, still believe false justifications for the bombings. But here I am with you in this sacred place thousands of miles away, with these words flowing so well on this teleprompter, and I’m going to make a full confession. There has for many years no longer been any serious dispute. Weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” President Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor.
Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to “dictate the terms of ending the war.” Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.” Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and “Fini Japs when that comes about.” Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons. Then the Japanese surrendered.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded 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.” One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed: “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,” he said.
Apart from the question of how rudely Truman was maneuvered into the bombing decision by his subordinates, he justified the barbarous weapon’s use in purely barbarous terms, saying: “Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, and against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international law of warfare.”
He didn’t pretend to any humanitarian purpose, the way we are obliged to do these days. He told it like it was. War need not bow before any humanitarian calculation. War is the ultimate power. During my presidency, I have bombed seven countries and empowered war making in all kinds of new ways. But I have always put up a pretense of exercising some sort of restraint. I have even talked about abolishing nukes. Meanwhile I’m investing in building newer, better nukes that we now think of as more useable.
Now, I know that this policy is creating a new nuclear arms race, and that eight other nuclear nations are following suit. I know the chance of ending all life through a nuclear accident, never mind a nuclear action, has multiplied several fold. But I am going to keep pushing the U.S. war machine forward in every possible way, and the consequences be damned. And I’m not going to apologize for the mass murder committed on this site by my predecessor, because I have already told you what I know. The fact that I know the real situation and must necessarily know what ought to be done, even though I never do it, has always been good enough to satisfy my supporters back home, and it damn well ought to be good enough to satisfy you people too.
And God Bless the United States of America.