Aidan Foster-Carter spreads some myths about nuclear weapons in his latest article. One is that Japan in 1945 surrendered because of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Every school kid—still, my daughter in her school, in private school, in good school, is still learning this: We dropped the bomb because we had to, because the Japanese resistance was fanatic, and we would have lost many American lives taking Japan. This is one—there’s no alternative to that story. And we are beginning the process in chapter one, two and three of saying the bomb did not have to be dropped for strategic reasons and also because it was morally reprehensible. But strategically, it made no sense.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Kuznick, why?
PETER KUZNICK: It made no sense because the Japanese were already defeated. They were looking for a way out of the war. United States knew they were defeated. Truman refers to the intercepted July 18th telegram as “the telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace.” The United States—
AMY GOODMAN: From the Japanese emperor asking for peace.
PETER KUZNICK: The Japanese, yeah, but that was called—he says “the Jap emperor asking for peace,” is Truman’s exact words on that. Everybody else knew that they were militarily defeated and looking for a way out. But the people who knew that the best were the Russians, because they were trying to get the Russians to intervene on their behalf to get them better surrender terms, and also because—their strategy was to welcome American invasion and then to conflict heavy damages and then force better surrender terms. But once the Russians invaded, then that undermined both their diplomatic strategy and their military strategy. So that was what really ended the war. It was not the bombing. We had already been bombing Japanese cities. We had firebombed over a hundred cities. Destruction reached 99.5 percent of the city of Toyama. From the Japanese standpoint, whether it was 200 bombs—200 planes and a thousand bombs or one plane and one bomb didn’t change the equation. But the Soviet invasion fundamentally changed it, and that’s what forced the final surrender.
OLIVER STONE: In Manchuria on August 9.
PETER KUZNICK: August 9th, yeah.
OLIVER STONE: It’s a huge—a huge—Stalin moved a huge army to the East off the German—from the German frontier to the—and wiped out the Kwantung Army in about, I think two days or one day.
PETER KUZNICK: Very, very quickly.
OLIVER STONE: And it was moving towards Japan. So, if you let a month go by, you know, if we really are interested in ending this war and using Russian troops, it’s perfect. We can do it.
What’s interesting about this episode is the shifting coalitions around, first, FDR, and then, Truman, and those in Tokyo discussing surrender. The Bomb doesn’t figure prominently for Japan. It’s the prospect of a Soviet invasion of the home islands, notably Hokkaido, that the Japanese find untenable. Given that Japanese leaders feared Soviet expansion more than American military force and also viewed Stalin as a diplomatic player powerful enough to compel Washington to negotiate, the Soviet obliteration of the Kwantung Army was doubly troubling. The Bomb itself is not a diplomatic weapon, but it does add punch to a country’s already stated position. It’s also a symbol of what a national economy can do, since it takes a great deal of infrastructure, to build one, resources most states would rather allocate to consumer goods.
And what is that position for North Koreans? It’s not to become “impregnable”, a term even Foster-Carter should realize is far too crude for a world where trade is a more important indicator of military prowess than weapons stockpiles. It’s not really just prestige, either. It’s the ability to control its sovereignty, and the very real resources within its borders, that compels bureaucrats to implement certain defensive measures, like ICBMs or border guards. Libya didn’t want to become “impregnable”, any more than North Korea does. Qaddafi and his family wanted the security that would allow them to sell oil abroad, and then take that cash on shopping sprees in Italy. The Kim regime has that predilection for luxury, too, without ever really having the chance to indulge it in the public way any South Korean can.Most states display favorable aspects of their governance: smart students, smiling consumers and their impressive toys, monuments. Some, like the United States, can deploy jets and carriers. And, yes, nuclear weapons.
North Korea reportedly has the mineral resources in its mountains and ample stocks of marine produce in its coastal waters to make North Korea viable, if not rich. What Pyongyang lacks is the ability to compel international corporations to deal only with it, and not Chinese bureaucrats or even the South Korean chaebol. As it is, Beijing gets rare earths for less than their market value. Pyongyang doesn’t want to be a fortress, but rather wants the world to respect its right to participate in the world economy and on the diplomatic stage as a very tight cabal of North Korean demi-gods deems fit. Not that the results of this strategy – gulags, bizarre one-party surveillance, and Potemkin capitol city – aren’t odious and an affront to humanity. It just reveals the international aspect of how far states will go, to attain the fruits of the ideals most of us toss off like so little coffee chat. We are all equally superficial and avaricious, and humans love to battle over spoils while demonizing our opponents.