Let me say right off the top that I am aligned with Setsuko Thurlow in her desire to remind the world of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, and for ICAN’s efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons. She, being a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing on August 6th, 1945, certainly speaks from deep and sad knowledge and deserves our respect.
But where Ms. Thurlow and I split is on my feeling that she’s trying to re-write history. Her recent column in the Globe and Mail outlines Canada’s “extensive” role in the Manhattan Project, suggesting our country was “heavily involved” in developing the atom bomb that fell on Hiroshima, and then a second bomb that leveled Nagasaki 3 days later. These characterizations simply don’t hold up. Apparently she is calling on Canada’s government to issue a statement of regret for being involved at all. Sorry ma’am, no sale here.
Yes, hundreds of thousands of Japanese died from the strikes by the Allies that would eventually end World War II, and their deaths are truly sad. But Ms. Thurlow’s veiled comments seem to blame our country and the U.S. and Great Britain for raining down terror on her former country (she lives in Canada now) without provocation. Has she forgotten the incitement of these events? Ms. Thurlow, are you overlooking the fact that your former home and native land, Japan, attacked a neutral country – the United States of America – without a declaration of war and without explicit warning on the early morning of December 6th, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service assaulted Pearl Harbour with 353 aircraft (including fighters, level and dive bombers and torpedo bombers) in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers? Are you overlooking the fact that all of the eight U.S. Navy battleships present were damaged and four sunk, and that 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed? And are you unaware that 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded? Have you failed to remember that over the course of the next seven hours, there were further war crimes committed by Japan, with coordinated attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guam and Wake Island as well as on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong?
Three months before Hiroshima, Germany had given up. Japan should have too. But they kept their war going. Sorry Ms. Thurlow, but it is these specific bellicose actions by Japan that led to bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Check your history book: you’ll find that U.S., U.K. and Chinese leaders issued the Potsdam Declaration in July, 1945, which outlined the terms of surrender for Japan. This was rejected by the Japanese government. It shouldn't have been. The declaration stated that without a surrender, the Allies would attack Japan, resulting in "the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland". Meanwhile, the U.S. warned Japanese civilians of potential air raids by dropping more than 63 million leaflets across Japan. This too was ignored by the leaders of your former nation.
Finally, seeking to demonstrate that World War II should indeed end, Hiroshima, site of a major military headquarters, was bombed on August 6, 1945. That city was selected because it was devoted to military production. It was also not a city of traditional cultural significance to Japan, since the goal was not to destroy Japanese culture but to dismantle the country’s ability to make war.
After the Hiroshima bombing, U.S. President Harry Truman issued a statement on behalf of the Allies, warning Japan that if they did not now surrender, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware."
But still Japan ignored the warning and kept their war going. And so came Nagasaki on August 9th. And even then Japan held on. Until finally on August 15, they read the writing on the wall, realized the Allies were serious about ceasing the war, and surrendered.
So Ms. Thurlow, let me welcome your desire to prohibit nuclear weapons. But let’s not forget Japan’s direct responsibility in creating the reign of terror from the skies that killed so many of your former countrymen and women. Getting Canada to say we’re sorry for the suffering of the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the absence of Japan accepting full accountability for what happened is specious and will accomplish nothing. To suggest that our country “gloated” about the Manhattan Project is misleading at best, as is your claim of our “extensive” role.
Sorry, but with all respect, no sale.