By Hari Kumar, Red Phoenix international correspondent.
The anniversary of the USA dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) recently passed. The horrific toll on the Japanese working people is still felt today.
We should recall that these were dropped when it was quite clear that Japan was defeated and on the verge of accepting Allied war demands to surrender. Contrary to US mythology, they did not prevent masses of further American troop deaths.
The real reason to drop the bomb was simply to stop any incursion of the USSR into Japan – as had been previously, and jointly, agreed by the Allies at Yalta.
This article reprises the history. A version was first printed by Alliance ML in 1998.
Prior knowledge about the imminent new technology:
As early as March 1942, the Soviet government became aware of the activities in the West towards the bomb. The secret British Maud Report of July 1941 concluded that:
“It will be possible to make an effective uranium bomb which, containing some 25 Ibs (pounds) of active material, would be equivalent as regards destructive effect to 1,800 tons of T.N.T.; and would also release a large quantity of radioactive substances which would make places near to where the bomb exploded dangerous to human life for a long period.”
Holloway, David. (1994). “Stalin and the Bomb.” Yale University Press. p. 79.
Details were obtained by Anatoly Gorsky (codename Vadim), the NKVD London resident, John Cairncross, and Klaus Fuchs, and transmitted to Beria.
Scientific advances of the Manhattan Project in the USA were also known to the USSR as Beria alerted Stalin and the State Defense Committee. However, the reality was that this became known during the siege of Stalingrad. Consequently initial Soviet progress to counter the threat was understandably slow.
Allied agreement on USSR and Japanese relations at Yalta:
By February 1945, the imminent defeat of Germany raised the question of joint Allied intervention against Japan. The Yalta meeting took place between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, at which plans for the post-war period were drawn up.
In the section entitled “Agreement Regarding Japan,” it was made clear that after Germany’s surrender (“in two or three months time”), the USSR would enter into war against Japan on the condition that the USSR regained its rights in the border zones with Japan, and was granted the Kurile Islands. In full these conditions were that:
1. The status quo in Outer Mongolia (the Mongolian People’s Republic) shall be preserved.
2. The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored, viz:
a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union;
(b) The commercial port of Dairen shall be internationalized, the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union in this port being safeguarded, and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the U.S.S.R. restored;
(c) The Chinese-Eastern Railroad and the South Manchurian Railroad, which provide an outlet to Dairen, shall be jointly operated by the establishment of a joint Soviet-Chinese company, it being understood that the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union shall be safeguarded and that China shall retain sovereignty in Manchuria;
3. The Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.”
These claims of the USSR were to “be unquestionably fulfilled after Japan has been defeated.”
President Truman flourishes the new atomic threat, bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
But then, by the next meeting of the Allied leaders, at the Potsdam Conference of July 1945, the USA had successfully exploded a test device at Alamogordo on July 16.
In the interim Roosevelt had died.
Marshall Zhukov relates how Stalin and Molotov discussed the seemingly “casual” probing statement of the new President Harry Truman to Stalin, that the USA had a “new weapon of unusual destructive force”:
“They’re raising the price,” said Molotov.
Stalin gave a laugh, “Let them. We’ll have to… speed up our work.”
(Holloway, 1994, p. 117)
Obviously both Stalin and Molotov understood the implications of Truman’s remark. Truman appeared not to understand this.
But all became public very soon, as the US exploded the first nuclear devices used in warfare: first on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and then on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The USSR’s nuclear program was still incomplete.
US possession of the atomic bomb was a potent threat, as both the American and the Soviet leaders understood. As Yuli Khariton, a scientist who became one of the Soviet creators of the bomb, said:
“The Soviet Government interpreted Hiroshima as atomic blackmail against USSR, as a threat to unleash a new even more terrible and devastating war.”
Zubok, V. & Pleshakov, C. (1996). “Inside the Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev.” Harvard University Press. p. 43.
This assessment accords with that of the British Ambassador to the USSR, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, who wrote to then-Foreign Secretary Eden:
“The victory over Germany had made the Soviet leaders confident that national security was at last within their reach… Then along came the Atomic bomb… At a blow the balance which had seemed set and steady was rudely shaken. Russia was baulked by the West when everything seemed to be within her grasp. The three hundred divisions were shorn of much of their value.” (Holloway, 1994, p. 154)
This atomic possession grounded a new threatening approach of the USA, which was manifested when Truman demanded the “right” of safe entry to any world port they “needed for security.” This threat was specified in Truman’s Navy Day Address when he announced “12 Principles” for the US state:
“On Navy Day October 27, 1945, President Harry S. Truman set forth his views… Although the US was demobilizing rapidly… It would still retain the largest Navy in the world, and one of the largest air forces. It would retain the atomic bomb… The US needed this vast peacetime force not for territorial aggrandizement, because: ‘Outside the right to establish necessary bases for our own protection, we look for nothing which belongs to any other power.’ A large military force was also needed to uphold the peace & the twelve fundamentals of US foreign policy… Emphatically he said: ‘We shall refuse to recognise any government imposed upon any nation by the force of any foreign power.’”
Resis, A. (1988). “Stalin, the Politburo, and the Onset of the Cold War, 1945-1946.” University of Pittsburgh Center for Russian and East European Studies. p. 4.
The Hiroshima bombing called into question the diplomatic gains won first at Yalta and Potsdam by the USSR. The Japanese had been on the verge of surrendering, and had posed, by the time of Hiroshima, no significant military threat.
But if the USSR entered the war theater, the USA worried that concessions would have to be made to it. Hiroshima was therefore both a preemptive strike against the USSR presence in the Japanese-Pacific arena, and a threat for the future post-war realpolitik. The entry of the Soviets into the Far Eastern war theater, as previously agreed by the Allies at Yalta, was rendered redundant.
Nonetheless the Soviets entered the Far Eastern war there as they had promised. On August 9 at 12:10 a.m. the Red Army attacked the Japanese in Manchuria. Thus the USA had not fully achieved their goal of completely preventing the USSR entry into the Far eastern war.
Even so, as Resis comments, Truman’s Navy Day speech was an assertive speech that “plainly coupled implicit threat with explicit friendliness.”
Molotov replied ten days later in a speech to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. He stated that the imperialists were “exploiting the atomic bomb in international affairs,” and predicted the USSR would also obtain atomic energy.
He pointed out the continuing attempt to isolate the USSR in a renewed anti-Soviet bloc. Kaganovich warned in a speech on Feb. 8, 1946, that, “Our country still finds itself in capitalistic encirclement.”
Molotov warned of the need to return to the task of “overtaking and surpassing” the economically most developed countries of Europe and the USA in per-capita industrial production in the near future. This required a strategic decision regarding heavy or light industry. There was a division in the ranks of even the Marxist-Leninists on this question.
Later, on Feb. 9, 1946, preceding the elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet, Stalin pointed out that although there had been an alliance of “freedom loving states,” including the USSR, UK, and USA, the process of uneven capitalist developments had continued unabated. Inevitably there would be another war, although this would be some time off — perhaps 15-20 years. This could allow “special attention” to be “focused to expand the production of consumer goods.” (Resis, p. 16)
Stalin also predicted that the next world war would be a war started between the imperialists in order to re-divide the world.
George Kennan’s inciting Long Telegram:
That the rulers of the USA were indeed in a bellicose and belligerent mood, is shown by the manner in which Stalin’s speech was interpreted. The USA charge d’affaires, George Kennan in Moscow, was requested to analyze Stalin’s speech. Kennan wrote his infamous “Long Telegram,” insisting that the USSR was preparing to go to war for expansion. But this interpretation did not fit with either Stalin’s speeches or the messages consistently made by the Soviet state.
Other interpreters of events included the British charge d’affaires in Moscow, Frank Roberts. He cabled both London and Washington, that Moscow really did want peace at this juncture (Resis, p.19). Stalin’s actions fully corroborated this.
Resis points out the “conciliatory deeds” of Stalin made in order to convey peaceful intent:
“In September 1945, despite Soviet claims on Bear Island and Spitzbergen, Moscow had announced the withdrawal of the Soviet Command from Norway without any quid pro quo and before the Western Allies withdrew their troops. This action was followed on April 6th 1946, when Moscow announced the withdrawal of the Soviet Command from the Danish Island of Bornholm, leaving no Soviet troops in Scandinavia. On the same day Moscow stated that it would complete evacuation of Soviet troops from China by the end of April. Moscow also announced… that it would complete evacuation of all troops from Iran within one-month and a half. On May 22, 1946, Moscow announced that Soviet troops had been completely withdrawn from Manchuria, and on May 24 that the evacuation of Soviet troops from Iran had been completed. At the Paris Peace Conference the Soviet Union abandoned its request for a trusteeship over Tripolitania in favour of its passing to Italian trusteeship under United nations control.”
Resis, A. (1988). “Stalin, the Politburo, and the Onset of the Cold War, 1945-1946.” University of Pittsburgh Center for Russian and East European Studies. p. 25.
Breaking of the atomic monopoly:
However all such signals to assure the imperialists of the USSR’s peaceful intentions were in vain. The USSR was again being isolated. Therefore, on August 20, ten days after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Soviet State Defense Committee decreed that a special committee would “direct all work on the utilization of the intra-atomic energy of uranium.” (Holloway, p. 129)
The Special Committee on the Atomic Bomb was headed by Lavrenti Beria. By a special decree it gained extraordinary powers and reported directly to Stalin. This body was dissolved by the Khrushchev revisionist-controlled Politburo meeting after Stalin’s death — the same one that arrested Beria. Yet this Special Committee had succeeded in developing the bomb for the USSR and closing in on USA military superiority:
“Focusing all the country’s forces on the solution of this complex problem called above all for the establishment of a new state management body endowed with appropriate power… the Special Committee, headed by L. P. Beria… was founded by the USSR State Defense Committee’s Resolution No. GOKO-9887 of 20 August 1945. …The Special Committee was an independent state control body directly subordinate to Soviet leader J. V. Stalin. It functioned for almost eight years until it was abolished in accordance with a CC CPSU Presidium Resolution of 26 June 1953 at the same tumultuous meeting at which Beria was arrested. Thus, the Special Committee’s activities covered a most important, formative period of the Soviet atomic project, that is, the establishment and growth of the USSR atomic-energy industry, the development and testing of the first Soviet atomic bomb (in 1949) and early improved atomic bomb designs, and the development and virtual completion of the first Soviet hydrogen bomb (RDS-6), which was first tested in August 1953.”
“Research Notes: the Russian Nuclear Declassification Project: Setting Up the A-bomb Effort, 1946.” Cold War International History Project.
It was not possible to exclude fully the evident and known revisionists, such as Nikolai Voznesensky, still the head of Gosplan, let alone political waverers like Malenkov. (Holloway, p. 134). Gosplan had already disapproved the Plan. Two scientists on the committee were Igor Kurchatov and Pyotr Kapitsa. Beria reported to Stalin weekly. The mandate of the Committee was broad, including special dispensations for all matters related to the production of uranium:
“Considering and resolving all the most basic issues which arose in the course of the early Soviet atomic project, the Special Committee was empowered to supervise all work on the use of atomic energy of uranium:
– the development of scientific research in this sphere;
– the broad use of geological surveys and the establishment of a resource base for the USSR to obtain uranium…;
– the organization of industry to process uranium and to produce special equipment and materials connected with the use of atomic energy;
and the construction of atomic energy facilities, and the development and production of an atomic bomb.”
The USSR atomic bomb followed the design of the USA bombs, and they were termed the RDS systems. By August 1949, RDS-1 was successfully exploded:
“RDS-1 meant the analog of the first U.S. plutonium-239 implosion type atomic bomb tested on 16 July 1945 in New Mexico (and of the U.S. atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki on 9 August 1945). This bomb was successfully tested in the USSR on 29 August 1949. RDS-2 signified the analog of the uranium-235 gun type bomb exploded over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. This bomb passed a design verification in the USSR, but was not tested. Later the abbreviation RDS-2 was used to denote the improved plutonium-239 implosion type atomic bomb tested in 1951. During the period through 1954 the USSR verified and tested three more types of improved atomic bombs: RDS-3, RDS-4, and RDS-5.” (Cold War International History Project)
The speed of the USSR catch-up of the atomic gap surprised the US imperialists. No doubt, it was owed in part to espionage. However, even authors hostile to Marxism-Leninism recognize the achievements of Soviet science and industry, which had to overcome the appalling devastation of Nazi invasion:
“The short duration and arrangement of the parallel works became possible thanks to… intelligence materials about the designs of the U.S. atomic bombs Fat Man and Little Boy, prototypes of RDS-1 and RDS-2, Soviet atomic bombs, which the leaders of the USSR atomic project decided in 1946 should be copied as closely as possible from the American designs. It should be emphasized that the availability of the intelligence materials could not substitute for independent experimental, theoretical, and design verification of the Soviet atomic bombs which were being prepared for testing. Owing to the extraordinary responsibility of the leaders of and participants in the Soviet atomic project, RDS-1 was tested only after thorough confirmation of the available information and a full cycle of experimental, theoretical, and design studies whose level corresponded to the maximum capabilities of that time.”
Since on December 25, 1946, the first Soviet nuclear reactor started a controlled chain reaction, the imminent likelihood of a tangible USSR atomic weapon had become clear. This began to return some agency back into the hands of the USSR.
The continuing USSR weakness following the acquisition of the bomb:
The temporary military and political weakness of the USSR in countering the atomic intimidation of the United States was partially ended in August 1949, with the Soviet atomic bomb. But even then imperialist observers of the USSR noted military weaknesses. The USA had already stockpiled over a hundred atomic bombs before the USSR successfully built and exploded one.
In fact, the Western imperialists remained confident that the German Nazi invasion had left the USSR significantly weakened. As the USA ambassador to the USSR, Admiral Alan G. Kirk, commented at a meeting of U.S. ambassadors at Rome, March 22–24, 1950:
“There were certain weaknesses in the Soviet Union which should be considered. The two basic shortages in terms of raw materials were those of rubber and petroleum. It was generally believed that there were no more large unexploited oil reserves available to the Russians. The other important weakness was that of the transportation system which in all respects, rail, highway, and water, was not highly developed in a modern sense.”
Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Western Europe, Volume III. (1977). U.S Government Printing Office. p. 823.
This was certainly not an isolated view, despite the public shrill fear-mongering of the USSR, that the Western imperialists actively fanned. Colonel Robert B. Landry, Air Aide to President Truman in 1948, reported the weakness of the Russian mobilization capability when directed at the West:
“I was told at the G-2 [intelligence] briefing that the Russians have dismantled hundreds of miles of railroads in Germany and sent the rails and ties back to Russia. There remains, at present time, so I was told, only a single track railroad running Eastward out of the Berlin area and upon which the Russians must largely depend for their logistical support. This same railroad line changes from a standard gauge, going Eastward, to a Russian wide gauge in Poland, which further complicates the problem of moving supplies and equipment forward.”
Kofsky, F. (1995). “Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948: A Successful Campaign to Deceive the Nation.” Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 293–94.
The highest levels of the US officialdom knew very clearly how affected the USSR had been by the war. In a memorandum to Secretary of State Dean Acheson dated April 5, 1950, Willard L. Thorp, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, in response to NSC-68, the “State–Defense Staff Study,” which top State Department officials saw on March 30, 1950, Thorp’s comments disagreed with the draft’s thrust that the USSR was decreasing the disparity between itself and the United States:
“One of the underlying assumptions in the Report is the notion that the USSR is ‘steadily reducing the discrepancy between its overall economic strength and that of the U.S.’ (page 6). So far as the evidence included in the Report is concerned, I do not feel that this proposition is demonstrated, but rather the reverse. It rests largely upon statistics showing that the USSR is diverting a higher proportion of its gross national product to investment and defense than is the United States. In this instance, percentage figures are completely misleading. Put in dollar terms, the facts seem to be as follows for 1949:
Gross Investment Defense (billions of dollars) Consumption Total USSR 16.5 9.0 39.5 65.0 US 34.0 16.2 199.8 250.0
… I suspect a larger proportion of Soviet investment went into housing. The largest single item in the US investment picture in 1949 was in electric power, which is certainly a “war-supporting industry.”
“Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs (Thorp) to the Secretary of State.” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, National Security Affairs; Foreign Economic Policy, Volume I.
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliterated the cities and many of their peoples. Long-term cancerous effects were also sown, all to threaten the USSR and to prevent its entry into Japan. That Stalin tried hard to remain at peace with the Western imperialists was even accepted by a High Priest of “The Cold War” Warrior Academics, John Lewis Gaddis:
“What is often forgotten about Stalin is that he wanted, in his way, to remain ‘friends’ with the Americans and the British: his objective was to ensure the security of his regime and the state he governed, not to bring about the long-awaited international proletarian revolution; he hoped to do this by means short of war, and preferably with Western cooperation.”
Gaddis, J. L. (1989). “Intelligence, Espionage, and Cold War Origins.” Oxford University Press.
Oher academic Cold War historians agree with Gaddis’ view, including Vojtech Mastny, Vladislav Zubok, and Constantine Pleshakov. As we remember the anniversaries of the bombs, we cannot forget the true reasons for their occurrence.