70 years on: Cannon on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 6, 2015 at 8:41 am (capitalism, hell, history, imperialism, James P. Cannon, posted by JD, science, trotskyism, war)

The first nuclear bomb killed 100,000 people and razed two-thirds of the city of Hiroshima

The leading American Trotskyist, James P Cannon spoke at a memorial meeting in New York for Leon Trotsky on 22 August 1945. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had just taken place (August 6 and 9), and Cannon used the occasion to express his outrage at the atrocity:

What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvellous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.

Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as reporters explain, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.

In the [New York] Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the centre of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see”. Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. The report says: “One of these pictures revealed a tragic scene 10 miles away from the centre of the atomic air attack”, where farm houses were either crushed down or the roofs torn asunder.

The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.”

In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.

This is how American imperialism is bringing civilisation to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbour a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name.

One preacher quoted in the press, reminding himself of something he had once read in the Bible about the meek and gentle Jesus, said it would be useless to send missionaries to the Far East anymore. That raises a very interesting question which I am sure they will discuss among themselves. One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time-quite by accident of course-pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds.

“What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” There is a subject for debate, a debate on a macabre theme. But in any case, you can be sure that where American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.

What a harvest of death capitalism has brought to the world! If the skulls of all of the victims could be brought together and piled into one pyramid, what a high mountain that would make. What a monument to the achievements of capitalism that would be, and how fitting a symbol of what capitalist imperialism really is. I believe it would lack only one thing to make it perfect. That would be a big electric sign on the pyramid of skulls, proclaiming the ironical promise of the Four Freedoms. The dead at least are free from want and free from fear…

Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilisation with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: the alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.

We believe that the people of the world will waken to this frightful alternative and act in time to save themselves…


  1. Juan P. Lewis said,

    “a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.”

    If Cannon really thought that the US was the same as Japanese fascism, I want a bit of what he was smoking.

    The truth is that Okinawa had resulted in something between 40K and 150K civilian casualties (and 20K American and 70K Japanese dead soldiers).

    Tokyo bombing killed 200K civilians at least.

    The Japanese refused to surrendered even after two bombs, and continued fighting in Manchuria for three more weeks (losing 80K soldiers).

    PM Suzuki said that they would not listen to the Potsdam Declaration, which called Japan to surrender.

    When the Americans dropped leaflets telling civilians that they cities might be bombed, the Japanese government responded by arresting people who carried those leaflets (they would rather see them die than look for shelter).

    When the Japanese War Cabinet knew that defeat was nigh, they decided that:

    “The only course left is for Japan’s one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight”

    And the allies had just seen that the Nazis would choose almost total destruction before contemplating surrender.

    Fascism was not just genocidal. It was suicidal.

    If dropping the bomb was the right course to follow, I don’t know. Would Japan have surrendered by Christmas if the war had continued that course? Maybe they would, but this is only hypothesis.

    So let’s don’t pretend that the alternatives were much prettier.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I’ve come to reassess my view of WW2 and no longer subscribe to Cannon’s view (the Trotskyist Proletarian Military Policy): but I still think his denunciation of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is spot-on, and a very powerful piece of writing.

      • Juan P. Lewis said,

        Rhetorically, it is Jim, but my point is that Truman faced a true moral dilemma, and ANY choice he had made would have resulted in enormous suffering.

        I’m not saying that there were no alternatives to the bomb. I’m just saying that condemnation of the bomb without pondering what not dropping them would’ve caused is either naive or… in some cases… dishonest.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        If this war had gone on then far more would have died. More emaciated POW’s would have died. The murderous rape in China would have carried on. We civilians are not entirely innocent when the nations go to war. We build the munitions in factories that kill. The Germans and Japanese did have nuclear programmes. The Yanks struck first and that was the end of the war. Sad but true. The left have always used the Bomb as an excuse to have a go at the Yanks. It has been invented and there is no way of getting rid of the knowledge. We have to live with it and hope diplomacy prevails although knowing humans I would hold my breath on that.

  2. rennatgk said,

    In all the ‘commemorations’ I have seen not a word about the atrocities meted out to millions of civilians and Allied soldiers. Murdered, raped (women tied spreadeagled at crossroads for the ‘convenience’ of Jap soldiers was just one of their specialities) tortured, worked to death, starved, used as medical guinea pigs in horrific esperiments, left to die of amoebic dysentry until their intestines dissolved even though the Japs kept effective medications in store but refused to release them. – would you like more?
    The Emporer who survied unscathed, ordered the murder or working to death of ALL POWs if the main islands of Japanwere invaded. My uncle was a POW from Changi jail on board a death ship en-route to Japan when the bombs were dropped. The ship turned back.He was lucky and survived but died a few years ago still suffering the physical and mental abuse from his POW days.
    I was alive at the time the bombs fell and can recall vividly the situation.
    I am sick of nimby, wet around the ears apologists with not a clue in their collective heads about the realities of the time.
    The Japs were evil personified.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: