January 6, 2004
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was one of history’s 
bloodiest single acts claiming 100,000 Japanese lives. Exposing men, 
women and children to one million degrees of heat and a supersonic blast 
wave, the attack had unimaginably horrific results. In his classic 
essay, ‘Machiavellian Realism and US Foreign Policy: Means and Ends’, 
Howard Zinn presents eyewitness testimony indicating the reality of what 
happened that day. Here a seventeen-year-old girl describes what she saw:
“I walked past Hiroshima Station... and saw people with their bowels 
and brains coming out... I saw an old lady carrying a suckling in her 
arms... I saw many children... with dead mothers... I just cannot put into 
words the horror I felt.” 
A fifth-grade girl:
“Everybody in the shelter was crying out loud. These voices... they 
aren’t cries, they are moans that penetrate to the marrow of your bones 
and make your hair stand on end... I do not know how many times I called 
begging that they would cut off my burned arms and legs.” (Quoted, The 
Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.354)
In last night’s one-hour documentary on the bombing, Days That Shook 
The World, the BBC spent 35 seconds examining the justification for the 
attack. This involved presenting, unchallenged, the unfounded claim that 
the attack was required to avoid one million US combat casualties in 
the event of an invasion of the Japanese mainland. This was then followed 
by a supportive quote from the US Army Chief of Staff in 1945.  
In fact the one million figure is based on US Secretary of State James 
Byrnes' claims at the time, but no serious attempt had ever been made 
to estimate the likely costs of invasion. In his essay, Howard Zinn 
writes that "the closest to such an attempt was a military estimate that an 
invasion of the southernmost island of Japan would cause 30,000 
American dead and wounded". (Ibid, p.351)
Thus, in reviewing the nuclear bombing of a defenceless city claiming 
100,000 civilian lives, the BBC justified the attack in 35 seconds, 
based on an unfounded claim supported by one US army source with no 
counter-arguments being heard. Media Lens wrote last night to Richard Walker, 
the writer and director of the programme:
Dear Richard Walker
I watched tonight's Days That Shook The World on the atomic bombing of 
Hiroshima. You briefly mentioned predictions of 1 million US combat 
deaths in the event of an invasion of the Japanese mainland. You also 
quoted the US Army Chief of Staff's justification for the bombing: "It 
seemed quite necessary, if we could, to shock them [the Japanese] into 
action. We had to end the war. We had to save American lives."
I wonder if you are aware that the US Strategic Bombing Survey 
interviewed 700 Japanese military and political officials after the war, and 
came to this conclusion:
"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by 
the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the 
Survey's opinion 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."
On August 2, the Japanese foreign office sent a message to the Japanese 
ambassador in Moscow:
"There are only a few days left in which to make arrangements to end 
the war... As for the definite terms... it is our intention to make the 
Potsdam Three-Power Declaration [which called for unconditional 
surrender] the basis for the study regarding these terms."
Barton Bernstein, a Stanford historian, comments:
"The message, like earlier ones, was probably intercepted by American 
intelligence and decoded. It had no effect on American policy... They 
were unwilling to take risks in order to save Japanese lives."
After the war, American scholar Robert Butow went through the papers of 
the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the records of the 
International Military Tribunal of the Far East, and the interrogation files of 
the US Army. He also interviewed many of the Japanese principals and 
came to this conclusion:
"Had the allies given the Prince (Prince Konoye, special emissary to 
Moscow, who was working on a Russian intercession for peace) a week of 
grace in which to obtain his Government's support for the acceptance of 
proposals, the war might have ended toward the latter part of July or 
the very beginning of the month of August, without the atomic bomb and 
without Soviet participation in the conflict."
The scientist Leo Szilard met with President Truman's main policy 
adviser, secretary of state Byrnes, in May 1945 and reported later: "Byrnes 
did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities 
of Japan in order to win the war... Mr Byrnes' view was that our 
possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable."
American historian Howard Zinn comments:
"The +end+ of dropping the bomb seems, from the evidence, to have been 
not winning the war, which was already assured, not saving lives, for 
it was highly probable no American invasion would be necessary, but the 
aggrandisement of American national power at the moment and in the 
postwar period... For the idea that any means - mass murder, the misuse of 
science, the corruption of professionalism - are acceptable to achieve 
the end of national power, the ultimate example of our time is 
Why did you make no mention of these important counter-arguments to the 
claim that the bombing of Hiroshima was necessary to end the Second 
World War and to save American lives?
Yours sincerely
David Edwards
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and 
respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge 
readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Sample Email:
Why, in your hour-long documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima, did you 
spend just 35 seconds examining the justification for the killing of 
100,000 civilians? And why did you present no counter-arguments to 
unfounded claims based on US government figures backed up by one quote from 
the US Army Chief of Staff?
Write to the programme’s writer and director Richard Walker:
Copy your emails to the BBC’s information department:
And to BBC Director-General, Greg Gyke:
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