AUGUST 6th marks the 73rd anniversary of the greatest single-act war crime in history, and the start of our present nuclear nightmare. The universally accepted justification for the obliteration of Hiroshima (that it shortened the war and saved allied lives), apart from being ethically worthless, has in truth no historical basis.

For a start the dates don’t mesh. The bomb was dropped on August 6th, but Japan did not surrender till the 15th. Why the 10-day delay?

We really must look at the wider context. The USSR and Japan had a non-aggression pact during the war against Hitler. As agreed at Yalta, three months after the surrender of Germany, the Soviet Union broke this pact, and declared war on Japan. Vast amounts of military equipment were trundled from Europe to Manchuria. There, Marshal Aleksandr Vasilievsky inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese army. South Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands were seized (they’re still Russian controlled).

The USSR now occupied Japanese territory, and was poised to invade mainland Japan by August 10.

Japan had been blanket-bombed relentlessly by the Americans all summer, had no planes left, and would have been helpless before the seasoned veterans of the Manchurian campaign. A Soviet invasion was imminent.

This put the gun to Emperor Hirohito’s head. He had to do a deal with the Americans – and quickly – or face Soviet occupation. This would have meant the extermination of the ruling elite, and his own execution as a war criminal (which he undoubtedly was). The Americans did not want to see Japan occupied by Russia, so they accepted the continuation of the Emperor (the one condition the Japanese had been asking for since May), and the armed forces of Japan surrendered.

Prime Minister Suzuki explained on August 10th: “The Soviet Union will take not only Manchuria, Korea, Karafuto, but also Hokkaido. This would destroy the foundation of Japan. We must end the war when we can deal with the United States.” It was fear of Stalin and his own imminent execution that motivated Emperor Hirohito – not Hiroshima.

But these facts have been white-washed out of popular history. I have never met anybody who has even heard of Aleksandr Vasilievsky.

Prior events are also revealing. In July 1945 (before Hiroshima) the US Joint Chiefs of Staff noted “with atomic weapons a nation must be ready to strike the first blow”. The resultant war plan – JIC 329/1 – singled out for obliteration 20 Soviet cities. However, the US only had the two bombs earmarked for Japan. After these experiments proved so successful, US production of nuclear weapons raced full steam ahead. But Russia didn’t have a nuclear bomb till 1949.

I had the privilege of meeting Professor Joseph Rotblat, the last living survivor of the Manhattan Project and a pupil of Albert Einstein’s. He quoted General Leslie Groves, head of the project, who said: “From two weeks after taking up the post, there was never any illusion on my part that the main purpose of the project was to subdue the Russians.

This throws a very different light on the whole demonology of deterrence, whereby we are always the innocent victims of the Evil Other. The inescapable historical truth is that we were the instigators of the nuclear arms race, and drove it ever onwards.

The Soviet breaking of the American nuclear monopoly prevented the implementation of war plan JIC 329/1 and other later plans. Thus, deterrence has worked – but in the exact opposite way we imagine.

Brian Quail