The Secret History of Hiroshima Supports Trump on Nuclear Weapons

On the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bomb falling on Hiroshima, Japan, it's high time to correct the record: "the Bomb" didn't defeat Japan in World War II, and what actually happened lends support to President Donald Trump's approach on nuclear weapons.

In April 2016, Trump infamously said that he would not rule out using nuclear weapons. "I don't want to rule out anything," the then-candidate declared. "I will be the last to use nuclear weapons. It's a horror to use nuclear weapons. ... I will not be a happy trigger like some people might be. But I will never, ever rule it out."

Perhaps ironically, the true history of what happened when the U.S. used nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945, and August 9, 1945, backs up the idea that nukes — while dangerous and deadly and only useful in a last resort — are not quite as powerful as commonly believed.

The story has been repeated so many times, few question it. Emperor Shōwa, better known as Hirohito, made the decision to end World War II and surrender on August 9, 1945, three days after the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and on the very day the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Despite the Japanese culture of honor, he accepted unconditional surrender because of the might and terror of this new nuclear weapon.

But the timing, scale, and strategy of Japan's surrender actually does not square with this conventional reading of the end of the war. Ward Wilson, a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council and author of Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, explained why the conventional wisdom is wrong in a 2013 article for Foreign Policy magazine.

As Wilson explained, the first problem with the "our bomb did it!" narrative is timing: Japan's Supreme Council for the Direction of the War (a kind of Emperor's cabinet that effectively controlled Japan, but had never met in person before) convened on the morning of August 9, a full three days after news of the Hiroshima bombing had reached Tokyo. The bombing had killed about a third of the city's population and destroyed about two thirds of the city itself.

Had the devastation of Hiroshima been the cataclysmic event pushing Japan to surrender, the Supreme Council would have met quickly after news first reached Tokyo. In fact, Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori went to Premier Suzuki Kantaro on August 8, explicitly asking for the Supreme Council to meet and discuss the Hiroshima bombing, but the other council members declined.

Wilson noted that the Japanese already understood, at least roughly, what nuclear weapons were — they themselves had a nuclear weapons program, and military leaders acknowledged the type of bomb that struck Hiroshima in their diaries.