Shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The Cultural Conditions of Unconditional Surrender
By DAVID PRICE
David Price teaches anthropology at St.
Martin's College in Olympia, Washington. His latest book,
Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's
Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists has just been
published by Duke University Press. He can be reached at:
August 6, 2004
Today's fifty-ninth anniversary of the United States'
bombing of Hiroshima finds most Americans still satisfied
that President Truman's decision to use the bomb was a
difficult but necessary one designed to bring peace and
It seems unlikely that many Americans will reconsider their
positions on this issue. To some Hiroshima has become the paradigm
of the very notion of "bombing for peace," and one's variance from
this position tends to mark an individual as holding liberal or
radical political tendencies. But a few days ago as I was reading
through the papers of the late sinologist and cold warrior George
Edward Taylor at the University of Washington.
I encountered some
documents which reminded me that questioning the wisdom of using
atomic weapons against Japanese civilians to end the Pacific War is
not a position reserved for the contemporary left: even at the time
of these bombings there were embedded conservative members of the
military-intelligence community who viewed the use of these weapons
as unnecessary folly.
George Taylor was a classic Twentieth Century international man
of intrigue. He ran intelligence operations in Japanese occupied
China, during World War Two served as Deputy Director for the Far
East of the Office of War Information (OWI), later worked with
Rand, State, other articulations of the Twentieth Century's
revolving door of American intelligence agencies and universities.
During World War Two Taylor brought anti-Communist sinologist Karl
Wittfogel to the United States, after the war he helped establish a
safe nest for then "useful" Nazi-collaborator Nicholas Poppe, and
during the McCarthy era he betrayed his former friend Owen
Lattimore before Senator McCarran's Internal Security Subcommittee.
His support for the Vietnam War on the University of Washington
campus marked him as a Nixonian reactionary. Taylor was a sort of
Third Man who shape-shifted through the foreground and background
of various Twentieth Century theatres of conflict-and his
correspondence finds him holding court with the likes Henry
Kissinger, Edward Lansdale and Harold Lasswell.
In 1996 I met Taylor at his spectacular penthouse home atop
Seattle's Pill Hill-- overlooking the city and the Olympic and
Cascade Mountains--to conduct a lengthy interview covering his
contacts with Wittfogel, the McCarthy period and his years
supervising a small army of anthropologists weaponizing
anthropology against the Japanese at the Office of War Information
(OWI) during the Second World War.
At OWI Taylor's team of social scientists studied Japanese
culture and created cultural-specific propaganda-primarily leaflets
dropped from airplanes on Japanese soldiers and civilians. Because
Taylor believed that an understanding of culture was vital to the
success of his OWI team he recruited over a dozen anthropologists
and other social scientists to work on his Japanese analysis and
propaganda campaigns. Among other resources, Taylor's team had
access to five-thousand diaries seized from captured and killed
Japanese soldiers, and these heartfelt writings were used as
important resources for voicing the OWI's successful propaganda
efforts. Ruth Benedict's OWI work resulted in her post-war
publication of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword which analyzed the
culture and personality of the Japanese. Benedict's work focused on
the role and importance of the Emperor in Japanese culture and
reflected many of the institutional views of Taylor's OWI division.
When I interviewed Taylor I was surprised by his insistence that
at the beginning of the war he viewed his psychological warfare
programs as a means of ending the war by helping the Japanese
overcome all the cultural obstacles preventing their
surrender-however, as the war advanced and the American advantage
became clear he came to see his job as being to convince U.S.
civilian and military leaders that they did not have to engage in
acts of genocidal annihilation to end the war. Racist stereotypes
of maniacal Japanese soldiers and citizens fighting to the death
dominated the War Department and the White House, and Taylor and
his staff increasingly strove to battle this domestic enemy as a
prime deterrent of peace. It was with great difficulty that Taylor
and his staff of anthropologists worked to convince civilian and
military personnel that that Japanese were even culturally capable
Taylor's papers contain numerous typewritten speeches capturing
his efforts to convince U.S. military strategists that the Japanese
could surrender. In one such undated speech (probably from 1944) he
"If we accept, as we must, the view that Japanese soldiers, in
spite of their indoctrination, are as human as other troops, we
shall be the less surprised at the mounting evidence of their very
human reactions to defeat. We are taking more and more prisoners.
Two years ago it would have been very unusual for sixty men to
allow themselves to be picked up out of the water when their
transport had been sunk. In New Guinea and Burma stragglers are
coming in out of the jungles to surrender without a struggle. We
have known for a long time that many Japanese officers have been
evacuated from indefensible positions and that their reaction on
places such as Attu, where escape was impossible, was not to fight
to the last man."
But it was just this sort of reasoned analysis--arguing against
the War Department's pull for a genocidal campaign to obliterate a
"race" believed incapable of surrender--that was ignored by the War
Department and White House. The OWI had little success in
convincing President Roosevelt of the importance on not including
the demise of the Japanese Emperor in America's demands for
unconditional surrender, but as Taylor told Sharon Boswell in a
1996 interview "fortunately Roosevelt died and Truman came in."
Taylor maintained that Truman understood the OWI's insistence
that surrender could be negotiated and he seemed to grasp the
importance of exempting the Emperor from conditions of
"unconditional" surrender. Taylor said that Truman authorized the
OWI to communicate this to the Japanese. As Japan's war effort
collapsed there was a growing interest in surrender.
A few days ago I found among Taylor's papers and correspondence
some blurry photocopies of declassified intelligence reports from
the codename "MAGIC-Diplomatic Summaries." These are translated
Japanese diplomatic intercepts that were secretly being decoded and
read by American military intelligence during the war. A May 11,
1945 MAGIC intercept supports the views of Taylor, others at the
OWI, and elsewhere in military intelligence that the Japanese
military were ripe for surrender:
"Report of peace sentiment in Japanese armed forces: On 5 May
the German Naval Attaché in Tokyo dispatched the following message
to Admiral Doenitz:
'An influential member of the Admiralty Staff has given me to
understand that, since the situation is clearly recognized to be
hopeless, large sections of the Japanese armed forces would not
regard with disfavor an American request for capitulation even if
the terms were hard, provided they were halfway honorable.'
Note [by U.S. military intelligence]: Previously noted
diplomatic reports have commented on signs of war weariness in
official Japanese Navy circles, but have not mentioned such an
attitude in Army quarters."
This mention of "halfway honorable" terms of surrender was
exactly why the anthropologists in Taylor's group had been focusing
on the importance of the emperor in Japanese society. But such
considerations were easily ignored by a War Department whose cost
benefit calculations weighed the coming hundreds of thousands dead
in Hiroshima and Nagasaki against the balance of specifying the
acceptable conditions that came to follow unconditional surrender.
Even more tragic is a July 20th MAGIC intercept in which
Japanese Ambassador Sato advocated his desire for a Japanese
surrender if the United States would assure him that the "Imperial
House" would remain in existence. These MAGIC Documents are a sad
testimony that in the days before the attacks of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, American intelligence had good evidence that Ambassador
Sato was close to surrendering to the Americans. But neither the
knowledge gleaned from these intercepts nor the general advice of
social scientists at the OWI dissuaded American plans to unleash
nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians.
Perhaps it is George Taylor's gloomy credentials as a hawk, a
dangerously-anti-Communist-conservative, and as an intelligence
insider that makes his voice such an intriguing one in the chorus
of those questioning the necessity of Truman's deployment of the
A-Bomb. While out of the A-Bomb decision making loop Taylor and
others at the OWI knew Japan was ripe for (pseudo-unconditional)
surrender. Like many others, Taylor later came to believe that
Truman's decision to use of nuclear weapons had more to do with
"scaring the hell out of the Soviet Union" than it did with saving
the inflated estimates of American lives some argued would be lost
in a Japanese invasion and occupation.
But beyond the obvious message sent to the Soviet's, Truman's
decision to use his doomsday weapon (twice) without presenting the
Japanese with the actual conditions of his unconditional surrender
revealed elements of an important American post war trajectory-a
trajectory of violence where American military force became the
tool of preference selected over the promise of diplomacy.