Edu Montesanti: Professor Peter Kuznick, thank you so
very much for granting me this interview.
In the book The Untold
History of the United States, Oliver Stone and you reveal that
the the launch of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by
President Harry Truman was militarily unnecessary, and the
reasons behind it.
Would you comment these versions, please?
Peter Kuznick: It is interesting to me that when I speak to
people from outside the United States, most think the atomic
bombings were unnecessary and unjustifiable, but most Americans
still believe that the atomic bombs were actually humane acts
because they saved the lives of not only hundreds of thousands
of Americans who would have died in an invasion but of millions
That is a comforting illusion that is deeply held by many
Americans, especially older ones. It is one of the fundamental
myths emanating from World War II.
It was deliberately
propagated by President Truman, Secretary of War Henry Stimson,
and many others who also spread the erroneous information that
the atomic bombs forced Japanese surrender.
Truman claimed in
his memoirs that the atomic bombs saved a half million American
Hiroshima after the Bomb
George H.W. Bush later raised that number to
The reality is that the atomic bombings neither
saved American lives nor did they contribute significantly to
the Japanese decision to surrender. They may have actually
delayed the end of the war and cost American lives. They
certainly cost hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives and
injured many more.
As the January 1946 report by the U.S. War Department made
clear, there was very little discussion of the atomic bombings
by Japanese officials leading up to their decision to surrender.
This has recently been acknowledged somewhat stunningly by the
official National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, DC,
"The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made
little impact on the Japanese military.
However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria… changed their minds."
Few Americans realize that six of America's seven five star
admirals and generals who earned their fifth star during the war
are on record as saying that the atomic bombs were either
militarily unnecessary or morally reprehensible or both.
That list includes Generals
Douglas MacArthur, Dwight
Eisenhower, and Henry "Hap" Arnold and Admirals
Ernest King, and Chester Nimitz.
Leahy, who was chief of staff
to presidents Roosevelt and Truman, called the atomic bombings
"every Christian ethic I have ever heard of and
all of the known laws of war."
He proclaimed that the,
"Japanese were already defeated
and ready to surrender… The used of this barbarous weapon at
Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our
war against Japan.
In being the first to use it we
adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the
Eisenhower agreed that the Japanese were already defeated.
MacArthur said that the Japanese would have surrendered months
earlier if the U.S. had told them they could keep the emperor,
which the U.S. did ultimately allow them to do.
What really happened? By spring 1945, it was clear to most
Japanese leaders that victory was impossible. In February 1945,
Prince Fumimaro Konoe, former Japanese prime minister, wrote to
"I regret to say that Japan's
defeat is inevitable."
The same sentiment was expressed by the Supreme War Council in
May when it declared that,
"Soviet entry into the war will deal a
death blow to the Empire" and was repeated frequently thereafter
by Japanese leaders.
The U.S., which had broken Japanese codes and was intercepting
Japanese cables, was fully aware of Japan's increasing
desperation to end the war if the U.S. would ease its demand for
Not only was Japan getting battered
it's railroad system was in tatters and its food supply was
shrinking. Truman himself referred to the intercepted July 18
cable as "the telegram from the Jap emperor asking for peace."
American leaders also knew that what Japan really dreaded was
the possibility of a Soviet invasion, which they maneuvered
unsuccessfully to forestall.
The Japanese leaders did not know that at Yalta Stalin had
agreed to come into the Pacific War three months after the end
of the fighting in Europe. But Truman knew this and understood
As early as April 11, 1945, the Joint
Intelligence Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was reporting
"If at any time the USSR should
enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute
defeat is inevitable."
At Potsdam in mid-July, when Truman received Stalin's
confirmation that the Soviets were coming into the war, Truman
rejoiced and wrote in his diary,
"Fini Japs when that comes
The next day he wrote home to his wife,
"We'll end the war a year sooner
now, and think of the kids who won't be killed."
Potsdam July 1945,
Churchill, Truman and Stalin
So there were two ways to expedite the end of the war without
dropping atomic bombs.
The first was to change the demand for
unconditional surrender and inform the Japanese that they could
keep the emperor, which most American policymakers wanted to do
anyway because they saw the emperor as key to postwar stability.
The second was to wait for the Soviet invasion, which began at
midnight on August 8.
It was the invasion that proved decisive not the atomic bombs,
whose effects took longer to register and were more localized.
The Soviet invasion completely discredited Japan's ketsu-go
strategy. The powerful Red Army quickly demolished the Japan's
When Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki was asked why
Japan needed to surrender so quickly, he replied that if Japan
"the Soviet Union will take not only Manchuria, Korea,
Karafuto, but also Hokkaido.
This will destroy the foundation of Japan. We must end the war
when we can deal with the United States."
The Soviet invasion
changed the military equation; the atomic bombs, as terrible as
they were, did not.
The Americans had been firebombing Japanese
cities for months. As Yuki Tanaka has shown, the U.S. had
already firebombed more than 100 Japanese cities.
Destruction reached as high as 99.5 percent in downtown Toyama.
Japanese leaders had already accepted that the United States
could wipe out Japanese cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two
more cities to vanquish, however thorough the destruction or
horrific the details.
But the Soviet invasion proved devastating
as both American and Japanese leaders anticipated it would.
But the U.S. wanted to use atomic bombs in part as a stern
warning to the Soviets of what was in store for them if they
interfered with U.S. plans for postwar hegemony. That was
exactly how Stalin and those around him in the Kremlin
interpreted the bombings.
U.S. use of the bombs had little
effect on Japanese leaders, but it proved a major factor in
jumpstarting the Cold War.
And it put the world on a glide path to annihilation.
observed on at least three separate occasions that he was
beginning a process that might result in the end of life on this
planet and he plowed ahead recklessly.
When he received word at
Potsdam of how powerful the July 16 bomb test in New Mexico had
been, he wrote in his diary,
"We have discovered the most
terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates
Valley Era after Noah and his fabulous Ark."
So the atomic
bombings contributed very little if anything to the end of the
war, but they began a process that continues to threaten
humanity with annihilation today - 70 plus years after the
As Oliver Stone and I say in The Untold History of the
United States, to kill innocent civilians is a war crime. To
threaten humanity with extinction is far, far worse.
It is the
worst crime that can ever be committed.
Edu Montesanti: In the Vietnam War's chapter, it is revealed
that the US armed forces conducted in that small country the
launch of a greater number of bombs that all launched during
World War II.
Would you please detail it, and comment why you
think it happened, professor Kuznick?
Peter Kuznick: The U.S. dropped more bombs against little
Vietnam than had been dropped by all sided in all previous wars
in history–three times as many as were dropped by all sides in
That war was the worst atrocity - the worst example of
foreign aggression - committed since the end of WWII.
million gallons of herbicide poisoned the countryside. Vietnam's
beautiful triple canopy forests were effectively eliminated.
U.S. destroyed 9,000 of South Vietnam's 15,000 hamlets.
It destroyed all six industrial cities in the North as well as
28 of 30 provincial towns and 96 of 116 district towns. It
threatened to use nuclear weapons on numerous occasions. Among
those who discussed and occasionally supported such use was
Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
told my students that he believes that 3.8 million Vietnamese
died in the war.
Thus, the war was truly horrific and the Americans have never
atoned for this crime.
Instead of winning a Nobel 'Peace' Prize
for ending the war, Henry Kissinger should be in the dock in the
Hague standing trial for having committed crimes against
Edu Montesanti: Please speak of your experiences in the 60's in
Vietnam, and why the US decided to engage a war against that
Peter Kuznick: Oliver and I approached the war from different
He dropped out of Yale and volunteered for combat
in Vietnam. He was wounded twice and won a medal for combat
valor. I, on the other hand, was fiercely opposed to the U.S.
invasion of Vietnam from the start.
As a freshman in college, I started an anti-war group. I
organized actively against the war. I hated it. I hated the
people who were responsible for it. I thought they were all war
criminals and still do. I attended many antiwar marches and
spoke often at public events.
I understood, as my friend Daniel
Ellsberg likes to say, we weren't on the wrong side. We were the
The U.S. got gradually involved. It first financed the French
colonial war and then took over the fighting itself after the
Vietnamese defeated the French. President Kennedy sent in 16,000
"advisers," but realized the war was wrong and planned to end it
if he hadn't been killed.
U.S. motives were mixed. Ho was not
only a nationalist, he was a communist. No U.S. leader wanted to
lose a war to the communists anywhere.
This was especially true after the communist victory in China in
1949. Many feared the domino effect–that Vietnam would lead to
communist victories across Southeast Asia. That would leave
Japan isolated and Japan, too, would eventually turn toward the
communist bloc for allies and trading partners. So one
motivation was geopolitical.
Another was economic.
U.S. leaders didn't want to lose the cheap
labor, raw materials, and markets in Indochina. Another reason
was that the military-industrial complex in the U.S. - the "defense" industries and the military leaders allied with
them - got fat and prosperous from war.
War was their reason for
being and they profited handsomely from war in both inflated
profits and promotions.
So it was a combination of maintaining U.S. preeminence in the
world, defending and exploiting U.S. economic interests, and a
perverse and corrosive anti-communist mentality that wanted to
defeat the communists everywhere.
Edu Montesanti: What were the real reasons behind the US Cold
War with the Soviet Union?
Peter Kuznick: George Kennan, the U.S. State Department official
who provided the theoretical rationale for the containment
theory, laid out the economic motives behind the Cold War in a
very illuminating memo in 1948 in which he said,
"We have about
50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its
population… we cannot fail to be the object of envying
Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern
relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of
The U.S. pursued this task. Sometimes that required
supporting brutal dictatorships.
Sometimes it required
supporting democratic regimes. The fight occurred on the
cultural as well as the political, ideological, and economic
Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life Magazines, said, in
1941, that the 20th century must be the American Century. The
U.S. would dominate the world. The U.S. set out to do so.
Soviets, having been invaded twice through Eastern Europe,
wanted a buffer zone between themselves and Germany. The U.S.
was opposed to such economic and political spheres that limited
U.S. economic penetration.
Although the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, never went to war, they
fought many dangerous proxy wars. Human beings are lucky to have
survived this dismal era.
Edu Montesanti: How do you see US politics towards Cuba since
the Cuban Revolution, and towards Latin America in general since
the Cold War?
Peter Kuznick: The U.S. completely controlled the Cuban economy
and politics from the 1890s until the 1959 revolution.
carried water for U.S. investors. The U.S. had intervened
repeatedly in Latin American affairs between 1890 and 1933 and
then often again in the 1950s. Castro represented the first
major break in that cycle.
The U.S. wanted to destroy him and make sure that no one else
Latin America would follow his example. It failed. It didn't
destroy his revolution, but it guaranteed that it would not
succeed economically or create the people's democracy many hoped
However, it has succeeded in other ways.
And the revolution has
survived throughout the Cold War and since. It has inspired
other Latin American revolutionaries despite all the U.S.-backed
and U.S.-trained death squads that have patrolled the continent,
leaving hundreds of thousands of dead in their wake.
The U.S. School for the Americas has been instrumental in
training the death squad leaders.
Hugo Chavez and others have
picked up where Fidel left off in inspiring the Latin American
left. But many progressive leaders have been brought down in
Today Dilma Rouseff is fighting for her life but Evo Morales and
Alvaro Garcia Linera in Bolivia are standing proud and standing
tall to resist U.S. efforts to again dominate and exploit Latin
But across Latin America, progressive leaders have
either been toppled or are being weakened by scandals.
U.S.-backed neoliberals are poised once again to loot local
economies in the interest of foreign and domestic capitalists.
It is not a pretty picture.
The people will suffer immensely
while some get rich.
Edu Montesanti: According to your researches, Professor Kuznick,
who killed President John Kennedy? What interests were behind
Peter Kuznick: Oliver made a great movie about the Kennedy
assassination - JFK.
We didn't feel that we needed to revisit
those issues in our books and documentaries. We focused instead
on what was lost to humanity when Kennedy was stolen from us. He
had grown immensely during his short time in office.
He began as a Cold Warrior. By the end of his life, following
the lessons he learned during the first two years of his
administration and punctuated by the Cuban Missile Crisis, he
wanted desperately to end the Cold War and nuclear arms race.
Had he lived, as Robert McNamara stated, the world would have
been fundamentally different.
The U.S. would have withdrawn from Vietnam. Military
expenditures would have dropped sharply. The U.S. and the
Soviets would have explored ways to work together. The arms race
would have been transformed into a peace race.
But he had his
enemies in the military and intelligence communities and in the
military sector of the economy.
He was also hated by the Southern segregationists, the Mafia,
and the reactionary Cuban exile community. But those behind his
assassination would much more likely have come from the military
and intelligence wing.
We don't know who did it, but we know whose interests were
advanced by the assassination.
Given all the holes in the
official story as detailed by the Warren Commission, it is
difficult to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and that
the magic bullet did all that damage.
Edu Montesanti: Do you think US imperialism against the region
today, especially attacks against progressive countries are in
essence the same policy during the Cold War?
Peter Kuznick: I don't think the U.S. wants a new cold war with
a real rival that can compete around the globe.
As the neocons
proclaimed after the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. really
wants a unipolar world in which there is only one superpower and
Progressive countries have fewer major allies today than they
had during the Cold War.
Russia and China provide some balance
to the U.S., but they are not really progressive countries
challenging the world capitalist order. They both are beset by
their own internal problems and inequalities.
There are few democratic socialist models for the world to
follow. The U.S. has managed to subvert and sabotage most of the
forward thinking and visionary governments.
Hugo, despite all
his excesses, was one such role model. He achieved great things
for the poor in Venezuela.
But if we look at what is happening
now in Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, it is a very sad picture.
A new revolutionary wave is needed across the third world with
new leaders committed to rooting out corruption and fighting for
I am personally excited by recent developments
in Bolivia, despite the results of the latest election.
Edu Montesanti: How do you see the Cold War culture influences
US and world society today, Professor Kuznick? What role the
Washington regime and the mainstream media play on it?
The media are part of the problem.
served to obfuscate rather than educate and enlighten. They
inculcate the sense that there are dangers and enemies lurking
everywhere, but they offer no positive solutions.
As, a result, people are driven by fear and respond
Former U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, one of
America's leading visionaries in the 20th century, responded to
Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in 1946 by warning,
"The source of all our mistakes
is fear… If these fears continue, the day will come when our
sons and grandsons will pay for these fears with rivers of
blood… Out of fear great nations have been acting like
cornered beasts, thinking only of survival."
This also operates on the personal level where people will
sacrifice their freedoms to achieve greater security.
that play out in the U.S.
after 9/11. We're seeing that now in
France and Belgium.
The world is moving in the wrong direction. Inequality is
growing. The richest 62 people in the world now have more wealth
than the poorest 3.6 billion. That is obscene. There is no
excuse for poverty and hunger in a world of such abundant
In this world, the media serve several purposes, the
least of which is to inform the people and arm them with the
information they need to change their societies and the world.
The media instead magnify people's fears so that they will
accept authoritarian regimes and militaristic solutions to
problems that have no military solutions, provide mindless
entertainment to distract people from real problems, and
narcotize people into somnambulence and apathy.
This is especially a problem in the United States where many
people believe there is a "free" press. Where there is a
controlled press, people learn to approach the media with
Many gullible Americans don't understand the more
subtle forms of manipulation and deception.
In the U.S., the mainstream media rarely offer perspectives that
challenge conventional thinking. For example, I'm constantly
getting interviewed by leading media outlets in Russia, China,
Japan, Europe, and elsewhere, but I'm rarely interviewed by
media in the United States.
Nor do my progressive colleagues get invited onto mainstream
So, yes, there is a certain measure of press freedom
in the United States, but that freedom is undermined not by the
government as much as it is by self-censorship and silencing of
Much of the rest of the world is more open
to criticizing the U.S. but not as forthright when it comes to
criticizing their own governments' policies.
Edu Montesanti: What could you say about the idea that the
current US "War on Terror" and even
"War on Drugs" especially in
Latin America are ways the US has found to replace the Cold War,
and so expand its military power and world domination?
Peter Kuznick: The U.S. rejects the methods of the old colonial
It has created a new kind of empire undergirded by
between 800 and 1,000 overseas military bases from which U.S.
special forces operate in more than 130 countries each year.
Instead of invading forces consisting of large land armies,
which has proven not to work in country after country, the U.S.
operates in more covert and less heavy-handed ways. Obama's
preferred method of killing is by drones.
These are of dubious legality and produce questionable results.
They are certainly effective in killing people, but there is
lots of evidence to suggest that for every "terrorist" they
kill, they create 10 more in his or her place.
The War on Terror that the U.S. and its allies have waged for
the past 15 years has only created more terrorists. Military
solutions rarely work.
Different approaches are needed and they
will have to begin with redistribution of the world's resources
in order to make people want to live rather than to kill and
die. People need hope.
They need a sense of connection. They need to believe that a
better life is possible for them and their children. Too many
feel hopeless and alienated.
The failure of the Soviet model has
produced a vacuum in its place. As Marx warned long ago, Russia
was too culturally and economically backward to serve as a model
for global socialist development.
The Revolution was challenged from the start by invading
capitalist forces. Problems abounded from the beginning. Then
Stalinism brought its own spate of horrors. To the extent that
the Soviet model became the world standard for revolutionary
change, there was little hope for creating a decent world. Nor
did the Chinese model provide a better standard.
So some have turned to radical Islam, which brings its own
As progressive governments continue to stumble
and fall, U.S. hegemony strengthens. But the U.S. has had little
positive to offer the world. Future generations will look back
at this Pax Americana not as a period of enlightenment but one
of constant war and growing inequality.
Democracy is great in principle but less uplifting in practice.
And now with the nuclear threat intensifying and
also threatening the future existence of humanity, the future
The U.S. will cling to wars on terror and
wars on drugs to maintain the disparities that George Kennan
outlined 68 years ago. But that is not the way forward.
The world may look upon U.S. internal politics as a descent into
lunacy - an amusing sign of the complete failure of American
democracy - but the outsider success of Bernie Sanders and even
the anti-establishment revolt among the Republican grassroots
shows that Americans are hungry for change.
and the Republican establishment, with their Wall Street ties
and militaristic solutions, do not command respect outside of
certain limited segments of the population.
They may win now, but their time is limited.
are desperate for new positive, progressive answers. Some,
clearly, as we see now across Europe, will turn to rightwing
demagogues in times of crisis, but that is at least in part
because the left has failed to provide the leadership the world
A revitalized left is the key to saving this planet. We're
running out of time though. The road ahead will not be easy.
we can and must prevail...