Stalin and the POWs

Russell Grinker grinker at
Sat Aug 7 11:19:16 MDT 1999

Sincere apologies to Lou Proyect.  I appear in my last posting to have
stupidy attributed the views of the Christian Science Monitor on this
subject to him.


-----Original Message-----
From: Louis Proyect <lnp3 at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Friday, August 06, 1999 9:06 PM
Subject: Re: Stalin and the POWs

>At 07:18 PM 8/6/99 -0700, you wrote:
>>Mark Jones wrote: < Truman, the simple, religious Man from Missouri,
>>made it plain to Stalin that the atom bombs just then detonated were
>>meant above all as warnings to Russia (the Japanese Empire had, of
>>course, been trying for weeks to surrender; the Americans turned a deaf
>>ear until after their first nuclear tests were completed on the
>>inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). >
>>'The employment of the new weapon on a substantial scale should expedite
>>the surrender of Japan.' Editorial of the Daily Worker, daily organ of
>>the Communist Party of Great Britain, 7 August 1945, the day after the
>>Hiroshima bombing.
>>Paul F
>Although I found Mark's piece defending the need to keep Soviet POW's
>interned perfectly dreadful, he is more accurate on the historical
>substance of this particular issue. Keep in mind that 1945 is a pivotal
>year. It is both the culmination of Soviet-US collaboration and also the
>beginning of the cold war. There is very little doubt that signals had been
>picked up by the Russian side that the mood had already shifted in
>Washington. They probably understood that they would be the new target of
>imperialism. That was the purpose of the nuclear attack on Japan, to show
>the Russians who was boss. This excerpt from a Christian Science Monitor
>article dated Aug. 7, 1970, the 25th anniversary of Hiroshima-Nagasaki,
>puts the whole thing in context:
>At Potsdam, Truman pressed Stalin and wrote that Stalin assured him Soviet
>troops in transit and would be in combat August 8. In order to remove
>doubts about the Soviet entry into the war against Japan, Truman extended
>the date to August 15, 1945. Jubilantly, Truman wrote that when the Russian
>bear showed up, Japan would surrender. ''Fini Japs,'' was the pithy way he
>put it. He went further the next day: ''Believe Japs will fold before
>Russians come in.'' Then an entry on July 16, 1945 has Truman hearing of
>the successful test of the atomic device in New Mexico. Everything changed,
>as Robert Donovan wrote in ''Conflict and Crisis.'' Truman knew he could
>end the war without the Russians. Donovan quoted Stimson as saying the
>report from New Mexico ''made it clear to the Americans that further
>diplomatic efforts to bring the Russians in the Pacific war were largely
>An entry in Truman's notebook showed he was aware of the moral liability
>the US would incur if we dropped the bomb. He wrote he directed Stimson to
>confine bombing to ''military objectives.'' He ordered a warning to be
>issued, notifying the Japanese government of the bomb's existence. These
>orders then changed.
>Why? Why did Truman act against his convictions about the moral issue? Why
>did he decide to drop the bomb? How do we deal with the fact that Truman's
>public statements were opposed to what he knew to be true?
>The decision to drop the bomb was made in the context of the entry of the
>USSR. The deadline for this entry - August 15, 1945 - explains not just why
>the atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima but why a second bomb was dropped on
>Nagasaki. We were racing against the clock. We didn't want to get involved
>in talks with Japan past August 15. Hence the ultimatum after Hiroshima and
>Nagasaki for immediate surrender.
>The diary of James Forrestal, secretary of the Navy, underlines the change
>of strategy: ''Talked with Byrnes, now at Potsdam. Byrnes said he was most
>anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.''
>A reference to Sec. of State Byrnes' position came from physicist Leo
>Szilard who, with Albert Einstein, called Roosevelt's attention to the
>Nazi's efforts to make an atomic bomb. Byrnes told Szilard the bomb would
>make the USSR ''more manageable.''
>The most serious issue in dropping the bomb is noted by Truman in his diary
>as the US moral responsibility not to drop ''the terrible bomb'' on
>civilians. In reversing himself, Truman was spurred by Byrnes. Truman
>allowed himself to be swept up in realpolitik - plot and counterplot. The
>president used a weapon he knew had no military justification. Having made
>a decision difficult to defend, he created a rationale for public
>Some may say it's unpatriotic to review these facts 50 years later. Yet we
>are in a bad way if we have to rely on distorted history to uphold our view
>of ourselves. The misrepresentation to Americans in 1945 may not have
>started a trend. But it illustrates an ominous practice, increasingly
>accepted by officials, of telling people what they think we ought to know
>rather than what we are entitled to know. No one's suggesting there's not a
>time when government has to conduct affairs privately. What's equally clear
>is that this legitimate need is too easily invoked and becomes a means by
>which politicians shield themselves from their errors.
>On August 6, 1990, it may be useful to ask if public misunderstanding of a
>key event in our history should be allowed to stand uncorrected. If we
>can't stand the truth, we don't stand for much.
>Louis Proyect

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