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Countdown to Hiroshima, for July 29, 1945: American POWs in Target Cities?

07/29/2013 10:21 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

For the past several days here, and for more to come, I am counting down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945), marking events from the same day in 1945. I've written hundreds of article and three books on the subject: Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).

July 29, 1945: Assembling of the first atomic bomb continued at Tinian. It would likely be ready on August 1 and the first use would be dictated by the weather.

  • The second bomb -- the plutonium device -- was still back in the States. The target list, with Hiroshima as #1, remained in place, although it was being studied for the presence of POW camps holding Americans in the target sites (indeed, several American POWs would be slain by the bomb in Hiroshima).

  • Japanese sub sinks the U.S.S. Indianapolis, killing over 800 American seamen. Beyond the tragic loss of life: If it had happened three days earlier, the atomic bomb the ship was carrying to Tinian would have never made it.
  • A Newsweek story observes: "As Allied air and sea attacks hammered the stricken homeland, Japan's leaders assessed the war situation and found it bordering on the disastrous.... As usual, the nation's propaganda media spewed out brave double-talk of hope and defiance." But it adds: "Behind the curtain, Japan had put forward at least one definite offer. Fearing the results of Russian participation in the war, Tokyo transmitted to Generaliissimo Stalin the broad terms on which it professed willingness to settle all scores.
  • Secretary of War Stimson began work on the statement on the first use of the bomb that President Truman would record or release in a few days, assuming the bomb worked. It would portray Hiroshima as simply a "military base," not a large a city with a military base -- aptly opening the nuclear era by deliberately misleading Americans..
  • Truman wrote letter to wife Bess from Potsdam on deals there (but does not mention A-bomb discussions with Soviets): "I like Stalin. He is straightforward, knows what he wants and will compromise when he can't get it. His Foreign Minister isn't so forthright." He had also written kind words about Stalin in his diary in the past 10 days.
  • Joseph Davies, the influential former ambassador to the Soviet Union, in his diary recounts warning Secretary of State Jimmy Byrnes today that the new bomb has severe "psychological effects" beyond the physical -- particularly on the Russians, and not in the positive ways Byrnes was counting on. Presciently he writes that using and further developing the bomb with no cooperation with our allies, the Russians, will create "hostility" leading to a "race" in the laboratories threatening "annihilation" of both countries.
  • Greg Mitchell, former editor of Nuclear Times and Editor & Publisher, is the author of more than a dozen books, with three on the use of the bomb, including Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).