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Countdown to Hiroshima, X-Minus-Six-Days: Truman Wants Bomb Used Before Russians Attack

08/01/2013 11:45 am ET | Updated Oct 01, 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).

For August 1, 1945:

--Truman wrote a letter to his wife Bess last night talking about the atomic bomb (but without revealing it): "He [Stalin] doesn't know it but I have an ace in the hole and another one showing--so unless he has threes or two pair (and I know he has not) we are sitting all right."

And today he gives a letter to Stalin, which confounds him. Earlier, Stalin had promised to declare war on Japan around August 7. Now Truman writes that more consultation is needed. Truman had earlier pushed for the quick entry, writing in his diary "fini Japs" when that occurred, even without use of The Bomb. Now that he has the bomb in his "pocket" he apparently hopes to stall the Soviets.

--Truman has also approved statement on the use of the bomb, brought to him last night in Germany by a courier, drafted by Secretary of War Stimson and others, and ordered it released after the bomb drop. A line near the start has been added explicitly depicting the vast city of Hiroshima (occupied mainly by women and children)as nothing but a "military base." The president, and the drafters of the statement, knew was false. An earlier draft described the city of Nagasaki as a "naval base" and nothing more. There would be no reference to radiation effects whatsoever in the statement--it was just a vastly bigger bomb.

--The Potsdam conference ended early this morning, with Truman expected to head back to the US by sea tomorrow. (As I noted yesterday, by now both Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Truman's chief of staff, Admiral William D. Leahy--the top ranking military officer for the U.S.--have both told Truman they oppose use of the new weapon against Japan.)

--The "Little Boy" atomic bomb is now ready for use on the island of Tinian. Under the direction of the lead pilot, Paul Tibbetts, practice runs have been completed, near Iwo Jima, and fake payloads dropped, with success. Truman's order had given the okay for the first mission later this day and it might have happened if a typhoon was not approaching Japan.

--Stimson writes in his diary about decision today to release to the press, with Truman's coming statement after the use of the bomb, a 200-page report on the building of the bomb, revised to not give too much away. Here he explains why they will release it at all: "The aim of the paper is to backfire reckless statements by independent scientists after the demonstration of the bomb. If we could be sure that these could be controlled and avoided, all of us would much prefer not to issue such a paper. But under the circumstances of the entire independence of action of scientists and the certainty that there would be a tremendous amount of excitement and reckless statement, [Gen. Leslie] Groves, who is a very conservative man, had reached the conclusion that the lesser evil would be for us to make a statement carefully prepared so as not to give away anything vital and thus try to take the stage away from the others."

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).