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Hiroshima, Then Nagasaki: Why the US Deployed the Second A-Bomb

July 21, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The explicit reason was to swiftly end the war with Japan. But it was also intended to send a message to the Soviets.

Ever since America dropped a second that by July 1945 there had been no sign of “any weakening in the Japanese determination to fight rather than accept unconditional surrender.” Meanwhile, the U.S. was planning to ramp up its sea and air blockade of Japan, increase strategic air bombings and launch an invasion of the Japanese home island that November.

“We estimated that if we should be forced to carry this plan to its conclusion, the major fighting would not end until the latter part of 1946, at the earliest,” Stimson wrote. “I was informed that such operations might be expected to cost over a million casualties, to American forces alone.”

READ MORE: The Hiroshima Bombing Didn’t Just End WWII. It Kick-Started the Cold War

The center area where the bomb struck in Nagasaki, photographed on September 13, 1945. The two shacks in the foreground have been constructed from pieces of tin picked up in the ruins.

The Other Reason? Get the Soviet Union’s Attention

Despite the arguments of Stimson and others, historians have long debated whether the United States was justified in using the atomic bomb in Japan at all—let alone twice. Various military and civilian officials have said publicly that the bombings weren’t a military necessity. Japanese leaders knew they were beaten even before Hiroshima, as Secretary of State James F. Byrnes argued on August 29, 1945, and had reached out to the Soviets to see if they would mediate in possible peace negotiations. Even the famously hawkish General Curtis LeMay told the press in September 1945 that “the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

Statements like these have led historians such as Gar Alperovitz, author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, to suggest that the bomb’s true purpose was to get the upper hand with the Soviet Union. According to this line of thinking, the United States deployed the plutonium bomb on Nagasaki to make clear the strength of its nuclear arsenal, ensuring the nation’s supremacy in the global power hierarchy.

Others have argued that both attacks were simply an experiment, to see how well the two types of atomic weapons developed by the Manhattan Project worked. Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, …read more


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How the 1968 Sanitation Workers' Strike Expanded the Civil Rights Struggle

July 21, 2020 in History

By Colette Coleman

With the slogan, “I am a man,” workers in Memphis sought financial justice in a strike that fatefully became Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final cause.

On February 12, 1968, 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis began a strike to demand better working conditions and higher pay. Their stand marked an early fight for financial justice for workers of color as part of the .

According to the King Institute at Stanford, the strike kicked off successfully with a several-hundred-person sit-in, which led the city council to acknowledge the sanitation workers’ union and support raises. The mayor, however, refused these concessions, and, on February 23, 1968, police confronted peaceful protesters with tear gas.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Comes to Memphis

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. surrounded by leaders of the sanitation strike as he arrived to lead a march in support of the striking workers in Memphis on March 28, 1968.

Memphis’ Black leaders, led by the Reverend James Lawson, formed a coalition to support the strike. Lawson “had a working relationship with King, so in March, he asked [him] to come and lend his voice to the struggle,” says Jason Sokol, author of The Heavens Might Crack: The Death and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr..

This cause was well aligned to King’s priorities at the time. In 1968, King was building the Poor People’s Campaign to advocate for underprivileged Americans of diverse races. The sanitation workers’ movement was “one that was explicitly about the link between economic injustice and racial injustice,” says Sokol, so it was “exactly the type of thing that King was working on.”

In a speech to a 25,000-person crowd in Memphis on March 18, 1968, King affirmed the value of the sanitation workers’ labor, saying, “whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

On March 28, 1968, King returned to Memphis to lead a march with Lawson in support of the strike. The protest turned ugly when an outside group infiltrated the marchers and became violent, leading to the death of an African American teenager.

Despite the tragedy, the strike continued, as did smaller demonstrations. Protesters marched wearing “I Am A Man” sandwich boards, demanding that they be treated with dignity. The signs, says Estes, “became a rallying cry for the movement.”

King Delivers ‘I’ve …read more