Below is an extract from a speech by James P. Cannon, “The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” given shortly after the U.S. rulers’ cold-blooded massacre in the two Japanese cities, Aug. 6 and 9, 1945. To mark the anniversary of these atrocities against humanity, we print this excerpt from The Struggle for Socialism in the “American Century”: Writings and Speeches, 1945-47 by Cannon, then national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. It is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for July. Copyright © 1977 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
Capitalism in its death agony is dragging humanity down into the abyss. Capitalism is demonstrating itself every day more and more, in so-called peace as in war, as the enemy of the people. Bomb the people to death! Burn them to death with incendiary bombs! Break up their industries and starve them to death! And if that is not horrible enough, then blast them off the face of the earth with atomic bombs! That is the program of liberating capitalism.
What a commentary on the real nature of capitalism in its decadent phase is this, that the scientific conquest of the marvelous secret of atomic energy, which might rationally be used to lighten the burdens of all mankind, is employed first for the wholesale destruction of half a million people.
Hiroshima, the first target, had a population of 340,000 people. Nagasaki, the second target, had a population of 253,000 people. A total in the two cities of approximately 600,000 people, in cities of flimsy construction where, as the reporters explained, the houses were built roof against roof. How many were killed? How many Japanese people were destroyed to celebrate the discovery of the secret of atomic energy? From all the indications, from all the reports we have received so far, they were nearly all killed or injured. Nearly all.
In the Times today there is a report from the Tokyo radio about Nagasaki which states that “the center of the once thriving city has been turned into a vast devastation, with nothing left except rubble as far as the eye could see.” Photographs showing the bomb damage appeared on the front page of the Japanese newspaper Mainichi. … The broadcast quoted a photographer of the Yamaha Photographic Institute, who had rushed to the city immediately after the bomb hit, as having said: “Nagasaki is now a dead city, all the areas being literally razed to the ground. Only a few buildings are left, standing conspicuously from the ashes.” The photographer said that “the toll of the population was great and even the few survivors have not escaped some kind of injury.” So far the Japanese press has quoted only one survivor of Hiroshima.
In two calculated blows, with two atomic bombs, American imperialism killed or injured half a million human beings. The young and the old, the child in the cradle and the aged and infirm, the newly married, the well and the sick, men, women, and children — they all had to die in two blows because of a quarrel between the imperialists of Wall Street and a similar gang in Japan.
This is how American imperialism is bringing civilization to the Orient. What an unspeakable atrocity! What a shame has come to America, the America that once placed in New York harbor a Statue of Liberty enlightening the world. Now the world recoils in horror from her name. Even some of the preachers who blessed the war have been moved to protest. One said in an interview in the press: “America has lost her moral position.” Her moral position? Yes. She lost that all right. That is true. And the imperialist monsters who threw the bombs know it. But look what they gained. They gained control of the boundless riches of the Orient. They gained the power to exploit and enslave hundreds of millions of people in the Far East. And that is what they went to war for — not for moral position, but for profit. …
One can imagine an interesting discussion taking place in the inner circles of the House of Rockefeller and the House of Morgan, who are at one and the same time — quite by accident of course — pillars of finance and pillars of the church and supporters of missionary enterprises of various kinds. “What shall we do with the heathens in the Orient? Shall we send missionaries to lead them to the Christian heaven or shall we send atomic bombs to blow them to hell?” … [W]here American imperialism is involved, hell will get by far the greater number of the customers.
American imperialism has brought upon itself the fear and hatred of the whole world. American imperialism is regarded throughout the world today as the enemy of mankind. The First World War cost twelve million dead. Twelve million. The Second World War, within a quarter of a century, has already cost not less than thirty million dead; and there are not less than thirty million more to be starved to death before the results of the war are totaled up. …
Who won the war that cost over thirty million lives? Our cartoonist in The Militant, with great artistic merit and insight, explained it in a few strokes of the pen when she drew that picture of the capitalist with the moneybags in his hands, standing on top of the world with one foot on the graveyard and the other on destroyed cities, with the caption: “The Only Victor.” The only winner is American imperialism and its satellites in other countries. …
Before the Second World War, with all its horror and destruction of human life and human culture, is formally ended, they are already thinking and planning for the third.
Don’t we have to stop these madmen and take power out of their hands? Can we doubt that the peoples of all the world are thinking it cannot go much further, that there must be some way to change it? Long ago the revolutionary Marxists said that the alternative facing humanity was either socialism or a new barbarism, that capitalism threatens to go down in ruins and drag civilization with it. But in the light of what has been developed in this war and is projected for the future, I think we can say now that the alternative can be made even more precise: The alternative facing mankind is socialism or annihilation! It is a problem of whether capitalism is allowed to remain or whether the human race is to continue to survive on this planet.