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Director Defends Angle of 'Hiroshima'

August 14, 1995|ROGER SPOTTISWOODE | Roger Spottiswoode directed the American sequences of the Showtime film "Hiroshima," while Koreyoshi Kurahara directed the Japanese sequences. Prior to "Hiroshima," veteran filmmaker Spottiswoode directed the Emmy-nominated "And the Band Played On."

In their article "Fifty Years of Fallout" (Calendar, July 30), Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell write movingly about Hiroshima and their feeling that, contrary to what my film of the same name suggests, the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan could have been avoided.

A year ago, I shared their opinion. By the time the film was completed, however, and having been exposed to extensive research, I came to differ with the very sentiment that had moved me to make the film.

"When the enemy invades, we will destroy 25% of them while they are still at sea, 25% more will be killed on the beaches, the remaining 50% will be killed as they move inland."

Empty rhetoric? Maybe. But when Gen. Anami, minister of war, put forward this "Basic Policy for the Future Conduct of the War" in June of 1945, he was far along in the process of turning everyone in Japan between the ages of 15 and 50 into a "defender of the homeland." My colleague, Japanese director Koreyoshi Kurahara, was 17 in August, 1945, and was training to be a "human land mine."

For him the imminence of this final confrontation was very real. Japan's military leaders knew that the "Final Battle" for the Japanese mainland would inflict appalling casualties on both sides. Japanese civilians would fight alongside the military, and all would be resigned to death.

A culture that accepted death as preferable to surrender would, the generals believed, force the American enemy to the negotiating table, after months of hand-to-hand combat on the mainland.

I cannot easily fault President Harry S. Truman for acting to avoid this outcome after four years of war in Europe and Asia and with a million American casualties already on the rolls.

During the research for "Hiroshima," there was constant discussion with our Japanese colleagues about our depiction of Japan's military thinking. We were often reminded that the army was more intransigent than we tended to suggest, and that the Japanese military was in absolute control of the civilian government. The "peace faction" was small and despite the Emperor's sympathies, virtually impotent.

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Lifton and Mitchell claim that "the choice [U.S.] decision-makers faced in late July, 1945, was not 'drop the bomb or invade Japan,' but 'drop the bomb or negotiate.' " Here I believe the writers are blinded by hindsight. Knowing better than Truman the nature of the genie about to be released, and 50 years away from the agony of that war, we today may think that negotiation may have been preferable to the alternatives. But it is easy to forget other factors, including the determination of the Japanese military to impose four conditions for negotiation, or the widespread belief in America that the Emperor should not be held sacrosanct.

How satisfied would we be today had we pushed National Socialism back inside the borders of Germany--and then negotiated a peace that kept Hitler in power? The shock that proposition imparts now should give us a sense of how Americans might have felt then toward negotiating an armistice with Japan.

Having taken pains to emphasize the importance of the Soviet Union in the thinking of both the Japanese and the Americans--and the grim joke of Japan's "peace party's" fixing its hopes on Soviet negotiation while Stalin was assuring Truman of his intention to declare war--we are, I believe, unfairly castigated for "missing almost entirely the importance of the Soviet entry into the war."

It is one of the ironies we felt strongly--that the Soviet invasion on Manchuria may have had as much to do with Japan's surrender as the bomb--and the fact that we depict Japan's leaders talking about Manchuria rather than Hiroshima on Aug. 9 made us believe that we had given considerable weight to that possibility.

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But I do not believe that this is a proven matter. The viewer must make up his or her own mind on this issue, as on so many others surrounding the dropping of the first atomic bomb.

In closing, I find it unfortunate that Mitchell and Lifton chose not to acknowledge our interviews of the survivors of the bomb as a portion of our attempt to show the horrors of what occurred on that fateful day. These people let us use a part of their lives, the most horrible part of their lives, so that we might try to convey to our viewers the tragic occurrences in the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

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