The Japanese were trying to make an atomic bomb, too

In all the press about Obama visiting Hiroshima, Japan, where the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb on its enemy in 1945, not one word has surfaced about the fact that the Japanese were, at the same time, working on their own atomic bomb, and would have used it on Americans had they been able. Nor has anything been said about the fact that they were much closer to making an atomic bomb than most Americans know.

The Japanese had begun a program to develop a “uranium” bomb even before the sneak attacked on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, killing some 2000 Americans and starting war with America. They had top scientists working on their atomic bomb, including a future Nobel-prize winner, Hideki Yukawa. Over the course of the war they spent millions on the program, hunting uranium, building crucial separators, designing a workable bomb, and elevating their program to a top priority at the end of the war as they frantically sought “miracle” weapons with which to turn the tide going against them.  Had America not used its atomic bombs and instead invaded the Japanese mainland, the Japanese were planning to use atomic weapons on the invasion fleet, which certainly would have been devastating. Kamikazis had been bad enough. Imagine if they had been armed with nuclear weapons.

Of course none of this was mentioned by Barack Obama in his non-apology apology in Japan. He may or may not even know about this history, so successful has been the effort by both Japan and the American Left to bury it. Both want the Japanese to appear solely as victims of the bomb. It keeps Japan’s conscience clear for their part in World War II’s atrocities, and helped, after the war, gain sorely  needed aid. For the Left, it makes attacking America easier if this part of the world’s atomic bomb story remains buried.

But you can’t bury the truth. The Japanese were not stupid. Like other countries in the late 1930s, they became aware of the potential for a stupendous weapon in splitting the atom. They started exploring it, as did the Germans and the U.S. As they planned for war with America they did not think they’d need such a weapon. After devastating the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, they planned a short war in which they could grab much of Asia quickly and then sue for peace. But it didn’t happen that way. The U.S. fought back doggedly. The war dragged on. The Japanese began to lose their protecting fleet and conversely America and her allies began to win back what the Japanese had conquered. With the tide turning, the Japanese atomic bomb project, diffused amongst its army and navy labs, began to unite and gain steam.

The Japanese scientists knew how to make a bomb. Plans discovered in 2002 showed an actual diagram of their bomb.  Their problem was industrial strength and fissionable material. There wasn’t a lot in Japan. They had to import uranium – and other fissionable ores like thorium, which may have figured more into their nuclear plans. One of the main program areas in Tokyo, the Rikken lab, developed separators for isolating isotopes so important in nuclear bomb making. But in early 1945, the lab was destroyed by B-29 bombers. A Rikken separator however was used as a prototype by Sumitomo and multiple separators were moved to Korea, which was relatively free of bombing. There were also Japanese atomic bomb efforts operating in Manchuria and elsewhere in China about which less is known.

As the U.S. drew closer to Japan proper, the Japanese war government made development of an atomic bomb a top priority. The army and navy programs began to cooperate with each. Frantic efforts to gather more uranium were launched, including trying to get it from the Germans. The navy spent over 100 million yen alone in Shanghai buying and gathering uranium ores. In May 1945, the last Nazi submarine to leave Kiel, Germany, had on it uranium to be smuggled to Japan. The exact nature of the uranium – whether simply refined or the isotope U235 has never been publicly released. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the sub, rather than make the dangerous voyage to the Pacific, opted to surrender in the Atlantic and full understanding about its cargo has so far been buried in government secrecy.

In Korea, right after the Hiroshima bombing, US intelligence received reports that the Japanese had test fired an atomic device off the coast. Those reports continued well into the Occupation but the Russians, in their first act after declaring war on Japan in the war’s last days, rushed in and to this day have kept that area – North Korea – off limits to western investigators.

The Soviets were the next country to explode a nuclear bomb. The intelligence reports say they took Japanese nuclear scientists and integrated them into their atomic program. How much did the Japanese scientists help? That is another unknown question. Intelligence reports also say the Japanese left a system of underground caves and bomb factories in North Korea. We can speculate that the reason a tinhorn country like North Korea can continue to be a thorn in the side of a giant like America with its sabre rattling and threats is that they picked up from where the Japanese left off.

There is still more to be learned about the Japanese atomic bomb program. But we know enough to say with certainty that they were working on an atomic bomb themselves and had they succeeded, Obama, the America-blaming Left, and the rest of the world would have an entirely different perspective. As it is, the story of Japan’s effort and intentions continues to be buried – as is the truth.

Robert K. Wilcox is the author of  Japan's Secret War: Japan's race against time to build its own atomic bomb

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