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21 Surprising Facts About the Atomic Bomb Attacks on Japan
Seventy years later, the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain, thankfully, the only time nuclear weapons have been used in active warfare. Some of what happened will amaze you, including the man who survived both attacks.
21. The Enola Gay Was Named After the Pilot's Mother
The Enola Gay was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. It was piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, a 30-year-old colonel from Illinois. He named the plane in tribute to his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets.
20. The 1st Target Was Decided an Hour Before the Drop
The good weather conditions over Hiroshima sealed the city's fate.That was determined by a weather plane that buzzed over Hiroshima. On the ground, a yellow alert rings out for 22 minutes. Many civilians ignore it, unperturbed by the familiar sight of a single B-29 plane flying over the city. The weather plane sends a coded message to Enola Gay, advising that Hiroshima is to be the primary target. Tibbets notifies his crew over the intercom and the plane sets course.
19. 60 million degrees
That was the Fahrenheit temperature in Hiroshima at ground zero upon detonation.
18. Up to 246,000 Dead
Up to 166,000 were killed in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki died as a result of the two atomic bomb drops. About half were killed on the first day the rest died of horrific injuries caused by radiation poisoning in the days, weeks and months that followed.
17. 'My God, What Have We Done?'
That's what Enola Gay crewman Captain Robert A. Lewis said, and later recorded in his notebook, after the bomb was dropped.
Radar operator Joe Stiborik remembered the crew sitting in stunned silence on the return flight. The only words he recollected hearing were Lewis's "My God, what have we done." He explained, "I was dumbfounded. Remember, nobody had ever seen what an A-bomb could do before. Here was a whole damn town nearly as big as Dallas, one minute all in good shape and the next minute disappeared and covered with fires and smoke. . There was almost no talk I can remember on our trip back to the base. It was just too much to express in words, I guess. We were all in a kind of state of shock. I think the foremost thing in all our minds was that this thing was going to bring an end to the war and we tried to look at it that way."
16. The Bomb Was Armed in Mid-Air
At the hangar on Tinian Island, where the bomb was delivered by the USS Indianapolis, Little Boy is wheeled carefully out of its hanger and toward the Enola Gay. But Captain William "Deak" Parsons, an atomic ballistics expert, is concerned.
Two B-29 planes have exploded on take-off in the last 24 hours. If the B-29 carrying Little Boy explodes, the consequences could be catastrophic. He takes a radical decision &ndash both he and his colleague, Lieutenant Morris Jeppson, will arm the bomb in the air. It is a feat not attempted outside a laboratory.
15. Nagasaki Was a Secondary Target
The Enola Gay participated in the second atomic attack as the weather reconnaissance aircraft for the primary target of Kokura. Clouds and drifting smoke resulted in Nagasaki being bombed instead.
14. The Plane That Dropped the 2nd Bomb Was Names 'Bockscar'
The B-29 that dropped the "Fat Man" bomb on Nagasaki was under the command of Captain Frederick C. Bock. The name "Bockscar" is a pun on his name.
13. Most of the Men Who Delivered the Bomb Were Already Dead When the Bomb Was Dropped
The parts for the atomic bomb were delivered to the island of Tinian by the USS Indianapolis, a heavy cruiser which picked up the parts in San Francisco, stopped by Pearl Harbor and advanced on to Tinian. But after dropping the parts off, the Indianapolis was sunk by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine on July 30. Because its mission was secret, the loss of the Indianapolis wasn't discovered for almost four days. Of the 1,196 crewmen, about 300 went down with the ship and about 575 died while in the water -- many by shark attacks. It is believed to be the largest attack by sharks on humans in history. Only 317 survived to hear about the bombings.
12. A Honeymoon Helped Kyoto Escape Destruction
The beautiful Japanese city of Kyoto was initially considered for the second bomb, but -- as legend has it -- Secretary of War Henry Stimson asked for it to be removed from the target list because he'd been there on his honeymoon.
11. The Enola Gay Crew Had Cyanide Tablets
If the mission failed, they were not to be taken alive.
10. The 2 Bombs Were Completely Different
The Aug. 6 bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was named &ldquoLittle Boy,&rdquo and it was uranium-based. The Aug. 9 bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki was named &ldquoFat Man,&rdquo and it was plutonium-based. Little Boy&rdquo was about 10 feet long and weighed more than four metric tons. &ldquoFat Man&rdquo was even bigger, at about 11.5 feet long and 4.5 tons.
9. This Man Survived Both Bomb Attacks
Tsutomu Yamaguchi was a 39-year-old businessman who lived in Nagasaki. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on business for his employer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries when the city was bombed at 8:15 am, on August 6, 1945. The explosion ruptured his eardrums, blinded him temporarily, and left him with serious burns over the left side of the top half of his body.
He returned to Nagasaki the following day, and despite his wounds, he returned to work on August 9, the day of the second atomic bombing. That morning he was telling his supervisor how one bomb had destroyed the city, to which his supervisor told him that he was crazy, and at that moment the Nagasaki bomb detonated. He was not injured in that explosion.
Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer on January 4, 2010, at the age of 93.
8. The Father of the Bomb Campaigned Against Nuclear Proliferation
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the key figure of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb in the New Mexico desert, said the detonation of the bombs reminded him of words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." After the war he became a chief advisor to the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission and used that position to lobby for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and an arms race with the Soviet Union. After provoking the ire of many politicians with his outspoken opinions during the Second Red Scare, he had his security clearance revoked. He continued his anti-nuclear work until his death in 1967 of throat cancer at age 62.
7. Truman Was Prepared to Drop More Bombs
U.S. President Harry Truman knew an invasion of Tokyo would cause massive U.S. casualties. With the new nuclear technology, he was prepared to use it. "It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East," he said in a news release after the bombing of Hiroshima. "If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth."
6. Emperor Hirohito's Surrender on Radio Was the 1st Time His Voice Was Heard Publicly
That's right, in power since 1926, Hirohito allowed a recording of the his surrender speech to be broadcast over the radio on August 15, 1945 (the first time the Emperor was heard on the radio by the Japanese people). He spoke in classical Japanese, making it difficult for some citizens to fully comprehend what he is saying. Despite two devastating attacks on the country, many people are shocked &ndash the Japanese Empire has maintained it would be more noble to endure annihilation than surrender to the enemy. Japan&rsquos war minister had attempted suicide and dies the following day. Many thought the emperor would order the mass suicide of all citizens rather than surrender. He did not.
5. Nagasaki and Hiroshima Are Not Radioactive Today
That's because the bombs were exploded a couple of thousand feet above the cities instead of detonating on the ground.
4. A Witness to the Hiroshima Attack Won the Boston Marathon
Shigeki Tanaka was 13 and living 20 miles from Hiroshima when he saw the bombing. Six years later, he became the first Japanese person to win the Boston Marathon, The victory in 1951 was a landmark moment in restoring the war-shattered country's dignity and honor. After World War II, Japanese athletes were barred from the 1948 Summer Olympics in London and from all major international competitions around the world.
3. A Bonsai Tree Planted in 1626 Survived the Hiroshima Attack
The nursery that housed the tree was less than two miles from the bomb blast site. It now resides in Washington, D.C. at the National Arboretum.
2. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Is One of the Most Moving Places in the World
Located in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in central Hiroshima, it is not only dedicated to documenting the World War II atomic bombing, but has the additional aim of promoting world peace. Visited by a million people a year, it's surprisingly a place of hope and well worth the long train ride from Tokyo.
1. Paper Lanterns Signify the Afterlife
The thousands of colorful paper lanterns released on the city's Motoyasu River symbolized the spiritual journey of those killed by the bomb.
Reflecting On The Horrors of Firebombing Tokyo
GoogleMaps Inside the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage museum in the capital's Koto ward.
"Killing Japanese didn't bother me very much at that time," said General LeMay. "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal."
Instead, LeMay was rewarded with several medals, a promotion to lead the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and a reputation as a hero. Even the Japanese government awarded him the First-class Order of Merit of the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun for helping develop Japan's post-war Air Force.
LeMay died in 1990 at 84 years old. His fatal legacy of Operation Meetinghouse lives on in the Japanese people who survived the firebombing of Tokyo.
Katsumoto Saotome, who was 12 years old during the bombing, founded the Tokyo Air Raids Center for War Damages in the Koto ward in 2002. It aims to preserve the memories of the survivors.
Saotome's private museum — the city refused to fund it — includes artifacts and journal entries and has become the de facto exhibition on the Tokyo firebombing.
"For a child who did not know the true meaning of death or fear, March 10 was my first experience of that," Saotome reflected. "I have nothing to describe the memory of that night. It is difficult to talk about it, even now."
But for Nihei, facing her trauma proved cathartic. She visited the museum in 2002. "It brought back memories of that day," she said. "I really felt like I owed it to all those people who had died to tell others what happened that day."
One painting especially caught her eye. It depicted children on a cloud, sitting above the proud Tokyo skyline. Nihei, who lost six of her close friends in the firebombing, found some comfort in the painting. She said that it reminded her, "of my best friends."
After learning about the 1945 Tokyo firebombing of 1945, take a look at 37 devastating Hiroshima aftermath photos that show the destructive power of the atomic bomb. Then, learn about Operation Cherry Blossoms at night, Japan's failed plan to bomb the United States with the bubonic plague.
Hiroshima 67 Years Afterward
The secret of redemption lies in remembrance – this according to a former president of Germany, Richard von Weizsacker.
Remembrance has served that nation well with respect to its WWII Holocaust.
In sharp contrast, Japan has national amnesia and even denial of its multiple WWII holocausts. Meanwhile in America, liberal revisionist history is questioning America’s use of the atomic bomb 67 years ago today. Let the following facts be submitted to a candid world.
We begin with some history. During World War II which of the following cities suffered the most human deaths in a single bombing?
(a) Dresden, Germany – Allied bombing
(b) Hamburg, Germany – Allied bombing
(c) Hiroshima, Japan – US atomic bomb
(d) Nagasaki, Japan – US atomic bomb
(e) Tokyo, Japan – US bombing
The answer from fewest to most deaths is as follows. The fewest deaths were in Dresden (30,000), then Nagasaki (45,000) followed by the allied bombing of Hamburg (50,000). Next is Hiroshima (65,000) and then the US fire bombing of Tokyo (100,000).
The number of casualties in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was comparable to that of conventional bomb attacks on German cities and far less than the bombing of Tokyo. To add further perspective, the Battle of Stalingrad resulted in 1.5 million killed – 14 times that of all atomic weapons.
The Rape of Nanking and Other Japanese Holocausts
As lethal as the A-bombs were, their death toll paled in comparison to the WWII Japanese Rape of Nanking which resulted in 250,000 killed, the vast majority coming from massacres of Chinese civilians whom the racist Japanese regarded as subhuman.
The Japanese atrocities were so cruel and horrific I can’t describe them in a family oriented blog. The combined death toll from both atomic bombs was less than half of those senselessly slaughtered by the Japanese in Nanking. Unfortunately, the Rape of Nanking was not an isolated incident.
“The Rape of Nanking was not an isolated incident Japan perpetrated at least 50 ghastly holocausts.”
Nanking was only one in a long, gruesome series. Other Japanese holocausts included the Bataan Death March, Korean comfort ladies, subhuman POW treatment, massacres in Shanghai and Hong Kong and the Yellow River flood when Japan murdered 1 million civilians by destroying dikes. In the Philippines alone there were 72 documented massacres with over 120,000 dead.
The list of Japanese holocausts goes on and on and on it includes Laha Airfield, Bangka Island, Parit Sulong, Tol Plantation, Balikpapan, Chekiang, the Sandakan Death March, Truk, Manchuria, Pingfan and at least 40 more wretched holocausts..
Yet there are those liberal revisionists among us who dare to question whether our atomic attacks on Japan were racist. There is not one scintilla of evidence to support such a deranged assertion. There are however mountains of evidence proving the Japanese Rape of Nanking was racism pure and simple – as were nearly all the 50 massacres, holocausts, ethnic cleansings and atrocities perpetrated by the Empire of Japan in the Pacific War.
Moreover, the atomic attacks on Japan ended the war and saved 3 million lives – 2 million of which would have been Japanese – had the US been forced to invade the Japanese home islands. Those numbers come from the Japanese themselves including Emperor Hirohito. Toshikazu Kase, the high-level envoy representing Japan at the surrender, stated: “The capitulation of Japan (due to the atomic attacks) saved the lives of several million men.”
Without Remembrance There Cannot Be Redemption
In willful and flagrant disregard of the unambiguous historical record of 67 years, the Japanese people remain in denial. They do not teach in their schools about the Rape of Nanking nor does it even appear in their history books. They continue to ignore, downplay and obfuscate their long train of more than 50 wretched WWII atrocities. If remembrance is indeed the key to redemption, the Japanese people today remain entirely and utterly unredeemed.
“If remembrance is indeed the key to redemption, the Japanese people are entirely and utterly unredeemed.”
To those in Japan, America or elsewhere who dare to revise or to deny history, my response is straightforward: Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember the Bataan Death March! Remember the Rape of Nanking! Never forget those or any of the other 50 Japanese atrocities, massacres and holocausts.
Above all, never grant the Japanese people redemption until their collective memory improves and all their children learn the truth about their grandfathers.
Let’s also pledge always to remember the three million lives saved by the atomic attacks. This is personal with me you see, one of lives saved could have been a certain soldier who was assigned to the invasion of Japan 67 years ago today: my father.
August 1945 will forever be remembered as one of the most dramatic months in the history of mankind, when nuclear weapons were used in warfare for the first and last time to date. Tragically, this powerful weapon was aimed at civilian targets: on August 6 the "Enola Gay" dropped the bomb dubbed the "Little Boy" and it blew up over the city of Hiroshima in Japan. The explosion, which amazed the world, instantly killed nearly seventy thousand people and a similar number again died later from injuries and radiation damage.
Three days later, the "Bockscar" dropped the "Fat Man" bomb on Nagasaki. Because of the mountainous topography of the city, the damage was smaller, even though the bomb was stronger than the previous one - forty thousand died from the explosion itself and another twenty five thousand people died later from their wounds. Six days after that the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, announced to his people that the government of Japan unconditionally surrendered and World War II ended.
But these cities were not completely wiped off the face of the Earth. In Hiroshima, within a two kilometer radius to ground zero, the "Little boy" destroyed all buildings, but within a three kilometer radius or more, most of the buildings remained intact, including public facilities such as the railway station. The restoration process took approximately two years and the city's population, which had dwindled to about eighty thousand after the bombing, doubled in a short time.
Until March 1946 the ruins were cleared, and the buildings that were damaged but still standing underwent controlled demolition. Already by 1947 most of the streets and the shops were restored, and the survivors began to repopulate even the heart of ground zero. The fact that water and sanitation infrastructures were not affected also assisted the restoration process. Photographer Shunkichi Kikuchi impressively documented the reconstruction process of the city and created panoramas of its restoration two years after the bombing.
The restoration of Nagasaki was slower due to financial difficulties and did not start until 1946. The city changed dramatically following the explosion and new buildings were constructed, including civilian factories that replaced the military industrial buildings that were destroyed. Eventually, by the mid-1950s the two cities returned to the same size they were in August 1945.
What about radiation? Surprisingly, radiation damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only short-term, unlike the more recent nuclear reactor disasters that took place in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Fukushima, Japan.
What could be the possible reasons for this? Firstly, the bombs were exploded in the air to achieve maximum damage due to huge shock waves, so the products of the explosion were mainly pushed up into the atomic mushroom cloud. Secondly, the amount of radioactive material loaded onto the bombs was relatively small - seventy kilograms of uranium on the "Little Boy" and seven kilograms of plutonium on the "Fat Man". By comparison, nuclear reactors contain several tons of radioactive material.
In addition, the products of a nuclear detonation are not particularly radioactive and don’t contain harmful isotopes like cesium-137, which is still polluting Fukushima and Chernobyl in great quantities. Finally, nuclear bombs are a one-time source of radiation, while the melting reactors continue to release large amounts of radiation even today, years after the disaster. Therefore, although we cannot compare the loss of life and property during disasters themselves, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were easy to rehabilitate and rebuild, while the Chernobyl and Fukushima areas will remain abandoned and dangerous to live in for many years to come.
The War Over The Bomb
The flight of the bomber called Bock&rsquos Car on August 9, 1945, from Tinian to Nagasaki was blessed but not smooth. In a Quonset hut at the air base before takeoff Chaplain Downey had prayed for the success of the plane&rsquos mission. &ldquoAlmighty God, Father of all mercies,&rdquo he said, &ldquowe pray Thee to be gracious with those who fly this night.&rdquo He also said: &ldquoGive to us all courage and strength for the hours that are ahead give to them rewards according to their efforts. Above all else, our Father, bring peace to Thy world.&rdquo
But things went wrong from the start. A fuel pump wasn&rsquot working. So the captain, Major Charles &ldquoChuck&rdquo Sweeney (&ldquocheerful Irish grin&rdquo), decided to rendezvous with escort planes over Japan and refuel in Okinawa on the way back. The skies were thundery and turbulent. The rendezvous was missed: the planes lost contact and much time. The primary target, Kokura, an industrial city in northern Kyushu, was covered by smoke from a bombing raid on a neighboring city. Fuel was running low, but Sweeney flew his B-29 bomber on to the second target on the list: Nagasaki.
A thick deck of clouds had rendered Nagasaki invisible, too. &ldquoSkipper&rdquo Sweeney had to think fast. Fuel was running out. Ditching his load in the ocean was one possibility. But he decided against it. &ldquoAfter all,&rdquo he said, &ldquoanything is better than dumping it in the water.&rdquo He would ignore his orders, which stipulated that the target had to be visible, and drop the &ldquoFat Man&rdquo by radar. Then, suddenly, Kermit &ldquoBea&rdquo Beahan (&ldquoslow Texas drawl&rdquo &ldquocrack bombardier&rdquo &ldquoladies&rsquo man&rdquo), shouted: &ldquoI&rsquove got it. I see the city. I&rsquoll take it now&hellip.&rdquo 1
And so the &ldquoFat Man&rdquo went down, slowly at first. It took a while for things to happen. Internal radar fuses had been activated in the bomb to sense its height. Chuck Sweeney was impatient. &ldquoOh, my God,&rdquo he said to his copilot, Charles &ldquoDonald Duck&rdquo Albery (&ldquoa deeply religious man&rdquo), &ldquodid we goof it up?&rdquo Moments later, the sky lit up, the plane was rocking like a rowing boat in a storm, and Sweeney could relax at last. &ldquoWell, Bea,&rdquo said &ldquoDonald Duck&rdquo to the bombardier, &ldquothere&rsquos a thousand Japs you&rsquove just killed.&rdquo
The &ldquoFat Man,&rdquo a plutonium bomb, exploded about three miles from the center of Nagasaki, above an area called Urakami, sometimes referred to in Nagasaki as Urakamimura, or Urakami village. The pressure generated by the bomb at the hypocenter&mdashthe point directly under the blast&mdashwas about ten tons per square meter. The heat at ground level reached 4,000 degrees Celsius. People near the hypocenter were vaporized. Others, who were not so lucky, died more slowly, often after shedding their skins like snakes. Some died weeks or months, or even years, later of various kinds of cancer. Altogether up to 70,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the bombing of Nagasaki. About half of them died on the day itself.
The landscape of Urakami, separated by mountains from Nagasaki proper, was marked by Mitsubishi weapons factories and the largest cathedral in east Asia. Urakami was a district with a low reputation. Its population included a large number of poor Roman Catholics and even poorer outcasts. It was as though a bomb had fallen on Harlem, leaving the rest of Manhattan relatively unscathed. Some residents of Nagasaki quietly voiced the opinion that the bomb had &ldquocleaned up&rdquo Urakami. In August 1945, there were 14,000 Catholics in Nagasaki. More than half were killed by the bomb. There are 70,000 Catholics living in Nagasaki today. Southern Kyushu is still the only part of Japan with a large Christian minority.
The first missionary to reach Kyushu was Francis Xavier, who landed there in 1549. His high hopes for Japan were not disappointed. By the turn of the century about 300,000 Japanese had been converted to the Roman faith. Even Hideyoshi, the &ldquoBarbarian-slaying&rdquo Shogun himself, was seen in his palace fingering a rosary. This did not stop him from crucifying twenty-six Japanese and European priests in Nagasaki in 1597. Like his more ferocious successors, he was afraid that Japanese Christians might help Spanish invaders take over Japan&mdasha fear that Dutch traders did their best to encourage.
After 1612 persecution began in earnest. Christianity was banned. Men, women, and children were burned to death while singing praises to the Lord. Priests were suspended upside down in pits of excrement or boiling sulfur, cut open, and bled to death, unless they agreed to renounce their faith and trample on images of Christ. A Christian peasant rebellion in 1632 was put down (with Dutch help) so brutally that hardly any of the 40,000 rebels survived. Naturally, missionary work became impossible and priests could no longer attend to their flock.
Even so, small communities of &ldquohidden Christians&rdquo hung on, often reverting in time to folk religion: local deities were worshiped in the name of Jesus a kind of Christian cargo cult developed, with fisherfolk praying for the return of priests in black ships. Only after Americans (in black ships) and Europeans had pried Japan open in the latter half of the nineteenth century did Japanese Christians dare to declare themselves. But they remained an often harassed and poor minority, forced to do religiously polluted work in the meat and leather trades, which were normally reserved for outcasts. The ban on Christianity was formally lifted in 1873. Twenty years later, the Nagasaki Christians managed to collect enough money to start construction of a wood and redbrick cathedral on a hill in Urakami. It was completed in 1925. It was above this cathedral that the &ldquoFat Man&rdquo exploded.
Twice a day, the one surviving Angelus bell rings out from the new Cathedral. Visiting Nagasaki this summer I walked from the Cathedral to Peace Park. It is built on the site of an old prison, whose foundation stones recently emerged during the construction of an underground garage. The appearance of these prison foundations caused a political row in Nagasaki: Should they be preserved as a reminder of the war (among the prisoners were Koreans and Chinese)? A compromise was reached: the car park was completed, and a slab of the old prison wall is displayed in Peace Park, among the monuments and memorials.
Compared to the one in Hiroshima, Nagasaki Peace Park is a small and subdued affair. 2 There is the &ldquoPeace Statue,&rdquo a large white figure pointing his right hand at the sky and extending his left hand sideways. According to a booklet on sale in the Peace Park bookstore, the right hand points to the nuclear threat and the left hand symbolizes eternal peace. The folded right leg and the extended left leg &ldquosymbolize meditation and the initiative to stand up and rescue the people of the world.&rdquo In the rest of the park are various sculptures, some of them donated by countries that no longer exist: the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, the USSR. Two kindly ladies and an elderly man had set up a long table in front of the Soviet &ldquoStatue of Peace.&rdquo They invited &ldquoall the people who love peace,&rdquo including small children on school excursions, to sign an antinuclear petition to be sent to Washington.
But there is much less of this kind of thing than in Hiroshima, which is dominated by memorials to the bomb victims and messages of salvation. The main reason people visit Hiroshima is the bomb. This is not true of Nagasaki. Hiroshima, not Nagasaki, has become the mecca of international antinuclear activism. The Hiroshima bomb came first. It fell in the center of the city. More people died there&mdashand few of them were despised Christians or outcasts. People say: &ldquoNo more Hiroshimas.&rdquo They rarely say: &ldquoNo more Nagasakis.&rdquo
Instead of dwelling on the bomb, Nagasaki has turned its history of foreign missionaries, Dutch traders, Chinese merchants, and Madame Butterfly into a tourist attraction. Nagasaki takes pride in once having been the nearest thing in Japan to a cosmopolitan city. When the rest of the country was sealed off from the outside world between the early seventeenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, Nagasaki kept a Dutch trading post on Dejima Island. Western science first entered Japan through Nagasaki in the form of medical texts, which Japanese scholars learned to read by memorizing Dutch dictionaries. After Japan opened up, village girls acquired Russian by serving Russian sailors as prostitutes, and outcasts acquired foreign languages by supplying the Europeans with meat. Nagasaki had a large Chinatown, now a cute, touristy pastiche of its former self. A celebrated entertainer from Nagasaki, who sings French chansons and wears women&rsquos clothes, claims to be the reincarnation of a seventeenth-century Christian martyr, thought to have been the incarnation of Deusu, the Lord. The most popular souvenirs in Nagasaki include all manner of Christian trinkets, as well as a spongecake called castella, introduced by the Portuguese four hundred years ago.
Nagasaki&rsquos most famous survivor was a Christian named Nagai Takashi. He became a symbol of his city&rsquos suffering, just as a schoolgirl, named Sasaki Sadako, became a symbol of Hiroshima. Sadako was two years old when the bomb exploded a mile from her home. She died of leukemia ten years later, but not before trying to fold one thousand paper cranes, as symbols of longevity. Her monument in Hiroshima Peace Park is covered in thousands of paper cranes, folded by schoolchildren from all over Japan.
Dr. Nagai was a professor of radiology at the University of Nagasaki when the city was bombed. He had contracted leukemia before the war, perhaps as a result of his laboratory work, but radiation from the bomb cured the symptoms. Dr. Nagai was a devout Catholic and a Japanese patriot who exhorted his students to fight their hardest for the nation. He was devastated by Japan&rsquos defeat. But then, as he wrote in his best-selling book The Bells of Nagasaki, he had a flash of religious inspiration. The bomb, he decided, was &ldquoa great act of Divine Providence,&rdquo for which Nagasaki &ldquomust give thanks to God.&rdquo 3 He declared that Nagasaki, &ldquothe only holy place in Japan,&rdquo had been chosen as a sacrificial lamb &ldquoto be burned on the altar of sacrifice to expiate the sins committed by humanity in the Second World War.&rdquo In this vision, Dr. Nagai added the Catholic victims of the bomb to the long list of Nagasaki martyrs. They were the spiritual heirs of believers who had been crucified for their faith.
How noble, how splendid was that holocaust of August 9, when flames soared up from the cathedral, dispelling the darkness of war and bringing the light of peace! In the very depth of our grief we reverently saw here something beautiful, something pure, something sublime. Eight thousand people, together with their priests, burning with pure smoke, entered into eternal life. All without exception were good people whom we deeply mourn.
The symptoms of leukemia returned, and Dr. Nagai retired to a tiny hut near the cathedral, where he wrote his many books and was visited by dignitaries ranging from Emperor Hirohito to Helen Keller. The Bells of Nagasaki was completed in 1946, but out of fear that accounts of the nuclear bombings would encourage anti-American attitudes, the US occupation authorities only allowed it to be published in 1949. Two years later Dr. Nagai died. His hut is now a shrine, visited by Japanese schoolchildren and tourists from all over the world, who peer through the window at the bone-white image of the Virgin Mary next to his bed.
I asked Father Calaso, a Spanish priest who has lived in Nagasaki for many years, what he thought of Dr. Nagai&rsquos vision. He answered that it was &ldquotheologically correct. We cannot know why the bomb was good, but God cannot will anything evil.&rdquo Of course, as John Whittier Treat points out in his excellent book Writing Ground Zero, a critical discussion of Japanese writing about the bomb, the Christian idea of martyrdom was not the only response of Nagasaki bomb survivors. Treat contrasts Nagai&rsquos Christian idealism with the existential despair of such non-Christian writers as Hayashi Kyoko, who express not just their own &ldquoleukemia of the soul&rdquo but also their fear that the atomic disease will be carried by future generations. Hayashi&rsquos view is radically secular. In a short story entitled &ldquoIn the Fields,&rdquo she writes: &ldquoThese are deliberate wounds precisely calculated and inflicted by human beings. On account of these calculations, the very life that we would pass on to our children and grandchildren has sustained injury.&rdquo
Nevertheless, the mood of Christian resignation has affected Nagasaki. There are social reasons for this, too. Like many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who returned to their native countries in Europe, Nagasaki Christians did not wish to dwell on their suffering lest it expose them to the public gaze. They did not want to stand out in a society obsessed with bloodlines and social conformity. It was difficult enough finding marriage partners for your children, if you were a bomb survivor, being a Catholic could only make things worse. So there is something to the cliché that &ldquoHiroshima is angry, while Nagasaki prays.&rdquo Compared to Hayashi&rsquos Angst, Dr. Nagai&rsquos beatitude makes the past easier to bear. We are told of Bock&rsquos Car&rsquos crew: &ldquoToday, they are all deeply religious men.&rdquo 4
Religion was linked to the nuclear bombs from the beginning. Witnessing the first successful nuclear explosion in New Mexico, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer famously quoted from the Bhagavad-Gita: &ldquoNow I am become Death the destroyer of worlds.&rdquo President Truman, announcing the bombing of Hiroshima, thanked God that the weapon had &ldquocome to us instead of to our enemies and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.&rdquo Arthur H. Compton, a member of the Interim Committee for Atomic Bomb Policy, believed that &ldquoGod had fought on our side during the war, supplying free men with weapons that tyranny could not produce.&rdquo
What Truman and Compton had in common with Dr. Nagai&mdashbut absolutely not with Hayashi Kyoko&mdashwas the convenient view that God, not man, was ultimately responsible for the bomb. Opponents of the bomb often express themselves in equally religious terms. Treat quotes a poem from Nagasaki which goes: &ldquoIn the Cathedral in the ruins of boundless expanse, I stayed one night cursing God.&rdquo The bomb has been described on many occasions as a transgression of religious taboos, indeed a sin against God. In 1946, the Federal Council of Churches special committee explicitly said so: &ldquoAs the power that first used the atomic bomb under these circumstances, we have sinned grievously against the laws of God and against the peoples of Japan.&rdquo The Roman Catholic hierarchy concluded at the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that &ldquoevery act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man.&rdquo
Even if one leaves God out of it, it is hard to disagree that deliberate mass murder of civilians by so-called conventional or nuclear bombing is a war crime. But &ldquostrategic bombing,&rdquo including the use of the two atomic bombs, was not an act of God. It was the result of political decisions, taken by human beings acting under particular circumstances. The trouble with focusing on God, sin, transgression, and other moral or religious aspects of this strategy is that it makes it very hard to discuss the politics and the historical circumstances dispassionately. This is especially true when politicians, newspaper columnists, peace activists, and veterans enter the debate. Too often emotional moralism sets the tone.
Many defenders of the atomic bombs, beginning with President Truman himself, have tried to justify their use on moral grounds: i.e., that the bombings saved half a million, or even a million, American lives by preventing an invasion. These probably inflated figures are supposed to make the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem like acts of mercy. And opponents tend to boost their moral condemnation by adding evidence of bad faith: i.e., that the bombings were acts of racism, or scientific experiments, or merely opening shots of the coming cold war, or that they served no purpose at all. In other words, it is not enough for some critics to call the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a sin against God and man to strengthen the moral case, they must be shown to have been unnecessary and politically reprehensible, too. Many critics find it impossible to accept, for example, that the A-bombing was a war crime that actually might have helped to bring the war to a quicker end. By the same token, political reasons, however justified, are not enough for some defenders of the bomb to feel vindicated. To them, the bombs must show that God was on our side, that only the purest of motives prevailed.
I think this helps to explain the debacle over the projected Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution. The fault does not lie with the authors of the original text prepared by the Smithsonian to accompany the exhibition, now published as part of Judgment at the Smithsonian. Newt Gingrich was wrong: the script was not in the least anti-American, nor did it &ldquoespouse a set of values that are essentially destructive.&rdquo 5 Historians&mdashunlike many veterans, journalists, and politicians&mdashhave been debating the history of the bomb for years without invoking God or the Devil. And their different views are admirably and concisely reflected in the Smithsonian script. All the controversies about the atomic bombing are touched upon: whether it was an act of racism whether the bombs were dropped to warn the Soviets, and keep them from invading Japan whether Truman should have paid more attention to Japanese peace initiatives and whether there were better ways than nuclear bombing of ending the war swiftly.
The Smithsonian consensus&mdashevenhanded to the point of banality&mdashis that racist attitudes existed, but that Roosevelt would have used the bomb on Germany if necessary. On the Soviet factor, the Smithsonian concludes that &rdquo &lsquoatomic diplomacy&rsquo against the Soviets provided one more reason for Truman not to halt the dropping of the bomb.&rdquo The Smithsonian writers believe it is possible the war might have ended without the bombings if the Allies had guaranteed the Japanese emperor&rsquos position. And it is not sure whether a warning demonstration&mdashdropping the bomb in Tokyo Bay, for instance&mdashwould have sufficed. But despite all these &ldquohotly contested&rdquo issues, its conclusion is that &ldquothe bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki&hellipplayed a crucial role in ending the Pacific War quickly.&rdquo
Here and there the Smithsonian text is too glib. I don&rsquot think Japanese forces kept on fighting because they feared that unconditional surrender would mean &ldquothe annihilation of their culture.&rdquo Japanese forces had no choice. They went on fighting because their supreme commanders feared the annihilation of their power. Still, the projected Smithsonian exhibition would have provided an invaluable opportunity for the Hiroshima debate to break out of academic circles and reach a wider audience. This opportunity was lost when the Smithsonian caved in to protests from such organizations as the American Legion and the Air Force Association. The text was withdrawn and only the Hiroshima bomber is displayed now, without context or explanation, as just another great American plane, like the Spirit of St. Louis and the Kitty Hawk Flyer. This is a shame, for not only has it discouraged open discussion in the US, but it has fueled the self-righteousness of Japanese apologists for the Pacific War. If Americans refuse to question their war record, they ask, then why should Japanese risk the reputation of Japanese soldiers by questioning theirs?
Of course, none of this has anything to do with intellectual curiosity (the primary function of a museum, I should think), but everything to do with national pride. The American Legion and its intellectual defenders in the press were less interested in an argument than in a celebration. They wanted it to be taken for granted that the bomb was right and just. Barton Bernstein points out in a thoughtful concluding essay to Judgment at the Smithsonian that the dispute was not simply about history but about &ldquoa symbolic issue in a &lsquoculture war.&rsquo &rdquo He writes that
many Americans lumped together the seeming decline of American power, the difficulties of the domestic economy, the threats in world trade and especially Japan&rsquos successes, the loss of domestic jobs, and even changes in American gender roles, and shifts in the American family. To a number of Americans, the very people responsible for the [Smithsonian] script were the people who were changing America. The bomb, representing the end of World War II and suggesting the height of American power, was to be celebrated&hellip. Those who in any way questioned the bomb&rsquos use were, in this emotional framework, the enemies of America. The Air Force Association, the Legion, many individual vets, segments of Congress, and parts of the media accepted, and promoted, that interpretation.
Unfortunately, the editor of Judgment at the Smithsonian, Philip Nobile, is no less emotional than the conservatives he deplores. Reading his introduction, I almost felt sympathetic to the American Legion. Nobile not only believes the bombings were a moral outrage, which would be a respectable position. He goes further: he believes that anyone who defends Truman&rsquos decision is morally outrageous. To him, the defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are not just wrong, they are &ldquowhite male American intellectuals,&rdquo who seek to &ldquodeny&rdquo Hiroshima. Paul Fussell, who argued that the bomb saved American lives, including his own, which might well be true, is smeared as the &ldquoRobert Faurisson of Hiroshima denial.&rdquo This is not just nasty, it is dishonest. Faurisson is a right-wing extremist who maintains that the gas chambers never existed. Whatever the merits of Fussell&rsquos argument, he never denied that the bomb was dropped or that countless civilians died. To equate Fussell with Faurisson, or Paul Tibbetts, pilot of the Enola Gay, with Rudolf Hoess, commandant at Auschwitz, as Nobile does, is to kill the debate. For how can you argue with bad faith? But then Nobile is as little interested in a debate as the American Legion. Like them, he is concerned with moral gestures, not of celebration in his case, but of atonement, repentance, and so forth. He bandies about words like &ldquooriginal sin.&rdquo
Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, in their analysis of Hiroshima&rsquos legacy in America, are not nasty, just woolly and moralistic. They believe that the bombings were morally offensive, and so the reasons for dropping them must necessarily have been politically misguided, dishonest, and irrational. Lifton takes it for granted that the bombs did not hasten the end of the war, since the Japanese would have surrendered anyway, if only Truman had listened to Joseph Grew, the former ambassador to Japan, and promised the Japanese they could keep their imperial system. He thinks that the Potsdam Declaration was mere propaganda, since it did not mention the atom bomb, the entry of Russia into the war, or the Emperor, &ldquoeach of which would have pressed the Japanese towards surrender.&rdquo
Was this really as obvious as Lifton and Mitchell, as well as many serious critics of Truman A-bomb policy, claim? Some historians, such as Gar Alperovitz, believe that the Potsdam Declaration was designed to be unacceptable to the Japanese, so that the US would have time to drop the bomb and demonstrate its supremacy to the increasingly aggressive Soviet Union. 6 Truman, on the advice of his secretary of state, James Byrnes, withheld a guarantee of the Emperor&rsquos status. In The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Alperovitz repeats over and over that Truman did this, fully aware &ldquothat a surrender was not likely to occur.&rdquo The implication is that Truman did not want the Japanese to surrender before the bomb was used. On his way to Potsdam, in July 1945, Truman heard the news that the first atomic bomb had been successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. With the bomb in his pocket, so to speak, he believed that the &ldquoJaps will fold up before Russia comes in.&rdquo Which was precisely what he wanted.
Alperovitz makes his case for the above scenario with mountains of documentary quotes. He shows how Truman&rsquos desire to involve the Soviet Red Army in forcing a Japanese surrender cooled as soon as he heard the good news from Alamogordo. That the Soviet Union played a part in Truman&rsquos calculations is neither a new nor an especially controversial observation. Most historians agree with Alperovitz that &ldquoeven those who still wished for Russian help (to say nothing of those who opposed it) began to see the atomic bomb as a way not only to end the war, but perhaps to end it as soon as possible&mdashpreferably before the Russians attacked, and certainly, if feasible, before the Red Army got very far in its assault.&rdquo
But to say that Truman deliberately withheld a guarantee of the Emperor&rsquos status at Potsdam so that he could drop his bomb is to assume it was clear the Japanese would have surrendered with such a guarantee. Alperovitz has no difficulty finding quotes from US officials who thought so, but there is no reason to believe that they were right, and consequently that Truman was wrong, or merely Machiavellian to press for an unconditional surrender. There is no evidence that Japan would have surrendered, even with a guarantee of the Emperor&rsquos status, and there are good reasons to believe that it would not. As long as the Japanese were not ready to surrender on terms acceptable to the Allies, Truman had no option but to insist on a sharp ultimatum, bomb or no bomb.
What we know is that even some members of the so-called peace faction in the Japanese war cabinet were remarkably casual about the Potsdam terms&mdashand not only because of the lack of guarantees for the Emperor. One of the &ldquomoderates,&rdquo Navy Minister Yonai, said there was no need to rush because &ldquoChurchill has fallen, America is beginning to be isolated. The government therefore will ignore [the Potsdam Proclamation].&rdquo 7 Even after the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, half the Supreme War Leadership Council was still determined to fight on. Japan may have been &ldquolicked&rdquo militarily, as Eisenhower and other Americans said at the time, and later, but this did not mean it would give up. Instead of preparing for surrender, the Japanese government exhorted the population to defend the &ldquodivine land,&rdquo in mass suicide actions if necessary. The press kept up a daily Die-for-the-Emperor campaign. Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar describe in their book Code-Name Downfall how Japanese schoolchildren were trained to fight the enemy with bamboo spears, kitchen knives, firemen&rsquos hooks, or, as a last resort, feet and bare knuckles. Children were told: &ldquoIf you don&rsquot kill at least one enemy soldier, you don&rsquot deserve to die.&rdquo Eight hundred thousand troops, including home defense forces, were gathered in Kyushu to resist an American invasion. If it had come to a final battle in Japan, after more months of firebombing and starvation, the human cost to the Japanese&mdashleaving aside the Allies for a moment&mdashwould have been horrendous.
If saving Japanese lives was not Truman&rsquos concern, it didn&rsquot particularly bother the Japanese leaders either. The debate inside the Leadership Council at a crisis meeting on August 9 was not about whether to surrender but about whether to insist on one condition (retention of the imperial system, or kokutai) or four, including the demand that there be no Allied occupation. There had to be a unanimous decision. Without absolute consensus, the government would fall, more time would be wasted, and more lives lost. This is the Emperor&rsquos own account of the meeting, which took place in the sticky heat of an underground bomb shelter. The Emperor sat stiffly in front of a gilded screen, while his ministers sweated in their dress uniforms:
The meeting went on until two o&rsquoclock in the morning of August 10, without reaching an agreement. Then Suzuki asked me to break the deadlock and come to a decision. Apart from Prime Minister Suzuki, the participants were Hiranuma, Yonai, Anami, Togo, Umezu and Toyoda. Everyone agreed on the condition to preserve the kokutai. Anami, Toyoda and Umezu insisted on adding three more conditions: that Japan would not be occupied, and that the task of disarming our armed forces and dealing with war crimes would be in our own hands. They argued that at the present stage of the war, there was enough room for negotiation. Suzuki, Yonai, Hiranuma and Togo disagreed. I believed it was impossible to continue the war&hellip 8
And so, finally, after two atomic bombings, the Emperor spoke out in favor of the peace faction. It had become impossible to carry on the war. Not only had Hiroshima been obliterated, but on the day Nagasaki was bombed, the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan. Some have argued that this, rather than the nuclear bombs, forced Japan&rsquos surrender. Perhaps, but the August 9 meeting had been convened before the Soviet declaration of war, and Alperovitz tells us that the Emperor, &ldquoon hearing of the Hiroshima bombing,&rdquo had already &ldquoagreed the time had come to surrender.&rdquo In the Emperor&rsquos own account, he mentions both the Soviets and the bombs: &ldquoThe people were suffering terribly, first from bombings getting worse by the day, then by the appearance of the atomic bomb. Because of these factors, and the fact that the Soviet Union had unleashed a war in Manchuria, we could not but accept the terms of Potsdam.&rdquo 9 In his broadcast to the nation, on August 15, the Emperor left the Soviet Union unmentioned, but referred to the bombs:
The enemy has begun to use a new and most cruel bomb to kill and maim extremely large numbers of the innocent&hellipif the war were to be continued, it would cause not only the downfall of our nation but also the destruction of all human civilization&hellipit is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.
The Emperor&rsquos decision to accept surrender is called the seidan, or sacred resolution. The Japanese war cabinet needed the voice of God to make up its mind. And as the above words show, the supreme descendant of the Japanese gods, in his divine benevolence, would save not only the Japanese nation but all human civilization. As a result of the bombs, the Japanese had been transformed from aggressors to saviors, a magnificent feat of public relations. In fact, official Japanese reasoning was more complicated than the Emperor&rsquos speech suggests. The ruling elite of Japan, with the Emperor as its active high priest, was afraid that the Japanese people, exhausted, hungry, and sick of war, might become unruly. The atomic bombs offered a perfect excuse to end the war on terms that would not destroy the elite. Admiral Yonai Mitsumasa, a member of the peace faction, said on August 12, 1945:
I think the term is perhaps inappropriate, but the atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war are, in a sense, gifts from the gods. This way we don&rsquot have to say that we quit the war because of domestic circumstances. Why I have long been advocating control of the crisis of the country is neither for fear of an enemy attack nor because of the atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war. The main reason is my anxiety over the domestic situation. So, it is rather fortunate that now we can control matters without revealing the domestic situation. 10
It is not certain that a warning, or demonstration of the bomb, would have been enough of an excuse for the peace faction and the Emperor to stand up to the die-hards. Oppenheimer could think of no demonstration &ldquosufficiently spectacular&rdquo to bring about surrender. Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy disagreed he recommended a demonstration. The least one can say is that it would surely have been worth a try. For 200,000 deaths was a high price to pay for a gift from the gods.
Alperovitz, among others, suggests that an earlier war declaration by the Soviet Union, coupled with an American promise to protect the Emperor, would have been enough to make Japan give in. After all, the Emperor was protected after the Japanese surrender, so why not before? As soon as Japan showed its readiness to accept the Potsdam terms on August 10, so long as the Emperor would be protected, Truman was so eager to end the war that the Emperor&rsquos authority was recognized, &ldquosubject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers&rdquo (SCAP).
Alperovitz finds this change of policy &ldquopuzzling.&rdquo If then, why not before? But there is quite a difference between recognizing the Emperor&rsquos authority as a condition of surrender, and doing so under the auspices of SCAP, after Japan was defeated. For now the US was in control of the institution. The result was not entirely positive. SCAP, that is to say General MacArthur, used his powers to protect Emperor Hirohito not only from prosecution for war crimes but even from appearing as a witness. This had serious consequences, for so long as the Emperor, in whose name the war had been waged, could not be held accountable, the question of war guilt would remain fuzzy in Japan, and a source of friction between Japan and its former enemies.
Alperovitz thinks that Truman&rsquos uncompromising position at Potsdam had given &ldquohard-line army leaders a trump card against early surrender proposals. The army could continue to argue that the Emperor-God might be removed, perhaps tried as a war criminal, possibly even hanged.&rdquo Here I think he is missing the point. The hardliners, as well as the peace faction, were fighting to preserve a kokutai, which was hardly benign. Indeed, it was the very system that brought war to Asia. Herbert Bix, one of the most knowledgeable historians of the Japanese imperial system, has argued&mdashI think, rightly&mdashthat even the peace faction wanted to retain an authoritarian system, which would have left substantial power in the Emperor&rsquos hands. He writes:
If Grew and the Japan crowd [in Washington] had gotten their way, and the principle of unconditional surrender had been contravened, it is highly unlikely that Japan&rsquos post-surrender leaders, now the &ldquomoderates&rdquo around the throne, would ever have discarded the Meiji Constitution and democratized their political institutions. 11
Although Truman might have looked better in retrospect if he had guaranteed the Emperor&rsquos status earlier, before dropping the atomic bombs, such a guarantee alone was unlikely to have pushed Japan toward surrender before August 9. The hardliners rejected the idea of an Allied occupation, let alone the submission of the imperial institution to a foreign ruler. Indeed, some of the die-hards, including War Minister Anami, continued to argue against the surrender until August 14, when the Emperor, once again, spoke in favor of peace. After that, Anami resisted no more, and committed suicide in the traditional manner of a samurai.
Those who claim that Truman should have been more flexible tend to misunderstand the role of the imperial institution. Alperovitz writes that the Japanese regarded their emperor as a god, &ldquomore like Jesus or the incarnate Buddha,&rdquo and that the US demand for unconditional surrender &ldquodirectly threatened not only the person of the Emperor but such central tenets of Japanese culture as well.&rdquo In fact, the Emperor was never regarded as anything like the Buddha he was more like a priest-king, a combination of the Pope and a constitutional monarch. Alperovitz quotes, with approval, John McCloy&rsquos proposal in 1945 that &ldquothe Mikado&rdquo be retained &ldquoon the basis of a constitutional monarchy.&rdquo But Emperor Hirohito already was a constitutional monarch. The problem was his other function, as the pope of Japanese nationalism. His position during the 1930s and early 1940s had less to do with central tenets of Japanese culture than with a political ideology, based in large part on nineteenth-century European nationalism. It was not culture or religion that the Japanese leaders tried to protect, but their own position in the kokutai. Without the Emperor, their power would have lacked any legitimacy. Since it was Truman&rsquos aim to break their power, he had to break the kokutai first.
The question at the heart of Alperovitz&rsquos book is &ldquowhether, when the bomb was used, the president and his top advisers understood that it was not required to avoid a long and costly invasion, as they later claimed and as most Americans still believe.&rdquo He has proved that avoiding an invasion was not Washington&rsquos only aim. Secretary of State Henry Stimpson&rsquos statement (to McCloy) in May 1945 makes that pretty clear. The US, he said, had &ldquocoming into action a weapon which will be unique.&rdquo The &ldquomethod now to deal with Russia was to&helliplet our actions speak for words.&rdquo And the US might have to &ldquodo it in a pretty rough and realistic way.&rdquo There is no doubt that at Potsdam Truman saw the bomb as a joker in his pack.
But Alperovitz does not prove conclusively that the Soviet Union was the only reason for dropping the bomb. There were other considerations, which did involve the possibility of an invasion. Truman wanted to end the war swiftly to stop the Soviet advance in East Asia, but also because Americans were getting tired of fighting. Truman worried that the prospect of a prolonged war in the Far East, including an eventual invasion, would put pressure on him to accept a Japanese surrender on less than favorable terms. In other words, before Hiroshima, Truman did think the defeat of Japan, on American terms, might require a long battle. The problem with Alperovitz&rsquos analysis is that he pays too little attention to the political situation in wartime Japan. In his famous book Atomic Diplomacy, published in 1965, there is only one reference to Prime Minister Suzuki, and none to his die-hard opponents Anami, Umezu, and Toyoda. His new tome still only mentions them in passing.
Alperovitz&rsquos case that the bomb was not dropped to prevent a final bloody battle rests entirely on the assumption that Truman and his advisers knew perfectly well that the Japanese were on the verge of capitulation before the destruction of Hiroshima. Closer examination of what went on in Tokyo shows that the Japanese were not. So long as there was no unanimity in the war cabinet and the Emperor remained silent, the war would go on. And so long as the hard-liners prevailed, any attempt by members of the peace faction, such as Foreign Minister Togo, to negotiate for peace had to be vague, furtive, and inconclusive. Alperovitz makes a great deal of Togo&rsquos dispatches in July 1945 to Sato Naotake, ambassador to Moscow, conveying the Emperor&rsquos wish to discuss peace terms through the good offices of Moscow. He makes less of the fact that Ambassador Sato told his foreign minister that the mission was hopeless since Japan had nothing specific to discuss. And he makes nothing at all of the other reason for approaching Moscow: important members of the peace faction, including Admiral Yonai, still hoped to forge a Japanese&ndashSoviet alliance against the US and Britain. 12
So I do not believe it was an irrational policy on Truman&rsquos part to insist on unconditional surrender. But analyzing rational policies is not the business of a professor of psychiatry and psychology, so Robert Jay Lifton ignores these political considerations, and dwells on such issues as Truman&rsquos &ldquodenial of death,&rdquo or James Byrnes&rsquos &ldquototalistic relationship with the weapon,&rdquo or &ldquothe formation of separate, relatively autonomous selves&rdquo in the personality of Henry Stimson. From this psychiatric perspective, anyone mad enough to drop an atomic bomb, even in 1945, when any means to end the war had to be considered, must be a mental patient. And the policy of a mental patient has to be touched with madness.
Lifton and Mitchell claim, like Alperovitz, that since the successful test of the atomic bomb, &ldquoTruman and Byrnes began to focus on how to end the war sufficiently quickly that the Soviets would not gain a foothold in Japan.&rdquo But again the authors do not consider the reasons why. To them it is but one more example of Truman&rsquos irrational state of mind, because he was suppressing his feelings and &ldquoany tendency to reflect,&rdquo since he had been bad at sports as a child and was afraid of being &ldquoa sissy.&rdquo Even if all these things were true, there were still compelling reasons for wishing to stop Soviet troops from entering Japan. There was concern in Washington about the swift expansion of the Soviet Empire in Eastern and Central Europe. The US ambassador to the Soviet Union, W. Averill Harriman, called it a &ldquobarbarian invasion.&rdquo He believed, quite correctly, that Soviet control of other countries meant the extinction of political liberties in those countries and a dominant Soviet influence over their foreign relations. As subsequent events in China and the Korean peninsula have shown, Truman was right to worry about Soviet power in northeast Asia. It certainly would not have suited US interests, or those of Japan for that matter, if the Japanese archipelago had been divided into different occupation zones, with Stalin&rsquos troops ensconced in Hokkaido.
As he did in his book on the &ldquogenocidal mentality&rdquo of nuclear scientists and strategists, 13 Lifton uses the phrase &ldquonuclearism,&rdquo which he describes as &ldquoa spiritual faith that the ultimate power of the emerging weapon could serve not only death and destruction but also continuing life.&rdquo Believers in this faith, such as Truman, feel like &ldquomerging with a source of power rivaling that of any deity.&rdquo They are, in short, possessed. Here Lifton and Mitchell are close to the religious position of Dr. Nagai: the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were propelled by a force beyond human reason. Having established that, the authors can dispense with political arguments and concentrate on the corruption of American life by irrational forces. They can write that the &ldquonurturing of this deified object [i.e., the bomb], as our source of security and ultimate power over death, became the central task of our society,&rdquo without contemplating what the world would have been like if the sole possessors of this object had been the likes of Joseph Stalin.
Perhaps it helps to be a Nagasaki Catholic to take a more complex view of sin. Loyalty to their own deity must have given some Japanese Christians a skeptical view of Japanese politics when the kokutai was at the height of its divine imperial pretensions. One of the most controversial and interesting Nagasaki Catholics is the ex-mayor Motoshima Hitoshi. I first interviewed him seven years ago, in Nagasaki, when Emperor Hirohito was dying. Motoshima had just said in public that the Emperor bore some responsibility for the war and, by not ending it soon enough, for the fates of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A conservative politician, he was disowned by the Liberal Democratic Party and blackballed by various patriotic organizations of which he was a member. He also received threats from right-wing extremists. One year later, he was shot in the back by one of them, and barely survived. This is the &ldquoJapanese culture&rdquo that remains from the war. It is no longer the main political tendency, but it is still intimidating enough to silence critics of the imperial system and other remnants of the old kokutai, which General MacArthur helped to protect.
This summer, Motoshima looked less robust than I remembered him, perhaps because of the assassination attempt, perhaps because of his recent loss of the mayoral election. He began by reading the late Emperor&rsquos statement of August 15, 1945, about the &ldquonew and most cruel bomb.&rdquo He tapped the text with his finger and said the bomb did bring the war to an end. But then he made another point. The atomic bombs, he said, had done away with the idea of a good war. He himself had believed in a Japanese victory. Although he had been tormented as a Christian child by teachers who forced him to declare who was holier, Jesus or the Emperor, Motoshima was a patriot. He served in an army propaganda unit. But the atomic bombs had turned war into an absolute evil, like the Holocaust in Europe. He illustrated this view at a recent press conference in Tokyo, by comparing the innocent victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the Jews killed at Auschwitz. The Japanese press made nothing of this. But the Western correspondents were full of indignation yet another Japanese whitewash, they thought, another sob story of the Japanese as victims.
I asked him about this. Was there really no difference between the citizens of a nation that started a war and people who were killed for purely ideological reasons? Had he himself not said that the Japanese people bore responsibility for the war, as well as their emperor? He answered my question by asking me whether I thought Jewish soldiers in Hitler&rsquos army had been responsible for the war in Europe. Clearly, the precise nature of the European Holocaust had rather escaped him. But when pressed by others he has acknowledged that there was a difference between the atomic bombings and the Holocaust. The US was not planning to exterminate the entire Japanese people. The question remains, however, whether there is a fundamental more difference between dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and many thousands of incendiary bombs on, say, Tokyo.
Miyazaki Kentaro, the son of bomb survivors, and a historian specializing in the &ldquohidden Christian&rdquo communities in Japan, saw no moral difference. All forms of carpet bombing were a sin. But like the former mayor, he blamed the Japanese government for starting the war, and saw no reason to criticize the US. I also asked the opinion of Father Sebastian Kawazoe, the priest at Urakami Cathedral. Like Motoshima, with whom he went to school, Kawazoe was born on one of the Goto Islands, in a family of hidden Christians. He had the same straight, almost rough, manner of speaking as the ex-mayor. He told me most Catholics had not been keen supporters of the war. But they had to be careful, for they were always being treated as spies. He, too, saw no moral distinction between A-bombs and other forms of terror bombing.
I dwell on this point because I think it clarifies our thinking about the past. If we see the atomic bombs as morally unique, as something fundamentally different, in ethical terms, from large numbers of incendiary bombs or napalm bombs dropped on civilians, it is difficult to analyze the actions of men, such as Truman, who saw the A-bomb attacks as a logical extension of strategic bombing. 14 McGeorge Bundy wrote about this in his book Danger and Survival, in a chapter entitled &ldquoThe Decision to Drop the Bombs on Japan.&rdquo
Both military and political leaders came to think of urban destruction not as wicked, not even as a necessary evil, but as a result with its own military value. Distinctions that had seemed clear when the Germans bombed Rotterdam were gradually rubbed out in the growing ferocity of the war. 15
This, rather than theological jargon about original sin or &ldquonuclearism,&rdquo is the nub of the matter. Truman, in response to an American advocate of &ldquothe Christian tradition of civilized war,&rdquo said there was no such thing, that war &ldquohas always been a matter of slaughter of innocents and never civilized.&rdquo This sounds good, a moral cri de coeur from a tough-minded, peace-loving leader, but it is disingenuous. For there is a difference between killing innocents in the heat of battle and killing them deliberately, in huge numbers, as a form of terror. Tens of thousands died horribly in Dresden without any apparent military or political justification. The possibility that the carnage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have brought the war to a speedier end made these mass killings expedient, perhaps, but no less morally disturbing. This does not mean, however, that it would have been any more ethical to go on fire-bombing Japanese cities, as Curtis LeMay, an opponent of the A-bomb strategy, wanted. More than 100,000 civilians had already died in one night in May, when LeMay&rsquos B-29s torched Tokyo with incendiary bombs. Truman&rsquos decision to drop the bombs was the climax of a horrible strategy, started by Germany and Japan, that had left much of Europe, parts of China, and most of Japan in ruins.
It would make sense for the Nagasaki Catholics, who suffered disproportionately from the A-bomb, to be active in the antinuclear peace movement. Actually they are not. Motoshima, who is a campaigner for world peace, is an exception. Father Kawazoe, himself a survivor, said: &ldquoI don&rsquot take part in the peace movement. It is used by people to expand their own sect. They talk about peace, but you don&rsquot know what&rsquos behind it.&rdquo While acknowledging the checkered record of the Christian Church&mdash&ldquo60 percent bad, 40 percent good&rdquo&mdashhe also said: &ldquoWe Christians have a history of oppression, but we don&rsquot make a living out of our suffering. Emphasizing one&rsquos own suffering is just a way to win sympathy.&rdquo
This is a bit harsh on the survivors in Peace Park, who devote their time to telling schoolchildren about the bomb. But as I watched those same schoolchildren, lined up in straight rows in front of the &ldquoPeace Statue&rdquo and solemnly shouting lines they had memorized about loving peace, I was reminded of demonstrations in the former East Berlin, where the masses marched past their leaders, raising their fists and bellowing slogans about &ldquopeople&rsquos friendship.&rdquo These peace ceremonies have become ritual gestures to ward off nuclear evil: &ldquoPeople who love peace, please sign your name here.&rdquo
There is nothing in Nagasaki to tell those schoolchildren why the bomb was dropped, or what led up to it. It is indeed hard to explain why the bomb had to be dropped on Nagasaki. There is no evidence that it hastened the end of the war. Carl Spaatz, the commanding general of the US Army Strategic Air Forces, is quoted by Alperovitz as saying (to Averill Harriman) that he had no idea why a bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. We will never know to what extent the fate of Nagasaki influenced the Emperor&rsquos decision to tell his soldiers to lay down their arms. But some historical context, some indication of what those Japanese soldiers had done to others, would not have been amiss. Instead, all one really hears in Nagasaki is the sound of prayer. And one only needs to walk past the Peace Park monuments, from China, the USSR, Bulgaria, Cuba, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the German Democratic Republic, to see how peace has been exploited.
On my last day in Nagasaki, I visited Urakami Cathedral, where Father Kawazoe was celebrating Mass. The cathedral was full, with more women than men. The women wore old-fashioned veils, a custom that has virtually died out in Europe. Almost all these people were descended from families who had clung to their faith through centuries of persecution. It was a moving spectacle, even if one had no special feeling for the Catholic Church. Father Kawazoe was preaching that God&rsquos will could not be known, and it was useless to expect favors from Him. God was not like some local deity, whom one could ask for a good catch or an abundant crop. I was puzzled by this. Here was a Japanese priest, in the Cathedral of a modern, sophisticated city, talking to people as though they were villagers on Goto Island who had to be weaned from their native gods.
I left the Cathedral feeling touched, but also with a sense of sadness and futility. Outside were some of the remains of the old Cathedral: a blackened statue of Christ, with a chipped nose and dark stumps where there had once been fingers and there a damaged Saint Agnes and there, in the grass, the charred heads of decapitated angels. People used to believe that Armageddon was a prerogative of God, or of the gods. Now we know it is in the hands of man. Hardly a consolation.
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How Did Emperor Hirohito Respond to the Atomic Bomb Attacks? - HISTORY
By David Dean Barrett
More than seventy years after the fact, the use of atomic bombs by the United States in the final days of World War II remains one of the most controversial events of the 20th century. During his speech announcing the destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb, U.S. President Harry S. Truman used the phrase, “Rain of Ruin.” However, by changing, “Rain” to “Reign” the quote can describe Hirohito’s time as emperor of Japan and the government that ruled the country during this period, because it was the actions of those leaders that ultimately caused the ruin of Japan.
Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945, 8:15 am local time: Two glimmering silver Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers fly high above the city about half a mile apart a third circles several thousand yards away. The lead aircraft carries the number “82” on its fuselage, a large black R encircled on its tail, the name Enola Gay on its nose, and the atomic bomb Little Boy in its belly.
The B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, named for the pilot’s mother, is shown parked on an unidentified airfield.
The doors to the forward bomb bay open, and a large gun-metal gray projectile falls out, bottom first, flips over, and hurtles nose down toward the metropolis below. With the abrupt loss of weight the plane lunges upward, then banks violently to the right, noses down, and accelerates away as fast as its four 2,200-horsepower radial engines will drive it.
The city below is serene, an azure blue sky above it. People are engaged in their daily routine: adults going to work, children to school. It is morning rush hour. Residents pay no attention to such a small group of American planes.
The bomb drops for 43 seconds before exploding 2,000 feet above the ground in a pinkish burst that cuts across the sky. A fireball—a football field in diameter—erupts from the flash without a sound. An iridescent bolt of light strikes the ground. The heat from the blast melts the surface of granite within a thousand yards of the hypocenter. Roof tiles soften and change color from black to olive or brown and are ripped off. A huge mushroom cloud, filled with every color in the rainbow, ascends five miles above the ground.
Over the center of the city silhouettes are burned onto walls and the street, as people are instantly vaporized. A mile from the epicenter, thousands of Japanese soldiers doing morning calisthenics on the military base drill grounds are instantly roasted to death.
A supersonic blast of wind tears across Hiroshima in a concentric ring for two miles, demolishing all but a few earthquake-proof buildings. People are picked up, blown through the air, and smashed against anything still upright. Some are transformed into grotesque carbon statues and litter the ground like leaves fallen from a huge tree.
The city becomes pitch black, silent. Gradually the blackness dissipates like fog and gives way to gray. Zombie-like figures slowly slog through the ruined city their shredded and burned skin hangs from them. A woman carries a baby with no head. Fires burn everywhere. Dead bodies glut the river and litter the ground many are nothing but skeletal bones. Children cry for their mothers. Black rain begins to fall.
Three days later the same fate befalls Nagasaki. Such grim descriptions call to mind concern mainly for the suffering and hardship of unsuspecting Japanese civilians. While their torment was unquestionable, such a singular view argues that the effects of the atomic bombs render their use indefensible.
However, to completely understand the decision to use such weapons requires a thorough examination of the historical context of both the use and effects of the bombs. The war engendered hardship on both sides of the battlefield, diplomatic intransigence, and Japanese abuses of power.
There were five principal topics in the last year of the war that need to be considered: unconditional surrender the Japanese strategies of Spirit (at the start of the war) and Defense in Depth (in 1944) the escalation of the war the Japanese wartime government and, finally, the key decisions made by the leaders in both Japan and the United States during the final months of the war.
Emperor Hirohito in prewar photo.
Unconditional surrender means quite simply that the defeated state agrees to whatever the victor decides. It is the equivalent of a revolution for the vanquished nation because its primary objective is the removal of the government in power. Most conflicts have not and do not end in this fashion instead, they are concluded by negotiation between the belligerents and the establishment of mutually acceptable, if not desirable, terms or conditions. While the Allies’ demand for unconditional surrender during World War II was not unprecedented, it was unusual, and it grew out of an American initiative for a specific reason.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first considered the idea of forcing the Axis nations to accept unconditional surrender in the spring of 1942. Almost a year later, in January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill formalized this intention into official policy at their meeting in Casablanca. When he was later asked why the Allies were demanding unconditional surrender, Roosevelt replied, “We are fighting this war, because we did not have an unconditional surrender at the end to the last one.” Thus the requirement’s genesis went all the way back to the armistice that ended World War I and the Germans’ belief that they “weren’t defeated”—a belief that angered Germany, spawned Hitler, and led to a second world war.
FDR continued to reinforce the demand for unconditional surrender over the next couple of years. At a press conference in July 1944, Roosevelt stated, “Practically all Germans deny the fact that they surrendered during the last war, but this time they are going to know it, and so are the Japs.”
After Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945, Truman inherited the legacy of unconditional surrender. Just four days later, during his first address to a joint session of Congress, he too called upon all Americans to support him in carrying out the ideals for which Roosevelt lived and died—and the first of these was unconditional surrender.
The ongoing buttressing of this war aim among the Allied nations caused one historian to state, “If the Americans had made the first move toward peace with the Japanese, Stalin would have denounced it as a treacherous attempt to negate a part of the Yalta Agreement, specifically Stalin’s commitment to enter the war against Japan 90 days after Germany’s surrender, by striking a deal before Russia entered the war.”
This comment is grounded on an enticement made at Yalta by Roosevelt, specifically to allow the Soviets to take possession of southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, internationalize the port of Darien, and restore the Soviet lease on Port Arthur.
As an aside, neither Germany nor Japan took opportunities to negotiate an end to the war. The former had an occasion—with France and Britain in the late winter and early spring of 1940, and again with Russia in 1942-1943—and did nothing. Japan could have considered ending to its war with China in the late 1930s and chose not to.
During World War II, the Japanese government was fundamentally a military oligarchy. It was made up of three components: the emperor, considered divine the prime minister, appointed essentially by the emperor and the prime minister’s cabinet, partially chosen by him and partially by the incumbents—explicitly the Chiefs of the General Staff of the Army and Navy. The latter augmented the military’s power and influence considerably because it allowed them to place the most hawkish members of their respective services into these positions.
Decisions made by the prime minister and his cabinet had to be unanimous. This meant any dissenter had the effect of a veto vote this created a dysfunctional government. Whenever a unanimous decision could be reached, it was presented to the emperor for his approval, which was largely a rubber stamp.
As such, the emperor knew and agreed to the decisions being made but did not exercise his power in the same fashion as a traditional monarch. However, in extraordinary circumstances he could be asked to make his opinion known to the members of the cabinet, and, because of his divinity, he could provoke a binding decision.
Left to Right: Prime Minister Suzuki, Army Minister Anami, Navy Minister Yonai, Army Chief of Staff Umezu, Navy Chief of Staff Toyoda, Foreign Minister Togo.
Three prime ministers led Japan during the Pacific War: Hideki Tojo (October 18, 1941-July 22, 1944), Kuniaki Koiso (July 22, 1944-April 7, 1945), and Kantaro Suzuki (April 7, 1945-August 17, 1945).
The last of these, a retired admiral, guided the country primarily with five other men: Army War Minister Korechika Anami, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, Army Chief of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu, Navy Chief of Staff Soemu Toyoda, and Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, the only civilian. The group was referred to as “The Big Six” or the “Supreme Council at the Direction of War.”
Virtually all Japanese leaders lived in mortal fear. Assassination of political and military leaders had become commonplace in Japan beginning with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In the 27-year period from 1909 to 1936, eight members of the government and military, including five prime ministers, two generals, and an admiral, were murdered. The message from junior officers, the most frequent perpetrators of these murders, was clear: either support a politically aggressive ideology or you risk your life.
The word bushido, used to describe the fighting spirit and behavior of Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen during the Pacific War, was a perversion of its historic meaning. Bushidorefers to the “way of the warrior” and is further defined as “a hybrid code of ethics refined from both the deep honorable tradition of the Japanese warrior class and the spiritual wisdom of Buddhism and Confucianism.”
Thus, the application of the Bushido Code had less to do with war, pride, power, and conquest and more to do with a path to human refinement, and for some, enlightenment.
The roots of bushido are firmly planted in a serious and structured approach to living rightly, even if that meant dying for the achievement of living by the code. This is why seppukuor harakiri (suicide by disembowelment) became an accepted practice in Japanese culture for hundreds of years. It was thought that maintaining the honor of oneself or the family was paramount to all else, including one’s own life.
The eight accepted elements of bushido are: rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control.
In the 20th century, Japanese militarists hijacked the code and reduced it to little more than courage and loyalty. Combining this version of bushido with an obligation to die for the emperor, military leaders instilled absolute obedience in their subjects.
Japanese servicemen did indeed exhibit courage and loyalty throughout the war, but nothing in their conduct resembled the other six elements of bushido (save a perverted sense of honor), as they behaved in some of the most sadistic and barbaric ways imaginable toward both their battlefield enemies and the people living under Japanese occupation.
Japanese soldiers bayonet bound Chinese POWs. To many Japanese soldiers, anyone who surrendered had dishonored his uniform and did not deserve to live. Such attitudes hardened Japan’s leaders against Allied demands for surrender.
From 1931 until the spring of 1944, the Japanese military doggedly held to an idealistic belief that the “spirit” of its soldiers was superior to that of any of its enemies and would result in victory on the field of battle. In combat this meant that, while artillery, mortars, and machine-gun fire would be used tactically to soften up an adversary, bayonet charges and hand-to-hand combat would ultimately defeat them.
This concept of military strategy showed some success in Japan’s war with China and the early stages of World War II. However, against the United States beginning in the summer of 1942, it ran into a wall of lead and steel the likes of which the Japanese had never experienced. Banzai charges became little more than a death sentence for the Nippon soldiers facing overwhelming American firepower.
Worse still, the failed charges often led to major breakthroughs that were exploited by the Americans to win the battle. But Japanese military leaders stubbornly clung to the approach for two more years.
Finally, in the spring of 1944, Japan adopted a new stratagem, albeit no less onerous for its troops. Believing American morale to be brittle and that with enough casualties they could still win something better than unconditional surrender, the Japanese embraced the strategy of “Defense in Depth.”
Defense in Depth requires the defender to deploy his resources, such as fortifications, field works, and military units, at and well behind the front lines. Although an attacker may find it easier to breach the more weakly defended front line, as he advances he continues to meet increasingly stiff resistance. The deeper he penetrates, the more his flanks become vulnerable, and if the advance stalls the attacker risks being enveloped.
Japanese military planners went even further, adding their own unique spin to this scheme. From the inception of their training, Japanese troops were indoctrinated with the belief that it was dishonorable to surrender and that they had a duty to die for their emperor.
Knowing this axiom, expedient battlefield commanders rationalized the use of tactics that ignored the possibility that their troops might need to retreat. Because battles were often fought on islands, the defenders could literally dig into the volcanic or coral landscape, where it was virtually impossible for an attacker to bypass or flank their fortified positions.
The result was indeed a formidable defense, which imposed ever higher casualties on the Americans. It remained to be seen whether American morale could be broken in this manner.
The last year of the war was far and away the bloodiest for American forces 64 percent of all the casualties and 53 percent of battle deaths occurred during this time. This happened partially because of the strategy of Defense in Depth and partly because of the progressively larger land, sea, and air battles being fought.
The campaign to seize the Marianas Islands in the Central Pacific is a case in point. It began with the invasion of Saipan on June 15, 1944, just nine days after the D-Day landings in Normandy, with an American task force of about two thirds D-Day’s size and more than 7,000 miles away. The assault offered dramatic proof of how American might had grown in the 2 1 /2years since Pearl Harbor.
The combined operation encompassed Marine, Army, and some of the largest naval forces of the war. One historian observed, “The fuel needed for the battle would have powered the entire German war machine for a month in 1944.”
On Saipan a Marine uses a bulldozer to dig a burial trench after the Japanese banzai charge on July 7, 1944. The bodies of some of the 4,000 Japanese killed in the charge lay to the left of the trench. The attackers included walking wounded and men armed with only bayonets tied to wood staffs.
The battle to seize Saipan took 24 days and ultimately featured the largest banzai attack of the war early in the morning of July 7, when more than 4,000 Japanese soldiers stormed the American lines along the island’s northwest coast. When it finally ended at around six in the evening, all the attackers lay dead. But they had killed or wounded more than 1,000 Americans.
In the waters west of the Marianas between June 19 and 20, one of the greatest air-sea engagements of World War II—two to three times larger than the Battle of Midway—took place between the American and Japanese navies in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, a Japanese heavy cruiser turns in a clockwise circle to evade American dive bombers and torpedo planes. In the distance the plumes of two bomb hits on a Kongo-class battleship are visible, while the stricken vessel narrowly averts a collision with an aircraft carrier also caught in the relentless air attack.
Also called “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” this two-day battle saw American aviators decimate their Japanese counterparts, shooting down 426 aircraft of all types or 90 percent of Japan’s striking force. The additional destruction of three of Japan’s fleet aircraft carriers forever ended her ability to use carriers to conduct offensive operations in the war.
The fall of Guam on August 10, the last of the Marianas Islands to fall, shattered Japan’s inner ring of defense. The conquest of the Marianas provided the United States with bases for its long-range, four-engine heavy bomber, the B-29. All three islands served as points of origin for the strategic bombing of the Japanese homeland—an offensive that began November 24, 1944—and would, in due course, include the 509th Composite Group stationed on Tinian, which would deliver nuclear weapons to its targets.
Once the United States had gained control of the Marianas and the seas surrounding them, American air forces quickly moved to cut off Japan’s industries from strategically vital oil, iron ore, and bauxite resources in the territories Japan occupied in Southwest Asia.
The victory also led to the termination of an ineffective and expensive China-based B-29 bombing campaign against Japan. Strategically, Japan had been defeated, but Japanese leaders, unwilling to accept unconditional surrender and still believing that they could cause massive American causalities when the home islands were invaded, refused to surrender.
But taking this strategic position in the Pacific came at a high cost. In two months of grueling island and naval campaigns, U.S. forces killed 60,000 Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen, while the Japanese inflicted just under 30,000 casualties on the Americans—5,500 of whom were KIAs.
In the months immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese took nearly 140,000 Allied combatants and more than 300,000 civilians as prisoners of war. By war’s end, an appalling 27 to 38 percent of the military prisoners had died in Japanese captivity compared to only two to four percent of those held in German camps. Those who did survive often looked as though they had come out of Nazi extermination camps. As early as 1942, it had become common practice for the Japanese to massacre prisoners, triggered by the mere threat of invasion by Allied forces.
On August 1, 1944, the Japanese formalized their policy toward Allied POWs. A “kill order” was sent to the commandants of all its POW camps. With the Allies advancing everywhere in the Pacific, the order made it clear the Japanese did not want any of the POWs in their possession to be repatriated. The order stated, “It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.”
In December 1944, the Japanese massacred 139 American POWs held in the Philippine province of Palawan. The murders sparked a series of rescue missions, the most famous of which was “The Great Raid” in January that freed more than 500 Americans. But Allied prisoners remained in grave jeopardy until Japan surrendered.
As the time approached for invading the Philippines in late October 1944, Admiral Chester Nimitz’s Central Pacific Command was tasked with securing Peleliu to protect General Douglas MacArthur’s flank from an airstrip on the island that potentially threatened his forces.
The Battle of Peleliu, September 15-November 27, 1944, on a tiny coral islet about 600 miles southeast of the Philippine island of Mindanao, became the first to test the potential of Japan’s strategy of Defense in Depth.
In preparation, Japanese defenders honeycombed Peleliu with bunkers, blockhouses, and pillboxes. Most of these fortifications tunneled into the island and all bristled with interlocking rings of rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire. The Japanese plan forced American Marines and soldiers into squad-level tactics at point-blank range to eliminate positions, all the time subjected to a murderous onslaught that created mountainous losses for the Americans.
Marine Corps commander Maj. Gen. William Rupertus had predicted that the battle would take three days. Instead, the ensuing slaughter to seize Peleliu’s six square miles raged for 73. Marines and soldiers suffered nearly 8,000 wounded and 2,000 dead. Japanese losses were nearly absolute—between 10,500 and 11,000 died.
Dead Americans on Peleliu are wrapped for burial more than 2,300 were killed, compared to 10,000 Japanese defenders. It was casualties like these that convinced U.S. leaders that without Japan’s unconditional surrender, defeating the nation would be terribly costly for both sides.
No longer would large numbers of Japanese expose themselves in banzai charges against American forces. They would make their enemy blast them out of fixed fortifications—one bunker, one pillbox, or one cave at a time. The Defense in Depth strategy had proven its bloody effectiveness, and it would be employed with even greater sophistication during the last land battles of the Pacific War: Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf, from October 23-26, 1944, was the largest naval battle in history. Three days earlier, on October 20, U.S. troops invaded the island of Leyte as part of an effort aimed at not only fulfilling MacArthur’s pledge to retake the Philippines, but to further isolate Japan from the countries it occupied in Southwest Asia.
Despite the desperate commitment of nearly all its remaining capital ships to the fight, the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered its heaviest losses of the war. Thereafter, the IJN posed no significant threat to the Allies. Its few remaining ships limped back to Japan and, deprived of fuel, remained there until the end of the war. Leyte Gulf claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans and more than 10,500 Japanese.
The battle for the Philippines was the largest and most protracted campaign of the Pacific War. The fighting continued until Japan’s surrender, generating 62,000 American casualties, of which 14,000 were KIA. Japan suffered a staggering 336,000 dead.
By November 1944, American engineers and Seabees had turned Guam, Saipan, and Tinian into colossal airbases. The initial phase of the bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands, which took advantage of the B-29’s speed and high-altitude capabilities, yielded poor results due in large part to the jet stream and the frequently cloudy weather over the country.
But everything changed shortly after General Curtis Lemay assumed control of the XX Bomber Command in January 1945, as he radically altered bombing tactics. Rather than sending his B-29s in high-altitude daylight attacks, he would send them in at night at much lower altitudes.
In a raid that will forever mark this turning point, on the night of March 9-10, 1945, Lemay ordered more than 300 B-29s, using a mix of incendiary cluster bombs and high-explosive bombs, to strike Tokyo. The attack caused an urban conflagration—a firestorm—and became the single most destructive aerial bombing raid of the entire war in all theaters. Nearly 250,000 homes were destroyed as 16 square miles of the city were incinerated. The death toll was estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000 people—more outright than either of the atomic bomb attacks.
Similar raids continued for the next several months along with the aerial mining of Japanese ports. By August, Lemay had few targets left as much of Japan’s war economy and about 60 percent of her major cities lay in ruins.
The February 19-March 26, 1945, battle for Iwo Jima, an eight-square-mile volcanic island situated midway between American B-29 bases in the Marianas and their targets on the Japanese mainland, was one of the most bitterly contested of the Pacific War. Three airfields, an early warning radar station, and a strategic location made taking the island a necessity.
Prior to the land assault, the U.S. Army Air Forces bombed Iwo Jima for more than 70 days. Then naval forces shelled it for a further three days. Once ashore, Marine artillery fired half a million shells at Japanese positions, and throughout the battle Japanese defenders were subjected to continuous close air support from American carrier planes and further naval bombardment.
Nevertheless, the Japanese were so methodically entrenched inside Iwo Jima, in places five stories below ground, that once again as at Peleliu the vast majority of its hardened positions had to be taken at extremely close range by a handful of men at a time.
Burrowed into caves on Iwo Jima, the Japanese defenders had to be blasted out one cave at a time. More than 6,000 Americans and 20,000 Japanese died.
Over the 36 days of combat, the Marines lost 5,931 men KIA along with another 890 members of the Navy, mostly corpsmen, and more than 19,000 wounded. Only a few hundred of the Japanese garrison of between 21,000 and 22,000 survived. The battle marked the first time in the war that U.S. forces suffered more casualties than the Japanese. Japan’s new strategy had emphatically raised the cost in blood for the Americans.
Only 350 miles southeast of the Japanese home islands, Okinawa was the ideal staging point for the upcoming invasion of Japan. As on Peleliu and Iwo Jima, the Japanese employed the Defense in Depth to maximize American casualties. The battle was fought April 1-June 22, 1945, at times in torrential rain and knee-deep mud.
Likely the foremost example of horrific combat was a “pimple of a hill” known as Sugar Loaf, barely 50 yards wide and 300 yards long. The Marines were forced to assault its summit 11 times before they finally held it. In the process, 1,656 Marines died and another 7,429 were wounded over the 12 days it took to take the hill.
With terrible effect, Japan also used kamikazes in the greatest numbers yet during Okinawa’s 82 days of fighting. By the battle’s end, 2,000 planes, sometimes flying in waves of 200 to 300 at a time, caused more damage and inflicted more casualties upon the Allied armada than in any other battle of the Pacific War. Kamikazes sank 36 ships, damaged 368, killed nearly 5,000 sailors, and wounded a like amount.
Marines climb Okinawa’s shell-pocked Sugar Loaf Hill after the battle. The 82-day Okinawa operation cost the United States more than 51,000 killed and wounded.
When the battle for Okinawa concluded on June 22, more than 12,500 American servicemen were dead along with nearly 39,000 wounded and 33,000 non-combat casualties, mostly from “battle fatigue.” On the Japanese side, 95,000 men perished and as many as 10,000 surrendered. The battle also saw a heavy loss of civilian lives estimates run from a low of 42,000 to as many as 150,000––one third of the island’s population.
In early April 1945, as the war with Germany reached its awful conclusion, the Soviet Union denounced its neutrality pact with the Japanese government. Signed four years earlier on April 13, 1941, the Russians told Japan they would not renew it. The Japanese should have taken the Soviet change of position for exactly what it was—an ominous confirmation that the U.S.S.R. would soon become an enemy of Japan.
The primary American landings on the Japanese home island of Kyushu were scheduled to take place in the south. The plan called for more than 750,000 Americans to take part in the fight for the island with heavy casualities expected.
Immediately following Roosevelt’s death in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, Harry S. Truman succeeded him as president. After Truman took his oath of office, Secretary of War Henry Stimson told the new president that he needed to meet with him about a most urgent matter.
On April 24, Stimson and General Leslie Groves, in overall command of the Manhattan Project, briefed Truman for the first time about America’s top-secret atomic-bomb program. They told Truman they expected to have a bomb ready to test in a few months.
Three days after Germany’s surrender on May 8, Prime Minister Suzuki convened a meeting with The Big Six to discuss how Germany’s capitulation affected Japan’s wartime strategy. Foreign Minister Togo made his first attempt to move his government in the direction of ending the war after the members also received a dire report on Japan’s economy and war production.
Instead, Generals Anami and Umezu, along with Admiral Toyoda and Prime Minister Suzuki, asked Togo to convey Japan’s warmest regards to the Soviet Union, looking toward a friendlier relationship where it would be possible to purchase petroleum, aircraft, and other supplies it needed. Some members even suggested that it might still be possible to persuade the Soviets to join Japan in the war.
This perspective completely disregarded the reality that Russia had rescinded its Neutrality Pact with Japan a month earlier, had been an enemy off and on for 30 years before the war, and had been an ally of the British and Americans for over three years. Nevertheless, Togo attempted to carry out the Prime Minister’s request.
In Washington, on May 25, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) met and approved Operation Downfall, a two-phase plan for the invasion of the Japanese mainland. Phase I, code-named Operation Olympic, focused on the lower one third of Kyushu, the southernmost of the Japanese home islands.
The attack, scheduled to begin on November 1, 1945, included the following inventory: 766,700 men, 134,000 vehicles, 1.5 million tons of supplies, 22 fleet and 10 light aircraft carriers, and 2,794 aircraft. By itself, Olympic would have been substantially larger than the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The Chiefs expected 350,000 Japanese troops and no more than 2,500 aircraft to be defending Kyushu.
Phase II, Operation Coronet, targeted the Tokyo Plain. Slated to commence on March 1, 1946, it would have been even larger: 1,026,000 men (many in transit from the European Theater), 190,000 vehicles, 3,328 planes, and 2,640,000 tons of supplies. This amazing commitment of resources was about to be directed at an enemy whose merchant and naval fleets were already at the bottom of the ocean, whose air defenses were meager, and whose entire land area was blockaded by Allied warships.
A Japanese Army officer instructs a group of housewives in the use of bamboo spears. Japan was depending on a huge home defense army to keep invaders out of the home islands.
In Tokyo on June 8, 1945, despite his country’s desperate situation, Emperor Hirohito acceded to the military’s call for all-out resistance through a heroic last stand by “100 million Japanese,” the majority of them civilians. Only two weeks later he decided to follow the recommendation of his closest adviser, Marquis Koichi Kido, and sent peace feelers to Moscow.
Ten days later the JCS briefed Truman on the plans to invade Japan. Prior to the meeting, Truman voiced his concern that the United States could end up fighting another Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other and asked the JCS to provide specific casualty estimates a consistent answer was not forthcoming.
Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall sidestepped the question and gave an estimate of only 31,000 casualties, which was tied to only the first 30 days of combat and had come from MacArthur’s experience on Luzon in the Philippines.
Admiral William D. Leahy countered that he thought casualties could indeed be similar to Okinawa, where they amounted to 35 percent of the invasion force. Given the size of Olympic, it would mean 250,000 casualties with perhaps as many as one in four killed in action—or 60,000 more dead Americans.
Admiral Ernest J. King responded that the terrain on Kyushu offered more room to maneuver than on Okinawa. Therefore, casualties would be lighter. No one actually gave Truman a figure for the entire battle, although he had already heard former President Herbert Hoover’s estimate of 500,000 to a million dead (for both Olympic and Coronet)—an estimate that likely came from the “Smart Colonels” at the Pentagon.
Soviet Premier Josef Stalin and U.S. President Harry S. Truman at the Postdam Conference, July 1945. Although Stalin pretended to be surprised to learn about a U.S. “super weapon,” his spies had already tipped him off.
Apart from the casualty discussion, General Marshall once again raised the idea of using gas against the Japanese, seeing it as no less humane than the flamethrowers or phosphorous already in widespread use, but he failed to gain agreement among any of the other attendees. The atomic bomb was not part of the plan, as it has not yet been tested. At the close of the meeting, Truman approved only Operation Olympic after he requested and got unanimous support for it.
In Tokyo in early July, Japanese military leaders finalized their plans for the defense of the home islands. The plan, called Ketsu-Go, involved as many as 28,000,000 civilians fighting with single-shot, muzzle-loading muskets, longbows, sharpened bamboo spears, and pitchforks acting as “cannon fodder” to draw fire away from Japanese soldiers. Women aged 17 to 40 and men from 15 to 60 comprised this civilian militia.
According to the 1944 census, the three prefectures over which the battle for the lower one third of Kyushu would have been fought contained a population of nearly four million people, a large percentage of whom would have been forced to participate in its defense.
The plan also included 2,000 conventional aircraft and more than 10,000 kamikaze planes flying directly off Kyushu to attack Allied troop ships and landing craft. Striking in waves so large that in three hours they would equal the 2,000 sorties the Japanese sent against Okinawa in three months, they expected to completely overwhelm the American invasion force.
In addition, the Japanese planned to employ 1,300 “special attack” (kamikaze) mini-subs and an unknown number of suicide divers with high-explosive charges strapped to their backs who would wait in the shallows along the beaches and swim out and attempt to sink landing craft.
Finally, rather than the 350,000 troops expected by the JCS for Operation Olympic, by August there were already 900,000 Japanese soldiers in Kyushu.
In the predawn hours of July 16, 1945, a $2 billion gamble by the United States government culminated in the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site, Alamogordo, New Mexico. Scientists observed the explosion a mere 10,000 yards away from the blast, or between five and six miles. Truman, meeting with Stalin and Churchill at Potsdam, Germany, received word of the test later the same day.
The next day Stalin, Churchill, and Truman met to discuss Germany’s postwar fate and the continuing war with Japan. Truman was particularly interested in reaffirming Stalin’s commitment to join the war against Japan 90 days after Germany’s surrender, something the Soviet leader did in fact verify. A few days later Truman took Stalin aside during a break and mentioned “the bomb” without specifically calling it “atomic.” Stalin acted as though he did not understand but actually did Russian spies had infiltrated the Manhattan Project, and Stalin knew the bomb was nuclear.
On July 21, American codebreakers intercepted an exchange of communications between the Japanese ambassador to the Soviet Union, Naotake Sato, and Foreign Minister Togo. In the cable Sato expressed the opinion that the best the Japanese could hope for in terms of a peace agreement with the Allies was to keep the emperor. Togo responded that The Big Six would never agree to that sole condition.
Four days later the Anglo-American Allies and China (the Soviet Union had not yet declared war on Japan) released the Potsdam Declaration demanding Japan’s acceptance of its terms or face “prompt and utter destruction.”
According to Commander George M. Elsey, duty officer of the White House Map Room from 1941 to 1946, the Potsdam Declaration definition of unconditional surrender was modified to: “We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces.”
The change from a blanket all-inclusive unconditional surrender to the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces was made because the United States. knew the Japanese, from decrypted messages, wanted to retain the emperor the modification in language provided such a path. The same day Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb any time after August 1, weather permitting, as a visible target was required for its use.
By July 28, 1945, as General Marshall had predicted, even the most moderate of the Japanese leaders (Foreign Minister Togo) viewed the Potsdam Declaration as a weakening of American resolve and a basis for a negotiated peace rather than unconditional surrender.
Unfortunately for the Japanese, before Togo got a chance to begin discussions Prime Minister Suzuki quickly, at the insistence of General Anami, chose to “mokusatsu” the offer. (Roughly translated, it meant to “kill with silence.”) The decision sealed Japan’s fate.
A mushroom cloud billows 20,000 feet above Hiroshima and spreads 10,000 feet from ground zero. The crewmen aboard the Enola Gay were awestruck by the power of the atomic bomb.
On August 6, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy uranium atomic bomb on Hiroshima. After receiving the news, the Japanese leadership failed to meet for three more days because some members of The Big Six had more pressing matters to attend to.
General Marshall, who had been following the immense buildup of Japanese forces on Kyushu, began to seriously question the feasibility of Olympic. According to the latest American decrypts, Japanese troops on Kyushu now numbered 900,000 with nearly three months remaining before the invasion.
As a result, Marshall did two things. First, he cabled General MacArthur and asked if he thought the invasion should be moved to Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese island. This would have been akin to moving the D-Day invasion from Normandy to Norway three months before its commencement.
Second, he considered the seemingly unthinkable should the United States use as many as nine atomic bombs as tactical weapons in support of the invasion, over which American troops and Marines would then attack? Marshall had been following the scientific data coming out of Alamogordo after the Trinity test and believed American forces would be better off facing the risks of radiation than the vast numbers of Japanese defenders.
On August 9, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and attacked its Kwantung Army in Manchuria with well over a million men. With the bulk of its artillery, aircraft, and best troops long since stripped and sent to reinforce many of the islands previously mentioned in the Central Pacific, the Japanese were no match and the Russians rapidly gained the upper hand. The Soviets also struck, in much smaller numbers, the Japanese forces in Korea and in the Kurile Islands north of Hokkaido.
Later the same day, The Big Six finally met to discuss whether the war should be brought to an end or whether Japan should continue to resist. Suzuki, after requesting a vote, found the group deadlocked three to three.
On one side, Suzuki, Togo, and Yonai wanted to end the war with the sole condition of maintaining the emperor “with the understanding that the said declaration [of surrender] does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler” of Japan.
On the other side, Anami, Umezu, and Toyoda wanted to either fight the “decisive battle” on Japanese soil against the Americans or demand three more conditions in addition to the emperor—specifically Japanese control over war crimes trials, disarmament, and a guarantee of no Allied occupation force in Japan.
The men also discussed the recent atomic attack on Hiroshima. Admiral Toyoda told the group that no country in the world, not even the United States, could build more than one atomic bomb. Implied in his statement was a willingness to dismiss the loss of Hiroshima as a casualty of war since he assumed no further atomic attacks were possible.
Hiroshima photographed in 1946. Heat and shock waves vaporized people and incinerated wooden structures.
About 1 pm, The Big Six, still meeting, got word of the second atomic bomb hitting the city of Nagasaki. The news stunned the men but failed to change any of their opinions. It did, however, elicit a menacing comment from Suzuki:“Maybe the Americans will simply stand off and continue to drop atomic bombs.”
[As a sidebar, it should be noted that the Japanese had two atomic bomb programs of their own during the war both the Army and Navy each had projects. In fact, Prime Minister Tojo took a personal interest in the Japanese bomb project, believing that “the atomic bomb would spell the difference between life and death in this war.” Ironically, there was a consensus among Japan’s nuclear physicists that no county would be able to develop an atomic bomb during the course of the war.]
In an effort to break the stalemate among The Big Six and reach some decision, Togo and Suzuki, in a nearly unprecedented move, secured Emperor Hirohito’s agreement to provide his opinion to the group. The emperor told the cabinet he favored accepting the Potsdam Declaration with the single condition of keeping the Imperial Polity.
Anami, along with Umezu and Toyoda, only agreed to peace as long as the Allies accepted this condition. They also insisted on the conditional wording mentioned previously. If the Allies refused, Japan would continue to fight the war—this in spite of two atomic bombs and Soviet entry into the war against Japan.
The next day, August 10, news of the surrender offer with its single condition reached Washington. Truman immediately called a meeting to discuss whether the offer could be accepted as an unconditional surrender.
In the ensuing discussion, Undersecretaries of State Joseph Grew and Joseph Ballantine took issue with the language associated with the condition to keep the emperor, i.e., that the said declaration did not comprise any demand that prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler of Japan. They told the group that acceptance of the stipulation would allow the Japanese to continue with the same form of government that took them into aggressive war, and thus could potentially once again become a threat to peace, and that in the end they would have fought for almost four years accomplishing nothing.
Truman agreed and asked Grew and Ballantine to assist Secretary of State James Byrnes in drafting a counterproposal. The offer included two statements in direct response to the condition demanded by the Japanese, specifically, “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers,” and “the ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”
In no way did these declarations by the Allies not comprise a demand which prejudiced the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler of Japan. The statements ended the emperor’s authority.
Two days later, when the Allies’ counter-offer reached Japan, Anami immediately rejected it as it did not preserve the Imperial Polity. He flatly stated that Japan should either go back to fighting the war or demand all four conditions to end it. The Allied proposal sparked two more days of bickering among The Big Six that achieved nothing.
Worse yet, a group of junior Japanese officers plotted a clandestine coup to overthrow the Suzuki government should the peace initiative prove successful. Anami knew of the plot and neither supported nor quashed it.
Finally, on August 14, Togo and Suzuki again asked Hirohito to address the cabinet. The emperor told the group he wanted to accept the Allies’ counterproposal. Reluctantly, Anami, Umezu, and Toyoda all agreed. Additionally, Hirohito offered to record an imperial rescript to be broadcast to the Japanese people the following day telling them the war was over.
On the night of August 14-15, the conspirators launched their coup in an effort to derail the surrender. They seized the imperial grounds, essentially taking the emperor hostage, although they intended him no harm. They then attempted to gain the support of General Takeshi Mori, head of the Imperial Guards. Failing, they killed him and his aide, Colonel Michinori Shiraishi, and used Mori’s official stamp to forge a document that appeared to lend his support to the coup. Other members of the conspiracy went to the homes of Suzuki and Togo intent on assassinating both men neither was home.
Next, the collaborators proceeded to the Household Ministry, determined to destroy the two copies of the imperial rescript stored there. Coincidentally, at the same time, the last American bombing mission of the war approached Tokyo. Fearing an atomic attack on the capital, officials blacked out the city. The soldiers tore the ministry building apart in the darkness looking for the rescripts but could not locate the hidden recordings.
The leaders of the coup d’état made one last attempt to get Anami’s backing, but he refused. He had given his word to the emperor and could not change it now.
In a final act of desperation, the conspirators attempted to gain control of a radio station with the objective of broadcasting a plea to the Japanese people to not accept the peace but failed to accomplish even this.
Shortly before 6 AM, Anami committed seppukuat his home, and one by one the principal members of the coup followed suit. Major Hatanaka used his pistol to put a bullet through the center of his forehead Lt. Col. Jiro Shiizaki put a sword into his belly and then a bullet into his head, and Major Hidemasa Koga cut open his stomach.
Finally, at noon on August 15, Japanese radio broadcast the imperial rescript proclaiming the end of the war. In his speech to his people on that fateful day, Emperor Hirohito never used the word “surrender.”
Instead, he told his subjects that since the war had “developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage,” they would have to endure the unendurable for future generations and accept the Allied provisions to end the war. He added that Japan had not fought to aggrandize its territory, but rather to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia.
The emperor did specifically mention the effects of the atomic bomb as a factor in reaching his decision, stating, “The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable…. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
The Japanese delegation during the surrender proceedings aboard the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, included Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Army Chief of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu (front, left to right).
Essentially, in an act of supreme benevolence, Hirohito said Japan would fall on its sword to save humanity from the Americans. Thus began the myth of Japan as victim in World War II and not an aggressor.
Within a few years of Truman’s fateful decision, debate began about whether the bombs were necessary. Were there other alternatives the president had that could have spared the Japanese from atomic annihilation?
What we know is that, in spite of the overwhelming losses in the last year of fighting, the destruction of two cities by atomic bombs, and the Soviet Union’s entry in the war against Japan, three members of Big Six—Anami, Umezu, and Toyoda—still wanted to either fight the decisive battle on Japanese soil or require four conditions for ending the war, and they showed absolutely no willingness to end the deadlock eight days after the attack on Hiroshima, until Emperor Hirohito intervened a second time.
Absent that act, their stance would have meant the war would have gone on and likewise at a minimum so would have the American campaign of blockade and bombardment.
As such, for however long it took to finally secure Japan’s surrender, the entire Pacific Theater would have remained at war. In Japan this would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands—or possibly millions—from disease, starvation, exposure, and the ongoing air and sea attacks.
In the territories still occupied by Japanese military forces, Japan’s so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere—Manchuria, parts of China, Korea, Burma, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Vietnam, Thailand, and New Guinea—people died at a rate of between 100,000 to 200,000 per month throughout the entirety of the war. Allied civilian and military POWs in these areas would most certainly have been at grave risk.
Lastly, the Allied forces necessary to sustain the blockade and bombardment lost, on average, 7,000 men killed per month. Consequently, any delay in bringing a termination to the war would have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
So what options did Truman have to the bomb in August 1945? There were three: he could have continued to blockade and bombard, resulting in the losses just mentioned he could have gone ahead with the invasion, likely incurring hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of Allied casualties and killing millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians or he could have allowed the Soviets to play a much greater role on the assumption he was willing to allow the war to continue significantly beyond its historic end on September 2, 1945.
The last option seems unlikely to have brought a rapid end to the war since, to seriously threaten the Japanese home islands, the Russians would have needed massive naval forces to carry out a large-scale invasion over water, specifically across the Sea of Japan or the Strait of Tartary, the latter 4 1 /2miles wide at its narrowest point. The Red Army had become the most powerful land army of the war, but it had next to no ability to conduct amphibious operations beyond river crossings.
In the end, given Truman’s dual objectives of unconditional surrender and a desire to finish the war as quickly as possible while at the same time minimizing the loss of life, the atomic bomb offered the best chance of success and, in fact, accomplished both of those aims.
Atomic Bomb Attacks on Japan: The Most Controversial Decision in History?
Atomic Bomb Attacks on Japan: The Most Controversial Decision in History?
When news of the Japanese surrender reached the world, Americans automatically and naturally assumed it was due to the detonation of the atomic bombs. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen who were making preparations for an invasion believed that the atomic bomb had spared their lives. Because they were not privy to the information available at the highest levels of government, they had no idea that the Japanese had attempted to convey their wishes to surrender several months before the detonation of the bomb.
The most controversial decision of the 20th century—probably in all of history—was the one reportedly made by President Harry S. Truman, president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, in the summer of 1945 to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. No other event has affected mankind so dramatically, and no other decision is as controversial.
To the young soldiers and Marines who were in training or moving to the Pacific when “the bomb” was dropped there was no question—many of them survived the war because Harry Truman “had the guts to drop it.” This belief was burned into their young minds when they heard the news and most never bothered to question whether it was founded on fact. In recent years their sons have sought to reinforce the belief of their fathers, once again without taking a serious look at the facts surrounding the decision to drop the bomb and the events leading up to it. Yet, in reality, Truman never made an actual decision to use the bomb, and it was the one decision made by Emperor Hirohito of Japan to accept Allied surrender terms and end the war that actually spared their lives.
How The Japan Times reported the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
This newspaper described the ebb and flow of the war in considerable detail. Censorship was in operation, but the Nippon Times offered voluminous coverage in English based on statements by the Imperial authorities, reports by vernacular Japanese newspapers and foreign news agency dispatches, archival records show.
News of the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing of Hiroshima was approved for print the following day and the Aug. 8 edition contained a terse statement within a longer article about U.S. and British air raids.
“Hiroshima was attacked by a small number of Superforts at 8:20 a.m. Monday,” the newspaper said, referring to the U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber. “The enemy dropped explosives and incendiaries. Damage is now being investigated.”
Readers had to wait a further day to get a sense of the severity.
“New-type bombs were used by the small number of Superforts that raided Hiroshima on Monday morning, causing considerable damage to the city quarters,” the newspaper said on Aug. 9, citing an Imperial Headquarters statement.
“The explosive power of the new bomb is now under investigation, but it is considered that it should not be made light of,” the newspaper said.
If readers in Japan were spared the details, the bomb’s horror was by now known overseas. The Nippon Times alluded to this in its Aug. 9 report, saying a Vatican spokesman had referred to the bomb as “a further step in the direction of indiscriminate deployment of means of destruction.”
Meanwhile on Aug. 9, the city of Nagasaki was destroyed in history’s second atomic bombing. The newspaper first mentioned this on Aug. 12, quoting military authorities as calling the damage “comparatively slight.” It failed to report that city’s destruction until a full 16 days after the event, and gave no reason for this.
The archives show how authorities responded to the attacks. On Aug. 10, the newspaper conveyed advice for new air raid procedures. “The new-type bomb . . . is dropped by parachute. At about 500 to 600 meters above the ground, it issues a strong light and explodes. The blast of the bomb is powerful and strong heat is spread all over.”
It quoted the Home Ministry as telling people to seek shelter even if only a lone plane appears.
“Choose a shelter which has a covering. In case there is no cover, one should protect oneself with a blanket or futon.”
The ministry added, “People in the open are likely to suffer burns. … The hands and legs should be given full protection.”
On Aug. 10, the Imperial authorities delivered a protest to Washington via the Swiss government, saying that although the U.S. had disavowed the use of poison gas on account of its indiscriminate nature, this bomb was far worse.
The protest accused the U.S. of committing “a sin against the culture of the human race by using a bomb which harms more indiscriminately and is more cruel than any weapon or missile which has been used in the past.”
It described Hiroshima as “a common ordinary urban community without any particular military defense facilities. … By individual cases of damage done, it was unprecedentedly cruel.”
The Japanese people learned of the surrender on Aug. 15 when the Emperor’s recorded address was broadcast to the nation. The following day, the Nippon Times described a conference at the Imperial Palace “which had no precedent in history.”
It said Emperor Hirohito had addressed ministers and heads of the Imperial army and navy, saying ” ‘Whatever happens to Us, We cannot stand to see the nation suffer further hardships.’
“All those in attendance, upon hearing these benevolent Imperial Words, burst into tears in spite of the August presence,” it said.
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