Monday, August 11, 2008

Remembering the Bomb, Forgeting Why.

The decision to drop the bomb will always be controversial because the answer to that question is yes, there were other ways we could have ended the war with Japan. Some would almost certainly have cost more lives than were lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Army Air Force Commander of Strategic Forces in the Pacific Curtis LeMay believed if given six months and freedom to target whatever he wished, he could bring Japan to its knees by completely destroying its ability to feed itself. Victory assured — at the cost of several million starved Japanese.

The navy thought a blockade would do the trick. Starving the Japanese war machine of raw materials and the people of food they were importing from occupied China would have the Japanese government begging for peace in a matter of six months to a year. Again, visions of millions of dead from starvation came with the plan.

The army saw invasion as the only option. A landing on the southernmost main island of Kyushu followed up by an attack on the Kanto plain near Tokyo on the island of Honshu. Dubbed Operation Downfall, the plan called for the first phase to be carried out in October of 1945, with the main battle for Japan taking place in the spring of 1946. Casualty estimates have been hotly debated over the years, but it seems reasonable to assume that many hundreds of thousands of Americans would have been killed or wounded while, depending on how fiercely civilians resisted, perhaps several million Japanese would have died in the assault.


Anonymous said...

I do not know if this is true or not, but I had a professor at U of I that claimed that the Japanese had indicated that they would have surrendered after the first bomb, if the US had indicated that they would have allowed Japan to keep its emperor. Our position was unconditional surrender. Of course, we eventually let them keep their emperor anyway.

So I have two questions:

Do you have any idea whether this story is true?


If it was true, should the second bomb have been dropped? (After all, even "Unconditional Surrender" Grant was know to give "terms" on occasion)


If not true, I want some tuition back.

Mike Stajduhar said...

Time to get your money back...sort of. The Japanese had been putting out "peace feelers" for some time prior to the first bomb-but on terms which were contrary to what the Allies had agreed to at the Potsdam conference. Among other things the Japanese wanted to keep the Imperial institution (which they ultimately did of course), no allied occupation of Japan, and the Japanese would handle any war crimes trials themselves. Needless to say, the Allies regarded this as a nonstarter.

On August 6th the first bomb was dropped, devastating the center of Hiroshima. At first the Japanese government didn't realize what had happened. Hiroshima had gone off the air and telephone lines were down. They were getting vague reports of a huge explosion in the city but that made no sense since they were no large ammo dumps there and there hadn't been a major air raid. Finally they sent a plane to check on things and the report was...unbelievable. It took the Japanese essentially a full day to realize that a major city was just ...gone. Nothing like that had ever happened before and they had no reason to believe it could happen...despite U.S. treats about a super weapon.

As the Japanese tried to come to grips with the situation, their war council was still insisting that any peace be conditional on Japan retaining sovereignty and keeping foreigners out.

It also seems that that their was quite a bit of official skepticism about the Hiroshima "event". Perhaps it was a conventional raid after all and the air defense system had simply failed. The earlier firebombings had actually caused more damage. The primary concern on the morning of the 9th was the entry of the Soviet Union into the war....then Nagasaki disappeared in a mushroom cloud.

Even then many Japanese were not prepared to quit. When Hirohito indicated that he was willing to surrender, there was a coup attempt which had the goal continuing the fighting. Hirohito himself indicated that fighting might be resumed if the imperial institution were abolished. In the end we let 'em keep it.

So in a sense you professors statement is correct: we dropped the second bomb because we wouldn't accept Japan's conditional offer of peace...but it's also hugely deceptive. We dropped the second bomb for the same reason that we dropped the first one...the failure of Japan to accept the Allied terms laid out at Potsdam. Neither side changed their negotiating position between the bombings. In fact, some argue that the second bombing didn't really have much effect either. They argue that the real push came from the Soviets entering the war. The Japanese didn't want to be occupied by the Russians and divided the way Germany was so they figured they could get a better deal from the Americans.