Skip to comments.Dropping Atomic Bombs on Japan Was Imperative
Posted on 08/01/2021 12:40:44 PM PDT by Retain Mike
As we approach VJ-Day I am reminded that a few months ago, I attended a memorial service for a friend I had known since the 70’s. He was the oldest living graduate from the University of Oregon Army ROTC program. He graduated in June 1944 and went with the 10th Mountain Division into Italy where it reached the front January 20, 1945. The Army made continuous use of its special capabilities causing this 16,000-man division to incur 25% casualties in the 102 days until the German surrender on May 2. The rifle companies in which he served suffered about 83% casualties. In his company, he was the only one of eight officers to make it all the way to May 1945. He was never injured but received two Silver Stars for valor. The 10th Mountain Division was scheduled to be transferred to the Pacific for the invasion of Japanese home islands. His life like those of many others was saved by the atomic bombs, so he was able to go home, become a banker, and enjoy 72 wonderful years of marriage .
It has now been 76 years since dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II. The generations which made the grave decisions for that war have left us. His generation which endured the cruel tragedies required for carrying out those decisions is rapidly vanishing. As personal knowledge like his becomes ever rarer, we must increasingly listen without response to the moral exhibitionism of revisionists who maintain their premeditated ignorance when faced with the mass of information available from familiar or obscure archives and books. Safely remote in time they present asymmetrical, contra-factual analyses about what a needless and criminal decision the United States had made.
I present this essay as a starting point for those interested in countering arguments presented. In that regard, the bibliography is probably more valuable because the points mentioned are at least truthful and fairly comprehensive even if they might occasionally lack in wordsmithing. I hope for those interested there are a few good letters and rebuttals that can be found herein.
In support of dropping the atomic bombs, historians often cite the inevitability of horrifying casualties, if troops had landed on the Home Islands. They point to early estimates that extrapolated from 20,000 American and over 240,000 Japanese deaths on Saipan and Okinawa to estimates of 500,000 American and millions of Japanese casualties for mainland invasions.
This widely known estimate arises from studies preceding the full recognition by planning staffs of the American experiences on Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. It does not consider the experience of the allies during the final months of defeating German resistance or realization of the doubling of Japanese divisions in the Home Islands. Also, it does not include the possibility that the Imperial Japan War Faction would spirit the Emperor to a remote location and continue the war long after the Tokyo/Yokohama region had been conquered.
For Harry Truman, Henry Stimpson, and George Marshall their own combat memories penetrated current realities. They were determined to pursue any alternatives rather than procure countless American deaths in protracted ground campaigns following amphibious assaults matching the D-Day landings. The experiences of Pacific campaigns proved the Japanese would not crack morally or psychologically. The suicides and killing of Japanese civilians by their own combat forces on the islands of Saipan and Okinawa proved the Japanese saying that “we will fight until we eat stones”. Imperial Japan had incorporated their urban civilian population into a distributed manufacturing infrastructure making individual homes into cottage industries. Reconnaissance photos taken to assess bomb damage revealed factory equipment in most burnt out homes. With such a spiritual and material national unity committed to waging war, the incendiary raids and atomic bombs were no longer indiscriminate or disproportionate. The Japanese War Faction though remained unmoved and resolved to wage Total War of upmost savagery rather than contemplate the shameful reality of surrender.
Secretary of War Henry Stimpson in July 1945 prepared a study for invading Japan to answer the inevitable Congressional questions of why there still needed to be huge selective service call ups when the US now fought on a single front. In his summary William B. Shockley the director of the study said, “If the study shows that the behavior of nations in all historical cases comparable to Japan’s has in fact been invariably consistent with the behavior of the troops in battle, then it means that the Japanese dead and ineffectives at the time of the defeat will exceed the corresponding number for the Germans. In other words, we shall probably have to kill at least 5 to 10 million Japanese. This might cost us between 1.7 and 4 million casualties including 400,000 and 800,000 killed.” This summary aligns those evolving studies by Pentagon and Western Pacific intelligence staffs, as well as Herbert Hoover’s informal analytical group.
This last estimate could have easily involved the upper range of numbers had the invasion occurred. Kyushu and Honshu at over 100,000 rugged square miles mathematically enable at least 500 vast redoubts; complex fortifications comparable to that General Ushijima constructed to inflict most losses on Okinawa. Stimpson had been an artillery officer in WW I, had seen the terrain of Japan firsthand, and told Truman it promised a more bitter struggle than the allies had experienced in Germany. This rapid increase in killing efficiency extended to stubborn defense of major cities just as the Germans carried out in Berlin, where 81,116 Russians died and 280,251 were wounded.
The Americans understood the Japanese would be waiting for them, because the uncertainty caused by the “island hopping” strategy had ended. Experience had taught the Japanese to identify the few regions within their mountainous country that could accommodate the huge armies and air forces needed to subdue their homeland. American intelligence already noted repositioning of divisions into southern Kyushu to counter the first phase of the invasion and could find no alternative sites. There would be few opportunities for maneuver, but instead combat would demand battles of attrition reminiscent of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and WW I trench warfare.
Truman contemplated increasingly dire estimates causing him to reflect on the possibility of “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other”. General Marshall said, “War is the most terrible tragedy of the human race and should not be prolonged an hour longer than absolutely necessary”. Yet even early estimates were over three times the casualties suffered by Americans during D-Day, Battle of the Bulge, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa combined. Through these and other battles the American people had absorbed a profound shock caused by a million combat and combat related casualties since June 1944 compared to a quarter million in the previous two and a half years. After VE day Stimson perceived the first signs of war weariness and said, “the country will not be satisfied unless every effort is made to shorten the war”.
With that reality in mind Harry Truman appointed a civilian committee to provide recommendations about the alternative of using the atomic bomb. Henry Stimson would chair. The members would be James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard and chairman of the National Defense Research Committee; Karl T. Compton president of MIT; Vannevar Bush president of the Carnegie Institute in Washington and director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development; Ralph A. Bard Undersecretary of the Navy and a former Chicago financier; William L. Clayton Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs with specialty in international trade; George L. Harrison president of New York Life Insurance Company and Stinson’s special assistant on matters related to the atomic bomb project; and Jimmy Burns as Truman’s personal representative. Later an advisory committee of four physicists actively involved in development joined them. They were Enrico Fermi and Arthur H. Compton of the University of Chicago; Ernest O. Lawrence of the Radiation Laboratory at University California Berkley; and J. Robert Oppenheimer head of the Los Alamos Laboratory where the bombs were being assembled.
The committee and scientific panel reached three unanimous conclusions, which Truman reluctantly agreed to, because he could see no alternative.
The bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible.
It should be used against war plants surrounded by worker’s homes and other buildings susceptible to damage, in order to make as profound a psychological impression on as many inhabitants as possible.
It should be used without warning.
For their part, the Japanese maintained the honorable sacrifice of 20 million Japanese lives was essential for planning final mainland battles. Those 20 million deaths or casualties would have occurred in a population of only 72 million. They contended this limitless slaughter would inflict millions of American casualties and grind them into a stalemate that would convince the allies to abandon the Potsdam Declaration. In preparation, they had redeployed veteran Kwantung divisions and other selected troops from China and mobilized home defense armies. They drafted able citizens 17-60 years old into the Peoples Volunteer Corps and Home Defense Units to assume infrastructure duties of army units and to stay behind invaders for suicide missions using light weapons, explosives, and biological agents. Any food shortages caused by the blockade would first call for killing of allied prisoners, and then starvation of as many of their own people as necessary to sustain their armies and civilian militias.
Much was unknown throughout the war about military capabilities because America found The Home Islands generally impenetrable except for cryptographic intelligence and reconnaissance photos. The allies had no agents in the Home Islands and most communication was by land line. Americans had to rely upon their primary principle of intelligence analysis to minimize uncertainties by deciding the enemy will focus their command economy on realization of the most devastating weapon capabilities. The true extent of those unknown capabilities could not be incorporated into plans and would only be discovered by suffering their consequences during invasion.
The increasingly feeble response to B-29 bombing missions caused the U.S. to significantly underestimate the Japanese air force. Swarms of kamikaze airplanes with sufficient aviation fuel were concealed for one-way trips to attack the invasion fleet. The kamikazes would concentrate on killing soldiers on the amphibious ships and seldom attempt to attack the carriers protected by nearly impenetrable screens of combat air patrols and anti-aircraft artillery. At the Battle of Okinawa, they had proved a devastating weapon destroying or damaging nearly 400 ships and killing or wounding nearly 10,000 sailors. The planes flew long distances on a few know routes. In the Home Islands, they would fly from camouflaged airfields, take unpredictable flight paths using mountainous terrain to evade radar, and attack the static amphibious fleet while it discharged troops and supplies onto the invasion beaches. They had also discovered their hundreds of wooden aircraft were nearly invisible to radar and immune to the proximity fuse of anti-aircraft artillery. Only after occupation did the U.S. also become aware of the extent of suicide boats and mini-submarines stockpiled for the invasion.
Americans had information from China they could face undefined biological warfare. These biological pathogens had already been tested on several hundred thousand in Chinese villages and on prisoners of war. In confirmation occupation searchers uncovered large stockpiles of viruses, spirochetes, and fungus spores throughout rural Japan. They discovered military leaders planned to direct civilian militias to stay behind the advancing Americans to infuse pathogens into food and waters sources, to release infected animals and insects into American compounds, and to infect themselves with choleras and plaque germs.
The decision to invade also had to include speculations about Japan’s nuclear program. As WW II began, the U.S. knew Japanese intellectuals included accomplished physicists such as Yoshio Nishina. Analysts knew he was a staunch Imperial nationalist and a capable leader; so capable that two of his students later won Nobel prizes. Analysts knew he built Japan’s first cyclotron in 1940.
A definite insight into Japan’s progress came in May 1945 as Germany surrendered. Admiral Doenitz ordered all submarines to proceed to allied ports. The U-234 proceeded to Portsmouth where our Navy discovered its cargo contained 560 kilos of uranium oxide intended for the Japanese to refine into fissionable material. Possibly cumbersome devices might have resided beneath peasant huts to devastate the buildup of forces.
After the war, interrogators discovered Nishina was given a substantial budget to build an atomic bomb. When the Americans reached Tinian and B-29’s could reach Japan further efforts were concentrated at the huge industrial facilities in Hungnam North Korea. One day after the Nagasaki bomb, Japan exploded what was described as an experimental nuclear device off the coast of Hungnam. Stalin’s forces advanced beyond Hungnam to the 38th parallel and Japanese equipment and scientists vanished inside the Soviet Union. No further information emerged.
Hirohito appointed a Peace Faction in January 1944, based of navy and army staff studies determining Japan could wage war successfully only until June-July 1943. The faction was to ensure an Imperial decision to authorize negotiations was timed to the emergence of common citizen war-weariness, while allowing sufficient catastrophic slaughters to satisfy military honor styled as romantic self-sacrifice. There would be no genuine peace efforts, because the dominate military caste had often used assassination to still opposition.
Hirohito’s government then conducted an excruciating brand of political kabuki through twenty months of continuous defeats, fire bombings of over 60 cities, looming starvation, and 1.3 million additional Japanese deaths. Too few leaders could discover the courage to contemplate that national suicide would not be required to bring about a condition preserving personal and national honor. Nearly a million of those lives might have been saved if the Japanese public and military had been forced to accept the truth about their crumbling empire and the inevitability of surrender. Even if Hirohito had used the fall of Germany on May 8 as a reason, a half million lives would have been saved.
Revisionists claim Japan was seeking surrender before the last meetings of Hirohito and his advisors, but history reveals Japanese negotiation initiatives proved too vacuous to make dropping the bombs unnecessary. These supposed negotiations cite proposals Foreign Minister Togo directed Ambassador Sato to offer to Molotov. In those proposals, Japan intended bribing the Russians into neutrality with conquered Chinese territory. The Soviets would then mediate settlement terms preserving Japanese visions of peace with honor. This vision contemplated maintaining Japan’s Imperial, militaristic national structure and retaining the core empire of Home Islands, Manchuria, Korea, and Formosa. The first June 29 contacts ignored attributes of surrender with proposals the Russians considered too vague to answer. The August 2 proposals accepted the Potsdam Declaration as only one basis for further study. When Ambassador Sato finally saw Molotov on August 8, two days after the Hiroshima bomb, he received a war declaration instead of answers to his latest proposals. U.S. cryptologists reading the diplomatic code confirmed Togo’s Russian contacts were ineffectual. American intelligence also knew those involving Allen Dulles in Switzerland lacked any interest by Japanese leaders.
The pattern of Japanese contacts demonstrated an unwillingness to accept any responsibility for understanding Western expectations for negotiation strategies. The fact America had destroyed its navy, massacred its island garrisons, and bombed its cities into cinders should have prompted Japanese proposals embracing a Western style of clarity. Instead, they ignored their manifest obligation to bring forward substantive questions and proposals and chose to greet the Potsdam Declaration with silence.
The Japanese Cabinet and High Command debated the Final Battles arguments into utter physical and mental exhaustion for eleven hours following the second atomic bomb at Nagasaki on August 9. During those days, they contemplated the reports of Yoshio Nishina and Bunsaku Arakatsu confirming the Americans had released at Hiroshima and Nagasaki the devastating atomic weapon Japan had been developing. During those conferences at the Imperial Palace, they also saw much of Tokyo about them had been blasted and burned into a wasteland. The facts of these deliberations confirm the assessment in June 1945 by Ernest Lawrence, Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi, and Robert Oppenheimer that no creditable demonstration of the atomic bomb could be devised to end the war.
For the final meeting, Hirohito reluctantly invited Baron Hiranuma, who had fiercely disapproved the Pearl Harbor attack. He maintained the United States could not be provoked into war by Japanese conquest of British, French, and Dutch colonies. But the baron was also a renowned prosecutor who could ask the hard questions now essential. He asked Foreign Minister Togo to consider whether he had ever made concrete proposals to the Russians. He asked the war ministers if they had any counter measures to the relentless air attacks by the American Army and Navy. Hiranuma reminded Hirohito that the Emperor’s spiritual essence was the foundation for Japan’s future, enduring independent of any government imposed by surrender, and asked whether a final battle was truly necessary to preserve that spiritual essence. There was no rebuttal to his questions, but the War Faction remained unyielding.
Here was illuminated the decisive role Kokutai played in determining the surrender. Any influential Japanese lived within an intimate spiritual three-dimensional fabric of Emperor, citizen, land, Bushido, ancestral spirits, government, and Shinto religion. In subjection to this merging of spiritual and political authority, the average citizen forfeited individuality and was drafted into this collective soul defining Japan. All able citizens served as soldiers or as civilian militia and awaited the decision of the Empire’s ruling oligarchy.
Though the two factions remained at impasse, the two atomic bombs allowed Hirohito, the Son of Heaven, to speak the “Voice of the Crane” in the sweltering, underground bunker. The bombs would be regarded as a force of nature equivalent to an earthquake or typhoon against which even a god/king was helpless. Only submission to such a force of nature could be proportional to the absolute disgrace of surrender following over 2,600 years of martial invincibility. Only Hirohito could make that submission, because he held the sacred, heaven created throne inherited from Imperial ancestors. He would bear the unbearable, conclude the war, and transform the nation.
The atomic bombs event removed the Final Battles argument allowing the War Faction to relent, allowing Hirohito to assume his unprecedented roll, and requiring no one to lose face. Their cabal remained within the fabric of Japanese from all eras who had sacrificed for Emperor and Empire. Only then did Japan contact Swiss and Swedish foreign offices to commence the negotiations leading to surrender.
The atomic bombs accomplished the requirements of unconditional surrender. As detailed in the Potsdam Declaration. Japan eliminating its Emperor was never a condition. By accepting the Declaration, Japan abandoned the militarism that had committed the country to Asian conquest. The Emperor’s and the government’s authority became subject to the Supreme Allied Commander. Their authority was later subject to the Japanese citizens’ free expression for determining a post war government that eradicated multi-millennial martial and Imperial characteristics.
The American citizens and their leaders who had suffered through two bloody deluges in the twentieth century approached the summer of 1945 with several imperatives. After witnessing the feeble responses to a resurgent Germany following WW I, they would not tolerate a peace requiring anything less than total submission. They found intolerable the idea of allowing a blockade to operate interminably, while deferring to the War Faction any decision about whether Japanese and allied prisoner deaths met their 20 million lives standard. They would not accept months of diplomatic dithering accompanied by additional hundreds of thousands of civilian and military deaths throughout Asia. They would not suffer the uncertainty of allowing an opportunity for Japan’s nuclear program to produce atomic weapons to repel an invasion.
As far as the country was concerned, the only innocent civilian lives at stake were the common men and women become citizen soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who would have had to invade Japan; people like my friend of fifty years. The Greatest Generation, their parents, and grandparents, who had lived into and through this most awful period of history, would have been enraged to discover a cabal had ignored the nuclear option for ending the war simply to indulge in some incestuous moral orthodoxy such as that found so attractive in this latter time.
Hell to Pay, D. M. Giangreco
The Atomic Bomb and the End of WW II, The National Security Archive
The Making of the Atomic Bomb Richard Rhodes
Japanese Biomedical Experimentation During the WW II Era, Sheldon H. Harris, PhD
Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, (1971) David Bergamni His book gets a bad rap in some places, because he was the first to publish the type of contrary information my other two references on Hirohito’s life presented 18 and 29 years later.
Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring, Gordon Prange
The Secret Surrender, Allen Dulles
Hirohito, (1989) Edward Behr A quote by film director Akira Kurosawa illustrates the transformation of that generation of Japanese people, who before were resigned to the slogan “Honorable Sacrifice of Twenty Million”.
“When I walked the same route back to my home (after the Emperor’s broadcast), the scene was entirely different. The people in the shopping street were bustling about with cheerful faces as if preparing for a festival the next day. If the Emperor had made such a call (to follow the above slogan) those people would have done what they were told and died. And probably I would have done likewise. The Japanese see self-assertion as immoral and self-sacrifice as the sensible course to take in life. We were accustomed to this teaching and had never thought to question it….In wartime we were like deaf-mutes.”
Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. (2000) Herbert P. Bix
Point of No Return Wilbur H. Morrison Hiroshima 71,379 dead, 68,023 seriously injured; Nagasaki 35,000 dead 60,000 injured More B-29 crewmen died in accidents than through enemy action
Japanese Biomedical Experimentation During the WW II Era, Sheldon H. Harris, PhD
Japan’s Secret War: Japan’s Race Against Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb, Robert K Wilcox
10th Mountain Division https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10th_Mountain_Division#World_War_II
“Thank God for the Atom Bomb” http://www.uio.no/studier/emner/hf/iakh/HIS1300MET/v12/undervisningsmateriale/Fussel%20-%20thank%20god%20for%20the%20atom%20bomb.pdf
Potsdam Declaration http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/P/o/Potsdam_Declaration.htm
Battle of Okinawa http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa
Cornerstone of Peace (Okinawa) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_of_Peace Over 240,000 names recorded including 14,000 from the U.S.A.
Battle of Saipan http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-saipan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Saipan
Battle of Iwo Jima https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Iwo_Jima
Normandy landings http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_Landings
The Battle of the Bulge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge
Battle of Berlin Facts http://www.worldwar2facts.org/battle-of-berlin-facts.html
Japan geography: http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/geography/Indonesia-to-Mongolia/Japan.html https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html Okinawa redoubt was about 100 sq mi
Allied POWS Under the Japanese http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/rg331-box%201321-jap%20pow%20camps.htm Military prisoners were 34,000 in Japan, 70,000 outside Japan, and 112,000 civilians. There were already 142,000 Anglos and Pilipino victims of criminal killings.
Statistics of Japanese Democide Estimates, Calculations, And Sources* http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/SOD.CHAP3.HTM As a tactic of administering conquered lands, the Japanese had murdered 6 million Asians from 1937 to 1945.
About Unit 731 https://unit731.org/
Declassified photos - 'B-29' "Enola Gay" ----- WWll http://www.alternatewars.com/Bomb_Loading/Bomb_Guide.htm
Largest assembly of U.S. Navy ships ever http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=52966
Japan's War in Colour | 2004 Documentary with never seen before films https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJLE2pnN9WY
A Navy officer’s sudden mission meant carrying a flag 9,000 miles and standing up his fiancee on date night https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/a-navy-officers-sudden-mission-meant-carrying-a-flag-9000-miles-and-standing-up-his-fiancee-on-date-night/
That dance song “You Dropped The Bomb On Me!” by The Gap Band comes to mind.
We killed and damaged more in the fire raids of Tokyo than Hiroshima and Nagasaki with far fewer Americans, and that's what I care about, put in peril.
Japan started the war and we finished it.
If we'd conducted Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan in the same manner the world would be a different place.
The Japanese had developed an atomic weapon.
Atom Bomb Baby
Please ask a mod to correct the spelling of “imparative” to
Would you care to expand on that outlandish claim?
There were three choices:
Invasion. Lots of deaths. Lots of civilian deaths. Lots and lots of money. And we would have lost Korea, China, and half of Japan to the Russians.
Starve them, bomb them. Lots of time. ALL civilian deaths. We would have lost half the territory to the Russians. The Japanese people would effectively be wiped from the earth.
Nuke them. The cost was sunk. Minimal time. The lowest casualties. No dealing with Stalin.
Seems like a no brainer to me.
Imperative. My bad. Spelling errors is a peeve of mine..
Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal: “MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor.”
I feel for the Japanese people, when thoughts of The Bombs come up. But it was necessary. As Gene Hackmans character said in that movie with Denzel Washington (Crimson Tide)... “Would I have dropped The Bomb? Hell yes sir! I’da dropped the f*cker TWICE!”
I’ve had discussions over the years with people about this. Some say that we should not have dropped the bombs, because Japan was already so weak and on the verge of surrender.
Some say we should have dropped a bomb offshore in the Pacific somewhere, to show the Japanese the power of the bomb we had, and tell them if they don’t surrender, we will use these bombs for real on them. I don’t know how well that would have worked, because we only had a handful of bombs ready to go at that point in time. And then we would have had one less to use for real, if we did the demonstration, but the Japanese called our bluff.
No question. But, every so often, some prick will insert the question into a discussion, “Do you realize that we are the only ones to ever do such a thing?” And shock and awe and shame will follow for many.
Haven’t heard that one before. Reminds me of the Manhatten Transfer. A quartet that dressed in tuxedos often sang acapella.
That’s what my father always told me. That we had to nuke them or lose countless American lives.
Today, Japan is an ally and a model country, I believe.
They certainly aren’t the ones who unleashed Covid upon the world.
Sorry, just feeling a little ticked off at China in the wake of this endless mask-wearing.
The problem is not that we used the bomb twice on Japan.
The problem is we haven’t used it since...
It’s true that “imperative” is spelled with an e, but I found the post to be quite interesting nonetheless.
A good reminder of our history.
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