While watching the BBC report on the conmemoration at Hiroshima, one phrase stood out (emphasis mine),
Many commentators believe the US attack helped bring an early end to World War II in the Pacific.
Read John‘s post on the subject,
In summer 1945, American casualties were about 1000 a day, 7000 a week, 30,000 a month. The sooner the war ended, the fewer Americans would die. The American government’s goal was therefore quite obviously to end the war as soon as possible, not “in a few months.”
Japan was clearly defeated after the battle of Midway in 1942, but was unwilling to surrender. Instead, it fought on for three more years, and it wanted to fight to the death. Japan had 10,000 kamikaze planes, 2,350,000 trained troops, and a civilian militia of 28 million armed with bows and arrows, spears, and muzzle-loading muskets ready to resist the Americans. No Japanese force, not even a single battalion, ever surrendered to the Americans during the whole war until its very end. As late as August 9, 1945, after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese inner cabinet (the “Big Six”) was split three-to-three on surrender and Hirohito finally broke the tie. This was the very first time surrender was even considered.
Conventional bombing was not going to make Japan surrender. We had hit their sixty largest cities beginning in February 1945 and pretty much burned them out, and we created a firestorm in Tokyo that killed more than 100,000 people on the night of March 9, 1945, more than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
The number of people killed if America had invaded Japan, which it planned to do in two stages, an invasion of Kyushu in November 1945 and then a final assault on Tokyo in March 1946, while the British invaded the Malay Peninsula and retook Malaya and Singapore in November 1945, would have dwarfed the number of victims of the atomic bomb. We now know that the Japanese anticipated the Kyushu invasion and had fourteen divisions on the island. The US military estimated that there would have been 100,000 American casualties in the landings, and these calculations were based on fighting only three Japanese divisions, which is what we thought they had on Kyushu. It’s more likely that American casualties would have been on the order of several hundred thousand, and if we had had to invade Honshu, over a million. The American planners assumed that fighting in Japan itself would have been like fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the most horrible battles fought in modern history. At Okinawa we lost 12,500 dead and the Japanese lost 185,000 dead, half civilians. More than a million Japanese would certainly have been killed in an American invasion.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, historian Bruce Lee (not the other Bruce Lee) pointed out,
Two bombs were dropped. The Russians invaded Manchuria. On August 10, Emperor Hirohito overruled his militarist advisors and accepted the Potsdam declaration. Japan surrendered.
But the Americans continued to read the Japanese codes. Almost immediately; the Magic Summaries revealed that the new foreign minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, had begun a world-wide propaganda campaign to brand the Americans as war criminals for using nuclear weapons. Tokyo’s goals included keeping Emperor Hirohito from being tried for instigating a war of aggression, and diverting Western attention away from the many Japanese atrocities committed since the start of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937. “Since the Americans have recently been raising an uproar about the question of our mistreatment of prisoners [of war],” Shigemitsu instructed his diplomats in the Sept. 15, 1945, Magic Summary, “I think we should make every effort to exploit the atomic bomb question in our propaganda. That propaganda campaign has borne its final fruit in the revisionist account of the bombing of Japan.
And for those who say “the winners are the ones who write victory, I refer you to one of one of John’s commenters, who correctly points out that Athenian Thucydides, who was a general at the time of the Peloponesian War, and one of the first reliable historians of the Western world, lost to the Spartans in 424 BC.
A final thought,
Consider now what it must have sounded to anyone in 1945 the idea that, sixty years on, all the Axis powers would be true democracies.
Now ponder the possibilities in all the struggling democracies of today.