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.
I love the way the media apply such strict rules of attribution only to truths they find inconvenient. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can only have had one of three possible effects on the course of WWII: brought it to an early conclusion, postponed its conclusion, or had no effect whatsoever. You don’t need to look to “commentators” to pick the right one.
Whether or not the early conclusion was worth the horror of so many civilian deaths is debatable (I happen to think it was). But the fact that it achieved the goal of ending the war is just that–a fact. It needs no attribution.
You don’t cover the half of it. The Japanese were the most barbaric army since the days of Jenghis Kahn. They actually ate our prisoners alive; the Rape of Nanking inluded 300,000 civilian murders and an 80 day rape rampage, all of which they photographed. Their sadistic treatment of POWs around Asia is unspeakable; bayonet practice; caging our guys for the civilians to abuse and so on. I posted on this with links to actual pictures of the Rape of Nanking. There was not a single POW who didn’t believe the Japanese would murder them. The bomb saved a lot more people than those on the battlefield.
A Japanese history professor I had in college (a long time ago)posed the question of whether the U.S. should have used nuclear weapons on Japan. As he was Japanese, no one in class except a Maoist female wanted to tackle the question. She stated that it was racist, barbaric act on the part of the U.S. I will never forget how he ripped her a new ass by saying that the Japanese would have certainly used it on us if they had the weapon and in his opinion its use saved many lives. This prof’s personal history was interesting in that he graduated suicide school on the day the Japan surrendered and he joked a number of times in class that it was good timing. He also said that he could have gone up in one of the planes but he didn’t want to and many of the school’s graduates felt the same way.