** war and social upheaval: World War II atomic bomb Manhattan Project

World War II: Atomic Bomb--The Alternatives

Figure This is one of the most moving photographs archived on CIH. It shows a Japanese boy standing at attention after having brought his dead little brother to a cremation pyre in Nagasaki (August 1945). The image of this brave little boy carrying out a final act of love needs to be described in detail. Click on the image for a fuller discussion. We note susposed moralists Pope Francis using this image to preach against the use of nuclear weapons. What the Pope or people like him do not offer is how the War could have been ended more humanely with less loss of life--both American and Japanese lives.

There is no question that the atomic bomb was a horific weapon. And it is easy to criticize it and condemn the men who used it. But essentially the same can be said about any bomb or for that matter any weapon. The Civil War Minnine ball caused or artillety cannister round caused untoild carnage, but both played a role in fleeing the slaves. Should they have not been used? And while untold pages have been written describing the horrors of the atmomic bomb--all of which are absolutely correct. But what you do not see in these comments is what alternative could have ended the War with less loss of life. And here we are talking about both American and Japanese lives. It is easy to crirticise America, much more difficuklt to offer a more humane alternative that faced President Truman and his advisers. Any real assessment of the bombs has to consider what the alternatives were. There were five major alternatives: 1) Accept a peace with the Japanese militarists left in power, 2) Semonstration drop, 3) Invade Japan and defeat the Japanese military on the Home Islands, and 4) Conunue the conventional bombing, 5) Continue blockading the Home Islands and starve the Japanese into submission. We can consider these and assess if any of these otions were better for America and the oeople of Asia or for that matter the Japanese people. We welcome reader input here as to any other possible alternatives.

The Major Alternatives

Here are the major alternastives avilable to President Trumasn and theAmerican military commanbders. There definitely were alternatives, but it is fairly ovious that none of these aslternatives offered gthe pfrospect of ending the war quicker and with lss loss of life. Notice that the critics ficus on the horrors of the two bombs and not what would have happened if the War had not been ended in August 1945.

Leave the Militarists in Power

Leaving one of the most murderous regimes in human history in power seems to us an absurd option. It would have meant continuing the War to drive out the Jpanese from China, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies and a large number of Pacific Islands. This would have been a major effort and the casalties would have been in the millions. It would have left the Japanese military free to continue their horendous atrocities and work on nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Often forgotten was Japanese use of WMDs--both biological and chemical weapons. It would have meant that most the Allied POWs and and civilian internees would have perished as well as Asians held in work camps. It would have also delayed getting Ameriacn food supplies into these areas which would have meant millions of more deaths of Asian and Pacific peoples. And as nuch as the Japanese today are horrified by the two atomic bombs, not very many would chose militarist rule rather than modern democratic Japan with the reforms the Americans insisted on during the occupation.

Demonstration Drop

Perhaps the most commonly suggested alternative is a demonstration of the power of a nuclear weapon in an uninhabited area. This is, however, based on the asumption that the Japanese military has Western values and would not want to see heir people killed. But this simply is not the case. The Japanee military stood by and watched city after city be destroyed and hundreds of thousandds of people killed and wojnded as a reult of the american strategic bombing campaign. More people were killed in the fire bombing of Tokyo than eother of the two atomic bomb drops. The strongest evidence that a test would not have worked is that the Japanese did not surrender after the first atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima. In fact Army commanders assured the Emperor that the process of producing fussile material was so difficult that it would be months before the americans had a second bomb which is what they would have said aftr a demondtration exploision. It is not only the destructive power of the atomic bom that convinced the Emperor to surrender, but the dropping of the bombs in such quick sucession and the expectation that more would soon be coming.

Invade Japan

The United States with British ssistance was preparing to invade Japan--Operation Downfall. The first invasion was planned for Kyushu, the southern-most Jpanese island where the new air bases innOkinawa could probide support. The estimated Allied casualties for invading Japan varied, but were astinishing within the 0.25-0.50 million range of men killed and perhaps a further 1.0 million seriously wounded. That compares to an overall Americans killed U.S death toll in the War (Europe and the Pacific combined) of 400,000 killed. And this would have been fraction of the Japanese killed. In many of the Pacific campaigns the casulaty ratio wasoften 1 American soldiers killed for every 10 Japanese soldiers. No one of course really knows, but it would have been a battle along the lines of Okinawa. The Japanese had cramed everything they could on to Kyushu--much of it transported from China through the port of Hiroshima. This was the reason the two atmoic bombs were dropped on near Kyushu. Among the forces assembled on Kyushu was a massive secret 5,000 plan Kanakaee force. The Americans by this time knew that Japanese culture promoted by the military did not accept surrender as an option. They viewed those who surrendered in war as having disgraced themselves, their families and even their ancestors whom they venerated. The Japanese viewed allied prisoners are spineless vermin who deserved no more than to be beaten, starved, tortured, used in medical experiments, or used as slave labor until they died. The Japanese military preferred death to surrender and insisted on the same fate for civilians. This was actively promoted among civilians, inclusing school childten aspart of the Ketsugo doctrine. When the United States invaded the Marianas and Okinawa, not only soldiers, but civilians committed suiside. Okinawa was the most costly battle of the Pacific war. Some 12,500 American personnel were killed along with some 95,000 Japanese soldiers. But the killing did not stop there. An equal number of Japanese civilians perished. Soldiers commonly committed suiside on their own. Civilians were ordered by the Japanese military to commit suicide rather than surrender. And in many instance those who hesitated were murdered by thir own soldier. Entire families perished, in many cases in front of the U.S. Army or Marines who tried to convince then to surrender. Okinawa was the scene of the largest mass Kamikaze attacks of the war on multiple occasions hundreds of Japanese aircraft attacked the fleet at once, most of the Kamikazes that needed to be shot down or they would get through and hit a ship. One fifth of the entire U.S. Navy fatalities suffered during the Pacific war were in the waters around Okinawa.

Continue the Conventional Bombing

The American bombers from the Marianas began the strategic bombing camaopign and had destroyed a great deal of urban Japan by August 1945. The fire bombing raid on Tokyo has=d done more destruction and killed more people yjan either of the The heart of most Japanese cities had been burned out. This had not convinved the Japanese leadership to surrebnder. There is no indication that more conventional raids would have convinced them. The conventiional raids as terrikle as they were lacked the shock imapct that undoubtedly affected the Emperor and gave the milkitarfy an excuse for surenrring. This id not to say that it was the only cause, but it is difficult to deny that it was a contributing cause. Continring the raids would have had the impact of not only desroying what was left of Japanese cities, but it would have totally destoyed what was left of the Japanese transport system. This would have meant that it would have been impossible to get what food therecwas in the countryside into the cities. Japan was already approaching starvation, if the conventional bombing had been continued millions of Japanese who mostly survived the bombing would have faced starvation.

Continue the Blockade

It is often claimed that continuing the blockade and tarving out the Japanese were have forced the Japanese to surrender meaning a blloodles way to end the War. Nothing could be further from the truth. 1. There were countless Japanese garrisons that were starving throughout the Pacific. Japanese soldiers were diing from starvation. Not one ever surrendered. 2. Virtually all of the 0.6 million Western civilians and POWs being starved and brutalized in fetid camps would have perished-either from starvation or outright murder. 3. An even larger number of Asian civilians being held under similar conditions in work camps would have perished.' 4. The Japanese killed some 15-20 million people during the War, mostly innocent civilians. This killing would have continued in the large area of Asian and the Pacific they still controlled. THere is every reason to believe it would have added millions to the body count the Japanese left in their wake. 5. There would have been repeats of the Rape of Manila (February 1945) in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and others that the Japanese still controlled. 6. Some 10 million Japanese would have starved in the winter of 1945-46. The Japanese were living on near starvation rations in the final months of the War. I recall reading that the girls bought into operate the war plants felt lucky to find a noodle in their soup bowls. The Americans had destroyed the transport system. Getting food into the cuties was difficult. Japan like Britain was not self sufficient in food. Because of American naval and air blockade, importing food was no longer possible. And if that was not bad enough here was a major crop failure during the 1945 harvest. 7. The Soviets did not have the naval capacity to mount an invasion in August 1945. If the Unitrd States had delayed the end of the War by the bloclade alternative, that would have given the soviets the time they needed to build the needed landing craft and launch an invasion of Hokaido. This would have meant a Soviet occupation zone in Japan and perhaps eventually another North Korean--like regime in our modern world.

The Time Factor

Assessing the decesion to drop the two atom bombs has to tke in the time factor--what would have happened if thed Japanese had not surrendered in August 1945. The fundamental equation is that the Jpanese lilled over 15 million people, mostly Asian civilians, BEFORE the bombs fell. And 0 people AFTER the bombs fell. It is impossible to get away from this fundamental equation. And the amount of time the Militarists were allowed to reman in power would result in millions of more deaths, And the number would increase the longer that they remained in power. One group of particular concern to us are the American and other Allied POWs. Aftr nearly 4 years of incareration, most were in in very poor health after nearly 4 years of abuse, limited food, aznd denial of even basic medical care. Many had already died. Few would hsave survived much longer if the war had not ended in August 1945. But the Allied POWs would have been a very small part of the resulting death toll. This included both deaths of peiole in occupied China and southeast Asia as well as Japanese military and civilians in the Home Islands. The Japanese wiuls have been free to commit atrocities in the areas they still occupied, but even more deadly would have been the expamding famines the Japanese had set in motion in the areas that they occupied. Even the Japanese soldiers were affected by the food shortages. Japanese soldiers in combat areas often began to starve becuse the Allies cut off supplies. In addition many Japanese island garrisons were starving. There were reports of canabilism. But it is on the Hinme Islabds wiuth the Joanese themselves that the death toll would have hugely escalated. An American invasion of the Home Iskands woukd have been a blood bath. Given what happened on Okinawa, the death toll would have been in the tens of millions. Most of those casulaties would have been Japanese, but also using Okinawa campign as a temmplate, the American death toll would have been huge, probably eqaual or more than the 0.4 million World War II deaths. And if that is not bad enough. Thd Japanese in 1945 were already sufferung terrible food shortages. Japn was not self-suifficednt in food priducioin and th merican naval blockade was preventing imports. Extending the War further would have meant famine and mass starvtion. And not only were imports being cut off, but the llied bombing was preventing distribution of what little food they had. And to make matters worse there was a significant crop failure deverloping.


Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II atomic bomb page]
[Return to Main World War II air campaign page]
[Return to Main American war production page]
[Return to Main Arenal of Democracy page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]

Created: 11:39 AM 11/7/2020
Last updated: 3:29 AM 1/29/2022