The Pacific War began with the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor and a series of spectacular offensives throughout the Western Pacific. The Joints Chiefs after Pearl Harbor established a staff to study how to end the War (1942). We know nothing at the time about the work of this staff. And at the time the United States military had not yet stopped Japanese advances in the Pacific. This was not achieved until Guadalcanal at the southern-most pointy of Japanese expansion was secured (February 1943). By this time the military was becoming aware of a serious problem--the Japanese would not surrender. And this question became increasingly apparent as the twin Allied advances move inexorably north toward Japan. And in the bloody history of the Pacific War, on island after island, not one single Japanese unit surrendered. Some individual Japanese soldiers surrendered (many wounded an incapable of resisting), but no a single unit of any size. Or a single civilian organization on those islands. And often Japanese soldiers would feign surrender so they could get close enough to kill an American. When the Americans reached the Marianas with Japanese civilians, the Marines were horrified to see that the Imperial Army expected civilians, including women and children, to also resist to death. So increasingly, military planners began confronting the issue of how to the war with a country that refused to surrender. The military, especially the Army, believed that the only was to achieve this would be the invasion of the Home Islands. So the last step in the war against Japan was the invasion of Japan. American military planners foresaw the potential for 1 million American casualties or more . This was based on the tenacious Japanese resistance in every Pacific campaign. The military fully expected the Japanese Army to resist to the death just had they had done on Iwo and Okinawa. In addition, the Japanese had large numbers of aircraft which could be used in Kamikaze attacks on any invasion fleet. Many Japanese today maintain that Japan was near defeat and ready to surrender. It is certainly true that the military situation for Japan was hopeless and the population approaching starvation. This does not mean, however, that the Imperial Army was preparing to surrender. The Army had not surrendered in any other campaign where the outcome was hopeless. In addition, the Army had encouraged even forced civilians to commit suicide as on Saipan and Okinawa. Some observers are convinced that Japanese civilian casualties in any invasion of the Home Islands would have been the greatest civilian disaster of World War II. Millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians may have died if America had invaded Japan. Many today do not understand it. The logical response to military defeat is surrender. This has been the case since time immemorial. Thus many today believe that if America just would have tried harder that the use of the atomic bombs would have been unnecessary. But this ignores the fact that not one Japanese unit surrendered during the Pacific War and that on Saipan and Okinawa where Japanese civilians were present, the military expected even civilians to resist or commit suicide. And those that refused the military actually killed. It is true that the military wanted to end the War. There is no evidence that they wanted to surrender which was seen as a dishonorable act. They were unmoved by the American fire bombing of Japanese cities or even the first atomic bomb. The Emperor wavered fearing a military coup. Only after two atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria did he finally act. he Emperor finally decided to surrender, but only after two atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. Here is the background ground to the chain of events leading to that surrender. Of course it is difficult to not have the greatest sympathy for the vuicytims of the atmic bombs. The images are horrendous. Butit needs to be boted that the Japanese militarists was the country that began bombing cities. And that the military war lords killed over 25 million people -- mostly women and children, during the war. And that killing did not end until the Japanese surrendered. Or the fact that had the Japabese not surrendered, the Japanese death toll from conventional bombing, blockade and famine would have been far greater than the two atomic blasts and could have included Soviet occupation and another brutal regime like North Korea.
President Roosevelt after receuving a letter warnming sboiut NAZI nuclear research, put an American nuclear program in motion. After Pear Hasrbor, the Americans became taking the projct vary seriousand enormous resources were poured into it. The nicler pogram was not aimed at Japan, but rather at NAZI Germany. Thriughout the War, the Americans were cincerbed bout the NAZI nuclear proigram. Thankfully for mankind, NAZI Führer Adolf Hitler was not as interested in nuclear physics. He saw it as Jewish physics and as a result dismissed it. American officials had no knowkledge of a a href="/essay/war/ww2/air/gas/nuc/w2-nucj.html">Japanese nuclear program. In fact they had two progrsms, an Army and a Navy program. At the end of the War, the NAZIs tried to shiop enriched uranium to the Japanese by U-boat, but it was interceped by the Americans.
Looking back as a historian, it is almost incomprehensible that Japan decided to wage war against the United States. War with Britain and the Netherlands is more understandable. Britain in 1941 looked like if not a defeated nation, at least a severely weakened one. The Netherlands was occupied by Axis ally NAZI Germany. America is a very different matter. The United States was not at war. It had not been weakened by the War. And Japan had no commitment that the Germany would join them if they attacked America. War with America seems like an extraordinarily reckless decision for a country already mired down in a war with China and that had experienced a sharp defeat in a short war with the Soviets. Why would Japan have decided on war with America, a country with a larger population and a much larger industrial and scientific base. The road to war began early in the history of modern Japan. Wars with China (1895), Russia (1904-05), and Germany (1914-18) proved both short and profitable, enabling Japan to build a small empire. The rising influence of the military brought to power men of limited outlook who saw military action as a legitimate use of sate power. They were backward looking men who saw the European empires of the 19th century as to what Japan should seek to establish. And they were men who were strongly influenced by the historic image of the Samurai and Bushido which convinced them that Japanese racial superiority and martial spirit could prevail over the material superiority of America. Despite the power of American industry, they saw Americans as a weak, decadent people who would not fight. Most of the Japanese militarists who made this judgement on which the very life of Japan would hang, knew no Americans and had little or no experience with America.
The United States became increasingly concerned about the Japnese after they invaded China prioper (1937). The Americans began addressing diplomatic and then commdercial sabctions at the Japanese. These had no imosct until the Americans embargoed oil. This had real teeeth as the Japanese economy and military was dependent on American oil (July 1941). At the same time Congress passed the Two Ocean Navy Act. The Americans were were demading that Japan weithdraw its forces from China. This Prime-Minidter Tojo sharing the opinion of the rest of the Japanese milirary would not do. Tojo new it was a gamble, but decided on war. Admiral Yamamopto had informed him that Japan could nor win a long war of attrition against the Amrricans. Tojo convinced himself that the Americans were not warriors andwould not pursue even a short war with Japan. It is unclear hy the Japanese believed it, but it probably comes from watching Holluwood movies. Contrary to what is taught in American universities today, America was a world leader in women's rights. The Jaspanese had to chose betwwn peace or war. They chose war. The Pacific War began with the surprise Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941) followed by a series of spectacular offensives throughout the Western Pacific.
With the American fleet immobilized at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were able to sweep through the Southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia. Guam was quickly taken. Resistance at Wake Island surprised the Japanese, but after the initial assault was repulsed, a second assault took the island. MacArthur's defense of the Philippines was compromised when most of his planes were destroyed on the ground at Clarke Field. General MacArthur commanded the most important American military force west of Pearl. His handling of the defense of the Philippines was disappointing at best, bordering on incompetence. He failed to strike back at the Japanese in the hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor by bombing Japanese bases in Formosa. He also allowed much of the available aircraft to be destroyed on the ground. [Schom] The horror of the Bataan Death March created an image of the Japanese military in the American mind that fueled a hatred for the Japanese. [Schom] Hong Kong quickly fell. The Japanese also seized the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). Allied naval forces fought a series of engagements to stop the Japanese, but could not match the powerful Japanese naval forces. Japanese air superiority also played a major role in their early victories. Nimitz and Halsey tried to distract the Japanese with hit and run carrier raids. The Japanese moved south from Indochina, seizing Malaya and then the bastion at Singapore. The Repulse and Prince of Wales are lost in the defense of Singapore. Then they moved west through Thailand and defeating the British in Burma. Within a few months the Japanese had carved out the huge empire with enormous resources that they had long coveted. The Japanese then targeted New Guinea in preparation for a move south to Australia. All that remained to stop them were four American carriers.
The American Joints Chiefs after Pearl Harbor established a staff to study how to end the War (1942). We know nothing at this time about the work of this staff. There was little to be optimistic about until Midway (June 1942).
At the time the United States military had not yet stopped Japanese advances in the Pacific despite the victory at Midway. Adm King was insistent that The United States follow up the Midway with a struke. All that was available at the time was the 1st Marune Division. The Marines called it Operation Shoe String. They struick at the the southern-most pointy of Japanese expansion --the essentially unknow jungle--covered island of Guzadalcanal in yhjer Solomons (August 1942). Fir several months, success was in doubt. The uisland was not secured until (February 1943). By this time the military was becoming aware of a serious problem--the Japanese would not surrender no matter what the suituation. This began with Col Ichiki's attack at Aligastor Creek. He was anxious to prove the mettle of the Japanese martial spirit. Virtually his entire command was wiped out carrying out a frontal attack into well entrenched marines with machine guns, artillery, and tanks. His tactics had worked before, but now he faced well-armed if green U.S. Marines. They did not stay green very long. Wounded Japsnese killed American medics trying to aid them. And that was just the beginning. The Marines learned how the Japanese murdered and mutilated prisoners. The Pacific War was going to be a fight to the death with no quarter offered or accepted. Virtually no Japanese soldiers surrendered, the few prisoners taken were men too badly wounded to resist the aid offered.
The Allied offensive continued with two parsllel drives, One in the south up the Solomons and then the coast of New Guina. In the centalm Pacific the Americans took the Marshaslls and Gilberts and neutralisuing the Casrolines. The surrender question became increasingly apparent as the twin Allied advances move inexorably north toward Japan. And in the bloody history of the Pacific War, on island after island, not one single Japanese unit surrendered. Some individual Japanese soldiers surrendered (many wounded and incapable of resisting), but no a single unit of any size. Or a single civilian organization on those islands. And often Japanese soldiers would feign surrender so they could get close enough to kill an American. The Japanese simoly refused to surrender. In most battles far more Japanese solfiers were wounded than killed. In the Pacific War, Japanese island garisons were mostly killed with only a few womded or surrendered. The great bulk of the islsnd garrisons fought to the death. The Central Pacific Casmpapaign began on Tarawa. Out of a 5,000 man garrison only 17 Japanese defenders were captured (all badly wounded). It was bloody fight to the death.
The Masriasnas were in many ways the turning point ion the war and the Japanese knew it. From air bases on the Marinas, the Americans could reach the Japasbese Home Islsnd with their new long range B-29 bomber.
As a result, they brought out their carriers for the first time since Guadalcanal. The result was the Great Marianas Turkey shoot. The Maeianas were different because for the first time the americsns encountered Japanese civilians. When the Americans reached the Marianas with Japanese civilians, the Marines were horrified to see that not only the Imperial Army fought to the death, but they expected civilians, including women and children, to also resist to death. Men and women with children in hand jumoped off high cliffs to their deaths.
The Pacific War was fought on the largest battlefield in history. This would make the range of aircraft to be a critically important factor. The air war in the Pacific began, as in the European theater, with mastery of the skies over China by the Japanese. The Chinese air force was vitually non-existant. The Japanese conducted terror bombing raid, first on Shanghai and then on other Chinese cities. The Japanese began the Pacific War with air mastery. This surprised Allied military experts. The dazzling Mitusubishi A6M Zero was so effective that they were able to achieve air superority during land and sea battles against Britain and the United States beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Zero was fast and maneuverable and had an impressive range. This continued throughout much of 1942 and only with the arrival of new American 56L Hellcat in large numbers did the Allies begin to gain the upperhand in the sky. The gradual attrition of skilled Japanese pilots was another factor. New American aircraft brgan reaching the fleet (January 1943). The Gruman 56L Hellcat would be the mainstay of the U.S Navt during the Pacific War. Gradually American flyers had planes with capababilities well beyond those of the Zero. The seizure of the Marianas and the deployment of of the new long range B-29 bombers brought the Japanese homeland within range of strategic bombardment. The initial raids were inclonclusive. General Curtis LeMay devised a strategy of fire bombing which caused massive destruction in Japanese citis crammed with highly flameable wooden structures.
he last step in the war against Japan was the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. Based upon Japanese resistance on one after another Pacific islands, American planners believed that Japan would never surrender and a climatic, bloody invasion would be needed--Operation Downfall. This was the proposed Allied invasion plan. There were two elements: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet. Operation Olympic was scheduled for November 1945. The goal was to capture areas of the southern-most main Japanese island--Kyūshū. Invading the northern island of Hokido was considered, but discarded, largely because of the inclemnet weather. Kyūshū was the obvious objective because newly won bases in Okinawa could provide staging areas and air cover. The Japanese easily predicted the target. All they had to do was to calculate the range of air cover from Okinawa. As a result, the Japanese Army began to heavily reinforce Kyūshū. Next would be Operation Coronet in early-1946. This would involve the invasion of the Kantō Plain, near Tokyo, on the main Japanese island of Honshu. Airbases on Kyūshū captured in Operation Olympic would permit land-based air support for Operation Coronet. Air support was central in American military operations. Gen. Marshal advocated an invasion and Adm. Nimitz supported him. Gen. MacArthur was assigbned to command the invasion and began the planning. His plan provided that once Kyushu was secured, that air bases there could cover more northerly landings close to Tokyo. Had Downfall been launched, it would have been the largest amphibious operation in history, dwarfing the D-Day landings which had the advantage of being just a few miles across the Channel. In addition to the huge logistical issues, Japanese geography and terraine made these invasions a daunting prospect. Japan is a very mountaneouss country. There were few flat plains making sweeping armored thursts possible. A fight for the Home Islands woukd be more like Okinawa, meaning huge American casualties and much larger Japanese losses, in both military personnel and civilians, not even including the fact that Japanese civilans were already approachiung starvation. The Japanese were palnaning a massive defense of Kyūshū. American casualty estimates ran up into the millions. The Japanese casualties which had been 10 to 1 in just military personnel on Okinawa would have been astronomical on the Home Island. And the Japanese as part of Operation Ketsugo planed to use civilians to resist the invasion. The American military fully expected, and had every reaon to do so, that the Japanese Army would resist to the death just had they had done on Okinawa.
The terrain of the Home Islands was similar to that of Okinawa--very mountenous. There was no doubt where the Americans would strike first -- it had to be the southern-most island of Kyushu where the landings could be covered by air bases on Okinawa. That that was the pattern thriughout the Pacific War--island campaigns to see air vfierlds thst could be used to project powr ob oher islands. Ans air bAses on Okim=nawa could have but on e purose, to project power on the Home Islands which mean Kyushu the southernm most of the Home Islands. Ininitial casuaslty estimates were manageable, but that was befiore the Japanese began a major military builfup.
The Japanese prepared the Shosango Vctory Plan for the defence of the Home Islands. Prime-minister Kantarô Suzuki took office (April 1945). The government expanded the Shosango plan with Ketsugo. Emperor Hirohito approved the plan. The idea was to defend the Home Islands to the last man, actually the last person. And this did not mean just soldiers, but civilans as well--including children. Ketsugo was to prepare the Japanese people psychologically to die as a nation in an effort to defend the Imperial Japan. School children, boys and girls, were to be taught to construct makeshift weapons such as sharpened bamboo poles. Soldiers were assigned to schools to show children how to do this. We are unclear at this time just to what extent the Japanese were actually implementing Ketsugo. A Japanese reader from Tokyo tells me that he was sent into the country and received no such training. Other reports indicate that children were receiving this training. One fact is certain, American planners did expect a suisidal and costly Japanese resistance and given what bappened on Iwo and Okinawa, this is likely what would have occurred. The caualties resulting from the Japanese strategy and the liklihood of even more fierce resistance on the Home Islands is a factor that has to be taken into account in the assessment of the subsequent decession to use the atomic bombs bombs.
A dying President Roosevelt traveled all the way to Yalta to meet with Stalin and Churchill and plan the end to the War. Japan was one of the items on the agenda. Gen. Marshal proivided a briefing on Operatuion Doenfall. A priority for President Roosevelt was to get Stalin's commitment to enter the War with Japan hoping that would bring the Japanese to their sences and refuce Americn casualties. Stalin did not need much encouragement. The Soviets were of course waging war with the European Axis abd bekieced that Jaoan despite a neutrlity ageemnt was not really neutral, remember the incursions on the sovuet birder (1939). Stalin also saw real territotial acquisions to be had. Hus relatuonship with Mao abd the Chinese Communists is more controversial. Stalin indicated the Red Army would need 2-3 months after the NAZI surrender to prepare for war with Jspan. The atomic bomb did not come up. Stalin knew about the Manhattan Project because of Soviet espionge oerations, but does not seem yet seem to have taken it too seriously. . And Presudebt Roosevelt does not seem to have entered the untested bomb intio his caslculations.
President Roosevelt while sitting for a portrait suffered a massive cerebral hrmorage and died at the Little White G=House in Warm Springs, Georgia (April 12). Presidenr Rooseveklt was not perfect, but his generally ranked by historuisns as our third gratest President. Surely the greatest of his mistakes was given his health, running for a fourth term. And this was compounded by virtually ignoring is new vice-president after the election. Senator Truman was chosen by the Democratic Convention and the two men barely knew each other. President Roosevelt made no effort to share his strategy and policy goals with Truman. They had one brief, purely social breakfast. And Truman cme away from the meeting shiocked at the OPresident's physical condition. He realised that he would become president, but did not realize how qyuckly that woukld occur. Truman had not been informed about the bomb before he became president. (Ironically, Seb=nator Truman had uncovered the spending for the bomb, but Gen. Masrshal asjked him notv to pursue his investiagtion.) So upon assuming office, Presudent Trumon had to begin from ground zero to formulate American policy to end the war. This meant that many of Roosevelt's policies such as the relationship with the Soviets, the occupation of Germany, use of chemical weapons, and the atomic bomb were now up in the air. This was not all together inusual, the President often did not share his thinking with even his clorst advisers. The Oresuident himself said, ""You know I am a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does.... I may have one policy for Europe and one diametrically opposite for North and South America. I may be entirely inconsistent, and furthermore I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war." [Kimball] The President did mot even share those thoughts with Truman.
As the American military contuned to confronJapanese garrisons determined to fight to the death military planners began confronting the issue of how to eventually end the War with a country that refused to surrender. The military, especially the Army, believed that the only was to achieve this would be the invasion of the Home Islands. So the last step in the war against Japan was woulf be an invasion of Japan isel. This sas confirmed by the hyge casulties on Iwo and Okinawa. As the Americans moved closer to Japan, he casuslties escaslated and the Japanese became increasingly sophisticated in endginerring their defenses. While the Japanese had moved civilians off Iwo, there was a large civilian population ion Oknawa. And on Okinawa the Amnerican encountered the civilian problem, only with far larger mumbers. At one point there were 1,000 caualties a day on Iwo and evebtuall 7,000 Americans killed. The death toll on Okinawa was much higher, 12,500 men. Total American casualties were 27,000 on Iwo and nearly 50,000 on Okinawa. Also horrifying is that the civilian deaths probably exceeded 100,000 men women and children, primasrily because the Jaopanese militay was forcing civilins to commit suicide and killinbg those who refused.
pan in 1945 was in a very different position than Germany. The Bulge offensive was Germany's last desperate gamble. The German armies in all sectors (except Norway) were defeted and no longer capable of offereing effective resistance in either the wetern or eastern fronts. The generals saw no posdibility of staving off defeat and the situation became increasingly clear as the Western llies and Soviets drove into the Reich. The situarion for the Japnese was very different. Defeat had only been experienced at sea and on Pacific islands invokving relatively small garrisons. The bulk of the Imperial Army ws still in tact in China and facing Chimese armies of limited capabiities. And even after Okinawa, the Jpanese had a very creditable military force as well as a largely hidden force of Kamikazee aircraft ready to reign hell on any invasion fleet. In addition the Government were still controlled by military men concerned primarily with their honor and seeing no obligation to the civilian population. The War Cabinent even after the Nagasaki attack was was still undecided on surrender. War Minister Korechika Anami still wanted to continue the War, When told about the mushroom cloud, he replied, "Would it not be wondrous for this whole nation to be destroyed by a beautiful flower?" [Pellegrino] And this is how many Japanese military commabders thought. It seems almost incredible today, but it was all true in 1945. Many Army commanders simply saw it dishonrable with strong forces in the field to surrender. And to them honor transcended the future of their nation. There was no diubt about where the first Ameican blow would fall. Iy would be tge southern island of Kyhshu because of the limits of American air power from the newy won bases on Okuinawa. The Japanese began moving reinforcements and supplies into Kyshu. Kamikazze planes were staged there. Civilians were to be a part if the defense under the Ketsugo program. The People's Volunteer Army was formed. Millions of copies of 'People's handbook of resustance combat' was printed. Milions of copies were distributed.
The Emperor and the Japanese military were determined to resist. The military conveived the strategy of Ketsugo (April 1945). This was part of the overall strategy of bleeding the Americans to force a negoytiated peace. Ketsugo meant self defense, As a national defense policy it meant preparing civilans to fight an American invasion. It was a refinement of Japan's Shosango victory plan which envisioned defending the home islands to the last man. The plan was to prepare the Japanese people psychologically to fight the Americans and die defending their homeland. THere was to be no surrender, even civilians were not to surrender. Some Japanese sources claim that Japan was defeated and ready to surrender. Such claims are starkly disproved by what happened to civilians on Okinawa. The military there actively prevented civilians from surrendering and incouraged civilians to kill themselves. Ketsugo went a step further. It involved training civilns to actively resist an American invasion. The plan included training children, boys as well as girls, to fight with improvised weapns. Soldiers were assigned to schools to train even primary-level children in the use of weapons like bamboo spears. I am not sure how widespread this effort was and how intensive the training. I have noted Japanese adults describing such traing they received in schools. Japanese officials warned that the Americans would kill men who surrendered instantly and rape women. Not only were Japanese soldiers not to surrender, but neither would civilians. Others Japanese sources have reported their was no serious training in their schools. A peace faction led by Foreign Minister Togo complained that Ketsugo would destroy the nation. General Anami retorted that those who can not fulfill their resonsibilities to the Emperor should commit hari-kiri. He was intent that the entire nation should resist the Americans to the death.
American intelligence assessments reported indications that the Japanese were heavily reinforcing Kyushu. Men and equipment were being brought back from China and Manchuria to stenthen the forces already on Kyushu. Much of these reinforcenents were moving through the port of Nagasaki. The Yellow Sea was one of the few places that Japanese marus could still move with some degree of safety--although that was beginning to change.
he Wehrmacht by April 1945 was shatered and no longer able to offer effective resistance to the Allies. The Western Allies raced through Germany from the west during April 1945 as the Soviet Red Army surrounded Berlin. American and Soviet forces made the long anticipated link-up at the Elbe River on April 25. The Red Army fought a massive engagement to take Berlin. Hitler insisted that the SS and Wehrmacht forces in the city, reinforced by the Volkstrum (Hitler Youth boys and older men) fight so that he might live a few more days. As Red Army soldiers approached his bunker, Hitler shot himself and named Admiral Karl Doenietz as the new Führer. The last raid of the strategic bombing campaign took place on April 25 when the Skoda armament plant at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia were bombed. The American Air Corps began shifting to mercy missions. Flights were dispatched to feed civilians in northern Italy and the Netherlands who were near starvation. Priority was also given to evacuting prisonors of war (POWs). Doenitz ordered General Alfred Jodl to General Eisenhower' Headquarters--Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) detachment in Rheims to seek terms to end the fighting. Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German forces on allfronts At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, which was to take effect on May 8 at 11:01 p.m. Thus NAZI Germany surrendered unconditionally, as President Roosevelt had insisted. One impact was that it set the 2-3 month clock ticking for Stalin's pledgre to declare war on Japan.
he Japanese military situation by 1945 was perilous. Even the most ardent Imperial militarist had long since given up on winning the Pacific War. Japan's strategy was now only how total defent and occupation could be prevented. The strategy was to cause as many Allied (meaning mostly American) casualties as possible. They sought to bleed the Americans so severely that the United States would not dare invade the Japanese Home Islands. Incredably they still clung to illusion that the Americans were a weak-willed people that could not stomach losses. Many Japanese military commanders were still convinced that they could out last the Americans. [Thomas, p. 139.] Here the Japanese resistance at Iwo Jima and Okinawa along with the Kamikaze attacks had considerable success. There were heavy Amerucan losses, although only a fraction of the Japanese losses.
The primary concerns of both American military and political leaders was escalzating casualties and public support for the warc effiort. Iwo and Okinawa showed that the Japanese were getting better at killing Americans. The Japanese casulaties were much higher thn the American casualties, but the escalating number of Amerucabn casualies was concerning. And the terain on Kyushu was similar to Okinawa. To make matters worse, the Japanese had more time to oreoare the defenses and much larger forces and greater material. In addition thgere was an even larger Kamakazze force being prepared. American intelligence knew of some of the preparations, especially the build up on Kyushu, but not all. Bassed on what they knew, the Downfall planners began to increase the initially manageable loss estimates. Some estimatres exceeded a million men. That would have essentilly doubled American World War II casualtuies. Unlike World War II, from the moment Japsnese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, there was widesoread public support for the War effort. Gen. Marshall was concerned that this might change if the Army experienced the level of casualties now being estimasted. In addition, there was increasing pressure from the public and businees with the NAZIs defeated to remove sone of the war-time emrgency measures restricting the domestic economy. Morale in the forces being assemnled was low. Many of the men who fought in the Pacific and being moved from Europe believed that they would not survive an invasion of Japan. All of this meant that American commanders believed that time was not an option. Otherwise, the Japanese military might be left in control of the country. Those who criticise the use of the atomic bomb should mull over that possibility and the fact that the Japanese had two nuclear projects that were making progress.
President Truman met with the Joint Chiefs in the Whute House (June 18, 1945). The Strategic Bombing Campsigbn was not bringing Japan to the table. It was undermining the Japanese war econmy, but as in NAZI Germany, not forcing them to surrender. The unanimous recomendation of the military chiefs to President Truman was to go ahead with Operation Downfall--the invasion of the Home Islands. The first step was the invasion of Kyushu in November. In fact, there was discent within the military, especially on the part of the Navy. Admiral King decided not to raise the Navy's concerns, calculating that the casulties on Iwo and Okinawa would bring the Army, namely general Marshal to his sences. President Truman had already begun to have doubts given the casualties in Iwo and Okinawa. He began to see a series of Okinawa campaigns and huge casualties up and down the Japanese Home Islands from Kyushu to Tokyo. He requested caualty estimates for Doenfall from General Marshal annd astronimical figures subsequently surfaced.
American military planners began revising their casulty estimates as casuzalty figures fro Iwo and Okinawa came in. And information on the massive buildup in Kyushu was ibserved. American inteligence foresaw the potential for 1 million American casualties or more . This was based on the tenacious Japanese resistance in every Pacific campaign asnd increasinly sophisticated dfensive tactics as encountered on Ojkinawa. The military fully expected the Japanese Army to resist to the death just had they had done on Iwo and Okinawa. In addition, the Japanese had large numbers of aircraft which could be used in Kamikaze attacks on any invasion fleet, this was not fully picked up by Army inteligence because it was a hidden air force carefully built up in caves where aerial reconisabce could not see it. .
There were alternatives to Downfall, some of which the Americans were pursuing. They showed no indication, however of bringing the Japanese to the table. There is no diount that the Jaopanese understioiod they had lost the War and wanted to end the War. They were not, however, to cceopt incionditiional surrenfer. They were intent that 1) Japan not be occupied leaving the military in conrol ofv the country, 2) the Imoerial system be continued, 3) war crime trials be conducted by the Japanese thenmselves. Nor did they make an ioffer to the anmeruicans that they were willing to discuss an end to the War. They did ask the Soviets to intervene. TheSoviets made no effirt to do so because they duid not want the war to end before theybhad a chance to invade and seize Manchuria.
This is the most absurd of all the suggestions as to gow tghe end the Wa withiuy the atmomic bombs or an invasion. It should be immediately apparent is that the Japanese used diolomacy as ruse abd that Anerucan efforts for a diplomatic settlement led to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese militarists shiowed abooltutely no interest in ending the War, content to allowing thrir country to glowing embers. Gen. Anami even comopared it to beautiful cgherry bloosoms. Only if Ameruca woukd consent to leaving the mikitarists in power was a negitiated end iof the War possible.
The Americans at first planned to bomb Japan from China wuith the bnew klong-range B-29 bomber. The Japanese Ichigo Offebnsive and the logistics involved (namely the Himilyabn Mountasins) made that impossible. The bombing eoukld be conducted from the Maruianas which the Americans seized (June 1944). The logistics were much more fabvorable. The Americans began using the same high akditude tctics used in Europe. The resuklts werec disappointing. This chnged adter a few months. The mahor factirs were: 1) theseizure if Iwo Jima (February 1945), 2) an understandung of the Jet Stream, a previously unknownn ophnomenon, and 3) the arrival of Gen. Curtis LeMay from Europe. He devised new tactics, primarily bombing from low aldutudes with incenderaries. Jaoab had begun biombing cities (1931), despite the fact that there wood asnd paper contruction made then particuloasrly vulnrrable to bimving. LeMay proceeded to burn Jaopan's great industrial cities to the griund. Most notably was the forebombing ruid on Tokyo (March 10). Fuitesc raged for days. Much of the city was left mounds of gloweing embers. Millions lost their homes. Some 100,000 peoplec were killed--a number exeeding that of either atomic bomb. LeMay's bombers proceeded to destroy one Japanese city after another. By August, the Americans were runnuing out of targets. Emperor Hirohito could see the result in Tokyo from his palace windows. The Japanese military, however, was unmoved. They were still determined to resist, clinging to the hope tht invasion would prove to costly for the Americans.
The U.S. Navy had largely cut off the Home Islands from essential supplies, both oil and food as wekkl as raw materials by 1944. The American submarine campaign had proven particulrly costly. Thec seizure of the Philippines began (October 1944). The American controlled Philippine Islabds are why the Japanese went to war with America and not just the British and Dutych in 1941. It was simple geograophy. The Philippines stood beteen the Home Islands and the riches of the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) they so coveted. Here was the oil they needed after the Americans embargoed oil exports. With the Philippines back in American hands, tghere was no way any significzan shipments from the SRZ the Japnese Army still controlled could reach the Home Islands. The Americans with the Jaonese fleet largely destoyed after the Battle of Leyte Gulf began to tighten the blockade reach into war=ters off the Home Islands, including the Yellow Sea and in the final months of the War, the Sea of Japan which the Jaoanese thought they had closed off with mine basrages (1945). The blockade not only denied Joabese war industrus the raw materials they needed, but bblocked vital food imports. Japan was not sef suffucuent in food prodyction and depended on food imports to syurvive. By the end of the War, the Japabnese were beginning to starve. Even this, however, did not move the Jaoanese military. Notv the starvation of military garrisins cut off in the South Pacific. Abnd if the metrics to be used are humanitasrian abd bidy count, as horrible as the bombs were, starbing a nation of 70 million people is even mire unimginable.
The Jaoanese had an important chenical and niological weaopns program--Unit 231. And they used those weapons in China, mostly against civilians. They did notb use them against the Americans, probably because as the war progressed, they lost air superiority and were sadly deficient in artillery--the primary delivery methods in military operations. Some American POWs were victimized in Unit 231, but there was no Japanese military usage in the Pacific War. The United States had an actuve chenical warfare program. These were wepons developed after the United States ebntereted Wirld War I. Chenmical weapons had been inrtrduced by the Germans (1915). A disproportinate number if American caulties were victims if German chemical weapons. The Germans prodyced hughly toxic nerve agents, but Hitler decided not to use them. Churchill consudered usung them in case of a German invasion. The Allies ghad considerabkle stiockpiles of chemical weapons in case the Germans used them. The Americabn chemical warfew unit drewup plans for first use (April 1944), but the Americans basically planned tonuse them only if the Germans did. The Japanese use in China was largely unknown. After UIwo and Okinawa, plabns for possibkle use were sunnitted to the Joint Chiefs (June 9, 1945). Gen. Marshal coinsidered the possibility, but ultimtely decided against it.
This was not a threat that either the Anericans or Soviets made. It was, however, a threat that the Japanese took very seriously. The Japabese fought a short war in the biorders of Mongolia and Marchurua Msnchiko) (Jily 1939). Months before the Germans invaded the Souvuiet Union, Japan and the Soviets signed a 5-year neutrality pact (April 1941). It is hiught that if Moscow (1941) or Stalingrafd had fallen (1942), Japan might have sceraoed the Pact abd invaded Soviet Siberia. In the run up to Barbaeossa, the German invasiion of the Siviet niin, Stalin and Molotive were rying tonjoin the Axuis, but were unable to do so beause of Hitler's objections. The Japanese understood that they has lost the War and wanted to end it, They made no attemot to contact the nmeruicans, but did ask the Siviets to interced. Stalin had no desire for quick end to the Pacific War. He even passed intelligence information to the Japanese. He saw emense territiorical gains to be had by invading Manchuria. President Roosevelt at Yalta pressed for a Soviet declaraion of war (Februry 1945). Stalin agreed, 2-3 months after the defeat of the NAZIs. Presudet Truman at Ootsdam confirnmed the commitmebnts made by Roosevelt, but was less insistent, believing that thec atimic bomb would end the War (July 1945). The Presudentb was alsdo concerned about mounting problms with the Soviets in occupied Germany and wanted to avoid a joint occupation. The Soviets declared war and invaded Japanese occupied Manchurias the same day the United Srares dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagsaki (August 9). It was 3 months to the day after the NAZI surrender as Stalin had promised.
The major research and development for the Manhattan Project occurred at a purpose-built facility--Los Alamos, New Mexico. The facility was built by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The scientists conducted first atomic bomb test at the Trinity desert test site, located in nearby Alamogordo (July 16). After 3 years of intensive research and experimentation, the first nuclear device thast the sciebntusts nasmed the 'Gadget' was detonated, ushered in the nuclear era. There were two options for the bom, to maske sure of success, the Americans built both a uranium and a plutonium bomb--a idication of the massive resources that the United States was devioting to the War. At 5:29:45, the scientists detonated Gadget unleashing 15 and 20 kilotons of force--slightly exceeding the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The explosion annihilated nearly all of the 100-foot metal tower from which the bomb was detonated and created a crater of a radioactive green glassy substance known as trinitite. Officuals transmitted the results of the test to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson who was with President Truman at the Potsdam Conference in Germany. The cided message read, " Operated on this morning. Diagnosis not yet complete but results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations. Local press release necessary as interest extends great distance. Dr. Groves pleased. He returns tomorrow. I will keep you posted." Stimson ast once too the nmessage to the Little White House in Potsdam infirming President Truman and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes. [Alperovitz and Tree, p. 240.] Afollow up message read, " Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and confident that the little boy is as husky as his big brother. The light in his eyes discernible from here to High Hold and I could have heard his screams from here to my farm." (July 18).
Potdam was not a purely war conference. The NAZIs were defeated and Potsdam was aubirb of the defeated NAZI capital. The major issue was the occupation of Germany. Problems were already occuring with the Soviets. The Allies and the Soviets at Potsdam settled issues concernung the occupation of Germany, at least as best that was possible given the differences between the Soviets and Western Allies. The war in the Pacific with Japan, hoewver, continued. Okinawa after bitter fighting was secured. And the Americans with British help were preparing to invade Kyushu. Truman did not cancel the Yalta arrabngements, but despite the huge casualty estimates was not as motivated as Roosevelt had been to get the Soviets into the War. Above all, he wanted to avoid anoher joint occupation with the Soviets. When Truman left America, the bomb had not yet been tested. The successful Trimity Test reached Truman while was at the Conference. Truman informed Stalin who did not seem surprised. Stalin confirmed his Yalta commitment to declare war which would mean on or before August 8.
The Potsdam Decalration was issued at Potsdam, but did not uinclude the Sioviet Union which had not yet declasred war. This gave some hope to the Jpsnese tht the Soviets might stay out of the War. United States President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and President Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China jointly issued a declaration at Potsdam demanding that Japan immediately surrender or face 'prompt and utter destruction' (July 26). It set the terms of unconditional surrender for Japan. There were provisions about disarmament, occupation, and territorial sovereignty, but did not touch upon the the Emperor. Some historians criticise the Allies for that, but neither did the Japanese make any effort to indicste that they were prepared to surrender if the Emperor's status was gurabteed. Some Japanese officials actually thought the Potsdam Declaration showed the success of their policy of bleeding the Americans. Although the Potsdam Declaration called for unconditional surrender, there was language providing for Japan eventually rejoining the community of nations. The Americans still wanted to avoid an invsasion because of the huge number of casualties beung predicted, but were preparing for the invassion. The Japanese saw no need to reply. After all, wehast could be weirstr thn the firevnombuing of Tokyo and the invasion was not immminent.
For Truman the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration made up his mind. There have been many books and aticles published in both Japan and America about the atomic bomb. Japanese scholars have reserched the decission making process that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs. Almost always the focus is on Truman and Ameican military leaders. Many Japanese writers insist that Japan was a defeated country and would have surendered without the use of the bomb. Little real evidence is presented to substantiate the claim that Japan would have surendred. Rarely do Japanese authors address the role of Japanese political and military leaders. One American presidential adviser reports that Japanese reserchers and journlists have interviewed him a number of times during visits to Tokyo. They ask about when the decission was made to drop the bomb. He replies that it was the Japanese leaders who made the decission when they rejected the Potsdam Declaration. He says that this response is never included in either published articles or broadcasted television interviews. [Elsey] President Truman made the decession after a meeting with one of his most influential advisers, South Carolina Govenor Jimmy Byrnes (June 1). Byrnes told him that if he did not use the bomb that he would have to explain at his impeachment why he did not use a weapon that would have ended the War and saved tens if not hundreds of thousands of American lives. President Truman has never explained in detail why he decided to use te bomb. Certainly the military estimates of potential casualties from an invasion was a primary factor. Japanese resistance on Okinawa and Iwo Jima was strong evidence that American casualties would have been very substantial. Japanese brutality toward American POWs and civilians must have influenced the President, but to what degree it is difficult to tell. At the time, dealing with Stalin and the Soviets was very much on Truman's mind. Trouble with the Soviets in occupied Germany were increasing. It was at the Potsdam Conference that Truman told Stalin about the bomb. [Beschloss, p.66.] The possibility of the Soviet Union entering the War and claiming an occupation zone may have also been a factor. We are not sure just what intelligence briefings Truman received. One factor which would have been of concern was the Uranium shipments from Germany via U-boat. The only possible reason for such shipments was a Japanese nuclear project. One factor that does not seem to have influenced the President was limiting Japanese civilian casualties, but as horrible as the two bombs were, ending the War without an invasion probably save hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives, if not millions.
The Potsdam Conference adjourned (August 2). President Truman and members of his party sailed for America aboard the cruiser USS Augusta. Hearing no respnse to the Potsdam Declaeation, the President while at sea, authorized the military to use the atomic bomb, leaving it uop to the military autories as to when and where. The President reached hime (August 7), the day after the bomb was dropped on Hiromshima.
The Allied powers 2 weeks after the bomb was tested demanded on July 27, 1945 that Japan surrender unconditionally, or warned of "prompt or utter destruction". This became known as the Potsdam Declaration. The Japanese military was prepared to fight on rather than surender. The Japanese Government responded to the Potsdam Declaration with "utter contemp". The Japanese military continued feverish pland to repel the Ameican invasion of the Home Islands. Many Whermacht generals at the end of the War were anxious to surrnder to the Amreicans. One German General commanding forces west of Berlin after the War said, "We wondered why they didn't come." This was not the attitude of the Japanese military. I know of know memoir written by an important Japanese military officer expresing similar sntiments. Truman was not anxious to use the atomic bomb. He was anxious to end the War and limit Ameican casulties. For Truman the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration made up his mind. There have been many books and aticles published in both Japan and America about the atomic bomb. Japanese scholars have reserched the decission making process that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs. Almost always the focus is on Truman and Ameican military leasers. Rarely do Japanese authors address the role of Japanese political and military leaders. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8.
The Japabese were determined to fight to the death. A major defense of Kyushu was olanned with a military build up, A force of some 5,000 Kanmakazees were prepared. A huge civilian militia was being trained, including children. There were civilan leaders who wanted to surrender, but knew if they openly advocated surrder they wioukd be assasinated by the Army. Even the Emperor was afraid to advocate surrender, fearing a military coup. The one man that could stop the unfolding disaster was Emperor Hirohito and even he was aftaid to act. After the War he clearly stated it was the atomic bombs that caused him to sct. He did not explain just why, only that it was a trrrible weapon. But it was not the death bznd destruction thzat gave him the bility to act. Aftrer all, the fire npmbiong of Tokyo outsude his window was worse than either atomic bomb. It was the shock of the bombs along with the Siviet invasion of Manchuria that bith prompted the Emprior to act and the Army not to intervene. There was a coup attempt, but the Army high command supressed it.
Most Americans believe that the Japanese surrendered because of the American development and use of the atomic bomb. The bomb was certainly a factor, but not the only factor. The decision to surrender is far more complex and impossible to know with any surety. The American Pacific Island invasions, naval power, and in particular the Soviet declaration of war and startling success of the their invasion of Manchuria all played major roles. The Allies at in the Potsdam Declaration demanded that Japan surrender (July 27, 1945). The Japanese military despite the fact that the Allied bombing had destroyed major cities, were determined to resist, hoping that the cost of invading Japan would deter the Allies. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9). The Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria (August 8). There is reason to believe that the Soviet declaration of war and rapid seizure of Manchuria was more important in forcing Japan to surrender than the atomic bombs. Emperor Hirohito finally decided to surrender unconditionally (August 14). The success of the Soviet Army convinced even Imperial Army officers and the Ministry of war that defeat was inevitable. Emperor Hirohito on August 14 decided to surrender unconditionally. Even after the atomic bombs and the debacle in Manchuria, there were hardliners that were opposed to surrender. A group calling themselves the Young Tigers seized the Imperial Palace grounds and tried to prevent the Emperor's surrender broadcast. The attempted coup almost succeed. On what has become called "Japan's Longest Day" the attempted coup, bombing raid blackout, intrigues, killings, and seppukus (harakiri -- 腹切り, determined the fate of millions of Japanese people. It was a complicated series of events involving both great heroism and treason by officers convinced that they were behaving honorably. The Commander of the Eastern Army, however, remained loyal to the Emperor, dooming the coup. [PWRS] The formal surrender was held underneath the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Not knowing just what the Japanese were planning, the American carriers were standing on station at sea just off Japan.
Many Japanese today maintain that Japan was near defeat and ready to surrender. It is certainly true that the military situation for Japan was hopeless and the population approaching starvation. This does not mean, however, that the Imperial Army was preparing to surrender. The Army had not surrendered in any other campaign where the outcome was hopeless. In addition, the Army had encouraged even forced civilians to commit suicide as on Saipan and Okinawa. Some observers are convinced that Japanese civilian casualties in any invasion of the Home Islands would have been the greatest civilian disaster of World War II. Millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians may have died if America had invaded Japan.
Many observers today do not understand the think of the Jpanese militasrists now thst thev had lost th swar. he logical response to military defeat is surrender. This has been the case since time immemorial. Thus many today believe that if America just would have tried harder that the use of the atomic bombs would have been unnecessary. But this ignores the fact that not one Japanese unit surrendered during the Pacific War and that on Saipan and Okinawa where Japanese civilians were present, the military expected even civilians to resist or commit suicide. And those that refused the military actually killed. It is true that the military wanted to end the War. There is no evidence that they wanted to surrender which was seen as a dishonorable act. They were unmoved by the American fire bombing of Japanese cities or even the first atomic bomb. br>
Of course it is difficult to not have the greatest sympathy for the victims of the atmic bombs. The images are horrendous. But it needs to be boted that the Japanese militarists was the country that began bombing cities. And that the military war lords killed over 25 million people -- mostly women and children, during the war. And that killing did not end until the Japanese surrendered. Or the fact that had the Japabese not surrendered, the Japanese death toll from conventional bombing, blockade and famine woukd have been far greater than the two atomic blasts and could have included Soviet occupation and another brutal regime like North Korea.
Alperovitz, Gar and Sanho Tree. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. (New York: Vintage, 1996). Alperovitz is a critic of the use of the atomic bomb, believing that Stalin would have been much easier to deal with had America not used gthe bomb. One wionders if he has ank innling of Stalin;s cgaracter ior is just out to attack Truman and America. President Putin's nuclear rhetoric is a good example of the heritage of Soviet thinking.
Beschloss, Michael. The Conquerors (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2002), 377p.
Elsey, George. Panel discussion, Book-TV C-Span, November 14, 2002.
Kimball, Warren F. The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman Hardcover Princeton Universuty Press (1991).
Pacific War Research Society (PWRS). Compiler Kazutoshi Hando. Japan's Longest Day.
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