One of the things that sets us apart from all other nations, certainly in the twentieth century, is that we did not experience war in our own homeland. Unlike the Europeans, we were not savaged by war, and I think therefore it’s easy for us still to have a very romantic notion of what war involves. But there is this terrible moment in every war where one side or the other, and sometimes both, begin to be taken over by what can only be called a killing momentum, where all questions of honor and restraint and humanity go out the window and savage acts of violence take over. That’s the story of warfare. And even the United States of America, even in the good war, that happened to us. I track that to Roosevelt’s mistake of adopting a policy of unconditional surrender.
But what I’m talking about is what happened really in the last six months of the war, against Germany and Japan. The United States has never reckoned with the havoc we caused in the cities of Germany and Japan in those last six months when the war was all but won, when there was no question anymore of our ever being defeated by either Germany or Japan. We took off on bombing campaigns that were horrible beyond any American’s ability to reckon with, then or now. We killed something like a million civilians in the last seven months of the war. We haven’t reckoned with that kind of violence, that kind of brute inhumanity. The kinds of crimes that we would never ever ever commit on the ground, we committed routinely from the air. We didn’t even pretend to distinguish between military and civilian targets in Japan, so that by the time the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki was made, we were morally blind, paralyzed. We no longer had the capacity to understand exactly what it was that we were doing. So of course we dropped the atomic bomb. That was almost anti-climactic considering what we had done to fifty or sixty other Japanese cities.
World War II is not the good war. And the more Americans cling to that myth, the more dangerous we are as a people in the world. It’s only because we cling to such a myth that we could think that going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq was a reasonable and even humane thing to do. Look at what’s happened. Afghanistan is a shambles, the Taliban are coming back, the people are more impoverished than ever, and al-Qaeda is as much a threat to us as it ever was. And now Iraq—the disaster of Iraq, the threat of violence spilling over into Iran. I began by talking about realism. We Americans have to be realistic about what warfare is. And if we are, or if we could be, we’d be much less quick to leap in.
We, the undersigned scientists, have been working in the field of atomic power for a number of years. Until recently we have had to reckon with the possibility that the United States might be attacked by atomic bombs during this war and that her only defense might lie in a counterattack by the same means. Today with this danger averted we feel impelled to say what follows:
The war has to be brought speedily to a successful conclusion and the destruction of Japanese cities by means of atomic bombs may very well be an effective method of warfare. We feel, however, that such an attack on Japan could not be justified in the present circumstances. We believe that the United States ought not to resort to the use of atomic bombs in the present phase of the war, at least not unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan after the war are publicly announced and subsequently Japan is given an opportunity to surrender.
If such public announcement gave assurance to the Japanese that they could look forward to a life devoted to peaceful pursuits in their homeland and if Japan still refused to surrender, our nation would then be faced with a situation which might require a re-examination of her position with respect to the use of atomic bombs in the war.
Atomic bombs are primarily a means for the ruthless annihilation of cities. Once they were introduced as an instrument of war it would be difficult to resist for long the temptation of putting them to such use.
The last few years show a marked tendency toward increasing ruthlessness. At present our Air Forces, striking at the Japanese cities, are using the same methods of warfare which were condemned by American public opinion only a few years ago when applied by the Germans to the cities of England. Our use of atomic bombs in this war would carry the world a long way further on this path of ruthlessness.
... Terrorism, if it means anything, is a method by which civilians are the targets of violence for the purpose of achieving political goals. Having Imperial Japan surrender, even if a worthy goal, was nevertheless a political one, and the targeting of innocents to achieve that goal was an act of terrorism.
Indeed, it was terrorism on an incredibly large scale. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese were instantaneously wiped off the earth on August 6 and August 9, 1945. Many more died in the following years from the radioactive climate left behind by the bombings.
So the questions remain: Was this a case where terrorism was justified? Can there be other circumstances where the overt targeting of civilians can be justified, so as to bring about a greater good?
In the case of Hiroshima, no substantive evidence exists that the bombing was “necessary” to make Japan surrender. In fact, the Japanese had already attempted to sue for peace in July and were only hesitant because they distrusted the terms of unconditional surrender that the Allies demanded. They specifically wanted to keep their emperor, which, after the atomic bombings, they were allowed to, anyway. The military estimated before Hiroshima that invasion would cost as many as 20,000 or 30,000 American lives, but not nearly the half million lives that Truman later claimed had been the estimate. Even without invasion, Japan was utterly defeated by the war and U.S. blockades prevented the island nation from getting the necessary food to survive, much less maintain any type of threat against America...
Instead of making excuses for past U.S. war crimes, we need to remember them for the great evils that they indeed were. We cannot undo history, but with determination, we might possibly prevent such horrendous crimes from ever again being done in our name. The worst way to guarantee a brighter future is to look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and draw the lesson that sometimes the government needs to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians for the sake of humanity. Indeed, it is that conventional lesson that has helped solidify the United States in a state of perpetual war since the end of World War II, and that dangerously faulty lesson might still one day be invoked to facilitate such terror and atrocity that we can now hardly imagine.
. We killed something like a million civilians in the last seven months of the war. We haven’t reckoned with that kind of violence, that kind of brute inhumanity. The kinds of crimes that we would never ever ever commit on the ground, we committed routinely from the air....
Hibakusha is the term widely used in Japan referring to victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese word translates literally to "explosion-affected people".
They and their children were (and still are) victims of severe discrimination due to lack of knowledge about the consequences of radiation sickness, which people believed to be hereditary or even contagious.
Many of them were fired from their jobs. Hibakusha women never got married, as many feared they would give birth to deformed children. Men suffered discrimination too. "Nobody wanted to marry someone who might die in a couple of years".
Why do you feel it wasn't necessary to drop the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ?
James Carroll: Well, obviously, it's a complicated question about which historians are still in argument. My conclusion is that the issue of unconditional surrender was the blinder that prevented American leaders at that crucial moment of fully taking in the messages they were getting from Japan.
Japan was all but defeated in the spring of 1945. We had savaged 60 Japanese cities with firebombing. There were signals from the Japanese that they wanted to surrender, and we were willfully blocked in taking those signals in, especially under the leadership of Secretary of State Burns, and the irony is that we re-asserted our demand for unconditional surrender at the crucial point, the Potsdam Declaration at the end of July, yet again saying “unconditional surrender.” All the Japanese wanted by then was assurances about the emperor, which we refused to give them.
When the Japanese did surrender after Nagasaki, they still didn't surrender unconditionally. They included a condition about the emperor, which at that point we accepted. My conclusion is: If we had accepted the condition on the emperor – the emperor was a divine being to the Japanese. They couldn't tolerate the thought that what happened to Mussolini and Hitler would happen to him. If we had accepted that condition ahead of the atomic bombings, there would have been no need for those bombings. That's the conclusion I came to.
...I saw a burnt streetcar which had just turned the corner at Kamiya-cho. There were passengers still in the car. I put my foot onto the steps of the car and I looked inside. There were perhaps 15 or 16 people in front of the car. They laid dead one on top of another. Kamiya-cho was very close to the hypocenter, about 200 meters away. The passengers had stripped them of all their clothes. They say that when you are terrified, you tremble and your hair stands on end. And I felt just this tremble when I saw this scene. I stepped down to take a picture and I put my hand on my camera. But I felt so sorry for these dead and naked people whose photo would be left to posterity that I couldn't take the shot.
Their one year old son was burned to death on that day (August 6th). At Sakae-bashi (bridge) the couple saw tens of thousands of people jumping into the river to avoid the fire storms raging through the city. Many were blind, horribly maimed, and in shock from the bomb blast. Most were naked since their clothes had been burned off of them. The rivers running through Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like a magnet to the bomb victims, who sought relief from their horrific burns and a refuge from the choking smoke of the devastated city. Too weak to swim or survive their fatal wounds, untold thousands perished in the river waters. Bodies filled the waterways for days... until the tide took them all out to sea.
The expression in the resolution is much stronger than that of the previous one. The resolution reads, "The Japanese government should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as 'comfort women,' during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II." The resolution states that more than 200,000 such women suffered gang rape, forced abortions, and other humiliations during that time. It also urges the Japanese government to emphasize human and women's rights so as not to engage in human trafficking as their ancestors did.
Lesson #5: Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
EM: The choice of incendiary bombs, where did that come from?
McNamara: I think the issue is not so much incendiary bombs. I think the issue is: in order to win a war should you kill 100,000 people in one night, by firebombing or any other way? LeMay's answer would be clearly "Yes."
"McNamara, do you mean to say that instead of killing 100,000, burning to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in that one night, we should have burned to death a lesser number or none? And then had our soldiers cross the beaches in Tokyo and been slaughtered in the tens of thousands? Is that what you're proposing? Is that moral? Is that wise?"
Why was it necessary to drop the nuclear bomb if LeMay was burning up Japan? And he went on from Tokyo to firebomb other cities. 58% of Yokohama. Yokohama is roughly the size of Cleveland. 58% of Cleveland destroyed. Tokyo is roughly the size of New York. 51% percent of New York destroyed. 99% of the equivalent of Chattanooga, which was Toyama. 40% of the equivalent of Los Angeles, which was Nagoya. This was all done before the dropping of the nuclear bomb, which by the way was dropped by LeMay's command.
Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.
I don't fault Truman for dropping the nuclear bomb. The U.S.—Japanese War was one of the most brutal wars in all of human history ? kamikaze pilots, suicide, unbelievable. What one can criticize is that the human race prior to that time ? and today ? has not really grappled with what are, I'll call it, "the rules of war." Was there a rule then that said you shouldn't bomb, shouldn't kill, shouldn't burn to death 100,000 civilians in one night?
LeMay said, "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals." And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?
Every year during the first two weeks of August the mass news media and many politicians at the national level trot out the "patriotic" political myth that the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan in August of 1945 caused them to surrender, and thereby saved the lives of anywhere from five hundred thousand to one million American soldiers, who did not have to invade the islands. Opinion polls over the last fifty years show that American citizens overwhelmingly (between 80 and 90%) believe this false history which, of course, makes them feel better about killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians (mostly women and children) and saving American lives to accomplish the ending of the war.
The best book, in my opinion, to explode this myth is The Decision to Use the Bomb by Gar Alperovitz, because it not only explains the real reasons the bombs were dropped, but also gives a detailed history of how and why the myth was created that this slaughter of innocent civilians was justified, and therefore morally acceptable. The essential problem starts with President Franklin Roosevelt’s policy of unconditional surrender, which was reluctantly adopted by Churchill and Stalin, and which President Truman decided to adopt when he succeeded Roosevelt in April of 1945. Hanson Baldwin was the principal writer for The New York Times who covered World War II and he wrote an important book immediately after the war entitled Great Mistakes of the War. Baldwin concludes that the unconditional surrender policy ". . . was perhaps the biggest political mistake of the war . . . . Unconditional surrender was an open invitation to unconditional resistance; it discouraged opposition to Hitler, probably lengthened the war, costs us lives, and helped to lead to the present aborted peace."
The stark fact is that the Japanese leaders, both military and civilian, including the Emperor, were willing to surrender in May of 1945 if the Emperor could remain in place and not be subjected to a war crimes trial after the war. This fact became known to President Truman as early as May of 1945... Since President Truman, in effect, accepted the conditional surrender offered by the Japanese as early as May of 1945, the question is posed, "Why then were the bombs dropped?"
The author Alperovitz gives us the answer in great detail which can only be summarized here, but he states, "We have noted a series of Japanese peace feelers in Switzerland which OSS Chief William Donovan reported to Truman in May and June . These suggested, even at this point, that the U.S. demand for unconditional surrender might well be the only serious obstacle to peace. At the center of the explorations, as we also saw, was Allen Dulles, chief of OSS operations in Switzerland (and subsequently Director of the CIA). In his 1966 book The Secret Surrender, Dulles recalled that ‘On July 20, 1945, under instructions from Washington, I went to the Potsdam Conference and reported there to Secretary [of War] Stimson on what I had learned from Tokyo – they desired to surrender if they could retain the Emperor and their constitution as a basis for maintaining discipline and order in Japan after the devastating news of surrender became known to the Japanese people.’" It is documented by Alperovitz that Stimson reported this directly to Truman. Alperovitz further points out in detail the documentary proof that every top presidential civilian and military advisor, with the exception of James Byrnes, along with Prime Minister Churchill and his top British military leadership, urged Truman to revise the unconditional surrender policy so as to allow the Japanese to surrender and keep their Emperor. All this advice was given to Truman prior to the Potsdam Proclamation which occurred on July 26, 1945. This proclamation made a final demand upon Japan to surrender unconditionally or suffer drastic consequences...The Hiroshima Myth
The Hiroshima Myth
Lesson #4: Maximize Efficiency.
LeMay was focused on only one thing: target destruction. Most Air Force Generals can tell you how many planes they had, how many tons of bombs they dropped, or whatever the hell it was.
But, he was the only person that I knew in the senior command of the Air Force who focused solely on the loss of his crews per unit of target destruction. I was on the island of Guam in his command in March of 1945. In that single night, we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo: men, women, and children.
EM: Were you aware this was going to happen?
McNamara: Well, I was part of a mechanism that in a sense recommended it. I analyzed bombing operations, and how to make them more efficient. i.e. Not more efficient in the sense of killing more, but more efficient in weakening the adversary.
I wrote one report analyzing the efficiency of the B—29 operations. The B—29 could get above the fighter aircraft and above the air defense, so the loss rate would be much less. The problem was the accuracy was also much less.
Now I don't want to suggest that it was my report that led to, I'll call it, the firebombing. It isn't that I'm trying to absolve myself of blame. I don't want to suggest that it was I who put in LeMay's mind that his operations were totally inefficient and had to be drastically changed. But, anyhow, that's what he did. He took the B—29s down to 5,000 feet and he decided to bomb with firebombs.
I participated in the interrogation of the B—29 bomber crews that came back that night. A room full of crewmen and intelligence interrogators. A captain got up, a young captain said: "Goddammit, I'd like to know who the son of a bitch was that took this magnificent airplane, designed to bomb from 23,000 feet and he took it down to 5,000 feet and I lost my wingman. He was shot and killed."
LeMay spoke in monosyllables. I never heard him say more than two words in sequence. It was basically "Yes," "No," "Yup," or "The hell with it." That was all he said. And LeMay was totally intolerant of criticism. He never engaged in discussion with anybody.
He stood up. "Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman; it hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I've been there, I know what it is. But, you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo."
50 square miles of Tokyo were burned. Tokyo was a wooden city, and when we dropped these firebombs, it just burned it.
THE AIR ATTACK AGAINST THE JAPANESE HOME ISLANDS
The total tonnage of bombs dropped by Allied planes in the Pacific war was 656,400. Of this, 160,800 tons, or 24 percent, were dropped on the home islands of Japan. Navy aircraft accounted for 6,800 tons, Army aircraft other than B-29s for 7,000 tons, and the B-29s for 147,000 tons. By contrast, the total bomb tonnage in the European theater was 2,700,000 tons of which 1,360,000 tons were dropped within Germany's own borders.
On 9 March 1945, a basic revision in the method of B-29 attack was instituted. It was decided to bomb the four principal Japanese cities at night from altitudes averaging 7,000 feet. Japanese weakness in night fighters and antiaircraft made this program feasible. Incendiaries were used instead of high-explosive bombs and the lower altitude permitted a substantial increase in bomb load per plane. One thousand six hundred and sixty-seven tons of bombs were dropped on Tokyo in the first attack. The chosen areas were saturated.
Fifteen square miles of Tokyo's most densely populated area were burned to the ground. The weight and intensity of this attack caught the Japanese by surprise. No subsequent urban area attack was equally destructive. Two days later, an attack of similar magnitude on Nagoya destroyed 2 square miles. In a period of 10 days starting 9 March, a total of 1,595 sorties delivered 9,373 tons of bombs against Tokyo, Nagoya, Osake, and Kobe destroying 31 square miles of those cities at a cost of 22 airplanes. The generally destructive effect of incendiary attacks against Japanese cities had been demonstrated.
THE EFFECTS OF THE ATOMIC BOMBS
[In Hiroshima] Approximately 60,000 to 70,000 people were killed, and 50,000 were injured. Of approximately 90,000 buildings in the city, 65,000 were rendered unusable and almost all the remainder received at least light superficial damage. The underground utilities of the city were undamaged except where they crossed bridges over the rivers cutting through the city. All of the small factories in the center of the city were destroyed. However, the big plants on the periphery of the city were almost completely undamaged and 94 percent of their workers unhurt. These factories accounted for 74 percent of the industrial production of the city. It is estimated that they could have resumed substantially normal production within 30 days of the bombing, had the war continued. The railroads running through the city were repaired for the resumption of through traffic on 8 August, 2 days after the attack.
[In Nagasaki] Approximately 40,000 persons were killed or missing and a like number injured. Of the 52,000 residential buildings in Nagasaki 14,000 were totally destroyed and a further 5,400 badly damaged. Ninety-six percent of the industrial output of Nagasaki was concentrated in the large plants of the Mitsubishi Co. which completely dominated the town. The arms plant and the steel works were located within the area of primary damage. It is estimated that 58 percent of the yen value of the arms plant and 78 percent of the value of the steel works were destroyed. The main plant of the Mitsubishi electric works was on the periphery of the area of greatest destruction. Approximately 25 percent of its value was destroyed. The dockyard, the largest industrial establishment in Nagasaki and one of the three plants previously damaged by high-explosive bombs, was located down the bay from the explosion. It suffered virtually no new damage. The Mitsubishi plants were all operating, prior to the attack, at a fraction of their capacity because of a shortage of raw materials. Had the war continued, and had the raw material situation been such as to warrant their restoration, it is estimated that the dockyard could have been in a position to produce at 80 percent of its full capacity within 3 to 4 months; that the steel works would. have required a year to get into substantial production; that the electric works could have resumed some production within 2 months and been back at capacity within 6 months; and that restoration of the arms plant to 60 to 70 percent of former capacity would have required 15 months.
The Survey has estimated that the damage and casualties caused at Hiroshima by the one atomic bomb dropped from a single plane would have required 220 B-29s carrying 1,200 tons of incendiary bombs, 400 tons of high-explosive bombs, and 500 tons of anti-personnel fragmentation bombs, if conventional weapons, rather than an atomic bomb, had been used.
One hundred and twenty-five B-29s carrying 1,200 tons of bombs would have been required to approximate the damage and casualties at Nagasaki. This estimate pre-supposed bombing under conditions similar to those existing when the atomic bombs were dropped and bombing accuracy equal to the average attained by the Twentieth Air Force during the last 3 months of the war.
As might be expected, the primary reaction of the populace to the bomb was fear, uncontrolled terror, strengthened by the sheer horror of the destruction and suffering witnessed and experienced by the survivors. Prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs, the people of the two cities had fewer misgivings about the war than people in other cities and their morale held up after it better than might have been expected. Twenty-nine percent of the survivors interrogated indicated that after the atomic bomb was dropped they were convinced that victory for Japan was impossible. Twenty-four percent stated that because of the bomb they felt personally unable to carry on with the war. Some 40 percent testified to various degrees of defeatism. A greater number (24 percent) expressed themselves as being impressed with the power and scientific skill which underlay the discovery and production of the atomic bomb than expressed anger at its use (20 percent) [*]. In many instances, the reaction was one of resignation.
The effect of the atomic bomb on the confidence of the Japanese civilian population outside the two cities was more restricted. This was in part due to the effect of distance, lack of understanding of the nature of atomic energy, and the impact of other demoralizing experiences. The role of the atomic bomb in the surrender must be considered along with all the other forces which bore upon that question with Japan.
The Atlantic Charter was the declaration of peace aims set forth by Roosevelt and Churchill on August 14, 1941 and later affirmed by representatives of twenty-six nations (in January 1942). Its key passage and promise lay in the third point--a declaration that the signatory nations
respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.
A July 23 Associated Press report from Potsdam authorized and allowed to stand by the Little White House in Germany stated that the Atlantic Charter broadcast to Japan "was known to have been made with the President's full knowledge."
On July 25 (reported in MAGIC on July 26), an intercepted message from Japanese Foreign Minister Togo to Ambassador Sato in Moscow cited the radio broadcast--and stated without reservation:
The fact that the Americans alluded to the Atlantic Charter is particularly worthy of attention at this time. It is impossible for us to accept unconditional surrender, no matter in what guise, but it is our idea to inform them by some appropriate means that there is no objection to the restoration of peace on the basis of the Atlantic Charter.
Three days before Hiroshima was bombed President Truman and his top advisers agreed Japan was seeking peace, but the President feared Tokyo would negotiate a surrender through Russia:
The diary of Walter Brown--an assistant to Secretary of State James F. Byrnes-- records that aboard ship returning from Potsdam on August 3, 1945 the President, Byrnes and Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President, "agrred [sic] Japas [sic] looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."...
The Joint Chiefs of Staff never formally studied the decision and never made an official recommendation to the President. Brief informal discussions may have occurred, but no record even of these exists. There is no record whatsoever of the usual extensive staff work and evaluation of alternative options by the Joint Chiefs, nor did the Chiefs ever claim to be involved.
In official internal military interviews, diaries and other private as well as public materials, literally every top U.S. military leader involved subsequently stated that the use of the bomb was not dictated by military necessity...
Curtis E. LeMay... said flatly at one press conference that the atomic bomb "had nothing to do with the end of the war." He said the war would have been over in two weeks without the use of the atomic bomb or the Russian entry into the war.
The text of the press conference provides these details:
LeMay: The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb.
The Press: You mean that, sir? Without the Russians and the atomic bomb?
LeMay: The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.
In his article A Postwar Myth: 500,000 U.S. Lives Saved, Barton Bernstein challenged the popular belief of how many Americans would have been killed in an invasion of Japan... Bernstein documented that:
1) such a high estimate was not believed by U.S. leaders prior to the Hiroshima bombing;
2) it was specifically rejected by General Marshall and others; and
3) U.S. leaders guessed before Hiroshima was A-bombed that American invasion deaths would be between 20,000 - 46,000. Some have twisted Bernstein's meaning to be that we should have sacrificed 46,000 Americans to avoid using a-bombs on Japan. This was not Bernstein's position at all.
Rather, the post-war need to exaggerate how many lives the A-bombs "saved", once the emotionalism of war was over, indicated possible doubts by U.S. leaders as to whether the atomic bombings had really been necessary:
"Perhaps in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Truman developed a need to exaggerate the number of U.S. lives that the bombs might have saved... Believing ultimately in the myth of 500,000 lives saved may have been a way of concealing ambivalence, even from himself. The myth also helped deter Americans from asking troubling questions about the use of the atomic bombs."
(from A Postwar Myth).
As I've noted in my article, the choice in 1945 was not as simple as either invasion or a-bombs.
In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Japan almost 60 years ago, and then for decades afterward, the United States engaged in airtight suppression of all film shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings. This included footage shot by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams. In addition, for many years all but a handful of newspaper photographs were seized or prohibited.
The public did not see any of the newsreel footage for 25 years, and the U.S. military film remained hidden for nearly four decades.
...E&P broke the story that articles written by famed Chicago Daily News war correspondent George Weller about the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki were finally published, in Japan, almost six decades after they had been spiked by U.S. officials. This drew national attention, but suppressing film footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was even more significant, as this country rushed into the nuclear age with its citizens having neither a true understanding of the effects of the bomb on human beings, nor why the atomic attacks drew condemnation around the world.
Long-time historian of the atomic bombings Barton Bernstein has taken a cautious view of what might have been: "Taken together, some of these alternatives [to dropping atomic bombs on Japan] - promising to retain the Japanese monarchy, awaiting the Soviets' entry, and even more conventional bombing - very probably could have ended the war before the dreaded invasion [of the Japanese mainland by the Allies]. Still, the evidence - to borrow a phrase from F.D.R. - is somewhat 'iffy', and no one who looks at the intransigence of the Japanese militarists should have full confidence in those other strategies. But we may well regret that these alternatives were not pursued and that there was not an effort to avoid the use of the first A-bomb - and certainly the second." (Barton Bernstein, The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered, Foreign Affairs, Jan./Feb. 1995, pg. 150).
Japan had received what would seem to have been overwhelming shocks. Yet, after two atomic bombings, massive conventional bombings, and the Soviet invasion, the Japanese government still refused to surrender.
The Potsdam Proclamation had called for "Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers" (U.S. Dept. of State, Potsdam 2, pg. 1475). On the 13th, the Supreme Council For the Direction of the War (known as the "Big 6") met to address the Potsdam Proclamation's call for surrender. Three members of the Big 6 favored immediate surrender; but the other three - (War Minister Anami, Army Chief of Staff Umezu, and Navy Chief of Staff Toyoda - adamantly refused. The meeting adjourned in a deadlock, with no decision to surrender (Butow, pg. 200-202).
Later that day the Japanese Cabinet met. It was only this body - not the Big 6, not even the Emperor - that could rule as to whether Japan would surrender. And a unanimous decision was required (Butow, pg. 176-177, 208(43n)). But again War Minister Anami led the opponents of surrender, resulting in a vote of 12 in favor of surrender, 3 against, and 1 undecided. The key concern for the Japanese military was loss of honor, not Japan's destruction. Having failed to reach a decision to surrender, the Cabinet adjourned (Sigal, pg. 265-267).
U.S. leaders guessed before Hiroshima was A-bombed that American invasion deaths would be between 20,000 - 46,000.
... a text in the first script read: 'After the war, estimates of the number of casualties to be expected in an invasion of Japan were as high as half a million or more American dead. . . . In fact, military staff studies in the spring of 1945 estimated thirty to fifty thousand casualties -- dead and wounded -- in "Olympic," the invasion of Kyushu. Based on the Okinawa campaign, that would have meant perhaps ten thousand American dead. Military planners made no firm estimates for "Coronet," the second invasion [of Honshu], but losses would clearly have been higher . . . . Early U.S. studies . . . underestimated Japanese defenses . . . . On June 18, 1945, Admiral Leahy pointed out that, if the 'Olympic' invasion force took casualties at the same rate as Okinawa [about 35 percent] that could mean 268,000 casualties (about 50,000 dead) on Kyushu.'
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