Monday, April 13, 2009


On the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan, from David McCullough's Truman (1992) at 437:
Some critics and historians in years to come would argue that Japan was already finished by this time, just as Eisenhower had said and as several intelligence reports indicated. Japan's defeat, however, was not the issue. It was Japan's surrender that was so desperately wanted, since every day Japan did not surrender meant the killing continued. In theory, Japan had been defeated well before Truman became President. (Studies by the Japanese themselves had determined a year and a half before, by January 1944, that Japan had lost the war.) Yet in the three months since Truman took office, American battle casualties in the Pacific were nearly half the total from three years of war in the Pacific. The nearer victory came, the heavier the price in blood. And whatever the projected toll in American lives in an invasion, it was too high if it could be avoided.


Thai said...

I couldn't agree more. My grandfather's '36 Naval Academy class lost >60% of it's graduates to that conflict. People who miss this point just don't get it.

Carl said...

Agreed. In social/political contexts, I sometimes use the issue as a test for whether a person is too liberal to be worth debating.

Tom Carter said...

One of my favorite discussions, Carl. There's not one single argument attempting to cast doubt on the decision to bomb that holds water. The list is long indeed, but just a few examples:

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved, as a minimum, hundreds of thousands of U.S. lives and millions of Japanese lives. The Japanese had the entire population trained and prepared to fight to the death, and anyone who denies that is simply ignorant.

We couldn't have done a "demonstration" bombing, which certainly wouldn't have frightened the Japanese anyway, because we only had two functional bombs at that point. They were different types, and we didn't even know if either of them would work. Wasting one on a demonstration would have been a very poor decision, especially if it had been a dud.

There were many bombing raids in Japan and Germany that were about as deadly (certainly taken cumulatively) and just as horrific as what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A single B-29 fire-bombing raid on Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945 killed at least 100,000 people and perhaps very many more, and their deaths were just as horrible as those of the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The atomic bombs are used by leftists and assorted America-haters (many of them Americans) to indict the U.S. Their ignorance is boundless.

OBloodyHell said...

There's another, more critical reason that the USA wanted the war over early...

With the end of the War in Europe, it was fully expected that this would free up the Soviet military sufficiently that they would have been into the Pacific War in a matter of another month or so. This would have resulted in an almost certain "partitioning" of Japan between the USA and the USSR...

OBloodyHell said...

And onto another related point I consider particularly significant...

On the 45th anniversary of Hiroshima (1990), Nightline centered on the use of the bomb, and one of the chief "guest" commentators was SF author Harlan Ellison.

Ellison pointed out something fairly interesting (and even more relevant now, 19 more years later)

"The Bomb" had not been used -- not once -- in the ensuing 45 years (now 64) after that initial usage.

This is unprecedented in human history since kings stopped riding into battle at the head of their armies.There is NO other weapon, since that change in the behavior of the military/leaders, for which this is true. All new weapons have led to subsequent usage, usually within a decade or two.

"The Bomb" is fairly unique in this sense -- it threatens those whose decision it is to go to war even more than it does the average joe who has to prosecute the war "in person". You and I might lose our lives, and that's pretty significant to us, but the Power Elite are likely to lose substantial, if not all, of their wealth, power, and prestige even IF they aren't killed.

Now, I cite to you to consider this -- suppose the weapon had NOT been used? Suppose the imagery of the results had NOT been shown so very visibly to the Power Elite as little as 15-20 yars later, when the Cuban Missle Crisis occurred? With far, far more devastating weapons?

Are we so sure that they would have stepped back from the brink without those very graphic images of the real results of the usage of these weapons?

It would not amaze me to find out that, in any of a trillion "alternate universes", where we did NOT bomb Japan, you would be highly likely to find a radioactive wasteland populated by savages and the remnants of a shattered civilization.

I cite to you, it's quite possible that those 100,000 dead may well have saved the lives of billions...

Yeah, it's only speculation, but it's got a ring of possible, if not likely, truth behind it.

OBloodyHell said...

> Studies by the Japanese themselves had determined a year and a half before, by January 1944, that Japan had lost the war.

I believe that it was Yamamoto's firm belief that, having failed to take out any of our aircraft carriers during Pearl, that they had lost the war then and there -- it was only a matter of time. He didn't make it widely known, but he supposedly said that when he found out that none of the carriers was in-port during the attack (and that "convenient" absence is also one of the reasons for the persistent rumours regarding the idea that FDR knew an attack was immanent)

Yamamoto had toured the USA in the decade or so before -- He KNEW the weight of the industrial power the USA could throw against them, and that Japan was fighting utterly out of its league.

That was the underlying reason for the sneak attack -- in his considered opinion they had to hit us so hard and so fast and wipe out so much that we would sue for peace of necessity right out of the gate, which would hopefully buy them sufficient time to ramp up their own capabilities before hostilities began anew.

Carl said...


But remember, Yamamoto was long dead by spring '45, and besides none of those present during the decision to drop the bomb, nor the official histories I have read, suggest that the use of the bomb was intended to keet the Soviets out of the Pacific. Truman himself asked for a committment from Stalin to join the Pacific war when they met a Potsdam, a meeting that ended August 2nd. And, in fact, the Soviets invaded Manchuria within hours of the first bomb explosion.

Carl said...


I absolutely agree.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

OBH, that Harlan Ellison observation is quite interesting.

OBloodyHell said...

> But remember, Yamamoto was long dead by spring '45,

How is this relevant? I'm saying that it was Yamamoto's expert opinion that RIGHT THERE, in 1941, they had lost the war. I'm not saying that had any official effect on the Japanese prosecution of the war. Almost certainly not. Yamamoto was certainly a Japanese patriot, and fully intended to do the best he could for Japan. But he knew right then and there, as a professional soldier, that the effort was doomed.

Yamamoto knew that Japan was, in the short-term that mattered, simply unable to match a substantial fraction of the US's industrial output of war materiel and personnel, even with the addition of the resources available from the conquest of SE Asia and China (which actually stressed their personnel needs even more, though adding to their available resources).

> and besides none of those present during the decision to drop the bomb, nor the official histories I have read, suggest that the use of the bomb was intended to keet the Soviets out of the Pacific.

I've read this in several places. I'm not sure it would be "official" sources, since it would have been most impolitic to mention it in such -- the Soviets were still supposed to be our allies at that point.

> Truman himself asked for a committment from Stalin to join the Pacific war when they met a Potsdam, a meeting that ended August 2nd. And, in fact, the Soviets invaded Manchuria within hours of the first bomb explosion.

For show, again, I believe. I don't believe Truman liked Stalin at that point (I could be mistaken on that, I grant). He already recognized him for the SOB that he was.

Further, he did not, then, know for sure if the bombs would work -- if he DID have to invade the home islands, he wasn't about to want to place the burden entirely on the USA.

And I suspect you'll find some reference to keeping the Soviets out of the Pacific arena if you go looking for it.

I mean, come on -- even on basis -- we'd prosecuted the entire Pacific war without anyone else's real help (well, ANZAC, but they were hardly a powerhouse)... would you really want to give up sole control over the results of that to some Johnny-come-lately that steps in in the final months with a few thousand men? I don't think so.

The idea that we *wanted* to share that with the Soviets -- especially if our distrust for them was already building as I believe there is ample evidence for -- is ludicrous right on the surface.

OBloodyHell said...

P.S., there are a lot of less-obvious things about WWII that aren't widely distributed in a standard education.

The concept that the US is the reason Germany lost the war is only indirectly correct. It was US support for the Soviets which allowed Russia to hold off the German onslaught -- first at Moscow (which fighting actually made it into the streets at the periphery of Moscow), then at Stalingrad (which literally tore the city to pieces). It was that which truly destroyed Germany. The fight for Moscow, while costing the Soviets dearly (10-20 million, I have heard, civilians and military), severely blunted the German war machine of talented and experienced infantrymen and tank crews, as well as highlighting the one thing that the Soviets really had -- the T-34 tank, which was arguably the best tank in production during the war (designed by an American, natch) -- if the Soviet tank crews had had a substantial fraction of the talent of the German tank crews, the Eastern front would have belonged to the Soviets in weeks. As it was, they had to pay the price in casualties to develop their abilities.

By the time the next year's offensive -- 1943 -- at Stalingrad -- rolled around, the Germans were forced to use allied Eastern European troops to back up the German spearhead. This attributed considerably to both the failure to take Stalingrad and also to the subsequent severe collapse and capture of widespread forces in the retreat.

By the time the USA really got into the fight -- 1944, they were already fighting the German second and third stringers and raw recruits. Talented, for sure, but hardly the fighting force that overran Europe in 1938, 1939, and 1940.

The Soviets could not have withstood the German war machine without vast amounts of the USA's industrial help -- but it was the USSR, not the USA, which really took down Germany -- in 1942 and 1943. That's not the way it's usually taught in school.