Dropping the Bomb

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In history, there's a fallacy called presentism: judging the past by the values, knowledge or biases of today. Real historians try to avoid it, polemics posing as historians can't stop doing it. The "defeated Japan” theory, and the idea that “the U.S. didn’t NEED to drop the bomb” is regularly regurgitated by folks like Oliver Stone (the alternative History professor) in articles repeated as News or History by leftist sources such as the L.A. Times. Then when a real History Professor debunks the article, the rebuttal is not published or referenced. So the lazy feel that the this fictional propaganda is uncontested truth, while only those who are intellectually curious enough to research find that Stone's hit-piece on our intellect is a waste of trees. See footnotes for some better source material: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Issue Lie Truth
Dropping the Bomb

Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

Japan was about to surrender, and all of Truman’s cabinet warned him not to drop the bomb, but he did it anyways to intimidate the Russians. Japan wanted to negotiate a conditional surrender since before the war started, but even after two Nuclear Bombs and the threat of more coming, they still had 3 attempted Coups’ (kidnappings of the Emperor) to try to prevent him from surrendering because they wanted to fight on.


I'm not judging the validity of war, this war, our actions in it, nor claiming that the Bomb is a good thing. Many of our actions were debatable; from starting the war by embargoing Japan, undeclared acts of war/provocation like the Flying Tigers, bombing population centers (firebombing of Tokyo), and don't get me started on internment of Japanese/German/Italian Americans. And the A-Bomb was an atrocity, but all war is a series of atrocities, until one side surrenders -- that's why you should avoid wars! (They don't bring out the best in mankind). Every action in a war, needs to be measured in context, and compared to the alternatives, or the other side. The Japanese were enslaving people, beheading prisoners, mass murder (rape of nanking), medical experimentation, bataan death march, and so on. We were kittens in the pacific theater (even using the bomb). So, like it or not, the biggest bastard sets the rules of a war. Japan had made civilians valid targets by what they did to the other sides civilians. And our treatment of them was better than they did to us, or anyone else. And even ignoring that critical context, the argument that "Japan was ready to surrender", or "the bombing was to impress Russia", are blatant revisionist falsehoods.

My motives and timing

The reason for this article, now, is:

  1. Memorial Day; remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. Honoring their memory is remembering their service (in context) . Not dishonoring it with inventions to support the political propaganda of today.
  2. President Obama's lack-of-diplomacy tour tried to miseducate the gullible (or at least embolden the stupid). His visit to Hiroshima visit demanded a history lesson as a response.

In international etiquette world leaders don't do certain symbolic things because of deeper traditions and meanings. Obama either doesn't understand basic etiquette, or actively chooses to be a boorish lout. For example, he was warned by State, not to belittle the office by bowing to foreign sovereigns. So he ignored them and did it repeatedly (8 times) and failed to even do that right (see: Obama: Bowgate for more). Then Wikileaks revealed he went on to ignore the advice of Japan's Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka warning when he said this was a "non-starter" and that he should not go to Hiroshima and apologize. But our never-wrong President decided to ignore their advice, and make a fool of himself (see: Obama: HiroshimaGate for more).

That and the FB debates around this, motivated me to collect the notes and history I had, and put them into this article.

Japan knew from BEFORE attacking Pearl Harbor that they could not win the war

There are many that use false communications to claim that Americans advised against the bomb's use. Those vary from fabrication to revisionism, to exaggeration, to cultural cluelessness. I'll go through some examples/details at the end of the article. Most of these involve discussions of Japan's surrender (that were going on, all during the war) as proof that we didn't need to bomb them. But Japan was discussing those terms in some forms, from before the war.

Like Germany, before WWII Japan knew they couldn’t win a protracted war with the U.S. and Europe, their only hope was their naval version of Blitzkrieg called Kantai Kessen (decisive battle).[6] They needed a quick naval victory, and then to lure the U.S. fleet into a big naval battle on their terms, so they could win decisively (like they'd done to the Russians in the battle of Tsushima in 1905).[7] Then after having taken a ton of islands/resources, destroying the U.S. fleet, and attritting the U.S. with conter-attacks (and with such suicidal abandon), that the weak Americans would finally give up, and let them sue for terms of peace on favorable terms (which would leave them ahead of where they had started).

Yamamoto's famous quote after Pearl Harbor was, "A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'"... "I can run wild for six months... after that, I have no expectation of success". (And variants of that had been said before the attack as well). Japan knew they were doomed from the beginning. You could say they were defeated on December 7 1941, and the whole war was unnecessary. All we had to do is find terms amenable to Japan and capitulate to them, thus the entire war was our fault. But that's not how war works (it's not what Americans would have accepted at the time, and the President knew that).

At the time, there was the choice of: (a) Japanese defeat (unconditional surrender), or (b) American defeat (accepting a conditional surrender by Japan). Japan’s eventual demise was pretty much a given, all along. Still, they got close enough to a victory a couple times (Midway and Leyte Gulf could have easily gone the other way). But even that victory would have been to force us to a bargaining table. They never had plans or ability to invade the U.S. mainland, and couldn't occupy us or force us to surrender, so negotiated surrender/peace from their side, was always their plan.

So why fight on, if they were doomed?

Remember the context, Japan was a militaristic culture with the code of Bushido (the idea that surrender was more dishonorable than death by fighting or suicide) and that Japan was about face/honor, and they had committed massive atrocities, and they knew it. They knew their leadership (especially military leadership) would be held accountable for war crimes, and humiliated, and so for some reason those leaders opted to avoid the spectacle of their own hanging. They didn't fear death, but they detested the idea of dishonor and shame that would come with a surrender that they couldn't spin as a victory or part of their plans all along.

For the majority of the war, the civilians and military in Japan debated the following 4 terms:

  1. preservation of Kokutai (their culture and system of government) [8]
  2. disarmament would be up to Japan's military council
  3. no American occupation
  4. only the Japanese government would punish war criminals

The hawks wanted all four guaranteed before they would surrender, and the doves wanted a subset of only #1. But the Military controlled the country (and had most of the hawks), and the civilians couldn't do anything without military approval (which had veto rights). Oh, and a few that suggested peace or surrender too loudly were assassinated for treason. Guess who kept winning the arguments, and would have indefinitely?

So whenever you hear quotes that Japan was on the verge of surrender before the bomb, you have to remember that they were on the verge of it, before the war, and at every stage of it. But it wasn't going to happen unless the U.S. surrendered what victory in a war would mean first. And that just wasn't going to happen.

The idea that Truman could have accepted conditional surrender is the worst form of Presentism. Japan was not defeated until they admitted defeat (unconditional surrender). In the context of that time, Japan had to surrender, unconditionally, after Pearl Harbor. Period. They HAD to admit defeat and NOT get what they want. Then we could be magnanimous in their defeat, and give them some of what they valued back. But anything other than that, left doubt that they had lost, and set a precedent for future acceptible behavior. That's how wars work. And especially with Japan's ego/pride -- they would latch on any conditional terms to claim some weird victory; so we had to demand defeat (unconditional surrender of them, as we had Germany). So while technically they floated the idea of some conditional peace after every battle they won or lost, and we could have negotiated a compromise in 1940 (before the war ever started), it was politically untenable until there was a clear winner/loser, and Japan was slow and stubborn about accepting that they were wrong.

Thus, war was never a necessity. We could have turned the other cheek and capitulated after Pearl Harbor, and avoided further conflict by surrendering over 1B people and the majority of the pacific ocean to Japanese imperialism. But that wasn't going to happen. Or we could go to war, and once in war, our only choice palatable to the American public (of the time), was removing all threat by them as a nation, by demanding unconditional surrender and dismantling their war machine, and society, and remaking it.

What were the alternatives?

Japan was not going to surrender. We know they were going to continue to fight, because they did so. Proof that they weren’t willing to surrender (unconditionally) is that they had not. They had years and years and many opportunities, and they kept NOT-surrendering. Those claiming that Japan was on the verge of surrender in June or July, omit that in August we dropped two atomic bombs, Russia entered the war, and still at the talk of surrender they had 3 attempted Coups (kidnappings of the Emperor) to prevent the emperor from publicly admitting defeat and surrendering. If they fought that hard against surrender in August, I have no idea what delusions make those people think they would have done it months earlier with less reason for doing so. In post war interviews, their leadership admitted they'd talked about terms, but they wanted to die with honor. It was the dishonor of watching their cities burn, while they could do nothing to stop it or retaliate, that caused them to capitulate.

Instead of surrendering, a year earlier, Secret War Journal of the Imperial Headquarters [9] concluded in June/July 1944, "We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. The only course left is for Japan's one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight.” That was a full year before the bombs, and rather than surrendering or planning for it, they planned Operation Ketsugō (“decisive")[10] to defend Kyūshū (where they felt the invasion would come from) in response to that admission. And we had planned Operation Downfall, to invade Kyūshū [11]. Their military slogan adopted in the summer of 1945 reflected that, "The sooner the Americans come, the better... One hundred million die proudly." They wanted to make the German fight to the end, look like pussies. Another irony that shows the mindset, is that even though the census showed Japan's population was 70M people, their sloganeering said, "one hundred million". In Japan it is better to go along with the lie, that stand out by questioning it.

Japan's plans (Ketsugo) overestimated the U.S. attacks to contain 90 divisions (our invasion plans only had 54 divisions). Japan still had 65 divisions (900,000 men) with nearly 400,000 artillery pieces, 12,700 aircraft (about half of them prepared for Kamikaze attacks), 3,000 ships including four battleships, five aircraft carriers, two cruisers, 23 destroyers, and 46 submarines and arming the area with 40% of all the ammunition in Japan at the time— and they were planning on maximizing damage on the invasion fleet hoping that would give them better terms for peace, or at least honorable deaths. They had also trained 28 million civilians (including Women and Children) on how to suicide attack and take an American soldier with them using muskets, spears, bows, and daggers. These are not the actions of a War culture (that values death by suicide), contemplating surrender.

How many casualties this would have resulted in varies widely:

  • Truman claimed in his memoirs that he was advised from 250,000 - 1,000,000 allied casualties, with 10x that in Japanese ones, and those estimates fit others of the time
  • Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bard (who the anti-Bomb folks, love to quote), estimated at least 1M allied casualties
  • Truman Library shows Marshall saying "one quarter of a million would be the minimum", and "as much as a million" phrase was added to the final draft by Truman's staff.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff had previously concluded that 1.6 million U.S. casualties (including 380,000 dead)
  • The Joint War Plans Committee (that Marshal and MacArthur signed), estimated an invasion of Japan would result in 40,000 U.S. dead and 150,000 wounded, and a 22:1 ratio for Japanese to American deaths/casualties -- but that was if the whole thing lasted only two weeks (and not the full 4 months it was projected to take). So that was only for the initial assault, not full campaign and occupation
  • The common opinion of total Japanese deaths was "conservatively" five to ten million Japanese deaths, based on Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy's commissioned study (done by William Shockley and Quincy Wright). Based on death totals at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the 22:1 numbers were probably too conservative
  • The U.S. military had nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals manufactured in anticipation of potential casualties from the planned invasion of Japan

So whichever numbers you agree with, the lowest end best case estimates would have the numbers at 40,000 Americans and 900,000 Japanese dead, with 150K and 3.3M Japanese casualties. But that assumes that the Japanese, which fought with such passion in Okinawa, would roll over and fight less hard, once it was their homeland. (Quite a stretch).

So the real alternatives seem to have been:

  • (a) 110K that died in the two atomic bombs
  • (b) invasion and the massive firebombing's that would have killed conservatively 940K-10M people (and many more American lives)
  • (c) a few hypothesized (after the fact) that a mere blockade would have ended the war (eventually) without American lives (thus the bombing was unneeded), but that little nugget of delusional presentism underestimates Japanese determination, overestimates american patience, how many millions would have starved to death in the resulting famines, or the fact that a starvation siege like that was never even in the consideration (so irrelevant)

Why the second bomb?

Now there's a subset of the revisionists that claim only the second bomb was unnecessary. But that's a distraction, if Japan had wanted to surrender after the first one, they could have. They didn't. They didn't know if we could make more than one of what had hit them, or not. There was even internal debate as to the cause, or disbelief that it had happened. The fact that the first bomb hardly phased them goes to show that fools like Ralph Bard that advocated demonstrating it by blowing up a non-populated island, or other stunt, wasn't going to impress surrender -- because even after nuking a city, they didn't surrender. It took a second city, and the bluff of many more coming that brought them to surrender, and nothing less, or they would have surrendered before that.


So we can play what if's all day long, but that isn't history, that's a alternate reality. Japan could have admitted defeat at any time. We could have too. They were still going to fight for honor to the last person if needed, until their God-King admitted defeat -- and we were going to fight until they admitted that defeat. That was what the war was all about. We owe them no apology for that. They still owe the world undelivered apologies over some of their behaviors that they deny or ignore.

History teaches us that Japan was not ready to accept real defeat (e.g. they were not defeated) until August 10, and only AFTER two bombs were dropped (and they thought many more were coming), anyone saying otherwise is out-of-touch with history. The facts are, they were only defeated after Hirohito surrendered unconditionally, and it was their recalcitrance to do that which caused them to get bombed twice, and nothing else.

What we know is there was never any real doubt we'd drop the bomb. It was a $30B+ investment into ending the war if the Germans or Japanese hadn't surrendered by the time they were ready, they hadn't. That was it. Almost all the debate about it's use came after the war, as a few politicians posed for the history books by pretending they'd offered sage advice against it -- while the evidence of them actually doing that is pretty scant, and irrelevant. Even if they did, for each that did, there were thousands in the establishment, and the entire public sentiment, that was behind their use and ending the war as quickly as possible. Japan or Germany would have dropped it on us, in a second. And any President that could have saved American lives by using the bomb, and didn't, would have been impeached and gone down in history as a failure. FDR and Truman knew that. So there was never any doubt that it would be used if Japan hadn't surrendered in time. And they had not. And they were still many months and millions of lives away from doing so.

Japan was destined to lose (from before Pearl Harbor), but that's not the same as ready to accept defeat or surrender. They were taking glory in fighting for their honor, and they would rather die that surrender. We know from interviews and analysis that they weren't ready to surrender. Thus, the bombs are all on Japan for not surrendering. So life lesson: don't start wars. They end with both sides doing things they'll regret. But the first rule of war, is to win. Your very survival may depend on it. Then, if you win by doing what is necessary, you will give your progeny the luxury of questioning (and second guessing) your actions, from the comfort of the freedoms you provided.

If you're lucky, one of them, might be a historically illiterate limosine-liberal, anti-American, President, with a penchant for saying/doing the dumbest foreign policy things.



📚 References



Revising history

In any large country or company, you’re going to have people advocating opposing positions. Finding a few activists or historians, claiming they know better than everyone else for attention, is not uncommon. But to have weight, there has to be verifiable evidence and many of them, or their claims will be lost to time. Most of the claims below, don't come out looking very good by that standard. So while their claims may appeal to the fringes of society, the evidence is scant at best -- and usually by some source that wasn't taken seriously at the time, or was shown to be wrong (and thus discounted). But claiming the "bomb was unnecessary" fits a political agenda, so they get often repeated and seldom fact checked, by the polemics, or quoted out of context. Here's the most important erroneous quotes (not that they weren't actually made, but that they were all proven wrong -- so they don't prove the anti-America crowd correct, as they think -- but shows that their sources are flawed):

❝ The head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) mentioned that Japan had indicated that they might surrender between mid-June and July ❞
❝ it was his belief in May 1945 that Japan's surrender "can be arranged" ❞
❝ Memo to Truman stating that the Japanese are looking for a way to surrender ❞
❝ Combined Chiefs of Staff stated that the Japanese would be likely to accept U.S. terms of surrender, and there was no need for invasion. ❞
❝ "I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act." and "I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives" ❞
United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that the Atomic Bomb was unnecessary, "Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated" ❞

Here's more on some of the quotes favored by the anti-A-Bomb folks, but it's a lot more of the same -- out of context quotes, most not verifiable, muddling conditional surrender with real surrender, or their voices were so in the minority (and their reputations besmirched by other things) that they didn't matter.

Pictorial reminders of why the Bomb was justified

Written: 2016.05.28