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The Atomic Bombing of Japan and the End of the Pacific War – August 1945

A Personal and Historical Reflection

“It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it. “

General Robert E. Lee

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. “

general Douglas MacArthur

 In the spirit of full disclosure, I can honestly say that if the Pacific war did not end in August of 1945 I might not be here so I guess you can say I am a bit biased on this historical debate. In August of 1945 my father was temporarily stationed at Camp Crowder Missouri. He was granted an emergency furlough when he was outside Paris in the Army Medical Corps after the Germans surrendered earlier in May when he received a telegram that his mother was gravely ill. After long plane trip home (which included an emergency landing in Greenland) and his ten-day furlough he was sent to Missouri for waiting orders that would have redeployed him to Pacific theatre. After surviving two years of service during the war against Germany in Britain and France I would imagine he would have been very anxious at the possibility of being sent to support the impending invasion of Japan he and many of his fellow GI’s thought it would be a one way trip.

America at the beginning of August 1945, was a nation longing for peace, Germany had surrendered but there were no signs that Japan was going to surrender at anytime soon. In the advance throughout the pacific each subsequent victory was more costly than the previous one and the most costly was the recent taking of Okinawa which was horrendous in its brutality. Japan had just rejected the Potsdam Declaration which called for their unconditional surrender.

Allied planners were grim in their assessments on the cost of the planned invasion of Japan named operation “Downfall” which was to be in two stages. operation “Olympic” was to commence on November 1, 1945 which would involve a landing on Japan’s southern most Island (Kyushu) and operation “Coronet” which was to commence on March 1, 1946 with a landing near Tokyo. The Joint Chiefs of Staff who were most in favor of an immediate invasion conducted a conservative study based on casualty figures from the recent battles of Okinawa & Iwo Jima.  This study concluded the combined casualty figures would be 267,000 dead, and 1.2 million allied casualties. Secretary of War Henry Stimson who had reservations of  to an invasion of Japan in 1945 preferring to wait until 1946 or later had his staff do a study. The results of that study showed 1.7 to 4 million casualties including 400,000 To 700,000 allied dead. This study also estimated Japanese casualties to be 5 to 10 million.

Many critics of the use of the two atomic bombs said that Japan should have been given more time to surrender before the use of these weapons. Some critics also state the use of these bombs were immoral and should never have been used at all. There are many rebuttals to that argument and I will give a few of them. The wholesale destruction of Japanese cities had already begun early in 1945 with the capture of the island of Iwo Jima in February and March of that year.  B-29 Super fortresses were raining down death and destruction with one of the greatest raids conducted on March 9-10th. During that raid the US Army Air Corps dropped incendiary bombs that killed approx 80,000-140,000 inhabitants of Tokyo and destroying 60 % of the buildings in the city. The raids on other Japanese cities killed thousands of additional civilians.

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki killed a total of approx 240,000 in total.  Even if the atomic bombs were not used and the invasion was delayed until late 1946 hoping that the Japanese would surrender there were plans to “conventionally” bomb other industrial centers in Japan. So my question to the critics of the atomic bombings is it more humane to be killed by conventional ordinance over many weeks or months or by nuclear weapons in 2 missions.

Records after the war show Japanese had no intention of surrender as they were busy training civilians (Including school age children) to fight the American invader as soon as they landed on Japanese soil. The Japanese military was even thinking of using poison gas as they did earlier in the war against China. American military planners were also pondering the thought of using poison gas if needed during the planned invasion.  Japanese prison commanders were given orders to execute thousands of American, British, Dutch, Australian & French prisoners of war as soon as the invasion started.

The Japanese only surrendered after two events: first the atomic bombings and second the entering of the war and the subsequent invasion of  Manchuria by the Soviet Union. Proof of this is that the Japanese general staff in their communications terrified of the sight of the hordes of Russian soldiers streaming across the Chinese frontier.  After all this it still took the Japanese emperor Hirohito to break the deadlock of his cabinet to stop the war as many urged him to continue with the fight.

History shows that the correct decision was made by President Harry Truman to try to end this slaughter as quickly as possible. My question to the critics would be this: if president Truman decided not to use the bombs and an invasion took place costing hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers and millions of Japanese lives both military & civilian and the public found out that a weapon existed that could have shortened the war and not used. How would have the public reacted? I would suggest at best he would have been impeached.

War is one of the most terrible acts that mankind commits. In this case the war that had to be fought to free millions of enslaved people had to be brought to an end as quickly as possible. In war we sometimes have to make hard decisions and we can only pray and hope we choose the most humane ones.

Just my opinion-D.B.

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