By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for the daily POR ESTO! of Merida, Mexico.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann.
In the summer of 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman sought a decisive blow against the Japanese Empire. Despite the allies’ many victories during 1944 and 1945, Truman believed that Emperor Hirohito would urge his generals to continue the fight. The United States had suffered 76,000 casualties in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and the Truman administration anticipated that a prolonged invasion of continental Japan would bring even more devastating numbers. However, Washington was developing plans for a final assault on Japan that it named Operation Downfall.
Estimates of possible mortality were frightening. The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that the casualties would be 1.2 million. Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur predicted more than 1,000 casualties per day, while the Department of the Navy predicted four million. They estimated that Japan’s enemies would have up to ten million casualties. The slightly more optimistic Los Angeles Times projected “only” one million deaths.
From these figures, it was no wonder that the United States chose the nuclear option when it dropped the bomb called Little Boy on Hiroshima on August 6 and then Fat Man on Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered 24 days later, avoiding the dreaded predictions of millions of American deaths cited here.
“Such is the narrative that has been taught in American schools. But like so many other historical versions, it turned out to be an oversimplification and historically distorted,” says Alan Mosley in an article published in the Russian Strategic Culture Online Journal on December 31, 2018.
When President Truman approved the deployment of the new atomic bombs, he was convinced that the Japanese planned to continue the war until the bitter end. Many have argued that victim estimates forced him to act cautiously for the lives of U.S. soldiers in the Pacific, but this version ignores that other figures close to Truman came to the opposite conclusion.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “I was against the use of the atomic bomb for two reasons. First, because the Japanese were ready to surrender and it was unnecessary to hit them with the horrible bomb. Second, because I hated that our country was the first to use that weapon. He used the same argument as then-Secretary of War Henry Stimson in 1945, who recounts in his memoirs:
“I expressed my grave doubts to him, first because I believed that Japan had already been defeated and dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and second because I believed that our country should not scandalize world public opinion through the use of a weapon whose use, in my opinion, was no longer obligatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, looking for some way to surrender at the lowest possible cost.
Fleet Admiral William Leahy, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer on active duty during World War II and one of Harry Truman’s top military advisers wrote in his 1950 book “I Was There,” “The use of this barbaric weapon in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material help in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective maritime blockade and the successful bombardment with conventional weapons.
Foreign Policy magazine wrote that the most critical day for Japan was August 9, the first day the Japanese Supreme Council met to seriously discuss surrender. The date is significant because it is not the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, but the day on which the Soviet Union entered the Pacific theater of war invading Japanese-occupied Manchuria on three fronts. Before August 8, the Japanese expected Russia to be an intermediary in negotiations for the end of the war, but when the Russians spoke out against Japan, they became an even greater threat to the Japanese than the United States.
Russia’s position, in fact, forced the Japanese to consider unconditional surrender. Until then, they were only open to a conditional surrender that would guarantee Emperor Hirohito some dignity and protection from war crimes trials. Foreign Policy concludes that, as in European theatre, Truman did not defeat Japan; Stalin did.
Truman never publicly regretted his decision to use atomic bombs. However, subsequent studies supported by testimonies of surviving Japanese leaders involved have testified that Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if an invasion had not been planned or contemplated.
April 17, 2019.