August 11, 2007

62 Years

Earlier this week saw the 62nd anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As is always the case, there were the usual gatherings of protester groups around Duckford, deploring the use of Fat Man and Little Boy. Usually I ignore these uninformed people, knowing that they are simply kneejerking to the anti-war sentiments of the Cold War era.

Unfortunately, I went to a grocery store today, and in the parking lot was a small group of noisy protestors. None of them were over 30, I'd guess, and none of them had any grasp of the history of the Pacific War, other than that the US was bad for using nukes.

A moment of insanity later, I found myself in a discussion with them. Unfortunately for them, I could answer any of their claims and provide references, to boot. Why?

I wrote a short paper on this topic a few years back, as part of an argument I was having.

Of course, they weren't really listening to me, one even going so far as to claim that the Japanese military was 'a band of noble warriors'. When I asked them about Unit 731 and Bataan (the first two things that lept to mind), they all gave me blank looks.

In the end, I told them that I agreed with them: nuclear weapons are terrible things, and I hoped they'd never be used again, but I disagreed with them regarding their use in WWII... and that I'd put my paper here on The Pond for them to read.

If any of them are reading this, welcome and click below for OLYMPIC AND TRINITY. If any of my usual readers have gotten this far, I'd enjoy your thoughts!

Olympic and Trinity:
The use of the A-Bomb in the Pacific War

Operation Olympic vs. Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Which was right?

The year is 1945. World War II is beginning to draw to a close. In Europe, Nazi Germany has been defeated and it’s just a matter of time before Japan would lose in the Pacific. But how much time, exactly, is the main question. Indeed, it’s the ONLY question that mattered, because of the one implacable equation in wartime: the longer a war goes, the higher the deathtoll.

The Japanese had shown an incredible tenaciousness as they’ve defended their way back across the Pacific Islands, as well as a willingness to fight to the death. Surrender is virtually unheard of. The average Japanese soldier knows no other way to fight, other than for the glory of the Emperor (who was considered a literal God on Earth) and the honor of his family and Country. Surrender or capture, to them, was considered a fate worse than death.

This appeared in a number of ways upon the battlefield. The infamous “Banzai charges,” for example, were not a waste of manpower (which is how we viewed it), but a final way to serve the Emperor when the situation was at it’s most bleak: ammunition low, food gone, position untenable. Retreating was uncommon by the Japanese army. Nothing, however, typifies this type of fighting better than the “Special Attack Units” that were formed late in the war.

These units were better known as Kamikaze.

These Kamikaze units, consisting of obsolescent planes and inexperienced (mostly) volunteer pilots with a zeal to do their duty for the Emperor, their Country, and their family honor, were without a doubt, the most effective weapon the Japanese had in the latter days of the Pacific War. Also without a doubt, they were the most chillingly foreign, to our way of thinking.

Consider that during the final land combat in the Pacific War, Saipan, nearly 30,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors fought to the death; only 921 (3 percent, roughly) were taken prisoner, causing 20 percent casualties to the 72,000-men strong American landing force (including 3,426 killed).

Then consider that the Japanese Home Islands had 3,500,000 soldiers based upon them. Then also consider that the Japanese military had begun to train the ordinary civilian (farmers, women, children, old men, and the infirm) in the use of spears, bow-and-arrow, and satchel charges (portable explosives, meant to be used in a suicide bombing run towards armor or personnel), adding many tens of millions of people to their available fighting force.

Imagine them all willing to die, because that was what they were taught to do for the sake of their Emperor, their Country, their family honor.

The US military had three choices at this point, if they were to bring the Pacific War to a conclusion, Japan having stated that they would not surrender:

1) Invade the Japanese Home Islands.
2) Blockade the Home Islands.
3) Drop the first atomic weapons.

Invading the Japanese Home Islands was easily the least palatable choice. Operation Olympic, as this invasion plan was called, would involve landing operations larger and much more difficult than the landings at the Normandy Beaches a year earlier. Longer distances for the landing craft to travel, no chances for deception (counter-intelligence operations run before the Normandy landings made Hitler believe that the landings were going to be at beaches far South of Normandy, leading him to station the majority of his panzer units in positions to defend the wrong beaches), and NO friendly and welcoming populace were just a few of the problems faced.

Casualty estimates for American soldiers varied widely, with the 20 percent figure from the Saipan battle often being thrown about. If this figure is used, then an expected number of 50,000 casualties being incurred by the American forces on the FIRST DAY ALONE would result, with the battle hardly getting any easier as time went on and a victory by invasion alone not guaranteed. The Japanese had over 5000 kamikaze aircraft hidden around the southern Japanese coast, aimed to strike at the invasion fleet, with more in wait.

Blockading the Home Islands in an attempt to starve the Japanese of the materials need to continue the war, such as oil and metals, also would have included removing from the people of the Home Islands food. This would have caused widespread famine on the Islands (indeed, only a massive influx of food from the USA after the formal surrender prevented this from happening anyway), effectively killing untold millions of innocent civilians.

Seen in this light, dropping the first atomic weapons in an attempt to shock the leaders of the Japanese Military (who were in effective control of the Country) and save the lives of not only hundreds of thousands American troops, but millions of Japanese people, seems to be an acceptable choice.

Consider also that the USSR had declared war on Japan just days before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had already begun to defeat the Japanese Manchukio Army (based in China) in direct combat, and had plans to invade the Northern Island of the Home Islands Chain. Many of the arguments used in the invasion of the Home Islands for the US would apply to an USSR invasion. Throw in the tense diplomatic feelings between the US and the USSR, and the division of Berlin probably would have been repeated in Tokyo, with serious repercussions worldwide in the future.

Understand that I do not applaud the use of the nuclear weapons. 200,000 people (estimated) died in the two attacks, an appalling loss of life. However, this loss of life would have been an untold number of times WORSE had they not been used. Certainly it would be an immensely different world that we live in today had the invasion or blockade plans been implemented. Consider:

Hundreds of thousands of American fighting men may very well have died in the invasion of Japan, an invasion that we were NOT guaranteed to be victorious in by any means (meaning that the atomic bombs would have been used ANYWAY). As one of this author's grandfathers was scheduled to be in the first wave of landing craft during Olympic, this author's never being born was one possible outcome of such an invasion.

Japan would have been, essentially, removed from the face of the earth as a civilized country, with the United States being unable (and possibly unwilling) to rebuild it anywhere near as fast as it was. The author is writing this article on a computer that was built using many technologies developed by the Japanese; chances are, it wouldn’t exist.

The USSR and the USA would have wound up toe-to-toe in TWO locations (Berlin and Tokyo), instead of just one. In Europe, NATO was formed to face the possible Soviet attack, with West Germany, England, France (at the beginning), and other countries helping to provide for the common defense of Europe. In Asia, there would be no such assistance available for the United States. World War III would have been many times more likely to erupt than it was (and that was close enough).

A different world indeed.

The deaths caused by the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible. The results of the alternatives would have been many times worse.


Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Richard B. Frank, Penguin Books, 1999

Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict, Edwin P. Hoyt, Cooper Square Press, 1986

Posted by: Wonderduck at 05:59 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
Post contains 1553 words, total size 9 kb.

1 I have a copy of Downfall on my own shelf. Bit thick for everyday reading, but it's just about as exhaustive as you can ask for on the topic...

Posted by: Avatar at August 12, 2007 05:51 AM (LMDdY)

2 A moment of insanity, indeed. One thing living in SF this long has taught me, is that if anyone feels strongly enough about something to go and protest it, there isn't anything anyone can say that would make them change their mind. Or at least admit to their protesting friends that they've changed it.

But your point about the justifications for the use of the bombs is well made. We can deplore their use, as well as deplore the horrible situation that led up to their use. What do these folks protest on Dec 7th?

Posted by: Vaucanson's Duck at August 13, 2007 09:36 AM (oplPK)

3 Consider also that the USSR had declared war on Japan just days before the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My histories put the Soviet declaration of war on Japan as August 8th, two days after and likely in response to the bombing of Hiroshima.

It's also interesting to note that the US ordered something like 500,000 Purple Hearts in preparation for the invasion of Japan. We're supposedly still issuing them today, and still have around 100,000 left.

It's also ironic that other than the nature of the weapon used, there's not much particularly different about Hiroshima and Nagasaki when compared to the rest of the bombing campaign. The results of firebombing a major industrial city aren't particularly nice.

Posted by: Civilis at August 13, 2007 10:09 AM (tGqGf)

4 Civilis, quite right on the date. The point made is still the same. I hadn't heard that Purple Heart story before... wonder if it's true? I can certainly believe it.

And, truth be told, the big firebombing of Tokyo actually killed MORE people and destroyed MORE of that city than either Bomb did. I'm not sure why that doesn't cause more outrage, except for the spectre of nuclear weapons. Well, nobody said the protestors has to be logical.

Vauc, they don't protest ANYthing on December 7th. Why should they, when some revisionist historians think Pearl Harbor was OUR fault? No, not just the stupid "Roosevelt knew!" conspiracy theories (hmmm... sounds kinda familiar), but also that since WE cut Japan's access to scrap metal and oil, by refusing to sell it to them, the Pacific War was the noble Japanese Warrior's reaction to being stabbed in the back.

China? Never mind all that, it wasn't important.
*rolls eyes*

Posted by: Wonderduck at August 13, 2007 12:30 PM (M7kiy)

5 Because I don't remember where I heard it, I searched and found the purple heart story at

Posted by: Civilis at August 13, 2007 02:09 PM (tGqGf)

6 My guess would be that probably they don't know more about the history of World War 2 than what they are regurgitating back as anti-US arguments. My memory of World War 2 as discussed in high school history is that it covered mostly three different areas:

1. The home front and the internment of Japanese Americans.
2. The holocaust.
3. The use of the atomic bomb.

It pains me to say this, but these areas might be more important for the average American to remember than details of the military campaigns of the war, and they provide object lessons for us today. But if you're going to debate modern geopolitics, especially using World War 2 as an example, you really need to know your stuff. Regurgitating anti-American propaganda will not cut it against anyone who knows their history, as the post demonstrates. You were able to demolish the protesters through knowledge of the facts.

Posted by: Civilis at August 14, 2007 11:05 AM (SQ3fK)

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