Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
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02-02-2014, 04:51 PM
Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
In late July or very early August 1945, a war weary United States warned the Emipre of Japan that if it didn't surrender, we would unleash a weapon so powerful, so awful, they would regret not giving in. The Japanese, who believe their emperor was a god, did not believe they could be defeated, and refused to surrender. So, on August 6, 1945, a B-29 named the Enola Gay dropped a an atomic weapon over the city of Hiroshima and started the nuclear age. After the destruction of Hiroshima, the US again asked the Japaenese to unconditionally surrender. The Japanese and their god-king, still believing they could not be defeated, refused. So, 3 days later, the US dropped a 2nd atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, reducing it to nuclear ash. Again the US government sent a comminque to the emperor, almost pleading with him to surrender and warning him that if he did not, we would have no choice but to continue to hit his cities with these devestating weapons. The emperor, worried about his people, surrendered.

Surrender by the emeperor was not a popular decision. His war ministers wanted to fight on. His people were prepared to fight to the last man. But, the emperor knew that it was over and he capitulated. This move, horrific as it was, was necessary. Had the US been forced to invade the island of Japan, tens of thousands of US service men would have died in the fighting. Millions of Japanese soldier and civilians would have been killed. As horrific as the dropping of these two bombs was, the fact that we did it was the most humane way to end the war and minimize the loss of life on both sides.

That is the story that has been told to the American people since that day. That is the version I was told at school and the version that most everyone I know believes to be the truth. That is the conventional wisdom version of why we dropped not one but two atomic bombs on the Japanese. And, it's a great historical story. There is only one small problem with it: that version of history is complete and total bullshit.

The Japenese were beaten long before we nuked them. They were looking for ways to surrender. The only thing they wanted was to keep the emperor on the thrown. They offered those terms in May of 1945 and the US refused (and then later, after their uncoditional surrender, realized they needed to keep him on the thrown as a figure head). So, why did we do it? I think there are no easy answers to that. I think the best answer is: to see if it would work. The two bombs were constructed differently and we wanted to drop both of them to see what they would do. And, more importantly, we wanted Stalin to see what they could do. I think another reason we did it was to make sure the Russians knew we had these weapons, that they worked, and that, if necessary, we would use them.

I think revenge for Pearl Harbor played a role in this decision too. And, that the Japanese were not white really made it easy.

Here is a great article that goes into more detail on the nuclear bombs at the end of WWII.

So, given all that: thoughts?

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02-02-2014, 04:55 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
Didn't they (the Japanese) still refuse to surrender after the first bomb was dropped?


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02-02-2014, 05:00 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
(02-02-2014 04:55 PM)Momsurroundedbyboys Wrote:  Didn't they (the Japanese) still refuse to surrender after the first bomb was dropped?

Yes, they were still holding out hope that we would agree to keep the Emperor on the thrown. We refused to agree to that term (and then left him on anyway).

The big push was not the 2nd bomb. If anything, it was the Russian invasion of Manchuria. As horrible as the two atomic bombs were, we killed more people fire bombing Tokyo. The idea that all of the sudden civilian casualties played into their thinking doesn't make any sense. The military leadership, who was really in control, had shown a wanton disregard for civilian losses Millions of people had died during the US bombing runs. It was the B29s and an invasion by Russia that pushed Japan to a point where they had to surrender unconditionally, not the two atomic bombs. And, prior to that, they were seeking to surrender with only 1 condition: keep the emperor.

One clarification: I'm not sure we actually killed millions of Japanese civilians with the B29s bombing the country. We killed a lot, more than we killed with the two atomic bombs, but I'm not sure it was actually "millions".

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02-02-2014, 05:10 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
A land invasion of Japan could have continued the war for 3 years.

And to find out how much damage a nuke can do and to intimidate Stalin.

Second thing just motivated Stalin to get the bomb himself.

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02-02-2014, 05:34 PM (This post was last modified: 02-02-2014 06:33 PM by cjlr.)
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  So, given all that: thoughts?

Oh, you'll get mine, all right.
Tongue

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  That is the story that has been told to the American people since that day. That is the version I was told at school and the version that most everyone I know believes to be the truth. That is the conventional wisdom version of why we dropped not one but two atomic bombs on the Japanese. And, it's a great historical story. There is only one small problem with it: that version of history is complete and total bullshit.

I'm... gonna have to object, your honour.

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  The Japenese were beaten long before we nuked them.

Sure. To a sane outside observer.

The Japanese high command were not sane outside observers.

And at the time of the surrender the Japanese still occupied almost all of Indonesia, Malaysia, Indochina, and huge areas of China. Thousands upon thousands of civilians were dying every day.
(but we might also consider the simultaneous role of August Storm in precipitating the surrender)

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  They were looking for ways to surrender. The only thing they wanted was to keep the emperor on the thrown. They offered those terms in May of 1945 and the US refused (and then later, after their uncoditional surrender, realized they needed to keep him on the thrown as a figure head). So, why did we do it? I think there are no easy answers to that.

The putative surrender attempts did not have top-down endorsement. And as you mention there were many figures opposed to the surrender even by the time it did happen. It likewise contained several other conditions: that no occupation follow, and that Japan retain its pre-war territorial integrity (which in their minds included Korea and Taiwan).

Whether anything less than unconditional surrender might have been entertained is a different question.

Incidentally, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate military targets by contemporary analysis. Certainly no less than the dozens of other cities subjected to area-bombing in the late war. Nor was the damage to either an outlier.

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  I think the best answer is: to see if it would work. The two bombs were constructed differently and we wanted to drop both of them to see what they would do.

The Trinity test was the plutonium-implosion design (akin to the Nagasaki bomb). The test was succesful. The uranium-gun design (the Hiroshima bomb) was so simple there was no need to test it (really).

So that wasn't it...

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  And, more importantly, we wanted Stalin to see what they could do. I think another reason we did it was to make sure the Russians knew we had these weapons, that they worked, and that, if necessary, we would use them.

Which, to the KGB's credit, the Soviets basically all already knew.

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  I think revenge for Pearl Harbor played a role in this decision too. And, that the Japanese were not white really made it easy.

I wouldn't say firebombing Dresden wasn't any harder than firebombing Tokyo...

The only reason Berlin didn't eat Little Boy was that the timetable didn't work out.

But another thing that's worth remembering is that the baggage we associate today with the spectre of the word "nuclear" did not exist yet. In the minds of the time there was no difference in kind between the atomic bombs and the many prior conventional area bombings of cities. It was "the same, but more so".

(02-02-2014 04:51 PM)BnW Wrote:  Here is a great article that goes into more detail on the nuclear bombs at the end of WWII.

That article seems... suspect. It's possible to construct such a spin but I really don't think it holds water.

I think, mind, that the Japanese government would have surrendered by the end of the year without the atomic bombings (and without Downfall, which was never quite committed to). There would have been essentially no food left in the country.

Even then, however, one comes to the distasteful consideration: if one is to avert the greatest degree of suffering, which course of action is better? The atomic bombings killed two hundred thousand. It seems very likely that at least as many would have died before surrender was forthcoming, between starvation (in Japan and its occupied territories), slaughter of occupied civilians, and continued conventional bombing.

Hang on - let me dig up the quote from the postwar Strategic Bombing Survey:
SBS Wrote:"Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, 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"

Based as this is on the post-war dispositions of the surviving Japanese administration, take it with a grain of salt. Recall, too, that such information was not available to Allied high command through the summer. But recall, too, the grisly calculus I mentioned above. It may yet have been the lesser evil.

Although another factor is simple lacking communication between the Americans and the Soviets. Although as it happened the invasion of Manchuria occurred precisely in between the two bombings, nobody had planned that.

Sorry that wasn't composed a little more coherently. I jumped around a fair bit.

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02-02-2014, 05:52 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
I am of two minds on this (neither based on significant study just observation of the situation).

One of those minds is that there was a great fear of the consequences of invading Japan proper. I will suggest that it was not only fear for the casualties the US might have but also of the Japanese people. The Japanese were all, including children, being prepared to fight to the death. Read about the Japanese casualties in the Pacific war including civilians on Okinawa and you may see what I am getting at. There was also a racial element to this in that the Germans and Italians may be evil but the Japanese were subhuman, not like europeans. We will for the moment ignore the 442nd Combat Regiment who fought for a country that marginalized them.

The other of those minds is that the US was fearful of the Soviet Union and wanted to demonstrate its destructive capacity. We had aided and helped arm the Soviets in WWII and any thinking person in government knew that without their considered sacrifice defeating Germany in europe would have been at best very difficult. In fact an argument can be made that the Soviets won the european war. The US and Britain were fearful of Soviet military power, a demonstration of what might happen if they were too aggressive might be useful. I suspect that the US capitulation in eastern europe was a result of being weary of war and not having enough atomic bombs on hand to do much damage.

I have often felt that a demonstration of the power of atomic bombs, such as blowing up an uninhabited Japanese island or perhaps a bomb in the ocean near Tokyo would have just as effective to make both points. History (or if you prefer Herstory) however is that, it is in the past
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02-02-2014, 06:11 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
Quote:A land invasion of Japan could have continued the war for 3 years.


Japan could not have continued the war. The winter of 1945 would have brought unspeakable famine and suffering to the whole population. The country was blockaded by submarines. American carrier groups were operating at will in Japanese waters and, as noted above, entire cities had been reduced to ashes by the fire-bomb campaign. People were homeless and starving.

At Potsdam, Stalin had promised to invade 90 days Manchuria 90 days after Germany surrendered. He was punctual to the day. The Japanese had been trying to enlist the Soviets as intermediaries and realized that they'd been had when Russian tanks came flying over the border.

The use of the bombs was a mainly a post-war warning to the Russians. The Japs were finished as a military force.

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02-02-2014, 08:41 PM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
Someone sent me a PM and informed me the original link I posted was written by a holocaust denial group with a very specific agenda. I've read some of the stuff about the bombs and their impact on Japan's surrender elsewhere, but the revelation about the identity of my source has really startled me. I'm also extremely embarrassed to have used that as a source.

I need to research this a little more before continuing. Sorry about that.

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03-02-2014, 12:01 AM (This post was last modified: 03-02-2014 01:56 AM by Tartarus Sauce.)
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
I consider the atomic bombings to have been an atrocity we committed, as well as the firebombings of Tokyo and various German cities. I think the whole "invading Japan" casualty projections are bullshit since we never would have needed to invade. We had the Japanese surrounded and cut off from their supply lines, as well as having completely decimated their navy. We would never have had to resort to an invasion, we could have just waited for them to capitulate due to their dwindling supply of resources.

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03-02-2014, 01:39 AM
RE: Historical Justification for the Nuking of Japan
Tartarus Sauce, you make an excellent point. I think that although the war was won the impulse to do something dramatic without invading was too strong. I also put much credence in the notion that it was done to frighten the Soviets. Although as pointed out above what it did was force the Soviets into their own atomic bomb program.

I have to admit a certain dislike for finding out the Rosenbergs, or at least Julius, actually were spies for the Soviets. It spoiled some of my certainty about the cold war era in the US.
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