Dropping the Bomb
Why did the U.S. unleash its terrible weapon?
Monday, August 21, 1995
By John F. McManus
Prevailing wisdom concerning the August 1945 atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki holds that those twin horrors were undertaken to force Japan to sue for peace. Had the bombs not been employed (so the "wisdom" goes), an enormous number of American troops would have perished in an inevitable amphibious operation against the Japanese mainland.
During much of 1995, controversy engulfed plans by Washington, DC's Smithsonian Institution to exhibit the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that delivered the A-bomb over Hiroshima. Incredibly, the exhibit's original commentary intended to empathize with Japan and portray the United States as perpetrators of a "war of vengeance." The planned text even declared of the Pacific conflict, "For most of the Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism."
Veterans groups, angry citizens, and some members of Congress eventually forced the Smithsonian to rewrite the text for the exhibit. What finally emerged, not surprisingly, is now being targeted by an assortment of pacifists and anti-nuclear partisans. A wall panel now informs viewers:
[The atomic bombs] destroyed much of the two cities and caused many tens of thousands of deaths. However, the use of the bombs led to the immediate surrender of Japan and made unnecessary the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. Such an invasion, especially if undertaken for both main islands, would have led to heavy casualties among American, Allied, and Japanese armed forces and Japanese civilians.
This current display, therefore, repeats the notion that the dropping of the bombs by the U.S. brought Japan to the peace table and saved countless lives on both sides. But this historical view, like the original commentary intended for the exhibit, is not supported by the facts.
Immediately after the war had ended, President Harry Truman publicized the view of wartime Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall that an invasion of the Japanese mainland would have required "a million men for the landing and a million more to hold it, and ... half a million casualties."
Much of the historical perspective on the era holds that the Japanese were prepared to fight to their very last man, and that until the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been visited upon their homeland Japanese leaders had no intention of surrendering. But in fact the Japanese had sent peace feelers to the West as early as 1942, only six months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. More would come in a flood long before the fateful use of the atomic bombs.
In her 1956 book, The Enemy at His Back, journalist Elizabeth Churchill Brown supplied overwhelming evidence to counter the inaccurate views about the close of the war. Beginning in 1949, she plunged into dozens of wartime memoirs and congressional hearings dealing with the conflict. The wife of noted Washington Star columnist Constantine Brown, Mrs. Brown had access to many of "the men who were no longer 'under wraps,'" as she noted. She wrote, "With this knowledge at hand, I quickly began to see why the war with Japan was unprecedented in all history. Here was an enemy who had been trying to surrender for almost a year before the conflict ended."
In her book, Brown supplied abundant evidence about the immense perfidy that kept the Japanese from surrendering until such time as the Soviets were ready to enter the war against Japan and the American forces had dropped the atomic bombs on civilian populations.
Even before Japan started the war, its leadership was divided into two sharply opposing factions. Those who never wanted any hostilities between Japan and the United States were known as "the peace party." They counted among their number Emperor Hirohito and several high officers in the navy.
The other faction, the militarists led by Army leader Tojo, was known as "the war party." It was this group's belief that Japan should rule the Pacific and most of the lands touching it. These individuals were responsible for launching the vicious attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Japan's only victory of any consequence during the entire war.
The next major event in the war, the famous naval battle occurring near Midway Island in June 1942, saw the Japanese navy dealt a huge defeat. While there were to be many other naval engagements in which the Japanese navy was also routed, Midway was actually a dramatic turning point in the war, a realization shared by many in Japan's leadership.
After Midway and prior to the U.S. assault on Guadalcanal in August 1942, as reported in his 1950 book Journey to the Missouri, Toshikasu Kase, an official of the Japanese Foreign Office, delivered a highly confidential message to the interned British ambassador, Sir Robert Craigi. It contained a "discreet hint regarding the eventual restoration of peace." Emanating from Japanese Foreign Minister Togo, this message stated, "Should it happen that the British Government became desirous of discussing or negotiating peace they would find the Japanese Government ready to be helpful."
Kase wrote that "even as early as the summer of 1942, we few in the foreign office were endeavoring to lay the foundations for future negotiations...."
In his 1952 book Fleet Admiral King, Admiral Ernest J. King reported President Roosevelt's 1942 understanding that "by the application of sea power, Japan could be forced to surrender without an invasion of her home islands." This attitude, shared by most of our military leaders, would quickly be abandoned by the President. Instead, the costly island-by-island advance of U.S. forces northward through the Pacific continued. Major land battles between U.S. and Japanese forces, marked by fierce fighting and many casualties, included:
Solomon Islands, June 1943.
New Guinea, September 1943.
Bouganville and Tarawa, November 1943.
Marshall Islands, January 1944.
Saipan in the Marianas, June 1944.
Leyte in the Philippines, October 1944.
Iwo Jima, February 1945.
Okinawa, April 1945.
The June 1944 American assault on the island of Saipan convinced even some of Japan's hard-liners that their cause was lost. In his book, Toshikasu Kase wrote that on June 26, 1944, Baron Kido, a close adviser to the Emperor, "sent for Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and asked him if he would work out some plan looking toward an eventual diplomatic settlement of the war." The only unwavering stipulation sought by anyone in the Japanese "peace party" was the retention of the Emperor and the continuance of the monarchy.
But America's leaders began trumpeting the need for "unconditional surrender" without ever spelling out exactly what that would mean. Many Japanese feared that the Americans intended to force the termination of their culture, even the denigration of their deeply revered Emperor. They had good reason for such concerns. By July 3, 1945, the Washington Post alluded to such a concern: "Senator White of Maine, minority leader, declared ... that the Pacific war might end quickly if President Truman would state specifically just what unconditional surrender means for the Japanese."
Attacking the Monarch
In his 1954 book The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur, Frazier Hunt reported that Owen Lattimore, the deputy director in charge of Pacific Affairs of the Office of War Information, "called on President Truman and remonstrated against the government taking any position which would enable the monarchy to remain in Japan." According to Hunt, Lattimore had violated policy by using his office to attack the Emperor, even recommending that the Japanese monarch be exiled to China. Attacking Japan's monarchy could only lead to prolonging the war and opening the door to Soviet presence in Asia. As would subsequently be revealed, Lattimore had reason to act as he did: The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee would conclude a few years later that Lattimore "was from some time in the middle 1930s a conscious, articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy."
In his 1966 book No Wonder We Are Losing, wartime U.S. official Robert Morris stated that the undefined demand for unconditional surrender was "frightening" to the Japanese. Working for Naval Intelligence as an expert in its Psychological Warfare Department, Morris reported that careful interrogation of Japanese prisoners confirmed that "the Japanese would yield most readily if they were assured that they could keep Emperor Hirohito." Morris also stated that "intelligent prisoners ... consistently reported that Japan would prefer to surrender before the Soviet Union entered the war [because they] feared the Bolshevization of the home islands."
Once Saipan was in American hands, President Roosevelt journeyed to Hawaii to meet with our nation's top Pacific commanders, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz. Both emphasized that Japan could now be forced to surrender without an invasion of her homeland. In his 1950 book I Was There, Admiral William D. Leahy, President Roosevelt's aide who was present at the meeting, confirmed that there was never any consideration given during the meeting to an invasion of the Japanese mainland.
In the fall of 1944, Emperor Hirohito attempted to make peace with China, but his efforts failed because Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek felt compelled to follow the lead of his wartime allies, Great Britain and the United States, neither of which was planning for an early Japanese surrender. The Emperor then made contact with a group of Siamese and had them send peace proposals to Washington. By now, the Japanese were aware of the alarming possibility that the USSR might be invited into the war.
More peace overtures were being sent by Japan through various channels. In No Wonder We Are Losing, Robert Morris stated that "the Japanese had explored the possibility of a negotiated peace through the Vatican as early as November 1944." Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn noted in his 1990 book Leftism Revisited that the Japanese had tried to arrange peace "in April 1945 through the Vatican."
In the U.S., the diplomatic element favoring a continuation of all-out war with Japan was led by Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt's closest adviser, whose fanatical esteem for Soviet Russia was legendary. Among the very few military officials who favored continued fighting, the leader was Army Chief of Staff George Marshall who, right up to the actual use of the atomic bombs, would listen to no talk of a Japanese surrender and insisted on the need for a full-scale invasion of Japan proper. Of President Roosevelt's military advisers, it was to Marshall alone he looked for military perspective about the Pacific war. The other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff might have their say during meetings, but Marshall's view always prevailed. After President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Marshall's influence continued with the arrival of President Truman. Of Marshall's role, Elizabeth Churchill Brown wrote:
I found that all final and absolute decisions of the war were taken by the President and "the Army." Who "the Army" was, I discovered by a process of elimination and a close study of the war. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consisted of Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations; General H.H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Force; General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff; and Admiral William D. Leahy, President Roosevelt's and later President Truman's Chief of Staff who presided over the meetings. Although the recommendations of the Joint Chiefs were always unanimous, more often than not the two admirals disagreed with General Marshall in private. And General Arnold, according to his memoirs, also quite often did not go along with General Marshall's views. Secretary of War Henry Stimson was so seldom consulted that he, too, must be eliminated. Finally I discovered a passage in General Arnold's book, "Global Mission," which summed up the picture. He wrote -- "Usually, he [Marshall] was spokesman at our conferences." Arnold referred to Admiral Leahy as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but to Marshall as the spokesman. I therefore came to the inescapable conclusion that, when I read that "the Army" or "the Joint Chiefs" had decided upon such-and-such a strategy, the decision was invariably that of General Marshall.*
* On June 14, 1951, Senator Joseph McCarthy delivered to the Senate a review of the career of George Marshall. His speech, the product of journalist Forest Davis' research, detailed Marshall's incompetence as a military official, his rise to prominence within the military through political connections, and his diplomatic disloyalty to the United States and its true allies. The speech was later published in book form as America's Retreat From Victory.
The first atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima on August 5, 1945; the second was detonated over Nagasaki four days later. On August 8th, the Soviet Union declared war on an already beaten Japan. But other Japanese attempts to surrender had been coming fast and furious prior to these historically important developments.
One of the most compelling was transmitted by General MacArthur to President Roosevelt in January 1945, prior to the Yalta conference. MacArthur's communiqué stated that the Japanese were willing to surrender under terms which included:
Full surrender of Japanese forces on sea, in the air, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
Surrender of all arms and munitions. · Occupation of the Japanese homeland and island possessions by allied troops under American direction.
Japanese relinquishment of Manchuria, Korea, and Formosa, as well as all territory seized during the war.
Regulation of Japanese industry to halt present and future production of implements of war.
Turning over of Japanese which the United States might designate war criminals.
Release of all prisoners of war and internees in Japan and in areas under Japanese control.
Amazingly, these were identical to the terms which were accepted by our government for the surrender of Japan seven months later. Had they been accepted when first offered, there would have been no heavy loss of life on Iwo Jima (over 26,033 Americans killed or wounded, approximately 21,000 Japanese killed) and Okinawa (over 39,000 U.S. dead and wounded, 109,000 Japanese dead), no fire bombing of Japanese cities by B-29 bombers (it is estimated that the dropping of 1,700 tons of incendiary explosives on Japanese cities during March 9th-10th alone killed over 80,000 civilians and destroyed 260,000 buildings), and no use of the atomic bomb.
Countless thousands of Japanese civilians perished as a result of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the world was suddenly and violently brought into the atomic age.
The U.S. government has never published MacArthur's communiqué detailing Japan's willingness to end the war, even though its existence first came to light in an article by Chicago Tribune journalist Walter Trohan and published on August 19, 1945 in both the Tribune and the Washington Times Herald. A military intelligence officer with access to classified information had given Trohan a copy of this peace proposal with the stipulation that he keep it confidential until the war ended. Trohan honored his end of the agreement, and then wrote his article immediately after Japan's August 14th surrender had been announced.
Trohan's sensational revelations occasioned no response from the White House and State Department. Nor did it attract the kind of attention from the mass media it surely deserved. Historian Harry Elmer Barnes, writing in the May 10, 1958 issue of National Review, supplied additional credence to the Trohan report:
After General MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Herbert Hoover, took the Trohan article to General MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail and without qualification.
But the January 1945 attempt to end the war wasn't Japan's only move. Robert Morris wrote in No Wonder We Are Losing:
... the Japanese made other overtures through the Soviet Union which were not transmitted to us. But on June 1, Tokyo wired its Ambassador in Moscow that the Emperor wished to make peace and told him to request Soviet mediation. This information was decoded by the United States -- two months before the atomic bomb dropped and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan.
In his 1963 book How the Far East Was Lost, Professor Anthony Kubek told of a July 6, 1945 message sent to the State Department by American diplomats in Sweden which claimed "that Prince Carl Bernodotte, nephew of King Gustov, had been told by the Japanese military attaché in Sweden that Japan had lost the war and wanted to enter surrender negotiations through the King of Sweden."
Kubek further reported on July 12th, "Prince Konoye was received by the Emperor and ordered to Moscow as a peace plenipotentiary to 'secure peace at any price.'" Despite the strong efforts of the Japanese ambassador in Moscow to arrange for Prince Konoye's visit, however, the Russian government rejected the proposal.
In his 1966 work The Death of James Forrestal, Cornell Simpson wrote that Forrestal, the Secretary of the Navy at the time, "had originated a plan to end the war with Japan five and a half months before V-J Day [August 14, 1945] finally dawned." Simpson pointed out that, had this plan been implemented, the atomic bombs would never have been used and "the Russians would not have had a chance to muscle into the Pacific war for the last six of its 1,347 days." Simpson added:
The last point, of course, is why the fellow travellers hurriedly persuaded FDR to reject Forrestal's plan, and why they saw to it that the American people heard nothing about this chance to save untold numbers of American lives .... In May, another move to end the Pacific war was similarly scuttled. The very same month that Germany surrendered, Truman approved a peace ultimatum to Japan, subject to endorsement by the military. But on May 29, General Marshall rejected it as "premature."
General MacArthur's January 1945 communiqué containing Japan's detailed peace proposal reached President Roosevelt two days before he departed for his meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Yalta. With his mind already made up about the need to continue the war, he completely discounted the entire proposal and flippantly remarked to an aide, "MacArthur is our greatest general and poorest politician."
At the conference in Yalta, with secret Communist agent Alger Hiss at his side, Franklin Roosevelt agreed to everything Josef Stalin wanted -- and more. Plans previously discussed at a November 1943 Big Three conference held in Teheran were finalized at Yalta.
The Soviets were to be welcomed into the Pacific war after Germany surrendered. They were to be given rights to the port of Dairen, Port Arthur's naval base, several Japanese island possessions, and both Outer Mongolia and Manchuria, where huge stores of Japanese arms were stockpiled. These munitions were later transferred to Mao Tse-tung's Communist forces, enabling them to carry on the war with the Nationalist Chinese forces and eventually seize control of mainland China.
Decisions reached at Yalta also gave the Soviet Union a green light to take huge chunks of Poland, as well as Prague and Berlin.
Bomb at the Ready
Just prior to departing for Yalta, President Roosevelt also received confirmation via Secretary of War Henry Stimson that the scientists working on the development of the atomic bomb expected it to be ready for use in August. Possessed of this intelligence, he nevertheless went to Yalta with the intention of prolonging the war, welcoming the Soviet Union into it, and ignoring Japan's detailed peace offerings.
President Roosevelt died on April 12th and was succeeded at once by Harry Truman. After Germany surrendered on May 8th, President Truman began making plans for the next Big Three conference to be held in the German city of Potsdam in mid-July. This gathering would legitimize all that had been decided at Yalta.
On May 28th, Stalin informed Harry Hopkins that Russia would move against Japan on August 8th. On May 29th, as noted previously, President Truman's plan to send Japan a surrender demand was scuttled by General Marshall as "premature." Truman would then defer any further discussion of Japan's surrender until after the Potsdam meeting. In Moscow, Stalin brusquely told Japanese emissaries in Moscow that he saw no reason to discuss an end to the war until after Potsdam.
On July 16th, President Truman received word that a successful test of the atomic bomb had been completed in New Mexico. The Potsdam conference, delayed a day because of Stalin's alleged heart attack, began on July 17th. On July 24th, the President informed a not-surprised Stalin about the bomb.*
* Stalin wasn't surprised because, as was later shown, there were active Soviet spies working in the group developing and producing the atomic bomb.
On July 25th, U.S. military officials were ordered to drop the bomb "after August 3rd." The Potsdam conference closed on August 2nd.
As has already been noted, the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 5th; the USSR entered the war on August 8th; and the second bomb devastated Nagasaki on August 9th. Japan was finally permitted to surrender on August 14th.
No good evidence exists to demonstrate that the atomic bomb was needed to hasten the end of the war with Japan. While many Americans have been persuaded that a full-scale invasion of Japan and its accompanying huge number of casualties were avoided, no invasion was ever needed. Japan was beaten and was trying to surrender.
Another argument to justify the use of the atomic bomb holds that the demonstration of some awesome and terrible power would aid the United States in future diplomatic confrontations with Soviet Russia. Norman Cousins and Thomas K. Finletter offered this rationalization in an article appearing in the June 15, 1946 Saturday Review of Literature. Secretary of War Stimson proposed this same rationale in his 1948 memoir, On Active Service in Peace and War.
Of course, if the frightening power of the atomic bomb were to be employed as a diplomatic weapon, such an advantage could have been gained by a demonstration that did not consume hundreds of thousands of defenseless human beings. If its effect was directed more at Russia than at Japan, the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki died for a mere diplomatic edge. The incredible lack of morality in such a decision is self-evident.
Other more rational and moral voices spoke out in opposition to what had been done to the Japanese people. One of the first was Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who had tried to end the war months before the bomb. In his diary entry for August 10, 1945, he wrote:
The Secretary of War made the suggestion that we should now cease sending our bombers over Japan; he cited the growing feeling of apprehension and misgiving as to the effect of the atomic bomb even in our own country. I supported that view and said that we must remember that this nation would have to bear the focus of the hatred of the Japanese.
In 1946, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, headed by Rear Admiral R.A. Ofstie, issued a report entitled The Campaigns of the Pacific War. Among its many revealing passages can be found:
In June  the loss of the Marianas had struck terror into the hearts of responsible Japanese authorities and had convinced many that the war was lost. By January 1945 Japan was in fact a defeated nation.
[P]rior 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.
In his 1950 work I Was There, Admiral William Leahy discussed his reaction to the use of the bomb:
It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already beaten and ready to surrender ....
It was my reaction that the scientists and others wanted to make the test because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project .... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.
In his 1967 book Utopia: The Perennial Heresy, Professor Thomas Molnar put his finger on a major reason why the bomb was used:
In our times the portentous event is the atomic bomb which creates general insecurity and is credited with effecting a total change in mankind's destiny since it can no longer be called a "single event" but a permanent state with which we shall have to live from now on. Accordingly, voices are already heard that, living as we do "in the shadow of the bomb," our traditional moral assumptions will have to be reconsidered. Religious leaders declare that the existence of "the bomb" has so activated our awareness of science that, as Paul Tillich says, "we must forget everything traditional we have learned about God, perhaps even that word itself." Political leaders, fearful of the final cataclysm of nuclear annihilation, say that men must huddle together under a world government .... (Emphasis added.)
Looking to the UN
Almost immediately after the first atomic bombs had been used, U.S. Communist Party chieftain William Z. Foster suggested the need for United Nations control of atomic energy. In an article appearing in the party newspaper Daily Worker on August 13, 1945, he wrote: "If... the new atomic power which is a product of international science is to be directed to constructive uses, the general military control of it will have to be vested in the Security Council of the United Nations." Foster, of course, knew that the Soviet Union would control the military use of atomic power through the privilege it had been granted to appoint the UN's Undersecretary for Political and Security Council Affairs. That post has always had jurisdiction over all military, disarmament, and atomic energy matters for the world body.
In September 1949, Mr. Truman announced that the Soviets had exploded their own atomic bomb, and that America's monopoly on this awesome weaponry had ended.
Only a few days after the U.S. had dropped the A-bombs on Japan, President Truman sought to justify their use in a letter he sent to the Federal Council of Churches: "I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast."
Years later, Mr. Truman would again attempt to defend his decision to use the bomb against Japan. As Harry Elmer Barnes reported in National Review, May 10, 1958, the former President stated: "The need for such a fateful decision, of course, would never have arisen had we not been shot in the back by Japan at Pearl Harbor in December 1941." According to Barnes, the Hiroshima City Council responded to Truman as follows:
Had your decision been based on the Imperial Navy's surprise attack on your country's combatants and military facilities, why could you not choose a military base for the target? You committed the outrage of massacring 200,000 non-combatants as revenge, and you are still trying to justify it.
Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians did perish in the raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But their deaths had nothing to do with either forcing Japan to the peace table or gaining a diplomatic edge over the Soviet Union. Their deaths did, however, usher the world dramatically into the age of atomic weaponry -- where the threat of nuclear terror has been effectively used to propel mankind -- especially the United States -- to the brink of world government.
The very existence of atomic weapons, and especially their use against Japan, has been cited ever since 1945 by enemies of national sovereignty and promoters of the United Nations as a prime reason why nations can no longer be independent and peoples can no longer expect God-given freedom.
Current commentaries about the events surrounding the use of the atomic bomb are appearing virtually everywhere. The summer 1995 issue of Foreign Policy offered "Hiroshima: Historians Reassess." And the January/February issue of the Council on Foreign Relation's journal Foreign Affairs contained "The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered."
Both articles disregard fundamentally important matters such as the MacArthur communiqué of January 1945, Japan's many attempts to surrender, and the pro-Soviet treachery accomplished at Yalta and Potsdam. The articles promote the notion that only through the reflections of modern scholars may we come to understand that there were alternatives to the bomb. In reality, those alternatives have been a matter of conspiratorial history for five decades.
From at least January 1945, the many thousands of dead and wounded on both sides of the Pacific war must be counted as victims of the treacherous determination to extend the conflict in order to benefit the Soviet Union and use the bomb. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and all who supported this perfidy must be held historically accountable.
No one can blame the horrible killing and maiming at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki on our nation's military forces whose leaders, with the prominent exception of George Marshall, tried to stop the war prior to each of these events.
Without doubt, war is hell. But World War II in the Pacific was hell for at least six months more than was needed. And when it was finally over, the real winners were the conspirators who had done their very best for Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and world government.
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