August 06, 2003


The US was right to nuke Japan, writes Nicholas Kristoff:

Wartime records and memoirs show that the emperor and some of his aides wanted to end the war by summer 1945. But they were vacillating and couldn't prevail over a military that was determined to keep going even if that meant, as a navy official urged at one meeting, "sacrificing 20 million Japanese lives."

The atomic bombings broke this political stalemate and were thus described by Mitsumasa Yonai, the navy minister at the time, as a "gift from heaven."

Without the atomic bombings, Japan would have continued fighting by inertia. This would have meant more firebombing of Japanese cities and a ground invasion, planned for November 1945, of the main Japanese islands.

"The atomic bomb was a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war," Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief cabinet secretary in 1945, said later.

Interesting. I’ve never seen those quotes before.

Posted by Tim Blair at August 6, 2003 04:55 PM

How credible are the sources?

Posted by: Jake D at August 6, 2003 at 04:58 PM

The story says the sources are wartime records and memoirs. Seems pretty credible.

This was on Fark and one of the commenters named Thale summed it up well:

"While American scholarship has undercut the U.S. moral position, Japanese historical research has bolstered it."

American scholars: The use of atomic bombs by the U.S. on Japan was a wholly unnecessary thing.

Japanese scholars: No, we wouldnt have surrendered otherwise.

American scholars: Yes you would have. All we had to do was drop Fat Man on a small Pacific island to show you we had it.

Japanese scholars: No, really the military wasnt going to stop fighting.

American scholars: Well if wed allowed surrender with the provision that Japan could keep the Emperor.

Japanese scholars: Look even after you guys dropped both bombs the military didnt want to surrender. It took us beating a downed pilot into saying you had hundreds more Atomic bombs and Tokyo was next for them to even start to budge.

American scholars: Well we were still wrong.

Posted by: scott h. at August 6, 2003 at 05:13 PM

Sakomizu is quoted in an article published in the US Air Force Magazine of September 2002:

“The chance had come to end the war. It was not necessary to blame the military side, the manufacturing people, or anyone else — just the atomic bomb. It was a good excuse.” — Chief Cabinet Secretary Hisatsune Sakomizu

Posted by: Indole Ring at August 6, 2003 at 05:19 PM

More information on possible references:

"The earliest official account of high-level activities leading up to the emperor's broadcast was conveyed to U.S. occupation authorities in November 1945 by Sakomizu Hisatsune, chief secretary to the cabinet at the time of surrender and personally involved in drafting the rescript. Sakomizu emphasized that the emperor made the decision to broadcast the capitulation message personally; see U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945, 6:702–8.

"The most convenient compilation of Japanese sources on this matter — and on Emperor Hirohito generally — is a thick, two-volume collection edited by Tsurumi Shunsuke and Nakagawa Roppei; see Tenno Hyakuwa (Tokyo: Chikuma Bunko, 1989), esp. vol. 1, pp. 683–99, which includes the full text of the rescript (697–99) as well as corraborative testimony regarding the emperor's initiatory role (690)."

If anyone has access to a library containing these books, the quote could be confirmed.

Posted by: Indole Ring at August 6, 2003 at 05:22 PM

And how else would they have got all their giant radioactive wildlife?

Posted by: Habib Bickford at August 6, 2003 at 05:25 PM

So the Fat Man is Godzilla's father? Better than Darth Vader I suppose (except for the cool outfit).

Posted by: Jake D at August 6, 2003 at 05:34 PM

Sure wasn't little boy.
Fancy naming a nuclear device after a cheerio.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at August 6, 2003 at 05:45 PM

To quote the Mayor of Hiroshima:

"What the Fruck was that?"

Posted by: Razor at August 6, 2003 at 05:50 PM

Scholarship is one thing but politics another. No positive adjective should ever be attached to the use of the bomb. The question is why or why not. Good strategy or bad? The revisionists will always have the advantage of the fact that no one in their right mind would allow themselves to praise an atomic bombing. It automatically results in disqualification from the debate. YOu think WHAT?! On the other hand, the revisionists have the disadvantage of the fact that the bombings ended a war in which the suffering of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was just a drop in the bucket and the fact that things have turned out pretty well for both countries since then.

Posted by: Tokyo Taro at August 6, 2003 at 06:31 PM

Godzilla hit his 13th homer yesterday.

Posted by: Mork at August 6, 2003 at 07:00 PM

BTW, did anyone notice the name of the fighter pilot who "confessed" that there were 100 more atomic bombs?

Posted by: Mork at August 6, 2003 at 07:05 PM

What's the big deal? There were more croaked with conventional weapons in single raids than either of the nuclear bombings- is it so awful if you only use one aircraft? (And only risk one crew?)
The Japanese could have surrendered at any time.
Get over it.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at August 6, 2003 at 07:23 PM

Wait..I'm confused. Didn't Isreal drop the bombs? Trying to eradicate the "evil" Japanese-Palestinians? Jane, help me out!!!!

Posted by: Jerry at August 6, 2003 at 11:33 PM

Weren't the Americans planning genocide with mustard gass if the Japs didn't surrender? I read that somewhere. They had hundreds of tonns of it ready to go. But they cashed in the entire country's frequent fliers and upgraded to nuclear.

There's a particularly dumb bit in the english patient (the book) where the guy goes mad and runs off from the war when the bombs are dropped on japan, because he's convinced that there's no way the weapons would ever be used on a WHITE country. Dude, chill! As if the Yanks wouldn't have nuked the Germans if they'd had the thing ready in time.

Posted by: Amos at August 7, 2003 at 12:03 AM

The quick-witted pilot's name was Marcus McDilda.

By the way, Kristoff does repeat one item that has been undercut by facts: that Japan would have surrendered anyway in a few months.

This statement is based on a conclusion in the summary of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Study of the survey's complete record shows this was a minority view among Japanese leaders; virtually all were not kidding about the claim of "a hundred million die as one." The USSBS's conclusion was strongly affected by its purpose, which was to make the case for an independent air force.

The idea that a demonstration would have done the trick is easily refuted.There was a demonstration--Hiroshima--and it is widely forgotten that even after Nagasaki the Japanese war council did not vote to surrender, and it required the Emperor's intervention to end the war.

The debate over the need to drop the bombs tells us more about academic fashions than anything else. Two good books are Richard Franks' "Downfall" and Bruce Lee's "Marching Orders." The latter discusses the Magic intercepts and their influence on American decision makers.

Posted by: Alex Bensky at August 7, 2003 at 01:12 AM

Today I went to an exhibition of artifacts, letters, documents and photographs of the infamous Sandakan to Ranau (Borneo) Death March in 1945, at the Alexander Library, Perth, Western Australia.

The exhibition is in honour of the six Australians that came home from Sandakan/Ranau, and the 2428 who did not.


Murdered by the Japanese.

A gift from heaven indeed.

Rot in Hell, you Jap mongrels.

Posted by: Pedro the Ignorant at August 7, 2003 at 01:39 AM

The Stategic Bombing Survey was flawed. It was the same theory that Bomber Harris wanted to implement on the Germans, to no avail. Short of laying seige to their cities, the Japanese would not surrender. According to John Keegan in the Second World War, 400 dissidents were executed in July '45 for even thinking capitulation.

Even Curtis Lemays firebombings left some Japanese leaders unfazed.

Posted by: Drake at August 7, 2003 at 01:58 AM

American popular opinion was not excited about the prospects of an invasion of Japan. With the fall of Europe, Americans wanted the end. Troops were already being moved from the European theater to the Pacific. My father told me of stories of older siblings of his friends who were coming back from Europe stopping with leave for 30 days with a trip to the Pacific upcoming. After the carnage of Okinowa most felt they had a good chance of dying in the Japanese invasion. I never heard any of them being upset that the bomb was dropped - they figured it saved their lives.

Posted by: JEM at August 7, 2003 at 02:43 AM

Fissile material production at Oak Ridge and Hanford was fully on-line by August 1945 and bombs were being produced en masse. It's not a question of whether we would have nuked Japan, just when and in what quantity. By late September the US would probably have had a dozen more weapons.

Posted by: David Gillies at August 7, 2003 at 03:06 AM

"Marcus McDilda"?

Jeebus, no wonder he stood up so well under a Japanese beating, he had lots of practice in grade school.

Posted by: Monkeyboy at August 7, 2003 at 03:56 AM

My father was in the first battalion to occupy Hiroshima. He saw the devastation and suffering. I asked him what he thought about the bomb. He said something like "son, we trained for months for the invasion. As we approached Japan for the occupation we passed the beach head we would have used for a landing, it seemed as a cliff. I seriouly doubt that had we not dropped the bomb, we would even be having this discussion." Well, that settled it for me.

Posted by: Dave in SLC at August 7, 2003 at 08:30 AM

Amos: The bomb was always intended for Germany. If the "Ardennes Offensive" hadn't lead to the premature collapse the following Spring, it would have been.

A Marine veteran of two invasions, with Japan an imminent third, weighs in on the bombing and surrender:

From E. B. Sledge, "With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa."

" We received the news with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief. We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war."

Posted by: CGeib at August 7, 2003 at 09:55 AM

In August, 1945 my father was a 17 year old sailor on a boat somewhere in the Pacific. I've no doubt, those bombs meant my life.

Posted by: Ellie at August 7, 2003 at 01:35 PM

Right or wrong? Good or bad? It's probably too late to ask these questions. Most people who want to talk about the morality of dropping the atomic bomb do so because they want another reason to blame the U.S. As for me - well, I don't know a great deal about history, but I do know this - the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the conclusion of one of the bloodiest and most violent wars in history. During the course of this war, western-style democracy and the fate of many nations was at stake. Normal rules did not apply.
People can feel free to agonise over whether dropping the bomb was right or wrong, but as far as I'm concerned, it tells us very little about the U.S., about Japan, or the history of W.W. II.

Posted by: TimT at August 7, 2003 at 03:23 PM

Cgeib: Exactly! If the Normandy invasion has failed or the Russian front been stabilized, it would have been Berlin that went under the mushroom cloud, and I doubt many tears would have been shed over that.

Posted by: Amos at August 7, 2003 at 08:36 PM

My father was one of the original Marine Raiders, and as such hit the beaches in the first wave in four out of the five major battles, including Guadacanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Of the 1000 men who started training with him, 26 survived the war. His unit's casualty rate for the war was over 350% KIA. On Okinawa he saw women leap from cliffs 300 feet high with children in their arms from fear of the Marines. He regarded the Japanese as dedicated, tenacious soldiers, and even when less well-trained recruits faced them late in the war, surrender did not happen.

No one, NO ONE surrendered on Iwo Jima who was capable of fighting at all. The only prisoners taken were unconscious or bed-ridden in a small hospital. Okinawa was worse in some ways because it was also full of civilians.

My father was in training to be a second lieutenant (in North Carolina) when the war ended. He had been told to expect up to 2,000,000 American casualities in an invasion (killed and wounded) and from 5,000,000 to 20,000,000 dead Japanese.

He never regretted for one moment the bomb being dropped, for himself, and for a great many Japanese who would have otherwise died.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at August 8, 2003 at 05:17 PM