Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hiroshima bombings unnecessary to end WWII

While at the Global Greens' Congress in Sao Paolo 2008 I had the pleasure of meeting Shuji Imamoto, leader of one of the Japanese Green Parties. We discussed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have always been aware of the evidence that the Japanese were ready to surrender prior to the atomic bomb atrocity. Shuji mentioned that there was a large body of Japanese scholarship to back up that position.

In response to a request from me today, he has just sent this list of links.

A brief resume of the historical position of japan at the end of WWII.

An impressive list of quotes from US generals and politicians who disagreed with the decision.

The orthodox position, that the bombings were necessary to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of allied troops fighting against a fanatical enemy, is not as sound a position at it seems.

Here is the text of the brief resume link above:
"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 almost defeated and ready to being the
first to use it, we...adopted an ethical standard common to the
barbarians of the Dark Ages."
---Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy,
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II

January 1945 - MacArthur forwarded to the President a Japanese offer to
surrender to which was exactly what we accepted 7 months later. Had it
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 (200,000 killed).
5 April 1945 - Japan appointed Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro who was
known to be a peace advocate.
8 May 1945 - Japan tried to surrender through the Soviet Union.
June 1945 - Both the US Army and Navy recommended to Truman that he
clarify the US demands in regard to the Emperor. It was recognized that
he was absolutely essential so he could order his men to lay down their
arms. Without him, there would have been anarchy in Japan.
11 July 1945 - Japan offered to surrender unconditionally, with one
exception - they wished to retain their monarchy. They didn't insist on
retaining Emperor Hirohito. They were willing to
replace him with his
small son, for example. The US wouldn't even talk to them - the bomb
was dropped on them without the US ever responding to any of their
peace feelers. Since we let them keep their monarchy (they never
unconditionally surrendered - the US offered assurrances to the Emperor
on August 11 after both bombs were dropped, when they had the
assurrences they surrendered), there was no difference between this
offer and what happened on August 14. Every death after July 11, both
US and Japanese, was a war crime committed by Harry Truman. In July
Japan was totally helpless and was being shelled from sea and air.
Japan had been bombed back to the stone age. Its population was facing
imminent starvation. Much of the Japanese Army was stranded in China or
scattered across islands like the Philippines or New Britain. The
Japanese Navy had, capable of unaided movement, two aircraft carriers
(one damaged) with no planes, three damaged cruisers, 41 destroyers,
most damaged to some degree, and 59 submarines. There were 829 vessels
incapable of movement, some lying on the bottom in shallow water, some
floating upside down, some listing, others awash.
Here are a few of the Japanese attempts to end the war in July:
July 11: "make clear to Russia... We have no intention of annexing or
taking possession of the areas which we have been occupying as a result
of the war; we hope to terminate the war".
July 12: "it is His Majesty's heart's desire to see the swift
termination of the war".
July 13: "I sent Ando, Director of the Bureau of Political Affairs to
communicate to the [Soviet] Ambassador that His Majesty desired to
dispatch Prince Konoye as special envoy, carrying with him the personal
letter of His Majesty stating the Imperial wish to end the war" (for
above items, see: U.S. Dept. of State, Potsdam 1, pg. 873-879).
July 18: "Negotiations... necessary... for soliciting Russia's good
offices in concluding the war and also in improving the basis for
negotiations with England and America." (Magic-Diplomatic Summary,
7/18/45, Records of the National Security Agency, Magic Files, RG 457,
Box 18, National Archives).
July 22: "Special Envoy Konoye's mission will be in obedience to the
Imperial Will. He will request assistance in bringing about an end to
the war through the good offices of the Soviet Government." The July
21st communication from Togo also noted that a conference between the
Emperor's emissary, Prince Konoye, and the Soviet Union, was sought, in
preparation for contacting the U.S. and Great Britain (Magic-Diplomatic
Summary, 7/22/45, Records of the National Security Agency, Magic Files,
RG 457, Box 18, National Archives).
July 26: Japan's Ambassador to Moscow, Sato, to the Soviet Acting
Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Lozovsky: "The aim of the Japanese
Government with regard to Prince Konoye's mission is to enlist the good
offices of the Soviet Government in order to end the war."
(Magic-Diplomatic Summary, 7/26/45, Records of the National Security
Agency, Magic Files, RG 457, Box 18, National Archives).
1945 Truman used atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima on
August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. Now generally considered a war
crime, at the minimum it was the murder of hundreds of thousands of
innocent civilians. There was no lack of military targets or a
demonstration in a remote place was possible, so the selection of
targets is indefensible, leaving aside the issue of whether the bombing
was justified in the first place. To make this decision Truman had to
wave aside concerns about postblast radiation, which was an unknown
quantity at that time, and even the possibility of an unstoppable chain
reaction in the atmosphere which would destroy the world. It was
pointed out to him that one bomb dropped on a city would have an effect
undistinguishable from and no greater than a big B-29 incendiary raid
of the kind already in progress, in terms of immediate casualties and
total damage. In other words, this was utterly senseless. And why the
second bomb? Whatever point Truman thought he was making was made with
the first one. Dropping the bomb to "end the war sooner" was a
falsification of history because Truman, in fact, lengthened the war in
order to drop the bomb. First he postponed the Potsdam Conference and
thereby the Russian declaration of war on Japan for two weeks until the
bomb was ready and then he had the language for assurances to the
Emperor deleted so the Potsdam Declaration would be unacceptable to the
Japanese. The US Strategic Bombing Survey explicitly stated that the
war would have ended sooner if they had chosen different targets -- but
the goal was not to end the war but to support an invasion . As to the
argument that the bomb saved American lives - it is spurious to assert
as fact that obliterating Hiroshima in August was needed to obviate an
invasion in November - the date we had planned. The April 30, 1946
study by the War Department's Military Intelligence Division concluded,
"The war would almost certainly have terminated when Russia entered the
war against Ja pan." This remains the only use of atomic weapons in
Before the bomb was dropped, some scientists of the Manhattan Project
produced the Franck Report which questioned the ability of destroying
Japanese cities with atomic bombs to bring surrender when destroying
Japanese cities with conventional bombs had not done so. It recommended
a demonstration of the atomic bomb for Japan in an unpopulated area.
Facing the long-term consequences with Russia, the report stated
"If no international agreement is concluded immediately after the first
demonstration, this will mean a flying start of an unlimited armaments

The report pointed out that the United States, with its highly
concentrated urban areas, would become a prime target for nuclear
weapons and concluded:

"We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for
an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United
States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate
destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout
the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the
possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future
control of such weapons."

When Eisenhower was told of the bomb he said: "...the Japanese were
ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful
thing." - Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63
On August 8, 1945, after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Herbert
Hoover wrote to Army and Navy Journal, "The use of the atomic bomb,
with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my
May of 1946 Hoover met with General Douglas MacArthur. Hoover recorded
in his diary, "I told MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to
Truman, that peace could be had with Japan by which our major
objectives would be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and
that we would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the
entry of Russia into Manchuria."
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman
to study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of 1946:
"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

Why did Truman drop the bomb? The best explanation is a quote by Truman
and the thinking of his Secretary of State Byrnes. Brynes view was that
our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make the Soviets more
"managable" in Europe. Truman said, "If this explodes as I think it
will, I'll certainly have a hammer on those boys." indicating the
Russians - ch 19 page 239 of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb by Gar
Alperovitz, NY:Knopf, 1995. Truman took a hardline in Potsdam because
he had the bomb. Another view is that Truman and some advisors like
Hopkins thought it would force countries into a world government. Some
aides may have been that far-thinking or pie-in-the-sky, but Truman
only graduated from high school. A joke idea is that he didn't want the
billions of dollars spent on the project wasted. General Groves, who
was in charge of the atom bomb project, wrote "The President did not
ever show any concern over the amount of funds being spent..."
1946-1947 Truman with the other allies sent more than two million
fugitives of the Soviet government to their deaths. The Gulag
Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, NY:Harper and Row 1973, chapter
2, page 85; Also The Last Secret by Nicholas Bethall, NY 1974.
Operation Keelhaul, Julius Epstein, 1973.

An excellent review of the evidence


QuestRepublic said...

Japan was utterly defeated long before the Bomb was dropped.
Unfortunately for the Japanese people, their leaders, the "Big Six" militarists absolutely controlled this decision and wanted concessions way beyond retention of the Hirohito, such as:
1)Retention of conquered territories of Korea, Formosa, Taiwan and Manchuria
2) Control of their armed forces
3) Prosecution of any war criminals by the Japanese themselves
4) No substantial occupation of the homeland islands

The reason for the Allies firm determination to insist on "Unconditional Surrender" was the lesson from WWI; twenty years after the German defeat and partial surrender, they were again threatening the world with destruction.

The last of the secret intelligence on this matter was only declassified in 1995. The evidence showing the need to drop the bomb is pretty strong.

But do not take my word for it. Read "Downfall" by Richard B. Frank. He examines the various theories, including everything you referred to, very carefully.

DocRichard said...

I agree that there were hawks within the Japanese Government, but there were also doves - or should that be "broken hawks".

As time went on, and it became more clear that Japan was defeated, as you say, the doves would have prevailed.

What do you make of the list of opinions of the actors of the time, the generals &c, who criticised the decision?

Academics can argue forever about the details, but the big picture remains clear: the bombings were an inhumane decision to trial a weapon of mass destruction on civilians for political purposes.

This was an act therefore that falls within the definition of terrorism.

QuestRepublic said...

I appreciate your response, in part because I believe that many of the persons quoted in this article believed that the Allies had already joined with the Axis powers in conducting a deliberate program of all-out warfare, and feared the effects of this and the emerging atomic weaponry on future conflicts.

These people were probably looking at the overarching moral perspective, as you are. Long before bombing Japan, the US and Britain initiated a program of wholesale destruction of European cities, largely inhabited by innocent civilians. Maybe on a cosmic scale this was justified. Whether or not, that decision is I believe, much more important morally than became the “best of the bad” options for Japan.

Unfortunately, the onus for the atomic bomb decision was on only President Truman; most of the negative commentators on his decision that are usually sited either were not asked their opinion, or were not privy to the top-secret messages were we decoding about the Japanese true intentions. Most of the people you sited were not getting the complete intelligence, as this was limited to a handful in Washington only; not Generals Eisenhower or MacArthur, or most of the others who have said ill of this, safely, after the fact.

More importantly, these people certainly did not bear the responsibility of the horrible fallout if their recommendation to “starve-out” the Japanese people had been adopted. I suggest the book “Downfall” because it attempts to even-handedly present the situation as Truman and his planners saw it. They saw very clearly that the considerable (independent) actions by the many Japanese doves were going to have absolutely no effect on the Big Six. One of the reasons why this is not widely known yet, is because the last of the secret decrypts released in 1995 revealed that we had been breaking not only Japanese codes, but those of many Allies. These messages revealed to Truman how utterly fruitless the desperate attempts of the Japanese peacemakers were.

Personally, I have been wrestling with these sorts of questions for many decades and have studied these sorts of moral questions from the perspective of German conduct of the war also.

DocRichard said...

In the end the decision to commit the acts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a human decision, taken by a President and his war cabinet, balancing up the information available to them, the pressures on them, and resolved in the framework of their ideology.

The historical debate is endlessly fascinating, but the imperative for us in 2009 is the question of what we should do about nuclear WMD right now.

Kissinger and others are calling for a nuclear free world.

This infinitely complex discussion can be treated logically.
If the consequences of the breakdown of a system are infinitely destructive, it is reasonable to deploy that system if and only if the probability of that system is zero.

When that syllogism is applied to nuclear deterrence theory, the conclusion must be that Kissinger is right.

Never though I would find myself writing that last line.

DocRichard said...

Hi Quest

I defer to your scholarship, but hope that you will agree that the complexities of the decision cannot be accurately summed up in the simple propaganda line "The bomb was necessary to save the lives of thousands of Allied troops fighting against a fanatical enemy". There was no need to take each island one by one; their supply lines were shot, were they not?

More important for us is the decision about what to do about the nuclear weapons in the world today.

I have argued here that the nuclear weapons posture is illogical.

Are we agreed on this?

QuestRepublic said...

"..what we should do about nuclear WMD right now"?

Well, that is the $64-Trillion Question. I sure do not have the answer.

Part of the difficulty in crafting a solution to the problem that I have been reading about in some of your earlier postings, is that the nuclear defense system is a natural outgrowth of a posture adopted by many large nations by about 1930 or so.

One function of modern governments is to maximize benefits for significant parts of their populations. With the development of so-called "precision bombing" in the period 1925-1940, several large democracies poured huge resources into this tool which promised to destroy the enemy without so many casualties of their own citizens and with a presumed cost savings.

This "precision-bombing" turned out to be nothing of the kind; nor was it as effective in ending WWII as has been assumed; not that the concept of strategic bombing has been neglected since then, however.

Of course, one of the actual outcomes of these huge investments in strategic airpower was to make it feasible (and perhaps unavoidable) to wage total warfare upon helpless civilians.

After all, the modern democratic state also has the ability to conscript huge numbers of young citizens and the excess means of production to spend on a large standing army. It is thought cheaper and politically more attractive to buy high-tech weapons.

So when civilian-obliterating conventional air warfare gained the additional atomic capability, this was not the big change that many have seen it to be. Nor is this tool easy to get rid of.

Incidentally, I used to be a pilot who was certified to carry these devices.

DocRichard said...

Well, thank the gods you did not have to drop the damned devices.

This is the point: deterrence theory is all very well: we threaten they threaten, it would be mad to use them, so it keeps the peace.

It is certain that the presence of WMD raises the threshold of war, but it does not raise the threshold infinitely. The possibility is there that humanity could let the nuclear genie out of the theoretical bottle, and that it pretty much it as far as civilisation is concerned.

Therefore we must rid the planet of these diabolical instruments. If Kissinger thinks that is the way to go, then it is possible for humanity generally to think that is possible.


QuestRepublic said...

I agree with your logic. Despite that, cost-effectiveness and political expediancy appear to work against what is not yet perceived as a big enough threat to civilization.

DocRichard said...

By cost effectiveness, do we mean that it would take years for an army to achieve the destruction that a nuke can achieve in a minute?

I guess so.

I am pleased that you see the logic. Although in politics there is always much more than logic going into decisions, it is important for us to keep on digging down to find the rational structures at the bottom of the political compost heap.

QuestRepublic said...

I don't think military planners are in love with nuclear weapons because they can more easily fry more humans with one stroke. Instead they are confronted with the apparent need to increasingly fight wars with third-world nations that require much higher investment in boots-on-the-ground personnel than was contemplated twenty years ago, when much of the current military equipment was in the planning/acquisition stage.

At the same time, planners in democratic nations are supposedly also continuing defensive preparations for a potential conflict against a major world power; perhaps one with a much larger conventional army than say the US. This hypothetical adversary may even have (a lot of) sophisticated nuclear weapons. Now suppose we successfully erase the nuclear weapons now held by these two major powers. How do we then restore the military parity? Please bear in mind that only about 0.7% of the US population is actively involved with the military. Do you think that democracies are going to seriously increase the number of active troops? In the US at present, we cannot even maintain a large enough military to properly fight the two present third-world wars. Having these monstrous WMDs in a democracy's arsenal lets the lazy (non-soldier) citizens off the hook.

Therefore, to actually remove WMDs, we have (to use that tired phrase) encourage a paradigm shift that embraces a different way of dealing with global problems; this in an age of climate change, continuing competition for scarce resources, etc.

So I am really interested in your goals; they just have to be part of a long-range plan that reactionary forces in the democracies will not be able to successfully decry as a sell-out.

DocRichard said...


I agree absolutely that we need "a paradigm shift that embraces a different way of dealing with global problems; this in an age of climate change, continuing competition for scarce resources, etc".

I believe part of that paradign shift lies in the Greens' Global Index of Human Rights , combined with a set tarrif of penalties to those who set off on the slippery slope to dictatorship (scroll down to Dealing with dictators).

Humanity needs to make a deep cognitive shift from competition to cooperation over the problems that you mention - climate change, peak oil, and water.

Easier said than done, but not impossible. There is evidence that the ancient civilisations of the Middle East were built around cooperation over water resources.

China is set to become democratic sometime soon. They are intelligent people with a long history of organisation, and there are a philosophies (Lao Tse and Mohism) that are deeply conscious of the interwovenness of human prosperity and the biosphere.

I do not underestimate the immense political problems that we face as a species. A lot of our behaviour is dysfunctional, neurotic if not frankly psychotic.

I develop the notion of Paranoia mutualis Caesarii here.

However, 100 years after Freud, psychotherapy has finally broken through into effectiveness, based around Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The interesting thing is in the recognition that beneath maladaptive behaviour in the individual there are maladaptive cognitive scripts or programmes running, and that these scripts can be modified to the good.

They key script that we have to challenge is the one "Peace is an impossible dream. We always have had wars, we always will have wars". (An interesting codicil to this is "But nuclear weapons have put an end to wars between nuclear states" - which leads into the Deterrence Breakdown Syllogism).

The philosophical basis for the paradign shift is the Ecological Enlightenment - the realisation that mankind is not a self existent being (which is the starting point of the political philosophies of individualism and socialism, a I see it), but a being who is part of the web of life. Therefore we must cooperate in tending to our life support systems. This cooperation will naturally help us to overcome our differences.

I hope this all makes sense. It is all very compressed.


DocRichard said...

PS I must say what a pleasure it is to discuss these things with you.

QuestRepublic said...

More fascinating stuff on your website. Your Global Human Rights Index has made interesting reading. Do you suppose that countries accused of incomplete compliance with these standards would then point a finger at China and Sudan, such as: “Look how China exploits its power and frustrates progress in Sudan because it wants leverage there; we are not as bad as them”.

I have drug out my old ancient history textbooks, while pondering your comment about cooperation in the hydraulic societies of antiquity. It seems to me that the reason Egypt, and to a lesser extent the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations were able to utilize water resources for irrigation, vs. rainfall-agriculture in the West, was the ability to impose a centralized bureaucracy upon the people. I foresee difficulty getting Modern Man to accept even more government intrusion. Do you support a Communitarians’ credo for the 21st Century?

In the fertile-crescent, the overuse of irrigation there seems to have resulted in steadily declining crop yields, as the land gradually salted up. In both there and especially Egypt, religion played a large role in gaining cooperation from the masses. Where does religion fit into your vision of a more harmonious future?

DocRichard said...

hi Questioning Republican
"Do you suppose that countries accused of incomplete compliance with these standards [in the global uman Rights Index] would then point a finger at China and Sudan, such as: “Look how China exploits its power and frustrates progress in Sudan because it wants leverage there; we are not as bad as them”.

It is precisely to avoid the political double-standards, the kind of thing that demonises one dictator when it suits our leaders politically, while they ignore abuses from regimes seen as useful to their interests. The aim is to introduce an objective measure for all states equally. Of course, double standards will not cease forthwith; but they will become a little harder to apply, since anyone can look at the whole picture in a couple of clicks.

Karl August Wittfogel “Hydraulic Civilizations,” in W. J. Thomas, Jr., ed., Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, Chicago, 1956, pp. 152-64 set out the thesis that it was the need to cooperate in water management that was at least one stimulus for the development of the great historic middle East civilisations.

I am interested in a Communitarian's Credo. Do you have an example of this already in existence? Localisation of the economy as far as practically possible is a strong an persistent thread in Green ideology. Local production for local needs. This is topical at the moment, as the failure of democracy in the newly founded states of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the dangerous tilt of Nouri al-Maliki and Karzai both show the weakness of forcibly imposed, centralised states, as opposed to the opposite approach, of building democracy from the grassroots up.

I suspect a factor in the desertification of the lands occupied by the ancient civilisations has a lot to do with deforestation, which destroyed the "aerial aquifer" function of trees, conducting water to the interior by the evaporo-transpiration cycle. The service offered to humans and the ecosystem from forests is enormously underestimated, by political leaders, and, I am sorry to say, by the green movement generally. We are absolutely opposed to forest destruction, rightly, but few are talking about reforestation.

Religion? That's a whole new thread. In a nutshell, the vice of religion lies in exclusivism, which facilitates and gives an enhanced excuse for conflict and war. I am a (poor excuse for) a Quaker, looking for that which is of God in everyone. There is a similar minority thread in all religions characterised by mysticism and spirituality rather than rituals and rules, which leans away from conflict and state-sanctioned murder.

Humanity gave up sacrificing humans on the altars of the gods thousands of years ago. In the same way, we can learn to stop sacrificing humans on the altar of state security.

Many thanks for your intelligent comments.


Eda said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DocRichard said...

Eda spammed.