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Thursday, August 6, 2015

August 6, 1945

I have written before (here, for example) that I think Harry Truman made the right call by ordering the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, August 6 and 9, seventy years ago. I won't repeat all that but will cite my principal argument from that post,
Was the atomic bombing justified? Yes, it was. Truman made the right call. The US naval and air campaign against the Japanese homeland, unlike the Allied bombing of Germany, seriously deteriorated Japan's industrial capacity. The strategic bombing of Japan had by mid-1945 probably cut Japanese industrial production in half. Japan was clearly going to lose the war but its leadership had no intention of recognizing that. As the American invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa showed, the Japanese were brave, tough, skillful, and determined defenders of their home islands. American military planners looked at the casualties from those two campaigns and extrapolated to what it would cost to invade Japan proper. The US military estimated that there would be at least one million American casualties, plus hundreds of thousands of other allied dead and wounded, and perhaps twenty to thirty times that many Japanese casualties in the case of an invasion. Such a campaign in Japan might take one to two years, would result in the total devastation of Japan, and produce a legacy of hatred and bitterness that would last a hundred years or more.
If anything, I probably understated the consequences of not dropping the atomic bomb. The invasion of Japan would have been a calamitous affair from all aspects. I don't think we would have ever had the friendship and alliance we now have with Japan had the invasion occurred. Quite likely we would have had a partitioned Japan, with a Soviet sector and eventually a Korea-type scenario, and very likely continuous guerrilla warfare that could have lasted years after the formal end of hostilities--assuming the invasion succeeded. It is hard to imagine how dire the consequences of that would have been for Japan, America, Asia and the whole world.

Why do I bring this up, yet again? You know why. The revisionists always emerge at this time of year to bemoan the atomic bombings, and they do it without context. I have noted before how at the UN, during the 40th anniversary commemoration of the end of the Second World War, there were speeches, pamphlets, and exhibits that made it seem as though Harry Truman woke up one day and decided to nuke Japan, just because. As a conservative, of course, I have lots of problems with Truman's handling of the domestic economy and of the Korean War, but he made the right call on ending the war with Japan in the fastest and, ultimately, least costly manner for all.


  1. Hello Bob. Hiroshima & Nagasaki are trotted out constantly by the bleeding heart Left as examples of cold-hearted and callous Western militarism, racism, anti-humanitarianism and a host of other ismisms. It just doesn't stack up as any kind of argument.

    Since 1931 the Japanese had shown no hesitation in bayoneting, beating to death or burying alive anyone who even mildly disagreed with their 'Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere' (read: Japanese systematic plundering of foreign resources) and their known treatment of subjugated peoples, including POWs had produced in the Allies a previously unknown thirst for revenge. In Australia this sentiment was very strong indeed.

    Wars are won by infantrymen, the pack & rifle boys, who seize ground from the enemy, hold it, and allow the organisational 'tail' to move in and consolidate. Tanks, fighter planes and battleships are nice support toys but it is the Infantry who the Queen Of Battles in the chess sense. However at the far far end of that 'tail' are the statisticians, the analysts and the theorists who review the results and predict (sometimes right, sometimes wrong) what will happen next. With the projected invasion of the Japanese Home Islands they were dead right. A long and horrid bloodbath for both soldiers and civilians.

    BUT! It just so happened that Tube Alloys/Manhattan Project had created a bloody big bomb which might just obviate the need to storm ashore on Honshu. They tried it out, it worked and after that it was inevitable. Rule One of warfare in any Age: If you must have war, then win it with the profligate use of every weapon and resource to hand.

    Sympathy for the Japanese? None whatever. They started it, prolonged it, were losing it badly and refused to accept that fact so they got A-Bombed twice. Tough luck.

    1. Would have hoped they'd have surrendered before it came to deploying, but they didn't. America's hands were tied.
      A lot is also lost in the immediacy of the situation. We weren't just deliberating whether to use fat man and little boy, we had *just* successfully tested an implosion device (gadget) for the first time only a month before! There was a whole lot riding on this and darn good chance that it wouldn't even pop. With that in mind, time was actually of the essence.
      It's not like we were holding a trump card. It's like we were holding a card that we thought was probably trump, but it was face down on the table.
      Injecting that uncertainty into it makes the calculus far different than even the more reasonable analyses I see around the web.

      - reader #1482

  2. Thee's another side to the argument - the cost to Japan of a longer war. They were on the brink of starvation, with civilians getting ~1600 calories/day. Had the war gone into the winter of 1945, the civilian losses would have been staggering.

    If you want to criticize Truman for continuing to insist on unconditional surrender, that's another matter. But using atomic weapons was the least bloody way to end the war.

  3. I read a book a while back called Hell to Pay. It was a look at what probably would have happened if Operation Downfall had gone ahead.

    To begin with, the Japanese knew where we were going to land. The terrain was excellent for the defense, not to mention that they had hidden airfields loaded with Kamikazes that had a nice mountain range that blocked Naval radar. They would have gotten within 50 miles or so of the fleet before they were seen.

    Look at the damage they did off Okinawa when we had plenty of warning. They also determined that the kamikazes were going to avoid the warships and go for the troop transports. Those were a lot softer to hit, and think of the damage of a troopship fully loaded was hit by two or three of them.

    The Japanese plan was to make it so expensive that the Allies would be forced to sue for peace.

  4. The russians were ready to get involved as well.

  5. There is a leftist school of crap that we dropped the Nukes on Japan to send a message to the damn Russians.. What utter horse dung, Like the monsters running the Soviet Union cared?
    The fact they jumped in at the bitter end to grab territory should tell all anyone might want to know about the Russians' intent.

  6. On 21 March 1945, my Dad turned 17 yrs. old. His prospects as a draftee in 1946 were
    piss poor at best. Thanks to the bomb, he went to medical school, met my Mom, be-
    -came a Doctor and fathered 9 children. I am sure there are at least a million other
    family histories here in the States that were written this way instead of never being
    written at all. Same holds true for Japan.


  7. The lefties love to isolate the decision to use nuclear weapons from the facts and other options (which many younger people simply don't know, and those those that do are taught that Japan was about to surrender); and all to further their America is only country evil enough to use nuclear weapons meme. It is calculated dishonesty.

  8. Every year the MSM and leftists bring up this "debate." Since I believe that those who bring it up, yet again, will not listen to any amount of reasoning or FACTS I now simply state, as straight-faced and as even-voiced as I can, it would have been IMMORAL to not drop the two bombs. period.

  9. What would've been more troublesome? Having a massive arms race for fifty years with no practical sense for the destructive capability of the bomb. Probably would be nobody left today, and certainly no alarmist lefties screaming about the dangers of being more intelligent than cavemen.

    I don't have a history problem, I have a historian problem.

    - reader #1482

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. i urge anyone who doubts the worth of not one but two a-bombs to visit the pow graves at the american cemetery in manila, the dutch cemetery at jakarta, and the british cemeteries in singapore, kanchanaburi and yokohama. there were standing japanese orders to execute every remaining pow if japan were invaded. there are no such well-tended graves for the pows drowned on the hellships, or the 20 million chinese, plus filipinos, vietnamese, indonesians, malaysians, burmese, singaporeans who were killed by bullet, bayonet, burning, medical experimentation or starvation. i spent 11 years in japan, punctuated by 2 years of full time, intensive japanese language study. not just a few times over a few drinks i would be told in either nihongo or english that the a-bombs saved japan from utter destruction. and like so many other westerners of my generation, it saved my dad, a veteran of omaha beach at 0930 on 6/6/44, who maintained that his luck would not have held solid for a second beach assault.

  11. My Father was an HA2 (Hospitalman Apprentice 2nd Class) at Lake Sampson, NY, on Aug 15, 1945, waiting for his school to start. Which ended in March/April 1946. His initial assignment was to the Marines.

  12. His initial assignment was to the Marines.

    Whence he spent the next year and a half invading Puerto Rico and the Carolinas from an APD.

  13. I bet Ye Olde Bleedin Heart liberals railed against the introduction of the crossbow, horse drawn chariot and gunpowder etc. into warfare.

  14. I am sorry to report that I have become so distrustful of the United States government, that I am questioning even this ("the dropping of the atomic bomb was justified") now.

    Let's look at one of the (many) pieces from the other side:


    My thoughts:

    1. Actually surprised (IF presented accurately) that several high military commanders were against using the atomic bomb.

    2. This piece got a lot of criticism about how awful the Japanese were. Much of that is backwards looking. The point is not what atrocities the Japanese committed in 1943 and 1944, it is about the best decision in August of 1945.

    3. I remain open to the possibility that things MIGHT have worked out all peachy without dropping the atomic bomb, IF the Japanese really were trying to negotiate peace at that time (and if an invasion could have been avoided). I remain somewhat skeptical, though (and lengthening the war certainly would have cost SOME American lives), and I am not willing to go so far as to say that the use of the atomic bomb was not justified.

    4. Perhaps the greatest benefit from using the atomic bomb was not hastening the end of WWII, but the fact that its use has helped prevent any subsequent use of nuclear weapons over the following seventy years. The technology advanced quite rapidly over the next several years, with yields on these weapons going from a few kilotons to more than ten megatons. It is quite possible that if Truman had not ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb, it (or something a thousand times more powerful) would have been used in the intervening years - with far worse consequences.

    5. Human nature hasn't changed much since then, and I am much more concerned about the decisions that will come up on weapons use in the future than trying to second guess (with hindsight) decisions made before I was even born.

  15. Another reasonable consequence of NOT dropping the two bombs is that all the Korean peninsula would today be under Korean Communist rule. We only took responsibility for south the 39th parallel because we had the troops and because the Russians hadn't had time to really mobilize towards the East.

    I once worked for a man who had seen the tail end of Okinawa and was going to Japan. He told me he cried when he heard the news. Fissell makes this point repeatedly in his "Thank God for the Atomic Bomb."

    He also notes that one prominent critic, John Kenneth Galbraith, spent the war working in the Office of Price Controls in DC. With a US casualty rate even without the invasion of the home islands of 7,000 a WEEK, who at risk would want the war to continue another day.

  16. How about not invading at all. Destroy their navy and air force then blockade them.