Thursday, August 9, 2012


Reader Dave emails in response to my post about why we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  It's something to think about on this 67th anniversary of the second atomic bomb.  Reprinted with his permission:
I highly recommend D.M. Giangreco's Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945 - 1947. BLUF: any invasion would have been bloody, extremely bloody, costing hundreds of thousands (some estimates ran as high as a million) American dead and perhaps ten times as many Japanese.

I also highly recommend Rev. Wilson Miscamble's The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan.  Rev. Miscamble also calls attention to the additional lives saved in Japanese occupied Asia, where tens of thousands more were being killed every month the war continued.
The truth is more nuanced than we're told, even by people who claim to value nuance.


Divemedic said...

Not to mention that the Japanese weren't exactly known as humanitarians. Just ask the 300,000 civilians that they massacred, the woman who were abducted and used to sexually entertain Japanese troops, and the POWs that were murdered when Japanese troops invaded Nanking.

Anonymous said...

Both bombs saved many lives on both sides even though they took some in being used.

During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the sixty-five years following the end of World War II — including the Korean and Vietnam Wars — have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there were still 120,000 of these Purple Heart medals in stock. There are so many in surplus that combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan are able to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to wounded soldiers in the field. (From Wikipedia - they cite the source. My father was in WWII and related this number to me.)

Dave L. said...

One of the things that would have made invading Japan so bloody is that the Japanese general staff had correctly predicted where the US was planning to land, and when. Thus, they were prepared - preparations that were visible to the point that the US wondered if there might have been a leak from MacArthur's HQ. U.S. troops landing on Kyushu would have had little, if any, numerical advantage at the point of attack, against the Japanese, who had made inflicting huge numbers of casualties while fighting defensively their specialty.
In fact, the Japanese general staff still believed that they had a fighting chance to inflict enough casualties that the US would make peace somewhere short of unconditional surrender.

knottedprop said...

Let it not be forgotten the Japanese were working on their own Manhattan project and it was only a lack of fissile material that stopped them from making a working bomb. US scientists were dismissive of Japanese technology and science until they discovered just how far the Japanese really had gotten with their project and it shocked them. Luckily the war ended before the submarine dispatched from Germany with fissile material had a chance to reach it's goal. The Germans had already given the Japanese the secrets to jet technology.
If the Japanese had gotten there first they would have definitely used the bomb on any invasion fleet or large city in allied hands they could reach.

Old NFO said...

But..but... The revisionist historians say it's all OUR fault... Both excellent books!

Anonymous said...

To anonymous 10:21, I've read in a couple of places the story about the excess PH medals left from WWII, but I haven't bothered to track down a source. When following citations at wikipedia, I couldn' anything I would call a reliable source. I do know that mine, from '68, was ceramic, but I've been told that later they started awarding plastic ones. Any youngsters out there who want to dig out their newer medals and see which kind you have? Might be very little truth to either story.
Seems to me I read some time back that across the Atlantic, they're a museum dedicated to a European Civil War, some unpleasantness in the late Thirties and Forties. Maybe in the near future we'll see the same tack taken concerning what we called the Pacific Theater in WWII.

Rob J

RabidAlien said...

Gotta keep in mind, also, the thousands of Allied POW's still languishing in prison and work camps around Japan and in China. Once the Allies invaded, those prisoners were dead.

Anonymous said...

The Giangreco book is eyeopening, as he provides much detail about the proposed invasion (Operation Downfall) and the Japanese resistance plan (Ketsugo).

In particular the kamikaze planes the Japs used in the last few weeks of the war proved exceeding effective. These were not what you think. They were slow-flying canvas and wood training planes, many of them biplanes — how ridiculous is that?

Except that being built of wood and canvas made them nearly invisible to radar.

The only metal to speak of was the engine and the bomb they carried, and radar signature of these was much, much less than that of a typical aluminum fighter plane packed with explosives.

And the Japs also figured out that kamikaze attacks at dawn and dusk would make the planes hard to spot visually, while giving pilots enough light to find ships to hit.

And they had 5,000 of these things ready to go by the surrender.

wolfwalker said...

Wargaming Operation Olympic is even harder than wargaming Operation Sea Lion, because there are so many variables. There are few places along the Japanese coast where one could land an army, and much of the country is Okinawa writ large: lots of volcanoes, lots of rock, lots of caves, lots and lots of good defensive positions. A Japan fortified as heavily as the Shuri line on Okinawa, or the Meat Grinder on Iwo Jima ... the carnage would be beyond words.

On the other hand... in terms of materiel, Japan was pounded almost flat by summer 1945. Their small-arms were mostly junk by that time, and the ammunition was worse. They had planes, but little avgas and few pilots. They were training schoolkids to attack American soldiers with bamboo spears - literally. I can easily see an invasion as a very one-sided slaughter, with the Japanese taking a hundred casualties for every one they managed to inflict.

So I really don't know how it would have gone. And I'm glad we never had to find out.