7 years ago: Nagasaki

August 9, 2006, on this blog: Nagasaki

You may not both 1) intentionally target and incinerate 140,000 noncombatants and 2) not be a monster.

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  • Figs

    His point that Japan was a nation full of mass-murdering psychopaths? That’s something that’s difficult to take back, when its where you start. This thing hadn’t gotten heated before he threw that out there. Ignoring it is, in fact, not responding to what he said.

  • Mary

    You have a fair point, however I will say that the Samuri-warrior philosophy had been around for centuries, as I recall. Where can you draw the line as to whether the leaders were responsible or whether the cultural beliefs were at fault?

    Even here in America we have plenty of fundamentalist thinking that has led to approval of Bush starting a war with Iraq. At the same time if we became a dictatorship under a fundamentalist wacko then certainly you are correct that a lot of people would go along out of sheer preservation.

    What can be said is that no matter what that it is certain that not all Japanese supported the war just as I am sure that not all people in the defunct Soviet Union were communists. And for that matter not all Muslims support terrorism. But unfortunately sometimes it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. When we are in a war we really can’t take the time to try and figure out which is which.

  • Mary

    How is that any different than calling the Nazi’s mass-murdering psychopaths? And you are ignoring the fact that this was a cultural issue in large part. That is not the same as saying that ALL Japanese people were evil. But a lot of them did support the Emporer, for whatever reason.

  • Figs

    The dehumanization implicit in saying it in a conversation about the obliteration of a whole bunch of civilians makes it qualitatively different than saying not-nice things about the nazis. I’ve got to assume you’re being willfully obtuse at this point.

  • Why aren’t nuclear weapons used in other places where genocide is perpetrated, if they’re so effective?

    If this is a genuine question, then perhaps they aren’t used because the “collateral damage” is so extensive that it makes use of them, you know, evil.

  • Mary

    Ummm…agree with you mostly,except that there was a strong racist element among the people also. They were mostly Christians and Hitler used Christian rhetoric to get into power. He blamed their bad economy on the Jews and reinforced his message by saying the Jews killed Jesus. There is some debate as to whether Hitler was in fact a Christian but there is no debate that he used Christian arguments in his book Mein Kamf and in speeches. He said that the Aryan race and other races were created separately and that others were inferior creations.

    He was part of the Christian Socialist Party and they gave him the power to become a dictator. He didn’t need to use violent force at all. They just changed their constitution.

    The Catholic Church was a big supporter as well.

    Hitler did not happen in a vacuum. I read a book once saying that the best way to prevent people like Hitler from ever getting into power is to create a society where no one would listen to a person like that.

    Having said that I am also sure that not all Germans supported him and I also suspect that they did not know about a lot of the nasty stuff, like concentration camps. It would be difficult to determine whether they were wilfully ignorant or just snowed by propoganda.

  • Mary

    Good point.

  • Mary

    Yes of course I am perfectly willing to learn something from a Neo-Nazi Jew-Hater (sarcasm). Go peddle your wares somewhere else. I doubt that Fred would like your ilk spreading filth on his blog.

  • Mary

    Thank you! Any damn fool can put up a website, but that does not make it trustworthy in the least.

  • connorboone

    Wait, what?

    *looks up the thing*

    Well, don’t I feel like an idiot now. I read that years ago, and never investigated the source like I ought. Shame on me, I apologize.

  • Mary

    You don’t think innocent non-Nazi people got killed in Germany?

    I did not take what he said to mean that civilians deserved to be killed because they were all mass murderers.. What I get out the that was that perhaps the bombings were necessary to stop the war because of the ones who were mass murderers would never give up fighting.

    Look I am not entirely sure myself whether our leaders made the right decision but it seems like you are the one being deliberately obtuse by not considering other points of view and quite frankly your grasp of history is very poor Not only that you even seem to not have a good grasp of even modern day warfare! The whole question about why we haven’t nuked people in Syria and elsewhere shows a complete lack of critical thinking on your part. I notice that.you have not responded to anyone who called you out on it.

    Frankly you seem to be someone who is simply throwing peanuts from the gallery rather than wanting to engage in any kind of serious discussion. You haven’t done your homework…and it shows.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    You have a fair point, however I will say that the Samuri-warrior philosophy had been around for centuries, as I recall. Where can you draw the line as to whether the leaders were responsible or whether the cultural beliefs were at fault?

    It’s never really clear which of two related things is the cause, and obviously, there was an undercurrent of support prior to the military takeover of Japan – but it was a take-over, and prior the old feudal ideology was in the process of dying out. Furthermore, while they obviously drew on the centuries old Bushido tradition, the new thing was that Tojo et al combined it with European style racial imperialism, creating a combination that was not only toxic but extremely aggressive…

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Yeah, which is why I was careful to use ’caused’ instead of ‘made/forced’. While some people were forced to serve at the point of a gun, there were plenty of willing volunteers. My point was that it wasn’t an innate racial characteristic *of the Germans* that caused them to support Nazism. Even a dictatorship cannot long act unsupported, but once they get into power, their ideology tends to feed into itself…

  • Mary

    Ok that makes sense. Thank you for the elaboration on that point.

  • Jim Bales

    [Minor edits about 35 minutes after originally posted, to correct a misreading I made of Figs post] My thanks to Figs for checking into my numbers, and catching both my math error in the Manchurian case.

    For the US weekly casualties, I went to the same Wikipedia page, and rounded 37.8% down to 37% (to be conservative) and then made a typo I made, writing 27% instead of 37%.

    I don’t think our numbers are good enough to justify choosing 37.8% over 37%, and the round down makes my case harder, not easier.

    There are two estimates of 500 allied deaths per week. One is in the Burma theater, where British forces were fighting the Japanese, the second is in China (excluding Manchuria) where Chinese nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek and Chinese Communist forces under Mao Tse-Tung were fighting the Japanese. That gives us 2,5o0 (US) + 500 (British) + 500 (Chinese) for 3,500, rather than the 3,650 we get with the more precise ration of killed to total casualties.

    So, I propose we go forward with the corrected values of 46,500 additional Soviet and Japanese combat deaths in Manchuria, absent the atomic bombings, and stay with 7.500/week combatant deaths from all other forces, absent the bombings.

    Figs, does this work for you?

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales


    First, let me reply to your point one.

    Please accept my apologies, it is not my intention to creep you out or make you feel weird by using the third person, and I can see how you might feel that way.

    I use the third person for two reasons. First, it is my intent to talk to more people than just you, and by using the third person I hope to help others to feel invited to join in. Second, I have found over the years that the third person provides a bit of distance in the on-line communication and (I believe) reduces the likelihood of flame wars compared to loading comments with “you did this”, and “you did that”.

    I will try to break a long-ingrained habit and say “you” when I am writing for you alone, but continue to use the third person where I hope for others to be engaged in the conversation.

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales


    I believe that there may be a misunderstand that has led to your point 2. In this thread, I was responding to Albanaeon statement that “There were a lot of big egos out to prove their pet theories then and they did not care how many people died in proving them. We should be cautious in accepting their version of events.”

    My point was simply that we do not need to accept the version of events put forth by the “big egos” of LeMay and others. We have instead our own observations of what really happened. In particular, I wrote:
    “Rather [than relying upon the version of events put forth by the “big egos”], we know that Japan surrendered 6 days after Nagasaki was destroyed. I, for one, cannot conceive of any alternative scenario that would have had the same outcome. ”

    In short, all I was saying here is: It was the atomic bombings that led to the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, rather than a later date.

    I took you statement, “Argument from personal incredulity isn’t terribly compelling,” as saying that there was reason to believe that the Japanese would have surrender by Aug. 15, even if there had not been a bombing. If that was not your intent, my apologies for misunderstanding you!

    Jim Bales

  • mm-hmm. It’s well-understood that high doses concentrated in a short period of time will cause illness or death. However research into low-intensty, long-term radiation exposure is severely limited by the fact that doing any experimental work with it would be extremely unethical*, so people who research this have had to look at cases of accidental exposure, and do some modelling based on extrapolating from known cases of high exposure.

    * there are two exceptions: monitoring dose effects on fruit flies and on bacteria, neither of which require ethics board approcals as far as I know. That said, one can only get limited useful data from such experiments.

  • Figs

    Yes, the question about why we don’t use nuked now was obviously not intended to be a serious one. Did you not understand that? Perhaps I let frustration get the better of me in asking it in the first place, but its pretty clear that it was not intended as a serious question about the tactics of warfare.
    I’ve got a fine grasp of history. What I don’t have is the certainty that everything we’ve done is the exactly right and proper decision, and I’m not at all sure that other factors like the soviets entering the war against Japan wouldn’t have led to a Japanese surrender even absent the bombs. Maybe not that week, because again, I’m not omniscient. But I’m also not the one claiming to be.

  • Figs

    Why are you assuming half again as many deaths in Manchuria?

    Ps, Wikipedia has got a pretty decent article on the supporting and opposing viewpoints of the use of atomic weapons in Japan. It goes through a lot of positions better than either of us has been doing here, and addresses the numbers in a more rigorous way.

  • Figs

    There were other factors as well, though, right? The ussr entering the war against Japan on August 8, right? Was that not cited by the Japanese as a reason for surrender? Given that the Japanese were hoping for the soviets to help mediate on their behalf, the soviet entry into the war was a pretty devastating development.
    Do I share some measure of incredulity that absent the bombs the war might not have ended quite as quickly? Sure, a little. Do I know this to be the case? Not at all. And if we are into moral calculus land, its not really the relevant question anyway.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs asks, “Why are you assuming half again as many deaths in Manchuria?”

    Because this was a major military operation that was cut short by the Japanese surrender.

    Jim Bales

  • Sereg

    “(If the original Dead Zone novel were a Twight Zone episode, Johnny
    Smith would have found at the end that his actions had little effect on
    the future.)”

    gung’f rknpgyl jung unccraf ng gur raq bs gur gi frevrf… sehfgengrq gur uryy bhg bs zr.

  • Jim Bales

    Figs asks, “There were other factors as well, though, right? The ussr entering the war against Japan on August 8, right? Was that not cited by the Japanese as a reason for surrender? ”

    I’ve not found a Japanese source from the end of war, or immediate post-war, period that cited the Soviet invasion of Manchuria as a reason for surrender. (I have seen such statements from 1948/9 and later.)

    From my readings, I would say it was certainly a factor. However, the Japanese strategy at that time (Ketsu-go) was focused on awaiting a US-led invasion, defeating it and destroying the beachhead (and the men on it) and then negotiating a peace. This strategy did not require holding Manchuria.

    Richard Frank (in his work, “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire”. writes:

    ‘Why did the Emperor finally intervene? He consistently gave three reasons. When he first announced his decision in the early morning hours of August 10, he said that he had “given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad.” The allusion to Japan’s internal situation is significant. There is a great deal of direct and indirect evidence demonstrating that fear (perhaps exaggerated) of a domestic upheaval provided … [others] and the Emperor with a powerful impulse to end the war. … The Emperor also explicitly cited two military considerations: inadequate preparation to resist the invasion and the vast destructiveness of the atomic bomb and the air attacks, He did not refer to Soviet intervention.”

    Prime Minister Suzuki was one of the six members of the “Supreme Council for the Direction of the War”. These six, along with the Keeper of the Privy Seal, Koichi Kido and the Emperor, were the ruling body in Japan at the end of the war. In December of 1945 Suzuki stated (again my source is Frank’s “Downfall”) that the Supreme War Council “had proceeded with the one plan of fighting a decisive battle at the landing point and was making every possible preparation to meet such a landing. They proceed[ed] with that plan until the Atomic Bomb was dropped, after which they believed the United States … need no land when it had such a weapon; so at that point they decided that it would be best to sue for peace.”

    Frank notes: “Suzuki’s assessment goes to the heart of the matter; Soviet intervention did not invalidate the Ketsu-Go military and political strategy; the Imperial Army had already written off Manchuria.”

    Frank reports that ‘In a postwar commentary, Kido reinforced Suzuki’s analysis with the insight that the atomic bombs served not only as an important cause buy as an indispensable excuse for the surrender; “If military leaders could convince themselves that they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of spiritual power or strategic error, they could save face to some extent.’

    (These quotes are from page 347 of the first edition of “Downfall”.)

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales

    Unfortunately for this discussion, I’m taking the family on our summer vacation this evening, and today needs to be spent packing, so this may be my last chance to comment in this thread.

    My thanks to all who have commented on my posts, and a particular thanks to Figs for catching some errors I made!

    One more important factor to be aware of is the state of the agricultural and transportation infrastructure of Japan late in the war.

    Again, using Richard Frank’s “Downfall” as my source (pp. 350-354, in particular).

    Frank notes that Japan was quite dependent on food imports, which the US submarine campaign (and other military efforts, including the mining of Japanese sealanes under the aptly named “Operation Starvation) had succeeded in reducing dramatically. By 1945 the average Japanese citizen consumed 1,6800 calories per day. The rice harvest of late 1945 was disastrous (by the end of the harvest, in Feb 1946, only 60% of the government quota had been achieved).

    Japan staved off famine for a while by consuming in late 1945/early 1946 the food that would have been saved for consumption in the Spring and Fall of 1946. By May 1946, the official daily ration was 1,042 calories/day and the government only issued 800 calories/day (no doubt supplemented by a black market).

    Famine was averted by large scale shipments of food from the US, and the presence of sufficient surviving railroads within Japan to deliver that food from the seaports to the people (only 3% of Japan’s highway network was paved at the end of the war).

    A US targeting directive of August 11 (four days before Japan announced it would surrender) listed 54 railroad yards and facilities as well as 13 bridges as targets to be destroyed.

    Had the war continued (even for just a few more weeks), it is likely that these assets would have been substantially damaged, if not destroyed, likely resulting in widespread famine in Japan at the end of hostilities and in the early post-war period.

    I know of no way to estimate the loss of life this would have entailed, but deaths of order one hundred thousand of the some 72 Million Japanese would have been quite possible (this would represent 0.14% of the population).

    Jim Bales

  • caryjamesbond

    Germany was full of mass-murdering psychopaths. The USSR was full of mass-murdering psychopaths. In both those cases, long standing cultural traditions stressing obedience and order (see the Russian focus on the serf/near worship of the Czar and landlord which Lenin subverted to the Communist part and the Prussian mentality of military valor and obedience) were subverted to create militarized societies where human life was systemically devalued. This leads to societies that CAN be very orderly and happy- see many aspects of Japanese society today- but only when their leaders are instilling good values.

    Japan STILL struggles with a lot of issues caused by fallout from the code of obedience- and this is seventy years after they brutally lost a war, and radically changed their entire society and its goals. Imagine a Japan that had never lost a war, and had spent a couple generations being systemically indoctrinated with militant and racist rhetoric, and yes- Japan was a society with an unusually high porportion of mass-murdering psychopaths, even compared to Germany and the USSR. This isn’t because they had a different shaped eyelid, this is because the underlying cultural concepts were correspondingly older and stronger in Japanese culture.

  • (If the original Dead Zone novel were a Twight Zone episode, Johnny
    Smith would have found at the end that his actions had little effect on
    the future. )

    Whereas if it was The Outer Limits, it would turn out that he was Hitler the whole time.

    (Saw it coming.)

  • Figs

    Aren’t you implicitly assuming that the soviet declaration of war had nothing to do with the surrender?

  • Figs

    Sure, though as I’m sure your readings must have told you, unless you’ve only been looking for things that support your own view on things, there is indeed scholarly debate among academics as well as military thinkers on this question.

  • Mary

    Okay Fig, thanks for the clarification. However you might want to pay more attention to how you come across because I wasn’t the only one that took you seriously.

  • Figs

    Your assumption here, as you’ve been saying all along, is that Japan was uniquely predisposed to violence through their crazy culture, and as such needed to be smacked down as hard as possible in order not to try this kind of stuff again. Then you give the example of Germany as a society which wasn’t treated harshly enough after WWI, thereby precipitating WWII. I needn’t point out the myriad differences between the situations, as you seem to have acknowledged them in the post to which I’m replying. But you must know that there is scholarly opinion that one of the main precipitating factors of WWII wasn’t that Germany wasn’t beaten hard enough in WWI, but that sanctions imposed in the Treaty of Versailles were too harsh to be realistic and would incur instability and resentment in Germany.

  • Figs

    I’ll pay more attention to how I come across in the future. Likewise, people inclined to defend the idea of Japan’s disproportionate tendencies toward mass murdering psychopathy might want to do the same.

  • Mary

    I will certainly try to make myself clearer next time.

    I may have to come back to this later because I am having trouble posting which is a problem that I have with Discis,

  • Figs

    I know now what you’re saying. I’m just reminding you that admonishments to be mindful about how you’re coming across go both ways.

  • caryjamesbond

    Yes, I am aware of that. Which is why I specifically cited a massive rebuilding program of the sort that we saw in the Marshall Plan and in Post-war Japan.

    and as such needed to be smacked down as hard as possible in order not to try this kind of stuff again.

    You’re mistaking my point, again. The purpose wasn’t punitive. As we’ve cited again and again- it was the only way to end the war. Nuking TWO CITIES very nearly DIDN’T end the war- members of the ruling counsel of Japan attempted a coup against the Emperor at the last minute.

    And it wasn’t “so they wouldn’t try this again.” It was ending the war while preventing the greater amounts of bloodshed. And arguing that the leaders involved “couldn’t know it would save lives because they couldn’t see the future” is massively disingenuous. That argument could have been honestly made in 1939….maybe. (More like 1914, IMO)

    But by 1945, we’d DONE landings against islands the Japanese held. We’d seen what street fighting looked like in Stalingrad, in Berlin, in Okinowa. Just LANDING on Peleliu cost 6,000 dead. NOT 6,000 casualties- which is dead and wounded. 6,000 dead soldiers to take a beach on an Island that neither side particularly wanted. Imagine landing on the Home Islands.

    Japan was uniquely predisposed to violence through their crazy culture,

    No, NOT uniquely. Did you not see my German and Russian examples above? There were underlying currents of culturally inculcated obedience in all three cultures that helped facism take root.

    Was Japan’s culture crazy? Well, they blindly followed their leaders into an obviously unwinnable war, shot other soldiers and themselves before allowing surrender, flew planes into ships, and were on the verge of mass suicide charges before the Emperor canceled it.

    No, WWII era Japanese culture was a totally sane and normal thing and not utterly fucked up at all. And yes, you can say the same thing about Nazi Germany and the USSR, but we aren’t debating them, are we?

  • Figs

    Nobody said, until you felt the need to backpedal, that Germany and Russia were full of mass-murdering psychopaths.
    You are aware, are you not, that there is a body of scholarship with differing opinions on this, right? I don’t begrudge you yours, but there are scholars and military historians who have researched this and do not agree with your conclusions. Stating baldly that the atomic bombs were “the only way to end the war” disregards all of the learned opinions that have reached a differing conclusion.

  • caryjamesbond

    I’ve backpedaled nothing at all. I said at the begining of the discussion that Japan had a society fulll of MMPs and I contine to say that. No one felt the need to bring Germand and the USSR into it because this discussion isn’t about them. It’s about the use of nuclear weapons on Japan to end a war against Japan. If Fred wrote a post about the bombing of Dresden, we wouldn’t be discussing the society of Japan, but of Nazi Germany.

    The only reason Germany and the USSR came into it was because you started tossing around accusations of racism because you were losing an argument.

  • Figs

    I wasn’t tossing an accusation around because I was losing an argument. I was noting a nonsense slander of an entire civilization, which is especially egregious given that its obviously a lot easier to argue that killing civilians is morally permissible when those civilians come from a country full of mass murdering psychopaths.

  • caryjamesbond

    Yeah, it’s not nonsense when you can trace egregious, widespread, repetitious and standard behavior of Japanese soldiers and civilians directly to the twisted interpretation of Bushido followed by the leaders of the nation.

    I think you’re falling into a fairly common fallacy, which is to assume that just because a population has been mistreated in the past, or suffered from racism, that they are somehow sanctified. You see this a lot in dealing with Israel- the fact that the Jews suffered through the Holocaust is supposed to somehow be a response to accusations that they are now perpetuating organized and unnecessary violence on their own behalf.

    Yes, there were elements of racial hatred present in the treatment of the Japanese that were not present in the treatment of the Germans, particularly in propaganda. (Interestingly enough, however, the Italians caught some quite racist imagery- primarily because the 40’s was still a period when “wops” and “dagos” were considered different from white people.)

    Yes, the Japanese were interned, and were interned only because of the color of their skin, and that was wrong.

    None of this changes that fact that the empire of Japan systemically perpetuated horrors on a scale as great as or greater than the Nazi’s, and with much more involvement of the ordinary soldiers. In Germany, most of the worst atrocities were reserved for special squads, kept separate even from the the rest of the SS, let alone the Wehrmacht. In Japan, events like the rape of Manchuria, systemic rape of women, murdering and torturing prisoners, suicide charges and etc. were perpetuated by the ordinary rank and file of the military.
    Something went wrong with a lot of places in the 20’s and 30’s. Of those places that went wrong, Japan is potentially the most egregious example.

  • Ygorbla

    There are several reasons we don’t use nukes anymore:

    First (and this is extremely important to understand), back in 1945 we didn’t fully understand the effects of nuclear fallout. I mean, we knew it was bad to stay near nuclear materials, but we didn’t understand that a bomb would irradiate debris that would then be distributed through the atmosphere over a wide area by local weather patterns — it was thought that the radiation threat would be localized, temporary, and irrelevant. We didn’t understand that nuclear bombs would poison a wide area for an extended period of time.

    Second, early nuclear bombs were not as strong as the ones we have today — they were not immediately recognized as planet-threatening weapons, at least not by the people setting policy.

    Third, related to these two things, at the time there was only one nuclear state, and it was involved in a world war (either on the same side as or directly opposed to) anyone else who could have developed nuclear bombs in a reasonable timescale; so there was no real risk of escalating things by using nukes.

    After WWII ended (because the situation regarding the first two points changed) the major world powers made a tacit agreement not to use nukes. Additionally, the world settled into a cold war, which could be threatened by a weapon of such sudden and extreme power (because a nuke leaves little time to respond, it gives overwhelming advantage to whoever strikes first; this means that a nation that believes its enemies are likely to use nukes may use nukes itself in self-defense.) Paradoxically, if you want to use nukes as a deterrent, you have to convince your opponent that you will use them if attacked, but will never use them first (because if your opponent thinks you may use them first, they’re likely to use them first in self-defense.)

    This makes it extremely dangerous to use nukes for reasons that have nothing directly to do with morality (although it leads to moral implications specific to that situation, since most people would agree that threatening the entire planet has moral implications.)

    Anyway, the point is that none of these circumstances applied in 1945. The dangers we associate with nukes today were either not understood or were not present. This doesn’t excuse targeting civilians (that’s a whole different issue), but from their perspective targeting Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two nuclear bombs was no different than eg. targeting Dresden or Tokyo with many smaller firebombs; and I think that if you understand the historical context, it’s a mistake to put Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a different moral category than Dresden or Tokyo.

    (Not that this is comforting, because Dresden and Tokyo were also terrible.)

    But what I’m really getting at is that there are specific reasons we don’t use nukes today, which didn’t apply in 1945.

  • Justme

    Dan Carlin had a good episode of his podcast “Hardcore History”, where he talks about the decision to drop the atomic bombs, where he traces the history that leads up to the bombing, and the way that the question of the morality of inflicting civilian casualties and terror bombing developed so that things like the dropping of the atomic bombs and firebombing of Tokyo, which, a generation before would have been seen as morally reprehensible, became seen by the people doing it as not only a moral good, but the only logical alternative.


    You should check it out if you get the chance, because it’s a good podcast.

  • Figs

    Maybe try a different field next time. Armchair psychology isn’t your forte.

  • Figs

    Yes, I understand this. I had thought it was somewhat clear, at least, that the question was asked with tongue somewhat in cheek, and more out of frustration than anything. Though I think I might quibble slightly (but only slightly) on your second point: modern nuclear weapons are not monolithic, and have been designed with various purposes in mind, some with higher yields, some with lower. But the general point stands that even smaller modern tactical nukes are more powerful in most senses than the bombs dropped at the end of WWII.

  • caryjamesbond

    And your evidence is? The closest you’ve come to a citation or an example is saying “There is significant scholarly debate on this subject!”

    Meh. I’m through. I’ve been to fifth grade. Arguing with someone whose only contribution is “Nuh-uh!” is a waste of both our times.

  • Figs

    So are you not acknowledging that there is any division on this? You are holding yourself out as an expert, but have you actually been exposed to scholarship that doesn’t agree with what you’re saying?
    I’m not at all claiming to be an expert. I’ve done a little bit of reading on this, but not all that much. But I’ve done enough to see that there are respected, intelligent thinkers and historians who argue both sides of this. Military leaders such as Eisenhower, MacArthur, Leahy and Nimitz thought that the bombings were unnecessary.

  • Jim Bales

    Well, there are three possibilities:

    A) Japan would have surrendered when it did had the bombings taken place, but there was no Soviet intervention

    B) It took the concurrent bombings and Soviet intervention to trigger Japan’s surrender

    C) Japan would have surrendered with the Soviet intervention even without the bombings.

    I believe that the answer is most likely A), and the Soviet intervention reinforced the decision to surrender.

    In particular, I note that the decision to surrender was (to the best of my knowledge) a unilateral action by the Emperor. Consider the situation the Emperor faced.

    As of August 5 (the day before Hiroshima), Japan was in a dire military and political position, and the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War had set forth Japan’s last-ditch plan (Ketsu-go) for extracting a negotiated peace by destroying a US-led invasion of Japan.

    By August 10 (the day Hirohito made the decision to surrender) the two atomic bombs has destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with a scale of death and destruction still unclear to the Emperor, but obviously unprecedented (and the descriptions of conditions kept getting worse as time went on). Also by August 10, the Soviets had declared war on Japan (Aug 8) and started their invasion of Manchuria (Aug 9). (FWIW, Frank includes a footnote on p. 347 of “Downfall” stating that when Hirohito made the decision to surrender, he had not yet learned of the Soviet invasion.)

    There are three strands of evidence I believe are important here.

    * First strand: When Hirohito announced the decision to surrender, he gave three reasons for the action.

    1) The “situation prevailing at home and abroad”, particularly (according to Frank) concern over internal unrest within Japan.

    2) Inadequate preparation to deal with the US invasion (the core of the Ketsu-Go strategy)

    3) The vast destructiveness of the atomic bombs and air attacks.

    — quoted at

    If the Soviet intervention was a reason for surrender, Hirohito did not find it worth mentioning at the time. So, either Soviet intervention was not a reason, or Hirohito had cause to hide that it was a reason for surrender. Until we can identify some plausible cause for Hirohito to hide his reasoning behind the decision to surrender, there is no support here for the contention that Soviet intervention played an important role in the surrender.

    * Second strand: Japan had a plan, and its leaders had committed to it. The plan (Ketsu-go) was a desperate and last-ditch plan, but a plan nonetheless. The only reason to give up that plan would be if events had invalidated the plan. The plan was to endure the bombings, wait for the US to invade Japan, crush the invasion, and then negotiate a settlement with the USSR as an intermediary.

    Clearly, once the USSR intervened, they could no longer be the political and diplomatic intermediary between the US and Japan. However, other neutral nations (e.g., Switzerland and Sweden) existed that could perform that role, even if not as well as the USSR. The loss of Manchuria itself, and of the enormous Japanese army in Manchuria did not substantially affect Ketsu-Go, which did not draw on those forces or resources. Thus, Soviet intervention did not invalidate Ketsu-Go, although it did lower the odds of success in opening up negotiations with the US after crushing the invasion forces.

    In contrast, once the second bomb was dropped the US had shown that it was able and willing to destroy Japan city by city. The US no longer needed to invade, and without a US-led invasion, Ketsu-Go could not work. Thus, the atomic bombings completely invalidated Ketsu-Go.

    * Third strand: Hirohito did not consult with his military and diplomatic leaders in the Supreme Council before deciding on surrender.

    If the drive to surrender had been the military or diplomatic consequences of the intervention of the USSR, I would expect the Emperor to have consulted with his military and diplomatic leaders on the Supreme Council before unilaterally deciding to surrender. If the Supreme Council did not acquiesce to the Emperor’s decision they could be an attempted coup (and, in fact there was one). I would expect Hirohito to gain their concurrence that the Soviet intervention had made the situation untenable. Hirohito did not do so.

    Not consulting with the council is consistent with a recognition that the atomic bombings had invalidated Ketsu-Go, and there no longer being any viable plan. Hirohito’s act certainly looks like Hirohito choosing to act unilaterally to save their lives.

    Jim Bales

  • Jim Bales


    Yes, there is indeed scholarly debate among academics as well as military thinkers on this question.

    Now, one need not be an academic or a military thinker to read that debate and assess the arguments presented (FWIW, my degrees are in engineering and physics, and I teach engineering courses these days, so I am neither a historian nor a military thinker). I have assessed those arguments in the scholarly debate I’ve read, I find some more plausible and persuasive than others.

    In particular, I have quoted one researcher on the matter, and (more importantly) quoted what one of the most senior Japanese leaders stated in December 1945 on the matter. I cite these sources because I consider them representative of the voices in the scholarly debate that I find persuasive.

    Now, perhaps I am wrong — and I have been before, as you have pointed out. If you think I am wrong, find the voices in the debate that convince you I am wrong, and cite them. If you think I am overlooking a key argument against my stated position, tell me what it is!

    Also, I have stated that I will give statements by senior Japanese officials more weight the closer they occur to the surrender. If you believe I am wrong to do this, please say so and explain why you believe that way!

    Jim Bales

  • Turcano

    Speaking of which: a lot of people know about Unit 731 and its human experimentation with biological weapons. What most people don’t know is that the physicians in Unit 731 were given immunity from prosecution by the United States in exchange for exclusive access to their research data. When our scientists received their data, they discovered that the experiments had no controls, making them absolutely worthless. These Japanese war criminals bought their lives with a pig in a poke.

  • Figs

    I do not claim to be an expert and never have. I don’t have ready access to a lot of sources on this. My reading has been top level on this. But as to your last point, about why senior Japanese officials may have given certain reasons weight over others, we’ve discussed in this thread the rigid honor culture of Japan, right? Is it plausible that they might cite the factors that allowed them the most ability to save some face (no matter how little that was)? I don’t know that I’ve been convinced that the statements of senior officials in the surrendering leadership are absolutely the best sources on this. But my reasoning may be faulty, and I’d welcome that being pointed out if it is.
    A question: how come, after the firebombing runs that devastated other Japanese cities, the devastation of these two particular cities would have been intolerable? Apart from statements from Japanese officials, that is. We know that the killing of their civilians with massive destructive power, delivered by wave after wave of bombers, did not cause them to surrender. Why after this?