The atomic bomb did end the Second World War, and Gregg Herken’s article “Five myths about ‘the bomb’ ” (Aug. 3 Statesman) was plainly wrongheaded when it perpetuated his own myth to the contrary. Here are the facts.
In August 1945, the “Big Six” (Prime Minister Suzuki, Army Minister Anami, Navy Minister Yonai, Foreign Minister Togo, Army Chief Umezu and Navy Chief Toyoda) directed the Japanese war effort and were deadlocked in a three-three split over ending the conflict. In a system that demanded consensus to change policy, the war continued along with preparations for the decisive battle on the home islands (Operation Ketsu-Go). The three-man war faction (Anami, Umezu and Toyoda) held that its objective was to gain leverage in future peace negotiations by badly bloodying the Allies.
It was a reasoned assumption; during the Okinawa campaign, America suffered over 60,000 casualties defeating two reinforced Japanese divisions. There were 14 Japanese divisions in Kyushu and 27 on the Kanto plain, the planned American invasion sites. The possibility of Japan inflicting 500,000 American casualties was too real, and the need for the United States to employ the atomic bomb an imperative. The need for the Soviet Red Army to enter the war was not.
The invasion of Manchuria and Korea by Russia did create two effects, one military and the other diplomatic. Neither proved decisive, and James Maddox and other historians have roundly criticized Hasegawa’s “Soviet-centric” argument cited by Herken. Militarily, the Kwantung Army in Manchuria — Japan’s most powerful military force in 1942 — was a hollow shell by 1945. Some of its elite divisions had been sent to the Philippines and the rest were in Japan preparing for the decisive battle. Tokyo had also withdrawn the Kwantung air forces, relegating Manchuria to the status of a secondary front.
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The Soviet “August Storm” invasion had no effect on the military’s Ketsu-Go strategy.
Diplomatically, the Soviet attack was equally indecisive. Togo was dismayed as his ministry had pushed for peace negotiations throughout the summer, but as for Manchuria, it was an expendable bargaining chip; in July, Tokyo offered Moscow a complete withdrawal of its Manchurian forces if Russia brokered a peace agreement with the Allies. The Soviet August invasion served only to reinforce a belief in surrender that Togo already held but did nothing to persuade the war faction. The Big Six impasse remained.
It was the atomic bombings (Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima; Aug. 9, 1945, in Nagasaki) that broke the deadlock. They led to an immediate end of the war — not by persuading the war faction but in forcing the unprecedented direct intervention by the emperor. The final “truth-teller” lies in the emperor’s speech. The Aug. 14, 1945, Imperial Rescript laid out the surrender rationale in three paragraphs. Paragraph 4 laid the foundation by explaining that the war had not “developed” to “Japan’s advantage” and that the “trends of the world” had gone against Japan. Paragraph 5 (presented here in total) gave the justification: “Moreover the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
Finally, in paragraph 6, the Japanese people learned that, “Such being the case. ... We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.”
There was no mention of the Soviets, only that the “most cruel bomb” had ended the cruelest of wars.
Michael M. Walker, retired USMC colonel, served in intelligence in East Asia. He volunteers at the Idaho Military Museum and lives in Meridian.