Sixty years ago today, a 22-kiloton plutonium bomb was dropped over an industrial region on the outskirts of Nagasaki, a major port on the western coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of the "mainland" Japanese islands.
Aside from ethical considerations, politicians, academics, and armchair pundits will argue over whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki really did
spur the unconditional surrender. Victor Davis Hanson frames the debate
Postwar generations argued over whether the two atomic bombs, the fire raids, or the August Soviet invasion of Manchuria - or all three combined - prompted Japan to capitulate, whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a stain on American democracy, or whether the atomic bombs were the last-gasp antidote to the plague of Japanese militarism that had led to millions of innocents butchered without much domestic opposition or criticism from the triumphalist Japanese people.
A clue can be found in the Gyokuon-hoso (full transcript here, along with text of "simplified interpretation"), Emperor Hirohito's August 15 radio address announcing the unconditional surrender. Hirohito never utters the word "surrender" - Japan's unconditional surrender was a chief demand in the Potsdam Declaration (the "Joint Declaration") Emphasis is added.
TO OUR GOOD AND LOYAL SUBJECTS:
After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.
To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors and which lies close to Our heart.
Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.
But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone - the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people - the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.
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 an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.
Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.
The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day.
The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude.
At this point the speech turns its attention from the past to the near and distant future. Examine what has already been said - and what hasn't. As the linked Wikipedia article on the Gyokuon-hoso states (quoted excerpt is from the "simplified interpretation"):
He then cites "The enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage."; the remark is interpreted to refer to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki days before. He, however, never mentions the Soviet's invasion.
A direct reference to the atomic bomb, but no mention of Russkies in Manchuria. (Wikipedia's hedging its bets on absolute certainty on what "new and terrible weapon" means is laughable.) If the latter were the critical factor, why not bring it up?
Victor Davis Hanson believes that Hiroshima/Nagasaki actually led to halting the Soviet advance in Manchuria - and to halting another threat:
With the far shorter missions possible from planned new bases in Okinawa and his fleet vastly augmented by more B-29s and the transference from Europe of thousands of idle B-17s and B-24, the "mad bomber" LeMay envisioned burning down the entire urban and industrial landscape of Japan. His opposition to Hiroshima was more likely on grounds that his own fleet of bombers could have achieved the same result in a few more weeks anyway.
Global Security.org's account of the bombings sizes up the war situation and makes this salient point (emphasis added):
Using the history and projections available to him, President Truman made the grave decision to use the atomic bomb in an effort to end the war quickly, thus avoiding a costly invasion.
Determining how an enemy will respond to a given attack is always an educated guess. Truman couldn't know if Soviet entry into the war against Japan would lead to a rapid victory. I, for one, would be leery of any war strategy likely to expand the Soviet Union.
In comments to this post at It Comes in Pints, I pondered the results of a protracted war, not raising the probability that the blogosphere would have at least one less blogger. I predict a Russian attempt to take Hokkaido (a goal that seems to have been part of Stalin's Far East plans). Cullen doubts that the Soviets had the might at the time to pull off a successful conquest. Then Ken Summers says those three magic words: Partitioned like Germany. I postulated that a token force in Hokkaido might be enough to secure Russia a partition share (beyond the Kurils and Sakhalin), and tried to guess what the partition might have looked like:
My prediction: The US and UK get Honshu. USSR gets Hokkaido. Korea gets Shikoku. Red China gets Kyushu.
Oh yeah, Commies on both ends of Japan. I like that.
The Bomb is looking like the lesser of evils more and more.
Interesting thought, Alan. Only point of contention: Red China wouldn't have Kyushu, it would likely be a second Taiwan.
And there would be no Japan. The grudges earned by the Japanese in the first half of the 20th century (especially after a ground fight to take the islands) pretty much guarantee that even if any Japanese were still alive after the last fight.
No Japan? Possible. It would at best be much smaller. I could imagine a massive influx of Japanese into the Magadan branch of the Gulag Archipelago; no reason why the USSR should stop its policy of relocating masses of conquered enemies. Any part of Japan falling under Chinese or Korean control would certainly face some of the most vicious pogroms history has seen. And when Mao's Great Leap Forward gets underway? According to the Wikipedia, it killed 1.2 million in Tibet; Chinese territories in historic Japan would be similarly hit. Honshu (assuming my prediction) might survive as a fragile Japanese state, with US bases in its major ports to defend it against the Commie hordes, perhaps to reunify with Hokkaido in 1979. Godzilla never did that much damage.
There will always be debate over the ethics of the decision to drop the Bomb. But we should all look with optimism at what we did with the aftermath. Following is the main portion of my Pearl Harbor post of 2002:
When I was in hospice training, I was taught that no one ever recovers fully from grief. There will always be times when memories of a loss, whether over someone's death or some other tragic event, will trigger feelings of remorse. What one who has suffered a loss must do is to recover to the point that the loss is manageable, when it no longer interferes with everyday normal life. Pearl Harbor, and WWII in general, provoke strong feelings - and strong disagreements - in both the United States and Japan, even among those who have no conscious memory of December 7, 1941. But this day has scarcely any effect whatsoever on relations between our governments or our citizens. The vast majority of us refuse to blame events of the past on those who weren't there.
Wars do not always end with such peaceful results. In many cases, virulent bitterness is passed from generation to generation. Such lies at the root of the current war we fight against terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are only the beginning. Terrorism will never go away completely, but if we fight this war right we will fight every government that willingly aids and abets our enemies and we will be victorious, and if we do our postwar job right as we did in Japan, today's enemies will be tomorrow's allies.
Such was the vision Emperor Hirohito painted in the remainder of his surrender address:
The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.
Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.
Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strike which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.
Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.
Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution - so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.
One day, a United States president and a Japanese prime minister will stand together at the USS Arizona monument, and dwell not on the disagreements over the war, but on what good we built out of its conclusion.