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Was Hiroshima necessary? Or Nagasaki?

The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Wilson Miscamble)

An interesting but not groundbreaking study of Truman's decision to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Frankly, I prefer Richard Frank's Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. The Most Controversial Decision is available in a pricey hardcover, reasonably priced paperback, and a Kindle ebook for the customary ten bucks. The last is what I read, and here are my notes:

Roosevelt might best be thought of as a remarkable exemplar of the "political fox" in action. (p.5)

Warren Kimball has suggested that "Roosevelt, like most non-scientists, did not comprehend the revolutionary potential of nuclear weapons." (p.14)

In the midst of his musings about what might have been [FDR] described Davies as "a Russophile" and then added notably "as most of us were." (p.39)

for [James] Byrnes "domestic political concerns were primary." Congress would want a return on the national investment in the Manhattan Project to be sure, but more importantly Byrnes believed that "both the public and their representatives would be outraged if the Truman administration later were shown to have displayed any reluctance to win the war with Japan as quickly as possible by forgoing the use of this weapon." (p.41)

The consensus held that the bomb be used against Japan as soon as possible, that it be used on "a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers' houses," and that it be used without prior warning. (p.43)

Reading backwards as citizens of the atomic age, historians have given the decision to use this devastating weapon an importance that it didn't obtain at the time. As the astute Robert James Maddox has noted, among the responsible decision makers "there was no debate over whether to use the bomb when it became available; the question was how." (p.45)

The president showed no inclination to question in any way the guiding, if implied, assumption that had prevailed under his predecessor's administration that the bomb was a weapon of war built to be used. His willingness to authorize the dropping of the atomic bomb placed him in a direct continuity with FDR for, as Gerhard Weinberg has argued, "nothing suggests that Roosevelt, had he lived, would have decided differently." Truman's "decision" ultimately was, as General Leslie Groves of the Manhattan Project later suggested, the negative one of not interfering in a course already charted and powerfully driven. (p.45)

former president Herbert Hoover's warning to Truman in late May that the invasion could cost from half a million to a million lives was taken very seriously by the president. Indeed he feared "an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other." (p.49)

Nowhere in the enemy's mindset could ULTRA detect pessimism or defeatism. Instead Japan's military leaders were determined to go down fighting and take as many Americans with them as possible." ....They calculated that they could inflict such punishment on American forces that they would lose heart for the struggle and agree to peace terms. Through 1945 the Japanese instituted increases in conscription and raised new divisions. Additionally, they moved experienced troops back home from Manchuria, China, and Korea. (p.50)

Admiral Leahy provided a more realistic numerical assessment of likely losses suggesting that Kyushu would mirror Okinawa where the casualty rate reached approximately 35 percent of troops employed. After clarifying that over three quarters of a million soldiers would be committed to Kyushu he left Truman to do his own calculation. (p.51)

Understanding the Byrnes-Truman approach at Potsdam is essential for grasping the real nature of American diplomacy at this crucial time. It also allows for a clear evaluation of the extent to which news of the successful test of the first atomic weapon influenced American planning to defeat Japan and its policy toward the Soviet Union. (p.54)

Neither Truman nor Byrnes focused either on winning Stalin's trust or coaxing him into concessions. Instead the new American leaders approached their discussions with the Soviets and the British as politicians and practical men eager to reach the best deal they could for their own country. (p.57)

Byrnes further shared his hopes with Navy Secretary James Forrestal on July 26 and told him he "was most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in, with particular reference to Dairen and Port Arthur." As Byrnes understood well: "Once in there, he felt it would not be easy to get them out." (p.71)

On July 25 General Marshall's deputy, Gen. Thomas Handy, serving as the acting chief of staff, wrote at the direction of Stimson and Marshall to Gen. Carl Spaatz, the commanding general of the Army Strategic Air Forces and told him: "The 509 Composite Group, 20th Air Force will deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki." (p.79)

The on-the-ground reality of a Japanese military "girding for Armageddon" and convinced "that it could achieve success against an invasion," must be well appreciated by all who genuinely seek to understand why the atomic bombs were used. In short, Japan hardly stood on the verge of military defeat. The time has come at long last to explode permanently the myth of a Japan ready to surrender (p.82)

Truman and his associates like Byrnes didn't seek to avoid using the bomb, and those who focus on "alternatives" distort history by overemphasizing them. (p.89)

the American leaders "easily rejected or never considered most of the so-called alternatives to the bomb." They saw no reason to do so because they viewed the atomic bomb as another weapon in the Allied arsenal along with such complements - not alternatives - as the naval blockade, continued conventional bombing, the threat of invasion, and Soviet entry into the war. Together, they hoped, these might secure a Japanese surrender before American troops waded ashore on the southern plains of Kyushu. (p.89)

Foreign Minister Togo, the leading civilian proponent of "peace" within the government, planted the seeds for an eventual change in policy when he visited the Imperial Palace on August 8 and briefed Emperor Hirohito.... urging that Japan could 'seize the opportunity' to surrender quickly." Togo recalled that the emperor agreed, and in fact observed that "now that such a new weapon has appeared, it has become less and less possible to continue war. ... So my wish is to make such arrangements as will end the war as soon as possible." The emperor's decision, it should be noted, came before any news of a Soviet declaration of war reached him.... It proved, however, a difficult task to translate this imperial wish, which did not specify any detailed terms of surrender, into a formal policy decision because the Japanese military proved quite resistant to any notion of surrender. (p.96)

[The War Cabinet] gathered in an underground air-raid shelter a few minutes before midnight on August 9.... Anami spoke of resolutely proceeding with the prosecution of the war and declared that "if the people of Japan went into the decisive battle in the homeland determined to display the full measure of patriotism and to fight to the very last, Japan would be able to avert the crisis facing her." (p.98)

at this meeting Anami clarified with Suzuki that Japan would fight on if the Allies refused to accede to the Japanese demand regarding the emperor's authority. (p.99)

[Truman:] "I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare but I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should act in the same manner." He continued that "for myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the 'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation and, for your information, I am not going to do it until it is absolutely necessary.... My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a humane feeling for the women and children in Japan." (p.100)

the harrowing ordeal of the peace faction gives the lie to any notion of a Japan just waiting to surrender. (p.104)

as Sadao Asada persuasively has clarified, the Japanese military who had insisted on "a fight to the finish" now "accepted surrender partly because the atomic bomb paradoxically helped them save 'face.'" (p.106)

Ultimately, the atomic bombs allowed the emperor and the peace faction in the Japanese government to negotiate an end to the war. George Marshall portrayed the matter correctly. The atomic bombs brought an end to the war in the Pacific.... Japan most certainly would have fought on considerably longer unless the United States and its allies had accepted major changes to its Potsdam surrender terms. (p.113)

the enormous wartime losses of the Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Javanese at the hands of the Japanese receive little attention in weighing the American effort to shock the Japanese into surrender. The losses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki assuredly were horrific, but they pale in significance when compared to the estimates of seventeen to twenty-four million deaths attributed to the Japanese during their rampage from Manchuria to New Guinea. (p.114)

From the perspective of over six decades Truman's use of the bomb, when viewed in the context of the long and terrible war, should be seen as his choosing the lesser of the evils available to him.... Truman, along with many others, has blood on his hands but he also stopped the veritable flood of blood on all sides. The reality that he prevented much greater bloodshed must be acknowledged. (p.123)

More surprising than this, however, is how little consideration the Truman administration actually gave to how its possession of the atomic bomb might be exploited diplomatically, especially with regard to the Soviet Union.... Byrnes neither commissioned planning documents on this matter nor assigned members of his department to consider potential strategies. In retrospect, the truly astonishing quality about America's atomic monopoly is how little policy makers deliberated about some possible diplomatic advantage.... The Truman administration failed to practice atomic diplomacy in a deliberate manner. The atomic bomb was neither used as some kind of stick to coerce the Soviets nor was it offered as some kind of carrot to enlist their cooperation. Of course, whether the United States could have exploited the diplomatic power of the atomic bomb effectively must remain in the realm of speculation. That it didn't try seriously is a matter of historical fact. (p.129)

Forrestal summarized in his diary that [Dean] Acheson, the renowned cold warrior of the future, "saw no alternative except to give full information to the Russians, however for some quid pro quo in the way of a mutual exchange of information. [He] could not conceive of a world in which we were hoarders of military secrets from our Allies, particularly this great Ally upon our cooperation with whom rests the future peace of the world." (p.132)

Ironically, Stalin might have been able to pursue his chosen approach of sovietization of a vast territory without much objection from the United States, if he had been able to limit his external goals to an East European sphere of influence. If he had learned a lesson from the Iran episode in March of 1946 and sat back contentedly to enjoy an empire that reached beyond the accomplishment of any of his Czarist forebears, then the Cold War might have been averted. But he could not. Stalin overreached and moved far beyond cementing his control of Eastern Europe so as to threaten both in the Mediterranean, particularly in Turkey, and also in Western Europe. In this disastrous choice lies the immediate origins of the Cold War. (p.146-47)

the Soviet Union's detonation of an atomic bomb at Semipalatinsk, a site in northern Kazakhstan, on August 29, 1949, (p.149)