THIS SECTION SEEKS TO PRESENT TWO SIDES ON A NUMBER OF CRITICAL POINTS RELATED TO THE BOMB DECISION THAT HAVE NOT YET BEEN DEALT WITH ELSEWHERE. THE FORMAT IS INTENDED TO STIMULATE STUDENTS TO FURTHER INVESTIGATE THE ISSUES AND COME TO AN INDEPENDENT JUDGMENT ABOUT THEM. PAGE NUMBERS IN THE PARENTHESES REFER TO THE DECISION. ALL QUESTIONS WERE POSTED ON H-DIPLO EXCEPT WHERE OTHERWISE NOTED. I AM INDEBTED TO DOUG LONG FOR HIS MANY SUGGESTIONS AND COMMENTS REGARDING THE DRAFTING OF THIS DOCUMENT.
10/10: Eric Bergerud wrote: "On August 11, after a long and tortuous dispute, Hirohito forced his military to accept the Potsdam Declaration with the lone proviso that acceptance did not prejudice the "prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler." If the Alperovitz thesis is correct, Byrnes and Truman should have been popping champagne corks at that very instant. . .Yet Byrnes held out for unconditional surrender. WHY??? The only reasonable conclusion is that Byrnes genuinely feared domestic uproar in the United States and probably despised Hirohito. Neither of these reasons fit the Alperovitz argument. Consequently, the author ignored the incident." Bergerud made a similar charge again on 10/28.
RESPONSE: First: Bergerud is simply dead wrong to say Alperovitz "ignored the incident" of August 10 [NOT August 11]. See pages 417-8 and 556-557. Second: All along American policy makers wanted to hold on to the RHETORIC of unconditional surrender for political purposes at home. On the other hand, all along it was also obvious that this issue could be finessed--by keeping the language but yielding on the key issue. Indeed, just such a posture began to emerge in early May--and then was held up for much of the summer. Furthermore, Alperovitz states quite clearly in a number of places (p.312; p649-50) that some political considerations cannot be ruled out. The central issue is whether they were strong enough to tie the President's hands. The evidence is quite clear: they were not.
In his memoir All in One Lifetime, Byrnes himself made no reference to possible "domestic uproar" in explaining his objection to the Japanese response. Rather, Byrnes argued that any deviation from unconditional surrender would cause further delay in obtaining Allied concurrence while the Soviets penetrated deeper into Manchuria. He wrote:
His assistant, Walter Brown, noted earlier in his diary entry of July 24 that "JFB [Byrnes] still hoping for time, believing after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press for claims against China. . . ."
While Byrnes thought unconditional surrender was preferable it was certainly not determinative. Indeed, The Decision (p.309) cites a 1952 letter from Byrnes to Gen. Leslie Groves in which he acknowledged the necessity of utilizing the Emperor to obtain a surrender:
Time and again Truman indicated that he had little problem with assurances for the emperor. Perhaps Mr. Bergerud had overlooked pages 417-418 of The Decision where Truman's lack of concern over this is spelled out. For the record, let me restate the key passage here:
CORDELL HULL AND UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER
12/4: Brian Villa wrote in H-Japan: "Needless to say no one on Alperovitz's long list of office holding surrender modification advocates took up the gauntlet for the reason Hull articulated so precisely, saying that any concession before the surrender would be perceived as "appeasement." Not even General Marshall who probably had the clout with Congress to carry it through took it up. Can anyone doubt that Cordell Hull, in tendering his advice was reflecting this broad background of public, Congressional and editorial opinion which he knew so well, on which-- as regards Congressional opinion on foreign affairs-- he was the Roosevelt administration's top, unchallengable, expert? With Hull opposed the concession was not going to happen anytime before a Japanese acceptance of unconditional surrender or something darn close to it. . . . How Dr. Alperovitz gets to where he wants to go is perfectly obvious. Since Hull advised against a concession on the Emperor and since the advice was given at about the time the Truman administration began to harden its position against a public concession, (the connection is explicit in the sources) Hull is a problem for the plausibility of the counter factual that concessions could easily have been made and thus Hiroshima avoided. To reestablish the counterfactual Hull must be rendered into a political nullity after which his removal from the historical stage, like so much rubble, comes easily. Alperovitz's demolition job on Hull's political weight occurs on pages 307-8, and they are, I submit, among the most unhistorical pages in that book. Here is how he begins this section: "The fact is, Hull was something of an anachronism who had rarely been taken seriously even during the Roosevelt era." Fact is ? The "fact is" that the last half of that sentence is one of Alperovitz's "howlers", to use a term familiar to any Cambridge University fellow. It is about as far off the mark as you can get. True, there was some personal animosity between FDR and Hull which grew over years. True, Hull was kept out of many issues by Roosevelt for the simple fact that once you asked Hull's advice there was nothing left to do but surrender, as FDR knew only too well. "Cwist!" Few in Washington ever dared cross Hull, and the few who did, did so at their mortal peril. If anyone survived unscathed a clash with Hull I do not know who that might be. Roosevelt himself never directly challenged Hull's savvy on Congressional opinion in Hull's area. The dying Roosevelt, nursing no small amount of resentment against Hull, nevertheless had himself dragged out to Bethesda Naval Hospital to pay court on the considerably less ill Hull.(President Truman also made a point of consulting Hull in the hospital on the first major foreign policy initiative of his presidency.) Take any recognized author on Roosevelt, from Sherwood to Dallek to whomever and they all pay tribute to Hull's unchallengable mastery of Congressional opinion and speak of Rooseveltian deference to that power. Hull was out of office of course when Truman took over, but there is no evidence that Truman ever slighted him. (Truman knew congressional realities as well or better than Roosevelt.) The evidence Alperovitz uses to dismiss the weight of Hull's intervention is all ex-post facto, off the point, and not worth a waterlogged tea leaf at the bottom of a cup."
RESPONSE: Brian Villa would have us believe that Hull's influence presented a brick wall for those who wanted to modify unconditional surrender. Note the various page references given in previous discussion on Truman and unconditional surrender; the contemporaneous evidence is very strong that President Truman himself did not believe political problems were critical. Villa fails to point out that Truman himself did not appear worried about such matters. Stimson's diary entries of July 24 and August 10 make it clear that neither Byrnes nor Truman were "obdurate" on the question (see p. 311). Beyond this Villa has single-handedly elevated Cordell Hull--who even Robert Maddox calls "much ignored"--to monumental stature. No major Truman biographer, not even Truman himself in his memoir Year of Decisions, uses Hull to defend the policy of unconditional surrender. Can Prof. Villa demonstrate how the retired and ailing Cordell Hull influenced Truman on this policy or is he merely speculating? Hull certainly communicated with Byrnes, but he had precious little contact with Truman. Yet, Villa has built Hull into a keystone in the unconditional surrender debate.
Moreover, he neglects to point out that Hull on July 16 asked Byrnes the following about offering assurances for the emperor, "Would it be well first to await the climax of allied bombing and Russia's entry into the war?" Clearly Hull's concern here is about timing rather than principle. (See pp. 305-308) That Hull wanted to couple assurances for the Emperor with the military shock of Russian entry or Allied bombardment is further reinforced by Grew's cable to Byrnes on the following day (see pp. 307-308).
Even the little influence on the administration that Hull did possess--through his contact with Byrnes--did not seem to amount to much. Byrnes quipped to John Foster Dulles in August 1945, "Cordell Hull was `My dear friend' but was never Secretary of State..."(p. 307) This was hardly an indication that Hull had any decisive influence over Byrnes. Indeed, Hull apparently made little impression on Byrnes regarding his opposition to modifying unconditional surrender since Byrnes told NBC producer Fred Freed in a 1964 interview that he did not even "remember that Cordell Hull took any active position [on unconditional surrender] after I became secretary. I know, however, that he shared the views of--in great part of Undersecretary Grew who believed firmly . . . that it would be unwise for us to insist upon the ousting of the emperor. . . ." Obviously Byrnes' memory does not square completely with the documentary evidence, but his characterization of Hull's position only makes it clearer that Hull did not make any strong impression upon Byrnes in this area.
Finally, it is useful to recall a passage from The Decision (p.312) that sharpens the consequences of withholding a statement on the Emperor for domestic political reasons:
If one makes the case that Truman couldn't offer assurances for the Emperor because of possible domestic political consequences, which the documents show the president did not see as overwhelming, then one is making the unsavory inference that Truman was willing to sacrifice American lives for his own political gain--since withholding assurances meant the Japanese would fight on. Saving lives should have been the weightier factor for the president and was surely his responsibility, even if it came at a political cost.
10/10: John Bonnett pointed to the Suzuki statement as a sign of Japanese intransigence: "Consider for example Prime Minister Suzuki's statement made on July 30, 1945, in the wake of the Potsdam declaration:
Note the crucial point. Suzuki is not emphasizing the status of the Emperor. His concern is the U.S. will to fight. His inference is that it is about to collapse. His implication is Japan can gain better peace terms."
RESPONSE: Bonnett is overlooking the context in which this statement was made. During the period in which the Japanese were still awaiting the Soviet response to their peace overture, the official position was to "withhold" final comment on the Potsdam Declaration. The hard-liners believed that they could get better terms if: 1) the Soviet Union could be persuaded to remain neutral; and, 2) if the neutral Soviets could act as intermediary with the Allies. Washington, of course, knew the Soviets were about to turn against the Japanese and thus pull the rug out from under the hardliners. Because the overtures to the Soviet Union were top secret (and political dynamite) Suzuki could only tell the press on July 28 that he would "ignore" (mokusatsu) the Declaration. The premier was also warned by the military that morale of the soldiers at the front would be hurt if the government seemed to be debating the terms. Thus Suzuki's public statements seem clearly to have been made, at least in significant part, with a view toward Japanese morale, while privately we know that the hardliners, as well as the peace faction, were eagerly awaiting news from Moscow. To interpret such politically charged statements as definitive evidence of a determined view is simply to ignore the evolving situation, the context, and the political environment of the time (see chapter 32).
HIROHITO'S ROLE IN ENDING THE WAR
11/1: Lou Coatney wrote in H-Japan: "Even though [the atomic bombs] were (so far) no worse than the "conventional" firebombings, they gave Hirohito the *qualitative* difference in weapons he needed to explain/excuse his demand for surrender to General Anami and his cohorts and to the Japanese people. Nothing epitomizes the arrogance of Gar Alperovitz and other Hiroshima revisionists more clearly than their attempt to second-guess even Emperor Hirohito ... who was, after all, the one person most responsible for obtaining Japan's surrender ... and really the *only* person able to obtain it."
RESPONSE: Mr. Coatney is quite right in citing the importance of Hirohito's decision to terminate the war. Unfortunately, he omits the fact that the Emperor told the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War in late June that the war should be ended. At the insistence of the hardliners, however, the war council decided to try to obtain more favorable terms through Soviet assistance. It is this overture (made possible by the Emperor's support) that was reported and tracked in the mid-July MAGIC intercepts. The news that the Emperor--the paramount source of legitimacy in Japan--had decided it was time to end the war gave US leaders great encouragement. Well before the first bomb was dropped the Japanese were still waiting for the Soviet reply to their request for mediation to end the war. It is in this pre-bomb context that Walter Brown noted in his August 3 diary entry: "Aboard Augusta/President, Leahy, JFB [Byrnes] agrred [sic] Japas [sic] looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."
Moreover, it was the Soviet declaration of war that was cited in the "Japanese Army General Staff statement on surrender" intercepted through MAGIC: "As a result of Russia's entrance into the war, the Empire, in the fourth year of its [war] endeavor, is faced with a struggle for the existence of the nation." The atomic bomb was neither mentioned in the Army message nor cited as reason for the surrender negotiations (see pp. 418-419). To recall, the 1946 War Department Military Intelligence Division's study concluded that had the atomic bomb not been available or not been used, it is "almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war" (pp. 84-85).
But the key question is: were the atomic bombings necessary to bring a quick Japanese surrender, thus saving lives on both sides? The Decision does not attempt to argue one way or the other whether the bombings or the Russians were what finally tipped the balance (see the Afterword in The Decision). What is important is whether it was understood that a change of terms plus the Russian attack would do it without the bombs. This is the critical issue; and on this the evidence now seems clear: the president was advised that the "two-step" strategy of awaiting the Russian attack and clarifying the Emperor's position seemed likely to end the war. And, to repeat, there were three months to go to see if this was so before even stage one of the invasion could begin.
THE IMPACT OF A SOVIET DECLARATION OF WAR AGAINST JAPAN
10/10: Eric Bergerud wrote: " The author greatly overstates the "shock effect" of the Soviet declaration of war. Like so many left wing journalists and historians since 1945, Alperovitz stresses the crucial importance of the Soviet entry into the war in August 1945. . . .If Russia attacked, so what? The war party knew that China & Manchuria was lost. As previously noted, they were trying to protect the Showa dictatorship, not a dead empire. When the attack came, it surprised no one in the military. The bomb, however, was utterly different. It was a serious shock and immediately recognized as a new and devastating weapon. The military might have been willing to fight on regardless, but there can be no doubt that the bomb was precious ammunition for Suzuki, Kido and Hirohito. Not only could they get the decision to accept the Potsdam Declaration, but they also were able to force the Army to accept the decision. That was no mean feat."
RESPONSE: Bergerud seems to prefer his speculation to the documents of the time--and, too, to ascribe left-wing motives to ideas which in fact had their origins within the top ranks of the U.S. military. As The Decision shows, the idea that the Russian attack would shock Japan into surrender derives from U.S. intelligence and military advice within the government. Foreign Minister Togo summed up the Japanese situation in an early June MAGIC intercept (pp. 121-122):
See also: Herbert Bix, in an important article in Diplomatic History (Spring 1995), discussed the effect of the massive Soviet entry into the war against Japan (see DH, pp. 218 and 224). And, here is how a top secret 1946 study by the War Department's Military Intelligence Division characterized it:
The study went on to state:
Indeed, even a casual reading of pre-August 6 newspapers and periodicals from 1945 (across the political spectrum) shows that if the Soviet Union attacked it would be a devastating blow against Japan. It is important to remember that prior to August 6 the world had no knowledge of the atomic bomb and thus the "conventional wisdom" was that a modification of unconditional surrender and the possible Soviet declaration of war were the best means to end the war prior to an invasion. I would argue that this is precisely the course of action that would have been followed if the bomb had failed to work. See chapters 7-9 for a discussion of Soviet entry as well chapters 32-34 for a discussion of the final weeks of the war. See also "Hiroshima, the American Media, and the Construction of Conventional Wisdom," in The Journal of American-East Asian Relations (Summer 1995) by Uday Mohan and Sanho Tree.
Lest there be any doubt about the "left-wingers" over emphasizing the role of Soviet entry, it is useful to recall Prof. Ernest May's February 1955 article "The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Far Eastern War, 1941-1945," published in the Pacific Historical Review. May, who was one of the first academics to write about Soviet entry into the war, noted that, "Japanese die-hards . . . had acknowledged since 1941 that Japan could not fight Russia as well as the United States and Britain . . ." Prof. May is quoted in The Decision (pp.83-84):
EISENHOWER AND THE BOMB
10/10: John Bonnett cited an article by Barton Bernstein that questioned whether Eisenhower actually appealed to Stimson not to use the bomb because the Japanese were nearly defeated. Bonnett then criticized Alperovitz's use of post-war memoirs.
RESPONSE: See pages 352-358 and 725-726 of The Decision for a discussion of Eisenhower's account which relies on numerous primary sources other than the memoirs. While this question may never be resolved definitively, it is important to note that Eisenhower, in a 1960 interview with historian Herbert Feis, revealed the source of his belief that Japan was close to surrender: Eisenhower had been reading the MAGIC intercepts. Moreover, Eisenhower, who once headed the Operations Division (OPD) of the War Department General Staff, was back in Washington in early July when the peace feelers were dominating the MAGIC intercepts. Also, it is important to remember that Eisenhower's first public criticism of the bomb was in his 1948 Crusade in Europe. Would Eisenhower fabricate a conversation in his highly publicized book--especially when Stimson was still alive and could have denied the account? Of all people, McGeorge Bundy, Stimson's assistant for On Active Service in Peace and War, would have known whether Eisenhower's claims were valid. In his own book, Danger and Survival, Bundy uses Eisenhower's claim repeatedly without questioning their reliability.
Much more important, The Decision cites numerous private and public statements which all point in the same direction. In his 1963 book Mandate for Change Eisenhower wrote:
An April 1960 White House interview with historian Herbert Feis notes that:
The Decision also cites new information from Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose that Eisenhower was "insistent" that he urged that the bomb not be used (see footnote on p.358).
CASUALITIES FROM AUGUST TO NOVEMBER
10/10: Eric Bergerud wrote about casualties in a protracted war: "Implicit in this view is the idea that Washington had time to spare and could approach the war situation with caution and could afford to try a number of approaches toward a just peace. Here again the truth was more complex. On August 1, 1945, British forces were fighting in Malaya and preparing for a major amphibious thrust toward Singapore in September. Australian and New Zealand forces were fighting in Indonesia, New Guinea, New Britain and Bougainville. Chinese infantry and guerrillas were in contact with the Japanese on a front several hundred miles long. American fighter-bombers were engaging in a massive and risky interdiction campaign across the Japanese homeland. B-29 raids invariably lost planes. US infantry were fighting on Leyte, Luzon and Mindanao. Allied prisoners were dropping like flies and in danger of wholesale execution. In addition there was massive famine (caused by the Japanese) in Indonesia and Vietnam."
RESPONSE: Here Bergerud assumes that the Soviet declaration of war would have little impact upon the Japanese. And, in the unlikely event that the war continued into the autumn, would the British have ordered any costly amphibious campaigns given what they knew through MAGIC? While the British were obsessed with reclaiming their colonies after the war (in spite of the Atlantic Charter), it is far from clear that they would have sacrificed so many British lives when the war was nearly over. Simply because planning had taken place is by no means a guarantee that an operation would have been executed. Many top US Navy leaders, for instance, doubted that OLYMPIC would have to be mounted (even before the bomb) but they had to plan for that contingency or else the shipping and logistics would not have been in place if the war had continued (pp. 66-67 and 321-333). Military leaders routinely plan for worst-case scenarios just in case. All throughout the Cold War the U.S. made nuclear war plans that were never used. Also, by the end of July B-29 raids were flying over Japan against little or no fighter opposition. In fact by late July the Army Air Force was so confident of its aerial supremacy over Japan that they began to warn Japanese cities of impending attacks.
Equally important--as The Decision points out--the US chose not to use all available options to end the war quickly. Keeping a hard line on the Emperor was understood as likely to prolong the war; trying to delay the Russian attack had the same implications. Moreover, as Secretary Stimson later acknowledged, delaying any statement on the Emperor for so long (Grew proposed it at the end of May) also made it impossible for internal Japanese decision making to evolve. That the US was not trying to use all available options to end the war quickly is well established (see pp. 627-641). While these available options were side-lined while U.S. leaders waited for the bomb, many Americans and others lost their lives.
A-BOMB COMPARED TO BLOCKADE/STARVATION OF JAPAN 10/17: Stanley Sandler on an H-War cross-post wrote: "Numerous naval and civil leaders of the time have been quoted as arguing or at least feeling that the U.S. blockade of Japan would have starved that nation into surrender. Now, if so many Americans feel so badly about the nuclear bombings of two cities and their attendant death toll of something like 150,000, what would have been anyone's feelings if our occupation troops, upon entering Japan, had reported heaps of dead women and children, who had perished from malnutrition? I fail to see how slowly and deliberately starving to death millions of civilians throughout Japan would have been any improvement on the quick killing of several hundreds of thousands in two cities."
RESPONSE: The choice in 1945, of course, was not between mass starvation and atomic bombing. While the food situation in Japan was severe, other effects of blockade and bombardment would probably have had a more immediate impact on the Japanese war effort than eventual malnutrition and starvation. For instance the interdiction of shipping, the severing of bridges, tunnels and rail lines, the destruction of the fragile Japanese electrical grid, the destruction of nitrogen plants, and the ever increasing fuel shortage would have undermined the Japanese ability to continue the war before the full effects of starvation set in. Furthermore, while many military leaders (especially in the Navy) believed that blockade would have brought Japan to surrender without the bomb or invasion, most of them were not aware of the secret agreement by the Soviets to declare war against Japan in August. Nor were many of the leaders privy to the MAGIC intercepts showing the Japanese maneuverings for peace. As The Decision shows, the real choice was not between the bomb and blockade, but between clarifying the position of the Emperor and awaiting the Russian attack--and going forward with the bombing.
U.S. STRATEGIC BOMBING SURVEY
11/18: Henry Winkler, a former Navy officer who served with USSBS-Japan wrote: "The major impression I brought away from that exercise was that the "findings" were a compromise of the claims of our respective services--the Air Force that the bombings, both "strategic" and nuclear encouraged Japan to surrender; the Navy that the "black cats," etc. did the job by interdicting food and supplies from the continent to the main islands; the Army that the threat of invasion really did the trick. And it was often evident that the Japanese service people who were interrogated told their questioners pretty much what they thought the latter wanted to hear. Judgments based on the two surveys should--and of course have been--questioned."
ALSO: 11/20 Eric Bergerud agreed with Winkler on USSBS-Pacific: "It did not strike me that the US Army got in its fair share in the inquisition, but the Navy and 20th AF (LeMay's crowd) sure did their best do prove they won the war single handed. And yet...if you look at the evidence, the conclusion that the war would have been over by November and the invasion unnecessary is NOT necessarily supported by the data supplied. Some supports that contention but the stuff that doesn't went under the rug. Methinks Mr. Nitze, then Captain Moorer and company were thinking of the Defense Reorganization looming in Congress instead of history."
RESPONSE: It is difficult to reconcile this interpretation of USSBS-Japan with the USSBS-Europe conclusions, which were HIGHLY critical of Army Air Force's strategic bombing efforts. If USSBS was a indeed a tool of the Army Air Force, as some have argued, then why were they so disparaging of the European bombing campaign? To recall, it was USSBS that first verified and publicized the inefficiency and inaccuracy of WWII era strategic bombing. Even a cursory reading of the press accounts relating to the release of the USSBS-Europe reports shows that the Army Air Force came out looking very bad indeed. Surely if USSBS was concerned with post-war reorganization, they would have toned down their criticism strategic bombing.
More interesting is the fact that USSBS-Japan did not take up the key questions: 1) what would have happened if there had been assurances for the Emperor; and 2) what would have happened if Truman had awaited the Soviet declaration of war. If they had examined these options they could have only strengthened their conclusion that the bomb was not necessary to obviate an invasion.
ATOMIC VS. CONVENTIONAL BOMBARDMENT
11/13: Stephen R. Maynard wrote: "I am still waiting to see if anyone can explain why the atomic bombing of Japan is different from "conventional" air bombardment. Both, after all, have as their primary targets supposedly "military" support structures. I remain unconvinced that there is a difference."
RESPONSE: One fundamental difference is that many of the massive conventional attacks, such as the fire bombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, were made at a time when there was no indication that the Japanese were prepared to end the war. By contrast, the Hiroshima bombing occurred after the US intercepted Japanese peace overtures. To recall, Truman referred to one intercept in his July 18 journal as the "telegram from Jap [sic] Emperor asking for peace." This is precisely what top military leaders like Eisenhower, Nimitz, Halsey, et al. pointed to (see chapters 26-29). In fact from May onward, diplomacy--offering assurances for the emperor--began to play a significant role in American plans for bringing about Japanese surrender. Furthermore, there are critical differences between conventional and atomic weapons, and these were recognized at the time, by Stimson, Truman, and others--one reason why evidence of the human suffering from the atomic attacks were suppressed for some time in the United States. Also, the development of atomic weapons introduced a technology which, for the first time, could place US cities at risk. With this new technology, a single plane could cross the oceans which had once insulated this country from heavy assault and destroy an entire city.
Another difference is the discussions about the bomb prior to its use. Truman knew he was ushering in a new, much more powerful level of warfare by using the atomic bomb. Stimson had described the atomic bomb to Truman on 4/25/45: "Within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city." Stimson further told him that ". . . the future may see a time when such a weapon may be constructed in secret and used suddenly and effectively with devastating power by a wilful [sic] nation or group against an unsuspecting nation or group of much greater size and material power. With its aid even a very powerful unsuspecting nation might be conquered within a very few days by a very much smaller one, although probably the only nation which could enter into production within the next few years is Russia." He added: "On the other hand, if the problem of the proper use of this weapon can be solved, we would have the opportunity to bring the world into a pattern in which the peace of the world and our civilization can be saved. . ." ("Memorandum discussed with the President April 25, 1945" in the Stimson diary).
Truman was so impressed by the Trinity A-bomb test that he wrote in his diary on 7/25/45: "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark." And Vannevar Bush and James Conant had been pushing Stimson to prepare for international control to prevent a war more horrible than WWII. Harvey Bundy recalled in his oral history that Churchill [after reading the Alamogordo report by Groves] said, "Stimson, what was gunpowder? Trivial. What was electricity? Meaningless. This is the Second Coming."
THE AUGUST 9 JAPANESE CABINET MEETING
10/14: Brian Villa criticized Alperovitz's treatment of the August 9 meeting of the Japanese Inner Cabinet:
Villa repeated essentially the same charge on 10/28 in H-Diplo.
RESPONSE: In these and related charges Villa seems bent on ignoring the complex discussion of the significance of the various Japanese discussions and decisions made after the bombs were actually used which are reported in The Decision. The book is a study--day by day, hour by hour--of how U.S. decision-makers made their decision. It deals with the Japanese response by assessing the modern literature in a section devoted to this. Since this is referenced by footnotes at precisely the pages cited by Villa, his neglect of this discussion is hard to understand. As the discussion in The Decision shows (and many scholars have documented) the key question after the bomb was used was not whether there was some delay within the Japanese cabinet. How could there not have been confusion and delay? The key question is whether all things considered the bombs were necessary. See also Part III of Alperovitz's response in H-Diplo. In this regard, it may also be useful to note the following from a study entitled "Outline of Events within the Japanese Government Leading Up to the Surrender" found in the papers of the Office of Chief of Military History (declassified in 1995). It was prepared by the War Department's Historical Division in anticipation of the critical findings of the USSBS report on Japan's decision to surrender. The study was forwarded by Chief Historian Rudolph Winnacker to Henry Stimson in 1946. Winnacker wrote in his cover letter to Stimson, "[the study] covers the same story related by the [Strategic Bombing] Survey on pages 25-26, in greater detail and points out the resistance of the professional army and navy leaders to surrender." Designed to bolster Truman's decision to use the bomb, the study reported:
As the War Department study shows, "NO DECISION WAS REACHED." The reason the Minister of War and the two Chiefs of staff did not go along with the peace faction was not because of the "depth of the military's commitment to a suicidal end to the war" as Villa puts it--such a gross oversimplification does a great disservice to the record. Rather, the hard-liners wished to hold out for more favorable surrender terms. The relevant questions here are: 1) how long could the hard-liners hold on to this position after the Emperor's intervention?; 2) when the full extent of the Manchurian debacle became known to the public, how long could the war faction maintain their position in the face of a two front war?; and 3) how might assurances for the Emperor have changed the dynamics of the Japanese Cabinet debate?
In attempting to defend his argument regarding "the depth of the [Japanese] military's commitment to a suicidal end to the war" (H-Diplo 10/28) by using the Aug. 9 meetings, Villa has grabbed on to the wrong end of the sword. For it was the climax of those Aug. 9-10 meetings that not only proved the military was willing to surrender without a fight to the death, but also proved the point that had already been made by Stimson, McCloy, Grew, etc. that the retention of the Emperor was the key issue in obtaining that surrender. That some in the Japanese Cabinet still wanted to continue the war, as Villa admits, "after Hiroshima, after Nagasaki, after the Zacharias broadcasts, after Soviet entry" only points to the ineffectiveness and inappropriateness of the atomic bombs on the die-hards.
ARCHIBALD MACLEISH AND UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER
10/14: Brian Villa pointed to the influence of liberals in the State Department as a reason why assurances for the Emperor were dropped. He wrote:
RESPONSE: It is important to keep in mind that MacLeish's July 6 memo to Byrnes was made before the dramatic MAGIC intercepts indicating the Emperor's desire to end the war. Furthermore, the MAGIC summaries were distributed on a "need to know basis" and it is uncertain whether MacLeish as Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations would have been informed about the substance of the intercepts. In his posting Villa neglects to mention that MacLeish, in his own memo, described himself as a "non expert whose knowledge of Japan is limited to a study of a few months duration." Professor Villa should be reminded that he himself admitted in his 1976 article [p.89] that "These objections [to allowing the retention of the Emperor] should not have had much impact on the surrender terms since Acheson had never been to the Far East and MacLeish hardly qualified as an authority on that area." Contrast this with Villa's denunciation of Alperovitz on Nov. 11, 1996 on H-Diplo: "Alperovitz, has generally been reluctant to concede that left ideologues in the Washington bureaucracy blocked a formal concession on the retention of the Emperor. According to Alperovitz the two that led the opposition, Acheson (in his more liberal days) and MacLeish were not very influential."
We now also know that a little over a week after MacLeish made his protest, a study by the State Department Office of Public Opinion Studies on "Current Public Attitudes Toward the Unconditional Surrender of Japan" reached his desk. The study, dated July 16, concluded that:
While the study acknowledged that the majority of the public still supported the "unconditional surrender" program, it noted that, "These polls also suggest that a considerable portion of the public would not insist upon the conquest of the Japanese homeland before any effort is made to reach a peace settlement--provided Japanese power is ended in the Pacific islands and in Asia." In any event The Decision shows in detail that Macleish's views were highly qualified--and, too, that it is difficult to show they reached or influenced the president at all (see pp. 308-309).
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