Re: Bonnett on Alperovitz

Date: 10 Oct. 1996

From: Sanho Tree <>

As the Archival Research Director for Gar Alperovitz's book _ The Decision to Use theAtomic Bomb, and the Architecture of an American Myth_ I find it rather disingenuous that John Bonnett chose to attack Gar Alperovitz's "selective use of the evidence" by citing from a study prepared for the Combined Chiefs of Staff. This is one of the few instances where Mr. Bonnett actually engages the evidence presented in the book and Bonnett's own selective use of documentation deserves close scrutiny. In attempting to argue that American leaders believed that Japan was holding out for more than an assurance that the Emperor would not be eliminated, Bonnett wrote:

The Combined Chiefs of Staff, however, saw the matter quite differently on the eve of Potsdam:

"The ideas of foreign occupation of the Japanese homeland, foreign custody of the person of the Emperor, and the loss of prestige entailed by the acceptance of "unconditional surrender" are most revolting to the Japanese." The C.C.S. suggested Japan would be willing to bargain, to the point of divesting itself of all foreign territory. But if the Allies failed to meet the above minimum demands, Japan would continue to fight, playing "for time in the hope that Allied war weariness, jealousies, and conflicts of aims, or some "miracle", will present a method of extricating them from their admitted critical situation."

Thus, Bonnett concludes, "More was at stake, then, than `a proviso for Hirohito, or fight.' American civilian and military policy makers understood that Japan's objections to unconditional surrender centered on foreign occupation as well, and that Japan was prepared to go to substantial lengths to prevent both eventualities."

Unfortunately, Bonnett has chosen to omit a key sentence in a way that alters the meaning of the intelligence estimate. The full quotation shows that the officers of the Combined Intelligence Committee who prepared this study highlighted the centrality of the Emperor above all other conditions of surrender:

"The ideas of foreign occupation of the Japanese homeland, foreign custody of the person of the Emperor, and the loss of prestige entailed by the acceptance of `unconditional surrender' are most revolting to the Japanese. To avoid these conditions, IF POSSIBLE, and, IN ANY EVENT, to insure the survival of the institution of the Emperor, the Japanese might well be willing to withdraw from all the territory they have seized on the Asiatic continent and in the southern Pacific, and even to agree to the independence of Korea and to the practical disarmament of their military forces. A conditional surrender by the Japanese government along the lines stated above might be offered by them at any time from now until the time of the complete destruction of all Japanese power of resistance." [Emphasis added. 8 July 1945, "Estimate of the Enemy Situation (as of 6 July 1945). Reported by the Combined Intelligence Committee." C.C.S. 643/3]

Clearly, the Combined Intelligence Committee saw the Japanese objection to occupation as secondary (desirable "if possible") to the preeminent conditionùthe retention of the Emperor.

In trying to argue that the use of the atomic bomb was absolutely essential, Bonnett disregards the massive evidence showing that virtually all of Truman's top advisors felt that assurances for the Emperor were absolutely critical and it is incumbent upon him to explain why this _sine qua non_ was not granted.

Bonnett also ignores the preceding paragraph in this estimate which contains the judgment: "An entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Although individual Japanese willingly sacrifice themselves in the service of the nation, we doubt that the nation as a whole is predisposed toward national suicide. Rather, the Japanese as a nation have a strong concept of national survival, regardless of the fate of individuals. They would probably prefer national survival, even through surrender, to virtual extinction."

It is also important to note that this estimate was prepared the week before the Americans learned through the top secret MAGIC intercepts of the Emperor's unprecedented personal initiative to end the war.

Mr. Bonnett also cites the diary of Navy Secretary James Forrestal as evidence of American pessimism toward the likelihood of a Japanese surrender prior to the bomb. Bonnett quotes from Forrestal's summary of the MAGIC intercepts of the exchanges between Foreign Minister Togo and Ambassador Sato in Moscow and then comes to this conclusion:

"Considering American policy makers previously understood conditional surrender to comprise more than an Imperial guarantee, that Togo proved incapable of providing any new terms for Sato, and that Japan continued to harbour hopes of independent Soviet action, its stance on the 24th [of July] was not an encouraging sign."

This is a curious interpretation of Forrestal's assessment of the situation, to say the least. Forrestal noted the irony of the Japanese asking for Soviet mediation to end the war, in all probability, because he knew of the impending Soviet declaration of war against Japan and the effect it would have on the hard-liners there. In fact, he was quite encouraged by these intercepts and he ends his July 15 diary entry with: "It is significant that these [Sato-Togo] conversations began before there could have been much effect from the thousand-plane raids of the Third Fleet and several days before the Naval [artillery] bombardment of Kamaishi."

Bonnett ignores the evidence from many different sources presented in _The Decision_ [pp.390-399] showing that Forrestal believed the Japanese were on the verge of surrender. Indeed, Forrestal left for Potsdam on July 26th carrying the intercepts with him on the plane. Furthermore, Forrestal, a strong proponent of granting assurances for the Emperor, worked withActing Secretary of State Joseph Grew and Secretary of War Henry Stimson to urge a clarification of surrender terms for the Japanese in the hope of inducing a surrender prior to any invasion of the home islands. And, as Robert Albion, Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley have noted, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that Forrestal made a last ditch personal effort to head off the bombing. Thus, there is nothing unusual in Forrestal noting the Japanese decision to continue fighting if faced with "unconditional surrender" for he himself understood these terms to be unworkable so long as the Japanese believed the Emperor was threatened.

In attempting to dismiss the various Japanese peace feelers, Bonnett writes as though Joseph Grew was a hard-liner on the issue of unconditional surrender: "Joseph Grew suggested the [peace] initiatives were designed to weaken American commitment to the war." This characterization because it is Bonnett's only reference to Grew paints a grotesquely distorted picture of Grew's positions in 1945. Bonnett has taken a public statement Grew gave at a press conference in July putting down rampant peace rumors in the press and made it appear representative of Grew's larger, private views. Nothing could be farther from the truth. One would never know from reading Bonnett that Grew and Stimson were the driving forces behind the effort to grant assurances for the Emperorùeach approaching Truman several times.

In an effort to downplay the significance of the Soviet declaration of war Bonnett writes:

To the extent that American military planners did see potential shock value inherent in Russian entry, it was only within a specific context, in tandem with an American invasion, or the expectation of an imminent invasion. To be sure, analysts differed as to which factor would make the greatest impact on Japan. But they never viewed Soviet entry as an option capable of administering an instrumental "shock" in isolation.

Bonnett overlooks the mass of evidence stressing the shock value of a Soviet declaration of war. I will cite but one example here. On July 10, even before the Emperor's initiative, the chief Army planner, Brigadier General George A. Lincoln wrote to his friend Lieutenant General Albert C. Wedemeyer, the commander of US forces in China:

"The B-29s are doing such a swell job that some people think the Japs will quit without an invasion. That may be so providing we can get an adequate formula defining unconditional surrender. That we have attempted to do, and it has gone from this group through channels to the President. My personal opinion, which isn't much, is that there are two psychological days in this war; that is, the day after we persuade Russia to enter, if we can, and the day after we get what the Japs recognize as a secure beachhead in Japan. Around EITHER of those times we might get a capitulation, PROVIDING we have an adequate definition of what capitulation means." [p.359-360, emphasis added]

Bonnett cites an earlier statement, also by Gen. Lincoln, written on June 4 stating that "the point in our military progress at which the Japanese will accept defeat and agree to our terms is unpredictable." Clearly, this letter to Gen. Wedemeyer, written over a month later (and reprinted on p.359 of _The Decision_ ), shows that Lincoln's views had evolved but Bonnett chooses to omit this reference.

Perhaps these examples (many more could be given) are enough to illustrate the obvious: Mr. Bonnett is far too loose with the facts to be so free and easy with his ad hominum attacks and abstract psychological theories.

Sanho Tree

Institute for Policy Studies