Monday, June 10, 2013

What caused Japan to surrender in 1945?

It wasn't the atomic bomb, Ward Wilson argues.


thusbloggedanderson said...

This is not a new argument, and it depends on a dubious notion of "cause." Stalin may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but as reports of the Hiroshima bomb's effects trickled up to the leaders, it became clear that this "most cruel weapon" changed things, particularly given their fear of internal disorder (Frank, "Downfall," is good on that).

A better question to my mind is whether the Nagasaki bomb should have been dropped so soon. Both bombs were sent out to be used as opportunity allowed.

LFC said...

"not a new argument"

That doesn't surprise me, given the # of years that have passed and the amt of historical research and interest in all aspects of WW2.

On the merits: I haven't read 'Downfall' and I'm not competent to judge the competing arguments. I was struck, however, by the detailed way in which this piece compares the damage done to Hiroshima w that inflicted by the conventional raids, indicating that the damage to Hiroshima was not that out of line w the single and esp cumulative effects of conventional bombings. And the bombing of Tokyo actually produced higher casualties, acc. to Wilson. Plus his argument about the timing is interesting -- though the three-day delay in the mtg I suppose cd be accounted for by the time it took for reports to filter up.

As is often the case, this may be a situation where there are multiple 'causes'. But I thought the article, although I read it quickly, did make its case well. Also I noted it is adapted from a book called Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons (or something close to that).

thusbloggedanderson said...

"Downfall" is good, tho you would probably want to skim it for the U.S. and Japanese governments' decision-making. Frank actually opens with the Tokyo firebombing, which killed more people than died at Hiroshima.

However, besides the disturbing reports of radiation-related injuries, the obvious difference is that it was just one bomb. It took 279 B-29s and 1700 *tons* of bombs to level Tokyo. To dismiss this as nothing new is ... odd.

I do think that the Soviets snatched the last foolish hope from the Japanese, but there's no reason to think that the two A-bomb attacks weren't sufficient to produce the same result.

hank_F_M said...


One of the less convincing expositions of an old argument I have seen.

1. The dedison had to be made on the infomation available to the President. Much of what he discuses would not have been available to the President.

2. He is assuming that because a decision was made on 9 August after the bomb that they would have made the same decision without the bomb. As I understand it the Japanese government was highly divided with the hawks having a slight upper hand and most ambivalent.

While they was an element that would have settled for prewar Japan with no occupation but they were not inclined to accept unconditional surrender. Our chinese and probally commonweath allies would not have accepted this. The psychological impact of the Hiroshima bomb was a key mind changer. I think most likely without no consensus could have been reached which would be an effective decision to fight on.

3. The Japanese had good reason to believe that they could defeat or bog down the invasion Kyushu with US casualties high enough that it would affect a more acceptable peace. . US force on force reviews of the US invasion plan to the actual Japanese defense force (much larger than US Intelligence estimates) confirmed that the inital plan could not succeed. The staff estimates based on what US intelligence believed was there predicted casualties on the scale suffered moving from Normandy to the Elbe.

4. Considering casutly rate caused the US bombing campaign and the level of casualties inflicted by the Japanese in China, if Japan did not surrender, the beak even point on people killed and injured would have been passed in a week or two at the most. If his argument is intended to be quatrain he neds to do a bit more research.

Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

LFC said...

"The psychological impact of the Hiroshima bomb was a key mind changer."

You and Anderson clearly agree on this. Being outnumbered, I should probably, at least for the time being, surrender.

Kindred Winecoff said...


I have a post on this scheduled for tomorrow. The gist is that I think assuming (as Wilson does, implicitly) that Stalin's decision to invade Manchuria was *completely independent* of the US's decision to drop the bomb two days earlier is, shall we say, heroic.

In fact there's a good bit of evidence both that the US dropped the first bomb to signal to the USSR, the USSR invaded Manchuria to signal back to the US, and the US dropped the second to make sure the message was sent. The USSR got further involved in China and Korea (and amped up their nuclear program) as a result.

So even if Japan was responding to the USSR, the USSR was responding to the US (and vice versa). The Cold War was already underway, and Japan got caught in the middle.

LFC said...

Thanks, v. interesting.
I look forward to your post tomorrow.