August 6 marks the 70th anniversary of the America’s first tactical deployment of nuclear weapons. As noted by Wall Street Journal reporter Nancy Rabinowitz on July 23, 2015, after decades of American self-flagellation over the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, certain academics are citing the “bomb’s undeniable accomplishments” in ending a war the Japanese leadership was more than willing to see kill every one of the nation’s men, women and children.
History Professor Martin Sherwin of George Mason University left little to the imagination as he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Japanese leadership for leaving the Americans little choice but to utilize the nuclear option. As Rabinowitz quoted the historian, (emphasis his) “Nothing speaks well for the Japanese government, nothing. The emperor and his advisers were callously indifferent to the lives of their citizens…they just did not care how their people were suffering.”
The historic attack not only hastened the surrender of the Japanese Empire, but also resulted in saving the lives of millions on both sides, as reported by Forbes magazine on Aug. 6, 2013. Almost 70 years ago, approximately 66,000 Japanese, not all of them civilians, perished when the United Stated loosed an uranium-based atomic bomb on the southern Japanese city of Hiroshima. Despite the destruction never before seen, the Tokyo government still steadfastly refused to surrender. It was two days later that a second atomic weapon was employed.
Despite the conventional wisdom that the United States needlessly and in cold-blood utilized not one, but two horrific weapons against Japan, Henry I. Miller of Forbes examines the American decision to send Fat Man and Little Boy to war. As Miller noted, “The historical context and military realities of 1945 are often forgotten in judging whether it was ‘necessary’ for the United States to use nuclear weapons.” As cited, not only are the military realities often forgotten over time, they’re many times ignored if not quasi-censored by many in academia.
Widely unknown to most is that the United States military not only dropped millions of leaflets warning Japan of the impending “special nature of Hiroshima’s destruction.” The United States also broadcasted radio warnings to the Japanese people every 15 minutes.
As cited on the official CIA historical website, “Back on Saipan, the OWI [Office of War Information] presses were turning out leaflets that revealed the special nature of Hiroshima’s destruction and predicted similar fates for more Japanese cities in the absence of immediate acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam agreement. By 9 August, more than 5 million leaflets about the atom bomb had been released over major Japanese cities. The OWI radio station beamed a similar message to Japan every 15 minutes.”
Yet if the United States elected not to use two separate munitions from its meager atomic inventory, the United States and its British and Commonwealth Allies would have had no choice but to invade the Japanese home islands in what was code named Operation Downfall. As noted by Portland State University (of Oregon), estimates ran into the millions for Allied casualties and tens of millions of Japanese, both military and civilian.
The estimate of the massive amounts of Japanese casualties were based on the conduct of both the Imperial Forces and also Japanese civilians themselves during the course of the Pacific Theater of War. During the invasions of the Japanese held islands of Saipan and Okinawa, Japanese parents killed their children by the hundreds, while some historians estimate thousands. Afterwards, it was more than common for the parents to commit suicide themselves.
On both islands the actual population of ethnic Japanese was actually quite small when compared to the 100 million which populated the Home Islands. American planners of the invasion had no reason to believe that millions of Japanese parents wouldn’t kill their children, then themselves, just like their countrymen did on Saipan and Okinawa. As the video (above) from History.com notes, US Marines witnessed Japanese fathers slitting the throats of their own children before they themselves committed suicide.
Much like the German Volkssturm units which consisted of children and elderly men who fought the invading Russian Army to the death, the Bushido tradition-rich Japanese Home Guard was already training Japanese children as young as 9-years-old to charge American troops with sharpened bamboo spears. Again, American military planners realized the warfare truism that Allied troops would have no choice but to kill Japanese Home Guard troops by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Not lost on American military planners was the distinct possibility the Japanese death toll could reach the millions.
One thing the Allies learned throughout the course of the Pacific Theater was that the Japanese Imperial Forces would often fight to the death. Case in point was the recently slugged out Battle of Iwo Jima, where of the 22,000 Imperial troops garrisoned on the island, over 99 percent either fought to the death or died by their own hands rather than surrender. Less than 200 POWs were captured by the invading Marines. Of the mere handful taken by the Leathernecks, most didn’t surrender voluntarily but were captured when either seriously dazed or unconscious by the concussion of the almost continual American air and naval bombardment and Marine artillery missions.
Unlike their German and Italian counterparts who would surrender by the millions upon the fall of their respective nations, Allied troops would have no other option but to kill the millions of Japanese troops garrisoned on the Home Islands. There was an eventually scrapped plan to not invade, but instead starve Japan into submission. Affecting both the Japanese military and civilian populace, an Allied naval blockade would result in a famine that conceivably could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
In spite of many in American academia portraying Hiroshima and Nagasaki as pastoral centers of no military value, the opposite is the militarily reality. Specifically, the two cities were real and legitimate targets. Examples include;
- In and around Hiroshima were 43,000 Japanese troops waiting to kill American, British, and Commonwealth troops (mainly Australians and New Zealanders, with the distinct possibility that Canadians and Indian troops would be committed if and when the Allied death toll rose in the latter stages of the invasion).
- Nagasaki was the HQ for the 2d Imperial Army which was tasked with the defense on the Southern Front of Operation Getsu-Go when the Allies landed in the southern Home Islands.
- Nagasaki was also the home to two major Mitsubishi arms factories.
- Both cities were transportation hubs with militarized rail, air and port facilities.
Also well known to Allied leaders and planners was the popular slogan in Japan during the closing months of the war: “One hundred million heartbeats. One death.”