The myth that nuclear bombing was what “ended World War II”

The World Post, Gar Alperovitz Author, Political Economist, Historian05/24/2016 U.S.
President Barack Obama’s forthcoming visit to Hiroshima offers an opportunity to reconsider some of the myths surrounding the historic decision to use the atomic bomb. Such reconsideration also helps focus attention on how we can avoid any future use of weapons that are now thousands of times more powerful than the ones used in 1945.

A good place to start is with an unusual and little-noticed display at The National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington. A plaque explaining an exhibit devoted to the atomic bombings declares: “The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military. However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria on 9 August — fulfilling a promise made at the Yalta Conference in February — changed their minds.”

Though the surprising statement runs contrary to the accepted claim that the atomic bombs ended World War II, it is faithful to the historical record of how and why Japan surrendered. The Japanese cabinet — and especially the Japanese army leaders — were not, in fact, jolted into surrender by the bombings. Japan had been willing to sacrifice city after city to American conventional bombing in the months leading up to Hiroshima — most dramatically in the March 9 firebombing of Tokyo, an attack that cost an estimated 100,000 lives.

What Japan’s military leaders were focused on was the Red Army, which was poised to take on the best of Japan’s remaining army in Manchuria. The historical record also makes clear that American leaders fully understood this. Indeed, before the atomic bomb was successfully tested, U.S. leaders desperately sought assurances that the Red Army would attack Japan after Germany was defeated. The president was strongly advised that when this happened, Japan was likely to surrender with the sole proviso that Japan be allowed to keep its emperor in some figurehead role.

Nor was this deemed a major problem. The U.S. military had long planned to keep the emperor in such a role to help control Japan during the postwar occupation. Once the atomic bomb was successfully tested, however, assurances for the emperor that were included in the 1945 Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender were eliminated, making it certain Japan would continue to fight. As the Navy museum plaque also accurately explains: “Truman’s political advisors overrode the views of the military leaders and foreign policy makers, insisting that Americans would not accept leniency towards the emperor.”

Although it goes on to suggest this was done for political, not military reasons, there are unresolved questions about this judgment. ……

early postwar critics pointed out that there is considerable evidence that diplomatic reasons concerning the Soviet Union — not military reasons concerning Japan — may have been important. For instance, after a group of nuclear scientists met with Truman’s chief adviser on the atomic bomb, U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes, onereported that, “Mr. Byrnes did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war … Mr. Byrnes’ … view [was] that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable.”……..

Gar Alperovitz is the author of two major studies of the atomic bombings: “Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam“ and “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,” where references to the key documentary sources in this piece can also be found.

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