Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Hiroshima and the Proposed Invasion of Japan

I question the conclusion drawn in the Opinion page article "Was Hiroshima Needed to End the War?," Aug. 6. I have been at work for several years preparing a book on the proposed World War II invasion of Japan, dealing with the relationships between the invasion and the decision to use the atomic bombs against Japan.

The authors make three major claims. First: that President Harry Truman knew in 1945 that Japan would surrender if allowed to keep the emperor; that Secretary of War Henry Stimson, his assistant John J. McCloy, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew, and presidential assistant William Leahy advised Mr. Truman to tell the Japanese that they could keep the emperor; that Truman "made clear that he had no serious objection to offering such assurances"; and that the entry of the Soviets into the war "would lik ely tip the balance" and convince the Japanese to surrender.

About these ads

These claims are only technically correct, and they are drawn out of context to produce a neat but grossly oversimplified academic thesis about a highly complex and emotional period. It is true that contacts by Japanese naval attaches with the OSS in Switzerland and Portugal raised the possibility of ending the war if the emperor's position could be guaranteed. But these overtures had no official sanction from the Japanese government. Far from accepting the advice of Messrs. Stimson, McCloy, and Grew to assure the emperor's continuance, Truman was highly ambivalent on this issue.

The American people had been guaranteed "unconditional surrender," and Congress was bellicose. Consequently, Truman and his secretary of state, James Byrnes, feared political retribution should unconditional surrender be softened. Gen. George Marshall and Stimson hoped that Soviet entry into the war would tip the balance, but the United States leaders could hardly hinge military plans on such a contingency.

Second, the authors claim that the very large figures of potential US casualties in an invasion that were cited after the war have no basis in fact. They are correct. I have found no such large figures in the military sources. It does not follow that the US leaders and planners were unconcerned about casualties. The campaign for Okinawa ended in June 1945. On that small island Japanese troops fought a hopeless and useless defense from caves and bunkers. They had no other objective than to kill as many Am ericans as possible. The Japanese killed 7,374 marines and soldiers while kamikaze pilots killed almost 5,000 sailors. The Japanese dead numbered 110,000. For the troops involved, this was the highest level of casualties. Okinawa hardly sent a signal that the Japanese were ready to surrender.

The authors also take no note of ULTRA, the very secret interception and decryption of Japanese Army and Navy messages. These messages indicated a huge buildup in southern Kyushu, the target for American invasion on Nov. 1. This buildup created great apprehension among the joint chiefs and their planners. Finally, the authors argue that the atomic bomb was used to impress the Soviets. Clearly Truman, Mr. Byrnes, and Stimson worried about postwar behavior of the Soviets and saw the bomb as helpful in cont rolling them. To argue that this was the major reason for using the bomb is an oversimplification. For the problem of ending the Pacific war cannot be explained with a one-dimensional, diplomatic thesis. Ray Skates, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. Visiting Professor of Military History, Air War College

In mid-1945 the United States Navy in the Pacific war was reeling from perhaps its bloodiest combat ever and was taking its heaviest casualties and ship losses in World War II at the hands of the Japanese forces - Pearl Harbor notwithstanding. And it was a long-held article of faith that, absent the emperor's order to stand down, those same forces would resist our inevitable invasion of their home islands with an even greater fury. In 1945 I was one of many newly commissioned ensigns with orders to serve

on attack transports (APAs), where we would be landing-boat officers in the scheduled invasion. When we heard that the first bomb had been dropped - and finally understood its significance - we cheered ourselves hoarse, for we all knew that those landings would never have to be made. H. Fletcher Knight Jr., Yarmouth, Maine

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.