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Debate over the decision to drop the bombs


Support for use of atomic bombs


A statue in Nagasaki Peace Park.Although supporters of the bombing concede that the civilian leadership in Japan was cautiously and discreetly sending out diplomatic communiques as far back as January of 1945, following the Allied invasion of Luzon in the Philippines, they point out that Japanese military officials were unanimously opposed to any negotiations before the use of the atomic bomb.


While some members of the civilian leadership did use covert diplomatic channels to begin negotiation for peace, on their own it could not negotiate surrender or even a cease-fire. Japan, as a Constitutional Monarchy, could only enter into a peace agreement with the unanimous support of the Japanese cabinet, and this cabinet was dominated by militarists from the Japanese Imperial Army and the Japanese Imperial Navy, all of whom were initially opposed to any peace deal. A political stalemate developed between the military and civilian leaders of Japan with the military increasingly determined to fight despite the costs and odds.


Historian Victor Davis Hanson points to the increased Japanese resistance, futile as it was in retrospect, as the war came to its inevitable conclusion. The Battle of Okinawa showed this determination to fight on at all costs. More than 110,000 Japanese and 12,000 American troops were killed in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific theater, just 8 weeks before Japan's final surrender. When the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945 and carried out Operation August Storm, the Japanese Imperial Army ordered its ill-supplied and weakened forces in Manchuria to fight to the last man, an order which it carried out. Major General Masakazu Amanu, chief of the operations section at Japanese Imperial Headquarters, stated that he was absolutely convinced his defensive preparations, begun in early 1944, could repel any Allied invasion of the home islands with minimum losses. The Japanese would not give up easily because of their strong tradition of pride and honor: Many followed the Samurai code and would fight until the very last man was dead.


After the realization that the destruction of Hiroshima was from a nuclear weapon, the civilian leadership gained more and more traction in its argument that Japan had to concede defeat and accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. However, even after the destruction of Nagasaki, the Emperor himself needed to intervene to end a deadlock in the cabinet.


According to some Japanese historians, Japanese civilian leaders who favored surrender saw their salvation in the atomic bombing. The Japanese military was steadfastly refusing to give up, so the peace faction seized on the bombing as a new argument to force surrender. Koichi Kido, one of Emperor Hirohito's closest advisors, stated: "We of the peace party were assisted by the atomic bomb in our endeavor to end the war." Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief Cabinet secretary in 1945, called the bombing "a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war." According to these historians and others, the pro-peace civilian leadership was able to use the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to convince the military that no amount of courage, skill and fearless combat could help Japan against the power of atomic weapons. Akio Morita, founder of Sony and a Japanese Naval officer during the war, also concludes that it was the atomic bomb and not conventional bombings from B-29s that convinced the Japanese military to agree to peace.


Supporters of the bombing also point out that waiting for the Japanese to surrender was not a cost-free option. The firebombing had killed well over 100,000 people in Japan, since February of 1945, directly and indirectly. That intensive conventional bombing would have continued prior to an invasion. The submarine blockade and the U.S. Army Air Force's mining operation, Operation Starvation, had effectively cut off Japan's imports. A complementary operation against Japan's railways was about to begin, isolating the cities of southern Honshu from the food grown elsewhere in the Home Islands. This, combined with the delay in relief supplies from the Allies, could have resulted in a far greater death toll, due to famine and malnutrition, than actually occurred in the attacks. "Immediately after the defeat, some estimated that 10 million people were likely to starve to death," noted historian Daikichi Irokawa. Meanwhile, in addition to the Soviet attacks, offensives were scheduled in southern China, and Malaysia. As a result of the war, noncombatants were dying throughout Asia at a rate of about 200,000 per month.


The Americans anticipated losing many soldiers in the planned invasion of Japan, although the actual number of expected fatalities and wounded is subject to some debate and depends on the persistence and reliability of Japanese resistance and whether the Americans would have invaded only Kyushu in November 1945 or if a follow up landing near Tokyo, projected for March of 1946, would have been needed. Years after the war, Secretary of State James Byrnes claimed that 500,000 American lives would have been lost—and that number has since been repeated authoritatively, but in the summer of 1945, U.S. military planners projected 20,000–110,000 combat deaths from the initial November 1945 invasion, with about three to four times that number wounded. Many military advisors held that a worst-case scenario could involve up to 1,000,000 American casualties.


In addition to that, the atomic bomb hastened the end of the Second World War in Asia liberating hundreds of thousands of Western citizens, including about 200,000 Dutch and 400,000 Indonesians ("Romushas") from Japanese concentration camps. In addition, Japanese atrocities against millions of Chinese, such as the Nanking Massacre, were ended.


Supporters also point to an order given by the Japanese War Ministry on August 1, 1944. The order dealt with the disposal and execution of all Allied POWs, numbering over 100,000, if an invasion of the Japanese mainland took place. (It is also likely that, considering Japan's previous treatment of POWs, were the Allies to wait out Japan and starve it, the Japanese would have killed all Allied POWs and Chinese prisoners.)


In response to the argument that the large-scale killing of civilians was immoral and a war crime, supporters of the bombings have argued that the Japanese government waged total war, ordering many civilians (including women and children) to work in factories and military offices and to fight against any invading force. Father John A. Siemes, professor of modern philosophy at Tokyo's Catholic University, and an eyewitness to the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima wrote:


"We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Others were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of war against civilians." [11]

Some historians have claimed that U.S. planners also wanted to end the war quickly to minimize potential Soviet acquisition of Japanese-held territory.


Finally, supporters also point to Japanese plans, devised by their Unit 731 to launch Kamikaze planes laden with the plague-infested fleas to infect the populace San Diego, California. The target date was to be September 22, 1945, although it unlikely that the Japanese government would have allowed so many resources to be diverted from defensive purposes. [12]

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