Thursday, July 26, 2012

Revisiting The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb

Soon there will be another anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People will again trot out the hoary argument that the bomb saved a million lives by making an invasion on the Japanese mainland unnecessary.

I've been re-reading Gar Alperovitz's 1995 book, "The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb", which examines the events leading up to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in great detail, and concludes that it was not necessary to drop the two bombs that ultimately killed between 2-300,000 innocent civilians in order to end the war. He states that the Japanese army was, by July 1945, on the verge of collapse, and that the emperor had already made moves to the Russians to surrender. The only issue keeping the Japanese from surrendering is the Allies' insistence on "unconditional" surrender without giving assurance that the Emperor will remain on the throne. With the Nuremberg trial about to start, many Japanese were afraid that the Emperor will be tried as a war criminal and even be executed, and so were ready to fight to the death to defend him.

As it happened, keeping the Emperor was exactly what the Allies did, in order to preserve stability, but in drafting the Potsdam declaration, American Secretary of State James Byrnes specifically removed any assurances for the Emperor. This was because one day before the Potsdam Conference, the Americans had successfully tested the atomic bomb, and were determined to use it. At the same the Russians strung the Japanese along with the hope of a mediated peace to buy time to move their troops east.

Alperovitz argued that the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria on 9 Aug 1945 was the decisive factor in the Japanese surrender, since it cut off the country's main supply line and made the continuation of war all but impossible. Indeed, with the dropping of the first bomb on 6 Aug and the Soviet invasion on 9 Aug, it was hard to see why it was necessary to drop the second bomb on Nagasaki on 9 Aug. If the main objective was to force Japanese surrender, why not give them a day or two to respond to these events? 

The answer could only be that the bombs were not used as instruments to stop the war but to start another one--the Cold War. Hundreds of innocent civilians died in order to scare the Russians. What folly!

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