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Saturday, January 05, 2008


This is a wonderful series of short articles by extremely bright people which I ran across through Mangan's Miscellany.
The particular one I am going to quote from is Freeman Dyson on whether the Atom Bomb made Japan surrender:

"Facts causing me to change my mind were brought to my attention by Ward Wilson. Wilson summarized the facts in an article, "The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in the Light of Hiroshima", in the Spring 2007 issue of the magazine, "International Security". He gives references to primary source documents and to analyses published by other historians, in particular by Robert Pape and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. The facts are as follows:

1. Members of the Supreme Council, which customarily met with the Emperor to take important decisions, learned of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945. Although Foreign Minister Togo asked for a meeting, no meeting was held for three days.

2. A surviving diary records a conversation of Navy Minister Yonai, who was a member of the Supreme Council, with his deputy on August 8. The Hiroshima bombing is mentioned only incidentally. More attention is given to the fact that the rice ration in Tokyo is to be reduced by ten percent.

3. On the morning of August 9, Soviet troops invaded Manchuria. Six hours after hearing this news, the Supreme Council was in session. News of the Nagasaki bombing, which happened the same morning, only reached the Council after the session started.

4. The August 9 session of the Supreme Council resulted in the decision to surrender.

5. The Emperor, in his rescript to the military forces ordering their surrender, does not mention the nuclear bombs but emphasizes the historical analogy between the situation in 1945 and the situation at the end of the Sino-Japanese war in 1895. In 1895 Japan had defeated China, but accepted a humiliating peace when European powers led by Russia moved into Manchuria and the Russians occupied Port Arthur. By making peace, the emperor Meiji had kept the Russians out of Japan. Emperor Hirohito had this analogy in his mind when he ordered the surrender.

6. The Japanese leaders had two good reasons for lying when they spoke to Robert Butow. The first reason was explained afterwards by Lord Privy Seal Kido, another member of the Supreme Council: "If military leaders could convince themselves that they were defeated by the power of science but not by lack of spiritual power or strategic errors, they could save face to some extent". The second reason was that they were telling the Americans what the Americans wanted to hear, and the Americans did not want to hear that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria brought the war to an end."

I had generally held to the theory that the Bomb did not shorten the war. Indeed that Truman deliberately used it not for that purpose but to frighten Stalin. At the Potsdam conference Stalin had told Truman that The Japanese wanted to make peace pretty much on unconditional terms except that they wanted to keep their Emperor. Stalin wasn't keen - after all, having promised to attack Japan 3 months after the end of the European war he expected to be able to conquer Manchuria & Korea. Truman's reluctance is more difficult to explain, particularly since he later did allow Hirohito to stay. However if we take it that he was intending to cow the the Russians it is clearer. It should also be remembered that, having spent several billions (1940s billions so multiply by 100s) Congress & public would have crucified them had it never been used,

The Soviet invasion of Manchuria is not well known in the west (I doubt if 1 person in 100 could tell you it happened). Though it only lasted a week it was a massive undertaking involving 40 didvions yet I found it quite difficult to find a serious online history of it. The Soviets, with an army forged in the war with Hitler & tanks designed for that war, engaged in a 1 week land campaign against a Japanese army which, while large, was equipped to take on Chinese guerrillas & whose best tanks were equal to what we had in 1940 ie harmless. In that week they advanced, in places, up to 600km. Just as Soviets did most of the fighting in WW2 & the Anglo/Americans got all the valuable territory (ie western Europe) the Soviets could, for similar geographical reasons, have expected to take the valuable stuff in the east (China, all of Korea & at least half of Japan.

If Stalin also appreciated the role of the Soviet army in causing the surrender it probably explains the Soviet failure to drop to their knees when America used the Bomb.

It is possible to imagine how the world would have gone had the US not used the Bomb & Japan surrendered anyway. Certainly Americans & Brits would have had a beter understanding of the capabilities & problems of the USSR. One thing I have not changed my mind on over the years is that, however bad Stalin's rule may have been, the Cold War was caused by us not him.

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