learning-from-trumans-decision-the-atomic-bomb-and-japans-surrender.pdf - LEARNING FROM TRUMAN\u2019S DECISION The Atomic Bomb and Japan\u2019s Surrender By

Learning-from-trumans-decision-the-atomic-bomb-and-japans-surrender.pdf

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20 E DUCATION A BOUT ASIA Volume 11, Number 1 Spring 2006 A ugust 6 through 9 of 2005 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings stand as a watershed event in modern history because they brought to a decisive conclusion the greatest and most devastating conflict in human history, and because they ushered in a new age, the era of nuclear weapons and the policies of “massive retaliation” and “mutual assured destruction”—which at the height of the cold war brought with them the very real potential for the destruc- tion of modern civilization in a large-scale nuclear war. The decision to use the bomb has generated profound and continuing controversy among historians, military analysts, scientists, educators, and con- cerned citizens. Some have justified the bombings on the basis of military need or the imperatives of global power politics, while others condemn them as at best unnecessary and therefore tragic, and at worst as a wartime atrocity. The controver- sy ultimately hinges on whether the deci- sion to use atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was based on military neces- sity or on political expedience. Like many important historical controversies, the analysis of the decision is complex and multifaceted, and requires a historical review of the situation in the summer of 1945. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 leaving Japan alone in an increasingly hopeless war against the United States and its allies. By the summer of 1945, most of Japan’s navy was lying on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and its armies were scattered throughout the remnants of the country’s short-lived empire. The Japan- ese army was bogged down in China, had been defeated in numerous costly island battles, and American forces were now aiming directly for the Japanese homeland. Okinawa had been lost to Japan in an enormously bloody battle in April, May, and June, and since March, waves of American bombers had relentlessly pound- ed and incinerated much of urban Japan. Deprived of overseas sources of oil, iron, coal, and even food, Japan’s wartime economy was grinding to a halt: it could no longer produce ships or airplanes, and there was almost no aviation fuel left for the 6,000 to 8,000 airplanes that were held in reserve for final kamikaze attacks in defense of Japan’s home islands. 1 By August, the Japanese people were reduced to near starvation, over 330,000 civilians had been killed in the air raids since March, with over 500,000 additional casualties, and mil- lions more were made homeless by the fire bombings. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey Report revealed that from March through August, 104,000 tons of bombs had been dropped on sixty-six urban areas, destroying approximately forty per- cent of Japan’s urban infrastructure. 2 Despite the overwhelming evidence that defeat was inevitable, Japan’s Prime Minister Suzuki apparently rejected the Potsdam Declaration, an ultimatum calling for Japan’s unconditional surrender issued on July 26, 1945, 3 with the phrase mokusatsu , which could be interpreted
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