Potsdam, The A-Bomb, and the Emergence of State Sponsored Suicide
Richard J. Garfunkel
August 9, 2006
Always throughout history individual soldiers and even units were willing to sacrifice their lives to hold a position. Certainly the effort of the 600 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, in 480 BCE was a prime example of a heroic and suicidal stand against overwhelming odds. But most of these suicidal efforts were of a defensive nature. Still most soldiers fight to be able to survive, not to die. When one is faced with a foe, that is not only willing to give up his/her own life, the battle reaches a more serious level. The phrase “kill or be killed” rings very true in these types of circumstances. In fact, in combat, this mantra becomes almost universal. In a conventionally based conflict, pitting one state against another, the desire to survive the action is still paramount with most combatants and most responsible governments. In July of 1945, the Potsdam Conference attempted to answer the problem of state sponsored suicide with an explicit threat. History tells us that this threat was ignored and a more drastic and escalated response followed with swift brutal finality.
According to the agreement at the Potsdam Conference, which was held in Cecilienhof in Potsdam, Germany from July 17th to August 2, 1945, a Declaration and warning was given to Japan, the remaining combatant from the former Axis Alliance. Of course this last great meeting of the 2nd World War brought together the leaders of the three great Allied Powers, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Unlike the previous summits, unforeseen events intervened and dramatically affected the makeup of the participants. Unlike the Yalta Conference and the Teheran Conferences, two of the major personalities who dominated the prosecution of the war were gone. Franklin D. Roosevelt * (1882-1945), who served as the nominal chairman of both the meeting in Yalta, a Russian Black Sea resort city and at Teheran, the capital of Iran, had died suddenly in Warm Springs, Georgia of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Winston Churchill was defeated in a massive repudiation of the Conservative Party on July 5, 1945, though the vote was not decided until the 26th of that month, when all the overseas ballots had arrived and had been finally counted.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had won an unprecedented 4th term as President, was quite run-down and worn out after he had made his extensive 12,000 mile round trip to the Yalta / Crimea Conference in the former USSR and now located in the Ukraine Republic. He was suffering from advanced arteriosclerosis, an enlarged heart and various other ailments. Though he was still sharp and lucid through most of the meeting, the difficult trip had exhausted him and sapped his strength. Joseph Stalin * (1878-1953) did not wish to be out of the Soviet Union while his country’s big push into Germany was on, and therefore demanded that both FDR and Churchill travel to meet him on Soviet territory. The meeting lasted from February 2, until February 11, 1945. It was held in the Livadia Palace, and it was said that all the rooms were “bugged” by the Soviet KGB.
* Joseph Stalin- General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union, 1922-1953, Wartime leader of the Soviet Union. Pravda Editor in 1917, Elected to the central Committee and the Politburo in 1917. After Lenin’s death in 1924 worked to consolidate power. Dictator of the Soviet Union, 1929-1953.
* Franklin D. Roosevelt- President of the United States, 1933-1945, Governor of NY, 1928-1932, nominee for the Vice-Presidency, 1920. Soldier of Freedom, author of the Four Freedoms, created of Lend-Lease, co-author of the Atlantic Charter, developer of the Arsenal of Democracy, Architect of Victory, and founder of the United Nations.
Unlike other meetings, where lesser lights like China’s Generalisimo Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975) and either French or Canadian representatives attended, the “Big Three” and their chosen political and military aides and staff were the only ones represented at Yalta. It was at Yalta where critical decisions were made regarding the borders of postwar Europe:
· The priority of Germany’s defeat and the four occupation zones.
· German demilitarization and denazification.
· The status of Poland was discussed but not resolved.
· The establishment of the Curzon line was demarked, which called for substantial surrender of western German land to Poland
· Citizens of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were to be repatriated to their respective countries, regardless of their consent.
· FDR received Stalin’s commitment to participate in the United Nations, and the five permanent member arrangements with veto power was set.
· Stalin agreed to join the fight against Japan 90 days after the defeat of Germany with concessions to the USSR over the Kuriles and Sakhalin Islands.
· A committee on the dismemberment of Germany was to be set up.
Winston S. Churchill*, (1874-1965), who was an appointed, not elected Prime Minister and was wildly popular, was forced to face a general election in Great Britain in July of 1945. King George VI* basically called it because Britain felt it needed the two party system again. The Conservatives were supremely over-confident and based their whole election on the reputation of Churchill. Labour offered a new all-inclusive welfare system, reflecting the general feeling that improvements were needed. The Conservatives wanted no part of the Labour program. Churchill made a strategic error of miss-characterizing his opponent Clement Atlee’s wartime contributions, even though Atlee was an active and useful member of the War Cabinet. The Conservatives were also blamed for the policy of “Appeasement” which was associated strongly with Churchill’s predecessors Neville Chamberlain and Stanley Baldwin. But is seemed that the largest issue with the voters, in one opinion poll, was that of social reform. This reform would later involve the following: housing, national health, insurance and educational standards.As a result of this unexpected landslide Labour received almost 50% of the vote and picked up 239 seats while the Conservatives with just over 36% of the vote lost 190 seats. There were also some minor shifts with the Liberals and the National Liberals losing 9 and 22 seats respectively. Therefore the stage was set for change. When the votes were finally counted from the overseas ballots, the Conservatives were out and Churchill was forced to resign as Prime Minister and Clement Attlee* (1883-1967) replaced him at the Potsdam Conference.
* Clement Attlee- Labour Prime Minister 1945-1951, led nationalization of industry in Britain, and established socialist reforms, Deputy Prime Minister 1942-5, Made First Earl Attlee, replaced as PM by Churchill in 1951, even though Labour won more votes than the Conservatives and more seats in Parliament.
* Winston S. Churchill – British Prime Minister 1940-1945, 1951-1955, Nobel Prize winner 1953, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1924-1929, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty WWI and WWII.
*British monarch who reigned from 1937 to 1952, after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII.
Of course, besides the final results of the Potsdam Conference, which was chaired by the newly sworn in President Harry S Truman (1884-1972), a declaration was made to the Japanese. The resulting Potsdam Declaration stated, Japan must surrender immediately and abide by the following:
· The end of Japanese militarism
· Japan would be occupied until objectives were met
· The declarations of the Cairo Conference would be carried out
· The Japanese Army would be disarmed and returned to the home islands
· War criminals would be prosecuted
· Freedoms of religion, speech and of thought along with fundamental human rights would be established.
· Unconditional Surrender
If not, Japan “would face prompt and dire consequences.” Of course, this meant in no uncertain terms that the full force of the United States, the British Empire and the Republic of China would strike unprecedented blows that would lead to “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter destruction of the Japanese homeland.” When Truman * authored this statement, he was aware of the fact that the atomic bomb worked. The “Trinity Test” at Los Alamos, New Mexico, had worked spectacularly on July 16, 1945 and the witnesses were able to feel the heat of the blast on their skin 32 kilometers or 20 miles away. After the successful testing of this first atomic device, Truman, who was staying at the Little White House, in Babelsburg, just outside of Potsdam, received the following encoded message from Henry L. Stimson through his aide in Washington. This was the first official report to the President regarding the “bomb.”
“Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and confident that little boy is as husky as his big brother, the light in his eyes discernable from here to Highhold and I could here his scream from here to my barn.”
Highhold, 250 miles from Washington, DC, was the summer place on Long Island of Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson* (1867-1950), a conservative Republican appointed by FDR in 1940 to head the War Department.
* Harry S Truman – President of the United States, 1945-1953. United State Senator, 1934-1945. Truman created the Truman Doctrine that confronted Soviet expansionism in Turkey and Greece, and supported the Marshall Plan that helped put Europe back on its feet.
* Stimson had previously been a young lawyer in the law firm of Root and Clark where he became a protégé of Elihu Root, who later became a secretary of war and then state. Stimson later was appointed the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York He was a candidate for governor of New York, a Secretary of War under President William Howard Taft, 1911-3, and a secretary of state under President Hoover, 1929-1933. In this message, his aide Harrison is referring to “Little Boy” the black and orange shaped bomb weighing nearly five tons.
There are a number of different versions regarding Truman’s remarks to Stalin about the power of this new weapon. Truman said in his book Year of Decisions (1955) that “On July 24th, I casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force. The Russian Premier showed no special interest. All he said was he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make good use of it against the Japanese.” Maybe his quote is better remembered as, “A rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
Churchill seemed to remember the event differently in his book, Triumph and Tragedy (1953) and seemed to believe that Stalin was “…delighted. A new bomb! Of extraordinary power! Probably decisive on the whole Japanese war! What a bit of luck!” Churchill had the impression that Stalin was glad to hear about it but totally unknowledgeable about how it came about. But of course, in retrospect, we know now that Stalin was quite aware of the development of the bomb through his master spy Klaus Fuchs, (1911-1988) * who was a son of German Lutherans, and was a physicist assigned to the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. James Byrnes* (1879-1972), who was then secretary of state, writes in Speaking Frankly (1947) “that Truman told Stalin that after long experimentation, we had developed a new bomb, far more destructive than any other known bomb, and we intended to use it very soon unless Japan surrendered.” Byrnes also seemed to note Stalin’s lack of interest in the details of the weapon. Charles Bohlen, (1904-1974), Truman’s translator, in his book Witness to History (1973) wrote that “…years later Marshal Zhukov, in his memoirs, disclosed that that night Stalin ordered a telegram sent to those working on the atomic bomb in Russia to hurry with the job.” Soviet Marshall Georgii Zhukov’s (1896-1974) * version, in his book The Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov (1971) was that “Stalin in my presence told Molotov about his conversation with Truman. The latter reacted almost immediately. ‘Let them. We’ll have to talk it over with Kurchatov and get him to speed things up’. I realized that they were talking about research on the atomic bomb.” Later Zhukov added, “It was clear already then that the US Government intended to use atomic weapons for the purpose of achieving its imperialist goals from a position of strength in the cold war. Without any military need what so ever, the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on the peaceful and densely populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
*James F. Byrnes – was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1911 and served until 1925. He was a US Senator from 1931-41, a Supreme Court Justice from 1941-2, Head of the Economic Office of Stabilization and War Mobilization Board, “Assistant President” 1942-5, Secretary of State 1945-7, and Governor of South Carolina from 1951-5.
* Georgii Zhukov – Marshall of the Soviet Union’s red Army, defeated the Germans at Stalingrad 1942, led the final Soviet offensive into Berlin- April 1945, Soviet Defense Minister –1955.
* Klaus Fuchs – German born theoretical physicist, and British citizen, who worked at Los Alamos and leaked atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets. Arrested and convicted in Great Britain and sentenced to 14 years in prison, he served nine years and was released in 1959. He was stripped of his citizenship and emigrated to Dresden, DDR.
Of course this sounds like Cold War propaganda of its most basic type. The United States was facing a most difficult task ahead regarding the invasion of Japan. We had just experienced two brutal campaigns in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and we were facing the human terror of the kamikaze in the surrounding waters of those islands. So we see a few different perspectives of this event. On one hand, we see Truman’s simple view of it all, with Byrnes in basic agreement. Byrnes, of course, was quoted in his book in 1947 and Truman, with the advantage of writing years later, concurred in 1955. Later in 1960, Byrnes would reiterate the same feeling that Stalin had no real appreciation of what was said to him by Truman. Marshall Zhukov, years later stated, that Stalin really knew and was acting the part of being uninterested. Of course this whole account by Zhukov served a dual purpose. One aspect was that the Soviets had successfully penetrated Los Alamos and were able to be informed by their spies. The other aspect was that this episode also seemed to feed fuel to the Soviet argument that the western Allies were not really upfront or sincere with them about sharing information. Besides those two points, Zhukov reflects on the brutality of the United States policy and its infliction of unnecessary casualties on the Japanese people.
Of course Japan would never surrender and if any one individual attempted to follow this course of national action, he would be removed violently by the fanatics within the military. This of course set the stage for the ultimate delivery of the atomic bomb on Japan. There is general historical disagreement regarding not only how the Japanese reacted to the Potsdam Declaration, but which people really represented the government or had access to the Emperor. There is evidence that the Japanese had made overtures to the Soviets regarding a possible avenue regarding a “negotiated” peace. But of course the Soviets had different designs on Japan, and they were looking to get a large piece of a future “occupation” prize.
The Japanese home islands had been bombed for many months, but without much success. Originally the new Superforts, as the silver skinned B-29’s were known, were being flown out of India and China. Unfortunately, they had problems with their electrical systems, and their superchargers had a tendency to fail at high altitudes. The flights out of China wound up being ineffective, but the sight of those great sleek birds heading off to Japan emotionally buoyed the Chinese. Eventually these air-pressured sealed behemoths were able to move into the Marianas (15 islands with Saipan, Tinian and Rota the best known) and begin their Pacific mission. The B-29’s were the direct heir to the fabled B-17 Fortresses, that, with the able assistance of B-24 Liberators, carried the strategic bombing load of the 8th and 15th Air Forces in Europe. Strategic daylight bombing helped win the war in Europe, but American airman paid a heavy price in casualties. Aside from the infantry, the Army Air Corps took the next greatest losses during the war. The Army Air Corps suffered 24,288 men killed in action along with 18,699 who were missing and mostly presumed dead, 18,804 wounded and 31,436 men shot down and captured.
The B-29 Superfort was 99’ long, stood 27’ 9” high and had a wingspan of 141 feet. It was heavily armed with 12 electronically guided 50-caliber machine guns and one 20 mm tail gun. It was an air-pressured sealed 4-engine bomber that could operate at 38,000 feet which was above any Japanese fighter’s maximum ceiling. It could cruise at 350 mph and had a range of over 3500 miles with a bomb load of 4 tons. When the B-29’s moved into the Mariana Island group in June of 1944 everyone expected them to have greater success. The round trip from the Marianas to Japan was 3000 miles and the Forts could easily handle that distance. In their first strike on November 24, 1944, a force of 111 Forts was led by Brigadier General Emmet O’Donnell in the Dauntless Dotty piloted by Robert K. Morgan (1918-2004). Morgan had commanded the famous Memphis Belle, the first B-17 to complete 25 missions over Nazi controlled Europe. The Memphis Belle and its crew became a national heroes and celebrities by being featured in the 1944 William Wyler* (1902-1981) documentary, Memphis Belle, the Story of a Flying Fortress.
Of the 111 Superforts that took off that day, only 24 made it to their target. Because of high winds at the altitude the B-29’s flew, their bombing was not very affective. Along with many operational failures, the top military planners were concerned with the B-29’s future effectiveness. There were too many aborted flights, too many glitches in equipment, especially at high altitude and, of course, too few planes reaching their destinations. With this great concern the Army Air Force, under the command of General Henry Arnold* (1886-1950) looked to young Major-General Curtis Lemay for help. Lemay was the no-nonsense 38-year old commander of the 3rd Air Force Division in Europe. He had been serving in India and was transferred to the Pacific to command the 21st Bomber Command on January 20, 1945. Lemay, (1906-1990), who was born in Ohio in 1906, had attended Ohio State University. He joined the Air Corps in 1928 and started to serve with bomber aircraft in 1937. At the outbreak of World War II, he was then a Lt. Colonel in command of the 305th Bomb Group. He took a B-17 unit to England as part of the 8th Air Force and often flew on dangerous missions. He flew and commanded the 146-plane attack on the Regensburg part of the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission, in August of 1943. This raid was costly, and he lost 24 bombers, but it was part of a major effort to disrupt and destroy the suburban, but concentrated, German ball-bearing works centered in the Schweinfurt area.
By March of 1945 General Lemay was able to analyze the poor results of the early bombing missions over Japan. He was able to discern that his bombers were only able to deliver about 5% of their payload near their targets. Along with that poor success record, the accompanying losses of our planes and crews were way too high. The loss factor, along with the lack of success in hitting targets alarmed Lemay and his peers. Therefore General Lemay instituted a radical reversal in tactics. The bombing runs were now made at night at 5000 feet rather than at their previous high altitude level. All the armament was stripped from the Superforts and therefore their bomb capacity was increased. Because at the lower altitude levels, the B-29’s could fly faster and consume less fuel, this also enabled them to increase their bomb capacity. Lemay understood that the Japanese cities were mostly built of wood and that a switch to incendiary ordinance from conventional high explosives would be theoretically more affective. In this first attack 325 Superforts hit Tokyo on March 10th and were able to drop 1665 tons of incendiary bombs whiles sustaining the loss of 14 planes. Almost immediately the air war over Japan took a dramatic and positive turn for the allied effort. Over 100,000 Japanese were killed and 16 square miles in the center of Tokyo were raised. After this initial attack three more visits were made to Tokyo by the end of May and over 50% of the Japanese capital was destroyed. These actions were repeated all over Japan, and by the war’s end 69 Japanese cities were burned out.
In spite of that massive damage inflicted by American strategic bombing, the Japanese were thought to still have over 2,000,000 soldiers available, along with 8000 airplanes for the defense of their homeland. This of course did not include the millions of ordinary Japanese citizenry that were available as part of a home guard effort.
* Henry H. Arnold- the “Chief” to his subordinates- “Hap” Arnold was a graduate of West Point in 1907, spent his life devoted to the Army Air Corps –became Chief of Army Air Force in 1941, General of the Army in 1944 (5 Stars) and was the most well known advocate of air power.
* William Wyler- born Wilhelm Weiller to a Jewish Alsatian family- cousin of Hollywood magnate Carl Laemmle- youngest director at Universal at age 25. Academy Award director, known for Mrs. Miniver, Wuthering Heights, Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday, Little Foxes, and The Best Years of Our Lives. Flew on bombing missions and hearing was impaired by gunfire. He was the winner of the Irving Thalberg Award and the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.
At the same time as General Lemay was turning around the air war over Japan, other events were happening. The United States was finishing work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos and simultaneously developing the 509th Composite Bombing Group both in the United States and in the Pacific. The command of this special unit was turned over to Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., who was born in Quincy, Illinois in 1915. Tibbets, who led the first 8th Air Force bomber mission in Europe on August 17, 1942, later flew combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater and was the lead pilot used in ferrying members of the Allied Command from Great Britain to North Africa. He was considered one of the greatest fliers in our air force and was eventually assigned to Wendover Army Air Field in Utah. This command eventually became the 509th Composite Group, in connection with the Manhattan Project. (An excellent Hollywood production chronicles this effort in the film, Above and Beyond (1952) with Robert Taylor playing Colonel Tibbets.)
In the Pacific, the United States was involved in two desperate battles involving Japanese defenses of their outer home islands. With both, Iwo Jima (February 16-March 26, 1945) and Okinawa (April 1- June 21, 1945), the United States Marine Corps, under the command of General Holland “Howlin Mad” Smith on Iwo Jima and General Simon Bolivar Buckner in command of Marine and Army units met fierce and determined resistance. These Japanese units were supported by intense air support in the manner of the first massive and concentrated use of suicide fighter-bomber type aircraft, now known as the kamikaze. In the first and smaller battle for Iwo Jima, United States Marines encountered a strong entrenched force of approximately 21,700 crack Japanese defenders. After a brutal five weeks of action, starting in the first week with the raising of our flag on Mount Suribachi, 6,821 Marines gave their lives along with another 20,000 or so casualties out of a force of approximately 70,000 men. For their bravery the Marines were awarded 27 Medals of Honor. The Japanese losses were immense and only a little over 1000 survived with 200 taken prisoner out of their original force. The primary reason to take Iwo Jima was that it was halfway between Japan and the Mariana Islands where General Lemay’s 20th Air Force was located. Lemay stated to General MacArthur that the Army Air Force could not continue to sustain losses of aircraft and that he desperately needed a place to land his damaged B-29’s. Therefore the taking of Iwo Jima would eliminate Japanese radar and fighter facilities and provide an emergency landing strip for his damaged Superforts. Over the balance of the war approximately 2000 damaged or out of fuel B-29’s made emergency landings on Iwo Jima, saving approximately 24,000 lives. The last major battle of the War in the Pacific was fought on the island of Okinawa, which is part of the Ryuku Islands. Again casualties were immense. Over 12,500 Americans were killed in action along with over 72,000 others wounded on Okinawa and in the fleet. The Japanese sustained over 110,000 killed, while only 7,455 were captured. In what was called the “Typhoon of Steel” or “Tetsu no bofu” in Okinawa, over one-third of the indigenous civilian population of 450,000 Ryukans were killed. Many of the immense losses to our naval and air personnel came at the hands of the kamikaze attacks. Hundreds of our ships were hit, with 38 being sunk. We were able to destroy over 7,800 Japanese aircraft, many on suicide missions, sink 16 of their ships, and we sustained the loss of 763 of our own planes.
According to Japanese official records, there were a total of 3912 kamikaze attacks, which represented 2525 from their naval air arm and 1387 from their Army air forces. The Japanese claimed that they sunk 81 ships and damaged another 195. The United States official statistics said that 2800 kamikaze planes were destroyed, 38 ships were lost and 368 others were damaged. As a result of this action, the Navy lost 4900 men and another 4800 were wounded. Almost 80% of the Navy’s casualties resulted from kamikaze action. Of all of the US Navy ships that were hit by suicide attacks, 8.5% were sunk.
Frankly this type of brutality frightened our commanders, both in the Pacific Theater of action, and in Washington. In the two major battles, fought from February to June, the United States had sustained almost 20,000 killed and close to 100,000 wounded. Along with those horrible losses, hundreds of ships were damaged by kamikaze attacks. Therefore with the strategic design for the invasion of Japan well under way, planners started to worry about the potential of immense and unacceptable casualties. These plans, encompassed in the overall Operation Downfall, were comprised of two separate operations regarding the invasion of the main Japanese Island, Kyushu and Honshu. Under the code names Olympic and Coronet, operations were to commence in November of 1945 and the spring of 1946.
Of course all of this brings us to the question of the atomic bombings of Japan. Were they necessary? Could conventional bombing have brought Japan to its knees? Could a complete naval blockade of the home islands starve Japan into submission? All those points have been discussed continuously since the close of the war. But certain points must not be forgotten. The Japanese had never lost a war and didn’t believe in surrendering. They found it culturally unacceptable. They were willing to take casualties to preserve their nation state, and they felt that they could inflict such a high price on the Allies that a negotiated peace could be achieved. Was this realistic thinking on their part? Probably not! But amazingly, in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, when some military officials reported that since there was no bomb crater, many in the highest levels of the army believed that they could eventually go under ground and protect themselves from future atomic attacks. As strange as that sounds, fanatical thinking can lead to remarkable conclusions.
Therefore when one understands the potential threats that the kamikaze attacks held for the Allied landings one can easily accept and justify the use of atomic weapons. The Japanese plan for defeating the Allies was termed the “Virtuous Mission” or Ketsu-Go. In other words, would tremendous casualties make the price for Allied victory too high to accept. The Japanese had estimated quite accurately that the Allies would land at Miyazaki, Ariake Bay, or on the Satsuma Peninsular. They also had a strong idea when it would be launched, because they knew that the Allies would want to avoid the typhoon season. They were able to finally accumulate over 10,000 army and navy aircraft by July and expected to have 2000 more by October. During the Battle of Okinawa, with fewer than 2000 kamikazes they were able to get one hit on a ship per nine planes that were able to make an attack. At Kyushu, with shorter flight time to an off shore Allied Fleet, they hoped to raise that ration to one in six. Therefore they expected to sink more than 400 ships, and they were training their pilots to target transports rather than carriers or picket ships like destroyers. Though their navy had been greatly reduced and these ships couldn’t be adequately fueled, they had a large number of smaller or auxiliary craft that could be utilized. They also had about 100 Koryu-class midget submarines, and 250 smaller Kaiyo midget submarines. They had 1000 Kaiten manned suicide torpedoes and 800 Shinyo suicide boats for use against our Fleet. In March they had only one division in Kyushu, but by August over 900,000 men in 14 divisions and three tank brigades had been put in place. Additionally, the Japanese had organized all adult civilians into Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps to perform combat support and ultimately combat jobs. (After the war, Japanese records indicated that our estimates of Japanese aircraft were grossly exaggerated.) But, nonetheless, as information reached Washington about the rapid build-up of troops on Kyushu, General George C. Marshall, the American Chief of Staff, looked to drastically change the Olympic Plan.
The American High Command even considered the use of chemical weapons. Even though the Geneva Protocol outlawed chemical or gas warfare, neither the United States nor Japan had ever signed the document. Despite Marshall’s trepidations, General MacArther dismissed any need to change his plans. He believed that the Japanese air potential was greatly exaggerated. In retrospect, regarding that threat he was more correct than the professional intelligence estimates.
In a study done by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April, a 90-day Olympic campaign would cost 456,000 Allied casualties including 100,000 dead or missing. If therefore Coronet took another 90-days, the combined cost would be 1.2 million casualties with 267,000 fatalities. A study done by Admiral Nimitz’ staff estimated 49,000 casualties in the first 30 days and General MacArthur’s staff predicted 23,000 in the first 30 days and 125,000 after 4 months. A study done for the Secretary of War by William Shockley estimated that the conquering of Japan would result in 1.7 to 4 million casualties including between 400 and 800 thousand dead, along with between five and ten million Japanese dead. Nearly 500,000 Purple Hearts were manufactured in anticipation of the potential amount of wounded and killed.
Of course there were many more estimates from a variety of sources. We will thankfully never know what the true numbers would have been. Their estimates were all culled from earlier battles that included Normandy, Okinawa and even the Battle of the Bulge. But others thought that the Japanese were at their wit’s end and had very little fight left in them. Interestingly, and not known to the American planners, was the fact that the Soviets were planning to invade the weakly defended Hokkaido Island by the end of August. This action, following their invasions of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, would have put pressure on the Americans to do something by November when Operation Olympic was originally scheduled.
The American Fleet felt the impacts of the kamikaze suicide planes keenly. The ships’ officers saw that they were very vulnerable to a “cheap” but deadly form of warfare. These manned forbearers of the modern day cruise missile were able to penetrate a multi layered defensive screen of smaller picket ships. For the sacrifice of a pilot, who was only trained to take off, and the minor cost of an airplane, our largest capital ships were made quite vulnerable. Over 14% of the kamikaze attackers survived the intense anti-aircraft fire and scored hits on our ships. None of our carriers, battleships or heavy cruiser’s were sunk. Unfortunately our aircraft carriers were built with wood flight decks and were more vulnerable than the British ships, which had reinforced steel decks. Many ships were hit, and the smaller ones were damaged the most.
The atomic bomb was a product of a $2 billion effort named the Manhattan Project. The Project was directed by General Leslie Groves, (1886-1970), an engineer, who was born in Albany, NY and educated at MIT and West Point. Grove’s reputation as an engineer and a top-level manager was greatly enhanced when he directed the building of the Pentagon. He later made the controversial appointment of J. Robert Oppenhemer, (1904-1967), a left leaning physicist, who was born in NYC to Julius Oppenheimer. His father was wealthy textile importer, who had emigrated to the United States in 1888. Oppenheimer, educated at the Ethical Culture School in NYC, Harvard, and the University of Gottingen, where he received his PhD at age 22, was appointed the scientific director for the project because of his intellectual and theoretical strengths. Finally when the bomb was assembled and the joint work of the scientists at Los Alamos was finished, the first nuclear explosion was actuated near Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945.
The Trinity Test, as it was called, caused Oppenheimer to recall a verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita:
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…
Years later he would have other thoughts about another verse that had entered his head:
Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”
The completed bomb was brought to Tinian Island in the Marianas and made ready for delivery will a specially designed bomb bay. The first bomb, a uranium cored device, was code named Little Boy and was dropped by a plane named Enola Gay, and piloted by Colonel Tibbets himself. On board, only two others, Captain William Parsons and Thomas Ferebee, the bombardier had any idea of the nature of what they were doing. The rest of the crew was still in the dark. Hiroshima, a city of 343,000 persons was relatively unscathed throughout the war and few took notice of the small formation of Superforts. The bomb was released and floated down 5 miles by parachute and was detonated in the air. Most, if not all, did not know what had happened. Some histories have written that 88,000 were killed and 37,000 were wounded. One recent account said that 200,000 died immediately and 60,000 died within a few months of the bombing. Along with the deaths, over 80% of the city was heavily damaged. After a couple of days there was no sign of surrender from the Japanese, and the 2nd bomb, code-named Fat Man, a plutonian implosion device, which was much more powerful, was dropped on Nagasaki. It was just bad luck for them because Major Sweeney, the pilot of Bock’s Car, almost had to turn around because he could not find a target that he could see and was running low on fuel. They finally chose the unlucky city of Nagasaki, whose population was 250,000. Nagasaki was a supply port for military and naval supplies and was primarily located in a valley. Unlike Hiroshima that was located on a flat plain, Nagasaki’s location, to a degree, blunted the impact of the more powerful bomb. It was detonated at 1800 feet and within a few seconds 43,000 Japanese died. It was said that more than 75,000 others died in the next decade from the radiation sickness from the explosion. Bock’s Car, because of its low fuel was forced to land at Iwo Jima, where no one there was aware of its mission.
In retrospect many people in the ensuing years criticized America for burning down 69 Japanese cities. Others certainly criticized the American government for dropping the Hiroshima bomb, and than following it with the Nagasaki bomb. Many thought that the first bomb should have been used in a demonstration for the Japanese. Others felt if the demonstration had failed, the 2nd bomb could still have to be used on a city. In truth, the Japanese did not respond to the dire warning and the request to surrender. Therefore the Japanese did not accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. We also did not have another atomic bomb ready for delivery, and it is possible that if the Japanese did not surrender, we would have been in a quandary. There were few other targets to hit and it would seem that conventional bombing alone would not bring Japan to her knees. Of course others stated that the idea of “unconditional surrender” stiffened the resistance of our enemies and caused more needless casualties. And still others believed that we used the atomic bomb as a message to the Soviets. Certainly our thinking towards the Soviets was starting to change after the collapse of Nazi Germany, and problems regarding Poland and Eastern Europe were starting to emerge. It seems that the emergence of the suicide tactics both in the air, sea and land campaigns did most to frighten American planners. This intangibility led Americans to believe that this combined operation leading to the invasion would be as bloody as Okinawa. Of course Truman later stated, and I paraphrase, “that if the mothers, daughters and wives of our killed servicemen knew I had a weapon that could have ended the war, and did not use it, they would never forgive me.” For sure, state sponsored terrorism, which features suicide as a weapon can drive nation states into methods of retaliation once never imagined.
In conclusion, are we now facing a new and more dangerous threat from people who teach their children that dying is good? Traditionally life is generally considered and thought of as sacred, especially one’s own life! During World War II, the Western democracies that made up a large part of the collective effort against the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, and their lesser allies; Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Croatian Puppet State), basically adhered to the “rules of war” articulated from the accords of the Geneva Convention. As signatories of the Geneva Convention, most of the participants refrained from using outlawed weaponry that involved, chemicals, gas, and germs. Japan certainly used germ warfare in China and the well-published barbarisms of both the Germans and the Japanese certainly stretched the established rules of “so-called” civilized warfare. Of course one of the reasons The Hague and Geneva Conventions banned certain substances or weapons of war was because nation states were afraid to be victims of those same banned practices. The classic example was the use of mustard gas in World War I. Gas warfare was always at the mercy of the prevailing winds, and therefore both friend and foe quickly became victims of a gas attack. During World War II, state sponsored suicide in battle reached a climax with the “Divine Wind” kamikaze attacks upon our naval forces in and around Iwo Jima and Okinawa. As I have written earlier in this piece, Allied planners were so concerned with this type of warfare that their trepidations regarding the dropping of the atomic bombs became secondary to their fear of unacceptable losses.
Now in this new era, where suicide bombers commandeer planes, or explode themselves in crowded market places, or on trains loaded with passengers, what is our defense? What is our defense against a suicide agent bringing in a satchel with a nuclear device or another weapon of mass destruction? Can a state be held ultimately responsible for these aberrant acts of international organizations? That is the question!