Vol 14, No 4
Richard B. Frank is the author of Downfall: The End of Imperial Japanese Empire. This essay is based on his talk at the FPRI Wachman Center’s History Institute for Teachers on Teaching the Nuclear Age, held March 28-29, 2009. The Institute was cosponsored by the American Academy of Diplomacy and cosponsored and hosted by the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. See www.fpri.org/education/ nuclearage for videofiles, texts of lectures, and classroom lessons.
The History Institute for Teachers is co-chaired by David Eisenhower and Walter A. McDougall. Core support is provided by the Annenberg Foundation and Mr. H.F. Lenfest. The next history weekend is What Students Need To Know About America’s Wars, Part II: 1920–Present, May 2–3, 2009, The First Division Museum, Wheaton, Illinois.Most Americans today are surprised to learn that in 1945 and for approximately two decades thereafter no significant controversy accompanied the use of atomic weapons to end the Pacific War. A broad national consensus formed around three basic premises: 1) the use of the weapons was justified; 2) the weapons ended the war; and 3) in at least a rough utilitarian sense, the use of the weapons was morally justified as saving more lives than they cost. One later historian branded this as “The Patriotic Orthodoxy.”
Beginning in the mid-1960s, challenges appeared to the “Patriotic Orthodoxy.” The pejorative label “revisionists” was sometimes attached to these challengers, but a more accurate term is just critics. The critics developed a canon of tenets that in their purest incarnation likewise number three: 1) Japan’s strategic situation in the summer of 1945 was catastrophically hopeless; 2) Japan’s leaders recognized that their situation was hopeless and were seeking to surrender; and 3) American leaders, thanks to the breaking of Japanese diplomatic codes, knew Japan was on the verge of surrender when they unleashed needless nuclear devastation. The critics mustered a number of reasons for the unwarranted use of atomic weapons, but the most provocative by far carries the banner of “atomic diplomacy”: the real target of the weapons was not Japan, but the Soviet Union.
These two rival narratives clashed along a cultural fault line most spectacularly in the Enola Gay controversy in 1995 over the proposed text of a Smithsonian Institution exhibit of the fuselage of the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb. Ironically, just as this public spectacle erupted, new scholarly work was quietly unfolding in three areas. Historians in Japan receptive to the “atomic diplomacy” thesis nonetheless were perturbed where this appeared to obscure or even absolve the Emperor and the militarists of responsibility. These historians delved into archives and newly available sources to provide a far more comprehensive and nuanced portrait of decision making in Japan. Beginning in the later 1970s and continuing to today, the declassification of radio intelligence related information has fundamentally transformed our understanding of American decision making. Finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in startling disclosures about Soviet plans.
What follows here is an admittedly brief exploration of the new and much more complex history of these events.
In January 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly fixed the American war aim as the “Unconditional Surrender” of the Axis Powers. By 1945, planners had seized the critically broad legal authority that “unconditional surrender” afforded to fashion a breathtakingly radical plan for an occupation and internal reordering of Japan and Germany that would assure that these nations never again posed a threat. “Unconditional surrender” thus was not merely a slogan or a shibboleth; it was inextricably linked to the aim of an enduring peace.
The then newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) bore the duty of devising a military strategy to secure the national war aim. For decades the JCS was depicted as forging a consensus, but it is now clear that the JCS achieved no more than an unstable compromise. The navy, led by the Commander in Chief, U.S. Navy, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, had studied war with Japan for decades. From that lengthy meditation emerged a number of key principles, but none was more deeply held than the conviction that an attempt to invade the Japanese Home Islands was the path of absolute folly. The navy concluded that the U.S. could never project a sufficiently large trans-Pacific expeditionary force to overwhelm the Japanese. Further, the alternately steep or soaked terrain of the Home Islands would negate American advantages in firepower and mobility. Any invasion thus would produce politically unacceptable numberless casualties.
While the navy concluded that casualties would be the factor determining the will of the American people to see the war through to “unconditional surrender,” the army, led by General of the Armies George C. Marshall, believed time was the critical element. Hence the army advocated an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands as the swiftest means of ending the war.
In April 1945, after nearly a year’s worth of bitter argument, the JCS reached an unstable compromise. The ongoing strategy of bombardment and blockade would continue at greater intensity until November 1945. At that point, it would merge with a two-phase initial invasion of Japan (Operation Downfall) aimed first at Southern Kyushu about November 1, 1945 (Operations Olympic) and second at the Tokyo region about 1 March 1946 (Operation Coronet).
The JCS formally adopted a paper providing the rationale for this plan. No Japanese government had surrendered to a foreign power in the 2,600-year history of Japan. No Japanese military unit had surrendered in the entire course of the Pacific War. Therefore, the JCS concluded that there was no guarantee the U.S. could find a Japanese government that would surrender, and even if it did, that Japan’s armed forces would comply with the surrender order. Accordingly, the JCS identified the ultimate American nightmare: it was not “the invasion of Japan,” but the prospect that there would be no organized capitulation of Japan’s government and armed forces. Indeed, “the invasion of Japan” only encompassed a fraction of the potential costs of finally subduing Japan if the U.S. and its allies had to defeat Japan’s armed forces, estimated at about 4.5-5 million strong, in the Home Islands, on the Asian continent and across the Pacific.
Comprehending this fundamental point is the key to understanding why the sterile, if highly emotional, debate over potential casualties to end the war is misplaced. There was no predictable ending point in this process. If there was no organized capitulation, American (and allied) casualties could run anywhere along a vast continuum from the hundreds of thousands to well more than a million. At a critical juncture on August 10, 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson would point out to President Truman that absent compliance of Japan’s armed forces with a surrender order, the U.S. could be facing campaigns outside the Home Islands where casualties could equal twenty Iwo Jimas or Okinawas—analogies sketching a loss range of 600,000 to just below one million.
Stimson’s observation gets to the second aspect of why the casualty issue debate has parted from 1945 realities. There was not in 1945 and there is not to this day a validated method of projecting casualties. There are simply too many variables and too many of them are unknowns. The contemporary documentation on this issue illustrates that both the military and civilian leadership grasped this point. When the issue of casualties was addressed, it was far more often couched in terms of analogies, usually based on casualty ratios between Japanese and American forces, or the total number of Japanese defenders involved in a prior campaign, than on total numbers. If you take such analogies and apply them to the total strength of Japan’s armed forces (which actually surpassed six million by August 1945), you get a spectrum of potential American casualties both under and well over the one million mark. If you read carefully Stimson’s famous article in 1947 where he used the one million casualty figure, you will see that he employed the number not in the context of “the invasion of Japan” but of no organized capitulation of five million strong Japanese armed forces. Given his comment to Truman on August 10, 1945, as to potential casualties outside the Home Islands, the million number was neither a figure Stimson made up after the fact nor is it at odds with pre-Hiroshima thinking. Indeed, by August 1945, potential casualties just in the initial invasion of Japan appeared totally unacceptable.
Unfortunately, in 1945, Japanese leaders did not regard their situation as catastrophically hopeless. On the contrary, they devised a military-political strategy they called the Ketsu Go (“Operation Decisive”) that they were confident would deliver what they regarded as a satisfactory end to the war, one that would preserve the ultranationalist and militarist old order in Japan. Ketsu Go contained a fundamental premise: Americans, for all their material power, possessed only brittle morale. Japanese leaders believed that by defeating or inflicting high casualties on the initial invasion of the Home Islands, they could break American morale and secure a negotiated end of the war to their taste.
Shrewd staff work deduced that the U.S. would choose to invade rather than only follow a strategy of blockade and bombardment. Since American combat power depended vitally on air and sea components, not massive ground forces, and as more than half the U.S. air strength was ground based, the Japanese calculated that an invasion must come within range of American land bases. Further appraisal projected that by midsummer 1945, the U.S. would occupy Okinawa. Simple calculations of American fighter plane range from Okinawa showed the target for the first invasion would be southern Kyushu. A glance at the topographic map of Kyushu readily yielded the likely invasion beaches. The Japanese conducted a huge build-up of forces in Japan, but concentrated their units to meet an invasion in southern Kyushu and around Tokyo—precisely the two initial American invasion targets. They were confident in the prospects for Ketsu Go.
In the spring, Japan implemented a series of national laws designed to form a seamless unity of the armed forces, government, and the people. All males ages 15- 60 and all females ages 17-40 were drafted into a huge national militia. With Okinawa as the prototype, these individuals were mustered into units to serve in combat support and then combat roles. In June, an Imperial Conference formally sanctified the Ketsu Go “Fight to the Finish” strategy. The staff papers presented to the policymakers in preparation for this conference also told them something else: Even if Ketsu Go produced a military and diplomatic success, the nation’s desperate food situation by 1946 would kill vast numbers of people. Ketsu Go thus involved the virtual obliteration of meaningful distinctions between combatants and noncombatants and contemplated stupendous numbers of Japanese casualties not just in battle, but also from starvation.
As historian Robert Butow pointed out in 1954, the fate of Japan rested in the hands of only eight men. These were the emperor, his principal advisor Marquis Koichi Kido, and an inner cabinet of the government of Admiral Kantaro Suzuki called the “Big Six”: Prime Minister Suzuki, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, Army Minister General Korechika Anami, Navy Minister Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, Chief of the Army General Staff General Yoshijiro Umezu, and Chief of the Navy General Staff Admiral Soemu Toyoda.
There is no record whatsoever that any of these eight men proposed a set of terms or circumstances in which Japan would capitulate prior to Hiroshima. More significantly, none of these men even after the war claimed that there was any set of terms of circumstances that would have prompted Japan to surrender prior to Hiroshima. The evidence available shows that in June, a memorandum from Kido to the emperor proposed that the emperor intervene not to surrender, but to initiate mediation by a third party. The mediation would look to settle the war on terms that echoed the Treaty of Versailles: Japan might have to give up its overseas conquests and experience disarmament for a time, but the old order in Japan would remain in charge. Certainly there would be no occupation and no internal reform.
Following prompting by Kido, at the emperor’s bidding and in super secrecy the Big Six initiated tentative steps to secure the Soviet Union as a mediator to procure a negotiated end to the war—not to surrender. The feeble effort went nowhere. The “Big Six” never agreed on what terms might be offered to the Soviet Union to act as mediator, much less on terms to end the war. Nor did the emperor intervene decisively to lay down terms for mediation or for ending the war.
This brings us to the role of Magic, the code name for the massive allied code-breaking industry. The products of code-breaking were delivered daily to senior leaders in two documents, one with the self-explanatory title of “The Magic Diplomatic Summary,” the other called “The Magic Far East Summary,” which addressed military developments. Magic not only shines light onto what American policymakers knew, but also provides a priceless source of authentic insight into Japanese diplomatic and military matters.
The Diplomatic Summary divulged a series of messages from Japanese envoys in Western Europe eager to present themselves to American representatives as “peace entrepreneurs.” But Magic demonstrated that not one of these individuals acted with official sanction. Some accounts have highlighted the exertions of these “peace entrepreneurs” as demonstrating Japan’s proximity to surrender, but the reality is that they were valueless as an indicator of the thinking of Japan’s leaders—and American leaders knew this from Magic. Another stream of messages from diplomats of neutral nations in Japan showed four messages suggesting Japan might be prepared to surrender, but these were overwhelmed by no less than thirteen that did not.
The key evidence then and now is the exchange between Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow and Foreign Minister Togo in Tokyo on the only diplomatic initiative that carried official sanction. Sato’s dispatches read like a cross examination on behalf of the American government. Sato ridiculed the notion that the Soviets would assist Japan by mediation. He challenged the bona fides of the whole effort, pointing out the official policy of Japan was the “Fight to the Finish” ratified at an Imperial Conference. Who then authorized his efforts? Togo’s evasive reply—he could not claim that the super secret probe represented the policy of more than the tiny inner elite—cited vague authorization from some “directing powers.” But Sato’s main theme was terms: if Japan was serious about ending the war, it must present a set of terms. Without them, Sato warned it would be impossible even to arouse Soviet interest in mediation.
Togo could not provide terms for the fundamental reason that the men who controlled Japan could not agree on terms. Togo stated emphatically on July 17, 1945, that Japan was “was not seeking the Russians’ mediation for anything like an unconditional surrender.” Sato then sent two messages that prompted the most significant exchange of the dialogue. Sato flatly told Togo that Japan’s best realistic hope was for unconditional surrender, modified to the extent of permitting the continuation of the imperial institution. The editors of the Magic Diplomatic Summary appreciated the supreme importance of this message and made it clear that this was the proposition to which Togo responded on July 21—but that response was an emphatic rejection. Togo did not provide even a hint that a guarantee of the imperial institution would be a useful step towards securing Japan’s surrender. This evidence puts a stake through the heart of the argument that only a failure to provide guarantee of the imperial institution prevented a Japanese surrender before Hiroshima. Perhaps even more telling about this controversy is that this exchange has been in the public record since 1978, but has never been addressed by any of the critics.
The futility of diplomacy was not the only thing Magic revealed. Side-by-side with a relative freshet of diplomatic intercepts was a torrent of military intercepts. These intercepts carried enormous political implications because of the dominant role of Japan’s uniformed leaders in dictating national policy. The military intercepts without exception demonstrated that Japan was girding for an Armageddon battle. Worse yet, the intercepts revealed an appalling picture of the build-up on Kyushu exactly at the planned landing sites for Operation Olympic. As one intelligence officer noted, instead of the original projection that the invaders would heavily outnumber the defenders, Magic now demonstrated that the attackers would be going in at a ratio of 1:1, which one intelligence officer phrased it was “not the recipe for victory.”
Accompanying the release of the Magic intercepts was the revelation of their impact on senior American officers. General Marshall sent a message to the senior army officer in the Pacific, General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur, on August 7 basically asking whether Olympic still appeared viable in light of the new intelligence. MacArthur replied that he did not believe the intelligence and that therefore the invasion plan was still valid. Admiral King seized upon this exchange to ask for the view of the senior naval officer in the Pacific, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. But King well knew that since a private message in May, Nimitz had withdrawn support for the proposed invasion. Thus, the plan to attack Kyushu in November was under siege in what proved to be the final days of the war—not because it appeared unnecessary but because it appeared unthinkable in light of Magic. And one must add that in light of these revelations, all the prior ruminations on casualties just for Olympic were totally invalid.
In another important revelation about American military policy, a new targeting directive for the strategic bombing campaign was issued on August 13. It reoriented the attacks away from urban incendiary attacks that had struck 66 cities in Japan and placed priority on attacks on Japanese transportation, particularly the rail system. What was not appreciated by American planners, who merely attempted to replicate the lessons of the bombing campaign in Europe, was that a combination of demographics, food shortages and the destruction of all other means of mass transportation translated into the fact that rail bombing promised to bring on mass famine in Japan.
An atomic bomb virtually destroyed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. In the early morning of August 9, the Soviet Union entered the war with a massive offensive in Manchuria. A few hours later a second atomic bomb inflicted tremendous damage on Nagasaki. The immediate and lingering effects of the two revolutionary weapons killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Japanese.
It took twenty-four hours for Tokyo to learn of the damage to Hiroshima and the American claim that it was inflicted by an atomic bomb. The militarists immediately erected two lines of defense: first, whatever struck Hiroshima, it was not an atomic bomb; second, even if it was an atomic bomb, the difficulty of manufacturing fissionable material to power the weapon meant the U.S. could not have that many bombs, or that the bombs would not be that powerful. These conclusions were the fruit of Japan’s own efforts to build an atomic bomb. These exertions provided no useable weapon, but did instruct Japan’s leaders in the difficulty of producing fissionable material. This revelation also demonstrates the futility of any single demonstration of an atomic weapon. Further, the news of Soviet intervention did not prompt Japan’s military leaders to call for an end to the war. On the contrary, the three top leaders endorsed plans to continue the war and even to abolish any vestige of civilian government—an extremely ominous development that leaves open the question of how the war might have ended absent that mechanism for intervention by the emperor.
The Big Six finally met for the first time to contemplate ending the war in the morning of August 9. According to Admiral Toyoda, the meeting started with what he characterized as a “bullish” attitude to continue the war. During the meeting came word of the Nagasaki bombing, news that struck at the arguments to downplay the significance of the atomic bombs. By the end of the marathon session, the Big Six split. Three, perhaps four members held out for “four conditions” for surrender: continuance of the imperial institution, Japanese self disarmament, Japan to conduct “so-called” war crimes trials and no occupation. Two or possibly three members were prepared to surrender on only the first term.
When Prime Minister Suzuki met with Kido after this session, Suzuki presented the “four conditions” as the agreement of the Big Six. This was presumably because the Big Six could only act on unanimous agreement, and the “four conditions” were the lowest common denominator of concord. Kido found the four-term offer acceptable. Since Kido was the alter ego of the emperor, what does this tell us? One argument is that the emperor and Kido were fully in harmony with the most recalcitrant elements in the Big Six. But there is a more compelling alternate explanation: the emperor and Kido were deeply concerned about whether Japan’s armed forces would comply with the surrender, and the “four conditions” offer carried the approval of the military members of the Big Six—above all War Minister Anami.
When word of the “four conditions” offer spread to the handful of other leaders within the inner circle, several immediately confronted Kido with the argument that the allies would treat such a response as tantamount to a refusal to surrender. Sometime in the afternoon of August 9, the emperor agreed. That night an Imperial Conference was conducted. Key military members insisted that the war must continue. The Chief of the General Staff, Umezu, whose opinion the emperor respected, insisted that Soviet intervention was unfavorable, but did not invalidate Ketsu Go. After listening to extended debate, the emperor announced his support for the “one-condition” offer.
Then the story took another twist exposed by the new history. As communicated to the United States and its allies, the condition was phrased as acceptance of the Potsdam declaration “with the understanding that the said declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as Sovereign Ruler.” As Japanese historians pointed out, and American State Department officials immediately recognized, this was not just a request for maintenance of a constitutional monarchy. This language actually set as the condition precedent to surrender that the allies agree to the supremacy of the emperor not only over any Japanese government, but over the commander of the occupation. In other words, any proposed reforms would be subject to the emperor’s veto.
American officials were keenly interested in deploying the emperor’s authority to secure the surrender of Japan’s armed forces, but they had no intention of permitting the emperor to be the final arbiter of the occupation program. Accordingly, the response (named the Byrnes Note after Secretary of State James Byrnes) stated that “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the state shall be subject to the supreme commander of the allied powers.” The note added that the ultimate form of Japan’s government would be “established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.” This response implied much but guaranteed nothing beyond the fact that the Japanese people would ultimately choose their form of government.
It took a second Imperial Conference and second intervention of the emperor to accept the Byrnes Note. On August 15, 1945, the emperor’s broadcast announced his decision to the Japanese people and the world. But the war had not ended. Soviet combat operations continued through Manchuria and then embarked on an amphibious assault on the Kuril Islands—which thanks to other new revelations we now know was in preparation for a landing by Soviet forces on Hokkaido, the northern most Home Island. Of the perhaps 2.7 million Japanese nationals who fell into Soviet hands, between about 375,000 and 400,000 perished, not counting combat deaths. This included an estimated 179,000 civilians and 66,000 military personnel who died in Soviet captivity in the winter of 1945-46 in Manchuria alone—numbers exceeding losses from the atomic bombs. Only fierce Japanese resistance on Sakhalin Island and President Truman’s insistence on meticulous adherence to prior agreements saved Hokkaido from Soviet invasion and probable occupation.
Moreover, as Tokyo and Washington had feared, compliance of Japan’s armed forces with the surrender was far from automatic. Much attention has been paid to a failed military coup d’etat mounted by mid-grade officers on the night of August 14-15 in Tokyo. Far more significant were two other events. Two of the three major overseas commands of the Imperial Army, one in China and the other in Southeast Asia, announced that they would not comply with the surrender order. Between them they controlled a quarter to a third of all Japanese military personnel. Then the Japanese defenders in the Kurils—who defied a direct order from the emperor to halt—came very close to crushing the initial Soviet landing. On August 19, there was near panic in Tokyo over the fear that news of such a “victory’ in the Kurils would cause an unraveling of compliance with the surrender. It was touch and go for at least five days after August 15 before it became clear that Japan’s armed forces would all surrender.
The conventional dispute over the causes of the Japanese surrender pits the atomic bombs against Soviet entry, but there was more at play than just these two events. After the war, preserving Hirohito’s seat on the throne animated a Japanese effort to conceal or downplay two other factors. The first was that the emperor, Kido, and others feared something more than atomic bombs or Soviet intervention. On August 13, Navy Minister Yonai labeled the bombs and Soviet intervention as “gifts from the gods,” because he disclosed, “this way we don’t have to say that we have quit the war because of domestic circumstances.” Yonai’s comment explains a telling but veiled admission by the emperor. In both the Imperial proclamations issued by the emperor—the famous one of the August 15 radio broadcast to the whole nation and the less well known one to the armed forces on August 17—he alludes to the “domestic” situation. These are all references back to the issue raised by Kido in June: that the deteriorating situation brought on by blockade and bombing could trigger an internal revolt that would topple not only Hirohito from his throne, but also destroy the whole imperial institution.
The second issue the Japanese leadership was eager to conceal was the uncertain compliance of the armed forces with the surrender. Keeping Hirohito on the throne postwar required that no doubts be admitted about the possibility of an internal revolt by disgruntled subjects or that the armed forces might have defied his word. It was only postwar evidence, developed by Japanese historians and from Magic, that dragged these factors into full light.
The next important point to understand is that the view—customarily shared by both sides in the conventional controversy—that ending the war required only one decision in Tokyo is wrong. Ending the war, or more precisely ending all combat, really required two steps: someone with legitimate authority had to make the political decision that Japan would surrender and then Japan’s armed forces had to comply with that decision. Finally, the surest guide to analyzing what ended the war is to look at the contemporary evidence, not recollections withered by time or distorted by postwar agendas.
The fact is that the legal government of Japan, the Suzuki cabinet, of its own accord never agreed to surrender on acceptable terms. The legitimate authority that produced the surrender of Japan was the emperor. Looking at his contemporary statements, he repeatedly underscored three points. The first of these is concern over the “domestic situation.” He also explicitly cited two military factors: inadequate preparation to resist the expected American invasion and the vast destructiveness of atomic and conventional air attacks. In making the most important decision of his life in the early morning of August 10 that Japan should surrender, there is no evidence whatsoever that he mentioned Soviet intervention—not just the official records or the accounts of the principles that might well be deemed suspect as subject to manipulation, but nowhere in the myriad secondary and tertiary sources such as diaries of lesser officials where such admissions would have been documented. In the emperor’s broadcast on August 15, he refers to atomic bombs, but made no reference to Soviet intervention.
In his proclamation to the armed forces on August 17, the emperor makes no reference to atomic bombs, but does refer to Soviet entry into the war. Does this signify that Soviet entry, not atomic bombs, was the real reason for surrender? The answer rests in understanding that ending the war required two steps. At the same time the emperor ordered the proclamation of August 15 prepared, he also ordered drafting of the proclamation to the armed forces that was issued on August 17. As the diary of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Imperial Army indicates, both he and other senior officers doubted compliance with a surrender order even from the emperor. Their doubts were soon confirmed, as we have seen. Once the circumstance and timing of the August 17 proclamation is understood, the reason for highlighting Soviet intervention over the atomic bombs is obvious: Soviet intervention directly threatened and was understandable to recalcitrant overseas commanders; atomic bombs were not understood and posed no similar threat to overseas commands.
In this analysis, the primacy of place goes to the atomic bombs over Soviet intervention. They moved the emperor and without his intervention, the surrender process never starts. But Soviet intervention is also important. It is the factor that weighs heavily on enforcing compliance with the surrender, and without such compliance the fighting does not halt. Both of these factors, however, work jointly with the cumulative effects of the blockade and bombardment strategy that undermined the confidence of key leaders about the preservation of the imperial institution in the face of revolt from within.
Finally, there is one other dimension of this history that must be considered. Clearly the death of noncombatants is a critical issue. In approaching this matter it is only just to consider all, not just some, noncombatants at risk. The government of Japan bears enormous responsibility for its callous policy of wiping out meaningful distinctions between combatants and noncombatants in its national mobilization and its willingness to pursue a strategy certain to produce vast numbers of dead from starvation. The alternative of Soviet intervention as a means of ending the war is almost always presented without any mention of the enormous numbers of Japanese noncombatants who died in Soviet hands—and the still greater numbers who would have perished had the Soviets seized half or all of Hokkaido.
But what is deeply disturbing to historians from other Asian nations is the silence in the typical American debate on what the continuation of the war meant each day for their people. In China alone, the total number of war dead realistically numbers somewhere between 10-15 million, with some writers arguing still greater numbers. At least 80 percent of these deaths were civilians. This realistic range translates into an average of 3,000 to more than 4,500 deaths per day, or between 100,000-150,000 per month. Enormous numbers of other Asians were likewise dying. Then we come to Allied civilian internees and POWs at risk from abuse and starvation. In any debate over the morality or immorality of the use of atomic weapons in the context of obtaining Japan’s surrender, it is critical that all the noncombatant deaths be considered. If it is proper to weigh the costs in noncombatant lives in two cities in the aggressor nation, it is at least as proper to consider the lives of noncombatants in victim nations. And what sort of debate would omit such considerations?
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On November 15th at the FPRI annual dinner Fouad Ajami was presented with the Seventh Annual Benjamin Franklin Public Service Award. The event was attended by over 360 people.
Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr. was dinner chairman.
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