The use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in general, the policy of bombing civilian cities by all sides of the war, might rank as the absolute lowest point in the history of humanity. I have discussed my thoughts on the use of the atomic bombs before, but today I want to look at another, rarely considered point relating to the atomic bombs.
Wait, just think about it a minute… Now the idea that the atomic bombs, which perhaps killed more than 200,000 people, might have had long-term net positive results for Japan may seem like heresy, but it does not take long steps of deductive reasoning to come to this conclusion. I think that there are three ways that the atomic bombs might have saved Japan.
Now, just to be clear. I am not using this as a justification of the usage of atomic weapons. I made it clear in my previous article on this topic that I think any use of weapons on a civilian population center is morally reprehensible, and a war crime. But, in World War II it was the military policy of every military operating. So, I write this as more of a thought experiment. A historical “what-if”, and not an excuse for horrible crimes committed in Earth’s worst conflict.
I also do not intend any disservice or offense to those whose lives were lost in the atomic attacks. If anything, I hope to show that their lives were lost to prevent even more horror. My heart goes out to those who lost family, friends, and who still suffer from lingering effects of the bombings.
The first and most obvious way that the bomb may have saved Japan is that it did bring an abrupt end to the war. While in the closing days of the war there were some in the civilian government who were actively seeking peace (mostly through the Soviet Union, which is another bad idea that we’ll get into later), for the most part, the Japanese government was prepared to continue the war indefinitely. The government at the time was led by a military cabal. Most of these men seemed hell-bent on continuing the war as long as possible. This is often seen today as insane, and the Japnese leaders are somewhat demonized for pushing the war to continue even after Japan had no chance of winning.
I think this is disingenuous. I think the military leaders at the time were being rather logical. Japan was in a much more stable position than Germany was at the end of the war. At the end of the war, Germany was surrounded on all sides by powerful armies. While Japan had been pushed back to the home islands, and her navy and air force were obliterated, the army remained. Japan’s had proved in the Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and many of the other island hopping battles that they could cause devastating losses on the enemy when playing defense. The Japanese military leaders figured they could use their relatively strong armies to cause absolutely massive casualties to invading armies, and fight to an armistice, or negotiated peace.
But if the war continued, so would the bombings. We often forget that the so called “fire bombings” might have been worse than the atomic bombings. These bombings literally wiped towns and cities off the map, and were happening with stunning regularity. One top airman in the US Air Force mentioned that the atomic bombing was better than the fire bombings. Operation Meetinghouse was carried out March 9-10, and was the deadliest air raid of World War II. The longer the war continues, the more Operation Meetinghouses Japan had in its future.
As I said, the military leadership in Japan wanted to continue the war as long as was possible. Now, their actions may seem barbaric but you have to remember these were military men. They might have figured that people died in war as a matter of course, and furthermore these were men with 18th and 19th-century ideals of class. 1 soldier was worth the lives of 100 or 1000 peasants. It is with this viewpoint that we have to look at the battle plans that included men, women, and children armed with little more than bamboo spears.
To the leaders, this was an existential battle. If they lost Japan, as they perceived it, would no longer exist. The emperor, who they considered being like a god, might be deposed, arrested, and even put on trial for the war. This was absolutely untenable for these leaders who had been trained since birth to believe that any sacrifice made for the good of the Emperor and the good of the Empire was well worth the cost.
The military leadership had a good idea where the attack would happen and they were willing to throw their entire armies and the civilian population into the meat grinder that is the modern battle if it protected the “national essence”. This seems insane for us today, but try to put yourself into their shoes, what other choice did you have. But, the atomic bombings made that whole point moot.
D.M. Giangreco in his book, Hell To Pay, surmises that it may not have been the destruction of cities that finally brought the military leadership to its knees, but the idea that the nuclear bomb could be used tactically, that is against massed armies. They could prepare heavily fortified positions on the beaches, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers manning them only to be wiped out with a single atomic bomb, and leave the whole area open for invasion.
This is a section of the war that is often forgotten about. Had the allies invaded Japan part of that invasion force would have been Soviet troops. The Soviet Union didn’t declare war on Japan until the end of the war, they were busy seriously kicking the crap out of Eastern Europe and Germany. But after Germany’s fall, the USSR turned its sights on Japan. They tore through the Kwantung army like it was made of paper. Many of the survivors were taken as POWs for years. I had the opportunity to meet one of these POWs who was forced to work in a Siberian labor camp for years before he could return home. He did not speak highly of Soviet “hospitality”.
Japan and Russia had a very antagonistic relationship for years. Japan embarrassingly crashed Russian forces in the Russo-Japanese war in the closing years of the 1800’s. Furthermore, there were many border disputes in the 1930’s. Stalin was hoping to regain some land taken in those earlier conflicts and was always hoping to spread his version of communism where ever he could.
If America and English forces invaded from the South-West, Russia would invade from the North-West. The Red Army was probably the world’s best and deadliest army. They had the most battle experience with the German forces, and probably had some of the best field generals in the whole war. They would have torn down through Hokkaido, Tohoku, and possibly down to Tokyo with ease. It is possible, that Japan would have been portioned like Germany and Berlin. An Allied side, and a Soviet side. Imagine that, a North Japan with a puppet government controlled by the Soviet Union and a Democratic South Japan. Does that sound strikingly similar to another Asian country?
Imagine a Japan where, instead of the incredible post-war economic boom, there was a country divided against itself. Another country where the Cold War would cause Japanse to fight against Japanese all because of some arbitrary line in the sand. Any economic recovery would be stunted for decades. Japan, as we know it today, would not exist.
Some believe that the Soviet Union was not made aware of the existence of the atom bomb and the pending strikes on Japan for this very reason. They feared that the Red Army would attack first and take as much as they could before Japan could surrender. So, it is just possible that the secrecy of the atomic bomb attacks from both Russia and the Japanese government might have saved Japan from Korea’s later fate.