US application of nuclear weapons against Japan during the Second World War has long been the subject of debate filled with emotions. At first, few doubted the correctness of President Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But in 1965, the historian Gar Alperovitz (Gar Alperovitz) stated that although the bombs forced the Japanese to immediately announce the end of the war, the leaders of that country would still like to capitulate, and would have done so before the American invasion planned for 1 in November. Consequently, there was no need to use these bombs. And since the bombing was not needed to win the war, it means that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong. Over the past 48 years, many have gotten into this scramble: someone echoes Alperovica and condemns the atomic bombings, and someone hotly argues that the bombings were highly moral and necessary because they saved lives.
However, supporters of both points of view proceed from the fact that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a new, more powerful weapon really forced Japan to capitulate on August 9. They do not even question the usefulness and expediency of the bombing, do not ask whether they gave the result. The generally accepted point of view is this: yes, of course, they gave the result. The United States struck atomic strikes on Hiroshima on 6 in August, and on Nagasaki on 9 in August, and then the Japanese finally realized the danger of further bombardment, broke down and capitulated. Such a narrative line has the strongest support. But there are three serious flaws in it, and if we consider them together, they significantly weaken the traditional view of the causes of Japanese surrender.
The first problem of traditional interpretation is timing. And this is a very serious problem. In the traditional view, everything is simple: the US Air Force bombed Hiroshima with the 6 nuclear weapon of August, three days later they drop another bomb on Nagasaki, and the next day the Japanese signal that they intend to surrender. One can hardly blame American newspapers for such headlines: “Peace in the Pacific. Our bomb did it! ”
When American textbooks tell about Hiroshima stories, there the main and decisive date is called August 6 - the day of the first atomic bombing. All elements of this narrative are focused on prehistory: how they decided to create a bomb, how secret investigations were going at Los Alamos, how the first very impressive trials went, and how the climax came in Hiroshima. In other words, this is the story of Bomb. But within the framework of the Bomba story, it is impossible to objectively analyze the decision of Japan to capitulate. The “Story of the Bomb” already suggests that the role of the Bomb is central.
From the point of view of the Japanese, the most important day of the second week of August 1945 of the year was not 6, but 9 of August. That day, the High Council met to discuss the question of unconditional surrender - the first time during the war. The High Council consisted of six main members of the government who, in fact, controlled Japan in 1945. It was a kind of internal office. Until that day, Japanese leaders did not seriously consider the question of surrender. Unconditional surrender (as the Allies demanded) was a very bitter pill, and it was difficult to swallow it. The United States and the United Kingdom have already convened tribunals in Europe to try war criminals. And what if they decide to prosecute the emperor, whom the Japanese considered a sacred figure? What if they get rid of it and completely change the form of government? The situation in the summer of 1945 was bad, but Japanese leaders did not even want to think about abandoning their traditions, beliefs and lifestyle. Until 9 August. What could have happened to make them suddenly and decisively change their point of view? What made them sit down and for the first time after the 14 years of war, seriously discuss the issue of surrender?
It was hardly a bombing of Nagasaki. The bomb was dropped late in the morning of August 9. This happened after the Supreme Council began its meeting on the question of surrender. BUT news Japanese leaders learned about the bombing only after noon, when a break was announced at the council meeting, because it reached an impasse, and the meeting of the entire cabinet was necessary to continue the discussion. If we talk about timing and time, the bombing of Nagasaki could not become a cause and incentive for their decision.
And the bombing of Hiroshima for this role is not very suitable. The bomb on this city was dropped three days earlier. What is this crisis such that it takes three days to start discussing it? The main feature of the crisis is a sense of approaching catastrophe and an irresistible desire to start acting as soon as possible. Could Japanese leaders think that Hiroshima created a crisis, and then wait three days without discussing this problem?
16 October 1962, 8’s 45 minute minutes in the morning, President John F. Kennedy sat in bed reading the morning papers when national security adviser McGeorge Bundy came to him and informed that the Soviet Union was secretly deploying nuclear missiles in Cuba. During 2 hours and 45 minutes, a special committee was created, they chose and notified its members, brought them to the White House and sat down at the table to discuss what to do in such a situation.
President Harry Truman 25 Jun 1950 of the year rested in Independence, Missouri, when North Korea sent its troops for the 38 th parallel and invaded South Korea. Secretary Acheson called him that Saturday morning and broke the news. During 24 hours, Truman flew past half of America and sat down with his chief military and political advisers at the Blair House guest house (the White House was undergoing repairs) to discuss priority response measures.
Even General George Brinton McClellan (George Brinton McClellan), who commanded the Potomac army of northerners in 1863, during the civil war (President Lincoln said sadly about this man: "He is so slow!") Lost all 12 hours when he was given a captured copy order of General Robert Lee (Robert E. Lee) on the invasion of Maryland.
These leaders, like the leaders of any other country, reacted to the imperative demands arising from the crisis. Each of them took decisive action in a short time. How to compare this kind of behavior with the actions of the Japanese leadership? If Hiroshima really caused the crisis, which eventually forced the Japanese to capitulate after the 14-year war, then why did they wait three days before starting the discussion?
Someone may say that such a delay is quite logical. Most likely, they did not immediately realize the significance of the atomic bombing. Perhaps they did not know that it was an atomic weapon, and when they understood and realized the full horror of the consequences of its use, they naturally decided that they would have to capitulate. Unfortunately, this explanation does not fit with the facts.
First, the governor of Hiroshima, on the day of the atomic bombing, reported to Tokyo that the city had been hit, as a result of which a third of the population had died, and two-thirds of Hiroshima had been destroyed. This information has not changed in the next few days. Thus, the final result of the bombing was clear from the very beginning. Japanese leaders learned the approximate results of the atomic attack on the first day, but did not act.
Secondly, a preliminary report by a team of ground forces specialists, who examined the circumstances and consequences of the bombing of Hiroshima, and also collected evidence of what happened, was prepared and handed over to August 10 only. In other words, the report reached Tokyo after the decision to surrender was made. An oral report (to the military commander) sounded on August 8, however, the details of the bombing became known only two days later. Consequently, the decision to capitulate was not based on a deep understanding of the horrors that occurred in Hiroshima.
Thirdly, the Japanese military at least approximately, but understood what atomic weapons are. Japan had a nuclear weapons program. Some militaries noted in their diaries that Hiroshima was destroyed by nuclear weapons. War Minister Anami Korechika, on the night of August 7, even consulted with the head of the Japanese nuclear weapons program. Therefore, the statement that the Japanese leadership knew nothing about nuclear weapons is not tenable.
And finally, there is one more problem with the deadlines, which creates a big problem. 8 August Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori arrived at Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro and asked him to convene a High Council to discuss the atomic strike on Hiroshima. However, the board members refused. So the crisis did not grow day by day, until, finally, it did not manifest itself in all its magnitude on August 9. In explaining the actions of Japanese leaders with an emphasis on the “shock” of the bombing of Hiroshima, they should have considered the fact that they were holding a meeting to discuss the August 8 bombing, but then they decided that this question was too insignificant. And the next day they suddenly decided to meet and discuss the terms of the surrender. Either these people had an attack of collective schizophrenia, or there were some other events that became the real reason for the discussion of surrender.
In terms of history, the use of the atomic bomb may seem to be the most important single event in the war. However, from the point of view of modern Japan, atomic bombing is not easy to distinguish from other events, as it is not easy to isolate a single raindrop in the midst of a summer thunderstorm.
In the summer of 1945, the US Air Force launched one of the most intense urban destruction campaigns in world history. In Japan, 68 cities were bombed, and all of them were partially or completely destroyed. An estimated 1,7 million people were left homeless, 300000 were killed and 750000 were injured. 66 aviation the raids were conducted with conventional weapons, and two used atomic bombs. The damage caused by non-nuclear airstrikes was colossal. All summer, from night to night, Japanese cities exploded and burned. In the midst of all this nightmare of destruction and doom, it could hardly have come as a surprise that one blow or another did not make much of an impression - even if it was delivered by an amazing new weapon.
The B-29 bomber flying from the Mariana Islands, depending on the location of the target and the height of the attack, could carry a bomb load weighing from 7 to 9 tons. Usually 500 bombers made raids. This means that with a typical non-nuclear means of aerial attack, 4-5 kilotons fell on each city. (A kilo-ton is a thousand tons, and it is a standard measure of the power of a nuclear weapon. The Hiroshima bomb's power was 16,5 kilotons, and the bomb of 20 kilotons fell on Nagasaki.) During normal bombing, the destruction was uniform (and therefore more effective); and one, albeit a more powerful bomb, loses a significant part of its destructive force at the epicenter of the explosion, only raising dust and creating a pile of debris. Therefore, it can be argued that some airstrikes using conventional bombs in their destructive power approached two atomic bombings.
The first bombardment using conventional means was carried out against Tokyo at night with 9 on March 10 1945. It became the most destructive bombing of the city in the history of wars. Then in Tokyo, about 41 square kilometer of urban territory burned down. Approximately 120000 Japanese died. This is the biggest loss from the bombing of cities.
Because of how they tell us this story, we often imagine that the bombing of Hiroshima was much worse. We think that the death toll goes beyond any limits. But if you make a table by the number of people who died in all 68 cities as a result of the bombings in the summer of 1945, it turns out that Hiroshima is in second place by the number of civilians who died. And if you count the area of destroyed urban areas, it turns out that Hiroshima is the fourth. If you check the percentage of destruction in cities, then Hiroshima will be in 17-th place. Obviously, in terms of the extent of the damage, it fits perfectly into the parameters of the air strikes using non-nuclear means.
From our point of view, Hiroshima is something extraordinary, something extraordinary. But if you put yourself in the place of the Japanese leaders in the period preceding the strike on Hiroshima, the picture will look quite different. If you were one of the key members of the Japanese government at the end of July - beginning of August 1945, you would have something like the following sensation of city air strikes. On the morning of July 17, you would be informed that four cities were subjected to air strikes at night: Oita, Hiratsuka, Numazu and Kuvana. Oita and Hiratsuka are half destroyed. In Kuvan, the destruction exceeds 75%, and Numazu suffered the most because 90% of the city burned to the ground.
Three days later, you are woken up and reported that three more cities were attacked. Fukui destroyed on 80 over percent. A week goes by and three more cities are bombed at night. Two days later, overnight, the bombs fall on another six Japanese cities, including Ichinomiya, where 75% of buildings and structures were destroyed. 12 August you go to your office, and they report to you that four more cities were hit. Among all these messages, there is a slip of information that the city of Toyama (in 1945, it was about the size of Chattanooga, in Tennessee) was destroyed by 99,5%. That is, the Americans razed to the ground almost the entire city. On August 6, only one city was attacked, Hiroshima, but according to reports, the damage was enormous there, and a new type of bomb was used during an air strike. How much does this new airstrike stand out from other bombings that lasted for weeks, destroying entire cities?
Three weeks before Hiroshima, the USAF raided 26 cities. Of these, eight (almost a third) were either destroyed completely or more strongly than Hiroshima (if we consider how many cities were destroyed). The fact that 1945 cities were destroyed in Japan in the summer of 68, creates a serious obstacle for those who want to show that the bombing of Hiroshima was the cause of Japan’s surrender. The question arises: if they capitulated because of the destruction of one city, then why did they not capitulate when 66 of other cities were destroyed?
If the Japanese leadership decided to surrender because of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this means that they were alarmed by the bombings of the cities as a whole, that the attacks on these cities became a serious argument in favor of surrender. But the situation looks completely different. Two days after the bombing of Tokyo, retired Foreign Minister Sidehara Kijuro expressed an opinion that many senior leaders openly adhered to at the time. Sidehara said: “People will gradually get used to being bombed every day. In time, their unity and determination will only grow stronger. ” In a letter to a friend, he noted that it is important for citizens to endure suffering, because "even if they die, hundreds of thousands of civilians are injured and suffer from hunger, even if millions of houses are destroyed and burned," it will take time for diplomacy. It is appropriate to recall that Sidehara was a moderate politician.
Apparently, at the very top of state power in the High Council, the mood was the same. The High Council discussed the question of how important it is for the Soviet Union to maintain neutrality - and at the same time, its members did not say anything about the consequences of the bombing. From the surviving protocols and archives it is clear that only two times were mentioned at the meetings of the High Council of the bombing of cities: once in passing 1945 of the year in May and the second time in the evening of August 9, when an extensive discussion took place on this issue. Based on the available facts, it is difficult to say that the Japanese leaders attached at least some importance to the airstrikes on the cities - at least in comparison with other pressing problems of wartime.
General Anami 13 of August noticed that atomic bombings were no more terrible than the usual air strikes that Japan had been subjected to for several months. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki were no worse than conventional bombing, and if the Japanese leadership did not attach much importance to it, without considering it necessary to discuss this issue in detail, how could atomic attacks on these cities force them to surrender?
If the Japanese were not bothered by the bombing of cities in general and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in particular, what worried them? The answer to this question is simple: the Soviet Union.
The Japanese were in a rather difficult strategic situation. The end of the war was approaching, and they lost the war. The decor was bad. But the army was still strong and well supplied. Nearly four million people were under arms, and 1,2 of a million of them were guarding the Japanese islands.
Even the most uncompromising Japanese leaders understood that it was impossible to continue the war. The question was not whether to continue it or not, but how to complete it under the best conditions. The allies (the United States, Great Britain and others — recall that the Soviet Union was still neutral at the time) demanded “unconditional surrender.” The Japanese leadership hoped that it would somehow manage to avoid military tribunals, preserve the existing form of state power and some of the territories occupied by Tokyo: Korea, Vietnam, Burma, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, much of eastern China and numerous islands in the Pacific.
They had two plans for obtaining optimal surrender terms. In other words, they had two strategic options for action. The first option is diplomatic. In April, 1941, Japan signed a neutrality pact with the Soviets, and this pact expired in 1946. A group of mainly civilian leaders led by Foreign Minister of Togo Shigenori hoped that Stalin would be able to be persuaded to act as an intermediary between the United States and allies on the one hand, and Japan on the other to resolve the situation. Although this plan had little chance of success, it reflected quite sound strategic thinking. In the end, the Soviet Union is interested in ensuring that the terms of the settlement are not very favorable for the United States — after all, increasing American influence and power in Asia would invariably mean a weakening of Russian power and influence.
The second plan was a military man, and most of his supporters, who were led by Army Minister Anami Koretik, were military men. They pinned their hopes that when the American troops began the invasion, the ground forces of the imperial army would inflict huge losses on them. They believed that if they succeed, they will succeed in knocking out more favorable conditions from the United States. This strategy also had little chance of success. The United States was determined to achieve an unconditional surrender from the Japanese. But since there was concern in US military circles that the loss of the invasion would prove to be exorbitantly large, there was a certain logic in the strategy of Japan’s high command.
To understand what is the real reason that forced the Japanese to capitulate - the bombing of Hiroshima or the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, we must compare how these two events affected the strategic situation. After the atomic strike on Hiroshima as of 8 in August, both options were still in force. You could also ask Stalin to mediate (there is an entry in 8 August in Takagi’s diary, which shows that some Japanese leaders were still thinking about bringing Stalin in). It was also possible to try one last decisive battle and inflict great damage on the enemy. The destruction of Hiroshima had no effect on the readiness of the troops for stubborn defense on the shores of their native islands. Yes, behind them one city became smaller, but they were still ready to fight. They had enough ammunition and shells, and if the army’s combat power had decreased, it was very insignificant. The bombing of Hiroshima did not prejudice any of the two strategic options for Japan.
However, the effect of the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, its invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island was quite different. When the Soviet Union entered the war with Japan, Stalin could no longer act as a mediator - now he was an adversary. Therefore, the USSR destroyed the diplomatic option of ending the war with its actions. The impact on the military situation was no less dramatic. Most of the best Japanese troops were on the southern islands of the country. The Japanese military rightly assumed that the first target of the American invasion would be the southernmost island of Kyushu. The once powerful Kwantung Army in Manchuria was extremely weakened, since its best units were transferred to Japan to organize the defense of the islands. When the Russians entered Manchuria, they simply crushed the once elite army, and many of their units stopped only when the fuel ran out. The 16 Soviet Army, which numbered 100000 people, landed troops in the southern part of Sakhalin Island. She received an order to break the resistance of the Japanese troops there, and then, during 10-14 days, prepare for the invasion of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese islands. Hokkaido defended the 5-I territorial army of Japan, which consisted of two divisions and two brigades. She focused on fortified positions in the eastern part of the island. A Soviet offensive plan called for a landing in the west of Hokkaido.
You do not have to be a military genius to understand: yes, you can hold a decisive battle against one great power, landed in one direction; but it is impossible to repel an attack by two great powers, leading an offensive from two different directions. The Soviet offensive wiped out the military strategy of the decisive battle, as it had previously devalued the diplomatic strategy. The Soviet offensive was decisive in terms of strategy, because it deprived Japan of both options. And the bombing of Hiroshima was not decisive (because she did not rule out any Japanese options).
The entry of the Soviet Union into the war also changed all the calculations concerning the time left to complete the maneuver. Japanese intelligence predicted that US troops would land only a few months later. The Soviet troops could actually be on Japanese territory in a matter of days (within 10 days, to be more precise). The offensive of the Soviets has mixed all plans concerning the timing of the decision to end the war.
But the Japanese leaders came to this conclusion a few months before. At a meeting of the High Council in June 1945 of the year, they stated that if the Soviets entered the war, "this will determine the fate of the empire." The deputy chief of staff of the Japanese army, Kawabe, said at that meeting: "Maintaining peace in our relations with the Soviet Union is an indispensable condition for the continuation of the war."
Japanese leaders stubbornly refused to show interest in the bombing that destroyed their cities. It was probably wrong when the airstrikes began on March 1945. But by the time the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, they were right, considering the bombing of cities to be an inessential intermedium that does not have serious strategic consequences. When Truman uttered his famous phrase that if Japan does not capitulate, its cities will be subjected to “destructive steel shower”, few people in the United States understood that there was almost nothing to destroy there. By August 7, when Truman voiced his threat, in Japan there were only 10 cities with a population of more than 100000 people who had not yet been bombarded. 9 August hit Nagasaki, and there are nine such cities left. Four of them were located on the northern island of Hokkaido, which was difficult to bomb because of the large distance to Tinian Island, where American bombers were stationed. War Minister Henry Stimson struck out the ancient capital of Japan from the list of targets for bombers, as it had an important religious and symbolic meaning. So, despite Truman’s formidable rhetoric, only four major cities remained in Nagasaki in Japan that could be subjected to atomic strikes.
The thoroughness and scope of the bombings of the US Air Force can be judged by the following circumstance. They bombed so many Japanese cities that they were eventually forced to strike at settlements with a population of 30000 people and less. In the modern world, such a town and a city is difficult to call.
Of course, it was possible to repeatedly strike at cities that had already been bombarded with incendiary bombs. But these cities were already destroyed on average by 50%. In addition, the United States could drop atomic bombs on small cities. However, there were only six such pristine cities (with a population from 30000 to 100000) in Japan. But since 68 cities had already seriously suffered from bombing in Japan, and the country's leadership did not attach any importance to this, it was hardly surprising that the threat of further air strikes could not make a big impression on them.
Despite these three powerful objections, the traditional interpretation of events is still very much influencing people's thinking, especially in the United States. There is a clear reluctance to look into the eyes of the facts. But this can hardly be called a surprise. We need to remember how convenient the traditional explanation for the bombing of Hiroshima is emotionally - for both Japan and the United States. Ideas retain their power because they are true; but unfortunately, they can remain valid from the fact that they meet the needs from an emotional point of view. They fill an important psychological niche. For example, the traditional interpretation of the events in Hiroshima helped Japanese leaders achieve a number of important political goals, both domestically and internationally.
Put yourself in the place of the emperor. You have just subjected your country to a destructive war. Economy in ruins. 80% of your cities destroyed and burned. The army was defeated, having suffered a series of defeats. The fleet suffered heavy losses and does not leave the bases. People are starving. In short, war has become a disaster, and most importantly, you lie to your people, not to tell them how bad the situation really is. People will be shocked to learn of the surrender. So what do you do? Recognize that you suffered a complete failure? Make a statement that you have seriously miscalculated, made mistakes and caused great damage to your nation? Or explain the defeat amazing scientific achievements that no one could predict? If you put the blame for the defeat on the atomic bomb, then all the mistakes and military mistakes can be swept under the carpet. Bomb is the perfect excuse for losing a war. Do not have to look for the guilty, do not need to conduct investigations and trials. Japanese leaders will be able to say they have done their best.
Thus, by and large, the atomic bomb helped remove the blame from Japanese leaders.
But having explained the Japanese defeat by atomic bombing, three more very specific political goals were achieved. First, it helped to preserve the emperor’s legitimacy. Since the war was lost not because of mistakes, but because of a miracle weapon that appeared unexpectedly at the enemy, it means that the emperor will continue to enjoy support in Japan.
Secondly, it caused international sympathy. Japan waged war aggressively, and showed particular cruelty to the conquered peoples. Other countries must have condemned her actions. And if you turn Japan into a victim country that was inhumanly and dishonestly bombed with the use of a terrible and cruel tool of war, then you can somehow redeem and neutralize the most vile deeds of the Japanese military. Drawing attention to the atomic bombings helped create more sympathy for Japan and quenched the desire for the most severe punishment.
Finally, claims that Bomb provided victory in the war flatter the American winners of Japan. The American occupation of Japan officially ended only in 1952, and all this time the United States could change and redo Japanese society at its discretion. In the early days of the occupation, many Japanese leaders feared that the Americans would want to abolish the institution of the emperor. And they had another fear. Many of Japan’s top leaders knew that they could be brought to trial for war crimes (when Japan surrendered, the Nazi leaders had already tried it in Germany). The Japanese historian Asada Sadao (Asada Sadao) wrote that in many post-war interviews "Japanese officials ... obviously tried to please their American interviewers." If Americans want to believe that a bomb has provided victory in a war, why should they be disappointed?
Explaining the end of the war with the use of the atomic bomb, the Japanese largely served their own interests. But they served American interests too. Once the war was secured by a bomb, the idea of America’s military might is increasing. The diplomatic influence of the United States in Asia and around the world is growing, and American security is becoming stronger. Spent on the creation of a bomb 2 billion dollars was not in vain. On the other hand, if it is acknowledged that Japan’s entry into the war was the reason for the surrender of the Soviet Union, the Soviets will be able to declare that in four days they did what the United States could not do in four years. And then the idea of military power and diplomatic influence of the Soviet Union will be strengthened. And since at that time the Cold War was already in full swing, the recognition of the decisive contribution of the Soviets to the victory was equivalent to rendering assistance and support to the enemy.
Looking at the issues raised here, it is disturbing to realize that the evidence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki underlies all that we think of nuclear weapons. This event is irrefutable proof of the importance of nuclear weapons. It is important for gaining a unique status, because the usual rules do not apply to nuclear powers. This is an important measure of nuclear danger: the Truman threat to subject Japan to a “destructive steel shower” became the first open atomic threat. This event is very important for creating a powerful aura around nuclear weapons, which makes it so significant in international relations.
But if Hiroshima’s traditional history is questioned, what should we do with all these conclusions? Hiroshima is the center point, the epicenter, from which all other statements, claims and claims spread. However, the story that we tell ourselves is far from reality. What do we now think about nuclear weapons, if its colossal first achievement — Japan’s miraculous and sudden surrender — turned out to be a myth?
Ward Wilson is a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council and the author of the book Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons. This article is an adapted excerpt from this book.