Many are thinking now about the fate of Hiroshima as another anniversary arrives, when up to 140,000 were killed and 69 per cent of the city was destroyed on the morning of August 6, 1945 by an atomic bomb: seventy years ago, now. It may be useful to put Hiroshima’s destruction into its sad context, especially as we consider the coming disaster that Iran will bring us thanks to the fecklessness of our current world leaders, especially the current occupant of the White House.
The Japanese Empire was responsible for starting the conflict by attempting to conquer and annex China and other parts of Asia, such as Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It killed millions of people in China and elsewhere (most notoriously, the Rape of Nanking in China in 1937-38, when at least 200,000 civilians were slaughtered—some estimates are as high as 800,000). Later, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor because of economic sanctions the U.S. had leveled in response to Japanese aggression in China. In all, the Imperial Empire of Japan was responsible for the deaths of at least fifteen and a half million people between 1937 and 1945, and possibly many more. The Japanese government did not document their atrocities as carefully as the Nazi German government did, though they were no less genocidal or cruel. Like the Nazis, the Imperial Japanese government murdered and tortured people and conducted horrific medical experiments on many.
Meanwhile, during the course of the battles of World War II, more Japanese died from conventional bombings by the United States than were killed in Hiroshima. For instance, a single raid by 334 B-29s on Tokyo on March 10, 1945 resulted in the destruction of 25 percent of the city and the deaths of 100,000. There were many, many other raids against Tokyo and other cities in Japan. On July 26, 1945 the U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the president of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Shek issued the Potsdam Declaration. It was an ultimatum that stated, that if Japan did not surrender unconditionally, it would face “prompt and utter destruction.” It also required the elimination of the “authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest,” the disarmament of the Japanese military, the withdrawal of Japan from all the nations it had conquered, and justice against all war criminals, “including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners,” as for instance during the Bataan Death March following the Japanese conquest of the Philippines, when 60,000 allied prisoners were forcibly marched through the jungle to a prison camp. The march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder.
It was Japan’s formal rejection of the Potsdam Declaration that resulted in President Truman deciding to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and—when Japan still did not surrender—on Nagasaki three days later.
After Nagasaki had been destroyed on August 9, 1945, the Emperor Hirohito accepted the recommendation of several of his advisors and finally decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration. Aware of his intent to announce surrender in a radio address on August 15, the Staff Office of the Ministry of War of Japan and many from the Imperial Guard of Japan came up with a plan to prevent the announcement. They intended to kill all those who had counseled surrender except for the Emperor, whom they would put into “protective custody.” Then they planned to have him broadcast an alternate speech, declaring Japan’s intention to fight on to the last man, woman and child.
The military officers led a full scale military assault on the Imperial palace on the night of August 14-15. The coup attempt was barely stopped. When they failed, those involved in what was called the Kyujo Incident quickly committed suicide. After the coup was thwarted, the emperor’s recorded speech was broadcast on radio at noon on August 15 as scheduled, and the war ended. His radio address was the first time that the Japanese public had ever heard the Emperor’s voice.
Had the Emperor not survived the coup attempt and had Japan not surrendered, the United States and its allies would have implemented Operation Downfall: the full-scale invasion of Japan. The Japanese military already had extensive plans to fight back against such an assault and were well-prepared for it.
To give some sense of how such an invasion would have gone, consider the one invasion of a Japanese island that did happen. Between April and mid-June 1945—over the course of 82 days—the Americans invaded Okinawa in the largest amphibious assault ever conducted in the Pacific War. It was called Operation Iceberg. 183,000 American and allied forces faced 117,000 entrenched Japanese troops. 12,513 American soldiers died during the invasion. 100,000 out of those 117,000 Japanese soldiers died. Another 100,000 Japanese civilians were killed, wounded, or committed suicide. In all, about 25 per cent of the civilian population of Okinawa died as a result of the invasion.
Had Operation Downfall been implemented against the main islands of Japan, the detailed estimates—based on four years experience in fighting the Imperial Japanese forces—was that the invasion would have taken at least from November 1945 through sometime in 1947 to accomplish. The results of the successful invasion would have been the deaths of millions of American troops and tens of millions of Japanese, who would have fought to the last man, woman and child.
For those who fear atomic weapons, remember that they've only been used twice since their invention seventy years ago. Far more people have died—and continue to die—from conventional weapons. Eliminating atomic weapons will not bring about peace. After all, we had wars long before they were invented and we’ve continued to have wars ever since, all without using them. In that sense, not much has changed. However, permitting a murderous regime such as Iran, which is guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity, the power to develop such weapons is incredibly stupid. Those who argue that violence solves nothing ignore history. Sometimes violence is all that is left as a tool against evil.