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Controversy over the bombing

In a period of four days in August, 1945, the greatest weapon of mass destruction mankind had seen dropped twice on the same country by America.  Hundreds of thousands of lives were taken, devastating the country of Japan.  Since then, the battle over the justification of the bombing has been disputed among top scholars, never reaching an end agreement.  However, the bigger picture has never truly been taken into account.  Japan, like all other countries during war time, committed some horrible acts that have not been prevalently known in the United States.  The end behavior itself cannot possibly excuse years of war crimes that were previously done, but the moral decision behind the atomic bomb must be made only after one has more information about the Pacific war has been gathered.

Actions of the Japanese Empire during the war
 
The Japanese committed numerous atrocities in Asia over the period of a decade.  They frequently chose to massacre unsurmountable number of people as a strategy to maintain control like their European allies.  However, unlike the Holocaust in Europe, the Japanese atrocities have never been fully discussed in American education for several pivotal reasons following the end of World War II.
 
To represent the numerous Japanese atrocities, one example that showed the entirety of what Japanese soldiers were capable of doing at the time will be be looked at; The Rape of Nanking.  At the end of 1937, the Japanese had fought their way to Nanking, the capital of China at the time.  The worst atrocities were committed over the next six weeks in this region, but similar atrocities were ongoing across the cost of Asia where Japan had occupied.  These atrocities went from gang raping women and children, stabbing, decapitating, burning, and torturing.  Within a matter of days the city was littered with bodies of people from all age groups.  Because of the mass slaughter of lives, only rough estimates using mass grave sites and private journals are available for the number of deaths the Japanese Army was responsible for.  The rough estimate is 300,000 people killed and 20,000 woman raped (most likely killed after being raped) within 6 weeks.  This estimates to about 7,000 deaths and 450 rapes per day.
 
On the surface, the event is already repulsive.  However, an in depth research of what the Japanese people did to the people in Nanjing and across Asia make them seem barbarious.  There are records that show the Japanese soldiers actually enjoyed inflicting damage upon people.  Gang raping became a normal activity that many soldiers took part in, and to execute unarmed prisoners was considered honorable.  Because of the sensitivity of this issue, this research will not go farther into this atrocity.  However, The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang compiles a diverse number of resources to piece together what happened.  The records from a Nazi officer who witnessed the atrocity is also included.  
 
The Japanese atrocities also extended to American and British prisoners of war.  One of the most infamous of these is the Bataan Death March.  The 65 mile march in 1942 was a way to transport and eliminate American and British prisoners of war.  Japanese soldiers would kill anyone who lagged behind the main body.  The soldiers would force the prisoners to rest under the hot sun, then execute anyone who asked for water.  Starvation was also a tactic the Japanese soldiers used to tempt prisoners to ask for food so they would have an excuse to kill them.  5,000-11,000 prisoners of the original 70,000 group perished.
 
Up to this day, the Japanese Empire has not apologized for their atrocities in Asia.  Their shrine in Tokyo, Yasukuni, which is dedicated to their ancestors, has 14 Class A war criminals enshrined.  For some perspective, Hitler is a class A war criminal.  This shrine has been regularly visited by Japanese officials.  However, this is not suggesting that they are their to worship these specific 14 criminals, but the fact that such a holy and popular shrine honors more than a dozen class A war criminals has been a source of controversy.

Japanese actions to end the war
 
As Japan began to lose its military superiority in the Pacific theater and as the Allied forces converged on the island, Japan began taking actions that suggested it wanted peace.  There were reports of peace feelers who were in contact with potential mediators between Japan and America.  However, these peace feelers were never official and no official offer was made to the United States or to the Allied forces of a surrender.  At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration which wanted the Japanese to surrender unconditionally.  After a brief correspondence with the Japanese government, an official rejection of the Potsdam Declaration was given by the Japanese Empire.

Operation Downfall, Operation Ketsu-Go, and the projected loss of lives
 
Operation Downfall was the code name for the comples amphibious landing of the Japanese main island.  It was composed of two parts, Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet.  A month before Nazi Germany surrendered, American leaders began to plan the invasion, incorporating armed forces that would be finished in the European Theater of Operation.  Japan anticipated this invasion and began preparing countermeasures in what became called the Operation Ketsu-Go (Ketsu-Go means Decisive).
 
The complex plans of Operation Downfall involved long term deception plans in order to draw the Japanese forces away from the landing zones.  The first part, Operation Olympic, targeted the southern portion of Kyushu which, which would be followed up with Operation Coronet, aimed at the region around Tokyo.  Operation Olympic was approved by Truman but Operation Coronet was not.  The operation would have drawn in American forces from all over the world in an attempt to force Japan to surrender because it was believed by key people in the American military that Japan would not be willing to surrender unless an invasion occurred.
 
Operation Ketsu-Go was a desperate plan for Japan to hold off the American forces.  All of the potential landing sites were backed with mountains, a terrain that was prevalent in Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  The Japanese forces effectively built in a network of tunnels like they had on previous islands.  The goal was to destroy the Americans before they landed, and the few that did land would be quickly eliminated by the defenses.  By this time, kamakazi attacks were frequently used because the Japanese Empire was running low on material as well as experienced pilots.  The predictions and estimates the Japanese forces used to prepare for Operation Ketsu-Go was extremely accurate which would have led to devastating loss of lives to both sides.  Not only were they planning on deploying their troops at the most effective areas, their timing in deployment of new troops would have been just before the invasion.  Apart from their brilliantly horrific plans, their fighting tactics also added another danger to both sides.  The Imperial Army planned to encourage not only air suicide attacks (kamikazes) but also suicide attacks on land called tokko

It is true that Japan had lost much of its resources by this time, but to claim that they were weak and unable to repulse an invasion would be inaccurate.  To bolster their numbers, the Japanese government passed the Volunteer Enlistment Law which required males between 15 to 60 and females between 17 and 40 years old to be split into Volunteer Fighting Units.  The estimated total of these civilian groups exceeds one million.  Civilians were being trained in hand to hand combat and were effectively integrated into the defensive structure.  The Imperial Army began depending more on suicide attack strategies which makes them a much more formidable and dangerous enemy. 
 
For the past few years since Midway, the Allied forces had fought to control pivotal islands in a strategy called island hopping.  However, the casualties from island hopping were inconceivable on both sides.  At the Battle of Tarawa, Allied forces and Japanese troops fought over a 2.5 islet.  After 3 days of fighting, of the 4800 Japanese troops that protected the island only 17 surrendered.  This equates to roughly .35% of the defenders surviving.  19% of the American troops were marked as casualties.  Using similar statistics, an estimated 7.45 casualties/1000man/day was predicted.  Following this prediction, 456,000 casualties would have been inflicted on a 90 day campaign in Operation Olympic alone.  If the Japanese soldiers followed their Bushido teaching (which was very likely), the Japanese casualties would have been astronomical.
 

Moral Decision

After all this information, one must ask whether or not the dropping of the atomic bomb was moral.  On one hand, the complete decimation of civilians is unethical.  However, this can be challenged by the question of whether the civilians were truly civilians, or if they were involved in the war effort.  Someone looking for vengeance would say the Japanese deserved to be bombed and that the atomic bombs were only serving justice.  IN terms of saving lives, the atomic bomb might have been the best path.  It is estimated that roughly 140,000 people were directly killed from the bombs.  However, if the Japanese fought as they did on the islands (as they probably would have), the casualties on the Japanese side alone in an invasion alone would have exceeded one million.  Likewise, the claim of using the atomic bomb to save lives (at the time, American lives) could be rebuked by hypothesizing that America used the atomic bomb for political reasons.

Do two wrongs make a right? Never.  However, did the Japanese people deserve to be obliterated by the deadliest and most obstructive weapon at the time?  And that is the core at which people argue over.  Is it fair that Japan, as a country, has never had to face the humiliation and reparation Germany had to face after the war for similar crimes?  And, disregarding Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, what about Japan's continuing denial of the atrocities?  These are all questions that we must weigh in order to pass judgement on the decisions of the atomic bombs.

Bibliography
 
Antill, P. Operation Downfall: The Planned Assault on Japan, 27 April 1296, <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_downfall2.html > 
 
Burr, William. The Atomic bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources.  The National Security Archive, 5 August, 2005. 20 April, 2010. <http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm>
 
Chapter 4: Operation Ketsu-Go. 27 May, 2010. <http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/arens/chap4.htm>
 
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi.  The end of the Pacific war: reappraisals.  Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2007.
 
Hogan, Michael J. Hiroshima in History and Memory.  New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999
 
Jaekel, Haile H.  The End of World War II. 3 September, 1996. 27 May, 2010. <http://www.pearlharborsurvivorsonline.org/html/Invasion%20Plans.htm>
 
Operation Downfall: The Invasion of the Islands of Japan in World War II. 27 May, 2010. <http://www.upa.pdx.edu/IMS/currentprojects/TAHv3/Content/PDFs/Operation_Downfall.pdf>
 
Nanjing Massacre. CND. 27 May, 2010. <http://www.cnd.org/njmassacre/>
 
WWII Valor in the Pacific, National Monument. Battle of Tarawa. 27 May, 2010. <http://home.nps.gov/pwr/customcf/apps/ww2ip/dsp_event_detail.cfm?event_id=28>

 

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