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.
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.
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.
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.
Antill, P. Operation Downfall: The Planned Assault on Japan, 27 April 1296, <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_downfall2.html >
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
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