Monday, August 08, 2005
With the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II upon us, it's time for another round of revisionist history. As usual, it tends to focus on the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The LA Times has an editorial on the extreme dovish side of the argument that a) it didn't save lives and b)it was an unnecessary show of force against the Soviets. Let's look at this a little closer, shall we?
A) It didn't save lives
This is the argument that seems the weakest of all to me. The number killed by the direct force of the bombs and the subsequent radiation poisoning was in the vicinity of 250,000. For the sake of argument, let's say that lasting fallout, combined with genetic disorders and whatnot brought that up to 500,000. That's a big number. Nevertheless, it's still less than the number of casualties from the invasion of Japan. US Military planners based their figures on the invasion of Okinawa. For Olympic, they assumed 35% casualties, of which 1/5 would be deaths. It came out to be around 50,000 US deaths and 250,000 casualties. Then, in addition to the US deaths, 5 Japanese soldiers usually died for every 1 American, which would give the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces 250,000 deaths. So far, we're at 300,000 deaths for Olympic alone. Of course, those numbers could be massaged up and down - according to Gerhard Weinberg's Herculean work, A World At Arms, kamikaze resistance at Okinawa was relatively light because the Japanese were saving their aircraft for the final fight on Kyushu and Honshu. Even with that relatively light resistance, 250 ships were hit with kamikaze aircraft. Now imagine 5000 kamikaze planes attacking the 800 ship invasion force of the 5th Fleet. A conservative estimate would be damage on 20% of those ships, but with 5000 kamikaze at their disposal, it almost certainly would have been larger. With the high proportion of landing craft and oilers in the fleet, it could have gotten ugly really quick. This doesn't even scratch the surface of suicide implements the Japanese had built - suicide motorboats, suicide torpedos, suicide bombers (a forerunner of the modern Islamic Fundamentalist - they would strap a bomb to their chest and lie between the treads of tanks to disable the tank and kill the crew), suicide cruisers, battleships, and destroyers. It would have been bad for the US, but it would have been devistating for the Japanese. Note that we haven't included civilian casualties yet. Increased firebombing of Kyushu cities, combined with the Emperor's edict to defend the country, would have caused an additional 5 civilian deaths for each US death at a minimum. That brings the combined death total to 500,000+ for Olympic alone.
Coronet, the invasion of Honshu, would have been even more disastrous. Remember, the Japanese at the time believed the Emperor to be God incarnate, so transfer the current Wahabbi-style Islam of Osama bin Laden to Japan and you have an idea of the level of fanatacism we would have expected. Barring the capitulation of Showa, a million man invasion force would have landed on Honshu in Spring 1946 and we could have expected a similar situation to Olympic on Kyushu - 35% casualties, 1/5 of those deaths, 10 Japanese dead for each US soldier, a total body count somewhere in the vicinity of 750,000 dead. Add that to Kyushu, and you have about 1.5 million deaths, both Japanese and American. Of course, it's all guesstimation, but that's about as accurate as we can imagine. Combine that with continued fighting in Indochina, China, and Korea, and you have even more dead.
The invasion of Japan would have been the bloodiest battle in the Pacific war and would have been disastrous for everyone involved. This brings us to their second point.
B) It was an unnecessary show of force to the Soviets
The authors argue that we didn't want to split occupation duties with the Soviets in Japan. This was a moot point, because at Potsdam and Tehran, it was already agreed that the occupation of Japan would be under General MacArthur and the invasion force would be a US/Britain joint operation. The Soviets weren't going to invade Japan. They declared war on the Japanese, but got low-lying fruit - areas that weren't heavily defended. Stalin didn't want to add to the 10 million Soviet deaths in an unnecessary Asian war. It's a red herring.
Ultimately the atomic bombs pushed the Emperor to cede because of the awesome destructive power caused by just one airplane. He saw how many B-29s flew over Tokyo, and he extrapolated what could have happened. Even then, his cabinet tried to overthrow him to continue the war. In the end, troops loyal to the Emperor prevailed, but it shows how ridiculous their arguments really are. Let's stop guessing a decision that saved that many lives.