It is 75 years since the last year of World War II. The world is marking many grim anniversaries, most recently, the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in which the Nazis murdered more than one million European Jews. In August, Japan and the world will mark the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It is not the purpose of this opinion to in any way minimize the horror and suffering experienced by the thousands of victims, survivors, their families, their country, and the world. Nor, is it an attempt to revisit President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs. Rather, it is a consideration of what the outcomes might have been, for Japan and the world, if he had not.
By August 1945, Japan could no longer hope to win the Great Pacific War. However, the Japanese armed forces were still capable of killing and wounding tens of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, and marines on land and on sea. In fact, some of the bloodiest fighting in the war in the Pacific took place in the months leading up to August 1945. Approximately 2,800 Kamikaze pilots sank 34 American ships, damaged 368 others, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded over 4,800. There were 26,000 American casualties at Iwo Jima, including 6,800 killed. At Okinawa, the Americans had over 62,000 casualties including 12,520 killed.
By all accounts, the Japanese military was preparing for a long and protracted war of resistance on the main islands of Japan. A war of resistance in which it has been estimated that the United States would have lost a million men, or more, killed and wounded. A war in which millions of Japanese civilians would have been enlisted or conscripted to fight and to die.
By August 1945, the American public had lost its appetite for more years of war with Japan. While unconditional surrender may have sounded good in principle, American mothers and fathers were no longer prepared to sacrifice their sons to achieve it, and they were vocal in letting their elected representatives in Washington know that. An indicator of how vocal that opposition was, occurred on July 30, 1945, when a Japanese submarine, I-58, sank the heavy cruiser, Indianapolis, with a loss of almost 1,000 sailors, the greatest single loss of life at sea, from a single ship, in the history of the United States Navy.
Given the erosion of political support for an invasion of Japan, the United States would have had to accept, if not welcome, the invasion of northern Japan by the Soviet Union. The Red Army would likely have taken and occupied Hokkaido, and perhaps even further south. Japan would probably have been politically bifurcated for decades, like North and South Korea, and East and West Germany.
The Soviet Union would surely have vetoed retaining the Emperor as head of state and symbol of the nation. As one of the conquering nations, the Soviet Union might well have insisted that the Emperor Hirohito be tried as a war criminal.
In fact, the entire course of the Cold War might have taken a different trajectory. Stalin would have been at the height of his power, and the Soviet Union at the height of its expansion. Anti-colonial wars were raging throughout Asia. Stalin would not have fully understood or apprehended the deterrent power of American’s atomic weapons, if their destructive power had not been so terribly demonstrated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A triumphant Mao Zedong in the Peoples’ Republic of China might have been emboldened to assist a Northern Japan adventure against the south, as he did in North Korea. A divided Japan would not have provided America with the same secure military platform for resisting communist expansion in Asia. Nor, would the United States have had adjacent base nations, as it did in England, France, Italy and Greece, from which to provide a military and logistical supply line to southern Japan.
The United States might have had to demonstrate the power of the nuclear weapons in China, Russia, North Korea, or against Soviet forces in northern Japan. This might well have precipitated the all-out nuclear exchanges that the Soviet Union and the United States were able to avoid by a delicate balance of terror, throughout the Cold War.
Sometimes, we make the worst possible decision, because every other choice is even worse.
Born in New York City, Robert N Friedland has been the Sheriff of a Judicial District; an investigator for the United States Treasury Department; a Regional Director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission; Human Rights Advisor for Malaspina University‑College; a two-term City Councillor in Victoria, British Columbia; and, Chief Lawyer for a group of seven First Nations in the Interior of British Columbia. He currently practices human rights and administrative law in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a widely published commentator on the international, Canadian, and British Columbian political scene.© Japan Today