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What if the United States had not used atomic weapons?

28 Comments
By Bob Friedland

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.

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28 Comments
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The first one should have been dropped in an uninhabited part of Hokkaido or at least on a military base, and then given the Japanese a few days to survey the damage and surrender.

Only cowards intentionally target women and children in a war.

-2 ( +10 / -12 )

@Burning Bush

My sentiments exactly.

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

We were told in school that the Bomb 'saved' lives because the Allies 'would have to kill ALL the Japanese' population in a ground invasion. The teachers told us that the devotion to the Emperor was that strong. That would've extended the war into 1946, maybe into the 1950's until all the Japanese were wiped out.

Somehow I just can't believe that jive about a whole nation's people being in such a collective 'mind funk' like that, or even a mass suicide (as we were also told in school). All those millions of Japanese casualties would've made the US look even worse! It makes no sense to me.

We were also told that the Nagasaki bomb was to give a warning to the USSR, a sort of 'hands off of Japan' to Stalin. One way or another, I hope and pray the A-bomb is never ever used again! Yet even now we have a lot of very stupid people (incl. politicians) who cheer stupid crap like 'Nuke the terrorists (or whatever)'.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

There would have been hundreds of thousands more killed in an invasion of Honshu. And thousands more tortured and killed in the Philippines and elsewhere where Japanese soldiers were prancing around.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Only cowards intentionally target women and children in a war.

Anyway that was cowards vs cowards. There exist no nice war.

But, yes, the bomb was impressive no matter the target. The Japanese generals would have been 99% as shocked if the first one had fallen somewhere on a military campment in Mandchuria. As for the second one, no rational explanation will ever convince : that was pure cruelty.

By all accounts, the Japanese military was preparing for a long and protracted war of resistance on the main islands of Japan.

in an invasion of Honshu. 

Invading Honshu was not necessary.

The Americans had finished the job, they knew it, they had won over Japan. The country was ruined already and without help, it's likely they would have needed 50 years to get back to their pre-war level, they were not restauring their military power sooner. That was not enough that Japan had lost ? If you mean the Japanese propaganda could claim otherwise to their people, I'd say that's what they've done anyway, and that mostly works because they can play the "nuke victim" card.

The Americans could have proposed a diplomatic end at that point : "We don't invade your main islands, let's stop, you rapatriate all your invaders still in Asia, then we leave Asia...",

US forces wanted to stay in Japan for long. Proof is they are still there.

 Stalin would have been at the height of his power, and the Soviet Union at the height of its expansion. 

 to give a warning to the USSR, 

Had that been the intention, they could have dropped the first and unique one on Stalin's armies, just anywhere, pretexting the Russians had gone a step too far.

It's likely the bombs helped USSR at getting support. I mean people traumatized by Japan or the Nazi, then they see Americans doing that... the Soviet armies can pass for protective.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

With Curtis LeMay in charge of the Army Air Corps, his idea of saturation bombing resulted in most or all major (and some minor) cities in Japan flattened using conventional bombing. Many, such as Oita and Nagano, were industrial centers and over 90% destroyed. He probably would‘ve expanded the firebombing of Tokyo to other Japanese cities. If the war had continued, Japan would be ablaze.

My mother-in-law, who was 6 years old in 1945, practiced charging US troops while holding a sharpened wooden broomstick. Naturally, she was not the only elementary school student practicing “self-defense.” If the US landed troops on the main islands, no one would escape physically or mentally damage. (Imagine needing to shoot several hundred little girls attacking you with a stick.)

11 ( +12 / -1 )

What borsch said.

Also, most likely you would have had a situation where Japan would be like the korean peninsula today. Stalin invaded and until today there is a diplomatic standoff with regards to the northernmost islands. Russia would have taken Hokkaido, maybe even gone all the way down to the Tohoku region, who knows. But you would have had a situation like Korea today or East West Germany back a few decades ago .

6 ( +6 / -0 )

The Allies (mostly the US) pushed for unconditional surrender, dropped the bombs, and then accepted a conditional surrender that allowed the Emperor to remain, which was also after the Soviets had entered the war against Japan.

So the war was ended by a combination of the bombs, the change in the surrender conditions, and the Russians entering the war against Japan as agreed at Yalta. It is nonsense to suggest "the bombs ended the war". The bombs did not get the unconditional surrender that was on the table. The deal had to be changed.

Senior US officials at the time, John McCloy for one, believe Japan may have surrendered if offered a constitutional monarchy before the bombs were dropped. At that stage, it was all about Japan trying to save face. McCloy was in the room with Roosevelt and Stimson and said it to their faces. It is not hindsight.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3p7cz3

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Well the Japanese imperial army leadership owed there allegiance to the emperor, all the US had to was to either kidnap and take the emperor as PoW or take him out, and that would have ended the war right there, as the only option for the imperial army leadership would have been than to either surrender or commit seppuku.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

uh oh, be careful, that victim mentality will creep up on you and its contagious.

Remember, Japan gave the US no prior warning before they committed their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The US gave Japan several warnings and options before they dropped the A bomb, and even warned them of

its consequences.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Burning BushToday 06:35 am JST

The first one should have been dropped in an uninhabited part of Hokkaido or at least on a military base, and then given the Japanese a few days to survey the damage and surrender.

Only cowards intentionally target women and children in a war.

Obviously a unresearched comment, even in defeat the Japanese were highly devoted to the Emperor, surrender was still considered dishonorable - don't believe me just have a look at the Japanese defence of Okinawa.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

@ Burning BushToday

Japan was the first country to start indiscriminate bombing of civilians during World War II with their raids on Chungking.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

There is a piece missing to this excellent discussion of why the U.S. used the atomic bomb at the end of WWII. Japan was also making an atomic bomb in relatively unbombed Korea. They had been working on it since before the war and when the war went bad it became high priority. Strong evidence indicates they may have test fired a nuclear device off Korea. But too late. The Russians, aware of their nearby plants, invaded Korea and sealed off the north where they looted them. The Soviets, of course, became the next world power to have an atomic bomb. That was partly because of what they took from Korea. What was left by the Japanese became the beginning of North Korea's nuclear program. The little-known story is in my new book, Japan's Secret War, Third Edition - built on decades of research and two earlier editions. The Japanese were hoping to use the bomb on the Allied invasion fleet. We beat them to it. The race was very close, a story largely hidden to this day.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/168261896X/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If USA would not have tested the two nuclear bombs, one plutonium one uran, on Japanese civilians, she would not have to fabricate history so much as if Japan was bad.

And would have saved many American soldiers from many wars after that.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Only cowards intentionally target women and children in a war.

All the major combatants did that in WW2, with China the possible exception but only due to its pathetic air force.

Japan set the standard by bombing the heck out of Chinese cities in the 1930s. They later ripped into downtown Singapore and other big cities, killing women and children, and yet that was never a moral problem for the Japanese, and still isn't among today's apologists.

World Wars are not between armies, but between societies. How about not starting them in the first place?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Only cowards intentionally target women and children in a war.

The Brits fired bombed the hell out of the German city Dresden killing thousands of women and children. The bombing wasn't even necessary.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

There is a fictional (parallel history) book called the Burning Mountain.

The author is an achademic and used the U.S. invasion blueprint, Operation Olympia, and what could be found of the Japanese defense plans to sketch out his story of the invasion of Japan.

It was interesting the read the the IJA poison gas factory was near where I live, The IJA had plans to use that gas in inhabited areas in Japan. Fortunately the U.S. Air Forces didn't bomb that facility. In the book they did. And so on........

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in understanding the picture that the remaining records paint. BLEAK.

gary

0 ( +1 / -1 )

There is a piece missing to this excellent discussion of why the U.S. used the atomic bomb at the end of WWII. Japan was also making an atomic bomb in relatively unbombed Korea.

I have read about that, but I thought it was mostly conspiracy because the Japanese were getting the know how from the Germans, and the project was not successful.

Without a doubt, they would of used it, and they world as we know it would of been a chaotic mess. Just look at how Japan treated its conquered peoples.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

World Wars are not between armies, but between societies. How about not starting them in the first place?

Because societies and cultures are different. Usually one group, wants what the other has, or wants to replace the others idea of how the world should be, with theirs. Therefore wars cant be eliminated, at least not in the foreseeable future.

The enlightenment and other ideas of Western individualism are alien to most Far East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. They are perfectly fine with how they think things should be because of the time tested cultures.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Alternative history works great as a genre, but that's about it.

The bombings shouldn't have happened. It was a classic example of genocide on innocent people.

The theories that the author puts forward - a long and protracted war of resistance - are just that. Theories.

Speaking of which

Remember, Japan gave the US no prior warning before they committed their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

There's a theory that the US were aware and decided to let the attack happen. From The Telegraph, back in 2011:

evidence has emerged showing that President Franklin D.Roosevelt was warned three days before the attack that the Japanese empire was eyeing up Hawaii with a view to "open conflict." The information, contained in a declassified memorandum from the Office of Naval Intelligence, adds to proof that Washington dismissed red flags signalling that mass bloodshed was looming and war was imminent. 

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8932197/Pearl-Harbour-memo-shows-US-warned-of-Japanese-attack.html

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Did Japan specifically tell Roosevelt they were going to attack? No.

Did Truman tell Japan the US would unleash a weapon the world has yet to see, if Japan did not surrender unconditionally? Yes.

Did Japan accept his offer? No.

Pretty simple to understand.

Coulda woulda shoulda, we can all look back and blame, but those were terrible times.

Im forever grateful to the people who fought and died so we can be free.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The theories that the author puts forward - a long and protracted war of resistance - are just that. Theories.

Of course they're just theories, but without a working crystal ball, that's all you have to go on to make a decision. Which theory is worse? Hundreds of thousands of more deaths during a full scale invasion, followed by a divided Japan between Russia and the US for decades or a quick and decisive end to the war with much fewer casualties?

Both ideas were just theories before one of them was decided on. You can say 'what if?' all day long. No one will ever know what could have happened, but on paper, the atomic bombs were the lesser of two evils.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The US were no better than the Nazis, using innocent people in their shameful atomic experiment.

And then, two decades after, they used chemical weapons on the Vietnamese.

Always eager to slaughter and test hideous weaponry on Asians.

Now that's what I call "evil".

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

The US were no better than the Nazis

Come on. Comparing the atomic bomb and agent orange (which wasn't even intended to be a weapon) to attempted genocide of an entire race of people? That's ridiculous.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Always eager to slaughter and test hideous weaponry on Asians.

Hmm. Seems the Japanese were doing just that to their Asian neighbors...spreading bubonic plague and other hideous weaponry throughout Asia.

Your saying they should get a free pass though?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Some country would have used the bomb at some stage-America just got there first...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The americans were the first to invent this bomb but like every war, it had to come to an end. Taking lives for greed is never forgivable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hello Kitty 321Feb. 3  03:55 pm JST

Japan was the first country to start indiscriminate bombing of civilians during World War II with their raids on Chungking.

Well that depends on when one considers WWII started. Many hold that Sept 1939 was the start of WWII. Aerial bombing of civilians goes back to WWI. As technology advanced the Allied aerial bombings of cities raised the level to new heights with casualty numbers matching or even exceeding the A-bombs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_bombing_of_cities

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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