November 14, 2014

Did the Russkies cause Hirohito to surrender Japan?

Or perhaps more accurate yet, as both a rhetorical and actual question is, "Could they have caused the Japanese to surrender without US atomic bombs?"

Not all "revisionist" history is bad. Eric Foner, who once wore this label, has written the go-to book about U.S. Reconstruction from the Civil War, for example.

Some of it is bad, though, and deserves the connotative as well as denotative label.

Ever since Gar Alperovitz wrote about the end of World War II in the Pacific, a new round of revisionist history has continued to rear its head, devoted to condemnation of the use of atomic bombs, not only on moral grounds but on pragmatic war-related grounds, too.

The themes are simple, and are, in basic:
1. The USSR's invasion of Manchuria was going to end the war soon;
2. US calculation of invasion-related casualties were overrated.

The latest? Australian journalist and historian Paul Ham, in this piece.

Let's address that first claim.

Here's Wikpedia on Hirohito's surrender speech. The first thing to note is that the USSR is nowhere mentioned by name. Here's the two key grafs:
Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State, and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. 
Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Tis true that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria (and the Kurile Islands, which is why the US was worried about Stalin trying to grab Hokkaido) could be included among "the general trends of the world."

But, the one element Hirohito seizes on to justify calling for surrender, and which was also part of his intervention in the Japanese war cabinet to push it to this point, is the atomic bombs.

Hirohito had no way of knowing we were "out of stock," of course. He probably figured that, just we had had three days pause between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were giving Japan a bit more time to reflect this time. 

Even if we accept that the Soviet declaration of war was a factor, it seems clear that by itself, it wouldn't have been enough.

As for the casualties issue? From a US nationalist point, any US military casualties that were saved by each day sooner the war was ended, each day less that Japanese kamikazes attacked a blockading fleet, etc., reduced casualties. 

Ditto for both the US and allies, on prisoners of war dying of starvation.

And, considering that the US, in case of a longer-term blockade, next planned to sever all connections between the home islands? Mass Japanese starvation would have resulted.

The fact that Hirohito needed to ram the surrender through his war cabinet, then get lucky enough to survive an attempted military coup that tried to block broadcast of his surrender speech underscores that the atomic bomb had effect in pushing toward surrender.

Meanwhile, at Ham's piece, one commenter is pulling red herrings out of his backside, with claims like Hirohito was afraid of a Communist revolution at home and afraid that, if the USSR gobbled up too many of his troops, he wouldn't be able to supress this.

First, Japanese troops in Manchuria/Manchukuo, as opposed to active fighting areas further south in China, were largely garrison type troops, undertrained and undersupplied as compared to fighting troops. That's part of how they got gobbled up.d

As for Communist fears? Given that the Japanese Communist Party pretty much dissolved after 1935, there's the red herring.

The issue of Japan's actual surrender being conditional is at best a red herring and at worst actually  undermines Ham and his red herring commenter. If even the "most cruel bomb" would lead only to a request for a conditional surrender, the Soviet action by itself wouldn't have done that. Not that early, at least.


S Johnson said...

I believe the assumption that the Japanese government wasn't worried about Communism if the Soviets had troops in Japan is imprudent, to put it as politely as possible. "Red herring" or red baiting? For that matter, I suspect that the State Shinto fanatics would have harbored suspicions that constitutional monarchy was a Communist plot. I assure you, that keeping the army as intact as possible to make sure nothing essential changed was a factor in Tokyo in 1945, just as in Berlin in 1918.

Japanese efforts in June for a conditional peace long preceded the atomic bombings, and appear to have been prompted by the Soviet notice they were disavowing the neutrality pact. Your phrase "If even the 'most cruel bomb' would lead only to a request for a conditional surrender..." has nothing to do with history. Efforts to make a conditional surrender were made, Stimson offered implicit conditions, surrender was made.

You're the way who has to explain why, since the US government supposedly thought that dropping the bombs was necessary for unconditional surrender, they didn't drop the third bomb when it came on line, and the fourth in September? Instead, why did they make implicit conditions they could have made before Hiroshima?

"I have given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad and have concluded that continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation and prolongation of bloodshed and cruelty in the world. I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer. ...

I was told by those advocating a continuation of hostilities that by June new divisions would be in place in fortified positions [at Kujūkuri Beach, east of Tokyo] ready for the invader when he sought to land. It is now August and the fortifications still have not been completed. ...

There are those who say the key to national survival lies in a decisive battle in the homeland. The experiences of the past, however, show that there has always been a discrepancy between plans and performance. I do not believe that the discrepancy in the case of Kujūkuri can be rectified. Since this is also the shape of things, how can we repel the invaders? [He then made some specific reference to the increased destructiveness of the atomic bomb]

It goes without saying that it is unbearable for me to see the brave and loyal fighting men of Japan disarmed. It is equally unbearable that others who have rendered me devoted service should now be punished as instigators of the war. Nevertheless, the time has come to bear the unbearable. ...

I swallow my tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation on the basis outlined by the Minister.[92]"

Gadfly said...

Uhh, that's NOT the original worry about Communism you expressed at HNN. That said, I see it as just as much a red herring as a fear that an extended blockade would lead to a resurgence of domestic Communism.

Keeping the Army intact? Units abroad, in China, Philippines, etc., were going to be surrendered and interned in place whenever the war ended. A non-sequitur.

We didn't have a third bomb ready until after Japan surrendered. There was no third bomb to drop.

The overall progress of Japanese attempts to negotiate with the USSR are different than you portray, driven in part by the same wishful thinking that had to be overcome in the War Cabinet.

Say what you want otherwise over at HNN; not worth my time responding further over there. I will, here, though.

The rest of your paragraph about that is a mix of non sequitur and implication that the US is uniquely bloodthirsty, or was at this point.