(Published here with the permission of the author. Part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.)
On the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, one of the conspicuous observances was that of the dropping of the first atomic bombs. It is right to say “never again” and that the existence of such fearsome weapons is an imperative for the maintenance of world peace. But it should not lead people to swallow the propaganda line that the Japanese were the victims rather than the aggressors in a war that they clearly started and waged with such barbarity.
The first atomic bomb, a uranium fission weapon nicknamed “Little Boy,” dropped from the B-29 Enola Gay, detonated at an altitude of 1,900 feet at 8:16 a.m. over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
The second bomb, a plutonium fission device nicknamed “Fat Man,” dropped at 11:01 a.m. on August 9 from the B-29 Bock’s Car and detonated at 1,500 feet, was aimed by radar owing to smoke and cloudy weather and missed the target in Nagasaki by about a mile.
Immediate deaths were placed by the Hiroshima prefecture police department at 78,150 with 13,983 missing. For Nagasaki, protected by hilly terrain, the figure given by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was 45,000 dead.
These figures, it will be noted, are lower than the death figures for the Rape of Nanking (300,000) and the Battle for Manila (100,000), and also for the deaths from conventional bombing in the Tokyo fire raids of March 9 to 10, 1945 (up to 120,000), and the raids of February 13 to 15, 1945 on Dresden (up to 200,000 but subsequently amended downward).
The casualty figures for the atomic attacks have later been revised to much higher numbers, totaling as much as 340,000 for both cities using dubious statistical techniques, evidently to build up the image of Japan as the victim of war. The best approximation, at between 100,000 and 200,000, is still large but comparable with the high figures for conventional raids in both Europe and Asia.
Several questions may be raised regarding the atomic raids. Were the two cities legitimate targets? Evidently they were. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson wrote: “These two cities were active working parts of the Japanese war effort. One was an army center; the other was naval and industrial. Hiroshima was the headquarters of the Japanese army defending southern Japan and was a major military storage and assembly point. Nagasaki was a major seaport and it contained several large industrial plants of great wartime importance” (Stimson & Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War), There were 40,000 troops in Hiroshima.
Chizuko Kajima, a Hiroshima resident, wrote:
Until that time, Hiroshima had been spared the intensive bombing raids that other major Japanese cities had suffered. But because of the numerous strategic industries, shipyards, and military installations in the city, we were constantly in fear that our turn would come soon. …One day, American aircraft dropped leaflets over Hiroshima… I was told that they contained a warning to the innocent citizens to evacuate the city. The Americans said that they did not want civilian casualties. The military police issued orders forbidding us to read the leaflets and commanding us to pick them up and turn them in to the authorities… The order forbidding us to read the leaflets was senseless. (Soka Gakkai, Cries for Peace)
One of the criticisms of these raids, as well as of conventional air raids, was that they targeted civilians. In a Japan facing the prospect of military invasion, it was difficult to distinguish between civilians and military, since the former were being trained for combat.
Kajima continued: “In those days all of us underwent mandatory military training. Though pregnant, I too was forced to take part… in the use of bamboo spears, which we were suppose to use in the event of the final, decisive battle on the home islands.” Nagasaki resident Mankichi Matsuyama added: “In the last months of the war… all Japanese people were training and preparing themselves for the ultimate battle that was expected to take place in the home islands” (Cries for Peace). The Japanese war machine was converting even pregnant women into combatants.
Another question that may be asked is whether the casualties were extraordinary compared to conventional raids like Tokyo and Dresden, and to other episodes of massacre like the rape of Nanking and the Battle for Manila. It has already been indicated that, in fact, the casualties were less than in these cited instances. The figures cannot be bandied about lightly; they represent human lives.
There were, however, two points of difference. One was that in the two atomic raids, the damage inflicted by one bomb dropped from one plane was equivalent to thousands of bombs dropped from hundreds of planes.
The second difference was qualitative and ominous, namely, the effects of radiation. The painful and long-term effects of radiation became increasingly evident over a period of years.
This was something unknown at the time of the bombing. In fact, American military planners even considered dropping atomic bombs in advance of invasion forces. If this had taken place, there would have been numerous allied casualties from radiation poisoning.
Two other related but distinct questions may be asked about the atomic raids. Did they end the war? Were they necessary to end the war?
On the first question, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.” Japan’s decision to surrender did not come right after Hiroshima but went through a convoluted process. Pres. Harry Truman expected Japan to give up after that raid, but no communication came, so conventional bombing attacks continued over the next two days. He then issued an order to Air Force Commander-in-Chief Gen. Carl Spaatz to, in effect, drop the second bomb.
Prime Minister Baron Kantaro Suzuki called a meeting of the Supreme Council which started at 10 a.m. on August 9. An hour later, Nagasaki suffered its atomic attack and the news reached the meeting while it was in progress.
Even so, it seemed to have little effect on the debate of the “Big Six,” who were deadlocked. Suzuki adjourned the meeting and called for a full Cabinet meeting at his official residence at 2:30 pm.
Hard-liner Minister of “War Gen. Korechika Anami continued to demand continuation of the war until the Decisive Battle, in which the invading enemy would suffer such severe losses that the situation might be reversed and Japan could still turn defeat into victory. Other ministers took sides but no conclusion could be reached because by established tradition, Cabinet decisions had to be unanimous.
Suzuki and Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo went to the Emperor and asked him to call another meeting with himself present that night towards midnight. The 11 ministers present then listened to a reading of the Potsdam Declaration which had been received 13 days earlier and debated inconclusively ever since by the Big Six. Anami again strongly advocated defense of the homeland, but Togo recommended acceptance provided the Emperors position was preserved.
By 2 a.m. on August 10, after all those present had been heard, Suzuki did something unprecedented and requested a decision from the Emperor, who said he believed the nation could no longer continue the war and delivered his famous statement that “the time has come to bear the unbearable.”
At 7 a.m., the Foreign Ministry transmitted to the Allies, through neutral Sweden and Switzerland, Japans acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration provided it did nor comprise “any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of his Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.”
The Allied reply was that the Emperor’s authority should be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. American air strikes were suspended while a reply was awaited but when none was forthcoming, bombing was ordered resumed on August 14.
News of the surrender offer had triggered off celebrations among the G.I.’s, and when new reports said there were delays owing to the status of the Emperor, the G.I.’s yelled, “Let them keep the son of a bitch!”
The final surrender would come only after a hard-line mutiny was put down on August 14 t 15, called “Japans Longest Day,” and the Emperor read the rescript announcing the end of the w; in a noon broadcast.
Was the atomic bombing necessary? Those who argued that it was not claimed that Japan w: ready to surrender and was seeking the good offices of Soviet Russia.
But in fact, Russia had agreed to an American request made before the bomb was tested New Mexico, seeking to minimize American loss of life, to enter the war against Japan after the European fighting was over.
Why Japan chose Russia instead of neutrals like Switzerland and Sweden apparently had to with an attempted maneuver to conclude a separate peace with China, releasing a million men f the Decisive Battle in the home islands, and enticing Russia with visions of greater world influence by brokering the peace. But even as Japanese Ambassador to Moscow Naotake Sato talked to Russian Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Russian Gen. Kuzma Derevyanko was in Manila discussing plans for invading Manchuria with MacArthur’s staff.
On July 18, the Soviet government rejected a mission proposed by Prince Konoye. This ended the effort to enlist Soviet help.
But the Japanese persisted in approaching Moscow even after the first atomic bomb had been dropped. On August 8, Ambassador Sato had an appointment with Molotov, at which he, speaking in Russian, welcomed him back from the Potsdam Conference. Molorov impatiently cut him short, and read him a declaration of war on Japan effective the following day. This was a speed-up from the original August 15 date. One million five hundred thousand Soviet troops and 5,500 tanks and self-propelled guns poured across the Manchurian border and fell on Japan’s formerly vaunted Kwantung army now drained of many of its men and weapons by the battles in the Pacific and the requirements of homeland defense.
Former Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima blamed Hirohito for Japan’s involvement in World War II and said there would have been no atomic bombings if Japan had not staged its wars of aggression. Navy Minister Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, a member of the peace faction in the last wartime cabinet meetings, said the atomic bombings and the Russian entry into World War II wet “God’s gifts” that provided a good excuse to surrender.
In Manila, the first inklings of Japan’s surrender came the night of August 10. Vehicles roamed around with people shouting, “War’s Over! Victory.” The greatest activity was seen around the junction of Rizal Ave. and Azcarraga.
My father, however, recorded in his diary the following day that Japan’s surrender was apparent conditional and that the war went on. On August 14, he wrote that the capitulation of Japan w expected any moment but the White House remained silent.
Finally, on August 15, he wrote that Pres. Truman announced Japan’s acceptance of Allied terms. “WAR IS REALLY OVER NOW,” he wrote in capital letters.
For the Philippines, the war had begun and ended on two great Marian feasts: the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1941 and the Assumption on August 15, 1945.
(Published in the August 20 & 27, 2005 issues of the Philippine Free Press. Part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila.)