"Operation Downfall" Revisited
(November 26, 2007)
|Jack Key's article below responds to comments about his article "An American Hero Dies - General Paul Tibbets Dead at 92" . . . and is an excellent historical examination of the bombing decision by President Harry Truman. It is worth the time to read, keeping in mind how many Americans and Japanese would never have been if a land invasion of Japan had been the choice. Where would both nations be to day otherwise?|
|I read with great interest a column in the Knoxville, (TN) News-Sentinel on Sunday, November 18 by Robert Stolz on my earlier guest column on Gen. Paul Tibbetts, the pilot of the "Enola Gay", and who passed away recently. Gen. Tibbets piloted the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb August 6, 1945 on Japan in World War Two. Stolz is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Tennessee.|
My earlier article was meant to be a tribute to Gen. Tibbets rather than an historical examination of the bombing decision by Democratic President Harry Truman. However, I'll attempt to clarify some of my recollections and statements that are questioned even in honoring an American Hero of that war.
Jack L. Key
|Professor Stolz was gracious in his thanks, but seems to take issue with my reflections on casualties in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, as well as the number of American lives saved by the atomic bombings rather than direct invasion. And indeed whether the bombings were militarily necessary or morally correct. He also suggests the Soviet Union's declaration of war on Japan was more effective in convincing the Emperor Hirohito to unconditionally surrender and end the war on August 15, 1945 than the bombings. Before we can answer these questions, he says, "the least we can do is start with the facts". |
Very well, let's examine the facts as we know and remember them about "Operation Downfall"-the planned American invasion of Japan in WWII. There were numerous pre-invasion casualty estimates-both by the government and private groups-that estimated allied casualties to exceed one million Americans. Those made after the war and in political hindsight have no bearing whatsoever.
One government study by then Secretary of War Henry Stimpson's staff, headed by William Shockley, estimated 1.7 to 4.0 million American casualties with 400,000 to 800,000 fatalities, plus 5-10 million Japanese casualties. I'm unaware of any 1947 Harper's magazine article mentioned by Stolz. The Los Angeles Times and former President Herbert Hoover estimated considerably less, 500,000 to 1.0 million American.
There were various estimates of 1.0 million or more by military commanders, many of them based on the Battle of Okinawa, the last island land battle of the Pacific war, where the U.S. suffered 72,000 casualties, twice the number inflicted on Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal combined. There were also 66,000 Japanese casualties, plus 150,000 Okinawan civilians dead, many by suicide that Japanese authorities ordered them to commit, or by untrue propaganda that painted American marines as child killers and animals who would eat them or burn them alive unless they died. The Japanese seem to still be suing each other even today concerning these allegations on Okinawa, according to recent published reports.
Some very simple math using several of these estimates can reveal a clear picture of both American and Japanese families living today who otherwise would not be had an invasion occurred. It should also be noted that the ongoing fire bombing of the Japanese cities were producing far more casualties to the Japanese than the end result of the two atomic bombings. Stolz' insistence that former President Eisenhower criticized the atomic bombings on military and moral grounds does not reflect his own actions as the Military Commander in the European theater of the war, and when he entered politics and made any critical remark of WWII he was referring to war in general as being immoral and corrupt.
The Soviet Union's refusal to act as a "peacemaker" for the Japanese and their late Declaration of War on Japan could easily have contributed to Hirohito's decisions on surrender but did not. Stalin had no other course to follow and Japan knew it. The Soviet Union was a signatory to the Allies "Big Three" public demands of an unconditional surrender by Japan, and had agreed years earlier to declare war on Japan after Germany surrendered if the Pacific war was ongoing.
The Japanese Emperor in later life admitted that the decision to surrender was made by a vote of military and civilian leaders and himself, and that he finally voted for surrender purely for the sake of the lives of his people. The Japanese militarists in power did make some earlier overtures for a "peace treaty" in the Emperor's name, but they were made only in defiance of the Allies calls for nothing but unconditional surrender, and were not taken seriously by President Truman or the Allies, or the American people for that matter. Japan's arrogance and deception was present up to the very end.
A discussion by the U.S. policymakers on whether to provide the Japanese a "demonstration" of the bomb's power was dismissed by the U.S. armed forces purely on military grounds. The selection of Hiroshima for the first atomic attack was made partly because it was the home of the Japanese Second Army, and there were at least 2 million total Japanese soldiers in the home islands. It has been estimated there were over 60,000 military casualties of the 80,000+ estimated total at Hiroshima, rather than all civilians as has been inaccurately reported by the Japanese and others. I take issue with those who would "clarify" or rewrite actual historical fact to appease critics or pose some unbalanced political aim or entertain "progressive" academic goals set by self-serving intellectual elitists.
So to answer Stolz' questions were the bombings militarily necessary or morally justified? Absolutely.
Operation Downfall had two parts: Olympic, code word for the southern Japanese Islands, would face 8-10 Japanese Army divisions on landing, and in Coronet, code set for Tokyo Bay and the northern islands, at least 21 divisions. Overall, the Japanese would transfer many more troops, planes and equipment from the Asian mainland and would have a total of about 65 divisions available for combat. In addition, the "Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps", made up of all Japanese civilian men 15-60 years old and women 17-40 would provide millions more for Japan's military readiness. Based on the fanatical Japanese defenses for the previous 3.5 years of the Pacific War, one can easily imagine the bloodshed and carnage that would result. That the Japanese were openly preparing for invasion in the face of daily fire bombings and the loss of so many civilian deaths in itself made the atomic bombings even more necessary.
After the planned horror of Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March and the carnage of Japanese warfare tactics and military prisons, most Americans of the time would have said it was immoral not to kill every Japanese soldier or civilian until the war was won. Perhaps the most difficult part of any examination of morality in those times was the mindset of the American people after December 7, 1941. World War Two touched every family in America in some way at some point. Any literary or academic conclusions reached today are without perhaps the most vital ingredient of the times: American emotion and attitude towards the war.
Today's young liberal academicians cannot begin to imagine the horrendous human losses America suffered as a nation. Paul Tibbets said often he could never forget Pearl Harbor. I know I won't. I was alive then and watched firsthand the entire war and the loss and maiming of family and community members. Even as a child I remember the human sacrifices made by young men and boys in the military and everyone on the home front. Britain, Germany and Japan suffered more than we did, if that's possible.
We all contributed to the war effort, and feared for our livelihood, our families and our country. Early on we were being badly defeated and even feared homeland invasion. Our ships were being sunk by the hundreds in sight of land and in our harbors. Our coastlines were bombarded by enemy submarines. The Gulf of Mexico was a flaming inferno each night of burning, torpedoed oil tankers. American marines and sailors were dying by the thousands in the Pacific Islands and Philippines. The Japanese invaded the Alaskan Islands and set an invasion date for Hawaii. Hitler's German hordes were mauling American soldiers in North Africa.
We can examine facts, do research and make measured or political judgements. But unless you were somewhere THERE, fighting, frightened and alone, or unless you mourned at home, unless you prayed each and every night for our servicemen, unless your mother or sister or aunt built airplanes or bombs or bullets, unless you collected old newspapers, rubber tires, tin cans, did without foods, gasoline, even automobiles, and then read the obituaries and watched gold stars appear in neighbors windows, one cannot have ANY concept of the American mindset or the morality of World War Two.
So when we ask today where did we get such men, such a generation who gave so much and received so little for what they did, the answer is true: They came from within, they came from us, they came from America.
By Jack L. Key
Jack L. Key, Ph.D. is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a retired healthcare professional. He is the author of several books and frequently writes features articles and commentary for the Internet and Prints media.
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