*** war and social upheaval: World War II Pacific Theater -- Asian nationalism

World War II: End Game--The Home Islands

Figure 1.--The Japanaese military prepared for an invasion, brining men and material into Kyushu. And preparing 5,000 Kamikaze aircraft. In addition, the Ketsugo program began preparing school children. The People's Volunteer Army was formed. Eventually some 27 million were enrolled. This figure may not iclide the school children bein traimed by the Imperial Army personnel assigned to the schools. Millions of copies of 'People's handbook of resustance combat' was printed. Milions of copies were distributed.

Japan began its aggression by invading Chinese Manchuria (1931). Here snd fir 14 years the Japanese inades other counttids snd territories. And even fter the y were stopped at Guadakcanal, they fought the war locatiins fsr away from the Japanese Home Islands. The little white boxes came home to Japanese mothers and rationing brcame more severe, but the actual fighting was still in distant lands. This changed dramtically in 1945. It should not have been a surprise to any Japanese people reading a map. Nut one catasteophe after another began to unfold. The American took Iwo Jima (February 1945). Iwo was the first Japanese territiory to fall to the Americans. This was followed by the first really destructive air raids (March 1945). In the ensuing months, the United States would burn the heart out of industrial Japan. Than the Americans landed on Okinawa, another actual Japanese territory. The Generals assured the Emperor that this would be the decusibe battle and they woiuld be defeated. They had mdde thee same preduction about other major battles. After Olinaw fell--the Emperor wuth Tokyo burning befiore his eyes lost all confidence in the miliitary. After Okinawa fell, it was clear that the Americans were preoaring to invade the Home Islands and they realised that the blow would begin in southern Kyhshu which was un range of newly won air bases in Okinawa. The Japanese began a massive builup of man and material in Khyshu. Units were drawn down from China and Manchuria to prepare for the invasion. Not only were military resources deplouyed, but the Japnrse organized civilians, including children, to stop the Americans. All of the Japanese islands are mountaneous, including Khhshu. This provided like Okinawa, enumeral defensive positions to klll Americans. This was a strategy the Japanese adopted beginning with Trawa in the Gilberts. The Japnese believed that if the killed enough Americans that the United States would tire of the War and make peace. Unfortunately for the Japanese it failed on Pacific island after another. It not only filed, but convinced the Ameticans that the atomic bomb had to be used to avoid the terrible bloodletting that would result from an invasion. The Anmeicans might have used the bomb anyway, but the terrible losses on Iwo and Okinawa made the use of the bomb inevitanle.

Iwo Jima (February 1945)

Virtually no one, including most Japanese, had ever heard of Iwo Jima, before the Pacific War. It was an isolated, barren unoccupied volcanic outcropping about 600 miles south of the Japanese Home Islands. As with many Pacific islands, it location suddenly made it of great strategic importance. After the United States began the strategic bombing campaign from the Marianas, it became important to obtain a forward base for the fighters covering the bombers. Iwo was ideally placed for just such an effort. It would also be useful as a safe haven for damaged bombers unable to reach their distant bases on the Marianas. The Japanese anticipated this even before the Americans seized the Marianas and began building air strips for the new B-29s. They began to heavily garrison and forify the island. Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was assigned to defend the island (June 1944). Kuribayashi by this point in the War was not under the illusion that he could defeat an American landing, even with a lsrge, well-armed garrison. His assignment was to kill as many Americans as possible before he and his command was defeated. Iwo Jima American planners did not appreciate the size of the garrison or the extent of Kuribayashi's preparations, largely because it was mostly done underground. Admiral Marc Mitschner commanded the naval task force. Marine General Hollmand Smith commanded the Marine landing firce. Pre-invasion shelling and carrier strikes did little damage to the Japanese defensives. Marines invaded the island believing the naval shelling had been effective and that it would be a few days of intensive fighting February 19). It took the Marines over a month to secure the island and they suffered an incredible 30 percent casualties, neaely 7,000 killed and 19,000 wounded. This was a greater toll than the D-Day landings. . Virtually all of the 22,000 man Japanese garrison refused to surrender and perished. About 200 Japanese soldiers were captured, many were too badly wounded to commit suiside. Crippled B-29s began landing on Iwo while the fighting was still going on.

Strategic Bombing Campaign

The air war in the Pacific began as in the European theater with mastery of the skies by the Japanese. The Chinese air force was virtually non-existant. The Japanese conducted terror bombing raid, first on Shanghai and then on other Chinese cities. Japanese aircraft, especially the Mitusubishi Zero, were so effective that they were able to achieve air superority during land and sea battles against Britain and the Unitd States beginning with the attack on Pear Harbor. This continued throughout much of 1942 and only did the arrival of ne American aircraft in large numbers did the Allies begin to gain the upperhand in the sky. The seizure of the Marianas and the deployment of of the new long range B-29 bombers brought the Japanese homeland within range of strategic bombardment. The initial raids wereinclonclusive. General Curtis LeMay devised a trategy of fire bombing which caused massive destruction in Japanese citis crammed with highly flameable wooden structures. When Japan refused to surender after the Yalta Conference, President Truman ordered the use of tha Atomic Bomb in August 1945. The Japanese surendered in September.


The Japanese kamikaze attacks are geberally seen as crazed attacks by mindless Japnese pilots anxious to die for their Emperor. This is a misunderstanding. The Japanese by 1945 had no effective weapons to use agains the American fleet. There only hope was to exact such casulties that America would tire of the War. In this regard they were effective. The Pacific fleet did sustain serious losses at a relatively light cost on the part of the Japanese. The pilots involved were not anxious to die, but thought theu were making a contribution to the defense of their country. Peer pressure among these young men was a very powerful force. [Spector] We constantly hear that Japan was a defeated nation. But after Okinawa, the Japanese had 5,000 Kzmikazee air craft on Kyhshu abd 6,500 on Honshu. Czlculating that only one in ten Kamikazees struck Ameticzn onvssion fleets that had to come close in, we are still talking about massive danage to the Pacific fleet at relatively low cost to Japan.

Okinawa (April 1945)

The invasion of Okinawa was the first American attack on Japanese territitory. Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Island chain was strategically located between Kyushu, the southernmost Japanese island and Taiwan (called Formosa by the Japanese). American strategists saw Okinawa as a necessary base from which an American invasion of the Japanese home islands could be staged. Okinawa had several air bases and the only two important harbors between Formosa and Kyushu. The American invasion was code named Operation Iceberg. The greatest naval force in histoy was assembled for the invasion. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's 5th fleet included more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and hundreds of support ships. Over 182,000 troops participated in the invasion. The American invasion forced was surprised when the beach landings were unopposed. Okinawa was defendened by the 32nd Japanese Army and a garrison of about 110,000 men. The Japanes had drawn back from the onvssion beaches. The Japanese strategy was to bring as many ships as possible in close to the island to support the invasion. it was then that a major Kamakazi attack was unleased on the invasion fleet. The Japanese on April 6-7 employed the first massed formations of hundreds of kamikaze aircraft. The Japanese during the Okinawan campaign flew 1,465 kamikaze flights from Kyushu. They succeedd in sinking 30 American ships and damaged 164 others. Other ships were attacked nearer Kyushu and Formosa. The Army Air Corps had rejected a request to havily bomb these air fields as it was seen as a diversion from the strategic bombing campaign. One third of the invasion force was killed or wounded. Over half of the 16,000 Americans killed were sailors on the ships attacked by the Kamakazis. Virtually the entire Japanese garison died in the Okinawa campaign. Few Japanese soldiers surendered even after defeat was certain. Large number of civilans were also killed. The Jaoanese military reserved available food and supplies for its use and in many cases forced civilians to commit suicide. The American military saw Okinawa as a dress rehersal for an invasion of the Japanese Home Islands and anticipated even fiercer resistance. The extent of the casualties was a major factor in the American decission to use the atomic bombs.

Japanese Resistance

Japan in 1945 was in a very different position than Germany. The Bulge offensive was Germany's last desperate gamble. The German armies in all sectors (except Norway) were defeted abd no longer capable of offereing effective resistance in either the wetern or eastern fronts. The generals saw no posdibility of staving off defeat and the situation became increasingly ckear as the Western llies and Soviets drove into the Reich. The situarion for the Japnese was very different. Defeat had only been experienced at sea and on Pacific islands invokving relatively small garrisons. The bulk of the Imperial Army ws still in tact in China and facing Chimese armies of limited capabilities. And even after Okinawa, the Jpanese had a very creditable military force as well as a largely hidden force of Kamikazee aircraft ready to reign hell on any invasion fleet. In addition the Government were still controlled by military men concerned primarily with their honor and seeing no obligation to the civilian population. The War Cabinent even after the Nagasaki attack was was still undecided on surrender. War Minister Korechika Anami still wanted to continue the War, When told about the mushroom cloud, he replied, "Would it not be wondrous for this whole nation to be destroyed by a beautiful flower?" [Pellegrino] And this is how many Japanese military commabders thought. It seems almost incredible today, but it was all true in 1945. Many Army commanders simply saw it dishonrable with strong forces in the field to surrender. And to them honor transcended the future of their nation. There was no diubt about where the first Ameican blow would fall. Iy would be tge southern island of Kyhshu because of the limits of American air power from the newy won bases on Okuinawa. The Japanese began moving reinforcements and supplies into Kyshu. Kamikazze planes were staged there. Civilians were to be a part if the defense under the Ketsugo program. The People's Volunteer Army was formed. Millions of copies of 'People's handbook of resustance combat' was printed. Milions of copies were distributed.

Ending the War

The Pacific War began with the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor and a series of spectacular offensives throughout the Western Pacific. The Joints Chiefs after Pearl Harbor established a staff to study how to end the War (1942). We know nothing at the time about the work of this staff. And at the time the United States military had not yet stopped Japanese advances in the Pacific. This was not achieved until Guadalcanal at the southern-most pointy of Japanese expansion was secured (February 1943). By this time the military was becoming aware of a serious problem--the Japanese would not surrender. And this question became increasingly apparent as the twin Allied advances move inexorably north toward Japan. And in the bloody history of the Pacific War, on island after island, not one single Japanese unit surrendered. Some individual Japanese soldiers surrendered (many wounded an incapable of resisting), but no a single unit of any size. Or a single civilian organization on those islands. And often Japanese soldiers would feign surrender so they could get close enough to kill an American. When the Americans reached the Marianas with Japanese civilians, the Marines were horrified to see that the Imperial Army expected civilians, including women and children, to also resist to death. So increasingly, military planners began confronting the issue of how to the war with a country that refused to surrender. The military, especially the Army, believed that the only was to achieve this would be the invasion of the Home Islands. So the last step in the war against Japan was the invasion of Japan. American military planners foresaw the potential for 1 million American casualties or more . This was based on the tenacious Japanese resistance in every Pacific campaign. The military fully expected the Japanese Army to resist to the death just had they had done on Iwo and Okinawa. In addition, the Japanese had large numbers of aircraft which could be used in Kamikaze attacks on any invasion fleet. Many Japanese today maintain that Japan was near defeat and ready to surrender. It is certainly true that the military situation for Japan was hopeless and the population approaching starvation. This does not mean, however, that the Imperial Army was preparing to surrender. The Army had not surrendered in any other campaign where the outcome was hopeless. In addition, the Army had encouraged even forced civilians to commit suicide as on Saipan and Okinawa. Some observers are convinced that Japanese civilian casualties in any invasion of the Home Islands would have been the greatest civilian disaster of World War II. Millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians may have died if America had invaded Japan. Many today do not understand it. The logical response to military defeat is surrender. This has been the case since time immemorial. Thus many today believe that if America just would have tried harder that the use of the atomic bombs would have been unnecessary. But this ignores the fact that not one Japanese unit surrendered during the Pacific War and that on Saipan and Okinawa where Japanese civilians were present, the military expected even civilians to resist or commit suicide. And those that refused the military actually killed. It is true that the military wanted to end the War. There is no evidence that they wanted to surrender which was seen as a dishonorable act. They were unmoved by the American fire bombing of Japanese cities or even the first atomic bomb. The Emperor wavered fearing a military coup. Only after two atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria did he finally act. he Emperor finally decided to surrender, but only after two atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. Here is the background ground to the chain of events leading to that surrender. Of course it is difficult to not have the greatest sympathy for the vuicytims of the atmic bombs. The images are horrendous. Butit needs to be boted that the Japanese militarists was the country that began bombing cities. And that the military war lords killed over 25 million people -- mostly women and children, during the war. And that killing did not end until the Japanese surrendered. Or the fact that had the Japabese not surrendered, the Japanese death toll from conventional bombing, blockade and famine woukd have been far greater than the two atomic blasts and could have included Soviet occupation and another brutal regime like North Korea.


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Created: 10:42 PM 3/9/2021
Last updated: 7:29 PM 10/16/2022