** World War II Japan ending the war Japanese strategy bleed the Americans

World War II Japan Ending the War (July-August 1945)

World War II Ketsugo
Figure 1.-- On Sipan and Okinawa, Japanese civilians were ordered to commit suiside. They were told the Americans were inhuman monsters and would rape and toirture. Civilians who refused to commit suiside or triend to run away were mirdered by the Japanese soldirts. As Japan prepared for the Ametican invasion, women and children wee ordered to atually resiist the Americans. All of this is just ignored by thise who say that Japan was trying to surrender when the atomic bombs were dropped.

The Japanese from the very ouset of the War were behind the times. There war olan was based on the Germans fefeatuing the Soviet Uniion and just as the boms were falling on Pearl Harbor, the Red Army had launced their winter offensive before Moscow has stopped the Wehrmacht cold. The first 6 months were stunning, but then at Midway (June 1942), it all began to unravel. the It took the Japanese Army a year to even realize their princoal enemy was the Americans.[Shindo] The were first foicused in the Soviets and then the British. The American twin South/Pacific Campaigns kept the Japanese constantly off balance. It bdecame invreasingly clear even to the Japanese after a year of war that they were not going to win the Pacific War. The dawning took a little longer to filter through the military establishmnt, in part because the Imperial Navy kept the Midway disaster and other naval reverses secret from the Army. After losing the Marianas, the Japanese became increasingly desperate to end the War, but were dtermined to win a battle so that would improve their baragining position. That victory never came--just more defeats. And then the bombing. They wanted to end the War, but not to give up territiry or permit an occupation. Even after the loss of Okinawa, the militarists were delusional. They actually thought that Stalin would help them negotiate a settlement with the United States. And after the Potsdam Deckaration, they saw no urgency in endung the War as they=built up their denfenses on Kyūshū-contuning their policy that had failed ine island after another--bleed the Americanns. And all the while the American air campaign was buring one city after another. The Japanese had been bombing China for more tha 10 years. Now the bombs began falling on Japanese cities. Japan's military commanders were unmoved. Gen Anani talked of a beautiful death for the nation like a cherry bloosom. Emperor Hirohito was constantly fristrated as the War played out. His military commanders promised him againa nd againa decisive battle that force the Americans to make peace. Batlles Japan would lose one after another. And then after Okinawa, the militart was planning one more 'decisice'; battle, to defeat the Ameriucan invasion force. Finally, the Emperor broke the deadlock and chose to surrender.

Emperor Hirohito's Role

A militaristic party rose to dominate the Japanese government during the early era of his reign. His complicity with the milatarists is a not well researched subject. Not every authority agrees with the widespread belief that Hirohito had no hand in Japan's conduct in World War II. Far from it. One example is Imperial Conspiracy written by David Bergamini (1971) who found that Hirohito was behind all the major decisions in the war, but that his role was covered up, and that General MacArthur knew, but went along with the whitewash for pragmatic reasons. Loyal Japanese officials and military commanders, unwilling to see the Emperor soiled by association with crimes committed in his name, saw their honorable duty as taking the punishment. What ever Hirihito's role, the militarists during his reign pursued expansionism, war with China (1937-45), and military alliance with the Axis powers (1940). The alliance led to Japan's participation in World War II and its attack on the United States in 1941. Toward the end of the war Hirohito sought peace, and in August 1945 he broadcast the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies.

Peace Feelers

The militarists had launched the war in China and then the Pacific War. They were reluctant to admit how seriously that had miscalculated. Nor were they anxious to begin serious peace negotiations. They strangely thought that they could ask the Soviet Union to mediate an acceptable end to the War. Even the militarists realized that Japan had lost the War and wanted to end it, but they still believed that the thought of enormous casualties could deter an American invasion. The militarists still thouht tht they could retain the Emperor, avoid an occupation, and place disarmament and any trials of war criminals in the hands of the Japanese military. The extent to which the militarists were out of contact with relality was the belief that they could use the Soviets to mediate.

Ambassador Sato (July 1945)

Naotake Satō (1882-1971) was a career diplomat who briefly sefrved as Minister of Foreign Affairsfor a few months, resigning judt before Japan invaded. He seeved a s asenior adviser yp Prime Minister Konoye and Tojo. He was assihned as ambaassador to the Soviet Unioin (1942). We are not sure what his origunal instructions were, but as the War after early victories went worse and worse, his primary duties shifteted to pursuing a way out of the War. The Foreign Ministry began pressing Ambassador Sato to approach Soviets officials to ask them to mediate an end to the War. Japan had a neutrality treaty with the Soviets, signed just before the German Barbarossa invasion (1941). A good metric of Japan delusional thinking is expecting Stalin of all people to intercdeed with the allies and aid Japan. Sato of course had a firm crasp of the of Soviet reactioin to Japan's treaties. Thanks to magic, we have a derailed record of the exchahges between the fireign Ministrya nd Ambassador Sato. The Foreign Ministsry ordered Sato to explore the possibility of the Soviet Uniin acting as a intermefdiary withe Allies. Sato informed Tokyo that the CSoviets would not wish take Japan's side. Forreign Minister Togo pressed the issue and wanted to send Prince Konoye as a peace envoy. He had a hard time getting to mMolotov, but when he did was unable to get any commitments. Sato then sent a long message, stating the obvious, that Japan was aklone and had lost the war and shoukld make peace as soon as possible to avoid natiina extinctiin--not what Tokyo wanted to hear. Tokyo resopmded by saying that thevCabinent was a aware of the issues, but that thwar must be fought with "all the vigor and bitterness of which the nation was acapoable as long as the obnky alternative was the unconditional surrender." (July 24, 1945) [National Security Archiube]

Potsdam Declaration (July-August 1945)

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof in Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. The Conference was held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. It was a conference of the Big Three (the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The participants proved to be quite different than those at the other major World War II conferences, incliding Yalta held a few months earlier. Stalin still represented the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt had died after Yalta and was replaced by the new president--Harry Truman. Churchill was at the beginning session was replace as prime minister by Clement Attlee, who had replaced him after a general election. The Conference was held after the NAZI surrender (May 1945). The primary order of business was how to administer occupied Germany as well as the post-War order, peace treaties, and the huge problems created by the War. The primary importance concerning the Pacific War was that Stalin secretly pledged to enter the War by August 15. President Truman informed Stalin of the atomic bomb. Because of Soviet espionahe, he already knew. The Conference issued a declaration demanding that Japan immediately surrender or face "prompt and utter destruction" (July 26). The Japanese did not respond. Some Japanese officials actually thought the Potsdam Declaration showed the success of their policy of bleeding the Americans. Although the Potsdam Declaration called for unconditional surrender, there was language providing for Japan eventually rejoining the community of nations. Also and perhaps more impotantly, the Soviet Union did not sign the Declaration.

Succesful Atomic Test: Trimity Trinity (July 1945)

he first bomb was successflly tested at Alamagordo, New Mexico (July 16, 1945). The yield was about 20 kilotons, the greatestv man-made expolsion in history, but a fractiion of the fusion weapons to come. The test was carried out at the Alamogordo Test Range, located on the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) Desert. The test was code named Trinity. The first test was a uranium bomb based on the implosion weapon design that had been built at Los Alamos. The test device was called Gadget. Given the new technology, it could not be evaluated without an actual test. The gun-type uranium bomb was not seen as requiring a test. The sciebntists concluded that at least one test should be conducted and monitored to test the many theoretical conclusions they had reached. The scientis were fairly confident of the outcome. Even before the test, a second bomb was secretly shipped to the NMarians to prepare for an attack on Hiroshima which had already been selrcted as the first target. The Trinity blast created a flash of light described as brighter than a dozen suns. The flash was seen over the entire state of New Mexico and in some areas of Arizona, Texas, and Mexico. The characteristic mushroom cloud rose to over 38,000 feet into the upper levels of the atmoshphere within only minutes. The heat of the explosion was measured at 10,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun. And even at 10 miles away, the heat was described as facing into a roaring fireplace. The explosing extunguished every life within a mile of the test tower. A fleet of 2,000 B-29, Superfortresses would be needed to deliver an equivalent payload of conventiinal explosives.

Japanese Strategy: Bleed the Americans

The Japanese military situation by 1945 was perilous. Even the most ardent Imperial militarist had long since given up on winning the Pacific War. Japan's strategy was now only how total defent and occupation could be prevented. The strategy was to cause as many Allied (meaning mostly American) casualties as possible. They sought to bleed the Americans so severely that the United States would not dare invade the Japanese Home Islands. Incredably they still clung to illusion that the Americans were a weak-willed people that could not stomach losses. Many Japanese military commanders were still convinced that they could out last the Americans. [Thomas, p. 139.] Here the Japanese resistance at Iwo Jima and Okinawa along with the Kamikaze attacks had considerable success. There were heavy Amerucan losses, although only a fraction of the Japanese losses. The terrain of the Home Islands was similar to that of Okinawa--very mountenous. There was no doubt where the Americans would strike first -- it had to be the southern-most island of Kyushu where the landings could be covered by air bases on Okinawa. American intelligence assessments reported indications that the Japanese were heavily reinforcing Kyushu. Men and equipment were being brought back from China and Manchuria to stenthen the forces already on Kyushu. Much of these reinforcenents were moving through the port of Nagasaki. The Yellow Sea was one of the few places that Japanese marus could still move with some degree of safety--although that was beginning to change. President Truman began to see a series of Okinawa campaigns and huge casualties up and down the Japanese Home Islands from Kyushu to Tokyo. He requested for caualty estimates from General Marshal annd astronimical figures surfaced. The Japanese prepared the Shosango Vctory Plan for the defence of the Home Islands. Prime-minister Kantar� Suzuki took office (April 1945). The government expanded the Shosango plan with Ketsugo. Emperor Hirohito approved the plan. The idea was to defend the Home Islands to the last man, actually the last person. And this did not mean just soldiers, but civilans as well--including children. Ketsugo was to prepare the Japanese people psychologically to die as a nation in an effort to defend the Imperial Japan. School children, boys and girls, were to be taught to construct makeshift weapons such as sharpened bamboo poles. Soldiers were assigned to schools to show children how to do this. We are unclear at this time just to what extent the Japanese were actually implementing Ketsugo. A Japanese reader from Tokyo tells me that he was sent into the country and received no such training. Other reports indicate that children were receiving this training. One fact is certain, American planners did expect a suisidal and costly Japanese resistance and given what bhappened in Iwo and Okinawa, this is likely what would have occurred. The caualties resulting from the Japanese strategy and the liklihood of even more fierce resistance on the Home Islands is a factor that has to be taken into account in the assessment of the subsequent decession to use the atomic bombs bombs.

Food Situation

The discussion of the end of the War is dominated by the American use of nuclear weapons. And the concentarion is on the resulting caualties--some 0.2-0.3 million people is you add on those who died in the days following the detonation as a result of injuries. Almost ignored in the fascination with the bomb is the food situation. Japan was Asia's only indutrialized country. This meant that food had to be imported to feed the growiung population of industrial workers in Gapan's rosing industrial cities. Even when before Japan began to industrialize, food was a problem. Japan is a very mountaneous country. Only about 10-15 percent of the labd area is suitable for agriculture, a very small proportion. The prortion in China, for example, is 50 percent. The need for food was one reason the Japanese began to expamd their empire after World War I. Finst in Manchuria (1931) anf then in China proper (1937). The problem for Japan was that war did not solve their problem, it actually worsened it. The invasion of China netted less food than expected. Much of the food gained was used to feed the massive army Japan committed in China. There were some food shipments to the Home Islands, but the War reduced food production both in China and Japan. The disruption of the War adversely affected Chinese production, but less often realized, it also reduced Japanese harvests. Here the major factor was the conscription of rural workers reducing the agricultural workforce. And the situation worsened with the onset of the Pacific War. Again food was one of the Japanese objectives in launching the Pacific War with the United States and seizing the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) (December 1941). Japan despite spectacular gainsin the SRZ at the onset of the War, soon lost naval dominance beginning with the Battle of Midway (June 1942). Japan had a maru fleet adequate for paece time, but totallu inadequate for war. Anf the American subnarine campaign focused on the marus. As a result, despite seizing the abundant foof producing areas of the SRZ, Japan had no way of getting that food back to the Home Islands. The food situation steasily worsened during the War. This can be followed in detail. The Ministry of Education meaured the weight and height of schoolchildren annually. And comparing the data collected in urban and rural areas shows that the city children were shorter and weighed less than rural children. And the differences got steadily worse as the continued. and the problem was not just harvests and the cuttinhg ofv of imports, transportation problems developed. Fuel shortages made it increasingly difficult getting food from the countryside into the cities. Another problem was the fishing fleet. Japan relied on fush for much of its protein and as fuel became scarse and the Amerivans began sinking the fishing boats, the mahor source of protein disappeared. All of this spiral down hill as the American strategic bombing campaign began to achieve results (february 1945). By Summer 1945, the girls working in the indutrial plants report feeling luvky to find a noodle at the bottom of their souo bowls. The Japanese were on near starvation rations. And if the War would have continued beyond September, the Japanese would have begin to starve. The Emperor, the Cabinet, and the military leaders knew this. And yet they were prepared to continue the War, ignoring the castrophe that they were bringing on the Japanese people. The Americans when the occupation forces arrived were shocked at the food situation. Millions of Japanese survived the War because the Americans arrived when they did.

Japanese Actions

There was little Japanese reaction to the Allies Potsdam Declaration (July 26). Prime Minister Suzuki decided to essential ignore it. He did not believe that American action would be eminent. He knew that the United States was preparing an invasion, but knew it ws several months away, leaving time to negotiate for better conditions. Many officials cling on to the hope that the Soviets would mediate an end to the War, despite the fact that the Soviets had given them no reason to beliece that they would. The Soviers were actually assembling massive forces on the Manchurian norder for their own invasion. Somehow the Japanee do not seemed to have been awre of this. The Emperor also showed little urgency. He busied himself collecting the imperial regalia (the acred mirror, sword, and curved jewel). Neither he or the Army appear to have een the utter obliteration of Jpanese cities as sufficent reasom for surrender. Many put their faith in the defense preparations that would nake the invasion so costly that the Americans would finally decide on a negotiated peace.

Atomic Bomb (August 1945)

The American Manhattan Program was initiated by President Roosevelt when work done by German physicists led to concern that th NAZIs might build an atomic bomb. Jewish and oher refugees fleeing the NAZIs made a major contribution to the success of the Manhattan Program. The first bomb was successflly tested at Alamagordo, New Mexico on July ??, 1945. The Allies met in a Berlin suburb after the NAZI surrender to make decisions about the occupation of Germany and defeating Japan. The Allied powers 2 weeks after the bomb was tested demanded on July 27, 1945 that Japan surrender unconditionally, or warned of "prompt or utter destruction". This became known as the Potsdam Declaration. The Japnese military was prepared to fight on rather than surender. The Japanese Government responded to the Potsdam Declaration with "utter contemp". The Japanese military continued feverish pland to repel the Ameican invasion of the Home Islands. Many Whermacht generals at the end of the War were anxious to surrnder to the Amreicans. One German General commanding forces as part of Venk's 9th Army west of Berlin after the War said, "We wondered why the Americans didn't come." This was not the attitude of the Japanese military. I know of know memoir written by an important Japanese military officer expresing similar sentiments. Truman was not anxious to use the atomic bomb. He was anxious to end the War and limit Ameican casulties. For Truman, the American casualties on Okinawa and the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration made up his mind. There have been many books and aticles published in both Japan and America about the atomic bomb. Japanese scholars have reserched the decission making process that led to the dropping of the atomics bomb. Almost always the focus is on Truman and American military leasers. Rarely do Japanese authors address the role of Japanese political and military leaders. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8.

Soviet Invasion of Manchuria (August 8, 1945)

The Soviet Union, 2 days after the first atomic bomb was dropped, entered the war against Japan (August 8). Stalin as promissed at Yalta and Potsdam declared war on Japan. At the time the Japanese were attempting to use the Soviets to mediate an end to the War. He moved the date up after the Hiroshima bombing because he wanted to be in the War before Japan surrendered. Soviet plans included the invasion of Manchukuo (Manchuria), Mengjiang, Korea, the southern portion of Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and Hokkaido. All these operations except the invasion of Hokkaido were carried out. The Soviets struck in Manchuria and routed the Japanese forces there. The offensive was in sharp contrast to the campaigns the Americans conducted in the Pacific. The Soviets after declaring war immediately launched a massive invasion--the largest ground operation of the Pacific War. The Red Army rapidly swept over Manchuria. Japanese resistance crumpled. The Soviet invasion is not well covered in Western histories of the War. One question that arises is why the Soviets so quickly suceeded in Manchuria while the United States struggled in Okinawa. I think this is primarily because Okinawa was a small island where the Japanese could concentrate their forces in mountainous terraine. Manchuria was a huge area, much of it a flat plain, ideal for tank warfare. The Japanese could not defend it like they were able to do on Okinawa. Perhaps readers more familiar with the Soviet invasion will be able to tell us more. Soviet plans included the invasion of Manchukuo (Manchuria), Mengjiang, Korea, the southern portion of Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands, and Hokkaido. All these operations except the invasion of Hokkaido were carried out. The Soviet invasion was code named Operation August Storm. The massive Soviet invasion swept aside Japanese resistance. The Japanese were surprised and destroyed any illusions among the military that Japan's still substantial army had the ability to resist Allied armies. Some authors believe that the success of the Soviets in Manchuria and the inability of the Japanese army to resist them, had more of an impact on the Japanese military than the two American atomic bombs. One factor that we are not yet sure about is why Japanese resistance in Manchuria colapsed so quickly and why the Japanese military commanders were willing to surrender to the Soviets, but unwilling to surrender to the Americans in Okinawa or the Philippines. The Japanese that surrendered to the Soviets spent years in the Gullag. They were used for years in construction projects in Siberia and Central Asia. [Solzhenitsyn, p. 84.] Only about half survived and ever returned to Japan.

Japanese Deliberations

The Hiroshima Bomb (August 6) and the Soviet invasion (August 8) moved the Japanese Government to action. The War Cabinent met again at 10:30 in the morning (August 9). Foreign Minister Togo suggested offering peace terms with only one condition--the preservation of the Emperor. General Anami demanded other conditions, including no occupation, allowing the military to disarm itself, and to try its war criminals. Anami assured the Emperor that the Americans had only one atomic bomb. While the meeting was going on, news arrived that a second bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. The Full Cabinet met, but they were also divided. Only the Emperor could dcide the issue. The Emperor resisted gicing up his authority. Figures like Hironumi, a Shinto Fundametalist, imsisted that this was not a constitutional question, that the imperial line existed before the 1871 constitutiob and could not be separated from the country';s very existeance. The Emperor broke the deadlock, approving an offer to surrender as long as it did not prejudice the perogatives of the Throne. The Japanese offer reached Washington (August 10). President Truman and his advisors were divided. Stimson wanted to accept, both to use the Emperor to assure compliance with the surrender and to avoid Soviet participation in the occupation. Byrne's advised against the accepatance, fearing public oposition to retaining the Emperor. Truman decided to side steo the Japanese language and send the Japanese a message making it claer that the occupation authority woyld be in charge.


National Securiuty Archive. "Japanese Oeace Feelers" (George Washingtom University).

Solzhenitsyn, Alexsanddr I. Trans, Thomas P. Wjitney. The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-56: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (Harper & Row: New York, 1973), 660p.

Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945 (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2006), 414p.


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Created: 9:41 PM 11/6/2020
Last updated: 9:41 PM 11/6/2020