Lesson Plan on Mass Casualties and Making Decisions About War

Notes on the Decision to End WWII with Surprise Atomic Bomb Attacks on Japan

This is a draft of what was originally intended to be Handout #2. Unfortunately, it went on much too long, and still, it is not a complete study of the issue, which has absorbed many, many, books. For teachers, it’s a source of documentation, anecdotes, and episodes that can be used to teach the story of this decision. Perhaps it might be given to advanced students to serve as a factual basis for essays evaluating the decision to drop the bomb. It provides support for the statements made in Handout #2.


Vast amounts have been written about the decision to mount surprise atomic attacks on Japanese cities by many eminent scholars. Much of the scholarly literature is contradictory. In addition, the historical record is incomplete and decisions concerning whether the Japanese government would surrender and whether the U.S. government should drop the bomb were made at conferences for which no record was made, or for which the records have been lost, or as to which the persons who attended did not want the truth to be known for one reason or another. To the best of our ability we have provided facts which are supported by the scholarly literature, but it will, for many of them, be possible to find contradictory statements.

One of the reasons for the controversy about dropping the bomb on Japan is that people ask the wrong questions. The first question is what occurred and the context in which it occurred. Only then do we get to the second and most important question: what lessons can we derive from the experiences of that time that will help us make effective and ethical decisions in the future? While most of us will not be government leaders, we are all potential voters who will be called upon to evaluate leaders who will make decisions about war and peace.

The third question is the one people usually ask first: Were surprise atomic attacks on Japanese cities within the range of morally acceptable choices available to U.S. leaders at the time? Another way to phrase the question is whether, based on the facts known or available to President Truman and the men who advised him, reasonable people in their position would have thought that it was an effective and ethical decision to make. As to the ethics of it, see the analysis in Handout #3.

In answering these questions we have to bear in mind that leaders in time of war are called upon to predict the actions and reactions of people from different cultures. This is always very difficult.

Sixty years of debate about the decision to end WWII with surprise atomic attacks on Japanese cities has identified several key points. Keeping these in mind will help to organize the facts set out below.

1. Because atomic bombs kill over a very large area without discriminating between combatants and non-combatants, should they ever be used on populated areas?

2. Did the bombing of Japanese cities with atomic weapons: (1) provide material aid to the end-the-war party in Japan so that they could overcome the military fanatics; or (2) provide the ruling elites with an excuse to surrender without fear of a revolution or retribution for leading the country into a losing war?

3. Would a demonstration of one of the two bombs possessed by the U.S., followed if necessary by the destruction of a military facility or a city, have had the effects described in the preceding question?

4. Was Japan so weak that it would have surrendered within a few weeks or a few months without the atomic bomb attacks?

5. Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb on August 6. Russia declared war on Japan on August 8 and attacked Japanese positions in Manchuria in the early morning of August 9. Should the U.S. have then waited for the full effect of the Russian Declaration of War and the attack on Japanese forces on the Asian mainland to be understood by the Japanese before dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki? Note that the second bomb was dropped in the mid-morning of August 9.

6. Would the war have ended before the atomic attacks if, as many in the U.S. government urged, the Allies had explicitly defined “unconditional surrender” to include permitting the people of Japan to retain the Emperor?

7. It is clear that an important factor in the U.S. decision to attack Japanese cities with atomic bombs was the benefit the bombing would have in our dealings with the Russians in both Europe and Asia. Does this fact somehow discredit the U.S. decision to use the bomb?

8. Could Truman have made any other choice given the fact that he had just taken over the presidency on the death of Franklin Roosevelt; the political situation at the time; the eagerness of the American people to see a quick end to the war, and the fact that the U.S. had spent two billion dollars (at that time a much larger number than it is today) developing the bomb? Or is this question not relevant?


1. World War II (“WWII”) was started by Japan, Germany and Italy (the Axis countries) which were each controlled by a fanatic, fascist dictatorship. In the case of Japan, the group in control was led by the military. WWII was the bloodiest war in history, causing the deaths of 40 – 50 million people, including 292,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors killed in combat, with another 115,000 servicemen killed from non-battle related causes. More than 600,000 U.S. servicemen were wounded. World War II. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 23, 2005, from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. The leaders of the Axis countries were war criminals who did not care about the harm their policies caused to millions of human beings.

2. WWII was a “total war” in which most of the resources of the combatant nations were utilized for the war effort. This was true for the Allies as well as for the Axis. For example, the Japanese government ordered civilians, including women and children, to work in factories and military offices and to fight against any invading force. One of the primary reasons that Japan lost WWII was that the U.S. economy was able to out-produce the Japanese economy in terms of the quantity and quality of weapons and military personnel.

3. An atomic bomb is a weapon of mass destruction that will kill or injure people and obliterate or damage structures over large areas. When dropped on an urban area, an atomic bomb will kill tens of thousands of people and destroy the infrastructure of the community, including families, neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, police, courts, banks, places of work, transportation networks, churches, temples, clubs, etc. The destruction occurs instantaneously and does not discriminate between combatant or non-combatant, guilty or innocent, young or old, resident or visitor, imprisoned or free. Finally, atomic bombs cause radiation poisoning, which sickens people for years and affects all living organisms in the area exposed. Atomic bombs are the most powerful weapons of terror invented by mankind.

4. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cities primarily inhabited by civilians. However, since Japan had been mobilized for total war, according to U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson, both cities were “active working parts of the Japanese war effort. …” Hiroshima was the headquarters of the Japanese Army defending southern Japan, and was a major military storage and assembly point. By August 1945, there were between 25,000-50,000 servicemen in the city, as well as munitions and supply depots and thousands of Koreans pressed into slave labor by the Japanese. It contained a massive Mitsubishi factory, a gun factory producing 6,000 rifles a week, and businesses that made parts for kamikaze airplanes. (George Caron, Fire of a Thousand Suns, Web Publishing, 1995) Nagasaki was a seaport and it contained several large industrial plants of wartime importance…. ” “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947 (hereinafter “Stimson”).


1. In the 1930s, the military fanatics came to power in Japan. While admitting that America was materially strong, they believed the Japanese to be morally, spiritually, culturally, and racially superior. ^^Japan’s Decision to Surrender by Robert J.C. Butow, p. 9 and “The decision to use the atomic bomb” retrieved January 28, 2005 from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service, p. 4 (hereinafter “Britannica Decision Article”).

2. To realize the fanatics’ dreams of glory, to feed and clothe its expanding population, and to provide the raw materials necessary for the weapons, ships, and aircraft of a first rate power, Japan needed additional resources. It sought to control Manchuria, Korea, and North China as well as the European colonies of Southeast Asia. All of these areas were to be harnessed for the benefit of the Japanese economy and war machine. Butow pp. 8 – 10 & 11, article on Japan, retrieved January 12, 2005 from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service (hereinafter “Britannica Japan Article”).

3. Anyone who dared to oppose the “Greater East Asia War” or the policies of the military, no matter how high their position, risked assassination or imprisonment. The population was motivated to cooperate, not only by an effective police state apparatus, but also by a steady stream of propaganda combining traditional Japanese values, especially reverence for the Emperor and the concept of death before dishonor, with hatred of the “Imperialist West”, and claims of racial and cultural superiority. At the beginning of the war, truthful information about the exploits of the Japanese Navy and the impressive conquests of the Japanese Army also served to solidify support for the militarists. However, when Japan began losing battles, the military public relations machine gave out false information to retain the military’s hold on power. Part taken from Butow pp. 8, 9, 75 (note 56), 178 & 230.

4. Even the military fanatics knew that Japan could not fight a war with the Soviet Union while at the same time taking on the U.S. and the British Empire. Therefore, its grand strategy called for friendly relations with Russia. A neutrality pact was signed with the Soviet Union in April, 1941. The treaty had important advantages for both sides. It allowed Japan to concentrate on its coming war against the U.S. and Britain while permitting the Russians to concentrate on preparing for the expected German invasion. Germany invaded Russia later that Summer.

5. On December 7, 1941, Japan conducted a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The goal of this supposed “death blow” to America was to destroy enough of the U.S. Pacific Fleet to demoralize the American people and force the U.S. to make concessions in trade negotiations and lift sanctions that the U.S. had imposed on Japan. The Japanese believed that it was unlikely that the U.S. would spend the lives and treasure necessary to fight Japan’s surging and powerful empire.

6. Michinomiya Hirohito was crowned emperor of Japan in 1926. In a tradition dating back to 660 B.C.E., the Japanese believed that their Emperor embodied the divine spirit of the Japanese race. He was regarded as a descendant from the sun goddess and the nation’s link with heaven. Britannica Decision Article p. 5. The institution of the emperor was considered to be the “fountain source of the Japanese nation, and national and private lives issue from this … ” Alperovitz at p. 36 quoting from The Way of All Subjects, August 1941, from Tolischus, Tokyo Record, p. 424. In addition, the ruling class, including the military, had an especially strong interest in the survival of the imperial system. As servants of the emperor, the continuance of the throne and of Hirohito’s Emperorship was their best hope of retaining some power, or at the least avoiding prosecution for their actions during the war.

7. The Emperor was thought to “live beyond the clouds,” and to be above politics and government. In theory, the Emperor’s role was merely to approve what the politicians decided and issue decrees accordingly. ^^Butow 99 – 102; Sigal, 230 & 231; ^^Alperovitz, pp 35 & 36. In reality, Hirohito was actively involved in planning Japan’s expansionist and aggressive policies, including the decision to declare war on the U.S. and the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He attended many planning meetings, participated in making decisions, played an important role in choosing the various prime ministers who governed under him, and at times personally made major decisions of war and strategy.

The Japanese government and elements of the U.S. government, for various reasons of state, discussed more fully below conspired for years to hide Hirohito’s true role in the war, claiming that he was just a figurehead. Recent scholarship has debunked this myth. For the case against the Emperor, see Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix, including pages 395 – 403, 405 – 417, 421 & 422, 424 & 5; 427 & 428.

8. By 1945, Japan was in dire straights. The naval battles of Midway (June, 1942), the Philippine Sea (June, 1944), and Leyte Gulf (October, 1944) had all but eliminated the Japanese Navy as a factor in the war. Sigal, p. 3 and Battle of the Philippine Sea Beginning in September, 1944 the U.S. Navy imposed an effective blockade of the Japanese Home Islands, stopping the shipments of oil and raw materials necessary to wage war. Britannica Japan Article The Japanese Air Force had been reduced mainly to reliance upon kamikaze, or suicide attacks. (Kamikaze attacks, however, had already inflicted serious damage on U.S. seagoing forces and were a matter of concern to the U.S. military.) The Japanese Army had suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the U.S. Army and Marines. Still, in addition to its fleet of kamikaze planes, Japan had approximately 5,000,000 men under arms, most of them willing to fight to the death, in Japan, China, Korea, the Pacific Islands and Indo-China. Stimson.

9. As 1945 progressed, matters only got worse for Japan. In early 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force intensified its campaign to destroy Japanese military, urban and industrial centers. Japan had no effective air defenses and lay prostrate under these attacks. Japan’s primary ally, Germany, lay in ruins and on May 8, 1945, had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. This meant that the vast armies, navies and air forces that the U.S. and Britain had used to smash Germany would soon be transferred to the Pacific to augment the attack on Japan. In June of 1945, the U.S. conquered Okinawa, considered to be the gateway to the Japanese Home Islands. Food was in short supply. The imperial household and the ruling elite were seeing signs that some of the Japanese people, despite the diet of false propaganda and traditional loyalty to the emperor, understood that the war was lost and were questioning the leadership, including that of the Emperor, that had led them into the war. Bix, page *&*

10. The Japanese military and the Japanese people generally subscribed to the Samurai code in which death was preferable to the shame of surrender. This belief was so strong that despite being strangled by a blockade and pounded from the air, many Japanese in the military would have preferred the annihilation of the nation, rather than surrender. ^^Butow pp. 95 & 96. On June 8, despite all of its losses and the bombardment by U.S. planes, the military fanatics rammed through the Cabinet a policy that Japan would continue the war through an invasion by the U.S. of the Home Islands. The military hoped that in repelling the invasion it would inflict such heavy casualties that the tide of the war would turn. As a fall back position, they argued that if the tide of the war was not turned, the heavy U.S. casualties would permit Japan to negotiate better surrender terms. Butow pp. ^^93 – 102 There was a faction in the government that sought to end the war immediately, but they were intimidated by the threat of assassination and imprisonment.


1. The attack on Pearl Harbor jolted the U.S. out of its isolationism and unified the country in support of war. See e.g. Learning Guide to “Casablanca”. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had led the U.S. in the fight against despair during the Great Depression, turned his attention to defeating Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire. The U.S. fleet was rebuilt with a speed that astonished the Japanese. In addition, U.S. intelligence quickly broke the Japanese military and diplomatic codes. As a result, the U.S. could often predict enemy attacks. Fully mobilized for war, the U.S. began to destroy the Japanese Empire through a series of victories at sea and bloody island battles. Butow pp 8 – 10 & 231, Britannica Japan Article.

2. The Axis powers had started the war and waged it with a viciousness beyond anything previously seen by modern man. Germany, early in the war, had begun attacking civilian populations. The Japanese, for their part, had made the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. They used tactics such as kamikaze planes and they treated prisoners of war (“POWs”) brutally. The Imperial Japanese Army devastated civilian populations in China. Japanese soldiers were fanatical and most refused to surrender even when there was no hope of victory. The Allies had frequently condemned the Japanese government and the Emperor himself as war criminals.

3. As 1945 began, the U.S. and its allies had been engaged for more than three years in a brutal struggle with its enemies. 260,000 U.S. soldiers and sailors were killed in combat in WWII. More than 600,000 were injured. In terms of dead and wounded, apart from the Civil War, WWII was the bloodiest war in U.S. history. “World War II”, Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service, 6 Feb. 2005 There was a feeling in the United States that these opponents did not merit much consideration and that they should be unambiguously defeated. The people of the Allied democracies were fed up with casualties and wanted the war ended as quickly as possible. Britannica Decision Article, p. 2.

4. In 1939, before the U.S. entered WWII, President Roosevelt had urged the Germans and the British to avoid the “barbarism” of bombing civilians. Alan Cranston, “The Non-Event”, The New Republic, August 21-28, 1995; hereinafter “Cranston”. Among the many Nazi atrocities, the Luftwaffe extensively bombed London and other English cities. This was the first time that massed air power had been used against civilian targets. The Blitz, over a period of more than six months, caused 43,000 civilians deaths, wounded another 139,000 and deprived 1.4 million of their homes. The goal was to terrorize British citizens into demanding that the government and the military surrender. Bomber Command–Death By Moonlight and The Blitz and WWII from the History Learning Site. The British responded by targeting German cities.

5. Atomic fission had been achieved in Germany in 1938 while the scientific community was still open and discoveries were widely shared. When the war came, the Allies were very concerned that the Germans would build an atomic bomb and use it on England. Albert Einstein wrote two letters to President Roosevelt which sounded this warning. Based on scientific opinion that an atomic weapon was possible, the U.S., with British help, began the Manhattan Project, a supersecret crash program to build an atomic bomb. Two billion dollars were spent on the Manhattan Project. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt agreed, in a secret memorandum dated September 18, 1944, that “when a [nuclear bomb] is finally available it might perhaps, after mature consideration be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender …” The memorandum had been misfiled and was not available to President Truman until the British produced it at Potsdam. Sigal pp. 180 & 181, and note 55.

6. One of the responses of the Allies to the savage tactics of the Axis was insensitivity to “collateral damage” (civilian casualties) from bombing. Sigal, 170. After some initial resistance (see Learning Guide to 12 O’Clock High), the U.S. Army Air Force adopted the British strategy leading to one of the most controversial tactics of the Second World War, massive bombing of enemy cities by the Allies. Sometimes, targets were military and industrial installations that were located within the areas bombed, but not all the time. By the end of the war in Europe, Allied bomber incendiary attacks had killed well over 35,000 (some estimates, now disputed, were as high as 135,000) in Dresden and 40,000 in Hamburg. Article on international relations and Dresden articles of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 27, 2005, from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service; Sigal p. 171. Bombing cities with incendiary weapons meant that non-combatants: women, children and unarmed men, were being intentionally killed in large numbers.

7. In 1945, the use of air power to destroy civilian targets was an established U.S. policy. Japanese air defenses were so ineffectual that the U.S. Twentieth Air Force raged over the country at will. On March 9, 1945, using incendiaries, U.S. bombers started a firestorm that destroyed sixteen square miles of Tokyo, killing more than 83,000 people, injuring more than 40,000, and leaving up to one million homeless. This was the single most destructive air raid in history (even more destructive than the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The March 9 raid on Tokyo was followed by other incendiary raids on that city and attacks by air on other major population centers. Between March and July, more than 60 Japanese cities were devastated by conventional bombing. Sigal, p. 173 – 175; air warfare, Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 28, 2005, from Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. In July, 1945, for example, Twentieth Air Force B-29s flew 6500 sorties dropping 42,000 tons of bombs and mines. By then, 800 B-29s were able to take the skies in simultaneous operations. This increased and more than 1000 bombers pummelled Japan during the surrender negotiations of mid-August, 1945.

8. The U.S. invasion of Okinawa April 1 to June 21 was one of the fiercest battles of the war. While Okinawa was not one of the Japanese Home Islands, it was considered by all to be the last step in the U.S. island hopping campaign before Japan itself. Okinawa was defended by 100,000 Japanese troops. The Japanese military successfully mobilized the island’s civilian population to resist the invasion. Kamikaze planes inflicted severe losses on the American fleet. The cost of victory in Okinawa was nearly 50,000 American casualties, including 12,000 killed. The Japanese suffered 90,000 killed, i.e., 90% of the defending troops! At least 100,000 civilians were also killed. Britannica Decision Article, p. 4.

9. On April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became President. Roosevelt was a giant of American history, generally acknowledged to be one of the three greatest U.S. Presidents (along with Washington and Lincoln). Roosevelt is credited with shepherding the U.S. through the Great Depression of the 1930s and instilling a sense of hope in the people during one of their darkest hours. Then, when the Axis countries tried to take over Europe and large parts of the Pacific, Roosevelt led the U.S. in its most difficult and dangerous war. By the time President Roosevelt died, the Allies were four weeks away from defeating Germany and victory over Japan was coming fast.

10. Many Americans felt as if their father had passed away when Franklin Roosevelt died. By his own admission, Harry Truman was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that had fallen onto his shoulders. Truman felt Roosevelt’s heritage keenly and was not comfortable changing any of the programs begun by his predecessor. Truman’s role, in the words of General Leslie Groves (the U.S. Army General in charge of the Manhattan Project), was that of “non-interference — basically a decision not to interfere with existing plans.” Cranston. Truman inherited, among other things, the armed forces of the United States which had been molded by Roosevelt into the fighting force that was winning the war. These armed forces had been conducting massive incendiary bombing attacks on civilian population centers. Truman also inherited the Manhattan Project. The attitude among the chief administrators of the project (Groves and scientist Robert Oppenheimer) and those few people in the government who knew about the Project, was that the atomic bomb, made at so much effort and cost, should be used if it would contribute to a quick ending of the war.

11. An unproven leader inheriting the office of a beloved and respected figure will (and should) seek legitimacy through consistency with the policies of his predecessor. Bureaucrats in the administration, including General Groves, could use this fact to seize the initiative and make decisions on their own in the name of continuity. ^^Sigal p. 210. In addition, leaving Truman’s personal allegiance to Roosevelt’s legacy aside, during the first months of his administration Truman had yet to prove himself as a national and world leader. It would be disastrous if he appeared weak. His ability to lead public opinion was extremely limited. After the nation had suffered so many dead and injured, Truman could easily anticipate being engulfed by a domestic political firestorm if he had declined to use a new and devastating weapon that could possibly have brought a quick end to the war. ^^Ibid. (As General Groves put it, Truman was “like a little boy on a toboggan.” Sigal at 211 citing Knebel and Baily, No High Ground p. 244.) Other observers asserted that Truman was just on autopilot with Roosevelt having set the bearings. Alan Cranston, “The Non-Event”, The New Republic, August 21-28, 1995. Truman was a courageous man, but as a practical matter this was asking a lot. Many have wondered what would have happened if the U.S. had the benefit of the secure and tested judgment of a healthy Franklin Roosevelt during 1945 and 1946. Roosevelt knew of the “catastrophic potentialities” of an atomic bomb and never once, even to such a close advisor as Henry L. Stimson, his Secretary of War, doubted that the atomic bomb should be used. “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947. The atomic bomb, however, was a mere possibility when Roosevelt died and, as the secret memorandum between Churchill and Roosevelt shows, no definite decision to use the bomb had been made. Albert Einstein believed that “if President Roosevelt had still been there, none of that [the use of the atomic bomb on a city] would have been possible. He would have forbidden such an act.” The Einstein quote is at Alperovitz p. 127, quoting Sunday Express (London) August 18, 1946.)

12. In April 1945, when Truman took office, the demand for unconditional surrender was set Allied policy. On May 8, 1945, Germany agreed to these terms. The Nazi government was completely destroyed and Germany was at the mercy of the victorious Allies. At the time of Roosevelt’s death, no decision had been made on how to end the war with Japan beyond the demand for unconditional surrender. The method of ending the Pacific war was to be the most important decision of Truman’s first year as president and perhaps the most important decision that Truman would ever make. The military planners provided Truman with several possibilities.

a. One possibility was an invasion. Plans developed by the Army called for two phases: The first, a landing on the Southernmost Japanese home island of Kyushu, was planned for November 1, 1945 with a second phase, attacking Honshu and the Tokyo Plain, scheduled for March, 1946. The Japanese Home Islands had not been invaded in recorded history. Extremely stiff resistance was expected, especially in light of the experience in Okinawa. The estimates of U.S. casualties in an invasion varied widely. Mid-range estimates for the first phase projected 132,000 U.S. casualties with 40,000 deaths. Some estimates were much higher, approaching one million casualties (deaths and injuries). Britannica Decision Article, p. 4, Conclusions from the American Federation of Scientists, and “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947. In addition, there were approximately 100,000 Allied prisoners of war held by Japan in 1945. These men were to be immediately put to death if there was an invasion. [*&* Have not been able to verify the number of prisoners.] The Japanese military planned to resist the invasion with heavy reliance on kamikaze planes, frogmen with explosives strapped to their bodies, dynamite-filled “crash boats”, human explosives who would throw themselves beneath tanks, and soldiers who would fight to the death and eschew surrender. Operation Ketsu-Go, Bix pp. 494 & 495 and ^^Butow p. 99. It was also pursuing a plan to mobilize the entire population to resist the invasion. Bix, 495. An invasion would also probably have resulted in the deaths of millions of Japanese soldiers as well as several million Japanese civilians from fighting, famine, and disease.

The Army had institutional interests in conquering Japan with an invasion, using the army and navy bombing from the air, including possibly the atomic bomb, to soften up Japanese defenses. For the Army, the need to prove its worth and importance through an invasion was important for many reasons including: (i) people in any military service want to believe that their work is the crucial work of winning the war; (ii) justifying requests for budget allocations then and after the war by proving their value to the war effort; and (iii) providing additional billets for officers after the war. These institutional needs are especially important at the end of a war when the military services are looking forward to the inevitable postwar downsizing. The analysis of the interests of the Army, Navy and the Manhattan Project is adapted from Sigal, e.g. pp. 178, 179, and 313.

Army Air Force generals (the land-based air force was at that time part of the Army) argued that conventional bombing such as the massive raids on Japanese cities would soon end the war. ^^Sigal p. 169. In June of 1945, Curtis LeMay, the Air Force General in charge of the bombing of Japan, estimated that by September or October 1945 the air force would have run out of industrial targets to bomb. Britannica Decision Article, p. 4. (Note that the Army Air Force officers wanted to be their own branch of the military, free from control by the Army. To get this they needed to prove the importance and value of strategic bombing (i.e., massive destruction of both military and civilian targets) in forcing the surrender of an enemy. Sigal p. 169. )

b. The U.S. Navy (including the carrier based naval aviators) took the position that the Japanese were ready to surrender due to the bombing from the air and the naval blockade (that had effectively separated Japan from the raw materials needed to pursue the war). This advice can be seen in the context of the Navy’s institutional interest in validation of its mission, post war budget share, ships and billets for officers and continued autonomy. The Navy was seeking, in postwar planning, a 300 ship navy, large enough to defeat all other navies combined and enough carriers for the ability to project air power around the globe.

c. The Manhattan Project, another Army effort, was also a Rooseveltian program. By the Spring of 1945, the atomic bomb had not yet been tested but “it was considered exceedingly probable that we should by midsummer have successfully detonated the first atomic bomb.” “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947. The Project had been conducted in almost complete secrecy, with no effective congressional oversite and with only the loosest of fiscal controls. The effort to develop the atomic bomb was a vast gamble because no one knew if it would actually explode. Nor did they know for sure how much power it would release or what the exact effects of that power would be.

Everyone involved with the Manhattan Project had an interest in seeing their $2 billion effort bore fruit and helped end the war. General Groves put the issue succinctly in a remark to his staff on Christmas Eve, 1944: “If this weapon fizzles, each of you can look forward to a lifetime of testifying before Congressional investigating committees.” See Sigal, p. 176 at f. 44 and Alperovitz p. 593. This was also true of everyone in the chain of command above General Groves, including Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who quipped, when the bomb was successfully tested “Now that it is successful I shall not be sent to prison in Fort Leavenworth”. Sigal 220 & 221.

d. The scientists leading the Manhattan project had additional important interests. They wanted the partnership of science and the government to succeed so that after the war, the government would see the need to support scientific research. Sigal, 177.

13. While only a few people knew about the existence of the atomic bomb before Hiroshima, there were those that objected to its use. After the threat of a German atomic bomb had been removed through the defeat of Germany, many Manhattan Project scientists and engineers suggested a demonstration of the bomb on an uninhabited or lightly settled area, witnessed by representatives of Japan and other nations. They suggested that this demonstration be the basis for the control of atomic energy by an international organization. The scientists correctly predicted a nuclear arms race with the Soviets if the bomb was used unilaterally to end the war. See the Franck Report and the Chicago petition. When they sought to meet with the President, the scientists were referred to James Byrnes, a Truman friend and advisor who was soon to be appointed Secretary of State. There is a question of whether the scientists’ concerns were ever reported to the President. Alan Cranston, “The Non-Event”, The New Republic, August 21-28, 1995. (Since the Russians were already spying on the Manhattan Project, the arms race had already begun.) Others, including distinguished officers in the Navy and the Army, also endorsed the demonstration explosion or simply opposed the use of the bomb.

14. There were five alternative methods for using the bomb that received consideration: (1) tactical use of the bomb targeting military installations, rail and communications, and troop concentrations to soften up resistance to the invasion; (2) a demonstration over but not on Japanese territory with international observers and a threat of further use on Japan itself if it did not surrender; (3) demonstration of the bomb against a purely military target, such as the remnants of the Japanese fleet; (4) target cities with warning; and (5) target cities without warning. It is not known whether all of these options were presented to President Truman Sigal pp. 179 – 181. There were advantages and disadvantages with each option.

15. Option 1: Tactical use of the bomb to support the invasion would expose U.S. troops to the as yet almost unknown risk of radiation. It was also a limited use which did not immediately focus in ending the war without an invasion, although tactical use before the invasion might provoke surrender.

16. Option 2: The demonstration option was considered but rejected. President Truman appointed a group of respected statesmen and scientists as an “Interim Committee”, headed by Stimson and Byrnes, to advise him on the use of the atomic bomb. By definition these men (other than Byrnes) had participated in the effort to develop the bomb. Otherwise, they would not have known about it. In a report to the “Interim Committee” a panel of distinguished scientists, headed by Dr. Oppenheimer, had stated that: “… [W]e can purpose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” Stoff, Michael B., Fanton, Jonathan F., and Williams, R. Hal, The Manhattan Project (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1991) quoted in The Manhattan Project: Ethical Debates Concerning the Use of the Atomic Bomb. Secretary of War Stimson stated that: “Nothing would have been more damaging to our effort to obtain a surrender than a warning or a demonstration followed by a dud — and this was a real possibility. Furthermore, we had no bombs to waste. It was vital that a sufficient effect be quickly obtained with the few we had … ” “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947 Other objections to a demonstration were that it would wipe out the element of surprise (which some contended was “extremely important” in convincing the Japanese to surrender), that the Japanese government could not be trusted to truthfully tell its people about such a demonstration, and that a demonstration would not have conveyed the destructive power of the bomb.

The “Interim Committee” rejected a demonstration or an advanced warning. It advocated use of the bomb against Japan as soon as possible without an advance warning. Britannica Decision Article, p. 2.

Note that years later Manhattan Project scientist Edward Teller, who became the main scientific proponent of developing the much more powerful hydrogen bomb and one of the most distinguished nuclear physicists in the U.S. noted that the explosion of an atomic bomb at 20,000 feet would have caused “tremendous sound and light effects but little loss of life or damage to property. We could have then said to the Japanese leaders: “This was an atomic bomb. One of them can destroy a city. Surrender or be destroyed! … I believe they would have surrendered just as they did following the destruction of the two cities. If that had happened it would have been a tremendous moral as well as military victory. … On the other hand, if they had failed to surrender they would have given us good reason for using the bomb as we did ….” *&* Cite?

Teller’s solution would have avoided some of the objections to a demonstration, i.e., it would not have been announced and therefore would not have undermined U.S. credibility if it hadn’t worked, it was the same technology as dropping a bomb on a city, and the Japanese government would have had difficulty disclosing to its people that a city could be destroyed by one American bomb. This solution would not have avoided a delusional Japan from thinking that this was the only U.S. bomb or that there was some makeshift defense that would work. Any demonstration would have provided the U.S. with the argument that it had tried not to use the bomb and to give a warning of its incredible power. And, if the demonstration had worked, it would have avoided using this devastating new weapon and killing several hundred thousand civilians.

17. Option 3: Demonstration against a purely military target has the same defects as a demonstration above Japan, only it adds an element of damage to military capabilities.

18. Option 4: The option of an attack on a city with warning (naming several possible targets) had the disadvantage of allowing Japanese civilians to leave the area and the disadvantage that all allied POWs could be moved to the potential sites.

19. Option 5; A surprise attack on a city, was the option selected. It was certainly the most devastating blow to Japan. It was in accordance with then current U.S. bombing policy which did not shy away from killing large numbers of civilians. “To Truman, the Rooseveltian legacy meant, above all achieving unconditional surrender as soon as possible. And maximum speed dictated maximum force.” Sigal p. 210 Many in the military and the administration saw the question of the use of the atomic bomb as a foregone conclusion. President Truman stated that “Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used.” Truman, Year of Decisions, p. 419.

20. It is important to note that while it was known that the Germans were working on an atomic bomb, Japan was never close to developing this weapon, and most people, including the U.S. government, didn’t know that it had ever tried.

21. There is little record of dissent in the government over the decision to use the bomb. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and not directly involved in the decision, recalled advising Secretary of War Stimson against using the bomb. Eisenhower later wrote, “… the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” Eisenhower remembers telling this to Secretary of War Stimson. “Ike on Ike,” Newsweek, 11/11/63, pg. 108. In addition, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff (who presided over meetings of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined U.S.-U.K. Chiefs of Staff) opposed using the bomb. He said: “[I]n being the first to use [the atomic bomb], we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” Leahy, page 441. It is highly unlikely that Leahy did not make his views known to President Truman, whom he saw every day. However, “Most civilian leaders, and military officials responsible for the development of the bomb clearly assumed that its military use, however unpleasant, was the inevitable outcome of the project.” Britannica Decision Article, p. 3. However, neither is there a record of any major U.S. military figure, other than Secretary of War Stimson, recommending surprise atomic attacks on Japan as a quick way to end the war.

22. After the war many high ranking military officers expressed the belief that the nuclear attacks did not hasten the end of the war. These include major military figures of the era and the post-war period: Admiral Leahy, (see Leahy, pg. 441: “use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan”), Douglas MacArthur (commander of Far Eastern forces during WWII and later in charge of U.N. forces during the Korean War; MacArthur was not even consulted and “saw no military justification”, quoted in Norman Cousins, The Pathology of Power, Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Curtis LeMay, Commander of the XXth Air Force and later Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander U.S. Third Fleet, and Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations. See generally, Alperovitz, 319 – 365.

The Strategic Bombing Survey conducted after the war found that, “Even before the large-scale bombing of Japan was initiated, the raw material base of Japanese industry was effectively undermined. An accelerated decline of armament production was inevitable. … [I]t is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to December 31, 1945, and in all probability prior to November 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped ….” Quoted in Nuclearfiles.org

Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, one of the most respected military figures of the Second World War, contended the decision to use atomic weapons involved such imponderable considerations as to remove it from the field of a military decision. Alperovitz, p. 364. He thought that the bomb “might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that, we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave–telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centers…. Every effort should be made to keep our record of warning clear. We must offset by such warning methods the opprobrium which might follow from an ill-considered employment of such force.” Alperovitz, p. 53.

Many of these statements served the interests of the service in which the officers served. The Navy had an interest in the blockade; the Air Force had an interest in showing that strategic bombing was effective; etc. However, most of these statements were made during the Truman administration, at a time when these military leaders would have little incentive to criticize the sitting President of the United States.


1. In 1945, an increasing number of Japanese political and governmental figures, including the Emperor and his influential Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, Marquis Koichi Kido, saw that the war had been lost. The military and its sympathizers, however, refused to accept reality. The activities of the end-the-war faction were constantly compromised by their fear of military reprisal, i.e., assassination or imprisonment. This fear was justified. As late as April 15, 1945 the military arrested 400 people, including high government officials, for end-the-war sentiments. In August, after the decision to surrender, there were efforts to secure a reversal of the decision by assassinating pro-end-the-war officials. (See discussion below.) However, several men, particularly, Foreign Minister Togo, Prime Minister Suzuki and Kido, took their lives in their hands to end the war. ^^Butow, pp. 47, 67,75(56n), 122 & 178-179; Sigal, pp. 48, 228-229; Butow p. 179, 222.

2. In early April, 1945, the elderly and politically inexperienced Admiral Kataro Suzuki was chosen as Japan’s Prime Minister. Suzuki was universally respected for his courage, integrity, and devotion to the Emperor. Suzuki had been seriously wounded in 1936 by a military fanatic. When he was appointed Prime Minister, Suzuki was given to understand that the Emperor was concerned over the plight of Japan and her people, the deaths from bombings and the losses on the battlefield. Suzuki was informed that the Emperor wanted the war brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. Suzuki chose as his Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, who had opposed the war from the beginning. Togo believed that Japan could not win against the U.S. and England. Togo had been Foreign Minister at the time of Pearl Harbor and had resigned from the war cabinet. Togo had a long interview with Suzuki and, while he found Suzuki not as determined to end the war as Togo would have liked, Togo was convinced by others that Suzuki could be worked with and he took the job. In a second interview, Suzuki accepted without reservation Togo’s position on Japan’s poor prospects in the war and stated that Togo would be free to act as he saw fit. ^^Butow pp. 61-67; Note, however, that Herbert P. Bix who has made a close study of the role of Kido and the Emperor during the war disagrees with this assessment and dates the beginning of the Emperor’s effort to surrender much later. See, e.g., Bix [*&* get the first site] page 495.

Suzuki however, wavered in his determination to end the war (^^Butow 97 – 100) and took many actions that supported the militarists. In addition, there was a tradition in Japanese politics called “haregei” — saying one thing and meaning another. This was especially important because of the ever present threat of assassination. Whatever Suzuki’s intentions were when he took office, studies that he had commissioned about Japan’s prospects in the war soon convinced him that Japan’s military position was hopeless. Eventually, after causing great concern to Togo and other end-the-war-advocates, Suzuki was instrumental in ending the war. Butow, p. 68 – 72.

3. For Japanese leaders, being in favor of ending the war stopped short of accepting “unconditional surrender.” The dependence of the ruling elite on the Emperor meant that even the strongest supporters of surrender would fall into line behind the fanatic militarists if the Emperor was not retained. Butow, pg. 141. In addition, they revered the Emperor and feared the destruction of the best possible principles of the Japanese state and society, which they considered to be embodied in the figure of the emperor, the kokutai (loosely translated as “national polity”) Bix, p. 10. However, the exact meaning of the term, whether it applied to the Emperor himself, or to the dynasty and many other particulars were the subject of substantial disagreement. See Bix, pp. 571 & 518.

4. In the Spring of 1945, with Japan being destroyed by U.S. strategic bombing, strangled by the blockade, and defeated on the ground by the U.S. Army and the Marines, the convictions of the end-the-war faction became even stronger. Generally, as the military situation deteriorated the political power of the military decreased. However, the military’s strategy, Operation Ketsu-Go provided that Japan would fight on, no matter how much the military situation deteriorated, hoping to inflict such severe casualties on the invading force that the Americans would be thrown back or would begin negotiations on a basis other than unconditional surrender. The only bright spots for the Japanese were that kamikaze tactics were proving effective and that the Army claimed to be stockpiling weapons, strengthening its kamikaze fleet, and organizing 29 new divisions, fifty-one infantry regiments, and many artillery and tank regiments to defend the homeland. Bix p. 487.

5. On June 8, 1945, at the request of the militarists and despite Togo’s warnings, the government adopted the “Fundamental Policy to be Followed Henceforth in the Conduct of the War”. This policy relied heavily on kamikaze tactics and provided for defeating (or at least inflicting heavy casualties) on the Americans when they attempted the invasion. It envisioned a fight to the bitter end by Japan’s hundred million people. The “Fundamental Policy” was approved by the Emperor although it was apparent that he was not comfortable with the decision. Kido reported that “discontent was written all over him.” Butow pp. 92 – 102, quotation from Butow p. 112, n. 1.

6. The Emperor’s unease was noted by Kido, the Lord Privy Seal. After the war, Kido claimed that he had been active in end-the-war efforts for some time and instrumental in the selection of Suzuki as Prime Minister. The traditional function of the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal was to keep the seals which were used on official Imperial commands, legislative acts and orders of the government. It was also his duty to advise the Emperor and to be in constant attendance. He was the eyes and ears of the throne, charged with keeping the Emperor informed of current events in the nation and the world at large. ^^Butow pp. 12 & 13, 63 & 64 and Sigal pp. Seeing the Emperor’s discontent as an opening, Kido developed a plan to force the military to accept mediation by the Soviet Union so that Japan could have peace with honor. This peace would be close to “unconditional surrender”. Japan would give up all the territories she had conquered and reduce her armaments and armed forces to the minimum needed for defense. However, Japan would retain its emperor. On June 9 Kido presented the plan to the Emperor and received his sanction to go forward. Kido immediately began enlisting the support of cabinet ministers for the plan. ^^Butow pp. 112 – 115.

7. Several days later, while Kido was sounding out government ministers, the Emperor received the results of a special report he had commissioned from a Navy Admiral on the state of the Japanese Navy. In short, while morale was high, training and materials were woefully inadequate. For example, the kamikaze attack units which were to provide the backbone of the homeland defense under the “Fundamental Policy” were inadequately trained and ill-equipped. They would be unable to cope with the demands of defending Japan from an invasion. At about the same time, the Emperor received a report on the preparedness of the Army which came to similar conclusions. The Emperor decided that “Japan’s preparations, both at home and abroad (China), ‘were so extremely inadequate as to render it absolutely essential to end the war without delay.'”^^Butow pp. 115 & 116, quotation from note 13; Segal p. 234.

8. By June 19, Kido had secured the approval of the government to seek Soviet mediation. However, because a contrary policy had been adopted on June 8 at an Imperial conference, Kido felt that to get the military to permit full pursuit of mediation, he needed the personal intervention of the Emperor. At an Imperial conference called on July 22, the Emperor told the military leaders that, “We have heard enough of this determination of yours to fight to the last soldiers. We wish that you, leaders of Japan, will now strive to study the ways and means to conclude the war. In so doing, try not to be bound by the decisions you have made in the past.” The quote is from Decision that Launched but no source is given for the quotation; Butow phrases it “the Emperor asked if an excess of caution might not result in Japan’s losing the right moment altogether.” Butow p. 120; Segal at p. 235 & 236 reports that “Hirohito expressed the desire that they ‘study concrete means’ for ending the war and ‘strive for prompt realization’.” The Japanese effort to convince the Soviets to mediate between Japan and the U.S. lasted until shortly before the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, August 9, 1945.

9. Beginning on July 11 and continuing through July 26, cables from the Japanese Foreign Minister to his ambassador in Moscow repeatedly instructed the ambassador to ask the Soviets to serve as a mediator in peace negotiations with the U.S. However, none of these cables indicated that the only exception to “unconditional surrender” was retention of the Emperor. In fact, the telegram of July 25 states that “it is impossible to accept unconditional surrender under any circumstances, but we should like to communicate to the other party through appropriate channels that we have no objection to a peace based on the Atlantic Charter.” Hiroshima: Was it Necessary? citing U.S. Dept. of State, Potsdam 2, pg. 1- 1261. These messages were intercepted and decoded by U.S. Intelligence and sent to President Truman. (The Atlantic Charter provided for “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live;”) On July 30, the Japanese Ambassador to Moscow informed the Soviet Foreign Ministry that while unconditional surrender was “out of the question” the Japanese government desired to end the war “on broad terms of compromise” Butow p. 150; the cables are more fully described in Hiroshima: Was it Necessary?

10. Japan’s ambassador to Moscow warned his superiors that the Russians would not cooperate with the request to mediate. Butow, p. 128 at note 53. No one in the Japanese government knew that Stalin had already secretly agreed with the Allies at Yalta to enter the war against Japan within two or three months after the German surrender. CNN Interactive: The Yalta Agreement and Butow, p. 90. But more importantly, the Russians (who had a long history of enmity against the Japanese) had no interest in mediating a settlement of the U.S./Japanese War before the Red Army had been able to make its presence felt in the Far East and was in a position to take what the USSR wanted. ” … [T]he issue of helping Japan get out of the war before the Soviet Union could get into it must have seemed ludicrous to the Kremlin.” ^^Butow p. 129.


1. After the defeat of Germany, the U.S. and Britain began to move the bulk of their forces to Asia to finish off Japan. At the same time, many disputes with Russia arose over its insistence on dominating Eastern Europe. A conference of the big three (U.S., U.S.S.R. and Great Britain) to settle these disputes and plan for the post-war period had been tentatively scheduled for Potsdam, Germany (a suburb of Berlin) in the early Summer of 1945. In May 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, trying to get Truman to the Potsdam conference in June, said “I am profoundly concerned about the European situation. … Anyone can see that in a very short space of time our armed power on the Continent will have vanished. …. This issue of settlement with Russia before our strength has gone seems to me to dwarf all others.” Quoted in Alperovitz, p. 139. See also Alperovitz at 135.

2. Leo Szilard was a Hungarian born scientist and protege of Albert Einstein. Szilard was the first to theorize that in the right circumstances nuclear fission could lead to a chain reaction and possibly a bomb of incredible power. It was at Szilard’s request that Einstein wrote the letters to President Roosevelt that got the Manhattan Project started. Szilard was also one of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago Metalurgical Laboratory. On May 28, 1945, Szilard and three other scientists met with Jimmie Byrnes, soon to become U.S. Secretary of State, and a close advisor to President Truman. They pressed their position that the U.S. should not use an atomic bomb on Japanese cities. Szilard reports that: “Mr. Byrnes did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war. He knew at that time, as the rest of the government knew, that Japan was essentially defeated and that we could win the war in another six months. At that time Mr. Byrnes was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe … [Mr. Byrnes’ view was] that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe ….” Alperovitz at 146 & 7, quoting Szilard “A Personal History of the AtomicBombm”, pp. 14 – 15;

3. The U.S. government at the highest levels had been informed of the Japanese attitude toward the Emperor, and that unless the Allies gave assurances for his safety and the continuation of the imperial throne, the Japanese people, as well as the Army, would probably fight to the last man. Alperovitz pp. 36 &37 Joseph Grew was Under Secretary of State and former ambassador to Japan. On May 28, Grew met with President Truman and presented a memorandum that stated:

… [T]he Japanese are a fanatical people and are capable of fighting to the last ditch and the last man …. The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the throne. If some indication can now be given the Japanese that they themselves .. will be permitted to determine their own future political structure, they will be afforded a method of saving face without which surrender will be highly unlikely…. The idea of depriving the Japanese of their Emperor and emperorship is unsound for the reason that the moment our backs are turned (and we cannot afford to occupy Japan permanently) the Japanese would undoubtedly put the Emperor and emperorship back again.” Walter Johnson, ed., Turbulent Era, Joseph Grew, Vol. 2, pg. 1428-1429)

Ambassador Grew went on to review Japanese history, asserting that the institution of the Emperor was not the cause of the war, but rather was subject to the dictates of right wing militarists. He then stated that, “The foregoing facts do not in any way clear Hirohito from responsibility for the war for, having signed the declaration of war, the responsibility was squarely on his shoulders. The point at issue is that the extremist group would have had their way whether the Emperor had signed or not.” Grew continued to say that once the militarists were discredited by defeat, the new leaders of Japan could use the emperorship as a symbolic cornerstone for building a peaceful future for Japan. Ibid at 1430 – 1431.

At that time, Under Secretary Grew was recognized to be the government’s expert on Japan see, e.g., I was There by William D. Leahy, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., (**) pg. 274). However, Grew was a conservative Republican with a history of being protective of the Emperor and Japan’s conservative “moderates.” Bix, p. 499. As one would expect, there had been situations in which Grew had misjudged the Japanese political situation. Grew’s views on the Emperor were opposed by a faction in the State Department, including future Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Ibid.

Grew was not alone in his views. Secretary of War Stimson and the Chiefs of Staff had also advocated clarification of the meaning of “unconditional surrender” to include an explicit offer to keep the Emperor. ^^Alperovitz, pp. 73 – 79. The military, especially, pointed to the advantages of Imperial cooperation in the occupation. Unless there was a command from the Emperor, most of the 5,000,000 Japanese men under arms would fight to the death, causing many U.S. casualties. Butow, 139 (particularly notes 79 and 80) and 140; Sigal, pp. 87 – 145.

4. Truman, hoping for a successful test of the atomic bomb, was willing to delay the Potsdam conference, and did. After the U.S. had demonstrated the will to use the atomic bomb and its devastating effects on a real city were seen, the power of the vast Red Army would be checked by the power of the bomb. (One of the reasons that the U.S. was able to reduce its armies and keep defense spending to manageable levels during the Cold War (1945 – 1991) was the existence of its nuclear deterrent.)

As the history of the Soviet Union has shown us, it was a good thing to limit the extent of Soviet Power. Life under Stalin was, in many respects, dreadful. See The Inner Circle. U.S. possession of an atomic bomb and the demonstration that we had the will to use it, may have discouraged Russian grabs for power in Asia and Europe.

5. Neither the U.S. nor Japan could rely upon Stalin to do anything that was not in his best interests. Shortly before his death, upon hearing of the latest Soviet breach of the Yalta agreements, President Roosevelt reportedly banged his fist on his wheelchair and said: “Averell [Harriman, ambassador to Moscow] is right. We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.” Britannica Online Article on Normandy 6. In late July, just before the first test of the atomic bomb, President Truman journeyed to Potsdam and continued U.S. policy to push Stalin for a firm commitment that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan as soon as possible. This would put immense pressure on the Japanese to surrender. When Stalin finally promised that the USSR would enter the war no later than August 15, Truman was elated.

7.. The test of the atom bomb occurred in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. It was “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of anyone” yielding a power of between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT. General Groves sent a full report to the Secretary of War. It describes the flash, the intense heat, the shockwave and contains the following paragraph:

One-half mile from the explosion there was a massive steel test cylinder weighing 220 tons. The base of the cylinder was solidly encased in concrete. Surrounding the cylinder was a strong steel tower 70 feet high, firmly anchored to concrete foundations. This tower is comparable to a steel building bay that would be found in typical 15 or 20 story skyscraper or in warehouse construction. Forty tons of steel were used to fabricate the tower which was 70 feet high, the height of a six story building. The cross bracing was much stronger than that normally used in ordinary steel construction. The absence of the solid walls of a building gave the blast a much less effective surface to push against. The blast tore the tower from its foundations, twisted it, ripped it apart and left it flat on the ground. The effects on the tower indicate that, at that distance, unshielded permanent steel and masonry buildings would have been destroyed. I no longer consider the Pentagon a safe shelter from such a bomb. Enclosed are a sketch showing the tower before the explosion and a telephotograph showing what it looked like afterwards. None of us had expected it to be damaged. Report of the Trinity Test by General Groves.

However, members of the Truman administration argued that:

” … [W]hen the bomb was used, before it was used and at the time it was used, we had no basic concept of the damage that it would do. We thought it would do a great deal, but we didn’t know at the time whether the explosion might not be a little too high or a little too low….” John J. McCloy, assistant to Secretary of War Stimson. “The Scientists: Their Views Twenty Years Later,” by William L. Laurence in Hiroshima Plus 20 prepared by The New York Times
On the other hand, Stimson had given Groves’ report to Truman and the President knew enough about the power of the bomb so that when he told Winston Churchill about the test results Churchill remarked, “This is the Second Coming, in wrath.” Britannica on Line – The American Presidential Election – Harry S. Truman: Announcement of the Dropping of an Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima. Secretary of War Stimson recognized that “the atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon” as well. … ‘it was the experience of what an atomic bomb would actually do to a community, plus the dread of many more that was effective.'” (emphasis in the original) ^^”The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947; the internal quote is from Dr. Karl Compton, a distinguished scientist.

8. President Truman had delayed the Potsdam meeting so that he would have news of the test before he started what was expected to be hard bargaining with the Russians. Alperovitz 138 – 144. He was immediately informed of the test results and it strengthened his hand with the Russian dictator.

9. As late as when the Potsdam Proclamation was being put in its final form, Secretary of War Stimson lobbied to add a phrase that the government selected by the Japanese people “may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty.” This language was omitted from the final declaration. Hiroshima: Was it Necessary? citing U.S. Dept. of State, Potsdam 1, pg. 889-894 and Diary of Henry L. Stimson, 7/24/45, Yale Univ. Library, New Haven, Conn. At Potsdam, British Chiefs of Staff, at the request of the U.S. Chiefs of Staff, asked Prime Minister Churchill to persuade President Truman to clarify assurances for the Emperor. Churchill complied, but the language was dropped anyway. Alperovitz, p. 364, 242-8; 299-300; for additional detail see Kathryn C. Morris, H-JAPAN, Nov. 9, 1996.

10. American public opinion across the board was enraged at Hirohito as the symbol of the forces that had driven Japan to launch an aggressive, imperialistic war characterized by repeated atrocities against civilians and POWs. Most wanted him removed and many assumed he would be hanged. Only a few expected that the institution of the throne would be allowed to continue after the war. Britannica Decision Article, p. 5. U.S. government officials had often condemned the Emperor. Truman and Secretary of State Burns were leery of public reaction to a sudden change of position, treating Hirohito differently than the German leaders. Sigal, pp 112 – 145 & 154. Giving immunity to the Emperor would have (and later did) constitute a substantial turning away from the principle that war criminals would be prosecuted and that their victims would have justice. (More of this below.) In addition, providing this concession in advance would very likely have been considered a sign of weakness and resulted in prolonging the war. Secretary of State Byrnes advocated this position. (He had reason, see e.g., Suzuki’s response to the Potsdam Proclamation, below at Section VI para. 2.)

1. On July 26, the U.S., Great Britain and China issued the Potsdam Proclamation which made no specific mention of the status of the Emperor. The declaration stated in relevant part that:

3. … The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland….

4. The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.

5. Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.

6. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest ….

9. The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.

10. We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established. …

11. Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.

12. The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

13. We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

12. Considering the fact that the war in the Pacific had resulted in the deaths of tens of millions, injuries to many more millions, and billions in property damages, and that in the process Japanese troops had committed many atrocities and war crimes, the Potsdam Proclamation was a generous and forgiving definition of “unconditional surrender.” The Potsdam Proclamation gave no warning that the U.S. had a new weapon that would cause unprecedented destruction.


1. When the Japanese government received the Potsdam Proclamation, initially, it couldn’t decide how to react. On July 27, in a meeting of the “Supreme War Direction Council” the military, despite Japan’s desperate situation, wanted to reject the Proclamation outright. Foreign Minister Togo thought that this would be a disaster and destroy the chance to negotiate an end to the war before a U.S. invasion. Pointing out that Russia was not a signatory to the Proclamation, Togo secured an agreement not to respond but to “wait to see what the response of the USSR would be” to Japan’s mediation request. This response was endorsed by the cabinet later that day. Sigal p. 149 & 150. However, the Allies were publicizing the Proclamation through radio broadcasts aimed at Japan and leaflets dropped by U.S. planes. The Japanese Army field commanders and others demanded an outright rejection in order to keep up morale. Silence was deemed a sign that the government was considering the proposal. At a regularly scheduled meeting between the Government and the Supreme Command, Togo being absent on other business, a decision was made to change course. At a press conference that afternoon Prime Minister Suzuki read a prepared statement asserting that the Potsdam Proclamation was “nothing but a rehash” of previous Allied ultimatums and that “[a]s for the government, it does not find any important value in it and there is no other recourse but to ignore it entirely and resolutely fight for the successful conclusion of this war.” Sigal pp. 151 & 152, footnotes omitted. ) The term mokusatsu was used to describe the government’s attitude. Mokusatsu means to take no notice of, to ignore, to treat with silent contempt. Butow pp. 145 & 146.

2. Suzuki and the Japanese military interpreted the liberal terms of the Potsdam Proclamation as a sign of Allied weakness. When representatives of some of the largest business concerns in Japan recommended acceptance of the Proclamation because the U.S. would allow Japan to retain its nonmilitary industries, he responded, “For the enemy to say something like this that means circumstances have arisen that force them also to end the war. That is why they are talking about unconditional surrender. Precisely at a time like this, if we hold firm, then they will yield before we do.” Quoted at Bix, p. 503. See also 501. Between July 26 and August 6, neither Hirohito nor Suzuki did anything to respond to the Potsdam Proclamation. Ibid at 502 & 3. During that 10 day period Japanese deaths from conventional bombing exceeded 10,000 people. Bix, p. 522.

3. Underlying the failure to respond promptly to the Potsdam Proclamation was the hope that mediation through the Soviet Union would work. The Japanese government completely miscalculated in its approach to Stalin. Sigal p. 152. It hoped that he would see the value of a strong Japan as a counterweight in the Pacific to the power of the U.S. In addition, those who were seeking surrender could never obtain the consent of the military to direct talks with the U.S. until the effort to get the Soviets to mediate had failed. (Again “Most Japanese officials were concerned less about reactions in Washington than about reactions at home.)” Sigal pp. 152 & 153.


1. Stalin had told Harry Hopkins, the U.S. official who was in Moscow in late May to make arrangements for the Potsdam conference, that the USSR wanted a zone of occupation in Japan. Sigal, 115 & 116. However, the disputes that led to the Cold War began almost as soon as Germany fell. U.S. officials didn’t want similar problems in the Far East, especially in Japan. Moreover, U.S. government officials knew that in the postwar tests of strength and resolve that were already occurring in Europe, the U.S. would gain substantial strategic advantages if the Russians knew that the U.S. had an atomic bomb and the will to use it.

2. U.S. casualties, while reduced in July, continued to mount. On July 29, a U.S. Navy ship, the Indianapolis, was sunk by a Japanese submarine and 883 lives were lost. An Account of the Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis at TexasEscapes.com

3. It was only after the Potsdam Proclamation was rejected by the Japanese that a final decision to use atomic bombs was made. The decision of when to drop the bombs was not precisely calibrated by U.S. military or political leaders to have particular political or psychological affects on the Japanese decision-makers. The selection of targets was made by General Groves and his team with some intervention by Secretary of War Stimson, who deleted Kyoto (Japan’s cultural capital) from the list of targets. The timing of the bombings was left up to standard operating procedures of the Army Air Force. In addition, orders as to the date of the bombing were misinterpreted or ignored on several occasions based on bureaucratic interests (i.e., General Groves had an interest in getting the bombs dropped as soon as possible to justify the Manhattan Project) and standard operating procedures. Sigal 211-218


1. The first atomic bomb was dropped without warning on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. The bomb exploded 1850 feet above the ground and only 800 feet off its target, the Aioi Bridge. According to a 1946 study by the Manhattan Project, 255,000 people were in the city and some 66,000 (25%) died instantly or within the next four months, with 69,000 (29%) being injured. Burns accounted for 60% of the injuries and falling debris accounted for 30%. The Avalon Project. Note that other estimates are higher both in terms of total population. For example, tens of thousands of Korean slave laborers in the city were probably not counted. See discussion at How many died at Hiroshima?. Within the four square miles of the city of Hiroshima, 48,000 out of 76,000 buildings were completely demolished. Ninety percent of the city’s doctors and nurses were killed, so that the injured who managed to drag themselves to the hospitals often lay untreated and, because of their horrific burns, unrecognized. Many people had the experience of having the person walking beside them seem to disappear. Indeed, some were so totally vaporized that only their shadows remained on the walls. The government in Tokyo knew that the “The whole city of Hiroshima was destroyed by a single bomb” the next day. ^^Butow, pp. 150 & 151.

2. When Hirohito learned of the Hiroshima bombing he said to Kido, the Lord Privy Seal, “Under these circumstances, we must bow to the inevitable. No matter what happens to my safety, we must put an end to this war as speedily as possible so that this tragedy will not be repeated.” Sigal at 225 and Butow, p. 152, note 152. The bombing was not demoralizing out of the target areas because of lack of communication. Most of Japan simply didn’t know what happened to Hiroshima. Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific), Effects of Atomic Bombs, p. 23.

3. On August 6, the U.S. dropped leaflets warning Japanese citizens that the U.S. had a new and powerfully destructive weapon. It asked them to petition the emperor to end the war and to evacuate their cities.

4. On August 8, Foreign Minister Togo met with the Emperor to tell him what he knew of the Hiroshima bombing. They agreed that the time had come to end the war at once. Hiroshima: Was It Necessary? citing Pacific War Research Society, DML, pg. 300; Pacific War Research Society, JLD, pg. 21-22. The Emperor told Togo, “Tell Suzuki it is my wish that the war be ended as soon as possible on the basis of the Potsdam Proclamation.” This, however, was not an order as much as it was an expression of the Emperor’s desire. While such an expression of Imperial desire was very persuasive, and perhaps determinative, under Japan’s constitution, only the Cabinet had the official power to set the terms of surrender. Butow, p. 153 Note 37.

5. The atomic bombings were followed up by continued air raids using conventional weapons. Some of these were massive.

6. On August 8, the Soviet Union notified the Japanese that on the next day, it would declare war on Japan. A Soviet declaration of war against Japan had been dreaded by the Japanese for years. They had sought assiduously to keep the Soviet Union neutral. While many in the Japanese army and in the country at large did not immediately learn of the atomic bombings, the Soviet declaration of war was known throughout the army and was a great shock. Sigal, p. 225 & 226. They knew that the implication was eventual defeat. Alperovitz, ^^pp. 19, 20, 117 & 118. On August 9, the Soviet Union declared war and Soviet troops attacked Japanese positions in Manchuria. ^^Butow, 153 & 154 The Japanese defense in Manchuria, depleted by transfers to the Home Islands in preparation for the defense of the invasion, could not repulse the Soviet attack. Ibid. This was an additional shock to the Japanese rulers. When he learned that the Red Army was overrunning large amounts of territory, Prime Minister Suzuki said, “Is the [Japanese Army in Manchuria] that weak? Then the game is up.” Sigal citing Japanese sources at p. 226.

7. The “Fat Man” atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki at about 11:00 a.m. on August 9, the same day that the Soviets declared war on Japan. The second atomic attack killed another 40,000 people immediately (eventually 140,000 died from this blast). The second atomic bombing was immediately reported to Tokyo.

8. Still, the Japanese military leaders held out for a final battle. Their only bargaining chip was the threat to exact a high price from the invading force. Sigal p. 227 A meeting of the Supreme War Council was held the morning of August 9 to consider the Soviet Declaration of War. It lasted into the afternoon and during the meeting, news of the Nagasaki bombing was received. The military agreed to negotiations with the U.S. based upon the Potsdam Proclamation. The question was how many conditions the Japanese government would put on acceptance of the Proclamation. The military services wanted four conditions: (1) retention of the Emperor, (2) self-disarmament, (3) the Japanese would try their own war criminals, and (4) limitations on the occupation. Foreign Minister Togo proposed limiting the conditions to one, retention of the Emperor and the imperial system. Foreign Minister Togo noted that as time went on Japan got weaker. The military countered that it had enough capacity left for one more big campaign (the defense of the invasion) and that this would give Japan something to bargain with. They asserted that relative strength was not as important as “the willingness of the Americans to bear the costs of invasion in order to avoid any concessions.” The meeting deadlocked. Bix, 512 – 515; Sigal pp. 237 – 239. The Japanese had no idea that the U.S. had used both of its atomic bombs and that it would be at least mid-August before another would be ready. There was a rumor that Tokyo was the next target. Yet, still the government was at an impasse.

9. A cabinet meeting later in the day got no further on the question of how to respond to the Potsdam Proclamation. Usually, a deadlock in the Cabinet required the resignation of the government. However, because of the emergency, an audience with the Emperor was scheduled for midnight. The proponents stated their positions at length. Butow 169- 174. Finally, Prime Minister Suzuki told the Emperor that “Your Imperial Majesty’s decision is requested as to which proposal shall be adopted — the one stated by the Foreign Minister or the one containing the four conditions.” Butow at 174 & 5. The Emperor took action to break the stalemate: “‘I agree with the proposal of the Foreign Minister”. This proposal advocated accepting the Potsdam terms with one condition, the preservation of the monarchy. Hirohito noted the errors in previous military predictions, the fact that fortifications at likely invasion sites were not finished, and the failure to meet production goals for critical matériel, specifically aircraft. He questioned the likelihood of repelling the invasion. The intensifying air raids, he noted, were only adding to popular distress. Now he said, “is the time to bear the unbearable.” Sigal p. 242

10. Later that morning (August 10), the Cabinet met and officially adopted the Emperor’s position. Japan then sent an offer to the U.S. to surrender through the Swiss embassy. It accepted the Potsdam terms but stated that, “The Japanese Government are ready to accept the terms enumerated in the joint declaration which was issued at Potsdam on July 26th, 1945 by the heads of the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, and China, and later subscribed by the Soviet Government, with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.” See Offer of Surrender from Japanese Government.

11. Some high government officials and members of the ruling class were worried about the domestic reaction among the people against the Emperor for leading Japan into a disastrous war. Bix, pp. 488 – 491. They saw in the combination of the atomic bombing and Soviet declaration of war, a “gift from the gods”, because it allowed Japan to surrender without reference to domestic unrest. Bix, pages 508 – 511.


1. In July, 1945 there was a very real possibility that the Japanese government might determine upon resistance to the end, in all the areas of the Far East under its control. In such an event the Allies would be faced with the enormous task of destroying an armed force of five million men, backed by 5,000 suicide aircraft, which had demonstrated its willingness to fight literally to the death.” “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947 and analysis which follows.

2. By the time the U.S. received the Japanese note seeking one condition to the Potsdam terms, President Truman had received detailed reports and photographs from Hiroshima. He did not want to use a third atomic bomb solely for the purpose of deposing Hirohito. He told his cabinet that the thought of killing another 100,000 people — many of them children — was too horrible. Btitannica Article Nor did Truman want the large number of Allied casualties which would be incurred in any invasion. In addition, even before Potsdam and the nuclear attacks, there had been a growing realization in some sectors of the U.S. government that without the Emperor’s cooperation, the management of Japanese society after the war would be extremely difficult, requiring manpower and a length of commitment that the U.S. public would not permit. Sigal p. 115 & 131. As Stimson put it, in remarks to the President at the meeting held to decide how to respond to the Japanese communique: “the Emperor was the only source of authority under the Japanese theory of the state.” An Emperor “under our command and supervision” could arrange the surrender of the many scattered armies of the Japanese who would respect no other authority. He stressed that this would save the U.S. “from a score of bloody Iwo Jimas and Okinawas” all over Japanese held territory. Grew, at pp. 1427 note 12, quoting Stimson and Bundy, On Active Service.

3. Secretary of State Byrnes and President Truman were concerned with limiting U.S. casualties. They were also worried that if the U.S. reversed itself on the Emperor, after so many Washington officials had reviled the Emperor for so long, the political repercussions could be terrible. This proved to be the telling point. It was agreed to finesse the Japanese demand for a condition to a clarification by the U.S. of what unconditional surrender meant. The Allied response was written by Secretary of State Byrnes and approved by the governments of China, Britain and Russia. It stated that:

With regard to the Japanese Government’s message accepting the terms of the Potsdam proclamation but containing the statement, ‘with the understanding that the said declaration does not comprise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler,’ our position is as follows:

From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate the surrender terms.

The Emperor will be required to authorize and ensure the signature by the Government of Japan and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters of the surrender terms necessary to carry out the provisions of the Potsdam Proclamation, and shall issue his commands to all the Japanese military, naval and air authorities and to all the forces under their control wherever located to cease active operations and to surrender their arms, and to issue such other orders as the Supreme Commander may require to give effect to the surrender terms.

Immediately upon the surrender the Japanese Government shall transport prisoners of war and civilian internees to places of safety, as directed, where they can quickly be placed aboard Allied transports.

The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Proclamation, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.

The armed forces of the Allied Powers will remain in Japan until the purposes set forth in the Potsdam Proclamation are achieved. Reply to Japanese Surrender Offer.

While the response did not grant the request, it didn’t reject it. It implied that the Emperor would remain the head of the Japanese government, at least through the surrender process, but reiterated that the Japanese people would determine their own form of government. ^^Butow pp. 190 & 191. This was not a commitment to retaining the Emperor and left open the option of trying the Emperor as a war criminal or refusing to retain the Imperial system if the Emperor had not proved useful to the occupation authority. However, since it did not clearly respond to the issue of the Emperor’s status it could be regarded as a hint that the emperor’s position might be retained. Bix, p. 504, 518 & 519.

In his book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, historian Herbert P. Bix concluded that adherence to the monarchy was so strong that there was little interest in Japan for a democratic society. He contended that Under Secretary of State Grew had little understanding of Japanese society. Thus, it was very unlikely that modification of the principle of unconditional surrender before Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed would have shortened the war and permitted the Allies to dismantle the political institutions of Japanese society.Bix, p. 518. 5. After August 10 there were calls for a halt in the conventional bombing, but President Truman rejected them, ordering that the war be maintained at its then present intensity with the exception that no more atomic bombs be used. ^^Sigal, p. 252 Massive conventional bombing by the U.S. continued after the atomic bomb attacks and until Japan gave formal notice of its surrender. On August 13 U.S. Navy planes attacked Tokyo. On midnight, August 14-15, the Army Air Force mounted its largest raid on Japan, sending a thousand planes to bomb Japanese cities. Seeing the end of the war, the Army Air Force and the pilots of the Navy carrier attack fleet wanted to prove their value for the postwar period. Sigal, pp. 3, 8 and ^^252 – 256.


1. With Japan’s military situation deteriorating by the hour, the end-the-war advocates “[i]n spite of the element of personal danger which still remained” were prepared to act boldly recognizing “in the atomic bomb and the Soviet entry into the war not just an imperative need to give in but actually a supreme opportunity to turn the tide against the die-hards and to shake the government loose from the yoke of military oppression under which it had been laboring so long.” Butow p. 158 Koichi Kido, the Lord Privy Seal, and one of emperor Hirohito’s closest advisors stated that “We of the peace party were assisted by the atomic bomb in our endeavor to end the war”. Hisatsune Sakomizu the chief Cabinet secretary in 1945 called the bombing “a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war”. Akio Morita, founder of Sony and Japanese Naval officer during the war, contends that it was the atomic bomb and not conventional bombings from B-29’s that convinced the Japanese military to agree to peace. — See Wikipedia article

2. When the U.S. response was received, it was more stern and less specific than the end-the-war advocates had hoped. After evaluating the text in detail, they agreed that Japan should accept. ^^Butow, p. 192 – 194. In order to make surrender more palatable to the Emperor and the hard liners, the end-the-war faction mistranslated several key words. In the operative sentence of the Byrne reply, which discussed the authority of the Japanese Emperor and the Japanese government, the words “shall be subject to” the Supreme commander of the Allied Powers were change to “shall be circumscribed by” the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. Bix, *&*

3. The Emperor told Foreign Minister Togo that the response was “satisfactory” and that “we should accept it as it stood.” ^^Butow p. 194, n. 13; Sigal p. 256 & 257. The Emperor had now dropped the requirement that he receive a firm promise of his own safety and the maintenance of the throne. Sigal p. 256. The implication from the mistranslation would do.

Professor Bix notes that the men around the Emperor believed that continuation of the war would lead to more destruction, that hostility to the military was increasing, the people were war weary and that criticism of the emperor as an incompetent leader was increasing. Bix, p. 523.

4. On the 20th, Japan’s six-member Supreme Council For the Direction of the War voted on whether to accept the Allied terms for surrender. Three members favored immediate surrender, but War Minister Amanimi, the Army Chief of Staff, and the Navy Chief of Staff adamantly refused. A tie vote meant no recommendation for surrender. Hiroshima: Was It Necessary? citing Butow, pp. 200 – 2002). The Japanese Cabinet was the only body with the constitutional power to order surrender, but the vote had to be unanimous. The Cabinet met later on the 13th. The War Minister led opposition to surrender and the vote was 12 to surrender 3 to continue the fight and 1 abstention. Again, unanimity was required to surrender and the military had effectively blocked the efforts of the end-the-war faction. Butow, pp. 176-177, 208(43n) and Sigal, 265-267.

5. On August 14th, the War Council was still split on whether to surrender. The heads of the military were arguing that there was still a chance for victory. Sigal 268 & 269. The Emperor summoned the chief military and political leaders to the palace for a conference. The various factions were allowed to present their position. Butow p. 207. The Emperor then spoke.

… [M]y decision, as given previously, remains unchanged. After careful study of the world situation and conditions at home, I have arrived at the conclusion, that it is pointless to continue the war any longer. On the question of the national polity [the maintenance of the imperial system] I am aware that there remains considerable doubt in your minds; but reading between the lines I interpret this reply to mean that they are quite sympathetic. Your suspicions about their attitude may be justified, but I for one do not wish to entertain any such doubts. Sigal, 269; Butow pp. 207 & 208.

Some historians see this as a recognition by Hirohito that the national interest, as he defined it, transcended his personal interest and the organizational interest of the Imperial household.” Sigal p. 269 & 270 However, other historians, point to comments made by Hirohito to members of the Imperial Family when he announced his decision to surrender. One of the princes asked whether the war would be continued if the Kokutai could not preserved and Hirohito replied, “Of course.” Bix at p. 519.

6. No Japanese military figure counseled surrender at any time during the war. Britannica Decision Article, p. 5. The Emperor’s commands placed the military in a difficult situation. Over several decades and during the war, the Japanese military had obtained the assent of the Japanese people to their plans for conquest by emphasizing the divinity of the emperor and acting in his name. They could not stand against his express wishes. Butow, page 224. War Minister Amani, the main opponent of surrender acceded to the emperor’s request put it this way: “As a Japanese soldier, I must obey my Emperor” Butopp.p 228 – 232; Hiroshima: Was It Necessary? citing Pacific War Research Society, JLD, pg. 87-88.

7. “The only reason the Japanese Army stopped fighting was [because] the Emperor ordered them to do so.” Kido, Lord Privy Seal Segal pp. 280 & 281. However, some young officers did not obey the Emperor’s orders and attempted a coup d’etat. They killed the commander of the Imperial Guards when he would not joint the plot. They then faked orders from the dead commander and obtained control over the Imperial Guards. Kido and another palace official had to go into hiding to avoid assassination. Gangs led by military officers roamed through Tokyo trying to find and kill end-the-war supporters, and Japanese Air Force Planes dropped leaflets on Tokyo asking the people to ignore the Emperor’s message of surrender.

8. War Minister Amani was approached by the coup plotters and was sympathetic, failing to imprison the coup plotters and giving them advice. However, after the Imperial conference when the Emperor stated his final and irrevocable “decision” to surrender Amanimi fell into line and later committed hari kiri. ^^Butow pp. 210 – 227; Sigal pp. 260-262, 266, 267, & 276. Most historians contend that these coup attempts did not amount to much because no substantial body of troops ever joined the rebellion. See e.g., Box at p. 519.

9. The use of the atomic bomb sparked no significant international protests in 1945. The Japanese were in no position to say anything and there was little sympathy for a country whose aggression and harsh policies had been responsible for the deaths of millions. Many Americans, however, believed that the world had been profoundly changed for the worse by the use of the atomic bomb. H.V. Kaltenborn, a popular radio commentator, declared that “For all we know, we have created a Frankenstein,”. Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, declared that modern man was obsolete. In an article for the New Yorker the writer John Hersey detailed the horrible effects of the atomic bomb on six Japanese civilians, putting a face on the suffering of the victims. Later, this article was expanded into the book Hiroshima published in 1946. Britannica Decision Article p. 7.


Soon after Japan surrendered, Emperor Hirohito paid a visit to General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. MacArthur arranged for this one photo to be taken, sending a message to the Japanese people leaving do doubt who was stronger and who was in charge. Initially, the Japanese government tried to ban the photograph but U.S. Military authorities stepped in and required that it be published. Bix pp. 548-551

Immediately after the surrender, the Imperial household and the Japanese government began effort to minimize Hirohito’s involvement in the decisions that led to war. Bix p. *&*

“No official U.S. document unearthed so far has indicated that MacArthur or his staff investigated the emperor for war crimes. What they investigated were ways to protect Hirohito from the war crimes trial.” Bix p. 567. When General MacArthur was asked by Washington to encourage the that emperor institution be abolished or reformed along democratic lines, he hastened to defend that emperor and warned of the “convulsion” to follow: “Destroy him and the nation will disintegrate…. It is quite possible that a million troops would be required which would have to be maintained for an indefinite number of years.” Quoted at Bix, pp. 567 & 568.


  • Japan’s Decision to Surrender by Robert J.C. Butow, 1954, Stanford University Press;
  • Fighting to a Finish by Leon V. Sigal, 1988, Cornell University Press;
  • The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb by Gar Alperovitz, 1995, Vintage Books;
  • The Atom Bomb, Tamara L. Rollef, Editor, 2000, Greenhaven Press, Inc.; This book is designed for students and contains excerpts of articles, some from participants in the decisions and others from well-known scholars and commentators, relating to the first use of the atom bomb;
  • “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” by Henry L. Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February, 1947;
  • “The Scientists: Their Views Twenty Years Later,” by William L. Laurence in Hiroshima Plus 20 prepared by The New York Times;