By Australian Historian James Kenneth Bowen, April 21, 2012


[LEFT] James Kenneth Bowen in retirement - and preparing to attend a civic reception for Vietnam War veterans held by the Knox City Council (Melbourne) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary [June 2015] of deployment of Australians to the Vietnam War. Mr. Bowen is a commentator for The Battle for Australia website.


The justification for the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is likely to be disputed indefinitely. Possibly spurred by the need to promote book sales by creating controversy, Ham makes the extraordinary claim in this book that "not a shred of evidence supports the contention that the Japanese leadership surrendered in direct response to the atomic bombs". On the established historical evidence, it is reasonably clear that two factors were decisive in producing the Japanese surrender. The first was the decision of the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan on 8 August 1945. The second was the face-saving opportunity presented by the dropping of the atomic bombs. Neither factor can be simply swept under the carpet, as Ham does with the atomic bombs. By doing so, Ham destroys any historical value that this book might otherwise have possessed. With the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs occurring in August 2015, and the likelihood of this book being used as another club to belt the United States, I believe that Ham's book requires closer analysis than it has been receiving from some of Ham's adoring but historically challenged fans.

Let me briefly outline the strategic situation at the time when the atomic bombs were dropped. By July 1945, Japan's military and industrial resources had either been destroyed or dispersed widely and largely concealed from air attack. The Americans were finding it very difficult to locate sizeable military or industrial targets for their B-29 bombers to attack with conventional bombs.

In April 1945, the Japanese Suzuki government had prepared a war policy called Ketsugo which was a refinement of the Shosango victory plan for the defence of the home islands to the last man, woman and child. These plans would prepare the Japanese people psychologically to die as a nation in defence of their homeland. Even children, including girls, would be trained to use makeshift lethal weapons, and exhorted to sacrifice themselves by killing an American invader. To implement this policy of training children to kill, soldiers attended Japanese schools and trained even small children in the use of weapons such as bamboo spears.

The American government was aware from intelligence intercepts of the chilling implications of these Japanese defensive plans. Intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese would probably be able to muster two million troops and between six to eight thousand aircraft of all types for the defence of the four home islands against a traditional amphibious invasion. The dispersal of these military resources across Japan, and their careful concealment, would provide the Americans with no opportunity to destroy them from the air. The Ketsugo policy placed heavy reliance on suicide attacks on American troops and their covering warships. For this purpose, several thousand aircraft would be adapted as flying bombs for suicide attacks. Many of these Japanese aircraft to be used in kamikaze attacks would not be front-line aircraft, but they did not need to be for kamikaze flying bomb attacks. The Japanese worked on the basis that kamikaze attacks were justified if one in five manned flying bombs reached the intended target. Other methods of suicide attack being developed included dynamite-filled "crash boats", human-guided torpedoes, manned rocket-powered flying bombs (similar to the "Baka" rocket plane used against American ships at Okinawa), and specially trained ground suicide units carrying explosives. In addition, the invading Americans would have to face a civilian population drilled in guerrilla tactics.

The Americans had every reason to be deeply disturbed when they learned about Japanese plans to defend the home islands by massive suicide attacks on American amphibious forces. The kamikaze suicide attacks on Allied ships at Okinawa had alone produced a horrifying toll: 34 Allied warships sunk ; 368 Allied ships damaged (some fit only for scrap); 4,900 Allied sailors killed; and 4,874 Allied sailors wounded.

The American government would also have been aware in early 1945 that Japan possessed an arsenal of deadly chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that it had been developing and using against Chinese troops and civilians since Japan initiated its unprovoked and brutal war against China in 1937. Despite the extraordinary secrecy surrounding American acquisition of Japan's very advanced chemical and biological warfare technology after the surrender, we know that American General Joseph Stillwell had been Chief of Staff to Chinese leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and that General Douglas MacArthur provided Japan's chemical and biological warfare military scientists with immunity from prosecution as war criminals in return for their deadly secrets being turned over to the American Army. Unleashed on unprotected American invasion troops on Okinawa, Japan's chemical and biological weapons would have caused massive American casualties. Although acknowledging Japan's use of ghastly chemical and biological warfare weapons against the Chinese, Ham provides more evidence of the lightness of his research when he offers the following absurd, and wholly unsupported, opinion in an endnote:

"The Allies would not learn the extent of Japan's biological warfare capability - that it planned the mass production of cholera, typhoid and paratyphoid bacilli weapons, and had conducted experiments on human beings, mostly Chinese - until after the war".

On 26 July 1945, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration. Its purpose was to hasten Japan's surrender without the need for a difficult and very costly amphibious assault on the Japanese home islands. The declaration warned Japan that it faced "prompt and utter destruction" unless the Japanese swiftly agreed to an unconditional surrender. On July 28, Prime Minister Suzuki announced that Japan intended to "ignore" the Potsdam Declaration. Underlying Suzuki's rejection of the Potsdam Declaration was Emperor Hirohito's stubborn resolve to continue the war until he received a guarantee from the Allies that his status as emperor would be preserved and that he would not be tried as a war criminal. There is no evidence that Hirohito felt any genuine concern for the suffering of Japanese civilians as the war encroached on their lives. See the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (2000) by historian and Japan scholar Professor Paul Bix, and especially, the chapter "Delayed Surrender".

When informed that Japan intended to ignore the Potsdam Declaration, President Truman was faced with a dilemma. There was little scope for further conventional bombing. He was left with the choice of ordering an invasion of Japan's home islands or using the atomic bomb. Rather than risk the predicted 1,000,000 American battle casualties in an amphibious assault on Japan, President Truman elected to use the atomic bomb. There can be no doubt that the American public would have chosen the atomic bomb in 1945 rather than one million American casualties. Paul Ham attempts to counter this argument by claiming that American military leaders had predicted only 31,000 casualties in the first 30 days following an amphibious invasion of Japan's home islands. This is an absurd argument. The first Allied amphibious landing was expected to be on the defended shores of the smaller southern home island of Kyushu. Based on massive American casualties incurred over eighty-two days in capturing tiny Okinawa, it is quite possible that the 31,000 Allied casualties would occur on that smaller home island Kyushu alone, and possibly, in the first thirty days; but there were three more home islands still to be captured, including the largest home island Honshu.

In deciding to use the atomic bombs to save as many as a million American casualties, President Truman was entitled to weigh the grave risk that a country prepared to fight to the last man, woman, and child would also be prepared to unleash deadly chemical and bacterial weapons on American troops. Is it so difficult for a journalist like Paul Ham to research adequately the reasons that must have weighed heavily on President Harry Truman's mind when he decided to use the atomic bomb on a recalcitrant Japan in August 1945. I could find no mention of Japan's Ketsugo or Shosango victory plans in Ham's lightweight treatment of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Following Prime Minister Suzuki's rejection of the Potsdam Declaration, the first target was Hiroshima, a city on Japan's Inland Sea. At this time, Hiroshima was the headquarters of Japan's 2nd General Army. On 4 August 1945, American aircraft dropped leaflets on Hiroshima warning the citizens to expect terrible destruction to be visited upon their city because Japan had refused to surrender. Although many civilians had already been evacuated to the country, this warning was largely ignored. On August 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on this city. At Hiroshima, 60,000 Japanese died and a similar number were injured.

The emotive impact of the use of an atomic bomb on a Japanese city, and its usefulness as a stick with which to beat the United States, has caused many people to ignore the fact that more people died in the conventional bomb attack on Tokyo on the night of 8/9 March 1945. At Tokyo, on this one night, the bombs and resulting firestorm killed 80,000 people and injured 44,000.

On the evening of 8 August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and on 9 August Soviet troops invaded the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo.

On 9 August 1945, when the first atomic bomb had evoked no response from Japan, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, a port with naval installations. The primary target on this day had been the city of Kokura where a huge army arsenal was located. Thick clouds over Kokura forced diversion of the B-29 with the second bomb to Nagasaki. At Nagasaki, 36,000 were killed and about 60,000 wounded.

The combined shock of these events caused Emperor Hirohito to intervene as commander-in-chief of the Japanese military and order the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War, also known as "The Big Six", to accept the terms for ending the war that the Allies had stipulated in the Potsdam Declaration. "The Big Six" were the Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ministers of War and Navy, and Chiefs of Army and Navy General Staffs. After six more days of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a failed army initiated coup d'etat, Hirohito gave a recorded radio address to the nation on August 15. In the radio address, called the Gyokuon-ho ("Jewel Voice Broadcast"), he announced the effective surrender of Japan, although he did not use the word "surrender". Ham is directly contradicted by Professor Bix in "Hirohito and the making of modern Japan" at page 529. Bix cites the text of the emperor's public broadcast on 15 August 1945, which specifically refers to the destructive power of the atomic bombs in these words "the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb" as justification for ending the war. In this speech to the people of Japan, the emperor makes no reference to the Soviet Union having declared war on Japan. In a later and separate speech directed to the Japanese armed forces on 17 August 1945, the emperor makes no reference to the atomic bombs as a reason for ending the war but justifies ending the war on the ground that the Soviet Union has declared war on Japan. So the emperor has very clearly stated that both the atomic bombings and the entry of the Soviet Union into the war justified ending the war. Ham acknowledges that Emperor Hirohito cited in the Gyokuon-ho surrender speech on 15 August the use of "a new and most cruel bomb" by the American enemy as a reason for ending the war but fails to appreciate the illogicality of his claim that the atomic bombs played no part in Japan's surrender.

Professor Bix states that the dropping of the atomic bombs, and the simultaneous entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan, were described as "gifts from the gods" by Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai (page 509). By mid-1945, Hirohito and his chief political adviser Koichi Kido were becoming increasingly concerned at growing alienation of public support for continuation of the war. District governors and police chiefs were reporting that the Japanese people were war-weary and despondent, and that popular hostility to the emperor and his government was increasing rapidly. Faced with these serious domestic pressures, Hirohito and his councillors welcomed the dropping of the atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war as a convenient excuse to accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and, at the same time, to provide the emperor with the credit for ending the war (page 523).

Although the casualties from the two atomic bombs are disturbing, they almost certainly represent a very tiny fraction of the Japanese who would have died if the whole population of Japan, civilian as well as military, adults and children, had been mobilised by the Suzuki government to die as a nation in defence of Japan.

The atomic bombs were dropped on two cities of military significance (a) because the Emperor of Japan and his government refused to surrender and were preparing the Japanese people for a fight to the death as a nation, (b) because there were no readily discernible large military or industrial targets available for conventional air attack, and (c) because the Allies faced the prospect of incurring horrendous battle casualties from a conventional amphibious invasion of Japan.

Source: James Bowen,, Denial of Historical Fact for the Apparent Sake of Controversy, with permission of the author.

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