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(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)

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WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 (7 of 8)

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Emperor Hirohito Speaks to His Nation

By the end of March, 1945, many of Japan's major cities were in ruin. Tokyo had become a ghost town, except for the emperor's palace, which had been spared. The bombing of Japanese cities was proof to the Japanese of American moral depravity.

In Japan some of the nation's leaders were still pursuing the fantasy that Japan could win the war. The chief fantasy was that God – Kami – would save Japan as it was believed God had in 1281, when a typhoon wrecked Kublai Khan's armada. It was a fantasy not unlike the fantasies that had appeared in Germany as that nation was doomed to military defeat. Now the Japanese military put hope in pilots who would intentionally crash the bomb-laden planes into enemy craft. The idea arose when a pilot intentionally rammed a B-29 bomber. He was an instant hero for having sacrificed himself. Great numbers of young Japanese men wanted to emulate the hero, and their targets would be US warships. They were called Kami-kaze (God-wind) pilots. They were ordinary young men and volunteers – neither drugged nor chained to their cockpits as some Americans suspected.

On 26 March 1945 the US began its assault on Okinawa – which the Japanese considered homeland. The battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest and longest of the Pacific war, lasting almost three months and ending on June 22. The United States lost 12,300 killed and 36,000 wounded. More than half of the US dead were killed by Kami-kaze pilots – whose deaths are counted at around 4,000. Kami-kaze attacks damaged 223 US warships and sank thirty. A total of about 130,000 Japanese died, including 40,000 civilians, some of whom committed suicide.

For the US, Okinawa was supposed to be a base from which to attack Japan's major islands, beginning with Kyushu – the Kyushu invasion tentatively set for November 1945. An invasion of the main island Honshu was set for March 1946.

Surrender versus Home Defense

A study initiated by Japan's new prime minister, Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, found that a lack of raw materials was restricting all aspects of civilian and military life. He found that steel production was extremely low, that aircraft production was a third of what had been planned and that the production of munitions was down fifty percent. He found transportation crippled by shortages in fuel and that the chemical industry was also about to collapse. Also, Japan's oil reserves were depleted. An attempt was being made to produce aviation fuel from pine roots. Rice production was at the lowest it had been since 1905. The Japanese nation was facing the possibility of starvation, with the government working on a plan to collect acorns. Admiral Suzuki's report on Japan's material deprivations was released to the Supreme Council for the Conduct of the War, a body consisting of the prime minister, the foreign minister and the top four military chiefs. They met in May and began struggling with the question of whether or how to surrender.

The Japanese still had a substantial number of soldiers, but it had only about 3,000 aircraft. The US ruled the skies, and the bulk of Japan's forces were abroad, mostly in China and Manchuria, with no way to return to defend the homeland. Japan no longer had an effective navy. The United States Navy was able to cut Japan's supply of raw materials and its vital importations of food. The US was in a position to starve Japan into submission. This left Japan's military in China and Korea in a bad position. Motivated by favorable circumstances, the Chinese could have effectively handled remaining Japanese forces on their territory. And Korea's organized resistance force could have handled the Japanese force in Korea. Little advantage had been gained by inviting the Soviet Union to join the war against Japan.

In early June the Japanese government began trying to use the Russians to negotiate an end to the war. The Japanese had established a contact in Switzerland, which resulted in a Swedish operative, Per Jacobsson, working with Alan Dulles of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA. Moves toward a settlement with the United States were slow and desultory. The Japanese who favored negotiations wanted a settlement that kept Emperor Hirohito on his throne. But nobody in the United States with the power to do so was ready to promise Hirohito's status.

The next meeting of the leaders of the Allied powers came in July at Potsdam (a few miles southwest of Berlin). During the Potsdam Conference, Truman was given news that the first test of the atom bomb in New Mexico was a success, and Truman was elated. He was annoyed with Stalin because of the kind of government Stalin had created in Poland, and he thought that the bomb strengthened his hand. The agreement that the Soviet Union would enter the war, however, remained standing.

The option of invading Japan's main islands weighed on Truman's mind. Estimates were that as many as a million Americans could be killed in such as invasion. Against such an invasion, Japan had collected 2.35 million military personnel and 4 million civilians who had been working for the military and a 28 million civilian militia.

From Potsdam, on July 27, Truman cabled the Japanese – a message to be known as the Potsdam Proclamation. The message spoke of the "utter devastation of the Japanese homeland" unless Japan surrendered unconditionally. No mention was made of preserving the emperor.

Moves were made in Japan's Supreme War Council to respond to the proclamation, and care was expressed that Japan not appear to reject it. The council released news of the proclamation to Japan's newspapers, with orders not to editorialize on the issue. Several newspapers editorialized anyway. One newspaper, the Mainichi, called Truman's position laughable. Others wrote that Japan would move its war effort forward "unfalteringly to a successful conclusion." Prime Minister Suzuki was under pressure to belittle publicly the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation. Suzuki announced that he would have no comment on the Proclamation, and the word he used was mokusatsu, which could be interpreted to mean "treat with silent contempt." This was how Suzuki's words were interpreted in the United States. President Truman believed that the Japanese had rejected his proclamation.

Truman and the War Department were in a hurry to win Japan's surrender. Some have described the US as having been motivated by the schedule for the Soviet Union entering the war against Japan. Some have described the US as wanting to explode the A-bomb in front of the Russians to impress and instill in the Russians a greater fear of the United States. Why the US was unwilling to wait longer for the Japanese remains unknown. As for dropping the atomic bomb, the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, believed that the Japanese needed a jolt to bring them around. Truman believed that using the bomb would obviate the need to invade Japan. General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff, approved its use, claiming that it was either drop the bomb or invade Japan. Admiral Halsey did not approve. General "Hap" Arnold, chief of the Army Air Corps, believed that conventional bombing could bring an early end to the war. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was adamantly opposed to use of the bomb, stating that Japan was in effect already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.

On August 6, the US dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Some 80,000 or so died within hours. When rumor spread among the agonized survivors of the atomic blast that the Japanese had just dropped a similar bomb on the United States, it lifted their spirits.

Around the emperor, Japan's leaders dithered for a couple of days. On August 9 the United States dropped another bomb – on Nagasaki. Finally Emperor Hirohito initiated an end to war. He accepted the terms of the Potsdam Proclamation and, on August 15 at noon, he spoke for the first time on the radio. He said:

...In conformity with the precepts handed down by our Imperial ancestors we have always striven for the welfare of our subjects and for the happiness and welfare of all nations. This is precisely why we declared war against Great Britain and the United States.

...It was not our intention to infringe on the sovereignty of other nations or to carry out acts of aggression against their soil.

...Despite the valor of our land and naval forces, despite the valor of our heroic dead and despite the continued efforts the situation has not taken a turn for the better and neither has the aspect of the world situation taken a more favorable turn. Moreover, the enemy has employed its outrageous bomb and slaughtered untold numbers of innocent people.

...Accordingly, to continue the war under these circumstances would ultimately mean the extinction of our people and the utter destruction of human civilization. Under these circumstances how were we to save the millions of our subjects or justify ourselves to save the spirits of our Imperial ancestors.

...We must express our regrets to our allies who have fought alongside us for the emancipation of East Asia.

...Let us therefore face the long road, each of us, as one united nation in firm fidelity to the Throne and in full confidence in the indestructibility of our Divine Land, and let us resolve to bend all our energies to future reconstruction. Let us be strong in our moral principles and firm in our ideals.

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