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Through the Military Intelligence Services (MIS) of the War Department and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Truman and other senior leaders in the War and State Department continuously received the disturbing reports regarding the massive Japanese troop build up and civilian mobilization on the Japanese homeland. While Truman based his decision on June 18 to go ahead with the invasion of Kyushu on an estimated a 350,000 Japanese defenders, later intelligence reports showed a drastic increase in the numbers and concentrations of Japanese troops on Kyushu and around Tokyo. In one report in early August, the MIC stated that the Japanese had 560,000 troops on Kyushu organized into three armies that totaled forty-two divisions. Another report from the JIC showed that, the Japanese Thomas B. Allen, Codename Downfall: The secret plan to invade Japan – and why Truman dropped the Bomb, pp. 222 – 223.
would have 2.6 million men on the Home Island by October 15, including 625,000 soldiers defending Kyushu.15 All Ultra intercepts indicated to the American leaders that Japanese forces on Kyushu had increased in strength and positioned near the projected beachhead. In addition to the troop buildup, Ultra provided detailed information about how the Japanese planned to mobilize its population and deploy its growing kamikaze and Kaiten forces. As on Okinawa, the Japanese planned to mobilize its population into Patriotic Citizens Fighting Corps and deploy them into direct combat against the Americans. However, these civilian corps received little to no combat training or weapons. Another Japanese planning strategy was to preserve the remaining aircraft until the Allied invasion, by dispersing the aircraft throughout the countryside located near airfields. The U.S. intelligence community confirmed this strategy from intercepted Japanese messages that “touted” their success of dispersing the aircraft. Additionally, Ultra identified three major Imperial Navy air command and the locations for a majority of the deadly Kaitens and other suicide vehicles the Japanese intended to employ against U.S. troopships and landing crafts.16 The United States knew through the numerous Magic and Ultra intercepts that the Japanese would never submit to the Allied demand of unconditional surrender. The military and civilian leaders that advised Truman also knew that since the start of the war, no Japanese unit had ever surrendered thus contributing to the huge lose of American lives. The already approved invasion of Japan projected another quarter of a million American casualties and that still did not guarantee a Japanese surrender. Following the successful testing of the atomic bomb and two days before Japan received the Potsdam Declaration, Truman met with his advisors one last time Frank, Downfall, pp. 198 – 203.
Ibid., pp. 204 – 207.
on July 24, to consider giving his final approval for dropping the bomb. After hearing the estimated casualty figures again and the reality that the Japanese would kill the 168,500 Allied prisoners of war, including 15,000 Americans prisoners, once the invasion began, Truman authorized the dropping of the at atomic bomb.17 On July 26, Truman with the concurrence of Winston Churchill and Generalissimo Chaing Kai-shek issued the Potsdam Declaration to the Japanese government. The joint declaration called for “the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurance of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”18 The ultimatum did not address the meaning of “utter destruction” or that the United States possessed a weapon that could destroy an entire city. More importantly, it did not mention the fate of the Emperor.
Article 12 of the declaration read, “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.”19 The Japanese government remained split on the acceptance of the allied demand. Togo believed the ultimatum was not a call for unconditional surrender, but some of the articles needed clarification and wanted to enter negotiations with the Allies. However, the military members of the SCDW wanted an immediate reply from the Japanese government condemning the Potsdam Declaration. With pressure coming from the military leaders, Prime Minister Suzuki responded on July 28 with a printed statement that the Japanese officials “decided to Walker, Dilemma, p. 212.
The Potsdam Declaration, July 26, in Truman Presidential Museum & Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History. Hereafter cited as Potsdam Declaration.
mokusatsu the declaration, to kill it with silence.” The next day, Suzuki held a press conference and further explained his previous response. “I consider the joint declaration of the three powers to be a rehash of the Cairo Declaration. The government does not regard it as a thing of any great value; the government will just ignore (mokusatsu) it. We will press forward resolutely to carry the war to a successful conclusion.”20 By rejecting the Allied demand to surrender, the Japanese government decided to pursue their fight-to-the-death strategy and subjected the Japanese people to “utter destruction.” Following the public condemnation of the declaration made by the Japanese, Truman gave the final authorization for the atomic bomb. At 7:48 AM on July 31, 1945, President Truman hand wrote out the order to deploy the weapon. The message read,” Suggestion approved. Release when ready but not sooner than August 2.” Six days later, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.21 The 509th Composite Group, 20th Air Force, commanded by General Carl Spaatz, received the directive to drop the bomb on July 25, 1945 from General Thomas T. Handy, the Acting Chief of Staff. The Directive ordered the “20th Air Force will deliver its first special bomb as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945 on one of the targets: Hiroshima, Kokura, Nugata and Nagasaki.”22 On August 6, 1945, a single B-29 called the Enola Gay, appeared over Hiroshima and released the first atomic bomb. The explosion and firestorm that followed destroyed approximately 60 percent of the city, killed or wounded 200,000 people, including an estimated 80,000 that died instantly. Truman received news of the successful bombing of Hiroshima while aboard the U.S.S. Augusta returning to the United States Walter S. Schoenberger, Decision of Destiny, pp. 250 – 251.
McCullough, Truman, p. 448.
Directive from General Tomas T. Handy to General Carl Spaatz, July 25, 1945, in Truman Presidential Museum & Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History.
following the conclusion of the Potsdam Conference. The President’s reaction was one of excitement and exhilaration, for he knew the war would soon be over. In his excitement, Truman announced to the crew the news of the new weapon and turned and told Byrnes, “It’s time for us to get home.”23 Following the destruction of Hiroshima and his notification, Truman authorized a prepared press release to the American people. Within the statement, Truman vaguely described the details of the destructive power of the atomic bomb. He did present a detailed picture of the massive effort and circumstances that lead to the development of the new weapon. In closing, Truman reaffirmed his commitment to ending the war with Japan. He announced, “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.”24 There were no debates on the dropping of the second atomic bomb; the directive that General Spaatz received on July 25 authorized him to continue with the bombings. To try to limit civilian casualties, the United States dropped thousands of leaflets on Japanese cities, following the first atomic bomb, as part of a psychological effort to force a Japanese surrender.
These leaflets outlined how the Japanese government refuses to surrender and that Japan faces complete destruction with this new weapon. Additionally, the leaflets told the Japanese people to “evacuate your cities”25 On August 9, a lone B-29, called Bock’s Car, dropped the second atomic bomb on the port city of Nagasaki. While the second bomb was more powerful then the one dropped on Hiroshima, the explosion only killed approximately 36,000 people. The main McCullough, Truman, pp. 454 - 455.
White House Press Release, August 6, 1945, in Truman Presidential Museum & Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History.
Leaflets Dropped on Japanese Cities, n.d., in Truman Presidential Museum & Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History.
reason for the low casualty count was that the bombardier released the bomb two miles off target and the numerous valleys and ridges around Nagasaki protected it against the affects of the explosion.26 Prior to the second atomic bombing on August 9, the weight of the Soviet invasion into Manchuria hit the Japanese Kwantung Army in a three-prong attack. The invasion followed the Soviets declaration of war against Japan that Stalin had promised Truman at the Potsdam conference. Within three days, the Japanese military and population experienced the weight of the Allied effort to force the Japanese Government into accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. President Truman addressed the American people following the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and expressed that the United States would continue to use the bomb to shorten the war and save the lives of the American soldiers designated to invade Japan. He further warned the Japanese that, “we shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.”27 The Japanese Supreme Council for the Direction of the War continued to remain split over accepting the Allied ultimatum. Togo, Yonai, and Suzuki all agreed that Japan should accept the Potsdam Declaration under one “Imperial condition” that addressed the preservation of the Emperor. However, Anami, Umezu, and Toyoda believed that, in order to accept the declaration, Japan needed to insist on preservation of the Emperor, self-disarmament, and Japan would prosecute its own war criminals; no Allied troops would occupy Japan. Having already experienced the force of an atomic explosion on Hiroshima and the disintegration of the Kwantung Army against the Soviet invasion, the three military members of the council still refused to accept surrender. War Minister Anami, “called for one last great battle on Japanese Frank, Downfall, pp. 283 – 286.
McCullough, Truman, pp. 457 – 459.
soil – as demanded by the national honor, as demanded by the honor of the living and the dead.” Then Anami asked, “Would it not be wondrous for this whole nation to be destroyed like a beautiful flower?”28 The news of a second atomic bomb exploding above Nagasaki caused the council to break up and reconvened that night with the Emperor. After further debate on which option to pursue, Prime Minister Suzuki asked the Emperor to decide for the council. The Emperor stated, “the time has come when we must bear the unbearable.… I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation on the basis outlined by the Foreign Minister.”29 The Japanese transmitted their acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration to the Allies on August 10, less then 24 hours after the destruction on Nagasaki. Once Truman learned of the Japanese response, his next decision related to the status of the Emperor. Truman’s advisors remained split on how to deal with the Emperor. Stimson and Leahy both agreed that it would be beneficial to the United States if the Emperor stayed. Byrnes remained strongly against any change to unconditional surrender terms and believed the Emperor should go. Truman finally decided that, “from the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to the rule of the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” 30 While the United States notified the other Allied nations, Truman stopped any further use of atomic bombs. The official Japanese surrender came on August 14.31 The idea of surrender did not come easily for all members of the military. During the night of August 14, elements of the Military Affairs Bureau tried to stage a coup and to stop the Emperor’s prerecorded surrender broadcast scheduled for release the next day. The plan called Ibid., p. 459.
Frank, Downfall, pp 290 – 296.
Feis, Japan Subdued, p. 122.
McCullough, Truman, pp. 460 – 462.
for the Imperial Guard Division and the Eastern Army to rise up and save the Emperor from the corrupt elements that were advising the Emperor. Fortunately, for the survival of Japan, the Eastern Army managed to disperse the revolt before any organized resistance could form. The Emperors message to his people went out on August 15, followed by the organized surrender of the remainder of the Japanese forces. 32 The formal surrender of the Japanese Empire occurred on September 2, 1945 aboard the U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. The capitulation of Japan ended the bloody Pacific War and cancelled the need for the invasion of Japan. By dropping the atomic bombs, President Truman accomplished what no other commander could do; he forced the surrender of the Japanese Empire. More importantly, his decision saved the lives of thousands of Americans, Chinese, Soviets, and Japanese who lived to tell the story of their generation.