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The Big Boom

Jul 30, 12 The Big Boom

A while back I had the opportunity to attend a guest lecture by Dr. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, professor of history at University of California Santa Barbara. Besides being incredibly entertaining, Hasegawa truly challenged my views on the closing chapter of the World War Two. His utilization of Russian, American, and Japanese archival evidence on the use of atomic weapons to end the Second World War was a fascinating look at a controversial issue in world history. According to Hasegawa, there are three ways that the surrender of Japan is viewed: American, Japanese, and Russian. The American view states that only the use of the atomic bombs brought about end of the war with the only other alternative being an invasion of the Japanese islands at a huge cost of American and Japanese lives. The Japanese view holds that it was the military and the Emperor who decided to end the war on their own. The Russian view is the newer of the theories and is less well known. It holds that it was the threat of war with Russia that brought on the quick end of the war. The two main views are the Orthodox/American view and the Revisionist/Russian view.

Hasegawa began by giving an in-depth look at what he termed the “Strange Neutrality” that existed between the USSR and Japan. He detailed the US plan for forcing the surrender of the Japanese as originally formulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR’s plan was to invade the islands, but only if the Soviets were at war with Japan as well.

An agreement with Stalin assured that USSR would enter the war three months after the surrender of Germany with the understanding that the Soviets would have territorial rights and claims in Manchuria. All this changed with FDR’s death and the growing conflict between the western powers and Moscow over the Soviet actions in Poland and the Eastern Bloc countries.  President Harry Truman no longer saw the Soviets as necessary in any invasion plans. Hasegawa explained the dilemmas facing each of the leaders: Truman, Stalin, and Hirohito.

Truman now wanted to avoid a Soviet entry into the war, and in order to facilitate this he needed a quick end to the war. FDR’s legacy of unconditional surrender and a need to revenge Pearl Harbor narrowed his choices dramatically.

Stalin wanted to attack Japan, but due to the political consequences of breaking the neutrality pact, needed a valid excuse for doing so. He feared that the war would end before he was able to get involved, thus losing his claim to Manchuria. Despite the fact that the pact didn’t end until April 1948, Stalin went ahead with secretly building up an invasion force along the Manchurian border. He needed an Allied invitation to join in the Allied ultimatum to Japan in order to justify a breaking of the pact.

Hirohito and the military were well aware of Japan’s inevitable defeat and saw the need to negotiate an end to the war quickly. However, they could not accept an unconditional surrender; they insisted on keeping their Emperor system (which had reached a quasi-religious status by this time). Utilizing the Neutrality agreement, they decided to utilize Moscow as a mediator in order to work out a favorable surrender.

The Potsdam conference was pivotal in the unfolding of the final end of the Pacific War.  Truman excluded Stalin from the resulting ultimatum and the decision to utilize the newly developed atom bomb was made. Hasegawa questions the results of the Declaration; asking why exclude Stalin and why change the original Declaration to utilize harsher language (which Japan was guaranteed to refuse)? His belief is that this provided America justification for the use of the bombs.

In response to the Potsdam Conference, Stalin tried to move up the date for the invasion of Manchuria, but could not. Japan saw that Stalin had not signed the ultimatum and decided to continue using Moscow as a mediator. On August 6th 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Stalin was shocked, but on August 8th ordered Molotov, his trusted diplomat, to give Japanese ambassador Sato the declaration of war. One hour later, Russian Tanks were rolling into Manchuria. On August 9th the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Japanese Emperor overrode the Supreme War Council and accepted the Potsdam Declaration.

Hasegawa concluded with the observation that the bombs, while important, alone were not decisive, but the Soviet threat was indeed. He then gave a third theory that he had recently developed. The atomic bombs were seen as an extension of conventional incendiary weapons. This he believed was a result of a fundamental change in the American psyche due to the war. Utilizing quotes from the beginning of WW2 and then those from the end of the war, he showed that the effects of Pearl Harbor, the Bataan death march, biological experimentation, and Japanese war atrocities facilitated the fundamental shift. His closing statement equating state sanctioned revenge to war crimes was his most powerful statement of the night. His lecture caused me to indeed rethink the ending of the war and its effects of the American mindset and consciousness.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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