by Rod D. Martin
August 11, 2013

Not shockingly, there have been some people who disagree with my point in “The Moral Necessity of Hiroshima“.  In particular, those who disagree tend to suggest or imply that the United States was at liberty to simply stop fighting and thereby stop the war.

This is just not true.

First, the United States did not start the war, and was in no way capable of ending it by a simple cessation of hostilities. Japan had no intention of surrender, and this is not in historical doubt: for example, in the Battle of Luzon, Japanese forces were so furiously tenacious that, of 250,000 men, they lost 205,000 and still would not surrender. They intended to fight to the very last man, had prepared for this far better than the Allies had realized at the time — so much so that there’s a good chance the planned invasion might have failed — and left in this state, would have resumed offensive operations at the soonest possible opportunity.

Second, the revisionists ignore Japan’s ability to do so. The regular Japanese army in Japan in August 1945 was over half a million men, exclusive of its countless brethren in China and elsewhere (see below). It was growing as fast as Japan could train new men: arming them was not a problem (you might have noticed that Japan is pretty good at industrial production; and while revisionists pretend we had “flattened” them, in fact both Germany and Japan continued to increase production right up until the last months of the war). They were ready, willing and possibly able to finish us should we invade. The population was with them — in a country far bigger and more mountainous than Switzerland — and ready to sacrifice themselves in the fight (as our experience in Okinawa showed, to our horror). It would have required their annihilation to end the war conventionally.

Third, what if we’d just declared victory and left, the usual leftist and libertarian prescription? Well, the war certainly wouldn’t have ended. At the very minimum, the Soviets would have immediately invaded Manchuria and, if possible, Korea and Japan. Had they been successful, they would have been infinitely more brutal, would have killed (not to mention tortured and raped) vastly more than the Americans, and in dominating Northeast Asia, they would have enslaved whoever was left (countries which, as a result of our liberating them from their evil masters, shortly became prosperous free nations for the first time in their histories). Not just that, because of this the Soviets would have placed America and the world in vastly greater jeopardy during the entirety of the Cold War, which itself might well have been lost.

Fourth, to the credit of the Japanese, the foregoing scenario wouldn’t have been as easy as it may seem. I mentioned the quickly growing Japanese Army in Japan. Unencumbered by the presence of the U.S. Navy, that army very quickly would have been on the Asian mainland, linking up with (1) a vast, still operating, still armed Japanese army occupying 2/3 of the populated areas of China and Indochina; (2) the many remaining island outposts — including virtually all of the Dutch East Indies, with their vast supply of oil and other raw materials — which, again, in the absence of the U.S. Navy would have quickly reconstituted the 1942-level Japanese maritime empire, and (3) the over-1,000,000 man Kwantung Army, fresh as a daisy in Manchuria, kept out of action for the entirety of the war while it guarded the Soviet border.

An American “declared peace” would not have been peace: it would have been a resumption of the status quo ante Pearl Harbor — i.e., Japan brutally occupying and seeking to conquer the rest of China and its neighbors — but with the addition of the Soviet Army and the disappearance of any naval force capable of constraining so much as the Japanese Coast Guard. It would have been a bloodbath from Batavia (Jakarta) to Saigon to Hong Kong to Chungking to Shanghai, Mukden, Seoul and Tokyo.

Fifth, revisionists always claim that a U.S. blockade “starving Japan out” was all that was needed to finish the Japanese. But this is nonsense. At “best”, the result would have been a defiant Japan literally starving to death, with primarily civilian casualties and even more of them than would have been caused by the other options. At worst, an almost inevitably “leaky” blockade would have failed to kill more than the elderly and the young, the Japanese would have continued to fly Kamikaze and other sorties against the blockading naval forces whose casualties would have only grown, and the Japanese Home Army would have recruited more troops by the day. Meanwhile, the Japanese armies in China, Manchuria, and Indochina (and possibly Indonesia as well) would have continued operations as usual, being supplied from the continent and not from Japan.

Truman understood all this and ended the war in one dramatic decision. It killed far fewer than the ongoing conventional bombing, and it stopped everything and everyone in their tracks.

It’s easy to take potshots from seventy years hence. But Harry Truman made the best decision available to him, based both on what he knew and what he didn’t know. And anyone who pretends there was a possibility that involved a lower death toll — or even a death toll less than an order of magnitude greater — is simply ignorant of history.

(Oh, one last thing:  one of the people who responded to the original article said my position was some “neocon” thing. Are you kidding me? FDR and Harry Truman and the entire Democratic Party circa 1945 were somehow “neocons”? Yeah, that’s just plain dumb, and illustrates how completely out of touch with the realities of 1945 many people in these conversations truly are.)