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26 May 2016


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Occasionally someone says the we used the A-bomb on the Japs (pejorative - deliberate). IMO that is not true. We showed the germans no mercy at all in strategic bombing. IMO the Germans were lucky that the war ended just when it did. With regard to the Japs, they reaped what they had sown. pl


Amen on all that both Richard and Pat have stated. I am probably not the only SST member who might not have been here had it been necessary to invade the Japanese home islands.

no one

Nice Piece, Richard. Maybe it should be mentioned that the battle for Okinawa was not only horrible for the combatants, but also the civilians. Some estimates have the number of Okinawan civilians killed to be equal to the number killed by the A-bomb at Nagasaki. So civilians were doomed either way.

Also, the Japanese had something like a million POWs and other prisoners (including Chinese) that were dying terrible deaths at an increasing rate from disease, starvation and other maltreatment (including executions). Those lives had to be considered as well in bringing a quick end to the war.



Old soldier man brooding - Murder? No. We meet each other hand to hand. That is not murder. I have seen many men killed in battle or recently killed in battle. The details of their mutilations are unimportant. Two American POW's died in the attack on Hiroshima. They were there because the Japanese were busy trying to work and starve them to death. Spare me the tender hearted bullshit. pl



- Listening all the cruelties the Japanese had done as somewhat justification for the A-bomb sounds highly hypocritical. The Japs did no better or worse than what the U.S. did in the Philippines and other places. Bombing Tokyo was a war crime of a higher degree than most the stuff the Japanese had done during the second world war.

- The bombs did nothing to move Japan to surrender. Some 30 cities were already totally lost due to bombing - the additional two did not mean anything. The move to surrender came a few days later after Russia, as promised by Stalin, declared war on Japan and annihilated the famed Kwantung army within a few days. The Japanese hope that some peace status that would avoid occupation and losing the emperor could be agreed upon through Russia was gone.

- The real reason to use the A-bombs was to deter Stalin through a demonstration of the new weapons. This was to mostly push for a more U.S. favorable position in Europe. Stalin, who had just lost some 25 million Russians to fighting the fascists, wasn't impressed at all. The hoped for advantage was not achieved.

Richard Sale

You are perfectly correct. Okinawan civilians suffered horribly, The Japanese thought them an inferior people and inflicted torture and starvation on them. U.S. Marines and GI were surprise by the early surrender of them.

But another great tragedy occurred when the Marines and GIs, on alert for the habitual night attacks of the Japanese, shot down civilians who were using the dark to try to escape. The slaughter was terrible, and the men who watched the aftermath were heartbroken.

Richard Sa;e


Richard Sale

I agree with Pat. The Japanese were merciless. What choice did we have? But, like President Truman, I feel for the civilians.

Richard Sale

Richard Sale

With all due respect, your figures are wrong.


Old Microbiologist

This can and will be debated for years. For example, tin can be argued it was unnecessary and that Russia's imminent arrival into the Pacific theater was the true reason Japan capitulated. It can also be argued it saved (American)lives. What is definite is we are the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons against another nation. Whatever the reasons this remains the fact and serves to give pause to those who are not convinced the US can and will do whatever is necessary if it believes it is justified.

A Pols

I knew a grand old lady in Charlottesville (Passed away in 2011 I believe). She had been married to Admiral Kimmel's son, Manning, a submariner, who had been captured by the Japanese and was held prisoner.
After being starved and abused , he was murdered by guards who, angered at losses in American bombing raids, doused the younger Kimmel and some other prisoners with gasoline and ignited it.
These things were so routine it's no wonder nobody had any real compunctions about employing the bomb as soon as it became operational.
It's easy for those who were not yet born, or were babies at the time, to second guess the decision, but the Japanese were simply dreadful in the sort of "wilding" type of barbarism now exhibited by folks like Daesh.



That is untrue.. The UU sought to avoid civilian casualties in Manila until it was clear that Intramuros could only be taken with massive artillery support . The Japanese Army deliberately killed 100,000 Filipino civilians. pl

no one

Richard, Wrong? Could be depending on the source. Anywhere from 42,000 to 150,000 civilian killed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Okinawa
Some of the best military history I've read has the figure at 80,000.

Estimates of the Nagasaki A-bomb deaths are 39,000 - 80,000

As for prisoners, I included Chinese to suggest that more than Allied POWs and American/British/Australian civilians were part of the equation. Chinese under the most stringent Japanese occupation sectors were, de facto, prisoners.

My father fought on Okinawa with the 6th Marines. Once every few years something would get into him and he'd tell me some things about the combat there. Awful.


My father is turning 90-years old this weekend. We plan a big birthday bash for him in Maryland this weekend. I talk with him every day and he's as sharp as ever. He and my mother will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year. He and she still faithfully attend their local Catholic church. He raised five good children. He was in the U.S. Army 77th Division in the Battle of Okinawa and has some incredible stories to tell. Some pretty funny. He said while on the ship traveling over, they were all given a pamphlet on all of the poisonous snakes of Okinawa. He said that when he got done reading it he was hoping a Japaness bullet would take him out the first day, before encountering one of these snakes. He talks about the thick mud and rain. He said a Japanese soldier came running over the hill and threw a hand grenade right into his foxhole. He braced and prepared for the worst but in the thick mud the Japanese grenade just let out a thud and caused no damage. He talks about hearing a constant whizzing sound (bullets). He said there were always rumors of the U.S. working on a super bomb. One day while a colonel was going over instructions for the invasion, a private ran up and handed the colonel a note. The colonel read the note and put it in his breast pocket and continued going over tactics, the use of the bangalore torpedo, etc. After he was done the colonel said, "And one last thing boys... the war is over."

tim s

All's fair in love and war, and war is hell. Anyone who believes otherwise lives in some sort of Disneyland.

Moralizing after the fact against the inhumanity of the victor, particularly by those remote from the events, is pissantness of a high order.


Are telling me that the "Japs" behaves like in Abu Garib?

no one

typo correction - 6th Marine div (not regiment).


The use of atomic bombs stopped Russia in its tracks in Asia. It is dubious that the Japanese militants would have surrendered without invasions of Japan’s main islands. Their use provided the Japanese with a face saving way to surrender and avoid dishonor. It would have been a political and military nightmare to ship 3 million combat tested troops from Europe to Asia to invade Japan when the USA had super bombs armed and ready to be used in its arsenal since August of 1945. The mid-20th century elite were well aware of the people’s potential to use their power against them. They provided the returning troops a generous GI Bill to go to college to avoid any potential unrest.

Medicine Man

Haunting writing, Mr. Sale. Thank you for sharing this.


One of the more interesting aspects of WWII is that both the Germans, and Japanese (initially w/o the knowledge of the Germans) were working on developing an A bomb as well. The fundamental physics of it came out of the German discovery of uranium fission in the 30's. Rather nice of them that the academic community published this before it's implications were fully appreciated. As the war progressed Japan was working on two methods of separating U235/238 and they even had some estimates of our ability to manufacture them based on the physics involved at the time of the Hiroshima. I sometimes wonder if we didn't hope for a Japanese attack as a means of entry. At the time the US population was pretty opposed to getting involved in the European war but I have to believe FDR and the military were highly concerned that such a device might be developed and what that would mean to us should Germany perfect such a weapon. The Manhattan Project was quite nascent but had started initial investigations by the summer of 41. The potential power of such a weapon was known. The engineering effort involved wasn't. Initially. But that rapidly changed and the war kicked it into high gear.

James Loughton

From Mr. Sale: "Captain William F. Parsons, was the only man aboard who thoroughly knew the technical side of the new weapon, made the decision before they took off, that if he ended up in the enemy’s hands, he would have to kill himself to keep the secret. He borrowed a pistol from a young intelligence officer nearby."

This actually became Air Force policy during the early days of the Cold War. I learned this from my father who had been a B-36 pilot in the early fifties. Dad was also the "weaponeer" aboard his crew. In those days the physics package was not fully assembled until the aircraft was in the air to the target. In order to do that job, the weaponeer had to have considerable knowledge of the bombs' design. Because some of this information was highly classified, dad carried a 38 in a shoulder rig at all times. In the event the aircraft was shot down or abandoned over enemy territory and he survived, he was expected to commit suicide in the event of imminent capture. In case he did not do so, another crew member whose identity was unknown to my father was assigned to kill him. I never knew this until dad mentioned it to me when he was in his late seventies, although I do recall seeing the shoulder rig as a young child.



With all due respect, your "real reason" as quoted is inaccurate. To your credit, most public discussions involving nuclear weapons technology suffer from an information vacuum caused by the "born classified" aspect of this line of work within the NNSA complex, so that "those who know cannot talk and those who talk cannot know".

But thankfully, those who know about the end of WWII have recently been able to write about why the U.S. needed to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, and the information that has been declassified has been vetted, validated, and demonstrated as accurate by historical, military, and other accounts.

Unfortunately for those who like to wring their hands and insist that Americans should be found guilty for the bombings of Japan (both conventional and nuclear), the accurate story of why we dropped two bombs on Japan leads to some realizations that many anti-nuclear pundits find unpleasant enough to ignore, even though those truths explain perfectly the question of why two atomic weapons were used.

I would particularly recommend Reed and Stillman's highly-readable and equally highly-informative "The Nuclear Express", but plenty of other fine references on nuclear weapons technology, and the problems it creates for the modern world, can be found in virtually any local library.

The summary version is this: Japan, like many industrialized countries during WWII, had an advanced program to design and build an atomic weapon. That program had many moving parts, but its center of intellectual gravity was found in the N Project (after Nishina), whose separation technology was destroyed in the Tokyo firebombings that categorically ended the Japanese version of the Manhattan Project. The Japanese project was staffed with brilliant scientists and engineers, and history would indicate that had Japan succeeded in developing nuclear weapons first, they would have in all likelihood been deployed on Allied targets. So the notion that the U.S. invoked some kind of nuclear version of original sin by developing the atomic bomb is complete b.s.

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a gun-type assembly weapon, which is an inefficient use of special nuclear materials, but so simple that it didn't need testing in the New Mexico desert. But the production of such a weapon (because of certain characteristics that distinguish relevant isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium) is incredibly difficult, so when leading Japanese weapons physicists were summoned to examine weapons effects at Hiroshima, they advised the Japanese leadership that Little Boy was a one-off weapon, i.e., the likelihood that the U.S. had any more was negligibly small.

Those Japanese scientists were absolutely correct: Little Boy was a one-of-a-kind dead-end for an advanced industrial nation, so the Japanese government did not sue for peace. And then we dropped a completely different kind of weapons on Nagasaki, one that could be more-or-less mass-produced. Japanese scientists realized that the U.S. could possess many other Fat Man-style bombs in its arsenal, and advised their government to sue for peace, which they eventually did (in all likelihood because soon after Nagasaki, we began to carry out the kind of aerial operations that had preceded the other bombings, and that kind of thing tends to concentrate the attention of governments).

So this was not about impressing the Russians: had we wanted to do that, it would have been easy to do so, without nuclear weapons being deployed on even one Japanese city. We dropped two because one wasn't enough, thanks to the incredibly brilliant Japanese weapons physicists. They were right, but to bad effect for subsequent victims. But at least by being right on the second pass, they saved the Japanese nation from more weapons that would surely have preceded an invasion of the mainland.

Of course, knowing the physics helps a lot towards resolving the "why use two weapons?" story, but it also points out the fact that like the U.S., Japan was trying to build nuclear weapons that could be used in WWII. And once you realize that fact, the whole notion of guilt for the U.S. deployment of those weapons simply vanishes. Would anyone have preferred that the Japanese military gotten there first?

There is a great unclassified literature on nuclear weapons technology (e.g., anything by Richard Rhodes), on nuclear non-proliferation, and on the history of nuclear weapons programs in various countries. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in learning without prejudice the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki read this literature before making assertions that cast guilt on the U.S. for its role in ending WWII. I'm not normally a fan of moral equivalence arguments, but given the history of the Japanese role in the Pacific theater, those arguments seem perfectly obvious here.


Babak Makkinejad

Kurchatov & his team were already working on atomic weapons East of the Urals at that time.

Babak Makkinejad

My Arab acquaintances always tried to reassure me that Saddam Hussein would never have dropped atomic bombs on Iranian cities had he possessed them.

I remain unconvinced.

Babak Makkinejad

I heard that the Japanese soldiers hid behind the civilians and herded them towards US lines in Okinawa...


To All:
I had an uncle who was an Army 1st Sgt in a weapons repair unit in WWII. Short of manpower, he was assigned a group of German POW's as labor. He found that the senior POW was a German senior SNCO. He treated the German SNCO with respect & made him a supervisor with an office next door to his own. The relationship worked well. After Germany's surrender the unit was notified that it would be redeploying to the Pacific Theater. The German SNCO presented my uncle with a letter signed by all of the POW's requesting that they be allowed to join the US Army & deploy to the Pacific.

After Japan's surrender my uncle's unit was moved to Yokohama & given a large bombed out warehouse to work in. Japanese POW's were provided as laborers to clear the rubble. Once again my uncle found the senior Japanese SNCO to assist him. One day a bull dozer arrived to help move rubble. The Japanese POW's paniced. They assumed that the bull dozer was there to dig a mass grave for them. Over time my uncle & the Japanese SNCO became friends. One day the Japanese thanked my uncle for America dropping the atomic bombs & ending the war. The Japanese SNCO explained that he had two daughters, 9 &10, who had been trained to attack invading Americans with sharpened bamboo spears. Ending the war had saved his daughters' lives.

We can be glad that we had a US Army combat veteran making the decision to drop the bombs.

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