Hiroshima Saved Lives

(First published July 30, 2010)

August 6 will mark the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

There have been violent protests against the United States for its use of the atomic bomb to end the Second World War.

Some have said it wasn’t a military act, but a diplomatic act to shape the post war world. Some have said it was racist.

Many have claimed there was no need to use the atomic bomb because Japan was ready to surrender. Some have said if we had conducted a demonstration where no one was killed, Japan would have surrendered.

Those who have made these arguments constantly refer to so-called war department estimates of only 500,000 American casualties from an invasion of Japan.

All of this revisionist history is bunk, which is made clear in a new book, Hell to Pay, published by the Naval Institute Press.

In mid-1945, America had suffered 1,250,000 combat-related casualties, nearly one million of which were incurred in one year, June 1944 to June 1945.

The American public was just becoming aware of the high price it was paying and made note of the fact that the draft call had recently been doubled, to 100,000 per month. The military leaders knew these men would be needed for the Pacific War, which they thought could last two or possibly three years from mid-1945.

While early planning estimates projected only 500,000 casualties from an invasion of Japan, the war department was stunned by the casualties on Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. New estimates were made based on the invasion of Saipan where it required one American death and seven American wounded to kill seven Japanese soldiers.

It had become clear that invading Japan would be a deadly affair.

The new estimates projected between 500,000 to 750,000 – possibly one million –deaths if an invasion of the home islands became necessary: Not casualties, but deaths.

These estimates were made before the end of the war, and the book goes to great length to document this fact because some have said the higher estimates had been made up after the war to justify dropping the bomb. It documents how Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall used the Saipan experience for making his estimates of casualties in upcoming operations.

President Truman had these higher estimates before making his decision. He knew that the public was just becoming aware of the high price to be paid for pursuing the war.

While the lower casualty number was bandied about in training sessions and briefings, the real number was used by those making decisions. For example, Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somerville was using 720,000 killed and evacuated wounded through December 31 to determine the number of needed replacements. This was for an invasion of Kyushu in October and didn’t include the forthcoming invasion of Honshu near Tokyo planned for March 1946.

The Japanese government estimated there would be ten million or more Japanese killed while defending the homeland.

Japan didn’t surrender after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It also took Japan five days after the Nagasaki bombing before they finally capitulated. If all that was needed was a demonstration to convince Japan to end the war, why didn’t Hiroshima with over 100,000 casualties convince the warlords in Tokyo to end the war? And why did they wait nearly a week after Nagasaki to surrender?

The warlords in Tokyo were not going to end the war until they had been defeated in Japan proper, and they were convinced that they could force a peace on the United States by fighting and inflicting untenable casualties on American forces, as they had done on Iwo Jima. Typical was the view of a Japanese field army staff officer who said he thought the war on the homeland could be “fought to a draw”.

While a few, mostly those who hate America, will always say there was no need to drop the bomb, the evidence is clear that President Truman saved hundreds of thousands of lives by using this terrible weapon.


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