I am continually amazed that it wasn't until June 22nd, 1945, a year after the Tojo cabinet had collapsed - a year after Japanese leaders realized that they had lost the war - that the Emperor finally called a meeting of his ‘Big Six" advisers, his official cabinet, to discuss how to get out of the war. He told them openly for the first time , "I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts made to implement them." Still, there was no talk of terms, and no effort to "push" the process.
The Japanese options had been reduced to just waiting for the invasion of their most southern island, Kyushu, the next logical target of the U.S. forces, where the Japanese military leaders were convinced they would win the "Big Victory" - that Okinawa was supposed to have been, that the Philippines was supposed to have been, that the Marianas was supposed to have been - that would bleed the Americans enough to force them to offer better terms.
The Japanese plan, when it was agreed upon, was to use the Russians as a conduit to negotiate with the Americans. And July of 1945 was spent trying to open that conduit. It seems never to have occurred to Japanese military leadership that the Russian dictator Stalin would see a weakened Japan, the nation which had humiliated Russia in 1905, as an opportunity too good to pass up. So the military was not suspicious when the Russian response to the requests for meetings seemed slow and dim witted, almost obstructionist. And the niceties of diplomacy slowed everything down even more. But, by the beginning of August, it seemed to the desperate Japanese leadership that some progress was being made with the Russians.
The plans of Japan's rulers did not begin to unravel until August 6th. 1945. Reports began coming in that morning that something unusual had happened in Hiroshima. First reports were of a “blinding flash and violent blast”. Since no communications came out of the city after that first report, a staff officer was ordered to fly over and provide information. One hundred miles from Hiroshima the staff officer could see a huge cloud still rising from the blazing port ( two hours after the attack).
Surrounding villages were being swamped with vast armies of wounded, burned and simply stunned victims stumbling their way out of Hiroshima.
Relief workers began to press through to the city. Power to some parts of the town was restored the next day, and rail service the day after that. But to all intents and purposes, the core of the city of Hiroshima had been wiped off the map, the port facilities destroyed, and one of Japan's few remaining intact military bases was simply gone. There were at least 80,000 dead. Over the next five years, radiation would raise that toll to nearly 200,000.
The "Big Six" argued about what had happened, with most denying the Americans could even have such a weapon. The debate was settled sixteen hours later when Japanese monitoring posts picked up the broadcast of President Harry Truman announcing to the American people that, "The power of the sun" had been unleashed on Japan, and adding “We are now prepared to obliterate rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have…” It did not seem to be a threat. It seemed rather, to be a promise.
And that might have seemed a powerful threat to make to the Empire of the sun. But one of the "Big Six", Admiral Soemu Toyoda, now argued that even if the Americans really had such a bomb they could not have many more. What he based that opinion on was unclear. But at least three of the Big Six took solace from the Admiral and continued to perfect their plans for their Oriental Gotterdamurung. It was yet another pure delusion. And in retrospect, it was a delusion that should have been expected.
Even before the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Americans had crippled Japan. Hundreds of thousands had already been killed, well more than a hundred thousand in one March 1945 Tokyo fire raid alone. No train was safe in daylight, no city or factory safe. Japanese soldiers in Korea and Manchuria were starving. Troops in Japan were spending as much time tending to rice fields as training. And the harvest so far that year had been very bad. Come winter, invasion or no, there would be mass starvation in Japan, and throughout the Japanese military.
Japan could do nothing to oppose the massive flights of B-29’s, now joined by B-17’s and B-24’s of the mighty 8th Air Force, freed from their conquest of Germany, which were together pounding Japanese cities and military bases, day and night.
And nothing hindered the mass waves of P-51's, P-47's and P-38's based on Iwo and Okinawa, which were now doing to Japan what they had done to Germany; sweeping across the country at will, striking at "targets of opportunity", destroying and sinking everything that moved, be it a supply or passenger train, a single horse and cart or a poor fishing boat. There was almost nothing left to oppose them. What little remained of Japan's air force was being held back to oppose the landings. Japan's navy was scattered across the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Their cities were being reduced, one by one, to wastelands occupied by scarecrows.
And now, almost as an after thought, an atomic bomb had vaporized one of Japan's cities. And there was a threat of more to follow. And yet the "Big Six" council's only plan remained to wait for the American invasion of Kyushu and kill as many Americans as possible in order to force them to negotiate. About 40% of Japan's remaining military strength had been transferred to Kyushu to fight that battle. But that mass of forces was, in my opinion, and to borrow the words of historian Bruce Catton, describing the Confederate defenses of Fort Donaldson against Grant, "Too little to defend the place, and too much to lose."
Again, Japan failed to inform the Americans what their intentions now were to continue fighting for a better set of surrender terms. And to the Americans it seemed the Japanese were just insane and without logic, an entire nation of kamikazes, in love with death. And since the Japanese were not offering the Americans any alternatives, and since the Americans were not offering the Japanese any terms, there was no way for either side to consider any way out of the slaughter, without more slaughter. And this, a full year after leaders on both sides agreed that the Americans had effectively won the war.
And then, at about four AM on August 9th, 1945, the Soviet Union, which the Japanese leadership had expected to help negotiate a peace, announced they were voiding their non-aggression pact with Japan and joining the Americans in carving up the Imperial Empire. At the same moment Soviet air and ground forces invaded Japanese occupied Manchuria in great numbers and strength. What remained of Japanese complacency began to finally collapse, not from the bomb, but from the Soviet military.
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