Why Did the Japanese Delay Surrendering?





Mr. Bix, author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (HarperCollins, 2000), writes on problems of war and empire and is a Japan Focus associate.

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A producer for the Korean Broadcasting System, which is doing a special program commemorating August 15, 1945, recently asked me why Japan's ruling elites rejected the Potsdam Declaration."What issue most impeded their decision to surrender?" he inquired."Shouldn't they have cared more for the safety of their own people after the war had long been irrevocably lost? Wasn't the U.S. nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the real reason they finally surrendered?"

What the Japanese people in summer 1945 called"the government" meant Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro and his cabinet ministers, who headed ministries that were rent with antagonistic factions. The"ruling elites," denoted primarily the Court Group around Emperor Hirohito plus the participants in the Supreme War Leadership Council, the first group to formally discuss the Potsdam Declaration. The Army and Navy Ministers and Chiefs of Staff, and others who took part in the emperor's last two imperial conferences or who influenced the final outcome, also comprised the core ruling elite. Former prime minister Prince Konoe Fumimaro, former foreign minister Shigemitsu Mamoru, the emperor's brother, Prince Takamatsu, and their respective secretaries and advisers all fell into this category. So too did Admiral Takagi Sokichi, an adviser to Konoe and Takamatsu.

These people had many reasons to bring the lost war to an end short of Japan's further destruction and unconditional capitulation to the Anglo-Americans. But only the emperor had the sovereign power to resolve the issue. And during the entire month of June and well into July, when U.S. terror bombing of Japanese civilian targets peaked, he resisted and showed no determination to do so.

It is also true that with the exception of Konoe, no one in the government or even the Court Group ever proposed opening direct negotiations with Washington, though most of them knew that the acting U.S. Secretary of State in summer 1945 was Joseph C. Grew, the former ambassador in Tokyo, a man sympathetic to the emperor and the"moderates" around the throne. Instead, they placed their hopes on ending the war on the good offices of Moscow, despite knowing that Stalin could not be trusted.

Emperor Hirohito and his chief political adviser, Kido Koichi, stuck with the militarists and insisted on continuing with preparations for final battles on the home islands even in late June, when all organized resistance on Okinawa had ended, and an estimated 120,000 Japanese combatants (including Koreans and Taiwanese) and 150,000 to 170,000 non-combatants lay dead. U.S. combat losses in the battle of Okinawa were approximately 12,520 killed and over 33,000 wounded. With time accelerating and their sense of the urgency of the situation deepening, Hirohito responded to this defeat by forcing the army and navy leaders to agree to the idea of an"early peace." But he still gave no indication that he was thinking in terms of an immediate surrender, let alone proposing peace to the nations he was actually fighting.

Into the month of July, the leaders of the imperial armed forces clung to the idea that as Allied lines of supply and communication lengthened, their own forces would do better on the homeland battlefields. But by this time Japan had virtually no oil, its cities were in ruins and its navy and naval air capability virtually non-existent. It is unclear at what point Hirohito abandoned the illusion that his armed forces remained capable of delivering at least one devastating blow to the enemy so that his diplomats could negotiate a surrender on face saving terms. But six months of intensive U.S. terror bombing of the Japanese civilian population had forced him, the Court group, and the government to take into account not only their huge losses of men and materials, but also food shortages and the growing war-weariness of the Japanese people. How could they lead and preserve their system of rule after peace returned?

That question weighed on their minds when the Potsdam Declaration arrived (July 27-28), calling on them to surrender unconditionally or face immediate destruction. Yet they rejected the four-power ultimatum, feeling as former prime minister and navy"moderate," Admiral Yonai Mitsumasa, said to his secretary on July 28,"There is no need to rush."

Domestic political considerations drove Japan's decision-makers. Ultimately, what mattered most was where each of them, and the institutions they represented, stood as a result of an unconditional surrender.

Hirohito, counting on the success of the Foreign Ministry's peace overtures to Moscow, resisted facing reality and never acted resolutely. But many months after their surrender, Hirohito, Kido, and Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori placed all blame on the military and claimed that they had been forced to reject the Potsdam terms because they feared precipitating a military coup d'etat which would have threatened their lives and brought about a worse situation than the one they confronted. They were clearly dissembling. What they had really feared was the destruction of their entire framework for rule.

After the Suzuki government rejected Potsdam, Hirohito waited to hear from Stalin, worried about defending the tokens of his legitimacy -- the three"imperial regalia" -- and lost the chance to end the war before the Soviets entered it. But some cabinet ministers and members of a cabinet advisory committee, composed largely of the leaders of big business, revisited the Potsdam Declaration, arguing that it had been a mistake to postpone acceptance of its terms. Prime Minister Suzuki, however, ignored their advice because the emperor and the army were not on board. By July, sixty-four Japanese cities had been largely or partially destroyed by conventional bombs and millions of pounds of incendiaries. There was little left to be destroyed: the crisis abroad and at home had merged.

At this moment, with the war all but over, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the civilian center of Hiroshima; the Soviet Union entered the war; and the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on the civilian center of Nagasaki. Truman and Byrnes introduced nuclear weapons into modern warfare when it had been militarily unnecessary to do so. Washington has believed ever since that the atomic bomb decisively forced Japan's surrender. But the Soviet factor carried greater weight in the eyes of the emperor and most military leaders. For surrender to the Soviet Union would surely have doomed the monarchy, whereas the Potsdam Declaration, which Truman had deliberately prevented Stalin from signing, held out the slim possibility of maintaining it.

So we come to the question of ideology, or the national polity and essence, which they called kokutai. During the 1930s, when many Japanese had private doubts about the monarchy, right-wingers and ultra-nationalists used this amuletic word as a weapon for attacking their opponents. Their object was to reorganize the state, stamp out criticism of the military, and silence liberals and socialists. Most Japanese did not know what kokutai meant, though the term had had a legal content ever since 1925. But"kokutai clarification campaigns" intimidated people and instilled a sense of crisis such that no one dared to publicly question the emperor's rescripts on national affairs: they were sacred and inviolable just as he was.

With defeat imminent, Japan's leaders feared that without the imperial house, the state and their own power would be devalued and diminished in the eyes of the people, and that the state would ultimately disintegrate. Thus for them, the kokutai was always more than a mere slogan for unifying the nation. It was the mission worth making the people fight to the death. The army and navy ministers and chiefs of staff in August 1945 equated kokutai with the emperor's right of supreme command, the mechanism by which they controlled the armed forces. But for all who participated in the last imperial conferences that produced the surrender decision, kokutai meant a sovereign, politically empowered monarchy based on the orthodox State Shinto view of the state, in which the people existed to assist the imperial destiny. For Hirohito, kokutai meant not only preservation of the dynasty but his own continuation on the throne.

Japanese leaders still had to decide whether they wanted to make an immediate decision to surrender under the circumstances. Governments that start or end wars of aggression characteristically care little for the safety of their own people. What they place first are their own interests and their own"mission." When their policies prove calamitous and their wars become unwinnable, they look for ways to absolve themselves and shift blame onto others.

In waging and losing the Vietnam war, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon never once placed the interests of the American or Vietnamese people first. Today, in the era of inevitable U.S. defeat in Iraq, the highest U.S. officials who foisted the war on the American people face a similar situation. The Bushites,"neoconservatives," and Pentagon generals who urge Americans to continue their illegal war and occupation of Iraq until"we win," are looking out for their own political interests and preparing for the political struggle that lies ahead.

So it was with Japan's decision-makers trying to end their war of aggression while their subjects faced the real prospect of physical annihilation. Preserving their conservative system of rule with the emperor at the apex was their ultimate end; war termination their political means.

If we remove what was specific to Japan from this sketch of war termination in 1945, then we see that their desire to accept defeat in a way that would obfuscate their own war responsibility and allow them to stay in control was hardly unique. Leaders of an imperialist state in the process of going down to defeat in war invariably behave this way.

We may never know the actual thinking of Hirohito when he decided to surrender. General MacArthur would not allow him to be questioned. But Kido gave extensive depositions to the interrogators of the International Prosecution Section of GHQ, which wrote the scenario for the Tokyo Tribunal in accordance with Truman administration policy. In those depositions he said the emperor surrendered in order to bring the war to an end and save human lives. He and the other top leaders figured that the new U.S. weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, had given them a face-saving excuse -- a way to accept defeat that would enable them to lead the nation through the immediate post-surrender situation.

Hirohito said something similar in 1946 in the"Monologue" that he dictated to his palace entourage. But what chiefly motivated him to"bow to the inevitable" and"bear the unbearable" was his desire to save a politically empowered throne with himself on it. If the military posed no threat to the imperial house, the people did. If he did not act immediately with the Russians bearing down on Japan and the national capacity for protracted resistance nearly exhausted, the monarchy, which he equated with the state, would be destroyed.

The atomic bombs and the Soviet invasion gave Japanese decision-makers a good justification for ending the war. But if they were to control the immediate postwar situation, the surrender had to be very carefully choreographed. In the early morning hours of August 10 they made their decision and over the next four days crafted the myth that the emperor had saved the nation by his heroic intervention in favor of peace.

Hirohito's imperial rescript accepting the Potsdam Declaration was recorded and broadcast by radio on August 15. It was a masterpiece of propaganda packed with terms like"preservation of the national polity,""subjects of the empire," and the"indestructibility of the divine land." The ideologues who drafted it deliberately obfuscated the Allies harsh terms of surrender because national pride was at stake. They avoided words that connoted dishonor like"surrender" and"defeat," and used instead the neutral term"end of the war" (shusen).

The surrender rescript was the very first Japanese government attempt to simultaneously reaffirm wartime categories of thought, redefine Hirohito's national image as a pacifist and antimilitarist, and lay the basis for the later argument that the entire nation should repent. With everything at stake, he stepped forward live, as it were, in the form of a recorded message, speaking directly to the Japanese people in their worst moment of pain. This was the first time he had deliberately addressed the entire nation, though his voice had been broadcast inadvertently once before, in 1928.

Especially memorable to many Japanese was the emperor's expression of"profound solicitude" for"those who fell on the fields of battle""or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families." He promised the Japanese people that his"sacred decision" (seidan) would open the way for"a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable." And he ended with an admonishment to" continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of the heavy burden of responsibilities, and the long road before it.""Unite . . . for the future;" and"work with resolution so as ye may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State."

Hirohito's language helped to transform him from a war to a peace leader, from a cold, aloof monarch to a human being who cared for his people. No wonder that the mystique of the throne, albeit diminished by defeat, carried over into the post-surrender period! But give credit also to the journalists, radio announcers, and government officials who interpreted the sacred, high-pitched"voice of the jewel" (gyokuon). These spin masters, hammering home the message that the emperor mourned for his subjects, played a crucial a role in crafting the myths of the emperor as pacifist and the lost war as a legitimate, unavoidable war for self-defense, self-preservation, and the"liberation of Asia."

The problem of historical consciousness that today clouds Japan's relations with Asian neighbors began with the emperor's surrender rescript. Enjoining the Japanese people to adapt to the new situation, it left them no room to clarify their leaders' responsibility for repressing their speech and making them fight a reckless war.

For essentially selfish reasons of state, Truman and MacArthur treated Hirohito as leniently as they did many other institutions that had promoted war, such as the Yasukuni Shrine. A truthful, public post-mortem on both Hirohito's"green light" for war in 1941 and his true role in the surrender process was never conducted. Grateful to Washington and GHQ for protecting Hirohito and preserving the monarchy, Japan's ruling elites never demanded that the U.S. apologize or show contrition for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


This article first appeared at Japan Focus and is reprinted with permission.


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More Comments:


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The word "chickenhawk" is normally used in reference to a certain kind of hypocrite. Namely, one who would start a war and commit fellow citizens to die in it, but who evaded serving in military combat himself. The term "chickenhawk" contains no general implication whatsosever concerning which sort of people "are fit to make war decisions". Perhaps for the simpleminded, it would be easier just to stick to the broader term hypocrite, as in George W. Hypocrite Bush, Donald Hypocrite Rumsfeld, etc..

The article itself is generally quite excellent, by the way, and most of other comments about here rife with many other instances of confusion and misattribution.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You do appear "simpleminded enough" to fail to notice that I did not use the words "neo-con" and "traitor" here. My main point above was to deflate one of the many abuses of semantics and of a healthy discussion here, which is to attack prior comments, not for the shortcomings of their intellectual or historical content, but by developing politically-correct misshapings of vocabulary they use, and then attacking those misshapings.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Pas de tout. There are no "rules of debate" here. You may continue to be as irrelevant as you wish, and misquote me to your heart's delight. But, as long as we are now on your irrelevant tangent to my original post, I would like to point out that I am not very fond of "neo-con". It implies a consistency and integrity that does not exist.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

P. Ebitt, You make about a dozen different points in your comment immediately above. None of them contradict anything I said before here, and I agree with most of your points. Someone who disagreed with all of them, however, might nonetheless use "chickenhawk" just as you do, to describe the cowardly behavior of those running the executive branch of government in Washington DC today when it comes to committing troops abroad. I continue to disagree with the "PC" view that the use of a small number of particular descriptive adjectives suffices to define the user's political or philosophical or idelogical views writ large. One point of possible partial exception is that I favor no revision to either the relevant clauses of the U.S. constitution, associated statues or traditional precedents when it comes to Congress declaring war and the president being commander-in-chief, regardless of their degree of prior military experience.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

when I say "partial exception", I mean to Mr. Ebbitt's post, not to my point about disagreeing with PCism.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Even assuming your interpretation of the decoded Japanese messages is correct, I cannot locate the supposed "conflict" between this and Bix's article. Where does Bix say he thinks the Japanese authorities were "ready to surrender before Truman approved the use of the A-Bombs" ? Are we reading the same article ?


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Bix, not "Blix" is the author you quote. But your quote does not prove the earlier claim by Richardson in his post.

Bix's position is not very clear in this passage, but he implies that since (according to him) it was the Soviet entry forced the change in Japan's position, therefore the dropping of the first bomb (which preceeded Stalin's declaration) WAS at least indirectly important in changing the Japanese government's mind. Since he also considers the "introduction" (i.e. both atom bomb blasts on Japan in August, 1945) to be unnecessary, I conclude that he thinks the Soviet declaration which WAS obtained with the help of the Hiroshima nuke, COULD HAVE BEEN obtained without the use of ANY nukes. That is a counterfactual argument that cannot be conclusively proven or disproven by reference to the actual decoded intercepts.

In any case, I am not yet persuaded that the intercepts are as clear cut about Japanese determination to fight as you and Richardson are ready to believe.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Richardson,

"Shouldn't Mr. Bix have considered and addressed that evidence?"

In his book, yes. So if you suspect that he didn't and you want to ding him for that, you'll have to read it or at least check the bibliography and footnotes carefully. Articles on this website tend not to cite sources, however.

Of course, if the "Magic" decrypts really seriously contradict Bix, then he should have acknowledged that, even in a short article, but this is not clear to me. I am not an expert on this historical episode, but as nearly as I can make out (see above), Bix thinks that nuking Hiroshima DID lead to the Japanese surrender, but that there were alternative paths for reaching the same result without use of nukes. I really think it's up to you to cite chapter and verse of Magic, and put it into an overal context, if you think it disproves this position of Bix (a position which is not quite as you described it initially). I am not saying you are wrong, but Bix's account is at least plausible to me, absent solid and convincing counter-evidence. I have long wondered why Truman, once he had the bomb and had decided to use it, still bargained with Stalin to get what at that point was a militarily useless and absurly late nth hour declaration of war from the USSR. If correct, Bix's explanation defogs that mystery.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I do not consider the Weekly Standard, a relatively new and polemical organ, to be a reliable source of historical knowledge. Certainly I don't intend to go web fishing there for an unlinked article. For top-quality history, I prefer the book reviews in the New York Times or Economist, for example, or the academic journals.

I am not familiar with the scholarship of Richard Frank, a non-academic history-writer, but am certainly not impressed by his remarkably evasive and long-winded answer to a straightforward question (why wait only three days before hitting Nagasaki ?) in this PBS forum:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pacific/sfeature/sf_forum_0503.html#a

Other portions of that same forum, I was not surprised to discover, indicate ambiguity within the Magic transcripts re Japanese intentions. Intentions are a very slippery thing to nail down: intercepted internal communications are a better source for addressing more factual questions (i.e. was Nixon actively talking about intervening in the Watergate affair shortly after the June 1972 break-in ?, or what did Washington know about what Japanese military movements in the first few days of December, 1941 ?)

I am afraid the answer to the question raised by Mr. Richardson at the outset of this thread remains unclear: Were the Japanese ready to surrender before the first bomb was dropped ?

On balance Bix says no. He does also say, without explaining, that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were somehow "unncessary", but I am still not ready to assume that he means by this that Japan would have surrendered RIGHT AWAY in early August without any use of the atom bomb.

On the question of USSR entering the war, I do not see what relevance Japan troops in Korea or China had once America decided to start nuking the Japanese mainland. The USSR did essentially zilch in the war against Japan, and could not have been expected to have much time to do much once the US started its atomic annihilation. In the end, Stalin got a bunch of territory for doing nothing militarily in the East. That is why the idea of Potsdam vs Soviet takeover of Japan, as a sort of Good-Cop Bad Cop negotiating strategy vs Hirohito, ala Bix, does at least suggest a plausible rationale for what otherwise looks like a "hand the USSR territory on a silver platter" blunder by Truman.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Thanks for the reference, Mr. Mutschler (no online link I suppose ?), but the main issue raised on this page is actually not the much ballyhood evergreen & unresolvable question about whether the 1945 A bomb drops were justified, notwithstanding the efforts of several posters here to make it so, nor the desire of the HNN editors to cast things in that light, nor the money to be made (by Frank etc) recycling old debates.

The issue here is Bix's historiographical take on the Japanese surrender, e.g. that Hirohito et al were not self-sacrificing heros who bravely faced up to Japan's defeat, but instead delayers of the inevitable wanting to salvage their own hold on power. The tangent in this thread re the decoded Japanese communications has led nowhere conclusive, partly because those decrypts are supposed to somehow "contradict" Bix by reinforcing (?!) his position that most of Japanese big shots were not eager to throw in the towel prior to Hiroshima.

Of course, no news analysis outlet is "always accurate", not even Economist. But however "fair and balanced" it might be, the Weekly Standard is nowhere near the same league for quality and breadth.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Give me a viable link to a relevant article by Frank and I will look at it. If you believe he has a case, it would be "lazy or mindless" to foist the job of documenting that case on those YOU want to convince of it. The likelihood of (1) a major unresolved 60 year old historical debate being solidly cleared up by yet another incremental set of recently uncovered or declassified documents, and (2) the mainstream press (e.g. not including Weekly Standard) ignoring or covering up such a historiographical breakthrough is not high. I will nonetheless consider it as a possibility, but am not going to take the undocumented opinions of a few HNN posters as a definitive conclusion without some better substantiation, nor will I do their homework for them in trying to evaluate their questionable case. I am not sure that Bix has things quite right either, and I agree that he conflates too many points in an unclear way in this article, but the tangential attempts to criticize his argument in these comment postings here do not hold water, at least so far.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

With reference to the long, circuitous prior thread that started here,
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=66141#66141:

I took a rummage through HNN’s Hiroshima laundry basket
http://hnn.us/articles/10168.html

and found there the Richard B. Frank - Weekly Standard piece
http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/13482.html


This includes an extensive discussion of the decoded Japanese messages and is almost certainly the inspiration for Will Richardson’s original comment (#66141) which began the prior thread. Most of that thread could have been short-circuited had Richardson (a) cited the HNN link to Frank, (b) acknowledged the essential agreement between Bix and Frank (in Frank’s words: “right to the very end, the Japanese pursued twin goals: not only the preservation of the imperial system, but also preservation of the old order in Japan “) and (c) recognized the thus essentially tangential nature of his claim that new undocumented evidence (e.g. the decrypts publicized by Frank) contradict a side remark of the author here (Bix).


For what its worth, Frank is a formidable writer, and the HNN page on him (which should have been about his full book, not just the sound-bite-rich Weekly Standard sensationalized adapation of it) deserves at least a fraction of the comments about his views that are misplacedly piling up here. Academic historians seem to have been been slow to react to an important work by a non-academic, and I expect to hear more about this book in the future.

Frank’s basic case -that it was reasonable of Truman to think he needed to drop atom bombs to compel Japan’s surrender- is convincing, within the context he carefully frames to best undergird his ultimately not very original thesis. As expected, the intercept messages (most of which were made public three decades ago) are an ambiguous jumble, but on balance tend to support Frank’s argument, though not to the extent hyped by him.

Since this is now a long, now multiple thread tangent already, I will note only briefly in passing that an interesting US Army vs Navy debate is also intriguingly brought up by Frank in the above linked piece.

Two deficiencies of Frank’s article are its reluctance to court alternative explanations and its narrow view of U.S. decision-making. Frank does not, for example, address the relative role of Soviet entry in prompting Japan’s surrender, and he says nothing about the fire-bombing which preceeded Hiroshima.

On that final point, see for example HNN’s reprint of David Kennedy’s Time column (here http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/13429.html):

“.in the endgame of the war against Japan, long-range B-29 bombers systematically undertook fire-bombing raids that consumed 66 of Japan's largest cities and killed as many as 900,000 civilians--many times the combined death tolls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The weapons that incinerated those two unfortunate cities represented a technological innovation with fearsome consequences for the future of humanity. But the U.S. had already crossed a terrifying moral threshold when it accepted the targeting of civilians as a legitimate instrument of warfare. That was a deliberate decision, indeed, and it's where the moral argument should rightly focus.”


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The key missing link for this thread is presented and discussed below
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=66202#66202


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mr. Rodriguez,

Yes, I am stating that the only people qualified to make military command and control decisions are those in positions and with experience in actual warfare. We witnessed civilian bungling in Vietnam as our military leaders had their hands tied. Granted both Kennedy and Nixon served. The former with great distinction. However, the Pentagon and defense contractors such as KBR called the shots in Southeast Asia. I would prefer that military leaders lead our troops and civilians direct administrative efforts. The Bush administration steamrolled any military leader who posed questions about the planning phase to the run up of the Iraq War. This has had disastrous consequences. For example, insufficient troop strength to secure the country and then the subsequent error by civilian administrator Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi Army in the immediate aftermath of the initial campaign.

Mr. Clarke,

Although I use the term chicken-hawk to describe the gutless wonders within the administration I am by no means a dove. I come from a military family and although I did not serve after high school in 1978, as I chose college, I currently serve the DAV and have spent many weekend afternoons at VA Hospitals. I believe in a strong, well trained and well equipped military but a military that is used with discretion, has well defined operational objectives and uses maximum force when required. Not all of us who question the modus operandi in Iraq are against the use of our military in protecting US interests. Most only seek honest discourse about what the tactical advantages and end game are. The current administration seems to have been pulling a smoke and mirror campaign from the run up to the war... 911 Investigation Cover-up, Downing Street Memo, Plame Game and Halliburton Profiteering... then now passes off disinformation about the war itself as if the public is to ignorant to the questions of what is going wrong in Iraq. I find it amazing with the '06 election around the corner the administration is bantering about troop withdrawal. And a few posters here seem to strongly support civilian leaders calling the shots for our military. WOW! No wonder Iraq smells like Vietnam revisited.



Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mr. Rodriguez,

Yes, I am stating that the only people qualified to make military command and control decisions are those in positions and with experience in actual warfare. We witnessed civilian bungling in Vietnam as our military leaders had their hands tied. Granted both Kennedy and Nixon served. The former with great distinction. However, the Pentagon and defense contractors such as KBR called the shots in Southeast Asia. I would prefer that military leaders lead our troops and civilians direct administrative efforts. The Bush administration steamrolled any military leader who posed questions about the planning phase to the run up of the Iraq War. This has had disastrous consequences. For example, insufficient troop strength to secure the country and then the subsequent error by civilian administrator Paul Bremer to disband the Iraqi Army in the immediate aftermath of the initial campaign.

Mr. Clarke,

Although I use the term chicken-hawk to describe the gutless wonders within the administration I am by no means a dove. I come from a military family and although I did not serve after high school in 1978, as I chose college, I currently serve the DAV and have spent many weekend afternoons at VA Hospitals. I believe in a strong, well trained and well equipped military but a military that is used with discretion, has well defined operational objectives and uses maximum force when required. Not all of us who question the modus operandi in Iraq are against the use of our military in protecting US interests. Most only seek honest discourse about what the tactical advantages and end game are. The current administration seems to have been pulling a smoke and mirror campaign from the run up to the war... 911 Investigation Cover-up, Downing Street Memo, Plame Game and Halliburton Profiteering... then now passes off disinformation about the war itself as if the public is to ignorant to the questions of what is going wrong in Iraq. I find it amazing with the '06 election around the corner the administration is bantering about troop withdrawal. And a few posters here seem to strongly support civilian leaders calling the shots for our military. WOW! No wonder Iraq smells like Vietnam revisited.



Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mr. Siegler,

"The troops will likely start heading home in the spring." On Monday August 1, 2005 seven of our brave men were killed in Haditha as insurgents attacked a patrol then posted handbills celebrating the event claiming to have also captured weapons and equipment. How are our troops going to be able to come home as heated battle in Iraq continues daily? The US is constructing massive, permanent bases in Iraq. The US plans to be in Iraq for the foreseeable future. Conversely, the insurgents will remain active trying to dislodge the US presence. I don't believe we will be coming home any time soon. Insurgent troop strength is estimated at 200,000 while the US posts 130,000 strong. Typically an occupying force should hold a 10 to 1 numerical advantage over it's foe. This is why General Shinseki asked for 350,000 to 400,000 troops en masse at the wars outset. Instead we have 130,000 troops of which 40,000 are logistics, administration and medical support leaving 80,000 troops to combat. If troops pull 12 hour duty that means only 40,000 troops on watch for any half day period. If we are to win this war it will take additional boots on the ground. Bringing troops home as part of standard rotation and shipping them back out is NOT HOME IN THE SPRING! I'm starting to feel a draft after the 2006 election cycle.


Mr. Ryan,

"Go pedal your defeatist nonsense elsewhere please." I have had forum discussions with Mr. Heisler on a few occasions but would never call him a defeatist. I disagree with him on many points but we have made a mess of Iraq and to date I surely would not say we are winning this war. This is not defeatist but is the reality of the moment. As a student of military history I can site numerous errors in US war planning that has put our troops in this position. As Napoleon marched through Russia decisively winning battles he failed to comprehend the Russian mindset until Moscow was ablaze and he was buried under a cold blanket of snow. The US has also failed to understand the Iraqi mindset. The shock and awe of the initial front has failed to break the will of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi Police/Army is in disarray and littered with insurgent spies who relay every movement to the resistance. This site is open to all points of view. It is sad that some live in an pipe dream altered reality while our troops are being killed daily. Your cavalier attitude is similar to those of the cowardly chicken-hawks in the Bush administration who fail to take a realistic view of events on the ground and adapt accordingly.

"Small-scale regional conflicts." HELLO... This is not a small scale conflict but a 4th Generation global war. I find it hard to believe that anyone can be so naive. This is only the beginning of a major global war as the US and Israel set site on Iran and Syria. The recent bombings in Britain and Egypt clearly show the reach of non-nation state combatants. Japan barely scratched US soil during WWII and Vietnam had no designs or capability to do so during the Southeast Asian War.

Getting back to the article as to why Japan delayed surrender is that the militarist truly believed the Japanese mainland was well enough fortified to prevent being overrun. Regardless what historians now say the US truly believed that it would take 2 million troops to subdue Japan a country slightly smaller than California. We see the difficulty in suppressing resistance in Iraq a country the size of Texas with 1/3 the population of 1940's Japan and nowhere near the military capability of the Japanese. Japan did not surrender until a week after the Nagasaki bombing. By this time Tokyo was already a smoldering heap from months of fire bombing. If the Japanese could suffer a destroyed Tokyo why not the A-bomb? Maybe the US should nuke Baghdad and the we would win this war too.


Patrick M Ebbitt - 9/25/2006

Mr. Ryan,

1.) The Comparison of Napoleon's Russian campaign is only to open the discussion as to why the US is not changing our tactics to combat the insurgents more effectively. Again, yesterday (14) Marines were killed by IED on the Syrian border.

2.) Comparing combats deaths in Iraq to D-Day or 911 is absurd. With this logic it can be shown that US combat deaths in Iraq are well ahead of combat losses in Vietnam for the 1960 to 1962 period. No two wars are the same so comparisons are of little value.

3.) As a Libertarian I neither support the Democratic platform nor have I ever listened to Air America. It is odd for me to support an administration who does not have any leaders, other than Don Rumsfield, who served in the military. How can our leaders know the cost of war if they have never been there? Why doesn't the administration recognize the deaths of our service men. No photo's of the coffins, no visits to pay respects at funerals, continued reductions in veteran benefits and the lack of funding to treat the wounded stateside. I also find it odd that the administration was successful in it's attacks on John Kerry (whom I did not vote for) who actually served in combat. I now see the Republicans attack Paul Hackett an Iraqi Vet running for an Ohio congressional seat with the same vigor.

4.) Again comparing WWII and Iraq makes no sense. But for the record the US has spent $800B on this current effort. To me, that is quite a large commitment of resources.

5.) Al Queda, or whatever the West calls them, is not, nor have they ever been intent on bringing the war to US soil. Although 911 was a thoroughly planned military attack it's aim was not the invasion of the US mainland. They don't have the strength or resources. Their goal is to remove the West from Arab homelands, destabilize Israel, free Palestine and create theocratic states in Muslim lands.

6.) The use of the A-bomb was inevitable. If you have a weapon then you use it. I disagree that historians who attack the use of the A-bomb equate the US as bad. This would make little sense and the argument against the bombs use is badly discredited on this foundation of thought.

7.) Insurgent strength of 200,000 in a nation with a population of 25M is not so far fetched. The US is not in control of the Kurdish north who boast upwards of 100,000 men. Kirkuk and Mosel are off limits to US troops. The south is controlled by 25,000 to 50,000 men under control of various warlords. The central and west of Iraq where the heavy fighting is underway has estimates ranging between 20,000 and 100,000 fighters. In a nation where everyone is armed and none is your friend I would venture to say the forces against the US are closer to 200,000.

Again, the insurgents are numerous small armed bands that lack supply and command to sustain major offensives. Against overwhelming US firepower they would not stand a chance on a conventional battlefield. Fighting in isolated pockets is their only effective means to battle a the far superior US forces.

8.) Please provide the solid numbers of the Iraq security forces you write of. Of the 100 units planned by Don Rumsfield only 3 are fully operational to date. The Iraqi Police/Army is fairing very poorly. They need constant US support, lack initiative and are easily cowed... if captured they are beheaded and tossed onto the the front lawn of their family home... They are heavily compromised by insiders, lack the equipment of their US counterparts and are mostly assigned to security patrol duty to which they are continually subject to ambush.

For the US to quell the violence and win the war we need more ground troops, divide Iraq into local (tribal) spheres, secure the borders especially, the Saudi border where most foreign fighters enter Iraq not Syria or Iran as the press reports and begin to show marked progress in the rebuilding effort not have contractor skim millions of out tax dollars.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/6/2005

http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm


Don Adams - 8/6/2005

For the record, I have not claimed that Frank's article resolves anything. What I and others have argued is that the Magic intercepts on which it is based serve as important evidence of what Truman and his advisors knew, or at least believed, about Japan's intentions. They are surely not conclusive -- no single piece of evidence could be on such a topic -- and they may well contain ambiguous or even contradictory evidence within them. (Don't all the best sources?) But if, as appears to be the case, they can be reasonably interpreted to support the Truman administration's unwavering claim that they felt they had no choice but to use the bomb, then anyone who seeks to challenge that position must account for them. Bix fails to do so, and thereby undermines some of his tangential claims.

The link to Frank's article is here:

www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/894mnyyl.asp




Don Adams - 8/6/2005

Mr. Clarke-

It is just as nonsensical for a historian to entirely dismiss a source because of perceived bias as it is to entirely accept a source without consideration of bias. Since Mr. Frank does not work for the Weekly Standard any more than Mr. Bix works for HNN, your peremptory dismissal of his argument on the basis of its association is either lazy or mindless.

As for your suggestion that the Magic intercepts do not contradict Bix, you have missed the point entirely. Bix argues in explicit terms that "the war was all but over" and that the dropping of the bomb was "militarily unnecssary." If the Magic intercepts can be reasonably interpreted to suggest otherwise -- and credible scholars believe they can -- then a number of his supporting arguments come unraveled. It is true enough that his main point has to do with the determination of Japanese leaders to hold on to power following the war, but he himself introduces the tangents to which others have responded with references to the Magic intercepts. Indeed, I noted in the first response to this article that Bix has diluted and confused his own argument with pointless asides about America during and even after the war. Japan's motivation for surrender and America's decision to use the bomb are related but nonetheless distinct issues, and Bix seems unable to resist conflating the two.


Charles V. Mutschler - 8/5/2005

The New York Times is always accurate, right? The New York Times, which gave us a glowing review of Amring America? The New York Times that still thinks Duranty's reporting from the USSR was award winning material? Let's be fair here - many publications - including the good gray Times have not always done a fine job of upholding scholarship. I can't speak for the Weekly Standard, but I'd say it's worth noting that the article by Frank is linked by the Chronicle of Higher Education in their column on things to read from the wider press.

But, for a scholarly review that tends to support the use of the A-Bombs, will the following do? Alonzo Hamby, reviewing five books in the Journal of American History - JAH Sept. 1997, pp. 609 - 614.

Charles V. Mutschler
-30-


Don Adams - 8/5/2005

Mr. Clarke-

Bix explicitly states that dropping the bomb was "militarily unnecessary" and that "the Soviet factor carried greater weight" in Japan's surrender. His overall argument is awkward, and he equivocates a bit, but ultimately it seems clear that he is arguing that the use of the bomb was irrelevant, or nearly so. Your suggestion to the contrary is not supported by anything in the text.

As for the Magic intercepts, an excellent article on this topic by Richard Frank is currently posted on the Weekly Standard website. At least according to Frank, who is a WWII historian, the Magic intercepts do indeed tell us that Truman and his advisors had good reason to believe that Japan had both the will and the means to continue fighting prior to the use of the bomb. Mr. Richardson is thus quite correct to fault Bix for failing to address this information in his article.

And, by the way, congratulations on your pointless dig at Mr. Ryan for his typo on Bix's name. It is a nice bit of hypocrisy from someone who just last week faulted others for "cheap pot shots."

http://hnn.us/comments/65502.html


Will Richardson - 8/5/2005

Dear Mr. Clark, Mr. Bix's article appears to rely heavily on his paper "Japan's Delayed Surrender: A Reinterpretation" in Diplomatic History, Vol. 19, No. 2 Spring 1995), 197-225, but the full Magic decrypts became available in 1996 or 1997. The point of my original comment was that the Magic decrypts are significant, material and primary sources which arguably contradict Bix's conclusion that use of the A-Bomb was either unnecessary or unjustified. Bix must address that conflict or he is being imperfectly frank with his audience. It is not my intention to refute Mr. Bix's thesis, but to point out that his failure to address pertinent evidence weakens his argument.

Truman's efforts to get the Soviets involved is better explained by the fact that the japanese still occupied Korea and significant territory in China the fruits of which helped sustain the japanese war effort and feed the japanese people. The Soviets had a large army that could be deployed, by land, against that occupation. This was reason enough to court Soviet participation. After all, the United States employed the strategy of letting the Soviets wear down the Germans in Europe before attempting the amphibious landings at Normandy. After Iwo Jima and Okinawa (sp?), this strategy would be very appealing.


Will Richardson - 8/5/2005

Dear Mr. Clark, regardless of how the Magic decrypts are interpreted, they are primary sources relevant to japanese intentions in 1945. Shouldn't Mr. Bix have considered and addressed that evidence?


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/5/2005

That would be right here:

"At this moment, with the war all but over, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the civilian center of Hiroshima; the Soviet Union entered the war; and the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on the civilian center of Nagasaki. Truman and Byrnes introduced nuclear weapons into modern warfare when it had been militarily unnecessary to do so. Washington has believed ever since that the atomic bomb decisively forced Japan's surrender. But the Soviet factor carried greater weight in the eyes of the emperor and most military leaders."

According to Blix, it was "militarily unnecessary to do so." Fortunately (and ironically), for the many Allied soldiers, Japanese and Asian civilians that would have lost their lives during an invasion, Truman and his cabinet did not share this view.

Finally, the Magic decrypts allowed Truman to KNOW what the Japanese were planning; therefore his decision was an informed one.


Will Richardson - 8/5/2005

Mr. Bix's article seems incomplete by omitting an important primary source for japanese intentions in 1945. Magic Diplomatic and Magic Far East radio intercept decryptions contradict Mr. Bix's opinion that the japanese were ready to surrender before Truman approved the use of the A-Bombs. The Magic intercepts strongly support the conclusion that the japanese were determined to continue the fight and the japanese build up of forces on Kyushu during 1945 confirm that determination. Mr. Bix's article would be more persuasive if he addressed the conflict between his opinion and what Magic shows.


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/4/2005

Oh, pardon monsieur! I had no idea that the rules of debate limited me to ONLY commenting on posts made in regard to articles under which they appear. This rule does indeed make “off-limits” your prior litanies on the subject of “"chickenhawks", "neo-cons" and "traitors".


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/4/2005

Peter:

Yes, I'm simpleminded enough to point out that your comments are deviod of actual content, but instead rely on emotioanlly empty terms like "chickenhawk", "neo-con" and "traitor".

I pity you and your ideoligcal straightjacket.


Michael Barnes Thomin - 8/4/2005

To understand the nature of the wars we are currently engaged in and the wars we will be faced with in the future, I recommend all check out "The Sling and the Stone" by Col. Thomas Hammes, USMC. I think he pretty much hits it right on the head. Unless you understand the tactics employed by 4th generation warfare (4GW), then you cannot possibly understand what is going on in either Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regards,
Mike


Bill Heuisler - 8/4/2005

Mr. Ebbitt,
You've based your pessimism on a major factual error. You made the statement. "insurgency strength is estimated at 200,000." This is wrong. This repeats an error made by Juan Cole when he mistranslated an interview with the Iraqi Intel Chief General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani.

Shahwani actually said 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in a Baghdad speech (Jan 3, just prior to the election). Google his speech. Read the translation instead of depending on Cole (who since corrected his mistake).

Professor Cole wrote, "General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, head of Iraqi intelligence, estimated on Monday that the force strength of the guerrilla insurgency was about 200,000 men. My own estimate had been 100,000. The US military used to say 5,000, then started saying 20,000- 25,000, but frankly I don't think they have any idea..."

So, Professor Cole showed his normal contempt for the US military and happily depended on a Western wire service messed-up translation of "al-Sharq" Arabic text.

Adding a zero to numbers of the enemy is bad enough, but telling the world the US military is incompetent becomes disgraceful. This is another attempt to hurt US War effort and reduce morale. Please check the actual numbers given by the Iraqi Intelligence Chief before repeating Prof. Cole's ridiculous number.
Bill Heuisler


Gonzalo Rodriguez - 8/4/2005

"It is odd for me to support an administration who does not have any leaders, other than Don Rumsfield, who served in the military. How can our leaders know the cost of war if they have never been there?"

I suspect the doves who chant the "chickenhawk" mantra -- implying that the only people who are fit to make war decisions are military personnel -- would be very horrified indeed if that were codified in law, judging by the very generally hawkish and right-leaning attitudes expressed by the great majority of servicepeople, both currently serving and retired.


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/3/2005

Comments on your post:
1. As my 2nd post stated - I was commenting on the author’s pros, not Mr. Heisler's.
2. As a student of military history you should think again about comparing the situation in Iraq to the unmitigated disaster in Russia during 1812. The US is STILL "in" Baghdad and the Iraqi Police/Army is making steady progress with NO shortage of recruits.
3. Cavalier attitude about casualties? No, not at all - the loss of these lives is regrettable. The issue is perspective and as a student of military history you should know that US combat deaths in Iraq are still less than the casualties on D-Day or 9/11 for that matter.
4. "Chicken-hawks"? Please refrain from using meaningless buzz words, as they identify you as someone who derives your opinions from DNC Talking Point memo's or Air America.
5. 4th Generation Global war, huh? At this point in time the US commitment in Iraq is a small fraction of the resources used to fight WWII, which was my point. Come back and post when the US and Israel actually invade either Syria or Iran and we can discuss your "4th Generation Global war."
6. Japan barely scratched US soil during WWII. OK, and by that yardstick neither did Al Queda.
7. "Regardless of what historians now say..." Only some historians say that this was not a valid basis for the use of the bomb on Japan. And these historians are driven by ideology (US = bad) and must ignore a mountain of evidence to maintain this point of view.
8. Your contention that Insurgent troop strength is 200,000. Do you realize how absurdly high that figure is? You posit a strength approx. 50,000 higher than Saddam's Republican Guard in the "good old days", and all this strength without the benefit of a robust and secure logistical network (think Vietnam)? One wonders why they waste time on the odd rocket attack or car bomb? With numbers like that they should be, you know, actually fighting!
9. Your comparison of this figure to the US troop count. Interesting how, as you build your straw man, you omit the count and contributions of the Iraqi security forces and how their numbers, commitment and effectiveness has grown over the past 6 months.

My advice to you sir; read more history and post less.


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/2/2005

Heisler is actually quoting the article on that one Ed.


Edward Siegler - 8/2/2005

Heisler - The UN has given its approval to the US presence in Iraq, as has the Iraqi and US governments. So on what grounds do you base your claim that the US presence in Iraq is "illegal"? And you might want to pick up a paper before you start talking about your imagined desire by Bush to hang around in Iraq much longer. The troops will likely start heading home in the spring.


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/2/2005

CEH:

I hit the submit button prematurely, I was not commenting on your views, but that of the author.


Scott Michael Ryan - 8/2/2005

"Today, in the era of inevitable U.S. defeat in Iraq,..."

Hey, you forgot the use the word “quagmire”, or mention Abu Ghraib. Go pedal your defeatist nonsense elsewhere please. Yo

"So it was with Japan's decision-makers trying to end their war of aggression while their subjects faced the real prospect of physical annihilation."

Oh please, Japanese warlords involved in a major World War are in NO WAY analogous to democratically elected Presidents involved in small-scale regional conflicts.

Just can't help but point out a rather obvious point of difference here in your fallacious analogy.


Charles Edward Heisler - 8/2/2005

"
In waging and losing the Vietnam war, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon never once placed the interests of the American or Vietnamese people first. Today, in the era of inevitable U.S. defeat in Iraq, the highest U.S. officials who foisted the war on the American people face a similar situation. The Bushites, "neoconservatives," and Pentagon generals who urge Americans to continue their illegal war and occupation of Iraq until "we win," are looking out for their own political interests and preparing for the political struggle that lies ahead.

So it was with Japan's decision-makers trying to end their war of aggression while their subjects faced the real prospect of physical annihilation. Preserving their conservative system of rule with the emperor at the apex was their ultimate end; war termination their political means."


Just can't help but point out a rather obvious point of difference here in your fallacious analogy. The American presidents you point out, weren't and aren't defeated in the field with cities reduced to rubble and no armies in the field.


Don Adams - 8/1/2005

What a disappointment. I approached this article with real enthusiasm, hoping I would learn something new about one of the most interesting and important questions of recent history. What I got instead was a mixture of gibberish, pointless anti-US invective, and hopelessly simplistic “analysis.” To wit:

-- Bix’s take on Russia’s role in Japan’s surrender is nearly incoherent. He says, for example, that fear of surrendering to Russia was the primary factor behind Japan’s decision to surrender to the US -- more important even than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – but he offers no substantiation for this unusual claim. Moreover, he at least partially contradicts himself by pointing out that Truman had deliberately kept Russia from signing the Potsdam Declaration, a fact which “kept alive the slim possibility of maintaining (the monarchy).” If, as Bix argues, this was the chief concern of Japanese leaders at the time, then the Potsdam terms should have been appealing right from the start. There may be some historical truth buried within his confused description of events, but it is not easily discernible to those not already familiar with Japan’s interaction with, and attitudes about, Russia.

-- Bix makes superfluous and unfounded claims throughout his article about the role of the US in recent world history. He claims for example, that Vietnam and the current war in Iraq were wars of aggression on par with Japan’s imperial expansion in the years leading up to WWII. He also describes America’s treatment of Hirohito as “selfish,” with the implication that it was done exclusively to spare Truman and Macarthur the need to apologize for their conduct during the war. Reasonable people might debate such claims, but their presence in an article about Japan’s decision to reject Potsdam is questionable at best, and in any case they require substantiation, which the author fails to provide.

More notable still is the almost comically simplistic view of national and international actors they represent. All wars are not only “bad,” they are the same. All those who start wars are uniformly aggressive leaders who deliberately sacrifice the lives of others in pursuit of their own political aims. Even decisions made in the name of peace are somehow corrupt because those who make them are not perfectly selfless beings. It seems to me that Bix is guilty of exactly the same kind Manichaean logic for which those on the left repeatedly – and correctly – fault the Bush administration: either you are with us, or you are with the bad buys. What Bix misses is that fact that it is possible for leaders to be wrong without being evil. It is possible for leaders to have both political AND principled motivation. By failing to offer such nuance, and by inserting needless asides about American foreign policy throughout his article, Bix ends up telling us much more about his own ideology than about the ostensible subject of his article.

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