Ward Wilson: The Bomb Didn't Beat Japan... Stalin Did

tags: World War II, nuclear weapons, Japan, Soviet Union, United States, Joseph Stalin, Ward Wilson



Ward Wilson is a senior fellow at the British American Security Information Council and the author of Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, from which this article was adapted.

The U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II has long been a subject of emotional debate. Initially, few questioned President Truman's decision to drop two atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, in 1965, historian Gar Alperovitz argued that, although the bombs did force an immediate end to the war, Japan's leaders had wanted to surrender anyway and likely would have done so before the American invasion planned for November 1. Their use was, therefore, unnecessary. Obviously, if the bombings weren't necessary to win the war, then bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong. In the 48 years since, many others have joined the fray: some echoing Alperovitz and denouncing the bombings, others rejoining hotly that the bombings were moral, necessary, and life-saving.

Both schools of thought, however, assume that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with new, more powerful weapons did coerce Japan into surrendering on August 9. They fail to question the utility of the bombing in the first place -- to ask, in essence, did it work? The orthodox view is that, yes, of course, it worked. The United States bombed Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, when the Japanese finally succumbed to the threat of further nuclear bombardment and surrendered. The support for this narrative runs deep. But there are three major problems with it, and, taken together, they significantly undermine the traditional interpretation of the Japanese surrender....

If the Japanese were not concerned with city bombing in general or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in particular, what were they concerned with? The answer is simple: the Soviet Union....

It didn't take a military genius to see that, while it might be possible to fight a decisive battle against one great power invading from one direction, it would not be possible to fight off two great powers attacking from two different directions. The Soviet invasion invalidated the military's decisive battle strategy, just as it invalidated the diplomatic strategy. At a single stroke, all of Japan's options evaporated. The Soviet invasion was strategically decisive -- it foreclosed both of Japan's options -- while the bombing of Hiroshima (which foreclosed neither) was not....



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