TSUYOSHI HASEGAWA vs. SADAO ASADA: Debating Hiroshima





Letter from TSUYOSHI HASEGAWA:

I would like to respond to Sadao Asada’s review of my book, Racing the Enemy [published in Journal of Strategic Studies 29/1 (February 2006) 169–71]. He raises two important interpretive questions: whether or not there was a ‘race’ between Truman and Stalin, and which event, the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the Soviet entry into the war, played a more decisive role on Japan’s decision to surrender.

On the first issue, I find peculiar Asada’s criticism that ‘two weeks are not long enough to sustain Hasegawa’s thesis [on the race].’ Whether a 100-meter dash, or a marathon, a race is a race, irrespective of the duration. Moreover, I depicted the ‘race’ in a longer time span. Stalin’s frantic preparations for the war by transporting troops and equipment to the Far East under the cloak of neutrality and exploiting Japan’s attempt to terminate the war through Moscow’s mediation to delay Japan’s surrender is one element of this race. But the question is whether Truman was conscious of the ‘race,’ and here Asada argues that my argument is ‘one sided’ and ‘contradictory.’ Let us recall that, despite Harry Hopkins’ pledge that the issue of a joint ultimatum against Japan would be placed on the agenda at the Potsdam Conference, Truman consciously excluded Stalin from deliberations on the ultimatum, and deleted from Stimson’s original draft of the Potsdam Proclamation any reference to the Soviet Union. Byrnes distributed the text of the Proclamation on July 26 to the press before he sent it to the Soviet delegation, and when Stalin asked Truman to invite him to append his signature to the Proclamation, Truman flatly rejected that request.

Stimson wrote on July 23: ‘[I] told him [Truman] that I had sent for further more definite information as to the time of operation [of the atomic bomb] from Harrison. He told me that he had the warning message [Potsdam Proclamation] which we prepared on his desk . . . and that he proposed to shoot it out as soon as he heard the definite day of the operation. We had a brief discussion about Stalin’s recent expansions and he confirmed what I have heard. But he told me that the United States was standing firm and he was apparently relying greatly upon the information as to S-1 [A-bomb] project.’ This is by no means the only evidence I use to argue that there was indeed a ‘race.’ Space does not permit me to quote extensively from Truman’s memoirs, Byrnes’ memoirs, Walter Brown’s diary, Forrestal’s diary, and other sources.

On the second issue, Asada cites Shusen shiroku as the authoritative source to indicate that the Hiroshima bomb induced Togo to accept surrender on the basis of the Potsdam terms. But this view is given by the editor of the collection of documents; none of the collection of documents that are included in this chapter (Chapter 27) states that Togo made such a proposal at the cabinet meeting on August 7. If Togo or the peace party decided to accept surrender on the Potsdam terms, that represented a major departure from the previous policy that Japan had pursued: seeking termination of the war through the Soviet mediation. But then how should we interpret Togo’s August 7 telegram to Ambassador Sato, instructing him to seek an appointment with Molotov to find out Moscow’s answer to Japan’s request for mediation?

ediation? I agree with Asada on the cumulative effect of the Hiroshima bomb and the Soviet entry into the war. I never said in Racing the Enemy that the atomic bombings had no impact on Japan’s decision. But what motivated the Japanese policymakers to confront the issue of whether or not they should accept surrender on the Potsdam terms was the Soviet entry, not the Hiroshima bomb, the Nagasaki bomb, nor the two atomic bombs combined. The Big Six meeting was not convened until the Soviet tanks rolled into Manchuria. The emperor’s aide-de-camp, Shigeru Hasunuma, who shadowed the emperor where he went, testified later that since the situation of Hiroshima was not sufficiently known on August 8 and 9, the atomic bomb did not seem to have a great impact on the emperor.

As for whether the Japanese anticipated Soviet entry into the war, there was a division within the Army General Staff. Detecting the massive transport of troops and equipment to the Far East, the intelligence division came to the conclusion that the Soviets would enter the war sometime in late August or in the beginning of September, but this opinion was overruled by the High Command, who gambled everything on the last ditch defense of the homeland, believing that Japan could manage to keep the Soviet Union neutral. When the Soviets entered the war, it meant that the gamble had failed. That was the meaning of Suzuki’s statement quoted by Asada. But even then, the military decided not to declare war against the Soviet Union, hoping that they could exploit the differences between the Soviet Union and its Anglo-Saxon allies. As for Asada’s criticisms that I did not use new Japanese sources, I will let the reader be the judge by comparing Racing he Enemy and his own article in Pacific Historical Review (vol.64, no.4, 1998).

Response by SADAO ASADA

‘Race’ is a very unfortunate theme Hasegawa has chosen as an interpretive framework for the endgame of the Pacific War. It does not capture the rich complexities of 1945. The ‘race’ between Truman and Stalin, if it had taken place at all, lasted a mere two weeks, not long enough to sustain a whole book. When I pointed this out, Hasegawa retorted, ‘Whether a 100-meter dash, or a marathon, a race is a race, irrespective of the duration.’ Is this a scholarly response? The same question can be raised about his expression ‘the knock-out punch’ when referring to the atomic bomb that took more than a hundred thousand lives. Instead of arguing that there indeed was a race, he simply gives the background of the Potsdam Declaration and an extensive quote from Stimson’s statement to Truman on the atomic bomb. These are non sequiturs and do not constitute ‘evidence’ to support his arguments.

I cited from Shusen shiroku, an authoritative collection of documents, when I wrote that the Hiroshima bomb induced Foreign Minister Togo to seek surrender on the basis of Potsdam terms at the August 7 cabinet meeting. Hasegawa dismisses this account merely as a commentary by the editor. Actually the editor in question is the late Dr Kurihara Ken, the Foreign Ministry archivist par excellence and himself an outstanding historian. He presumably had access to Foreign Minister Togo, and I trust Kurihara. In addition I arrayed other sources to fortify my view on the prime importance of the bomb.

Hasegawa gives the impression that he extensively used the ‘Japanese archives’ in writing his book, but there are no ‘Japanese archives’ for this period. In the weeks before General MacArthur’s arrival, the Japanese government systematically destroyed its records. The few sources that have by chance survived must be used with utmost care. My parenthetical remark that Hasegawa ‘makes no use of new Japanese sources’ was made with specific reference to his utter failure to document the primacy of Soviet entry in Japan’s decision to surrender, not to his entire book.

Hasegawa simply repeats, without evidence, that the Soviet entry into the war rather than the atomic bombings forced Japan’s surrender. Such an assertion, of course, is nothing new: it has long been the article of faith among Japan’s left-wing historians and even appeared in junior high school textbooks. In order to show that the bomb did not have a great impact on the emperor, Hasegawa cites Hirohito’s aide-de-camp Hasunuma Shigeru’s later testimony. How important was Hasunuma? He does not even appear in Hasegawa’s index. Incomparably more weighty were Foreign Minister Togo and Kido who, as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, was the emperor’s ‘eyes and ears.’ Their records vividly reveal how shocked the emperor was by the Hiroshima bomb. A scientist, Hirohito understood its destructive power.

Hasegawa categorically stated that the Japanese army did not expect Soviet entry ‘right up to the moment of attack’ and that ‘it caught the army by complete surprise.’ When I challenged him, he admitted that ‘there was a division within the Army General Staff’ about anticipation of Soviet entry. Of course, the Japanese army carefully monitored the massive transport of Soviet troops and equipment near the Manchurian border. Contrary to Hasegawa, I would argue that Soviet intervention did not convince senior military leadership of the need to surrender. I agree with Richard B. Frank that Vice Chief of Staff Kawabe was determined to continue the war and he was supported in this by War Minister Anami on August 9 and Chief of Staff Umezu at the Imperial Conference of August 10. It was the emperor’s ‘sacred decision’ that finally made military leaders accept surrender. And what moved the emperor was the shock of the atomic bomb.

Hasegawa’s counterfactual history, which examines what might have happened if the Soviets entered the war without the use of the atomic bomb, or if the United States used the atomic bomb without Soviet entry into the war, lacks credibility. On the other hand, Hasegawa dismisses any interpretation that does not agree with his as a ‘myth.’ To say that his conclusions are not supported by the body of the book is an understatement. He challenges Americans squarely to face ‘moral responsibility’ but he does not demand the Japanese or Russians do the same. This is especially to be regretted since the ending of the Pacific War involved important moral questions that require a more sophisticated and well-balanced analyst.

Some American historians, under the impression that Hasegawa is a Japanese national, mistakenly consider his book as a sign of Japan’s neo-nationalism. It is worth noting, however, that Hasegawa is a naturalized American citizen. Those who seek a reliable account of the end of the Pacific War will profitably turn to Richard B. Frank’s Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999).


comments powered by Disqus
History News Network