On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito addressed his subjects conveying his decision to surrender unconditionally. He used, as to be expected under the exceptional circumstances, slightly convoluted language:
“We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.
The global public, especially in North America, and most scholars across the world have held that Japan surrendered because President Truman used the atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is not always a good argument.
Japan’s Supreme War Council consisted of the Big Six (Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Army Minister, Navy Minister, Army Chief, and Navy Chief). Since the Army and Navy ministers had to be from the services, and as the Prime Minister was Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, the only civilian was the Foreign Minister Togo.
Meeting at Potsdam, following Germany’s surrender, President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and President Chiang Kai-shek called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. This was on July 26, 1945. Stalin who too was present at Potsdam, did not join as, technically, the Neutrality Pact between Japan and the Soviet Union was still in force. In fact, Japan was convinced that Stalin was trying to mediate on their behalf. Initially, Prime Minister Suzuki had tried to belittle the import of the call to surrender by using the word “mokusatsu,” which can be translated as ‘no comments.’
The Supreme War Council that met on August 9 was split down the middle, on the question of surrender and it was Emperor Hirohito who ordered the Council to accept the ultimatum issued at Potsdam. The decision to surrender was conveyed to the United States with a caveat. Japan wanted assurance that the Emperor’s status would not be affected. Washington replied that the Emperor’s authority would be subject to that of the Supreme Commander to be appointed.
Once again the lobby that was against surrender got active and there was even an attempt at a military coup. In short, though Japan had conveyed its decision to surrender through diplomatic channels, the war continued, and the Japanese public had not been told of the surrender. Nor had they been prepared to accept a surrender that ran against the imperial, aggressive policy, imperiously pursued by the country whose government had told the people of continuing success abroad even as city after city was being bombed to smithereens.
Before the destruction of Hiroshima, 68 cities had been bombed and in terms destruction, Hiroshima was not exactly a shock. The Carnegie Council in a study titled “Did Nuclear Weapons Cause Japan to Surrender?” says:
The United States bombed 68 cities in the summer of 1945. If you graph the number of people killed in all 68 of those attacks, you imagine that Hiroshima is off the charts, because that’s the way it’s usually presented. In fact, Hiroshima is second. Tokyo, a conventional attack, is first in the number killed. If you graph the number of square miles destroyed, Hiroshima is sixth. If you graph the percentage of the city destroyed, Hiroshima is 17th.
After Hiroshima, the Foreign Minister wanted a meeting of the War Council. However, the Prime Minister refused, saying Hiroshima was only a part of what Japan had been seeing, and not anything extra-ordinary.
On August 8, the Soviet Union withdrew from the Neutrality Treaty and moved troops. The War Council met on 9 August to consider the consequences and implications of Soviet Union’s move. The Soviet military had already moved into Manchukuo before the Council met. The Council concluded that Japan was in no position to resist the Soviet Union and the United States simultaneously. The Council learnt about Nagasaki, but it was the Soviet move that had already prompted the decision on surrender.
Truman learnt of the successful Trinity Test at Potsdam. He shared the full information with Churchill, but told Stalin only of ‘a new weapon of immense destruction’ that he had. Truman honestly thought that he was imparting new information to Stalin.
Little did Truman know that Stalin was kept informed of the Manhattan Project by a nest of spies – the most famous or infamous of whom was Klaus Fuchs, a theoretical physicist. In fact, Truman as Roosevelt’s Vice-President was not kept in the loop on that project. Secretary for War Stimson briefed President Truman only 12 days after he succeeded Roosevelt who died on April 12, 1945.
Truman was trying to impress and even frighten Stalin by hinting at the new weapon. Stalin feigned ignorance and sent instructions to Moscow to speed up with the bomb project.
We need to look at another aspect of Stalin’s diplomacy. He was under pressure from Roosevelt and Churchill to join the war against Japan even before Germany’s surrender. Stalin had resisted the pressure as for him Europe, especially eastern Europe, was more important than East Asia. He had entered into a five-year Neutrality Pact with Japan in April 1941.
By June 1945, if not earlier, the Japanese Navy has ceased to be active, the military was running short of supplies, and the American bombing of cities continued with increasing ferocity. On June 22, 1945, the Emperor ordered that an end to the war be sought. The War Council decided to request Stalin to do the mediation, naively believing that he would deliver. Stalin was contacted on June 30.
Stalin had his own geopolitical agenda. He wanted the war to continue to give him time to transfer troops from the West to the Far East so that he could grab Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, South Sakhalin, the Kuriles, and even Hokkaido. However, Moscow gave the impression to Tokyo that serious effort was being made to get terms respecting the Emperor’s status.
Did Truman Have To Use The Bomb To End The War?
The answer based on sound historical reasoning is no.
The Americans had broken the Japanese code and knew of the exchanges between Foreign Minister Togo and Ambassador Sato in Moscow. Truman knew that if the Emperor’s status was protected, Japan was anxious to surrender. Truman could have easily told Japan through diplomatic channels that the Allies had no intention to humiliate the Emperor. In fact, General MacArthur came to the conclusion, once he landed in Japan, that it was in the interest of the Allies to retain the Emperor as otherwise the people would not have cooperated with the occupying forces.
Why didn’t Truman try out diplomacy? There are three reasons. First, he did not care for non- American lives. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Senator Truman said:
If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances. 
Second, Truman was determined to demonstrate to the world, especially to Stalin, that he had a unique weapon.
Third, Truman was worried that once the Soviet Union entered the war, its troops will get into Japan before U.S. troops and he will have to share the occupation with Stalin. Truman was determined to take over Japan, with no Soviet involvement.
Truman was given the options to make a demonstration of the tremendous destructive power by detonating a bomb in an unpopulated area or using it against a military target with less civilian deaths. He deliberately wanted to see the destruction in a populated city and a few cities were put on a no-bombing list.
Initially, the list included Kyoto. Secretary Stimson got Kyoto deleted because he had honeymooned there. Nagasaki replaced Kyoto.
Truman made a huge error. By using the bomb he inaugurated the Atomic Era and the Cold War. He is an icon and American scholars, with a few honourable exceptions, have failed to prevent their narrow minded patriotism from vitiating their judgment. The scholars in the rest of the world have accepted the American lead.
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