The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific, but it didn’t force Japan’s surrender. So why did the war end?...
For nearly seven decades, the American public has accepted one version of the events that led to Japan’s surrender. By the middle of 1945, the war in Europe was over, and it was clear that the Japanese could hold no reasonable hope of victory. After years of grueling battle, fighting island to island across the Pacific, Japan’s Navy and Air Force were all but destroyed. The production of materiel was faltering, completely overmatched by American industry, and the Japanese people were starving. A full-scale invasion of Japan itself would mean hundreds of thousands of dead GIs, and, still, the Japanese leadership refused to surrender.
But in early August 66 years ago, America unveiled a terrifying new weapon, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a matter of days, the Japanese submitted, bringing the fighting, finally, to a close.
On Aug. 6, the United States marks the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing’s mixed legacy. The leader of our democracy purposefully executed civilians on a mass scale. Yet the bombing also ended the deadliest conflict in human history.
In recent years, however, a new interpretation of events has emerged. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa - a highly respected historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara - has marshaled compelling evidence that it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan’s surrender. His interpretation could force a new accounting of the moral meaning of the atomic attack. It also raises provocative questions about nuclear deterrence, a foundation stone of military strategy in the postwar period. And it suggests that we could be headed towards an utterly different understanding of how, and why, the Second World War came to its conclusion.
“Hasegawa has changed my mind,” says Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “The Japanese decision to surrender was not driven by the two bombings.”An analysis by Gareth Cook in Boston. Here
Hasegawa’s scholarship disturbs this simple logic. If the atomic bomb alone could not compel the Japanese to submit, then perhaps the nuclear deterrent is not as strong as it seems. In fact, Wilson argues, history suggests that leveling population centers, by whatever method, does not force surrender. The Allied firebombing of Dresden in February of 1945 killed many people, but the Germans did not capitulate. The long-range German bombing of London did not push Churchill towards acquiescence. And it is nearly impossible to imagine that a bomb detonated on American soil, even one that immolated a large city, would prompt the nation to bow in surrender.
If killing large numbers of civilians does not have a military impact, then what, Wilson asks, is the purpose of keeping nuclear weapons? We know they are dangerous. If they turn out not to be strategically effective, then nuclear weapons are not trump cards, but time bombs beneath our feet.