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Surrendering Japanese troops, Okinawa


Surrendering Japanese troops, Okinawa

This picture shows the rare sight of a group of Japanese soldiers surrendering during the battle of Okinawa. Note the white flag towards the back of the column.


Japanese holdout

Japanese holdouts (Japanese: 残留日本兵 , romanized: Zanryū nipponhei, lit. 'remaining Japanese soldiers') were soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy during the Pacific Theatre of World War II who continued fighting World War II after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. Japanese holdouts either doubted the veracity of the formal surrender or were not aware that the war had ended because communications had been cut off by Allied advances.

After Japan officially surrendered in August 1945, Japanese holdouts in Southeast Asian countries and Pacific islands that had been part of the Japanese empire continued to fight local police, government forces, and American and British forces stationed to assist the newly formed governments. Many holdouts were discovered in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands over the following decades, with the last verified holdout, Private Teruo Nakamura, surrendering on Morotai Island in Indonesia in December 1974. Newspapers throughout East Asia and Pacific islands reported more holdouts and searches for them were conducted until the late 1980s, but the evidence was too scant and no further holdouts were confirmed. Nevertheless, holdouts continued to be allegedly spotted until the late 1990s. Investigators now believe that the last alleged sightings of Japanese holdouts were stories invented by local residents to attract tourists.

Some Japanese soldiers acknowledged Japan's surrender and the end of World War II, but were reluctant to demobilize and wished to continue armed combat for ideological reasons. Many fought in the Chinese Civil War, Korean War, and local independence movements such as the First Indochina War and Indonesian National Revolution. These Japanese soldiers are not usually considered holdouts.


Historians battle over Okinawa WW2 mass suicides

TOKYO (Reuters) - Sumie Oshiro was 25 when she and her friends tried to kill themselves to avoid capture by U.S. soldiers at the start of the bloody Battle of Okinawa.

A visitor mourns the victims of the Battle of Okinawa at Himeyuri Peace Memorial monument in Itoman on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa March 28, 2006. The fighting on Zamami, south of the main Okinawan island, was the prelude to three months of carnage that took some 200,000 lives, about half of them Okinawan men, women and children. Many civilians, often entire families, committed suicide rather than surrender to Americans, by some accounts on the orders of fanatical Japanese soldiers. Picture taken March 28, 2006. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“We were told that if women were taken prisoner we would be raped and that we should not allow ourselves to be captured,” Oshiro said on last month’s anniversary of the March 26, 1945, invasion of the Japanese islet of Zamami.

“Four of us tried to commit suicide with one hand grenade, but it did not go off,” Ryukyu Shimpo, a local Okinawa newspaper, quoted Oshiro as saying at a gathering of now elderly survivors.

The fighting on Zamami, south of the main Okinawan island, was the prelude to three months of carnage that took some 200,000 lives, about half of them Okinawan men, women and children.

Many civilians, often entire families, committed suicide rather than surrender to Americans, by some accounts on the orders of fanatical Japanese soldiers.

“The army ordered them to commit suicide,” said Yoshikazu Miyazato, 58, who plans to publish testimony from survivors on Zamami, where he says suicides accounted for 180 of the 404 civilians -- about half of the islet’s population -- who died.

The accuracy of such accounts, however, has been questioned by conservative historians who argue the suicides were voluntary.

Late last month, the education ministry ordered publishers of high school textbooks to modify references to Japanese soldiers ordering civilians to kill themselves.

The textbook revisions echo other efforts by conservatives to revise descriptions of Japan’s wartime actions, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s denial that the military or government hauled women away to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in Asia before and during World War Two.

Abe has sought to dampen overseas outrage over his remarks by repeating his backing for a 1993 apology to the “comfort women”, as they are known in Japan, and offering his own brief apology.

“In every case, Abe’s administration is saying there was no military involvement,” Shoukichi Kina, an opposition lawmaker from Okinawa told Reuters in a phone interview.

“They are distorting history and it is unforgiveable.”

One reason cited for the revisions was a lawsuit by a former Japanese army officer and relatives of another charging the two men were was falsely described in works by publisher Iwanami Shoten as having ordered civilian suicides in Okinawa.

That prompted the publisher and Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe to send a letter of protest to the education ministry, criticizing the fact that only the views of the plaintiffs in the court case had been taken into account.

The Battle of Okinawa, which also took the lives of about 94,000 Japanese soldiers and more than 12,000 Americans, looms large in the collective memory of inhabitants of the island -- a separate kingdom until its monarch was exiled to Tokyo in 1879.

The battle, in which up to one-third of Okinawa’s inhabitants died, has been described as a futile sacrifice ordered by Japan’s military leaders to delay a U.S. invasion of the mainland.

Masahide Ota, a former governor of Okinawa who fought as a member of a “Blood and Iron Corps” of students mobilized to defend the island, says soldiers gave civilians two hand grenades -- “one to throw at the enemy and one to use on themselves”.

Many historians and survivors blame military propaganda that sought to convince civilians they faced rape and torture if captured by Americans, as well as an education system that taught the virtue of dying for an emperor who was considered a living god.

“They were taught that Americans were fiends, worse than devils, and that if women were caught they would be raped and men would be killed,” Miyazato said. “It was the same as ordering them to commit suicide. They were taught it was better to die.

Ota, a historian as well as a member of parliament, fears the lessons of Japan’s wartime past are in danger of being lost.

“Education has the responsibility to convey history accurately to our children so that our country does not repeat the tragedy of the Pacific war,” he said in a statement.

“Textbooks are one method of fulfilling that mission. I think that is being forgotten.”


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In 1947, a group of 33 Japanese Soldiers on the island of Peleliu finally surrendered, three years after the US won control of the 5 square mile island. How were these individuals able to stay undetected and supplied for three years? Did they have any contact/support from the outside?

While most famous Japanese Holdout stories are much longer, it's still amazing to me that a whole group of Japanese soldiers can stay alive and undetected on an island less than a quarter the size of Manhattan with thousands of enemy combatants. What do we know about these men? How were they able to find food and water? Were they fighting regularly up until their surrender in 1947, or were they in hiding the whole time?

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The Pacific Theater isn't my field of concentration but I was curious about this question and did some basic digging. While we wait for potential answers (from someone more qualified), I thought it was worthwhile to share some relevant information.

Here is a rough translation, corrections are welcome:

Crabs or something of the like were eaten raw among other things. Food was from the Americans. I guess as we say in Japan "Oyakatahinomaru" (this is a bit of a complicated term, it means "Hinomaru is the master". Hinomaru as in Japan the country and the central government.) "Oyakatahoshimaru" as it's said. I wonder, to be a thief for the sake of the country, was this really good work? Everyone else thought the same way. (Other cave-dwelling holdout soliders) Even when we came out of the cave, we had enough food to last us 3 years.

You know for me, (after the war) I wrote things down you see, the escape. Everyone didn't believe in it (Japan's defeat in the war). However, as I went rummaging for the enemy's garbage, I found various things [on newspapers or such] like Hideki Tojo or American soldiers on Okinawa. But still, you know, with this kind of deceiving handicraft that was put together somehow, most of us weren't fooled. Japan didn't lose. We were waiting for the Kido Butai to counterattack.

Tsuchida goes on to talk about his suspicions of the war's end from the news pieces he gathered. He thought perhaps Tojo was undergoing some medical examination. He observed B24's flying towards the Philippines, and he began to wonder if Japan was losing the war and they would soon be ordered to engage in the Philippines, but he kept himself quiet.

A similar second-hand account on Ei Yamaguchi reinforces the scavenging efforts:

Yamaguchi and his band of holdouts subsided mostly on stolen US goods, including weapons. It seems as though the stragglers favored the M-1 carbine because of its light weight. Many improvised and cut off the end of the barrel making the gun more mobile and light. When I explored Yamaguchi's cave, it was amazing that all the artifacts were US Army/Marine equipment. We found US water cans, pineapple grenades and helmets. Yamaguchi chuckled and told me they "liberated" the stuff from US dumps. He also related his experience of sneaking into the American lines and watching movies on many occasions!

A brief mention of cave holdouts are mentioned in "Peleliu 1944: The Archaeology of a South Pacific D-Day." by Neil Price and Rick Knecht in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology 7, no. 1 (2012): 5-48. With the end of formal combat operations in Peleliu in November 1944, isolated groups remained as resistance for a brief time. Suicidal attacks were made on occasion until most holdouts surrendered by February of 1945. Of course, the 34 person group emerged in April 1947, most of them were truck drivers led by the aforementioned Lieutenant Yamaguchi Ei. They are described as preparing for an attack on a lightly guarded airfield, and believed they could hold it until relief came from other forces. Notably for the island, one last holdout was a Korean slave labourer who was found stealing vegetables as late as 1954. The article focuses on other aspects of the battle on the island and no further information is provided regarding survival methods for holdout groups.

I was searching for more scholarly writings on the matter but my resources are limited. At the very least, we can see that many of the materials and food was scavenged from the Americans. While this addresses part of the question, a more detailed and proper answer is welcome.


Contents

From March to April 1945, the 239th Infantry Regiment of the 41st Division, assigned to the Eighteenth Army of the Imperial Japanese Army, was engaged in hostilities with the Australian Army in eastern New Guinea. The Australians were pursuing them through the southern Torricelli Mountains, near Aitape, on the north coast. According to the records of the 41st Division, the 2nd Battalion, commanded by Takenaga and comprising around 50 soldiers, decided to head west, separating themselves from their regiment, who were retreating to the east. [2] However, according to notes made by a sergeant major in the battalion, the main force of the regiment retreated without giving them any notice, after which they thought that they had been abandoned and decided to fend for themselves. [3]

In the middle of April (the 12th, according to a villager), around 45 of Takenaga's men raided Tau, a village of only a few houses, in order to find food. Villagers armed with throwing spears and hand grenades attacked the soldiers as they were searching, which caused them to retaliate. The villagers quickly retreated, but the soldiers and the villagers suffered two fatalities each. The Japanese soldiers left Tau the next morning, but remained in the area. [4] [5]

The Australian Army learned of the presence of the Japanese troops through reports from police and villagers, and on 16 April they dispatched a platoon from the 2/5th Battalion, led by Lieutenant C. H. Miles, to deal with them. [1] On 24 April, Miles' platoon came into contact with Takenaga's battalion, and two Japanese soldiers were killed after the two sides exchanged fire. [6]

Takenaga's troops managed to shake off pursuit by the Australians, but decided that they would surrender. They took a leaflet containing a notice of surrender that one of the soldiers had been carrying, added some conditions underneath in English, tied it to a pole for the Australians to find, and left the area. Scouts from Miles' platoon then found the leaflet and brought it back with them. On 2 May, the Australian platoon spotted Takenaga's unit near Womgrer village, and asked a native to help them make contact. Two truce bearers from the Japanese side came to the Australians to negotiate, and on the following day Takenaga's unit surrendered at Womgrer and were disarmed. At the time of surrender, Takenaga's unit consisted of 42 men: five officers (including Takenaga), four warrant officers, and 33 non-commissioned officers and soldiers. They were equipped with five light machine guns, 17 rifles, five pistols, and 750 rounds of ammunition. [6] The prisoners, escorted by Miles' platoon, marched for three days in an orderly fashion to Maprik Airport, and were then transported to Aitape.

The other Japanese forces thought that Takenaga's unit had gotten lost, and attempted to search for them, but came to know of their surrender through propaganda posters distributed by the Australian Army. [7]

Theories about the decision to surrender Edit

There are two theories about the process that led Takenaga's unit to the decision to surrender. The first is that all of the members of the unit were involved in the decision, and the second is that only the officers were involved.

According to Ikuhiko Hata and Fumio Takahashi, whom Hata depended on for his research, after the battalion commanders agreed to surrender, the other soldiers in Takenaga's unit were assembled to see whether they would agree with the plan. Takahashi and Hata say that according to one of the surviving company commanders, after being told that the surrender was an order from Takenaga, those in favour were asked to raise their hands. Then, when around half of the soldiers did not raise their hands, they were issued hand grenades and told that they should choose their own fate (a Japanese euphemism for suicide). After this, all of the soldiers agreed to the surrender plan. [8]

An opposing point of view is held by Kiyohiko Satō, who says that only the battalion commanders were asked whether they agreed to the plan, and that the rest of the soldiers were not given a choice. According to Satō, the witnesses mentioned by Hata and Takahashi denied being interviewed on the subject at all. Furthermore, from freshly conducted interviews and from the sergeant major's notes, Satō infers that only the officers and warrant officers were involved in the decision to surrender, and that the other soldiers only received an order. [9] [note 2]

In the New Guinea campaign, the Eighteenth Army of Japan were left behind the Allied front, and although their position was of no strategic value, they still continued to fight. After United States forces crushed the 18th Army's counteroffensive in the Battle of Driniumor River, the Japanese were left alone. However, when the Australian Army took over the New Guinea campaign in the second half of 1944, they decided to do a thorough cleanup of the remaining Japanese forces.

The strength of the Japanese forces was greatly weakened, as their naval supply lines had been cut and they had lost most of their existing supplies at Driniumor River. While the usual size of a Japanese Army division in wartime was 20,000 troops, at the start of May, 1945, this had been reduced to only around 1000. [11] [note 3]

Takenaga's unit was no exception: while it was a battalion in name, in terms of numbers it was on the scale of a platoon, and at that one with only around half the usual number of infantry. The rest of the unit was made up of former mountain artillery from the 41st Division, whose squads were disbanded when all of their guns were destroyed at Driniumor River, and marines, among others. Takenaga himself was an artillery specialist, and had been moved to the 239th Infantry Regiment from his post as commander of the 3rd Battalion, 41st Mountain Artillery Regiment. The 18th Army had predicted that their food and medicine would run out by September, 1945, and that their weapons would become unusable by the end of the year. The situation was so dire that in July the 18th Army gave the order (18th Army Order No. 371) that the entirety of its forces should adhere to gyokusai, or honourable death without surrender, a move unprecedented even among the Imperial Army. [12] One second lieutenant reflected that in the final stages of the campaign, the army had stopped being an army and had become a band of beggars. [13]

The severity of the situation that the Japanese Army faced in New Guinea is demonstrated by the incidents of cannibalism that occurred there. Some commentators think that Takenaga's unit was among those where cannibalism was practised. There was suspicion that directly before they surrendered, Takenaga's unit ate the body of one of the villagers from Tau that had been killed in the fighting there, and the Australian Army decided to investigate. When they interrogated the prisoners from Takenaga's unit, they received statements indicating that some of the unit had been involved in eating the villager, but that the soldiers responsible had since died. For this reason, the Australian Army did not bring any charges of cannibalism against the prisoners. There are also records from survivors written after the war admitting that they were involved. From the fact that Australian Army records state that Takenaga's unit was healthy and orderly, Yuki Tanaka infers that the whole unit regularly practised cannibalism as a group. [5] Kiyohiko Satō, while admitting that some of the unit members were involved in cannibalism, casts doubt over Tanaka's conclusions by pointing to evidence such as descriptions in notes left by the soldiers that suggests cannibalism was not a group practice. [14]

In order to uphold the Senjinkun military code, it was considered extremely dishonourable to become an enemy prisoner in Japan at the time, even in a situation as desperate as the one faced by the Japanese Army in New Guinea. In the Japanese Army Penal Code, commanding officers ordering their troops to surrender was treated as a form of desertion, and even when troops gave their all in battle, surrender was still punishable by six months' imprisonment (article 41). Lieutenant General Hatazō Adachi, commander of the 18th Army, also gave an order on 18 March 1945, telling his soldiers that they should under no circumstances bring upon themselves the shame of being taken prisoner. As a result, examples of the Japanese Army surrendering as a group are extremely rare. Apart from Takenaga's unit, the only other examples of group surrender by the Japanese Army in the Pacific War were two other groups in New Guinea that are discussed below, and the Army Naval Raiding Squadron, commanded by Umezawa and defending Zamami Island, in the Battle of Okinawa. [15] However, Takenaga's unit was not the first example there was a previous incident in May, 1905, at the Battle of Mukden in the Russo-Japanese War, where 42 survivors of a company of the 49th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division were all taken prisoner. [16]

There was also a trend among the Australian Army to kill Japanese soldiers who attempted to surrender. There was an unspoken agreement among front-line Australian soldiers to kill all Japanese soldiers without taking any prisoners, and these actions were given tacit consent from the Australian command. [17]

Takenaga's unit were held in Aitape for around one month, before being broken up and sent to prison camps in Lae and in Australia, where they received good treatment. They were all interrogated, and in particular, Lieutenant Colonel Takenaga was transported to Manila for a detailed interrogation. As well as giving character information about the commanders of the 18th Army, Takenaga gave his opinion of how the Allies should deal with Emperor Hirohito: "If the Emperor is killed then the Japanese people will resist until the bitter end, but if there is an order from the Emperor then they will probably surrender peacefully." [18] In preparation for interrogation, the soldiers in Takenaga's unit had invented false personal and unit names before their surrender, but from documents seized in Wewak District the Australian Army recognised these as falsehoods. Some of the prisoners also helped with translation of seized documents and with propaganda broadcasts urging the Japanese Army to surrender. [19]

After Takenaga's surrender, the 18th Army continued to fight in New Guinea until the end of the war on 15 August 1945. To replace Takenaga's unit, the 2nd Battalion of the 239th Infantry Regiment was reformed with new members. [note 4] However, in August 1945, right before the end of the war, two companies from the reformed 2nd Battalion successively surrendered to the Australians. According to Australian Army records, 12 soldiers and their captain were captured on 10 August, and 16 soldiers and their captain were captured on 11 August. [21] The reasons are said to include the Australian Army's solicitation for the Japanese forces' surrender, the precedent set by Takenaga's unit, and the fact that they had been ordered to defend their positions to the death. [22] The survival rate of the 18th Army after the Battle of Driniumor River was only 25%, a figure significantly lower than the figure of 84% for Takenaga's unit (of the 50 who survived Driniumor, 42 went on to survive the war). [23]

The surrender of Takenaga's unit was seen as an extremely dishonourable act by the Japanese Army. Upon learning of it, Lieutenant General Adachi strongly reprimanded the commanders of the 41st Division, [7] and prayed to the emperor, while shedding tears, apologising for his lack of virtue. [24] Even after the war, Takenaga was mostly considered a disgrace, and it was a long time before any light was shone on the Takenaga incident. While Takenaga's surrender was recorded in Dai Yonjūichi Nyū Ginia Sakusenshi (History of the 41st Division's New Guinea Operation), compiled by people associated with the 41st Division, and in Senshi Sōsho, a military history of the Pacific War published by the Defense Agency, [2] there were also histories that recorded the event as though Takenaga's unit had been wiped out. Awareness of the incident gradually increased after the publication of Fumio Takahashi's article in 1986, [25] but even as of 2009 there were still military personnel who denied that the surrender occurred. For example, in an interview for NHK, Masao Horie, who was a staff officer for the 18th Army and a major at the time of the incident, said, "Up until now I have never heard of anything like a surrender, and I believe that there were no soldiers who surrendered. If it's true that there was a commander who surrendered, then it is a shame." [26]

The former members of Takenaga's unit were repatriated at the end of the war, along with prisoners from other units. Many of them did not join veterans' associations, did not take any interviews, and lived the rest of their lives quietly. Takenaga worked as a private labourer, and died of illness in 1967. He did not suffer any particular discrimination from his former classmates in the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, and they attended his funeral. [27]


The Struggle for the Island

The seemingly ‘easy’ invasion to continue into the next day. American soldiers crossed the width of the island, dividing the Japanese in two. Two airfields were captured, an important step given the kamikaze attacks on US ships.

A 6th Marine Division demolition crew watches explosive charges detonate and destroy a Japanese cave, May 1945.

The 6 th Marine Division was sent north. They entered into a trap set by the Japanese. Three weeks of fighting saw them lose 218 dead and 902 wounded. In that time, they killed 2,500 Japanese troops and secured the northern half of the island. By then Buckner already knew where the real fighting would be – General Ushijima was defending the south.

Ushijima could not win, but he wanted to keep the Americans tied down with a war of attrition. On 4 April, the US 24 th Corps met the beginnings of this resistance at the city of Shuri.

Two U.S. M4 Sherman tanks knocked out by Japanese artillery at Bloody Ridge, 20 April 1945.

On 6 April the kamikaze flights resumed. 700 planes hit the 5 th fleet, destroying or damaging 13 destroyers. These were followed just over a week later by a new suicide weapon, the baka. A rocket-powered glider with a tonne of explosives in the nose, the baka was towed by a bomber until it reached strike range. Gliding to three miles out, the pilot would ignite the rocket engines and dive on the target at speeds above 600 miles per hour. The explosions of these devices destroyed not only the gliders and their pilots but, in a short period of time. some 34 Allied ships.

The Japanese fleet also undertook a suicide mission. Using what little fuel remained, the Yamato, the cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers headed for Okinawa, where they intended to beach themselves, adding their guns to the firepower of the defenders. But they were spotted on the way. Lacking air cover, they were easy targets for the American flyers. The Yamato, the Yahagi and four destroyers were sunk.

Super battleship Yamato explodes after persistent attacks from U.S. aircraft.

On land, the Americans were struggling against Ushijima’s defences. Though they were killing ten times as many soldiers as they were losing, they could make little progress against the determined and dug in Japanese.

Despite his own horrifying casualties, Ushijima went on the offensive on 12 April, sending waves of men against the Americans in attacks almost as suicidal as those occurring at sea. Every assault was driven back by the Americans, and after two days the Japanese returned to defending.

A Japanese prisoner of war sits behind barbed wire after he and 306 others were captured within the last 24 hours of the battle by 6th Marine Division.


History of Okinawa

In order to understand Okinawa you must first understand this islands fascinating and sometimes tragic history. I’ll start from when Okinawa was called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and functioned as a powerful trading kingdom that traded with both Japan, China, and later the West. On the other islands in the Okinawan archipelago such as the Miyako islands and Yaeyama island chain one can find varied dialects and alternate cultures. One very interesting cultural practice occurs during rice harvest festivals Miruku the god of bountiful harvest is venerated and given rice wine in hopes of a bountiful harvest. Many of the islands have separate and unique gods. My personal favorite is Oh Ho Ho a god with “European features” that is depicted as a dancing man with a long beard and pointy nose. During one ritual Oh Ho Ho proceeds steal the local native women away from their husbands. The locals must throw money at Oh Ho Ho to appease this greedy god. I personally think this practice may have been developed based on past experiences with European traders in the medieval period but there is no conclusive evidence to back up my claim.

Painting depicting Shuri Castle the home of the Ryukyu Kings

Becoming Japanese

Okinawa used to be called the Kingdom of Ryukyu and due to it’s convenient geography of being nestled directly between Taiwan and Japan it became a wealthy trade hub. During the medieval period the Satsuma clan of Southern Kyushu occupied and conquered the islands of Ryukyu and united them in the name of the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Thus the Kingdom of Ryukyu become the Japanese province of Okinawa. Okinawa literally means “off coast rope” in Japanese and is still sometimes seen as the “Japanese Hawaii”. Indeed Okinawans may speak Japanese but they have their own unique culture, customs and heritage. In fact, the reason why the Okinawan dialects have become nearly extinct is because during the Meji period (Pre war 1900’s) Japan had enforced hardline assimilation policies on the Okinawans and punished students for not speaking Japanese in schools. During WorldWarII these practices became even more harsh and Okinawans caught speaking their native dialects were often accused of being spies and executed.

World War II

After years of increasingly aggressive nationalist policies Japan had succeeded in colonizing Okinawa’s neighbor Taiwan and many other Southeast Asian countries. Any non Japanese sentiments were brutally crushed and Okinawans began to forget they had not always been Japanese. After the brutal fighting on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima and raising of the flag over mount suribachi the U.S. fleet set it’s sights on Okinawa. Japan knew that it had to prevent the forces from landing on Honshu and prolong the battle of Okinawa as long as possible. Japan also knew that it was fighting a loosing war but hoped to create as much battle fatigue in the U.S. soldiers and public as possible. They hoped to hold off a full scale invasion of the homeland and have more favorable peace talks. The sheer brutality of the Battle in Okinawa is often considered as the catalyst for the Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic bombs. Japan had throughly spread propaganda warning and scarring Okinawans out of surrendering to American troops. Propaganda stated that the American troops would kill civilians immediately and even eat the bodies. The Imperial Japanese army also armed civilians with bamboo spears and sent out a national wide order to “fight to the death!”. Before the Americans landed they spent two weeks bombarding Okinawa with naval artillery fire to weaken Japanese defenses. This bombardment became know as the “typhoon of steel” and turned the battlefield into a muddy and bloody mess. Of course this bombardment also indiscriminately killed countless civilians. During the invasion itself American troops landed in the middle of the island and pushed southward towards the main city of Naha. The north of the island was relatively peaceful compared to the hell that the South had become. There are countless stories of horrible tragedies that took place during this desperate battle. Many Okinawans and Japanese chose to commit suicide rather than surrender. Japanese soldiers even distributed hand grenades to children and told them they were “gifts from the Emperor”. The soldiers told civilians it was better to die than give themselves up to the Americans. Many people who didn’t have hand grenades threw themselves of the “suicide cliffs”. The tragic battle ended up being the last battle of the pacific before the surrender of Japan. The United states ended up occupying Okinawa until returning the island to the Japanese in the 70’s after mounting unrest broke out across the island. I have heard stories about the celebrations that occurred when suddenly the currency was changed to yen from dollars and cars drove on the Japanese sides of the road. U.S. bases on the island were used heavily as staging grounds during the Vietnam and Korean conflicts and continues to be a controversial issue.

“Green grass dies in the islands without waiting for fall,
But it will be reborn verdant in the springtime of the homeland.
Weapons exhausted, our blood will bathe the earth, but the spirit will survive
Our spirits will return to protect the motherland.”- General Mitsu Ushijima suicide letter before committing seppuku

The Room in the Japanese Navy Caves where General Ushijima committed seppuku

I suggest watching “Hacksaw Ridge” and the Okinawa episode of the HBO series “The Pacific”

I hope this post helped you gain a brief understanding of the History of Okinawa I will go into specifics of historical locations and my travel experiences in future posts. It is ironic how a place that is so unimaginably beautiful was also home to such a degree of pain and suffering. When I am in Okinawa enjoying the beach or strolling through a luxurious mall I often find my mind drifting to the stories of those who died so savagely here in the 1940’s. I don’t usually believe in ghosts but when your out in the darkness of night at Okinawa you can defiantly feel the spirits. Americans and Okinawans have become connected through history and as an american I feel a connection to this place.

I also find it miraculous that a mere 70 years later I am able to walk freely down the streets of Okinawa. where our ancestors had once tried to desperately kill each other. This very fact gives me hope that deep seated hatreds can be left behind and nations that once so brutally clashed can achieve peace and amity between one another.

A photo I took of the Suicide Cliffs from the Okinawa Peace memorial observation deck An english textbook hand printed in the Taisho period during the American Occupation


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

"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:

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 - 9/24/2006

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.

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 - 9/24/2006

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.

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 - 9/24/2006

"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.

"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 - 9/24/2006

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

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:

Don Adams - 8/5/2005

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.

Don Adams - 8/5/2005

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."

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

"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 - 8/4/2005

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

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.

Bill Heuisler - 8/3/2005

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 - 8/3/2005

"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

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.


2 Answers 2

There are some misconceptions in the question which need to be cleared up, and doing so will go some way towards answering the question as posed.

The following is sourced from the official US military history of the operation which can be found online here:-

Firstly, the specific purpose of the mission as conceived and planned was primarily to secure the southern part of the island, as this was where the best roads, the major port on the island, the best anchorage, the existing airfields, and the terrain deemed most suitable for further airfield construction were all located. It was also where three quarters of the population were located, and it was hoped that some of these might be employed as a labour force.

Secondly, the planned US Okinawa military base was not intended solely for supporting the invasion of Japan, there were also potential operations against Formosa and the east coast of China under consideration which were also to be supported from Okinawa, should they eventuate. One secure airbase was far less than what the Americans were hoping to achieve here.

Thirdly, and probably most significantly in answering the question, US intelligence relating to the terrain of Okinawa was very limited prior to the operation, and it was expected that only 8 airfields would be developed on the island. After examining the island at first hand it was found that 18 airfields could be sustained, including those suitable for long range bombers, so the rugged northern part of the island had been neglected as strategically useless prior to close examination, and planning of the operation reflected this. The perceived lack of strategic value of the north was also shared by the Japanese as evidenced by their decision to barely defend the northern part of the island themselves.

First, you need to remember that the US was expecting to use Okinawa as a military, naval and air base for at least two years. None of the commanders involved knew about the Manhattan Project. They were invading Okinawa in April 1945, expecting the invasion of Japan to start in November with an invasion of Kyushu, and the invasion of the largest Japanese island, Honshu, in early 1946. The surrender of Japan in response to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a surprise to most of the US leadership.

They wanted Okinawa to be a secure base. If there were still active Japanese forces on the island, it could not be properly secure. No defensive line is truly proof against brave men who are prepared to take risks to sneak through it, so there would have always been a few Japanese loose in the base areas. They would also have gone around the ends of the line, by swimming or in small boats. Having enemy soldiers around forces every unit to post sentries, and means nobody can really relax. Having a safe area makes life much easier for troops who aren't on duty.

Further, the troops holding the defensive line would not be available for the invasion of Japan, which was going to need all the available force. It was a very worrying prospect for the US commanders, who knew that they were going to be up against a fanatical population as well as the Japanese military. Estimates of casualties were horrifying, and Okinawa was a reasonable place to put hospitals. Nobody wants enemy troops near those.

The invasion was regarded by both sides as a small-scale version of what an invasion of Japan proper would be like. So it was important for training and discovering the right methods for this kind of combat, and for learning how to minimise casualties. The Japanese had stacked the deck by providing large amounts of artillery and ammunition for it, which was another compelling reason for taking the whole island: while their artillery was active in the south, much of the island could be bombarded.

Finally, the south of the island was where the airfields were, along with the major population centres and the ports. The landing was at the waist of the island, because the beaches there were the most suitable place, but the south was the territory that would serve as bases. Sources: Okinawa: the last battle, p. 10, the relevant volume of the US Army's official history, and Nemesis: the Battle for Japan, by Max Hastings.

It would be more sensible to ask why conquering the north of the island was necessary, but all of the reasons above about a safe base area apply. This is basic military strategy. It was quite clear that securing all of Okinawa was the right thing to do.


73 Years Ago Today the Battle for Okinawa Began. It Was Hell on Earth.

Military planners considered the capture of Okinawa and its airfields to be a crucial and necessary precondition for the invasion of the Japanese mainland.

As we celebrate Easter Sunday and the Jewish Passover, we should keep in our prayers and remembrances the many Americans who fought and sacrificed during that same time 73 years ago in the Battle of Okinawa.

The event was Operation Iceberg. It was the bloodiest battle and the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance attacked the Japanese-held island. They were joined by a British, Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian naval task force and more than 180,000 Army soldiers and Marines. This was the final push toward invading mainland Japan and putting an end to the war.

Military planners considered the capture of Okinawa and its airfields to be a crucial and necessary precondition for the invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Were the U.S. to invade Japan, estimates of potential American casualties were upward of 1.7 to 4 million, with between 400,000 and 800,000 deaths. The Battle of Okinawa only served to raise those estimates, as had the recent brutal battle for Iwo Jima, where U.S. casualties numbered 26,000 over five weeks of fighting. Only a few hundred Japanese had been captured out of the 21,000 troops who fought to the death.

Those expected casualties were the major reason for President Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb.

The Japanese military knew that Okinawa was their last stand in the Pacific. As a result, they fixed 77,000 troops on the island under the command of Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, along with a 20,000-strong Okinawan militia. The Japanese forces even included 1,800 middle school boys conscripted into the “Blood and Iron Corps.”

The American invasion started with a massive seven-day naval bombardment of the landing beaches, where heavy resistance from the Japanese forces was expected. That prelanding bombardment included tens of thousands of artillery shells, rockets, mortar shells, and napalm attacks.

The Japanese allowed American troops to land unopposed on Easter Sunday and to move inland with nominal resistance. Japanese troops had been ordered not to fire on the American landing because Ushijima wanted to lure the American forces into a trap he had laid for them in what became known as the Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru Defense Line in southern Okinawa, a rugged terrain riddled with fortified pillboxes, gun emplacements, tunnels, and caves.

The Japanese also sent the battleship Yamato on a one-way suicide mission to Okinawa, but it was spotted by Allied submarines and sunk (along with a cruiser and four enemy destroyers) by American pilots, downing nearly the entire crew of over 2,300.

The far more dangerous attacks on the Allied fleet were by dense waves of suicide Kamikazes diving their planes into ships. The Fifth Fleet lost 36 ships in the Battle of Okinawa and suffered damage to another 368 ships. Almost 5,000 U.S. sailors and pilots were killed and almost as many were wounded, with over 700 Allied planes being shot down. It was the biggest naval loss of the war.

On Okinawa, Americans fought ferocious battles on almost every defended hilltop. Torrential rains turned the island into a sea of mud that bogged down tanks, trucks, and other heavy equipment.

The most infamous hilltop was Hacksaw Ridge, a 400-foot cliff on the Maeda Escarpment that was depicted in a 2016 movie about Cpl. Desmond T. Doss. Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector who became a combat medic. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing 75 wounded soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge.

In almost every fight on Okinawa, American troops fought for every foot of ground in hand-to-hand combat against fanatical Japanese troops who often took their own lives rather than surrendering. That eventually included Ushijima and his chief of staff who committed seppuku on June 22. It was Ushijima who had ordered his troops to “fight to the death.”

With his suicide, the Battle of Okinawa was effectively over.

The Battle of Okinawa was the deadliest fight of the Pacific island campaign. The Japanese knew they could not win. Their purpose was simply to make the battle as costly as possible to the Americans and to hold them off as long as possible, allowing Japan to prepare for the defense of their home islands. Thus, Japanese commanders considered all their forces and the residents of Okinawa totally expendable.

Americans incurred almost 50,000 casualties on Okinawa, including over 12,000 dead. Those killed included the American commander, Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who was killed by enemy artillery fire just four days before the battle ended, making him the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed during the entire war.

Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent, was also killed when he was shot by a sniper on a small island northwest of Okinawa. In addition to Doss, six other Americans who fought in the battle received the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for bravery under fire.

But the Japanese losses were much greater. Only 7,400 Japanese soldiers survived—90 percent of Japanese troops on the island fought to the death. Almost 150,000 Okinawan civilians were killed, amounting to one-third of the prewar population. Many were used as human shields by Japanese troops. Others threw themselves and their families off cliffs on the southern part of Okinawa in mass suicides after the Japanese convinced them that the Americans would kill or rape anyone they captured.

Ironically enough, it was Japanese troops who engaged in mass rapes of Okinawan women during the battle.

The bloody, ferocious battle for Okinawa lasted 82 days and left the island a “vast field of mud, lead, decay, and maggots” according to Ted Tsukiyama’s “Battle of Okinawa.” Almost every building on the island was destroyed.

Truman’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August ended the war and all Japanese resistance, thereby preventing the enormous American casualties that would have resulted from a land invasion of Japan.

On Easter Sunday, American Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which marks the triumph of good over evil, sin, and death. At the same time during Passover, Jewish Americans will celebrate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. Those celebrations are profound and deeply significant.

But we should also pause to remember the Americans and their allies who, 73 years ago, fought and died during Easter and Passover to preserve our freedom and end a brutal war started by a ruthless military dictatorship intent on enslaving the people it conquered.