There’s a lot of noise in the media now about our president going to Japan and apologizing for Hiroshima. There happens to be nothing to apologize for. We did not start the war, and it quickly became a no-holds-barred fight to the finish, with the Japanese strategy being to inflict so many casualties upon us that we would give up the fight rather than continue it. Each storm landing in our island-hopping campaign was bloodier that the previous one, and the biggest bloodbaths came at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The cost in American lives and the maimed bodies of American fighting men, however, was nothing compared to the butcher’s bill that was expected from the invasion of Japan.
They planned a two stage operation. First we would invade Kyushu, seize its ports and airfields, and from there stage an invasion of Honshu, the main island. The terrain of Kyushu was every bit as formidable as that of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. It would not be a war of maneuver as in Europe, but a toe-to-toe slugfest with a dug-in and highly motivated defense force. Planners anticipated 60,000 casualties in the invasion of Kyushu, but this was before they found out about the Japanese plans. We had cracked the Japanese codes and were reading their mail by the end of the war, and knew exactly what they were up to. That knowledge was not reassuring. The Japanese high command had wargamed the US invasion, and they had predicted what we planned to do so precisely that our side thought they had spies among our planners.
The Japanese were as ready for us as one war-weary country can be ready for another war-weary country. The number of troops defending Kyushu was equal to the number of troops assigned to take the island. Military theory posits that in order to insure success in an attack, the attacker should outnumber the defender by 3 to 1. They had trained up a new fleet of Kamikaze aircraft and pilots, and they were training these pilots to ignore the warships and attack only troop transports. They had a fleet of suicide boats and mini-submarines ready to attack the landing craft as they went ashore. They had special troops trained for suicide attacks on the forces which arrived ashore. We would have eventually taken our objectives on Kyushu, but the cost in human life, both Japanese and American, would be staggering. Then we would have to turn around and do it all over again on Honshu.
My father was in the Third Marine Division, having seen combat at Guam, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. The Third Marine Division was slated to spearhead the assault on the island along with the Second Marine Division. My father, like a lot of other young men who had spent the last three years of their lives fighting in the Pacific, had decided that he was not going to survive the invasion. Many of the men training for the invasion of Honshu believed that the death told would be so high at Kyushu that they would be called into combat at Kyushu.
The worst thing about fighting a war is that people die. When waging war, you really want to try your best to make sure that fewest number of your people die as possible. When confronted with the unpleasant choice of many of their people dying versus many of our people dying, then we must choose many of their people dying. But that wasn’t the choice Truman faced. He faced the choice of many of their people dying versus many more of our people dying AND many more of their people dying.
Before considering making an apology for Hiroshima, read Chapter 9 of Joseph H. Alexander’s book Storm Landings: Epic Amphibious Battles in the Central Pacific, or some similar source describing the anticipated invasion of Japan. If Truman had not ordered the use of the atomic bomb, we would have invaded Japan, and there would probably have been a postwar Baby Bubble rather than a Baby Boom. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here, and I suspect many of those who want to line up and apologize for Hiroshima wouldn’t be here either.