Japan surrendered as it ran out of options

A lot remained unspoken in my essay, 'Bombing Hiroshima, Nagasaki was a crime', (March 2). And foremost of them is if the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not force Japan to surrender unconditionally in World War II then what or who did. And how did Japan actually profit from being nuked?

The bombing of the two cities did unnerve Japan and it certainly buckled under the weight of the nuclear bombs. Japan was ravaged beyond any quick recovery and only four or five of its cities remained which did not face the American aerial attacks.

Yet, the truth is Japan surrendered because it had run out of all its options when Soviet Union joined the war. And in believing so I share Ward Wilson's stand on the issue.  Japan had already lost the war and the contemporary leaders of the Land of Rising Sun knew that it was in no position to carry on. It was only delaying its surrender despite mounting pressures from the United States, Great Britain, and others. Japan was in desperate quest of means to "avoid war crimes trials, keep their form of government, and keep some of the territories they'd conquered: Korea, Vietnam, Burma, parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, a large portion of eastern China, and numerous islands in the Pacific."

Japanese leaders were heavily banking on the Russian strongman Joseph Stalin to bail them out of the situation. They wanted Stalin to mediate between the Allied powers and Japan. The plan to rope in Soviet Union was strategic. If Stalin would have agreed and taken the step to settle the terms and conditions of Japan's exit from the war, politics in Pacific region would have been different. Russia was then keen on seeing that the United States did not gain much leeway because "any increase in US influence and power in Asia would mean a decrease in Russian power and influence."

The plan went for a toss when Russia declared war against the Axis powers, joined the Allied forces, attacked Manchuria and Sakhalin Island and moved away from mediating Japan's surrender.

The Soviet Union's participation in the war was a strategic blow to Japan. Stalin's move stripped Japan of all its options. Militarily Japan was caught in a nut cracker. It then found itself fighting on two fronts — the United States on one and Russia on the other. Russia's invasion of Manchuria and Sakhalin Island crippled Japan's fighting ability. Its elite force in Manchuria suffered crushing defeats against the Russians. Fall of Hokkaido looked only a matter of time and that too less than two weeks.

By end June 1945, Japan had already decided to surrender and in the run-up between then and August 6 and 9, when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was simply watching with resigned haplessness one after another of its cities being pounded by hundreds and thousands kilotons of bombs.

Japan was not just defeated but was utterly devastated paying a very heavy price for the mistake and misjudgement of joining the war.

Some say that the United States still dropped nuclear bombs on Japan because it wanted to test its new-found weapon and also to flex its newly obtained military muscle. Well, there may be some truth in it. But, more than anything else the bombs saved Japan — saved it from admitting to its people that it was a criminal offence its leaders committed by going into the war; the bombs saved Japan from admitting that it was defeated; the bombs saved Japan from being tried as a war criminal.

Undoubtedly, Japan was an aggressor. And its contemporary civilian leaders and army generals deserved to be tried as war criminals. The bombs, on the contrary, brought in waves of international sympathy. Overnight, Japan became unfortunate, brutalised and hapless victim of an aggressor. Support and sympathy poured forth bringing in solace after the rain of ruin offsetting "some of the morally repugnant things Japan's military had done."

Driven by a sense of guilt for its nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the United States, in particular, poured in billions of dollars to remake Japan. And even as America did not end its official occupation of the country it unnecessarily ravaged until 1952, it nevertheless helped Japan to revive and become one of the world's leading economic powers.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki hold deeply emotional positions in the Japanese psychology. Japan, I am sure, would now never admit that the devastations and the dropping of nuclear bombs did serve their national interests more than anything else.

Even in its ruin Japan was a winner and so was the United States. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave America a convenient story — a power reason to claim that it defeated the enemy and won the war for the world.

Politically, both Japan and the United States made dramatic gains out of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A new myth was thus born and a new chapter was thus added to the political history of Pacific.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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