I am writing this in the early morning hours of September 1, 2018. Seventy-three years ago, on this date in September I imagine that the preparations both on and off the U.S.S. Missouri had to be mind-numbing. The number of U.S. and Allied Forces dignitaries arriving on-board, not to mention the Japanese Imperial Chief of Staff, General Yoshijiro Umezu was to be escorted on-board with his entourage for the signing of Japan’s official surrender, bringing World War II to an end.
In August, just a few weeks before, two atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. About 125,000 people were killed. Also, repeated fire bombing raids over Tokyo had killed as many. Author Karl Compton argued, not long after the surrender, that the bombing raids were vital to ending the war. Japanese soldiers confirmed that they did not feel beaten and would have fought on in their home towns until, according to them ‘every Japanese were killed’ at least then, they would not have been ‘defeated’ as the disgrace of surrender meant to them.
Compton wrote, “ From this background I believe, with complete conviction, that the use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds of thousands—perhaps several millions—of lives, both American and Japanese; that without its use the war would have continued for many months; that no one of good conscience knowing, as Secretary Stimson and the Chiefs of Staff did, what was probably ahead and what the atomic bomb might accomplish could have made any different decision. Let some of the facts speak for themselves.”
Hindsight is 20/20 they say, unless I suppose one defines hindsight as someone who is forced to see life through a misappropriated placement of one’s cranium. However, plans were in the making for a massive landing and ground-assault on the Japanese mainland beginning in October of 1945. A tremendous number of supplies, weapons, personnel and aircraft were to be on Okinawa in preparation for the landings. Because of the surrender, those plans were pushed back and when a major typhoon would strike Okinawa in October, the loss to our fleet was estimated to be far in excess of our losses at Pearl Harbor. Some predict the war may have gone on for up to ten more years.
As it happened, Harry S. Truman gave the word and on September 2, 2018 Japan surrendered unconditionally, bringing a world at war lurching back toward peace. Perhaps we should take time to remind our children and our children’s children about the meaning of September 2nd, VJ Day. Remind them that of the 300,000 American prisoners held by the Japanese, a third of them died. Maybe, just maybe, we should try to learn something from history that great sacrifices must be honored today and every day.
Notes by Karl Compton and photo of Hiroshima from The Atlantic Dec. 1945 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1946/12/if-the-atomic-bomb-had-not-been-used/376238/
Photograph by Mydan courtesy of the Friends of the WWII Memorial