The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (Reading Notes, Book I, Chapters 1-9):
I. Book I: The Decision
i. Chapter One: The Trajectory of Japan’s Decline (p. 17)- In June of 1945, as the
end of WWII approached, how did Japanese military leaders assess their
overall situation, especially after Okinawa fell to the Americans? [Japan and
everyone else knew they were screwed and many Japanese intellectuals
suggested peace negotiations as a way to preserve their countries integrity.]
1. Robert J.C. Butow- “…the scales of war had been tipped so steeply
against the Japanese that no counterweight at their disposal could
possibly have balanced them.” (p. 17)
a. Japan’s first line of defense, Germany, was facing imminent
2. The Pacific front had initially moved relatively slowly.
3. The fall of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam provided bases which brought
Japan into better B-29 bombing range.
4. General George C. Kennedy, Commander of Air Forces- “Jap is not going
to last much longer. His sea power is badly depleted…he has lost his
element, flight, squadron and group leaders and his hastily trained
replacements.” (p. 18)
5. [March 9-10, 1945] Firebombing of Tokyo: Military and human
catastrophe. 84,000 casualties.
6. [March 1945] Collapse of Iwo Jima: allowed for heavy bombing
7. “Clearly, Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the
atomic bomb was used.”
a. The U.S. had an understanding of this concept.
8. Suzuki Kantaro: [Took office as Prime Minister 04/07/1945] Contributed
to final peace negotiations with Allied forces. Called two imperial
conferences which helped resolve the split within the Japanese Imperial
Cabinet over the Potsdam Declaration. Outlined the terms to Emperor
Hirohito who had already agreed to unconditional surrender.
a. Government Assessment by Office of Strategic Services-
“Suzuki’s appointment has all the appearances of a desperate
stop-gap arrangement, an effort to by-pass these extremists an
yet provided a new political alignment which can lay the basis
for peace negotiations if possible.” (p. 19)
9. Japan depended more on imports than even the U.K.
a. “The continued heavy destruction of machinery and equipment
will make it impossible for Japan to replace losses with her
existing or potential machine tool and heavy equipment
industry.” (p. 19) b. The Japanese under these conditions would continue in the war
but would weaken progressively.
10. U.S. had long broken Japanese intelligence codes and were regularly
reading high level cable and radio messages.
11. Neutrality Pact: plunged Japanese into despair.
12. Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav M. Molotov- “Since Japan is facing a
grave situation which permits no delay it is urgently necessary that we
should sound out Russia’s real intentions *toward Japan+ and exhaust all
possibilities of bringing about a new turn in the situation.” (p. 20)
13. U.S. very aware of importance of Soviet announcement.
a. “If at any time the U.S.S.R. should enter the war, all Japanese
will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.” (p. 20)
14. Major General Clayton Bissell- “The Japanese have been brought to a
cold realization of their isolated position by the surrender of Germany,
and evidence indicates that they are appalled by the destruction
wrought on German cities.”
15. In the same memorandum Bissell recommended an immediate
16. Appraisal presented at meeting of Supreme Council in Direction of the
War for Japanese Military:
a. The people are losing confidence in their leaders.
b. There is a deterioration of public moral.
c. Leading intellectuals advocate for peace negotiations.
d. Industrial areas will soon shut down because of lack of coal.
e. Prices will rise sharply resulting in inflation.
17. Truman’s “enormously favorable” factors:
a. Japan has no allies.
b. Japan’s navy is nearly destroyed.
i. Vulnerable to blockade to deprive them of food and
c. Japan vulnerable to air attack to cities, industry, and food
d. China and the ominous threat of Russia.
e. U.S. has inexhaustible and untouched industrial resources.
18. Combined U.S.-British Intelligence Committee Report- “The increasing
effects of sea blockade and the cumulative devastation wrought by
strategic bombing, which has already rendered millions homeless and
has destroyed from 25% to 50% of the built up area of Japan’s most
19. Japan was in such a bad way it began processing acorns as a substitute
for rice. ii. Chapter Two: General Efforts to End the War (p. 23)-In July 1945, what was the
single key Japanese demand put forward in various diplomatic feelers and
1. American cryptographers intercepted messages that suggested Japan
was seeking to end the war.
2. Shigemitsu’s instructions imply that he has in mind a move by Russia to
begin peace talks with the Americans.
3. Shigemitsu’s assessment: U.S. was already in Japanese territorial waters
and had superiority in sea and air attacks.
4. Swedish Minister in Tokyo- “German collapse is expected and it is not
believed that Japan can then continue the war…Japanese would be
ready for preliminary discussions through Swedish channels.”
a. The British Government did not respond to the indirect
approach by the Japanese.
5. The Yalta Conference [February 4-11, 1945]: WWII conference of the
heads of government for U.S., U.K., and U.S.S.R. to discuss the post-war
reorganization of Europe.
6. [May 7, 1945] OSS reports- “the Japanese are ready to cease
hostilities…” (p. 26)
7. Fujimara (principal Japanese Naval Representative in Europe): navy
circles particularly stress the necessity of preserving the Emperor in
order to avoid Communism and chaos.
8. Major General Onodera: Emperor must be maintained after Japanese
9. OSS Representative Allen Dulles: “the only condition on which Japan
would insist with respect to surrender would be some consideration for
the Japanese Imperial family.” (p. 27)
10. Meetings with important Japanese representatives indicated Japan’s
deteriorating internal state.
11. “His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact the present war daily
brings greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all belligerent
powers, desires form his hear that it may be quickly terminated.” (p. 28)
b. Part I: Unconditional Surrender
i. Chapter Three: April-May 1945 (p. 33)- When Germany surrendered on May 8,
1945, President Truman issued a statement defining the meaning of
unconditional surrender for Japan. What was it?
1. James F. Byrnes- “Had the Japanese Government listened to
[Ambassador to the Soviet Union] Sato and surrendered
unconditionally, it would not have been necessary to drop the atomic
2. Truman was urged to clarify terms of Japanese surrender by all those
who had regular access to the president. 3. Truman generally saw little difficult to modifying the surrender terms to
include a stipulation allowing for the maintenance of the Emperor as a
a. After dropping the atomic bomb Truman allowed the Emperor
4. “The Imperial Family is the fountain source of the Japanese nation.” (p.
5. U.S. demand for unconditional surrender directly threatens the status of
the Emperor and the central tenets of Japanese culture.
6. There were three key points in relation to the maintenance of the
a. Japanese would not surrender if the Emperor was removed
from his throne or harmed in any way.
b. If the previous was not assured the Japanese would most likely
fight until the last man.
c. The Emperor would play a key role in maintaining internal order
in post-war Japan.
7. In the FDR days, there was a conditional, “unconditional” surrender for
8. Initially Truman’s moved indicated he was in the similar mindset to FDR,
but upon taking office he returned to the traditional.
a. *April 16, 1945+ “Our demand has been and it remains-
unconditional surrender. We will not traffic with the breaker of
the peace on the terms of peace.” (p. 39)
9. Truman did not hesitate to renegotiate after dropping the atomic bomb.
10. *May 8, 1945+ President carefully defined “unconditional surrender”.
a. Means end of war.
b. Means termination of the influence of the military leaders who
brought Japan to present disaster.
c. Does not mean extermination or enslavement of Japanese
11. Navy Captain Ellis Zacharias: in charge of propaganda policy for the Far
12. “The invasion of Japan is considered to be the most suitable strategy for
to accomplish unconditional surrender or ultimate defeat.” (p. 42)
13. Hoover listed factors that favored early surrender:
a. Appointment of Suzuki.
b. Desire of Japan to preserve Mikado, spiritual head of nation.
c. The sense shown in the Russo-Japanese war (made peace
before being hit with full might of Russia.)
d. Fear of complete Japanese destruction. e. Large middle class in Japan who are liberal minded and are the
only hope of a stable and progressive government.
ii. Chapter Four: To June 18, 1945 (p. 47)- Joseph Grew was Acting Secretary of
State in May of 1945. What did he advocate regarding the definition of
unconditional surrender? What was S-1 and where did it fit in the picture?
What three key policy questions emerge at this time?
1. [May 28, 1945] Grew reviewed surrender formula with President
2. The next phase of policy concerning “unconditional surrender”:
a. Why was developing course of action abandoned by the
b. Who was the central presidential advisor on the matter?
c. Why was the emerging policy thrust not only abandoned but
3. Grew’s Memoir *1952+: “The purpose of the meeting (with top-level
military individuals [May 29, 1945]) was to discuss whether the
president should comment on the intentions of determining Japan’s
future political structure.
a. Marshall, Stimson, Forrestal advised against it.
4. General Marshall thought that the atomic bombs should be uses first at
naval installations, then industrial areas from which people would be
evacuated before the drop.
a. Advocated for a clear warning to Japanese people’s to evacuate
the cities/population centers being targeted.
5. Stalin- “If we stick to unconditional surrender, the Japs will not give up
and we will have to destroy them as we did Germany.”
6. State Department analysis of Hoover’s memorandum states that failure
to clarify intentions or threat of removal an destruction of the Emperor
will result in prolongation of the war and loss of human life.
7. There was concern that the Japanese would offer a conditional
surrender that would be well received by the U.S. public.
8. Grew- “…I think it will be a matter of plain common sense to give the
Japanese a clearer idea of what we mean by unconditional surrender.”
9. Discussion of the announcements and warnings was postponed until the
Big Three Meeting.
iii. Chapter Five: June 18, 1945 (p. 62)- What were Truman’s key advisors
recommending regarding the timing of a surrender formula, and which adviser
most likely influenced Truman to reverse the thrust of his May 8 statement
suggesting openness to some modification of the demand for unconditional
surrender? 1. Why did Truman choose to wait until the Big Three meeting rather than
act on the dramatic occasion of the fall of Okinawa- as Grew, Stettinius,
and, most significantly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended?
a. Why the thinking of the president’s top military advisors-who
also knew about the bomb and the likelihood of Russian help-
b. It is clear that not Stettinius, Grew, Stimson, or Marshall
counseled the president on the matter.
2. Truman main emphasis was minimizing American casualties.
3. Truman’s June 18 meeting with Joint Chiefs of Staff was narrowly
focused on military issues.
a. Ending the war through alternative means was also raised sat
4. “The President asked if the invasion of Japan by white men would not
have the effect of more closely uniting the Japanese.” (p. 64)
5. The president’s chief of staff also pressed the political issues:
a. “He feared no menace from Japan in the foreseeable future,
even if we are unsuccessful in forcing unconditional surrender.
He did not think this was at all necessary.” (p. 65)
6. Leahy: “Every living person in Japan would prefer to die fighting rather
than accept military defeat…” (p. 65)
7. Truman never indicated in public statements that he desired a
congressional lead on matters.
8. Truman suggested that he didn’t feel able to take any action to help
alter public opinion, this statement seemed hollow.
a. “(What he asked Grew to check did not concern politics but