Sunday, August 14, 2005

History Channel: The Last Mission

I don't have cable in my apartment. However, when I visit my folks, I get some doses of cable TV. This Sunday afternoon, I'm watching with rapt attention the History Channel's, The Last Mission being show today in memory of the end of WW2.

60 years ago, Japan surrendered and World War II finally came to an end.

Two atomic bombs had been dropped but Japan had still not surrendered. The US opted to mount another bombing mission using traditional ordinance to hit a city with oil refining capability.

In the documentry, it relates that there was a last minute coup attempt in the Imperial Palace at the very moment the bombing mission was underway. The Emperor with the consent of all the cabinet ministers had recorded a surrender message to be broadcast to the nation and to the Allied powers. The coup plotters wanted to prevent the broadcast.

Meanwhile, above, B-29's were mounting a bombing run against a city north of Tokyo with oil refining capacity. Suffice to say, the situation in Tokyo became confused when the B-29s were detected complicating the coup plotter's plans.

The coup plotters had about 1000 soldiers sealing off the Imperial Palace. They scoured the Imperial compounds in the dark (power was cut due to the B-29s above) looking for the Emperor's recording. If the recordings could be found and destroyed the surrender would not happen. The plotters found the recording engineers and questioned them as to where the recordings were hidden but they didn't know and the one man who did refused to talk.

The coup leader decided to take over the national broadcast station to broadcast a call for further resistance. However, the studio head claimed the radio station was on emergency power and couldn't broadcast. Eventually, the regional general called for the major leading the coup to stand down. That general then committed suicide with sword after ordering his troops to restore the Emperor and evict the coup soldiers.

After the surrender became official, the coup leader shot himself in sight of the Imperial Palace. Many other high level soldiers did so as well.

An amazing story I had never heard of until today.

I'm a little bit more familiar with the ongoing debate among historians as to how the decision to use the atom bomb was arrived at.

Some argue that Japan would not surrender and would fight fanatically in spite of the odds. Critics counter that Japan was already sending out peace feelers and a diplomatic solution probably could have been found without the usage of the atom bomb.

After watching the documentry, one wonders if this is really true?

There were clearly elements within the military that was not willing to give up even after the usage of the bomb.

This Manhattan Project history web page described some of the internal decision making within the United States and Japan in those crucial days in August.

Some argue that the atomic bombs were used because the US didn't want to mount a massive sea-born invasion of the Japanese Islands. Some counter that by late 1945, when an invasion would likely take place, the Japanese military couldn't mount any serious defense to counter the landings. The air bombings and naval blockade had degraded Japan's capability to fight.

Not being a military historian, I don't know how solid are those claims.

This military analysis page describes some of the planning from a US military point of view in mid- to late-1945. And here is another one from PBS describing plans for Operation Olympic (invasion of Kyushu) and Operation Coronet (invasion of Tokyo). This PBS page described Japan's military planning to repulse an invasion.

Some argue that the US used the bomb because it was a way to threaten the USSR. I heard about this view on one of those public radio station programs run to commemorate the end of World War II. The historian in the lecture said that the USSR was being very aggressive in Eastern Europe and was alread moving into Asia. Thus, Truman believed the only way to he could counter the Soviet threat was to use the bomb in war and not just a demonstration option on a uninhabited location.

Here is a PBS American Experience page giving a time line of the events in 1945, final year of the war in Asia.

One more page caught my eye. This page described the role of leaflets and radio broadcasts near the end of the war with Japan. Most surprising was warnings given to Japan naming the cities that would be bombed.


Anonymous Paul said...

I've always had a fascination with atomic energy and nuclear weapons. My grandfather was an engineer on the Manhattan Project, and my Dad was a B-29 crewman flying missions from Tinian when the two a-bomb missions were flown.

I thought I had heard or read about all there was to know about the Manhattan Project and the decision to drop the bomb, including having watched the show you mentioned.

But this week I watched another History Channel show that was a complete surprise -- the claim is that the Japanese were also developing an atomic bomb at a facility near the Chinese-Korean border, and had actually detonated a small device in July or August of 1945.

There is almost no evidence that this is true other than verbal testimony from Japanese scientists who are still living, and the excerpt from one scientist's journal. The production and test site are within North Korea, and have been out of the reach of the west since WWII (the Soviets occupied this territory at the end of the war).

I've always supported the use of the a-bombs in Japan. Dad has always said that many more people were killed by the firebombing than the a-bombs. I'm glad my Dad didn't have to fly any more missions, and that my father-in-law, who was on a troop ship headed for the invasion staging areas, got to come home instead.

We knew the Nazis were working on the Bomb, and they would have been eager to drive a U-boat into NY harbor and detonate one. Seems like the Japanese were thinking about doing the same thing to San Francisco.

My Dad has a picture of his plane flying over Tokyo Harbor the morning of the surrender signing. I used to think that his plane was specially selected. Then he told me that every aircraft the US could get in the air was flown over Tokyo that morning, just to be sure the Japanese really surrendered. When the USS Missouri sailed into Tokyo Harbor, it was with a full screen of destroyers and at General Quarters. No one knew for sure that it wasn't a trick.

We can't second-guess the appropriateness of the use of the bombs, nor continue to feel guilty about it. They started it -- we finished it. Don't do it again.

8:59 AM  

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