Making Surrender an Option

Guest essay by Karen Tallentire

The atomic bombs dropped seventy years ago were horrific, and like all weapons of war, were intended to be so.

In August 1945, Japan was the aggressor, not only against the US but much more against Asia, where civilians were dying under Japanese occupation at the rate of at least 100,000 per month.  Japan endured as just another horror of war the firebombing that had already, in March, caused the single most destructive bombing mission the war would bring.  Japan had chosen death rather than surrender, for themselves and others, on both the personal and national level.  Japanese death rates (not casualty rates, which include the wounded) in battle after battle were well above 90%.  Officers such as Pearl Harbor lead pilot Mitsuo Fuchida (who became a Christian after the war) had known for years the war was lost.  Yet even after personally touring Hiroshima’s ruins he joined a coup to overthrow the surrendering government, because he believed the emperor’s will was to fight.  Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, after slicing up Germany, was turning on its small neighbor Japan.
Were the Japanese actually horrified by the atomic bombs?  They had already endured worse.  They even had their own atomic program.  But this was the first use of atomic bombs, so one could say the circumstances had changed.  Japan could emphasize the power and horror of these new bombs, allowing them to surrender while saving face, without dishonoring their ancestors and war dead.  Many people, Japanese and not, have said the atomic bombs are why Japan still exists.


Karen Tallentire is the author of Fighting the Unbeatable Foe—Iwo Jima and Los Alamos—a personal history of World War II, Iwo Jima, and Los Alamos through the lens of a still-surviving man who was there. She is also vice president in charge of human resources at Albion Design Centre.

© 2015 Used by Permission

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