The Power of the Atomic Bomb in Shaping the Post-War World
There were few men in Washington who understood the role the atomic bomb could play in ending World War II and shaping the peace. Military planning focused on two options, conventional bombing accompanied by a blockade or an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Both options were so problematic politically and militarily that policymakers who were familiar with the Manhattan Project found it difficult to oppose the bomb’s use. There were also few men who knew the role the bomb could play in winning the peace. President Harry S. Truman, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson saw the bomb as a way to shape the post-war world in the American image, without reliance on regional allies to maintain peace throughout the world. Thus, the question in 1945 was not why should the bomb be used, but rather, why should it not be used?
The conventional bombing and blockade option was the less attractive option for ending the war. The Joint Intelligence Staff could not provide an accurate estimate of the time required to force Japan to surrender unconditionally through blockade and bombardment alone. Estimates ranged from two months to two years. The lower estimates counted on a clarification of surrender terms to induce Japan to surrender. It also required area bombing of Japanese cities. Advocates of the plan also called for the acquisition of more favorable bases surrounding Japan in order to consolidate the blockade and intensify the bombing. Doing so would have required additional amphibious assaults on the China coast and Korea. If such operations were to be undertaken, Army critics asked, why not use the same amphibious resources to deliver a more decisive strike to the heart of Japan.
The plan for immediate invasion of the Japanese home islands was less problematic. It had the benefit of speed. Since the Casablanca conference, achieving Japanese surrender as early as possible following the capitulation of Germany had been the strategic objective in the Pacific. However, on May 25th, 1945 Truman had stated a new objective of economizing American lives to the greatest extent possible. The Army plan for invading Kyushu was the most costly option in terms of lives, but it was the quickest. It was based on a directive to end the war in the Pacific within 12 months of V-E Day. Casualty estimates for the first thirty days of operations against Kyushu ranged from 30,000 to 50, 000. The Army plan was grossly handicapped by its reliance on Soviet entry into the Pacific War. General Douglas MacArthur considered a Soviet attack in Manchuria a prerequisite for invasion. Considering the Polish crisis of April 1945 and growing tensions over Soviet behavior in occupied Europe, Soviet involvement in East Asia was less than desirable. The best recommendation of the Navy was a plan that offered no reasonable prediction of when Japan would be defeated. The Army...