“Gifts from Heaven”: The Meaning of the American Victory over Japan, 1945 - The Objective Standard

Author’s note: This is the third of three articles for The Objective Standard dealing with the role of ideas in military history. The first two dealt with General William T. Sherman’s march through the South in the American Civil War and the British appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s. The material in these articles will appear in my forthcoming book, Nothing Less than Victory: Military Offense and the Lessons of History from the Greco-Persian Wars to World War II (Princeton University Press).

This essay is dedicated to General Paul Tibbets (February 23, 1915–November 1, 2007). Colonel Tibbets, commander of the B-29 “Enola Gay,” dropped the first atomic bomb and brought a speedy end to the war.

Between 1889 and 1931, a cancerous tumor took root in the western Pacific Ocean. A nation of seventy million people systematically implanted, into their minds and their culture, an ideology of sacrifice to an Emperor-god. The cancer soon metastasized into a continental war, launched first against Manchuria in 1931, then against China in 1937. In 1941, a coordinated campaign of attacks was launched against the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, as well as the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaya, Indonesia, and the islands of Guam, Wake, and Midway. By 1942, the cancer had reached the Aleutian Islands, New Guinea, and Burma—and it threatened Australia, India, and the west coast of America. The seemingly invincible Japanese Empire of the Rising Sun controlled one-seventh of the earth’s surface.

By the end of 1945, however, the Japanese had lost it all. Surrounded by an impregnable armada, they lay prostrate before merciless American bombers. The best of their youth had killed themselves in suicide attacks. Their fleet was sunk. More than sixty cities had been firebombed. Two cities had been atom-bombed. They were militarily defeated and psychologically shattered, and they faced the possibility of a famine that could kill millions.

Rather than starvation, however, something entirely different followed. Over the next five years, under stern American guidance, and with zeal as great as that with which they had once armed for battle, the Japanese reformed their nation. They adopted a new constitution, purged their schools of religious and military indoctrination, and abandoned aggressive warfare. Imperial subjects became citizens; “divine” decrees were replaced with rights-respecting laws; rulers became administrators; feudal cartels became corporations; propaganda organs became newspapers; women achieved suffrage; and students learned the principles of self-reliance and self-government. Hiroshima, formerly the headquarters of a fanatical military force, became a world center for nonviolence. Those who had once marched feverishly for war now marched passionately for peace.

What stood between the attacks of 1941 and the rebirth of Japan as a civilized nation were five years of merciless warfare, the incineration by napalm and nuclear attack of nearly 400,000 Japanese civilians, an intransigent demand for unconditional surrender, and six years of postwar military occupation by the United States. The result was the most benevolent turnaround of an entire nation in history. . . .


1 Eiji Takemae, TheAllied Occupation of Japan ( New York: Continuum, 2002), pp. xxx f.

2 Cited in John Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 87.

3 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 372.

4 William P. Woodard, The Allied Occupation of Japan 1945–1952 and Japanese Religions (Leiden: Brill, 1972), p. 10, italics added. Pages 9–13 discuss Shinto and related terms.

5 On the idea of kokutai in relation to the mythology of Shinto, see John S. Brownlee, “Four Stages of the Japanese Kokutai (National essence),” JSAC Conference, University of British Columbia, 2000, http://www.iar.ubc.ca/centres/cjr/seminars/semi2000/jsac2000/brownlee.pdf.

6 Woodard’s conclusion that the “The Kokutai Cult was not a form of Shinto” does not follow, given that it “derived from Shinto mythology,” raised “a traditional religious concept . . . to the status of a religio-political absolute,” and was practiced using the shrines and priests of Shinto. Woodard, Allied Occupation, pp. 9–13.

7 Meiji Constitution, articles 1, 2, 3, 11, 13, 20. Hanover Historical Texts Project, http://history.hanover.edu/texts/1889con.html.

8 Dower, Embracing, pp. 346, 358.

9 From The Way of the Subject, August 1941, in Dower, Embracing, p. 277.

10 For discussion of the Educational Rescript and educational reforms under the occupation, see Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 347–71; Woodard Allied Occupation, pp. 164–75; Dower, Embracing, pp. 244–50.

11 Woodard, Allied Occupation, p. 165. See note 1 for the suicide of Jiro Ishiroku.

12 Ibid., p. 164; Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 347.

13 Yoshida Mitsuru, Requiem for the Battleship Yamato, translated by Richard H. Minear (Seattle: University of Washington, 1985), p. 107; Dower, Embracing, pp. 415–16.

14 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 357.

15 Dower, Embracing, pp. 33–34.

16 John Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (NY: Random House, 1986), p. 264.

17 John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936–1945 (New York: Modern Library, 1970), p. 7.

18 Ibid., p. 8. Chap. 1 summarizes these events, including the army in Manchuria, which acted “to the dismay of not only the world but Tokyo itself.”

19 Ibid., p. 9.

20 Ibid., p. 26.

21 Dower, Embracing, p. 277.

22 Ibid.

23 Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War Two (New York: Basic Books, 1997) has documented this gruesome story. A committee of foreigners established a “safe zone” inside the city, and saved thousands. The Japanese government has never properly admitted to the slaughter.

24 http://www.espeeches.com/fdr.htm.

25 Ibid.

26 Ann Armstrong, Unconditional Surrender: The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974), p. 12, emphasis added.

27 Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (NY: Random House, 1999), p. 27.

28 Robert James Maddox, Weapons for Victory (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1995), p. 11.

29 J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs against Japan(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2004), p. 46.

30 Frank, Downfall, p. 27.

31 Saki Dockril and Lawrence Freedman, “Hiroshima: A Strategy of Shock,” in From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima: The Second World War in the Pacific 1941–1945, edited by Saki Dockrill (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994), p. 195.

32 For the Ketsu-Go plan, in English, see Reports of General MacArthur: Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area, vol. II, part II (Washington, DC: 1966), 601–7.

33 Yoshida, Requiem, p. 109 for the saying.

34 Rikihei Inoguchi, Tadashi Nakajima, and Roger Pineau, The Divine Wind (Annapolis, MD: Bantam, 1960), p. 58.

35 Kodama Yoshio, I Was Defeated, translation arranged by Taro Fukuda (Japan: Radiopress, 1959), p. 174. His life encompassed plots against the Japanese government, cooperation with American occupation authorities, and organized crime.

36 Frank, Downfall, pp. 188–89.

37 http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/etc/c06.html. The site has many constitutional documents important to Japan.

38 Robert J. C. Butow, Japan’s Decision to Surrender (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1954), p. 146, note 14.

39 Frank, Downfall, p. 235. The emperor confirmed the order in his statement the Showa Tenno Doluhekuroku, dictated in March and April 1946.

40 Frank, Downfall, 113.

41 Frank, Downfall, p. 225, who reproduces intercepted communications on pp. 221–239; Butow, Japan’s Decision, pp. 56–57.

42 Ibid., p. 8, note 1.

43 Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 220–21; John Dower, Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese Experience, 1878–1954, 2nd printing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1988), pp. 227–72.

44 Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 24–25.

45 For the Konoye Memorial, Dower, Empire, pp. 259–65; the text is at pp. 260–64. Butow, Japan’s Decision, pp. 47–50.

46 Dower, Empire, p. 271. His arrest is detailed on pp. 265–272.

47 All quotes from Butow, Japan’s Decision, pp. 66, 68.

48 Frank, Downfall, pp. 91–92, 96; Hans Bix, “Japan’s Delayed Surrender: A Reinterpretation,” in Hiroshima in History and Memory, edited by Michael Hogan (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,1996), pp. 80–115; originally in Diplomatic History, vol. 19, no. 2 (1995), pp. 197–225.

49 Frank, Downfall, p. 113.

50 Butow, Japan’s Decision, p. 151.

51 Sadao Asada, “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender—A Reconsideration,” in Pacific Historical Review, vol. 67, no. 4 (1998), p. 505.

52 Ibid., p. 487.

53 Ibid., p. 494. The three August 9–10 meetings are reconstructed on pp. 490–96.

54 Toland, Rising Sun, p. 833.

55 Discussed by Dower, Embracing, pp. 88–89.

56 Peter Wetzler, Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan(Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 1998), pp. 50–57.

57 Woodard, Allied Occupation, p. 8, citing SCAP document Political Reorientation of Japan, September 1945–September 1948, Report of the Government Section.

58 Toland, Rising Sun, p. 847.

59 A brief overview of the American occupation is in Paul J. Bailey, Postwar Japan: 1945 to the Present (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 21–66.

60 Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 56–57.

61 The Potsdam principles were issued in longer form in the “U.S. Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan,” (SWNCC-150/4/A) on September 22. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directive cited here, JCS1380/15, was the third of the three major control documents for the occupation. Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 226–27; Dower, Embracing, pp. 73–75.

62 Theodore Cohen, Remaking Japan: the American Occupation as New Deal (NY: Free Press, 1987), pp. 57, 59.

63 Cohen, Remaking Japan, pp. 8–9. The meeting was of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee Subcommittee on the Far East (SWNCCFE), August 29, 1945, which Cohen writes was the only question ever raised about limits to Occupation authority. Eugene Dooman, special assistant to Undersecretary of State Joseph C. Grew, raised the matter; his replacement was John Vincent Carter, who sent the Shinto telegram cited above.

64 Joint Chiefs of Staff, JCS 1380/15, II.13.

65 Dower, Embracing, pp. 115, 420.

66 Herbert Passim, “The Occupation—Some Reflections,” in Showa: The Japan of Hirohito, edited by Carol Gluck and Stephen Graubard (New York: Norton, 1990/1992), p. 111; Ikuhiko Hata, “The Occupation of Japan, 1945–1952,” in The American Military and the Far East: Proceedings of the Ninth Military History Symposium, United States Air Force Academy, 1–3 October 1980, edited by Joe C. Dixon (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1980), p. 99, for reports of Japanese machinery rusting on Shanghai docks.

67 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 347.

68 Dower, Embracing, pp. 215–16. The movie was Our Job in Japan, by the War Department, November 1945.

69 Dower, Embracing, p. 217; Saturday Evening Post, December 15, 1945.

70 Dower, Embracing, p. 25.

71 Ibid., p. 185.

72 Hata, “Occupation,” pp. 96–97 for MacArthur’s eleven categories of early occupation objectives. The October 4, 1945, Civil Liberties Directive (SCAPIN-93) was the start.

73 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 300 for a photo of a 1947 graduating class.

74 Reproduced and discussed in Woodard, Allied Occupation, pp. 54–56. See also my article “‘No Substitute for Victory’: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism,” in The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 2006–2007, p. 52.

75 Woodard, Allied Occupation, pp. 66–68.

76 Joint Chiefs of Staff, JCS 1380/15, I.10.

77 The “Administration of the Educational System of Japan” directive (SCAPIN-178). Eiji, Allied Occupation, pp. 349–51 for “dangerous” courses that were eliminated.

78 “The Suspension of Courses in Morals (Shushin)” (SCAPIN-519) of December 31.

79 Woodard, Allied Occupation, p. 171, quoting from a Ministry of Education notice of June 3, 1947.

80 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 347.

81 Woodard, Allied Occupation, p. 168. The notice was dated May 13, 1946.

82 Dower, Embracing, p. 242.

83 Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 362.

84 Butow, Japan’s Decision, pp. 41, 80.

85 Dower, Embracing, pp. 247, 157; Eiji, Allied Occupation, p. 361, on the student’s activities.

86 Manchester, American Caesar, p. 603, reported in Life Magazine, August 22, 1955.

87 Dower, Embracing, p. 171.

88 Ibid., p. 236.

89 Ibid., pp. 80–84 on the first reforms; p. 29 on contempt for returning soldiers.

90 Ibid., pp. 170–71.

91 Ibid., p. 181.

92 Ibid., pp. 176–77 for a reproduction of a school lesson by Akahito, the emperor who succeeded Hirohito.

93 Ibid., p. 241.

94 Ibid., p. 374.

95 The Prussian military theorist Clausewitz put it this way: War is “an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will.” Carl von Clausewitz, On War ( New York: Routledge, 2004), section I.1.2, p. 75. Clausewitz, deeply influenced by German philosophy, may have accepted voluntarism, the idea that the “will” is just such a faculty. But the “will” to war is not a separate faculty in a person’s psychology.

96 Noted in Asada, “Shock,” p. 479.

97 Armstrong, Unconditional Surrender, p. 143; Jodl’s statement is in Everett Holles, Unconditional Surrender (NY: Howell Soskins Publishers, 1945), p. 13.

98 Armstrong, Unconditional Surrender, p. 155. The “(sic)” is in the original.

99 Dower, Empire, pp. 277–78; Dower, Embracing, p. 77.

100 See my article “The Moral Goodness of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima,” The Undercurrent, April 2006, http://www.the-undercurrent.com/index.php?p=/000105.html.

101 Sakaguchi Ango, “On Decadence” trans. I. Smith, at http://mcel.pacificu.edu/aspac/papers/scholars/Smith/SAKAGUCHI.html; Dower, Embracing, pp. 155–56 for discussion.

102 Dower, Embracing, p. 187–88.

103 Ibid., p. 183.

104 Kodama, I Was Defeated, p. 175.

105 Maddox, Weapons.

106 Cited in Asada, “Shock,” pp. 500–501.

107 Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation With Soviet Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1967); Patrick M. S. Blackett, Fear, War and the Bomb (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1949). For responses, see Asada, “Shock”; Maddox, Weapons; and Freedman and Dockrill, “ Hiroshima.” Donald Kagan, “Why America Dropped the Bomb,” Commentary, vol. 100, no. 3 (September 1995), pp. 17–23; and responses, Commentary, vol. 100, no. 6 (December 1995), pp. 3–14.

108 Frank, Downfall, p. 71.

109 Ibid., pp. 359–60.

110 Ibid., p. 191 for the 900,000 figure.

111 Ibid., pp. 194, 340–42, and note to page 342.

112 The prisoners’ horrific experiences were recorded by George Weller, First into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and its Prisoners of War ( New York: Crown, 2006).

113 Paul Fussell, Thank God for the Atom Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990). From a private correspondence with Mr. Taylor’s daughter, Hannah Krening.

114 Asada, “Shock,” pp. 507, 509.

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