It has become something of a tradition for western leftists to commemorate the August 6th and 9th 1945 US A-bomb attacks on Imperial Japan, and to try and make the case that even if the first bomb was needed — which it was not — that the second bomb was what amounted to a war crime because the American government and military knew the Japanese were trying to surrender, but wanted to intimidate the Soviet Union with the A-Bomb.
I have dealt with this annual leftist commemoration ritual with myth-destroying commemorations of my own explaining why leftists are wrong on this. See the following posts:
2014 — History Friday — The WMD Back-Up Plans for the Atomic Bomb
2013 — History Friday: US Military Preparations The Day Nagasaki Was Nuked
2012 – Nagasaki Plus 67 Years
2011 – Happy V-J Day!
2010 – Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Saving Hirohito’s Phony Baloney Job and
Hiroshima — The A-bomb plus 65 years
My Chicago Boyz commemoration is different this year in that it is a list of reviews from popular culture video and books that show how American culture looks at what might have happened — if Japan had continued fighting World War 2 after the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and there had to be “The Invasion That Never Was”. Each review will be a text thumbnail of the content, a link, my impression and at the end of all the reviews I’ll share what I see as the problems that all of them share. Problems that amount to a cultural paradigm blind spot that I mentioned in my “Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Saving Hirohito’s Phony Baloney Job” back when I started these annual columns in 2010.
The first review is of the old History Channel series “Secrets of War Declassified” Episode 2 of 20: “Japan: The Invasion That Never Was”. This Charlton Heston narrated video is available through both Amazon.com and its current content-rights owner, Mills Creek Entertainment, at this link.
The video gives a reasonable back story to a 1990s cable channel audience on the historical military and political forces leading to the alternative decisions of invasion or to drop the atomic bombs by President Truman. It is told predominantly from the American professional academic military historian point of view, which while I agree with generally, leaves out much of the Chinese, Russian and British Commonwealth perspective on these events. This was reasonable editorial choice, as there is only so much you can put in a 51 minute video for an American cable channel audience. Overall the video has aged well in terms of production values from its original History Channel airing and the rich-voiced Charlton Heston narration make it a must-own for those interested in the era.
Full Episode is also on Youtube and a link is embedded above.
Next are five book reviews of “Alternate histories” published between 1971 and 2015 in order of publication date.
1. Death Is Lighter than a Feather (1971 as “Lighter than a feather,” re-issued 2001 with the current title and a John R. Skates afterword) by David Westheimer. It is the founding book of this particular genre and it set a high bar.
Death Is Lighter than a Feather is a series of well written scenes from the perspective of American, British and Japanese participants in the invasion of Kyushu. The book was authored by the screen writer of Von Ryan’s Express, David Westheimer, with the assistance of Alfred Coxx, the foremost American historian of WW2 Japan at the time. The book assumes no atomic bombs and shows a “reasonable” price for the invasion of Kyushu followed by the Japanese surrender.
The book was heavily influenced by the anti-hero movement in Hollywood films of that time and includes one scene of an attempted rape of a Japanese woman by a US Marine and another rape of an American Nisei young woman (returned to Japan by a strict father) by Japanese army troops.
The best section of the book is from the perspective of a Japanese Army Colonel commanding an infantry battalion fighting to the death against American Army assaults. This story in the book has made a lasting impression on generations of both diplomatic and military historians in professional academia world wide, including the likes of authors John Skates and Edward Drea, as it well captured the WW2 Samurai mindset of Japanese officers.
The book is very much worth owning for this section alone.
That said, Death Is Lighter than a Feather has no real narrative theme or character story tying together the various well written scenes for a mass market audience. And overall the book has not aged well from its period “messaging” and its “bracing 1970s realism” suffers from the mass declassification of WW2 Operation Downfall military planning files of the late 1990s — files that were unavailable to Alvin Coxx in 1970 when David Westheimer consulted with Coxx.
2. The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan (1983) by Alfred Coppel
This is a novel of the invasion of Honshu, Operation Coronet. Like the earlier “Death Is Lighter than a Feather”, the atomic bomb does not make an appearance in this book as it failed at the Trinity test. The story is centered around an American Ranger captain who is a son of a missionary and was raised in Japan, his raised-in-California Nisei translator and the Ranger captain’s male and female childhood Japanese playmates.
This book is not as well researched as “Death Is Lighter than a Feather”, but has a much better flow as a story. There are scenes of mass attacks by Japanese civilians on American troops, very post-Vietnam sounding worries about the effect of reporting that on the American public’s support of the war as voiced by Pres. Truman, and the death of three of the four main characters in the closing pages of the book.
Overall I did not care for the book.
3. 1945: A Novel (2007) by Robert Conroy
This alternate history diverges from our own in assuming that the Imperial Guards coup against Emperor Hirohito succeeds with the help of Japanese war minister General Anami. The coup exterminates the leaders of the Japanese peace faction, locks up Hirohito and installs General Tojo back in as dictator.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are no more American A-bombs due to the fear of radiation casualties that American Ultra intelligence of Japanese military transmissions provides. While there are many battle scenes, and one very well thought out twist to how Japanese bi-plane Kamikazes could be used, like most Robert Conroy alternate histories on WW2, there is little appreciation of mundane but vital things like logistics. And there is a serious helicopter based rampaging plot device to get a Japanese surrender over Tojo’s dead body.
If you like Conroy’s style of alternate history, this is a book for you. For me it was a Dallas Public Library read rather than a purchase.
4. MacArthur’s War: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan (2007) by Douglas Niles, Michael Dobson
This is a gonzo alternate history of the invasion of Japan that diverges from our time line at Midway in 1942, with USAAF skip bombing of Japanese warships there and the discrediting of Admirals King and Nimitz’s Central Pacific Drive by the failed invasion of Tarawa. Thus giving General Douglas MacArthur sole command of the Pacific theater.
MacArthur’s drive through New Guinea proceeds faster with the carriers of the canceled Central Pacific drive with a “Great Leyte Turkey Shoot” in Mid 1944.
This is followed by invasions of Leyte, Luzon, the rapid follow up American partial invasion with bypass of Okinawa, with MacArthur using Australian troops to garrison Okinawa north of the Shuri Line, behind which the Japanese 32nd Army not so quietly starves.
The first Kamikazes make their appearance at the invasion of Kyushu and the closing pages see General Patton commanding an armored Corps on the Kanto Plains driving to Tokyo before the A-bomb is ready.
While a fun read, it is more gonzo fantasy than alternate history. This was another Dallas Public Library book loan.
5. X-Day: Japan: Front Line Reporting at the Greatest Invasion and the Dawn of Nuclear Warfare (2015), by Shawn D. Mahaney
“X-Day: Japan: Front Line Reporting at the Greatest Invasion and the Dawn of Nuclear Warfare” is the single best researched alternate history of the aborted by Atomic bomb invasion of Japan you are going to find. It is gloriously filled with maps and even accurate to the day weather reports! And as the title suggests, nuclear weapons are involved…but not at Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Both cities are spared nuclear fire, but not the kind dealt out to Tokyo and other Japanese urban centers by hordes of Gen. Curtis LeMay’s incendiary-dropping B-29s.
The plot device to hang together the alternate history story of the invasion of Japan is the use of an Ernie Pyle-like combat reporter named Walt Tuttle as the eyes and ears of the audience. This fictional alternate history is set up as a 2015 re-issue of a 1952 book based on Tuttle’s uncensored 16 July 1945 to 17 Jan 1946 reports from the Pacific with Shawn D. Mahaney, the author of the book, as the “editor” of the 2015 re-issue of Walt Tuttle’s book.
Tuttle as the audience’s POV character lets you see the unfolding of the invasion from its Okinawan-typhoon-disrupted X-Day logistical build up, the flawed intelligence of the planned preliminary landings on small islands off Kyushu, the bloody “X-day” assault on land, sea and air, and the desperate Japanese counter attacks that almost reach the invasion beaches.
The awful “grind” of late Pacific War infantry combat is repeated through out the book as various American combat units assault fortified Japanese positions, bleed out from casualties, get removed from the line, are rebuilt and then sent to bleed again.
The “Iwo Jima inside Kyushu” by the 5th Marine Division and US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division at Sakura-Jima peninsula, far inside the Kagoshima-Wan (-wan is bay in English) anchorage the US Navy wanted, was very well thought out from the military wargaming point of view by the author.
It is this bleeding out that finally makes the mass appearance of the atomic bomb and General Douglas MacArthur inevitable at the book’s close.
“X-day” is available as an e-book for $2.99 and preview excerpts are available on Shawn D. Mahaney’s web site www.xdayjapan.com
OUTSIDE THE CULTURAL PARADIGM
In the video and all of these books, a few things stood out.
First, every single one assumed America was going to “win” if it invaded, for values of winning with hundreds of thousands of American dead and wounded with orders of magnitude more dead Japanese from war and famine.
As Iraq has shown recently with the deposing of Saddam Hussein, winning the war is not winning the peace. The defeated people (Sunni Arabs in Iraq) get a vote on what the peace means. The famine the American “transportation campaign” imposed, using airpower to mine coastal waters and destroy Japanese railways, would have left it impossible to feed millions of Japanese in the event of invasion. This mass death would have affected the loyalty of the Japanese people to the Emperor post-war and quite likely flipped the Japanese communist in the Cold War with all the implications of that change down the timeline.
Second, there is a great deal of post-WW2 magical thinking on the atomic bomb. Even Secrets of War: Declassified, “Japan: The Invasion That Never Was” sees the atomic bomb in magical terms. It took a great deal of American unlimited, ruthless, mass killing and destruction to induce the cultural shock necessary for Emperor Hirohito to get a Japanese surrender over the Imperial Japanese Military’s Samurai Death Cult’s objections. The atomic bombs were simply mass killing data points that rivaled the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, they weren’t a change in kind. It was the American willingness to kill however many it took to win, not the atomic bomb, that was important here.
Third, last, and most important, the role of the American people in war — like that of the Japanese in the peace — is ignored. The suicidal resistance of the Imperial Japanese Military in the last year of the Pacific War, which was communicated by those fighting there to their relatives, then later by the media after the official wartime veil of secrecy over Kamikaze attacks was lifted, convinced them that the Japanese were not human. This feeling by the American public was going to be hugely intensified when the British Operation Zipper landings in Malaya happened on September 9 1945, at which point there would not have been any surrender.
This is because the IJA had issued orders to all their foreign commands, to be implemented when the British invaded Malaya, to execute:
o All Allied prisoners of war;
o All interned Allied civilians;
o All other Allied civilians they could catch in China, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines.
This is from Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb by George Feifer, and states at page 573:
“After the fall of Okinawa, Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi issued an order directing his prison camp officers to kill all their captives the moment the enemy entered his southeast Asia theater. That would have been when those 200,000 British landed to retake Singapore, less than three weeks after the Japanese surrender. There was a real chance that Terauchi’s order would have been carried out, in case up to 400,000 people would have been massacred.”
Allied signals intelligence (MAGIC) intercepted and decoded the mid-to-late July 1945 order from Imperial General Headquarters (GHQ) to Terauchi to prepare for this. Emperor Hirohito knew this through his sources on the GHQ staff. General Marshall and the other American joint chiefs of staff would have read that intercept before Hirohito’s sources would have told him.
America would have had to kill most of the Japanese military that was doing that mass killing. Which the American people would have made sure happened, and millions of Allied civilians would have been victims of the IJA rampage before its extermination, except for the reality of the Atomic bomb.
All things considered, the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the best way to end the Pacific War, because they gave us a lasting peace.
So again, with feeling, Thank God for the Atomic Bomb.
You will also find at Mahaney’s www.xdayjapan.com web-site forum comments from me to Shawn on the accuracy of his book. Shawn made a number of changes in his final draft based on information I sent to him. While I didn’t agree with some of his story as told from the research point of view — IMO Japanese suicide small boats were not the threat made out — these were trivial in nature and the scenes he wrote with Japanese suicide boats were well worth keeping from the story telling point of view.