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  • Happy V-J Day, at 70 Years Plus a Day

    Posted by Trent Telenko on September 3rd, 2015 (All posts by )

    While the time pressures of work and family life prevented me from posting this yesterday, Sept 02, 2015, a commemoration of the official surrender of Japan in WW2 is still in order. Like the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Japan, this post will be about how the events leading to the surrender have been covered in American culture. Specifically, it will be a posting of several C-Span network video links to presentations by the leading historians of the period including Craig Symonds, Richard Frank, D.M. Giangreco, and John Kuehn. Afterwards I will give short reviews of each video.

    The following symposia video titles & descriptions, plus links, are from C-Span

    1. Pacific War Turning Point
    June 8, 2013
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?313164-1/pacific-war-turning-point

    Historians talked about the turning point in the Pacific theater
    during World War II. Craig Symonds argued the Battle of Midway was the
    decisive engagement that shifted momentum in the Allies favor, while
    Richard Frank asserted that the Guadalcanal campaign thwarted future
    Axis plans and resulted in a permanent blow to the Japanese war
    machine. A video clip from “Victory at Sea” was played without sound.
    After each author made his presentation, they held a discussion and
    responded to questions from members of the audience.
     
    “Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” was part of The
    Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series WWII & NYC of
    The New York Historical Society.

    2. Fall of the Japanese Empire
    July 14, 2015
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?327055-1/discussion-fall-japanese-empire

    Richard Frank, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire,
    spoke about the events leading up to Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. He talked about American and Japanese strategies and operations in the closing months of the war, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s surrender, and the fall of the Japanese Empire.

    3. Strategies for the Invasion and Defense of Japan
    August 6, 2015
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?327355-5/strategies-invasion-defense-japan

    D.M. Giangreco talked about the American offensive directed at Japan’s
    northernmost island, Hokkaido. He also spoke about the Soviet Union’s
    involvement, including the influence of logistics and diplomatic
    relations.
     
    “The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics

    4. Japan’s Decision to Surrender
    August 6, 2015
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?327355-7/japans-decision-surrender

    John Kuehn talked about Japan’s decision to surrender to Allied forces
    in August of 1945.
     
    “A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics.

    Each of the above presentations was hugely informative. In the “Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” argument, I side with Richard Frank on its impact on Japanese military capability. The Guadalcanal campaign hurt the Japanese far more than the “Decisive battle” of Midway. I recently received a Kindle Copy of Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge Military Histories) that convinced me of the importance of Guadalcanal over Midway in terms of killing off the best Japanese naval pilots, most of whom survived Midway.

    In the second video on July 14, 2015 Richard Frank basically gives a presentation drawn from his coming trilogy on the “Asia-Pacific War” that highlights the Japanese military preparations to defend Japan, including the mobilization of a 20 million strong civilian-militia to back up the military, and how important the A-bomb was as compared to the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in getting the Japanese to surrender. Frank also speaks to the King-Nimitz efforts to challenge Olympic and the total casualties up to August 1945 and how many more would have died from starvation had the war lasted even a short time longer. Frank tends to be US Navy centric and did not think much of MacArthur’s Olympic plans.

    The third video, by D.M. Giangreco of a presentation titled “The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion”, goes very heavily into Japanese, Soviet & American plans to alternately defend or invade the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Short form — The Soviets had enough American provided sealift for a light infantry division, but not enough airpower to protect it, and the available Japanese ground forces and Kamikazes would be able to make any Soviet lodgment a Pacific Anzio.

    The final video, by John Kuehn, titled “A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” goes deeply into the Japanese high command, civilian leadership and the Showa Emperor’s maneuvering to achieve a surrender. I found it particularly useful in getting a better understanding of the irrationality that dominated Japanese decision making. And the point that Kuehn made that the “Big-Six” represented the Japanese military “Moderate factions” was chilling.

     

    11 Responses to “Happy V-J Day, at 70 Years Plus a Day”

    1. Grurray Says:

      Earlier today China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the official surrender of the over one million Japanese troops occupying China. I wonder if they thanked us?

    2. Joe Wooten Says:

      They spin it as if they caused the Japanese to surrender. They do not recognize we beat Japan almost as an afterthought to the European theater.

    3. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      >>Earlier today China celebrated the 70th anniversary of the official surrender of the over one million Japanese troops occupying China. I wonder if they thanked us?

      Chinese leadership seems to have an official policy of dispersing anti-American propaganda. Power competition, I assume. Without knowing, I think it’s a safe bet most Chinese have no idea the USA was in China fighting the Japanese during WWII or what help the USA gave to the Chinese postwar.

    4. Trent Telenko Says:

      Grurray, Joe Wooten,

      The Chinese fought hard against the Japanese, won several victories, and bleed the Japanese even when they were losing.

      However, the Chinese in no way defeated the Japanese. And conservatively, according to Frank, at least half of the 25 million dead in the Asian-Pacific War (1937-1945) were Chinese military and civilians.

    5. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      2. Fall of the Japanese Empire
      July 14, 2015
      http://www.c-span.org/video/?327055-1/discussion-fall-japanese-empire

      Richard Frank, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire,
      spoke about the events leading up to Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. He talked about American and Japanese strategies and operations in the closing months of the war, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s surrender, and the fall of the Japanese Empire.

      I just listened to that lecture and it was very good, like his book. I also did not realize till today Mr Frank is also a lawyer.

    6. Mike K Says:

      I think the VJ Day I remember was August 15, 1945 and that was when the announcement was made. The order was also given that taverns were supposed to close, I think at noon. Since my father had many friends in the tavern business in Chicago, many of them packed up a case or two of whiskey and headed for our house. I was seven and my sister four. The party lasted three days and I still remember drunks coming up the stairs and falling into bed to sleep a few hours.

    7. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      The Pacific War Turning Point discussion, where one historian makes the case for the Battle of Midway being the key turning point, and the other making the case that it was the Guadalcanal campaign, was also very good.

    8. Trent Telenko Says:

      Micheal Hiteshew,

      Frank has more than Phillips Payson O’Brien’s “How the War was Won” to support his position on Guadalcanal Campaign over the Midway Battle Fleet Engagement as the decisive event.

      Check out the USN versus IJN carrier totals here, that are based on the US Navy losing every CV it had Midway and the IJN losing none:

      http://www.combinedfleet.com/economic.htm

      To quote the summary:

      “In other words, even if it had lost catastrophically at the Battle of Midway, the United States Navy still would have broken even with Japan in carriers and naval air power by about September 1943. Nine months later, by the middle of 1944, the U.S. Navy would have enjoyed a nearly two-to-one superiority in carrier aircraft capacity! Not only that, but with her newer, better aircraft designs, the U.S. Navy would have enjoyed not only a substantial numeric, but also a critical qualitative advantage as well, starting in late 1943.

      All this is not to say that losing the Battle of Midway would not have been a serious blow to American fortunes! For instance, the war would almost certainly have been protracted if the U.S. had been unable to mount some sort of a credible counter-stroke in the Solomons during the latter half of 1942. Without carrier-based air power of some sort there would not have been much hope of doing so, meaning that we would most likely have lost the Solomons. However, the long-term implications are clear: the United States could afford to make good losses that the Japanese simply could not. Furthermore, this comparison does not reflect the fact that the United States actually slowed down it’s carrier building program in late 1944, as it became increasingly evident that there was less need for them. Had the U.S. lost at Midway, it seems likely that those additional carriers (3 Midway-class and 6 more Essex-Class CVs, plus the Saipan-class CVLs) would have been brought on line more quickly. In a macro-economic sense, then, the Battle of Midway was really a non-event. There was no need for the U.S. to seek a single, decisive battle which would ‘Doom Japan’ — Japan was doomed by it’s very decision to make war.

      The final evidence of this economic mismatch lies in the development of the Atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project required an enormous commitment on the part of the United States. And as Paul Kennedy states, “…it was the United States alone which at this time had the productive and technological resources not only to wage two large-scale conventional wars but also to invest the scientists, raw materials, and money (about $2 billion) in the development of a new weapon which might or might not work.” In other words, our economy was so dominant that we knew we could afford to fund one of the greatest scientific endeavors in history largely from the ‘leftovers’ of our war effort! Whatever one may think morally or strategically about the usage of nuclear weapons against Japan, it is clear that their very development was a demonstration of unprecedented economic strength.”

    9. Philip Says:

      It’s kind of strange to me that I was just finishing up reading John Costello’s The Pacific War 1941-1945 right around this anniversary date. This has been my introduction to the campaign in a serious way. I’m really glad it worked out as it did on 9/2/45 and after.

    10. MCS Says:

      The difference between Midway and Guadalcanal is that we could have lost Midway since the battle was fought with only the forces available at the start, and was over before either side could bring up more. The American losses would have been painful but transient, as Trent points out, the Japanese losses, even in victory, were permanent.

      The end at Guadalcanal was never in doubt, only the eventual cost. Men and material would have been found. This is not to say that the eventual victory and its cost wouldn’t have prolonged the war or changed the course dramatically.

      This prefigures the end for Japan. The fact that they were never able to make up the losses confirms that surrender was inevitable, a matter of time and cost, where American and Allied resources were essentially unlimited.

    11. Trent Telenko Says:

      What the grinding Guadalcanal campaign did was keep the Japanese from trying to link up with the Germans in the Mid-East.

      The Japanese had the Naval Air power to sweep the Indian Ocean of the British fleet and shipping.

      This would have weakened the British position in Egypt enough for Rommel to break through to Cairo.

      The troops and transport and opportunity costs to the Japanese for making Fortress Rabaul could have done great damage to the Allied cause in the Indian Ocean area.