In the last ten years, a plethora of WW II films and television shows have come out glorifying the European front. The most recent being Quentin Tarantino’s fictitious Inglorious Basterds. Be it in movies or books, the Japanese front has always gotten the short end of the stick until Clint Eastwood’s Flag of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima came out. In recent years, more research has been done on one aspect of the end of the Pacific front, most notably, Codename: Downfall. Had this invasion had to have taken place, our vision of what war is would have changed.
November 1, 1944. Plans were being made. Plans were going forward. Casualties would be high on both sides. In order to win, one side would literally have to destroy the other. While the Nazis got all the press, then and now, it was the Japanese who fought like demons: who never gave up, who never surrendered. But for the American generals in the Pacific, the island hopping strategy envisioned by Nimitz worked slowly and steadily towards the Japanese home islands between 1942-1945. Every island that needed to be taken resulted in very high casualties.
In the spring of 1945, the plan was in place. After the battles at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, casualty estimates for an invasion of the Japan ranged from 200,00 to over a million depending on the length of the invasion. The original plan consisted of two parts – Operation Coronet and Operation Olympic. It called for American troops to fight their way through the forests of urban jungles of Japan.
As the summer of 1945 approached, FDR had passed away and Truman had taken over. At the time, Americans were now within reach of invading. For the better part of the spring, Americans had been firebombing the cities of Japan. It had been successful in destroying the cities but not destroying the will of the Japanese to fight. Public opinion was not quite ready for an invasion. Three-and-a-half years of fighting seemed to be enough. They were more in favor of a blockade and starving out the Japanese. American soldiers who had been fighting the Japanese knew this would never work for the Japanese would never surrender. Kamikaze attacks increased and the civilian resistance on Okinawa sealed the deal: an invasion would cause huge casualties on both sides. The Japanese citizenry was being trained to defend the homeland at all costs. At this point, there would be no surrender.
Luckily for American soldiers, and their families, two little bombs would solve the problem of whether to invade or not. On August 6 and 9, the US became the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons in combat. Truman always reiterated to his dying day that he never gave the decision to drop the bomb a second thought. To him, he knew the number of American lives saved by dropping nuclear weapons in two untouched Japanese cities. What Truman never mentions is that it also possibly saved millions of Japanese as well.
I suggest you watch the following educational film that is one of the most riveting I have seen about the Pacific front.
For Further Reading: Codename: Downfall