The bomb, and V-J Day

Monday, August 15, 2005

Today is the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, the day the Japanese accepted terms of their surrender ending World War II.

By mid-1945, victory over Japan was a foregone conclusion. How it would be accomplished was still in question.

One option was an Allied invasion of Japan certain to cost many thousands of lives on both sides. Estimates of Allied losses ranged from 20,000 to 500,000. The Japanese stiff defense of Okinawa certainly demonstrated that they were not going to give up easily.

Another option was the atomic bomb.

The Japanese were given a surrender ultimatum near the end of July. It was ignored.

One bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6. Three days later, another fell on Nagasaki. An estimated 400,000 people died from the direct effects of the bombs and over time from burns and radiation poisoning.

At noon in Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced by radio that his country had accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration outlining Japan's surrender.

Whether dropping the two atomic bombs was justified on the part of the United States is still debated by scholars and ethicists. Japan's own memorial at Hiroshima is dedicated to freeing the world from nuclear weapons. It does not absolve Japan of responsibility for the devastation visited upon it.

The inscription in an exhibit titled "Lessons of History" reads: "We must never forget that nuclear weapons are the fruits of war. Japan too with colonization polices and wars of aggression inflicted incalculable irreversible harm on the people of many countries. We must reflect on war and the causes of war, not just nuclear weapons. We must learn the lessons of history, that we may learn and avoid the paths that led to war."

The book "Racing the Enemy: Truman, Stalin and the Surrender of Japan" by history professor Tsuyoshi Hasegawa argues that not A-bombs but Russia's last-minute entry into the war and the threat of Communist hegemony convinced Japan to surrender.

V-J Day was met with rejoicing by much of the world. Now relatively little attention is paid to the anniversary, perhaps because the war ended not with a decisive battle but in the ominous dust of mushroom clouds.

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