Table of Contents
2.2 Tactics of Strategic Bombing
2.3 Operation Downfall
3. Alternatives for ending the War
3.1 The impracticalities of a diplomatic solution
3.2 Conventional alternatives: Military and Economic
4. Paths to Nuclear Destruction
4.1 “Shock and Awe”
4.2 The Potsdam Conference: Final Chance to avoid Nuclear Holocaust
4.3 The Empire's Last Stand
4.4 The selection of targets
5. The Detonation of Atomic Bombs
6. Reasons for employing Nuclear Weapons
6.1 Diplomatic Power Game
6.2 Structural Imperatives
8.1 Primary Sources
8.2 Secondary Sources
8.3 Internet Sites
“The facts of history are indeed facts about individuals, but not about actions of individuals performed in isolation, and not about the motives  from which individuals suppose themselves to have acted. They are facts about the relations of individuals to one another in society and about the social forces which produce from the actions of individuals results often at variance with, and sometimes opposite to, the results which they themselves intended.“ This fundamental statement by E.H. Carr essentially refers to the pivotal methodological necessity of the historian to not merely relate specific historical events, developments and processes to a single rational decision deliberately taken at a given point in the past by certain individuals in complete knowledge of the implications their actions might entail, but rather that as result of their at times catatonic entrenchment in static decision-making structures and the formative influence exerted upon their reasoning by a multitude of governing factors borne out of various political, economical, military, social and ideological considerations (and possibly even personal predispositions), the actions of individual human beings – in particular those vested with profound and extraordinary political powers - should accordingly not merely be attributed to the preponderance of a single and clearly defined motive presumably guiding their ability to judge. Theirs often are decisions which, although usually only arrived at after long and thorough deliberation, are regularly informed by considerations and calculations inferred from such an intricate interaction of determining influences that any attempt to expose one principal or predominant motive would essentially be to disregard all those other factors and aspects which to a more or lesser degree ultimately bore as well as upon the adoption of a given course of action. Accordingly it is by starting from this very premise that the subsequent analysis sets out to critically illuminate and elaborate upon one of the arguably most consequential and controversial single decisions taken in recent modern history, namely the dropping of Nuclear Weapons upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th, respectively August 9th 1945, by American Air Force Bombers within the overriding context of hostilities between these countries in the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War.
In so doing, the paper at hand does, however, not merely attempt to offer a conclusive and exhaustive answer to the question as to what primary factors and/or ostensibly ulterior motives ultimately led American decision makers to issue the order to detonate Atomic Bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but on a more profound scale it essentially also aspires to determine whether any of the given reasons might indeed be said of having considerably outweighed all other considerations contemplated at the time, or in other words whether in effect there truly existed such a thing as a solitary, pre-eminent motive among American policy-makers which clearly and undeniably reduced all other potential influences and motivations to the status of at best complementary, yet ultimately far less significant incitements for dropping the bombs. In accordance with E.C. Carr's statement, the following analysis consequently endeavours to demonstrate that the decision to release nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was in fact anything but the result of a premeditated action on the part of leading American authorities, but rather that it evolved out of a unique combination of interrelated strategic and socio-political considerations, inter-personal relationships as well as practical exigencies. To that end the matter at hand will essentially be approached by means of a systematic two-step methodological examination, one which will in a first instance explore in depth the special circumstances under which US officials operated in the weeks and months prior to the actual dropping of nuclear weapons and which, as a consequence, undoubtedly had a profound and eminently decisive impact upon their decision-making. Following that, it will be analysed how their reasoning was furthermore also substantially affected by reflections and objectives of a slightly less tangible yet nevertheless equally important order, influential determinants which especially when reviewed against the contextual background of their time ultimately figured all the more pertinently in deliberations dealing with the seminal issue of employing Nuclear Weapons against Japan.
The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, frequently and unjustifiably reduced to the preponderance of a single motive, has ever since been a matter of fierce contention in scholarly debates attempting to provide a definite and incontrovertible answer to the question of why both of these Japanese cities and their inhabitants ultimately had to be submitted to the horrors of nuclear warfare. Historians today still fierily dispute the alleged plurality of motives underlying this momentous decision, the result being a polarized scholarly discord which by now virtually abounds in a multitude of different theories and competing suppositions. At one end of the spectrum there are those scholars who argue that the decision solely rested upon grounds of military expediency, foremost the necessity to shorten a gruelling war and to save the lives of American soldiers. An entirely different explanation is, on the other hand, offered by those historians who contend that American policy makers above all wanted to exhibit their country's enormous military potency, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki basically serving to counter post-war ambitions of the Soviet Union by demonstrating the vast destructive potential which presently solely the United States had at its command.
Somewhere in between these diametrically opposed viewpoints there also figure contentions pertaining to the apparent need of American politicians to recover the costs of an expensive nuclear development programme; as well as to considerations of public sentiment and the desire of a retaliatory revenge at Japanese aggression. Still, it was only fairly recently that historians, notably Barton J. Bernstein, have aspired to strike a middle ground between these two argumentative extremes, emphasizing on the one hand the primarily military value of the Atomic Bomb while at the same time also giving due credit to its additional purpose as an instrument of diplomatic power politics, as well as to the issue of anticipated American Army casualties in the event of ongoing hostilities in the Pacific.
2. The War against Japan
2.1 Imperial Resistance
To begin with, it is eminently important to first clarify what primary objective the United States actually sought to achieve at the time by issuing the order of releasing nuclear devices over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as only a clear and sound analysis of its overall agenda may effectively explain why its leaders ultimately resorted to the use of atomic warfare. As it were, ever since a correspondent public statement made by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the principal and foremost aim of that agenda was and always had been none other than the complete and „unconditional surrender“ of the enemies of the Anglo-American alliance. It was the unfaltering abidance by that policy which had widely informed the decisions of the Roosevelt Administration in their dealings with both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, one which Henry Truman after assuming the presidential office following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death on April 12th 1945 ultimately had every intention of pursuing just as staunchly as his predecessor had done. Consequently the very key to understanding the intricacies underlying the deliberations and decision-making process of employing nuclear warfare essentially boils down to the fact that at the time the American government was altogether firmly convinced that eventually only a complete and uncontested defeat of the Japanese Empire would ensure that never again would there spread forth from it such rampant militarist aggression capable to wreak havoc upon American, or for that matter East-Asian soldiers and civilians as well, as had in these past several years.
It was thus the strict adherence to the policy of “unconditional surrender” which formed the guiding principle of American decision-makers in their efforts to achieve a complete and unequivocal victory on each single war front that the armed forces of the American military were presently engaged in. Yet while in early spring 1945 the European campaign against Nazi-Germany slowly but surely drew to a close, an altogether different picture presented itself in the Pacific Theatre of the war. For despite decisive victories and strategic progresses made by American troops in the preceding months, Japanese forces ultimately still maintained a tenaciously resilient defence of the seaborne approaches to their motherland: Even as Allied armies were penetrating ever deeper into the heart of Nazi Germany, Japanese battalions on the pacific island of Iwo Jima were fighting out a tenacious - and in terms of human fatalities immensely costly - resistance against their American assailants. From the outset local garrisons engaged their assailants in a fierce defensive struggle, literally mowing down wave after wave of Marines strenuously battling their way forward from the relative safety of their landing vessels towards the heavily fortified shorelines. Eventually US Marines were able to purge the enemy from his cavernous fortifications on the island, though only at the expense of an exceedingly high body count in their own ranks. Notwithstanding the tactical importance of thus winning Iwo Jima as a seminal base for further airborne ventures against Japan proper, its conquest, moreover, ultimately constituted but one out of several preliminary sub-steps in the overriding endeavour of pushing the Japanese ever nearer to total defeat.
Worse, American troops soon were to experience another gruelling nightmare following their assault of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Nearly two months of merciless jungle butchering, in particular vividly remembered by participants for its unusually high degree of raw brutality as a result of close-combat man-to-man fighting, went by before the US Army at last succeeded in ousting the enemy from its emplacements, achieving a formal victory that saw 7600 American soldiers dead and as much as 75% of their adversaries incapacitated, many of whom for reasons of personal honour and national pride rather preferred death at their own hands than turning themselves over to their adversaries.
Victories in two incredibly horrific battles, largely borne out of a combination of superior troop strength and technological supremacy in the form of auxiliary naval shelling of the enemy's position prior to the actual disembarkation, thus secured the American Army important operational stepping boards for the seemingly inevitable exigency of launching military operations on a considerably larger scale against mainland Japan itself. For notwithstanding the dismal outcome of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, resulting not only in the death of thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians but also in an irrefutable demonstration of the enormous striking power and sheer limitless resource pool of the US Army, Japanese military leaders still categorically refused to admit to their apparent disadvantages in the field. Quite to the contrary, Iwo Jima and Okinawa actually reinforced their unswerving and steadfast conviction of repelling American troops in the event of an invasion against their homeland, reasoning that if such a relatively small contingent of Japanese forces as had been stationed on Iwo Jima and Okinawa had managed to hold out for several weeks against a vastly superior enemy, while, moreover, inflicting a not unsubstantial number of casualties themselves, than surely they would stand a good fighting chance for defending their infinitely larger home soil for many more additional months, if not even longer.
This firm resolution of the Imperial Army to fight out an all-or-nothing battle until virtually the very last man ultimately did not go unnoticed by US government officials. Long since had American infantrymen become familiar with the infamous spirit of the Japanese bushido code, characterized, among other things, by the deep-rooted perception of Japanese soldiers that consciously giving one's life while defending the fatherland would always be preferable to an allegedly shameful and dishonourable surrender to the enemy. The pertinacious and seemingly irrational perseverance of Japanese battalions in the face of overwhelming adversarial superiority frequently reported by American GI's had after all already clearly attested to that peculiar quality of Japanese soldiers, while suicidal airborne attacks by kamikaze pilots against US Navy ships and advancing land columns provided further evidence of this inscrutable warrior philosophy. Finally, American authorities were ultimately also well aware of efforts by the Imperial government aimed at further indoctrination of these belligerent views into the susceptible minds of Japanese citizens, basically through appealing to their sense of national and patriotic honour.
As a consequence, American military analysts shared no illusions that unless the Imperial Army was administrated such a devastating and decisive blow that would unequivocally testify to its incontrovertible defeat in the field, it would likely continue to mobilize whatever resistance it could still muster for fending off any offensive operations undertaken by its enemies. Such reasoning would eventually only further be hardened by the fact that in spite of whatever vague approaches had heretofore been made by members within the Japanese government to conclude an early peace settlement, American officials before long received undeniable proof that the Imperial Army was presently initiating comprehensive precautionary measures in anticipation of a prolonged battle on its own proper home soil, knowledge which thus ultimately surely rendered the prospects for an impending peaceful surrender of Japan ever more improbable in the minds of most American decision-makers.
2.2 Tactics of Strategic Bombing
In the preceding months American military planners had also sought to break the will of the Japanese resistance by resorting to other means of conventional warfare apart from tedious man-to-man combat, notably by making use of the imposing air superiority of their Air Force. Already in mid 1944 American B-29 bomber planes had launched the first assault waves of what eventually was to become one of the largest aerial campaigns in history. Initially, however, these ventures had for the most part been directed against predominantly industrial targets, a tactical priority largely grounded on the concept of best achieving victory over the enemy by systematically crippling his core industries and infrastructure. This process, so it was surmised, would before long lead to a substantial dysfunction of the adversary's central industrial production and transportation capacities, notably since it was believed to severely disrupt the fundamental processes underlying the modern “assembly line”-concept, i.e. internal rationalisation, serialization and standardization. In conjunction with the simultaneous destruction of key transportation networks, perturbations of such tremendous proportions were essentially expected to invariably entail a country's total economic breakdown, the result not only being a severe shortage of fundamental resources required to sustain current war efforts, but following increasing public deprivations of seminal goods and elementary life services the enemy would, moreover, also experience a near complete political - and hence national – collapse as well.
However, reality ultimately failed to meet these optimistic theoretical expectations forthwith, as in spite of the unremitting targeting of key industrial compounds as well as the already wide-scale obliteration of numerous similar sites, Japan was yet still able to keep its economy rolling. It was precisely in this context that US Air Force planners then gradually began to shift priority from precision bombing to deliberate assaults against larger targets, including extensive residential districts in the most populous Japanese cities. The alleged effectiveness of such area raids had already been amply demonstrated by the aerial attack of the Chinese city Hankow in mid December 1944, so that despite internal friction within the Air Force as to the advisability over such large-scale incendiary raids against civilian targets, the United States ultimately sanctioned their regular carrying out against Japanese communities as well. In so doing, the over-all goal of these operations was to bring home to the Japanese people such unprecedented levels of horror and mortal fear of additional raids that - so the assumption went - the entire country would before long be bombed into such a profound and lasting state of collective “shock and awe” that would ultimately precipitate no less than a complete, nation-wide paralysis of public morale and the Japanese will to resist.
Consequently, it was essentially due to this systematic flattening of entire residential quarters that Japan eventually had to endure the as yet by far most catastrophic damages on its own proper home ground. Alone the infamous Tokyo raid on March 9th 1944 presumably claimed as much 100000 civilian victims, while the overall number of fatalities incurred as a result of these carpet bombings would eventually amount to the staggering figure of at least 400000 dead people. Yet notwithstanding the moral and ethical questioning of such strategies, there had, however, already at the time existed much contention and internal friction with regard to the strategy's overall soundness in terms of its military effectiveness, notably the criticism that just as with the bombing of German city centres, the deliberate targeting of Japanese cities might in the last analysis fall short of meeting its primary objective, namely the weakening of popular morale in the face of looming destruction.
Whichever view may actually hold true, the fact ultimately remains that by late Spring 1945 neither precision bombing nor its arguably more horrifying alternative had thus far compelled the Imperial government to seriously consider an end of hostilities in conformity with the terms laid out by the policy of unconditional surrender. Accordingly, American military strategists increasingly began to turn their attention to other feasible alternatives for securing victory over their resilient enemy. Yet since direct diplomatic communications between both countries were basically all but non-existent at the time, with the possible exception of tentative approaches by certain individual Japanese cabinet members via back-channels at the Russian embassy, any hopeful prospects for arriving at a peaceful and acceptable understanding with Japan in the foreseeable future were ultimately deemed rather slim by leading American decision-makers. It was against this bleak background that the US military then eventually seriously moved ahead with preparations for what was generally perceived as the only viable measure to induce an unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire through conventional warfare: an all-out defeat of the Imperial Army through a full-scale invasion of its major home islands.
2.3 Operation Downfall
Even while the US Air Force continued its assaults on Japanese industrial and residential targets, American military planners naturally had felt obliged to make all necessary preliminary provisions for any potential eventualities that might sooner or later arise in the event of a prolonged war. Accordingly the Army began to concern itself with detailed operational and technical specifications for a two-stage invasion plan of the Japanese homeland, the first phase (codenamed Olympic) envisioning a three-front assault of Japan's southern major island Kyushu to be initiated at the latest on November 1st 1945, followed by an even larger amphibious operation (codenamed Coronet) a couple of months later against the Empire's principal island Honshu.
Yet from the very beginning there was no mistaking that the practical execution of such an invasion would be an incredibly arduous and cumbersome affair, generally believed to considerably surpass any previously conducted enterprises in terms of operational difficulty, logistic feasibility, encountered resistance and, perhaps most important of all, with regard to the number of casualties likely to be incurred in the course of the attack. Basically, such gloomy perceptions were grounded on a variety of interacting factors and tactical considerations: first, both Kyushu and Honshu offered a decidedly unfavourable terrain for any assailing force, given its ragged shorelines and formidable natural obstacles in the form of long mountain ranges extending over sizeable areas upcountry. Secondly, American landing forces would not - as they had had prior to the invasion of Normandy - have the advantage of fooling the enemy into believing that the main assault area would be different from the one that was actually first being engaged. This, in turn, would give the Imperial Army ample time to not only redeploy units into the appointed landing zones, but, moreover, also to bolster fortifications in those areas and - as intercepted radio transmissions suggested - to raise armed civilian militia to assist ordinary soldiers in the repulsion of the aggressor. Finally, the arguably most worrisome aspect involved in planning Operation Downfall pertained to the sombre realisation that even if the United States should master the formidable task of actually establishing a foothold on Kyushu, the accomplishment of such a bold and venturesome endeavour could, so it was believed, ultimately only be achieved at the expense of an enormously high blood toll in American soldiers.
It were largely observations such as these which in the spring of 1945 substantially influenced the preparation of military operations scheduled to commence in the fall of that year, with their potentially dire outcome already early on being conveyed to decision-makers in Washington as well. In general their deliberations focused on the apparent impracticality of invading the Japanese homeland as well as in particular on the number of casualties to be sustained as a result thereof, prompting high-ranking government officials to consult with various experts and advisers on these sensitive matters, including former President Herbert C. Hoover. In a letter to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Roosevelt's predecessor gave a detailed personal assessment for the success of Operation Downfall, confirming therein not only the shared belief as to the infeasibility for capturing such an all but impregnable terrain as the Japanese mainland, but also offering his own, though unsubstantiated projections as to the number of soldiers likely to be killed in the course of such an undertaking, a figure which in his view might ultimately very well amount to over 550 000 dead marines.
It was on a meeting held in the White House on June 18th 1945 that President Harry Truman then eventually was presented as well with the basic facts concerning the envisaged invasion. High-ranking military officials elaborated on all essential details and particulars of their assault plan, explaining to their commander-in-chief not only the above cited difficulties and challenges inherent in such an intricate enterprise, but essentially also providing him with minute estimates of casualties anticipated to be inflicted on American landing forces. It was in particular to the latter aspect that the President before long took a keen and vivid interest, presumably as it was above all this specific feature of the operation which would ultimately exert a major influence on his subsequent decisions.
However, it should be noted that those casualty figures have ever since been a special subject of fierce debate among scholars, especially since many revisionist historians in particular keep persisting on the fact that fatality projections had been exceedingly too high at the time and, as a result, had thus severely misrepresented the potential loss of lives to be incurred in the event of an actual invasion. While it is certainly true that casualty estimates might ultimately indeed have been exaggerated, one should nevertheless be careful not to let such theoretical guesswork and scholarly disagreement interfere too much with a sound analysis of the actual historical reality, essentially because in their function as largely unverifiable suppositions they do, for one, frequently delve into he realm of counter-factual history, and, on the other hand, attempt to illuminate a past event by referring to information and insights which for the most part only became available or fully understood after the actual period of historical examination.
As far as the question of casualty numbers is concerned, it is thus crucial and indeed of the utmost importance to only focus on such information as at the time undoubtedly acted as a principal decision guidance to the men immediately involved in the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, notably President Truman and his inner circle of Cabinet members and chief military advisers. In so doing, a close reading of their conversations will invariably reveal that irrespective of any potential exaggerations, American officials in mid June 1945 were for the most part of the firm conviction that Operation Downfall would inevitably entail a considerable number of American fatalities. Consequently it ultimately really is beside the point to concentrate on whether or not there would indeed have died as many American soldiers as had been suggested by these figures. What essentially matters is the fact that leading American policy-makers had for the most part believed that they would likely run up to an unbearably high figure, so that as a result it was basically the grim prospect of potentially having to sacrifice tens of thousands of America's finest young men which may thus reasonably be said of having informed to a not unsubstantial degree their judgement with regard to the handling of the Pacific War.
While casualty figures were certainly not the only determinant in discussions about the general undesirability for effecting Operation Downfall, both the transcripts of governmental meetings held in spring 1945 as well as the statements of various high-ranking officials in later years ultimately clearly refer to the seminal bearing they had on why US policy-makers eventually chose to resort to alternative expedients deemed likely to end the war before an invasion would actually have to be put into execution. President Truman himself has repeatedly stated that as commander-in-chief the protection of the lives of the men and women serving in the three branches of the United States military had naturally been one of his foremost concerns when issuing the order to drop nuclear devices over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, essentially because any alternative scenario would probably have resulted in the death of further thousands of American soldiers in the months thereafter. Secretary of War Henry S. Stimson, for his part, would then later also cite this very need to save American lives as one of the major determining factors in the United States’ decision to use atomic bombs.
3. Alternatives for ending the War
3.1 The impracticalities of a diplomatic solution
A fundamental aspect of the decision to employ the atomic bomb certainly regards the question as to whether they had at the time indeed constituted the only tangible alternative for ostensibly preventing the loss of further American lives, or whether there hadn’t after all existed a less radical approach for achieving the same result by exploring more thoroughly the possibilities of a peaceful resolution of the conflict through diplomatic accommodation.
In so doing it is, however, once again important to bear in mind that any analytical interpretation of these matters must solely rest on such information and insights available at the time to decision-makers in Washington which clearly reflect the intentions and dispositions of leading Japanese government officials as to the conclusion of an early peace settlement, and which accordingly are thus not diluted with subsequent statements of high-ranking Japanese politicians attesting to their country's alleged readiness to accept an early surrender. For after the war there has indeed been much written on the subject that if only the United States had exhibited a more lenient position with regard to “unconditional surrender”, then the possibility of the Japanese government acceding to a peaceful end of hostilities might well have been within graspable reach given that some of its cabinet members had actually expressed an ardent wish for an immediate ceasefire, a desire which they had, moreover, repeatedly sought to bring to the attention of the Americans through communication channels at the Russian embassy.
However, all of these observations, regardless of the sincerity and genuine will for peace proclaimed by at least some Japanese government officials, ultimately contribute little to the debate of why the Truman Administration employed nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki if they unduly refer to intentions shared by Japanese individuals which at the time were either not properly communicated to American decision-makers, or which for various reasons were simply not deemed trustworthy and/or representative of the over-all attitude of the Imperial government. For ultimately the United States could only base its final judgement and evaluation of the situation on such messages which gave them a clear indication of Japan’s overall agenda and designs, and thus not by merely acting upon the often ambiguous and equivocal avowals made in unofficial approaches.
Despite the non-existence of official diplomatic correspondence between the United States and Japan, the Americans were, however, nonetheless able to obtain an at least cursory insight into the general attitude of their adversary through the interception of various transmissions between its government and the leadership of the Imperial Army, even though the information thus received through the ingenuity of the American code-breaking system MAGIC naturally covered but a tiny fraction of the deliberations that were at the time being conducted at the top echelons of the Japanese executive. Moreover, the seminal question also remained as to what extent these various despatches could actually be taken at face value, i.e. whether they in fact reflected the position of the major part of the Japanese governing elite as opposed to merely the wishes of a few solitary cabinet members.
In keeping with this, an unprejudiced analysis of the available body of intercepted communication should invariably provide the objective reader with a basic understanding for the general mood of suspicion, or at least cautionary reservation with which American decision-makers ultimately classified these transmissions. Still, already the mere fact that some of these interceptions seemingly contained at least the theoretical prospect for a peaceful settlement ultimately weighs all the more heavier in light of the tremendous destruction and loss of life that eventually was to follow thereafter, causing certain historians such as Gar Alperovitz to criticize the failure of American authorities for seizing this golden opportunity by neglecting to adopt a more reconciliatory approach towards the Japanese through a mitigation of their unconditional surrender policy. Yet was there actually indeed such a window of opportunity for ending the war prematurely as claimed by some scholars, and if so why didn't American decision-makers act upon it? These basically are the questions which will first require consideration before turning to the employment of nuclear weapons themselves, not least since the use of the latter ultimately also rested to a not unsubstantial degree on the very belief shared by most American policy-makers that an acceptable and worthwhile diplomatic accord with the Japanese was effectively beyond practical realisation.
A modification of “unconditional surrender” had in fact been the subject of much contention among US officials long before they eventually learned of the desire of individual Japanese cabinet members to conclude an early peace settlement. The main issue of dispute over which opinions diverged basically concerned the general advisability of guaranteeing to the Japanese the retention of their Emperor, or, put differently, to preserve the imperial tradition and institution which formally constituted the highest political office as well as the symbolic embodiment of Japan's supreme authority and national sovereignty. A minority of cabinet members such as Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew in principle endorsed proposals that the United States alter the terms of unconditional surrender to the effect of offering the Japanese just such an assurance in case of a peaceful capitulation, given that such a proviso might after all be the quintessential prerequisite for them to even only consider a surrender in the first place and, in the event of its absence or non-stating, could thus effectively only further harden their resolve to continue the war.
Other leading American authorities such as Secretary of State James F. Byrnes and Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson, however, fiercely disagreed with this view, albeit in their case mainly out of considerations that the American people might ultimately strongly disapprove of retaining the Emperor. On a more practical score, though, George A. Lincoln likewise spoke out against the taking of any such action, noting in a memorandum to Henry L. Stimson that this would essentially only “invite negotiation” and thus raise the possibility of a compromise peace, presumably as a softening of unconditional surrender might run the inherent danger of sending out false signals to the Japanese to the effect of wrongly encouraging them to suspect that through negotiation they might in due time wrest additional concessions from the United States. This, in turn, would then effectively cause a further delay of an acceptable peace settlement to both parties and, by implication, an unnecessary prolongation of the war as well. Accordingly, the unambiguous recommendations of high-ranking analysts as well as in particular the vocal opposition of such influential governmental officials as Byrnes ultimately exerted a not insignificant influence upon leading US policy makers - notably President Truman himself - in their decision to reject a mitigation of the surrender terms, or in the very least they considerably reinforced their reluctance to consider any such proposals to begin with.
Finally, the complexity of the matter was eventually only further confounded when, five days later, the United States intercepted a transmission of Japanese Foreign Minister Shigneori Togo to Moscow ambassador Naotake Sato in which the former relayed the Emperor's alleged intention to end the war by means of Soviet mediation. In light of such information and knowledge it would thus indeed seem appropriate to ask why the Truman administration ultimately did not explore more thoroughly the feasibility of a peaceful diplomatic solution, even it that implied taking a more lenient position on their “unconditional surrender” policy.
Ultimately, an answer to that question may not least of all be given on account of the unmistakable actuality that the interpretation of the intercepted cable by high-ranking US analysts actually only reinforced doubts as to the sincerity and honesty of Japanese initiatives instead of attenuating them. Accordingly, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff John Weckerling concluded in a memorandum to his superior George C. Marshall that this rather unusual move by Foreign Minister Togo might essentially be only yet another attempt on the part of the Japanese to “stave off defeat” for as long as possible. And although historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa certainly is right to point out that - contrary to Weckerling's assessment - the group of Japanese cabinet members mentioned in the intercept had indeed been willing to work out an early peace agreement with the assistance of the Russians, the principal fact nonetheless remains that Weckerling's arguments ultimately proved influential in reaffirming the belief of senior US policy-makers that for all the apparent readiness expressed by some Japanese cabinet members to end the war, they themselves still largely perceived Japan's official position as fundamentally unchanged on this issue. Moreover, reality itself then before long was to even further substantiate their view when shortly thereafter the United States intercepted another cable from Togo indicating this time that the Emperor was in fact not asking Russian mediation as far as unconditional surrender was concerned.
While American decision-makers thus basically rejected a moderation of their “unconditional surrender” policy on the grounds that this could have been construed by the Japanese as an invitation to bargain for further concessions, there certainly existed another element which may ultimately have played a not insignificant role in their reasoning as well, yet which on account of the almost catatonic insistence in most scholarly discourses on the precedence of the issue of retaining the Emperor has essentially not received the contemplation and due consideration it deserves. Basically, that point in question pertains to the fact that it was in any event fairly questionable whether the Japanese could indeed be induced to lay down their arms for good if only they were assured the integrity of their imperial tradition, notably because the inflated emphasis on this issue fundamentally fails to take into account another eminently decisive prerequisite for resolving the whole problematic of a peaceful Japanese surrender to begin with: the acquiescence and compliance of the Imperial Army to the conclusion of a settlement on American terms arrived at through other means than its incontrovertible defeat on the battlefield.
The seminal relevance of this latter aspect had, however, as a matter of fact been duly recognized by the American Joint Chiefs of Staff. In particular they challenged the soundness of the assumption that an assurance about the preservation of the Emperor would in fact suffice to obtain an immediate ceasefire, primarily since in spite of the crippled and seemingly hopeless state of Japan's economy its armed forces still unperturbedly moved forward with the initiation of comprehensive measures for an all-out national defence of their homeland and thus accordingly remained “Japan’s greatest military asset”. Following their judgement, a capitulation would not merely be contingent upon the readiness of Japan's governing elite to accept an American surrender, but its military leaders would essentially have to endorse and support any such decision as well. This, however, basically seemed an all but improbable eventuality at the time, given that the Imperial Army not only appeared utterly resolved to fight the war out to its bitter end, but also because already the very idea of a peace settlement not borne out of a clear and incontestable defeat of Japanese forces on the battlefield was essentially believed of being an altogether unacceptable option to the Japanese military. What's more, Japanese military authorities would surely also never have acceded to a thorough reorganisation and remodelling of the Imperial Army as was envisaged by American policy-makers, given that this would have entailed measures of radical demilitarization and, on a personal note certainly even less appealing to its executive staff, legal persecution of high-ranking officials for war crimes committed in occupied East-Asian territories.
Finally, it is also important to remember that the United States were in the last analysis after all not dealing with an enemy that was predominantly governed by independent civilian rulers and polities as was the case in liberal democracies, but with a country whose highest authoritative political body was de facto under the rigid control of an exceedingly autocratic and paternalistic military regime. For not only had Japan relentlessly sought to project its militarist aggression beyond its own proper borders, but its entire political culture and system was, moreover, also fundamentally suffused with the tradition and disciplinary codes of Japanese militarism. Accordingly the Army traditionally exerted a decisive influence on the formation of “civil” governments and the national policies they pursued, often resorting to violent intimidation and terror in order to make dissident politicians comply with their decrees and orders. Since it was thus basically the military which pulled all the major strings in the Japanese government, it ultimately appears extremely doubtful that even if splintering factions within it should indeed have been more readily disposed towards concluding an early peace settlement with the Americans, its militarist leaders would in the event have supported any such approach as well.
Now as historian Richard Frank perceptibly notes, the main dilemma which thus presented itself to US policy-makers in their handling of the Imperial Army was that they ultimately simply could and would not allow for any special concessions whatsoever to be made to their opponents, given that they were of the firm opinion that any such course would essentially fall short of meeting two of the fundamental goals set forth by the United States: the complete eradication of the militarist strand in Japanese society that was believed to have been at the very core of Japanese foreign aggression these past few years, and - directly following from that necessity - preventing its resurgence at any given time in the years thereafter. Consequently these issues constituted one vital aspect of “unconditional surrender” on which they could not possibly bring themselves to make any amendments, even while perfectly realising that the Imperial Army, for its part, would be desperate to avoid at all costs the conclusion of a diplomatic solution based on the terms presently laid out by the Americans. Irrespective of all the difficulties surrounding the retention of the emperor, it might therefore also to a substantial degree have been the putatively unbridgeable dilemma facing American decision-makers with regard to the central and pre-eminent role of the Imperial Army in any prospective peace process which may ultimately go a long way towards explaining their general reluctance to modify their current surrender policy.
3.2 Conventional alternatives: Military and Economic
As a diplomatic solution thus basically seemed beyond viable implementation, senior US officials eventually grew ever more certain of the conviction that the war in the Pacific would have to be brought to an end through the employment of military force. Consequently, the pivotal question therefore revolved around which course of action might in the event proof most likely to achieve that end within the shortest possible time. Four “conventional”, yet nevertheless very different options were accordingly considered and explored by American authorities: a continuation of large-scale raids upon Japanese residential cities and industrial centres in the hope that such a strategy would before long impinge upon both Japan's public morale as well as its national economy so that it would eventually be unable to maintain for much longer its present war effort; secondly, the perpetuation of a long-range sea blockade, entailing a complete isolation of the Japanese homelands and their cutting off from vital raw materials and other essential goods; thirdly, waiting for an entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific war, in the expectation that vast contingents of Russian troops would permanently engage Imperial forces in occupied Manchuria; this, in turn, might in the event then also considerably contribute to the potential success of the fourth – though by far least favourable option - that was being contemplated at the time, perhaps even supersede its execution to begin with: the scheduled invasion of Japan's southern major island Kyushu.
As it were, American military leaders had initially placed much hope on the success of strategies of economic pressure, which was also precisely why they had in fact been so eager in the first place for seeing through the realisation of an extensive aerial warfare campaign against vital Japanese war industries, transportation networks and, eventually, against its civilian population as well. Yet despite the unrivalled scope and intensity of the destruction thus far visited upon Japan, its leaders apparently still refused to admit to the exceedingly battered and dilapidated state of their economy. Accordingly, American decision-makers increasingly began to ask themselves how much more their enemy might actually still be willing to endure before it would finally yield to their demands, or how much more effort on the part of the US Air Force was still required before Japan's economy would finally collapse? Surely US officials were very well aware of the Empire's predicament with regard to industrial production and the provision of basic goods to its population, but at the same time leading American military staff also noted that for all damages thus far sustained, Japan essentially still retained reserves and capacities in some areas. The Combined Chief of Staffs for instance observed that “blockade and air attacks [...] are seriously impairing Japanese defensive capabilities” and “incendiary bombing [….] of cities has had a profound psychological and economic effect on the Japanese”, thereby “placing a tremendous strain upon residual economy.” However, in the same paper they also acknowledged that “[Japanese] stocks of ammunition production facilities still require intensive and extremely heavy attacks to produce any shortage significant to the interests of invasion and occupation.” In addition, they further commented that although a shortage of shipping capabilities in combination with Allied bombardment and the intensification of the existing sea blockade had indeed severely curtailed the transfer of raw materials between Japan and its occupied territories even while its industry was producing at a far lower rate than in the years before, there were at the same time only minor decreases expected to hit Japan before the end of 1945 in areas such as food supply, not least since the availability of manpower was generally not considered a “limiting factor.”
As this thorough evaluation of Japanese war-time capacities demonstrated, US policy-makers thus certainly realized the full scope of their enemy's detrimental economical situation, yet at the same time they were also unable to predict with absolute accurateness when exactly the graveness of Japan's current predicament would finally attain such levels of overwhelming desolation that its leaders would not possibly be able to delay any longer the conclusion of a peace treaty on American terms. As the Chiefs of Staff had correctly remarked, not all of Japan's resources had thus far been depleted, and it would, moreover, in all likelihood require the simultaneous occurrence of such incisive an event as Soviet entry into the struggle to at long last bring home to its people the futility of keeping up their unabated war efforts. In the meantime, however, the policy of the Japanese government would essentially remain “to fight as long and as desperately as possible in the hope [….] of acquiring a better bargaining position”, even though its members were in fact “aware of their desperate military situation.”
Now although subsequent analyses have indeed convincingly shown that Japan's economy would in all likelihood at best have functioned a further couple of months, it is, however, once again important to remember that such assessments of Japan's war time situation are for the most part based on statistical data and statements of senior Japanese government officials which despite their unmistakable attestation to the imminence of a total national breakdown essentially only became available after the war. Furthermore, there also remains the irrefutable fact that at the time American decision-makers ultimately exhibited far less confidence in the occurrence of any such scenario as post-war scholars frequently do. They surely knew that Japan could not go on indefinitely with mobilizing resources given the already crippled state of its infrastructure, but still: what certainties did they actually have that such a national breakdown would indeed occur within the coming months? In the meantime, however, the intermediate weeks might well continue to see the bloodshed of American soldiers, the very prevention of which naturally figured among President Truman’s foremost objectives. Ultimately, US officials therefore simply perceived too many uncertainties and uncontrollable elements involved in the sole reliance upon strategies of economic strangulation in order for them to base all of their hopes exclusively upon the pursuit and success of only that one singular option.
In addition, the question of a potential breakdown of Japan's economy and public morale was, moreover, also directly linked to the necessity of advancing with preparations for Operation Downfall, essentially since a collapse of Japanese production capacities might ultimately have rendered such an undertaking redundant in the first place. Indeed many prominent top-level authorities of both military and governmental background would later claim that an invasion of the Japanese homelands had in fact been anything but an inevitable actuality, even if the Truman administration had not ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, one must not forget that most of these testimonies are, in the words of historian Samuel J. Walker, ultimately only “after-de-fact appraisals”, usually expressing views and opinions that were substantially influenced by data, information and assessments which were only disclosed or put forward after the Second World War. More important, most of these thoughts had never been publicly voiced in the weeks prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or at least not in the form of any vocal and emphatic objections.
To be sure, there did exist certain views among high-ranking decision-makers to the effect that Japan might indeed surrender before the launch of Operation Downfall, and yet even though a landing on Kyushu was thus not altogether regarded as an unavoidable eventuality, the pivotal fact, however, nevertheless remains that leading American government authorities ultimately were reluctant to put similar levels of blind faith in the prompt success of alternative strategies for ending the war, essentially because they could not be convinced of the supposedly impending advent of such a scenario before an invasion would actually have to be attempted.
3.3 Soviet assistance
Finally, there still existed one other conventional option which in contrast to the more or less slim prospects attached to other strategies was generally judged by leading American authorities to constitute a slightly more promising option for inducing a quick Japanese capitulation: a declaration of war by the Soviet Union against the Empire of Japan. An entry of the Soviet Union into the war, so the assessment of US authorities such as Deputy Chief of Staff Thomas Handy, could essentially go a long way towards prompting a quick surrender from their enemy, especially in combination with the “imminent threat of a landing” on the part of the US Army. President Truman, for his part, fully recognized the enormity of a Soviet involvement as well, although a diary note of his from July 17th 1945 (“Fini Japs when that comes about”) appears to suggest that that he himself apparently did not regard such a development as sufficient in itself for obtaining an immediate Japanese surrender.
Ultimately, the principal conclusion to draw from statements and assessments such as these is that even though Truman and some of his key advisers evidently appreciated the profound influence a Soviet entry would have upon Japan’s war-time ambitions, they ultimately still did not ascribe such absolute and overwhelming importance to its participation so as to warrant the belief that it would be enough to precipitate by itself a Japanese capitulation. Nevertheless, revisionist historians still contend that even at the time top-level American leaders considered a Soviet entry into the war as the one development by far most qualified to induce an immediate Japanese surrender, citing in particular the above-quoted diary entry by President Truman as manifest proof of his conviction that once the Russians joined the combat, their common enemy would be swiftly defeated.
 E.H. Carr, What is History ? (Cambridge, 1961). Available at: http://library.universalhistory.net/wpcontent/uploads/2011/05/What-is-history.pdf [revised 29 March 2012], p. 30.
 J. Samuel Walker, ‘Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for the Middle Ground’, Diplomatic History, 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 311–334.
 Robert J. Maddox, Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later (Columbia, 1995); J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and utter destruction (Chapel Hill, 1997).
 Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy. Hiroshima and Potsdam (New York, 1965); Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, 2005).
 Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston, 1995); Walker, pp. 94-97.
 Barton J. Bernstein, ‘Eclipsed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Early Thinking about Tactical Nuclear Weapons’, International Security 12 (Spring 1991), pp. 149-173.
 Maddox, pp. 6-19.
 Ibid, p. 13; Henry L. Stimson, ‘The decision to use the atomic bomb’, Harper's Magazine (February 1947), p. 101.
 Walker, Destruction, pp. 42-43.
 Notably since as a result of the enormous onslaught of Soviet Troops on her eastern front and the simultaneous emergence of major cracks in her western defences, Germany was generally believed unable to withstand much longer the tremendous back-breaking pressure of this double Allied pincer movement. For a concise account of the Allied campaign in Europe and the Pacific see: Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (Hertfordshire, 1997) and Evan Mawdsley, World War II. A New History (Cambridge, 2009), especially pp. 408-420.
 Mawdsley, pp. 411-413.
 See in particular John Hersey, Into the Valley. Marines at Guadalcanal (New York, 1943).
 Mawdsley, p. 412.
 Maddox, p. 53, 110-111.
 Robin L. Rielly, Kamikaze attacks of World War II (North Carolina, 2010), pp. 8-15; Stanley Sandler, World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia (New York, 2001), pp. 215-216.
 Mawdsley, pp. 412-415.
 Rielly, pp. 8-15; Sandler, pp. 215-216.
 Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War. The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945 (New York, 1968), pp. 555-556.
 Memorandum from John Weckerling to Deputy Chief of Staff on “Japanese Peace Offer”, July 13th 1945. In: RG 165, Army Operations OPD Executive File #17, Item 13.
 For a detailed overview of the strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific see: Michael S. Sherry, The rise of American air power: The creation of Armageddon (New Haven, 1987), pp. 256-292, 400-409.
 Mawdsley, pp. 410-411.
 Sherry, pp. 256-258.
 Mawdsley, p. 410.
 Indeed the argument frequently even goes that large-scale bombings ultimately attained the exact opposite effect, i.e. they actually only hardened the resolution of local populations to hold out until the very end as a direct result of their ongoing exposure to relentless aerial bombing, a situation which, moreover, also readily fed into the government's general representation of the enemy as a merciless and ruthless killer of entire civil communities. For an overview of Allied bombing campaigns, see. Michael Burleigh, Moral Combat. A History of World War II (London, 2010), pp. 506-517.
 Mawdsley, p. 424.
 Ibid, p. 421.
 It are essentially the peculiar characteristics of these geographical barriers which are commonly held to account to a not insignificant degree for the fact that in nearly 2600 years of recorded history Japan had not once been conquered by a foreign aggressor. On the unfavourable Japanese terrain features see also Stimson, 'The decision to use the atomic bomb', p. 102; Burleigh, p. 524.
 It was expected that the Japanese would be able to mount at least 8 divisions – about 350 000 troops - to meet an American invasion of Kyushu. - Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House on June 18th 1945. In: Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Decimal Files, 1942-1945, box 198 334 JCS (2-2-45) Mtg 186th-194; Burleigh, Moral Combat, p. 524.
 Memorandum by General George A. Lincoln to General Hull from June 4th 1945, commenting on President Hoover’s evaluation. In: Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, American-British-Canadian Top Secret Correspondence, Box 504, ABC 387 Japan.
 Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House on June 18th 1945. (See. No.29).
 In particular Barton J. Bernstein, John Ray Skates and Rufus E. Miles. See: Walker, ‘Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision’, p. 315.
 Despite internal disagreement among US authorities as to the exact number of potential casualties, the projected estimates eventually ranged from a minimum of at least 31 000 dead GI's to at the worst several hundred thousands casualties - Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House on June 18th 1945 (See No. 29); Letter by Harry Truman to Prof. James L. Cate, January 12th, 1953, available at: http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Hiroshima/Truman.shtml [revised 1 May 2012]; Maddox, pp. 59-61; D.M. Giangreco, ‘Casualty Projections for the Invasions of Japan: 1945-1946, Planning and Policy Implications’, Journal of Military History (July 1997), pp. 521-82.
 Burleigh, p. 524.
 President Truman’s message to Congress on the use of the atomic bomb from October 3rd, 1945. Available at: http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Deterrence/Truman.shtml [revised 1 May 2012].
 Stimson, ‘The decision to use the atomic bomb’, p. 106.
 Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb (New York, 1995), pp. 232-238; Takaki, p. 33.
 Memorandum from Deputy Chief of Staff George A. Lincoln to Henry L. Stimson, June 15th 1945. In: Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, box 8, Japan.
 A comprehensive collection of primary source material on this and other issues debated by US authorities in spring and early summer 1945 is available at: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/index.htm
 Alperovitz, The decision to use the Atomic Bomb, pp. 232-238.
 Memorandum from Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew to the President, June 13th, 1945: In: Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson ("Safe File"), July 1940-September 1945, box 8, Japan.
 Akira Iriye, Power and Culture: The Japanese American War, 1941-1945 (Harvard, 1981), pp. 255-256.
 Chief of the Strategy and Policy Group at the U.S. Army’s Operations Department, writing on behalf of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to Henry L. Stimson. - Memorandum from Chief of Staff Marshall to the Secretary of War, June 15th, 1945. In: Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson ("Safe File"), July 1940-September 1945, box 8, Japan.
 Iriye, pp. 255-256.
 “Magic“-Intercept of message from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to Ambassador Naotake Sato. In: „Magic“- Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1204 – July 12, 1945, Top Secret Ultra.
 Memorandum from John Weckerling to Deputy Chief of Staff, July 13th, 1945 (See. No. 20).
 Hasegawa , pp. 126-128.
 Maddox, pp. 83-84.
 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1210 – July 17, 1945, Top Secret Ultra. In: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, "Magic" Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18.
 Combined Chiefs of Staff, ‘Estimate of the Enemy Situation’, July 6th, 1945. In: RG 218, Central Decimal Files, 1943-1945, CCS 381 (6-4-45), Sec. 2 Pt. 5.
 Such a course of action would essentially not only have tarnished the Army's reputation, but, moreover, would also have discredited the honour of the average Japanese soldier as well as the sacrifice of those men who had already given their lives for the “noble” purpose of defending their homeland. Combined Chiefs of Staff, ‘Estimate of the Enemy Situation’, July 6th, 1945 (See No. 50).
 Mawdsley, pp. 416-418.
 An actuality perhaps most patently evidenced by the fact that apart from Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori all other members of the inner circle of Japan's central governing authority – the Imperial Privy Council – also held important positions in the Imperial Army or Navy. Richard B. Frank, ‘Keine Atombombe, kein Kriegsende. Das Scheitern der Operation Olympic, November 1945‘, in: Robert Cowley (ed.), Was wäre gewesen wenn?: Wendepunkte der Weltgeschichte (München, 2005), pp. 481-82.
 Richard B. Frank , Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (New York, 1999), p. 219.
 Mawdsley, pp. 420-422.
 Combined Chiefs of Staff, ‘Estimate of the Enemy Situation’, July 6th 1945 (See No. 50).
 Barton J. Bernstein, ‘Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known Near Disasters, and Modern Memory’, Diplomatic History 19 (Spring 1995), pp. 227-73.
 Maddox, pp. 154-155.
 Notably General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Secretary of the Navy Forrester and the Admirals King and Leahy. Alperovitz, The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb, pp. 329-65.
 Walker, Destruction, p. 90.
 Casey Frank, ‘Truman's Bomb, Our Bomb’, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs (1995). Available at: http://www.caseyfrank.com/articles/tb.html [revised 2 April 2012].
 Ibid, p. 91.
 Memorandum from George C. Marshall to Henry L. Stimson from June 4th, 1945, printed in Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and its Legacies (Stanford, 2003), pp. 353-355.
 Harry S. Truman Diary Entry from July 17th, 1945. In: Robert H. Ferrell, ed., Off the Record: Tgs of Harry S. Truman (New York, 1980), pp. 53-54.
 Walker, Destruction, p. 92.
 Alperovitz, The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb, pp. 241-242.