The historical significance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima-The U.S. freed from the spell of the atomic bomb
The historical significance of President
Obama’s visit to Hiroshima—The U.S.
freed from the spell of the atomic bomb
By Seishiro Sugihara, Former Professor at Josai University
Translated by Norman Hu
The Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact
Page 2 of 27
Few have commented on the importance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on
May 27, 2016. But among these, Seishiro Sugihara discusses its significance as an act of
reconciliation between Japan and the United States, even while he decries the atomic
bombings as crimes against countless innocents. Sugihara emphasizes how important it is that
this reconciliation was born from the use of the atomic bombs, and how it is a critical and
bold statement in the 21st century, when it has become all too commonplace for nations to
criticize each other without regard for the long-term consequences.
Japan is the only nation to have experienced the impact of an atomic bomb, and the
United States is the only one to have dropped such a weapon in an act of war. Western
scholars often discuss Hiroshima with a view to justify what the U.S. did to Japan at war’s
end, while Asians may see that action as excessive and entirely preventable. While many
Americans argue that the atomic bombs shortened the war and saved further loss of life (both
among the Japanese but in particular those of American troops), Japanese people continue to
regard the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a supreme tragedy. President Obama
highlighted “the remarkable transformation” in relations between the U.S. and Japan
inasmuch as seventy years ago, “it would have been very difficult to imagine given the
hostility between our two countries.”
This essay was recognized in 2016 for its contribution to modern and contemporary
history by the APA Group’s 9th Prize Essay Competition. It is presented here for the benefit
of readers outside Japan who may find it more accessible in English translation. Sugihara
presents the case that these close ties between erstwhile bitter enemies are a testament to
humanity’s ability to reconcile beyond even the most virulent of enmities. Crucially, it is a
clear statement that one needs to acknowledge history and learn from it, but above all: look
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The historical significance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima—The U.S.
freed from the spell of the atomic bomb
By Seishiro Sugihara,
Former professor at Josai University
(1) What President Obama brought about at Hiroshima Peace Park
(2) President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima provides impetus to rectify
understanding of history
(3) The war between Japan and the United States was principally initiated by
the US government, and became more horrifying than necessary because of the
(4) The Japanese side’s share of the responsibility for prolonging the war until
the atomic bombings
(5) Dropping the atomic bomb difficult to avoid at the time, but completely
unnecessary in the long term
(6) The greatest historical significance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
was that it freed the U.S. from the spell of the atomic bomb
On the evening of May 27, 2016 President Barack Obama, leader of the
only nation to use atomic weapons in combat, became the first incumbent U.S.
president to visit Hiroshima, the place where those weapons were used; he laid a
wreath at the memorial cenotaph for atomic bomb victims, delivered a speech,
and talked with survivors. He remarked that, “we have a shared responsibility to
look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb
such suffering again.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, leader of the nation that was bombed,
laid a wreath alongside that of President Obama, and expressed his
“determination to realize a world free of nuclear weapons.”
This essay is an attempt to clarify the historical significance of
President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.
Page 4 of 27
(1) What President Obama brought about at Hiroshima Peace Park
President Obama spent a scant fifty minutes in Hiroshima’s Peace
Memorial Park: he visited the Atomic Bomb Museum, and then together with
Prime Minister Abe laid wreaths at the memorial cenotaph for atomic bomb
victims, and observed a moment’s silence. After that he gave a speech lasting
seventeen minutes which began: “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless
morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light
and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the
means to destroy itself.” Although no mention was made of who had unleashed
such death, these words were sensitive to the feelings of those who had this
death visited upon them, and suggested how humanity should proceed in future.
The president went on to say that, “perhaps above all, we must reimagine
our connection to one another as members of one human race,” and therefore
“the memory of the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade.” He
concluded that this “is the future we can choose -– a future in which Hiroshima
and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of
our own moral awakening.”*
After the speech, President Obama walked over to two hibakusha, or
bomb survivors, and firmly shook hands with the first and engaged him in
conversation. The second was a survivor who had looked into American POWs
killed by the atomic bomb and presented his findings to the U.S.; the president
embraced him warmly and thanked him for his efforts.
The president then walked forward to a place where the A-Bomb Dome
could be seen, listened to some remarks from Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida,
and then left the Peace Park in the presidential limousine.
The Japanese government did not seek an apology during President
Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. Bomb survivors too appreciated that there were
reasons the U.S. could not offer an apology, and in a dignified way welcomed
President Obama who visited Hiroshima on his own accord. Both sides showed
good sense and behaved admirably.
Even though it was understood there would be no apology, the
president’s visit had the blessing of the American people. Even without the
apology, past mistakes were acknowledged; so it could be argued that, because
an incumbent president visited Hiroshima and prayed for the spirits of the
atomic bomb victims, the American people had opened their hearts 70 years
after the dropping of the atomic bomb.
*Translator’s note: See “Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan at
Hiroshima Peace Memorial, May 27, 2016.”
minister-abe-japan-hiroshima-peace Retrieved on Jan. 9, 2017.
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Thus it could be said that Japan and the survivors who were bombed, and
the United States who dropped the bomb, effected a reconciliation for the first
time in 71 years.
Upon further reflection though, the grave issue of dropping the atomic
bomb is not merely one to be resolved between the U.S. and the atomic bomb
survivors, or even between the U.S. and Japan. The atomic bomb is a cruel
weapon that can destroy a city and kill tens of thousands living there in an
instant, and can continue to inflict suffering on survivors for a long period
thereafter due to exposure to radioactivity. The fact that bombs were actually
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not only a wrong committed against
the atomic bomb victims and Japan, it was also a wrong committed against
humanity. Reconciliation between the atomic bomb victims and the U.S., or
between Japan who was bombed and the U.S. that dropped the bomb, does not
automatically erase the wrong committed against humanity.
This is why the matter requires further deliberation. Regardless of the
enormity of the wrong committed against a person, one day that person must
forgive that wrong. Regardless of the enormity of the wrong committed against
humanity, one day humanity must forgive that wrong. Only through forgiveness
can we attain enlightened heights.
President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima did not only signify the
reconciliation between the A-bomb survivors and the United States, or between
Japan and the United States, it also meant forgiveness for the wrong committed
against humanity. It must be asserted that President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
represented the formal observance of that.
(2) President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima provides impetus to rectify
understanding of history
Let us assume we have settled the question concerning reconciliation and
forgiveness for the atomic bombing; then conversely a number of issues emerge
regarding historical awareness which must be revised by shining a light on that
Historical awareness can change with the passage of time, and
immediately following the violent carnage of war between two nations, every
citizen is subject to fierce feelings of hostility; moreover, the amount of
historical material needed to understand that history is in short supply. This is
why the understanding of history immediately after a war is undoubtedly biased.
Historical awareness moderates with the passage of time, and becomes fairer
and more accurate as more historical materials emerge that can prove causality.
In other words, historical awareness must be revised over time.1
1 In the United States, the word “revisionism” with respect to historical awareness has
negative connotations; it means to present a counterargument to an established legitimate
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At this point in time, namely on the occasion of President Obama’s visit
to Hiroshima, I would like to touch upon the bare minimum of such revisions
below in Points (3), (4) and (5).
(3) The war between Japan and the United States was principally initiated by
the US government, and became more horrifying than necessary because of the
From Japan’s perspective, the war between Japan and the United States
included the Greater East Asia War; and the Greater East Asia War was a
conflict that settled a major issue in human history, namely the liberation of
colonized lands in Asia; this point cannot be disregarded when examining the
Greater East Asia War. However, with regards to the war between Japan and the
United States alone, the antagonism between Japan and the United States before
the war was not so severe as to warrant such a degree of ferocity on the
battlefield. Clearly there had been disagreement over China, but this was not so
entrenched to justify such a fierce war.
Just before the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, the
Japanese government tried in earnest to avoid hostilities, while the American
people were not so at odds with Japan to warrant going to war. However, the
U.S. government under the leadership of President Roosevelt, clearly provoked
Japan into waging war with the imposition of the so-called Hull Note, later
described at the Tokyo Trial as being so severe that “even the Principality of
Monaco [and] the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg would have taken up arms.”2
The U.S. government had decoded all Japan’s diplomatic telegrams so it
was aware of the situation within the Japanese government, and knew perfectly
well what sort of response would ensue if it imposed the Hull Note; moreover,
version of “historical awareness” and is seen as an odious attempt to develop an illegitimate
understanding of history.
However, historical awareness is something which must be a reformulation of that
understanding, based on the discovery of new evidence and free from the raw emotions
present when events are actually happening; in its literal sense, “revision-ism” is precisely the
method for deriving a legitimate “historical awareness.”
The war between Japan and the United States, presided over by Roosevelt and
continued until the atomic bombings, has been liberated from intense wartime feelings of
hostility; and the understanding of that war must be revised constantly as new historical
materials and evidence continue to emerge.
2 On March 15, 1948, Ben Blakeney, counsel for Japan’s defense at the so-called Tokyo Trial,
paraphrased American libertarian Albert Jay Nock by claiming that “even the Principality of
Monaco [and] the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg would have taken up arms” if they had
received the Hull Note.
See Nobuo Fuji, “Tokyo Saiban” wa shogen suru (ge) [The "Tokyo Trial" Bears Witness, vol.
2] (Tokyo: Kakubunsha, 1991), p. 79; International Military Tribunal for the Far East,
Proceedings (Tokyo: 1946-1948), Defense summation, p. 43698.
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war broke out in the end anyway, even though measures could have been taken
to avoid hostilities. It can only be concluded that, essentially, this war was one
the American government had hoped for, and indeed brought about. Army
Secretary Henry Stimson noted in his diary that on November 25, 1941, at a
meeting of military leaders centered around Roosevelt, and also including the
secretary of state, they discussed how to “maneuver [Japan] into the position of
firing the first shot”3; arguably, this is clear evidence and not mere supposition
that the United States prepared to have Japan bring America into the war.**
However, it was Japan that initially attacked Pearl Harbor and launched
the war, so the Japanese government cannot in any way escape its responsibility
for the outbreak of war. Even if war between Japan and the United States was
started through provocation by the United States, Japan must take equal
responsibility for launching the war because it succumbed to that provocation. If
war between Japan and the United States was started as part of Roosevelt’s
strategy, the Japanese side could also have devised a strategy to avoid or evade
war. If this is the case, the war between Japan and the United States was one
that could have been avoided but wasn’t because of Japan’s inferior diplomatic
operations and capabilities.
Ultimately, the war between Japan and the United States was actually
brought about by the Roosevelt administration, but formally the Japanese side
started the war, so in that respect, Japan clearly had as much responsibility for
the outbreak of war.
Serious issues regarding the war between Japan and the United States
included not only that of both governments being involved in the outbreak of
war, but also how the war was prosecuted; Roosevelt expanded the scale of the
war to its maximum limit.
On January 24, 1943, Roosevelt met with the British prime minister
Winston Churchill at Casablanca; without any consultation beforehand to deny
Churchill the opportunity to object, Roosevelt declared at a press conference
there he would demand Germany and Japan surrender unconditionally.4
3 Stimson, Diaries, November 25, 1941, reel 7, vol. 36, p. 48; Misuzushobo, ed., Gendaishi
Shiryo [Sources of Modern History], Taiheiyo senso 1 [Pacific War, vol. 1] (Tokyo: 1968),
**Translator’s note: Robert Butow is reluctant to ascribe too much significance to Stimson’s
“maneuver” remark. The Japanese, in his view, were already “on the verge of resorting to
force” and needed little persuasion to pursue a policy “they had formulated on their own.”
Nevertheless, despite Butow’s misgivings, at the very least a senior member of the
president’s war cabinet entertained the idea that the U.S. could take advantage of a Japanese
first strike. See R. J. C. Butow, “How Roosevelt Attacked Japan at Pearl Harbor,” in
Prologue, Fall 1996, Vol. 28, No. 3. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration,
4 The first time Roosevelt mentioned “unconditional surrender” was at Casablanca in January
1943. This was the venue for Roosevelt’s meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Winston
Churchill. At a press conference on January 24 to mark the end of the talks, Roosevelt
Page 8 of 27
How much of an obstacle this statement regarding unconditional
surrender would become during the closing stages of the war between Japan and
the United States will be discussed below; but in simple terms, the imposition of
unconditional surrender meant that no negotiations for surrender would be
accepted from the losing side, and as a result hostilities would continue to the
Let us look at how the war subsequently developed. Saipan fell on July 7,
1944. Japan had already lost command of the air, so with the fall of Saipan the
U.S. military could use the B29 to freely bomb anywhere on the Japanese
mainland. In other words, it can be argued that the outcome of the war between
Japan and the United States was clearly settled at this point. Under normal
circumstances, this was the stage where procedures would have been
implemented to press Japan to surrender.
However, Roosevelt continued to conduct the war with the following in
mind: to land American troops on the Japanese mainland; to literally destroy
Japan; to prosecute the war to its fullest extent; and to maximize the number of
At Yalta on February 9, 1945, on the assumption that the Soviet Union
would join the war against Japan, Churchill put the following suggestion to
“The Prime Minister expressed the opinion that it would be of great value
if Russia could be persuaded to join with the United States, the British Empire,
and China in the issue of a four-power ultimatum calling upon Japan to
surrender unconditionally, or else be subjected to the overwhelming weight of
all the forces of the four powers. Japan might ask in these circumstances what
mitigation of the full rigor of unconditional surrender would be extended to her
if she accepted the ultimatum. In this event it would be for the United States to
judge the matter; but there was no doubt that some mitigation would be
worthwhile if it led to the saving of a year or a year and a half of a war in which
so much blood and treasure would be poured out.”5
suddenly blurted out the term “unconditional surrender.” Churchill, who was also present,
was dumbfounded because of the enormity of the statement. Roosevelt explained this by
saying “the next thing I knew, I had said it,” but in fact it was “very deeply deliberated.”
Seishiro Sugihara, Between Incompetence and Culpability: Assessing the Diplomacy of
Japan’s Foreign Ministry from Pearl Harbor to Potsdam, translated by Norman Hu (Lanham:
University Press of America, 1997), p. 4; James MacGregor Burns, Soldier of Freedom (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), p. 323; Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and
Hopkins: An Intimate History (New York: Harper, 1948), pp 695-7.
5 U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Malta
and Yalta, 1945. (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1955), p. 826. For a Japanese translation of this
extract, see Makoto Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge) [American policy towards
Japan’s occupation, vol. 2] (Tokyo: Chuokoronsha, 1985), p. 131.
When examining the Second World War, including the war between Japan and the
United States, Churchill’s opinion here is extremely important. However, few researchers in
Page 9 of 27
But Roosevelt paid no attention to Churchill’s recommendation. Japan
and the Soviet Union had concluded a neutrality pact in April 1941, and when
war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union in June of that year,
Japan consequently upheld the pact and did not invade the Soviet Union.
Therefore, the Soviet Union was able to redeploy military troops against
Germany which had been stationed in Siberia and targeted at Japan; it could be
argued that this allowed the Soviet Union to win its war against Germany.
Furthermore, the Soviet Union was in a position where it was not only
compelled in a general sense “to uphold the pact” but would also do so out of
obligation. Not only did Roosevelt ignore the existence of this pact, he invited
the Soviet Union to conduct landing operations on the Japanese mainland.
If Roosevelt had accepted Churchill’s recommendation at this point,
Japan would have been shocked if it had been made clear the Soviet Union
would participate in the war against Japan if the Japanese did not surrender, and
it may even have been possible that Japan would have accepted surrender terms
of the scale later seen in the Potsdam declaration and have surrendered. Even by
concealing the Soviet Union’s participation in the war against Japan, Japan may
have surrendered after the air raids on Tokyo on March 10—an attack which
targeted civilians, and was obviously contrary to international law and
indefensible—if the Tokyo air raids had been accompanied by terms similar to
those in the Potsdam declaration urging Japan to surrender.
Saipan had fallen and the United States was in a position where it could
bomb the Japanese mainland at will because Japan had lost control of the air, so
the landing operations for Iwo Jima were also in fact unnecessary. The
campaign to take Okinawa started on April 1, but strategically it was completely
unnecessary if its purpose was to force Japan to surrender.
It is claimed that 80% of Japanese casualties during the war between
Japan and the United States came after the fall of Saipan, but the same thing can
be said of the American side.6
Europe or the United States ever mention Churchill’s comments. For example, neither Arthur
Conte or Michael Dobbs mention this statement by Churchill in their works. (See Arthur
Conte, Yalta ou le partage du monde [Yalta or the partition of the world] (Paris: Laffont,
1965); Michael Dobbs, Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman—From
World War to Cold War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).) European and American
research appear to show little interest in considering views that take into account the Japanese
6Harry Wray and Seishiro Sugihara, Nihonjin no genbaku toka ron wa konomama de yoi no
ka—genbaku toka wo meguru Nichi-Bei no hajimete no taiwa [Can the discourse by the
Japanese on dropping the atomic bomb be left like this?—The first Japan-U.S. dialogue on
the dropping of the atomic bomb] (Tokyo: Nisshin Hodo, 2015), p. 286; John W. Dower,
Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, (New York: W. W. Horton, 1999),
Page 10 of 27
(4) The Japanese side’s share of the responsibility for prolonging the war until
the atomic bombings
Ultimately, Roosevelt conducted the war between Japan and the United
States to broaden it as far as possible, and produce the maximum number of
casualties. This Roosevelt died suddenly on April 12, 1945. His vice president
Harry Truman became president, but he was completely unaware of the
circumstances under which the war with Japan had broken out. He did not know
about the harsh demands contained in the Hull Note which the American
government had thrust upon Japan before the outbreak of war; nor that the
attack on Pearl Harbor was supposed to occur thirty minutes after the delivery
of a “final notice,” which had been delayed due to clerical blunders at Japan’s
Washington embassy. He was also unaware of secret accords at Yalta
stipulating that the Soviet Union would join the war against Japan two to three
months after Germany’s collapse. Similarly, he did not know that development
of the atomic bomb was underway.7
Truman, who became president suddenly without complete knowledge of
the issues, could do little apart from declaring he would first “carry out the war
and peace policies of Franklin Roosevelt.” Truman announced in his first
address to Congress on April 16 that, “Our demand [on the enemy] has been,
and it remains—Unconditional Surrender!”8
7 President Truman first heard about the development of the atomic bomb on April 12, 1945,
following the first cabinet meeting after his swearing in as president. He received his first
official report and briefing on April 25.
See, Harry S. Truman, Memoirs Vol. 1: Year of Decisions 1945 (New York: Doubleday,
1955), p. 10 [Apr. 12], p. 90 [Apr. 25]. See Dobbs, Six Months in 1945, pp. 170-1.
Moreover, let me comment here on why Truman did not know about the Hull Note.
Although the Hull Note was a classified document when it was forced upon the
Japanese government on November 26, 1941, it was declassified by Hull late in the evening
on December 7, the day of the “sneak attack” on Pearl Harbor.
However, during this period of time, the fact that Japanese diplomatic cables were
being decoded remained top secret, and Secretary of War Stimson’s diary had still not been
made public; therefore, no-one apart from those who had forced the Hull Note upon Japan
could have been aware that it had been thrust onto Japan to strengthen that country’s resolve
to go to war. Truman became president without being fully aware of the circumstances
surrounding the outbreak of the war, so either he had not read the Hull Note, or was unable to
glean its substantive significance even if he had read it.
See Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: A Study
in Appearances and Realities (New Haven: Yale University Press 1948), p. 234.
8 “Carry out the war and peace policies,” Truman, Memoirs Vol. 1, p. 43; Harry S. Truman:
“Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress.,” April 16, 1945. Online by Gerhard Peters
and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12282; Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku
(ge), p. 140.
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A meeting of U.S. military leaders was held on June 18 to decide the
landing strategy for the Japanese mainland. Naturally, the issue of the great
sacrifices made at the Battle of Okinawa was raised, and that sticking to the
unconditional surrender formula would create the problem of increasing the
sacrifice of American soldiers. While Truman acknowledged the validity of
such considerations, he said, “he did not feel that at this time it was possible for
him to take any action with reference to public opinion on this matter.”9
Why did Truman state that the unconditional surrender formula could not
be changed? This was because the American public at this time strongly
supported the unconditional surrender formula.
Why did the American public so wholeheartedly support the
unconditional surrender formula? They were unaware of the substantive
significance regarding why, just before the outbreak of war, the United States
government had forced the Hull Note onto Japan. Moreover, the surprise assault
on Pearl Harbor, which marked the beginning of the war between Japan and the
United States, was originally supposed to have occurred thirty minutes after the
delivery of a “final notice”; however, the delivery of the notice was delayed due
to clerical bungling at Japan’s Washington embassy, and turned the assault into
a “sneak attack.” They were convinced Japan had started the war with a
deliberate “sneak attack,” and consequently were furious with Japan.
Roosevelt took maximum advantage of the clerical blunder at Japan’s
Washington embassy; however, the American public was enraged, and were
manipulated to avidly support the unconditional surrender formula laid out by
Roosevelt. As a result, the scale of the war was expanded to the utmost, the
number of victims was increased to the maximum, and ultimately it lead to the
dropping of the atomic bombs. The announcement of the dropping of the atomic
bomb made by President Truman sixteen hours after it was used at Hiroshima,
claimed first of all to have “repaid many fold” the people who had attacked
Pearl Harbor; and after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki, he claimed
in a radio broadcast immediately after that, “We have used it against those who
attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor.”10
9 “Minutes of Meeting held at the White House, June 18, 1945, Miscellaneous Historical
Documents Collection.” See
pdf, p. 41; Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge), pp. 180-3.
10 Announcement, Aug. 6, 1945: “Announcing the Bombing of Hiroshima” See
Radio broadcast, Aug. 9, 1945: “A Warning to Japan Urging Surrender” See
At the time of the atomic bombings, the “sneak attack” at Pearl Harbor was given as
the primary reason to justify them. However, in the fall of 1945, the Joint Committee on the
Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack was convened in the U.S. Congress, and as this
investigation progressed, it became clear that the “sneak attack” at Pearl Harbor was not
Page 12 of 27
(5) Dropping the atomic bomb difficult to avoid at the time, but completely
unnecessary in the long term
As mentioned above, Truman decided on June 18, 1945, to carry out the
operation to land on the Japanese mainland, but even a cursory examination
reveals that this mainland invasion strategy, in essence the continuation of
Roosevelt’s direction for the war, was in itself completely unneeded. As
previously argued, if bombers had been used to destroy military facilities and
supply and transport networks after the fall of Saipan, no American troops
would have to be sacrificed and virtually the same war outcome would have
resulted as that attained in any invasion strategy. In Japan, preparations were
being made to deal with a final decisive battle based on the premise of this
American strategy to land on the Japanese mainland; however, on June 4 during
a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, when Colonel Suketaka Tanemura of
the Army’s General Staff Office was asked what could be done if American
troops persisted with their attack through aerial bombardment rather than
landing on the mainland, he replied that, “that situation would be the most
troubling.”11 From the American perspective the landing strategy was clearly
undesirable, but it must be emphasized that it was absolutely untenable when
considering the sacrifice of the lives of American troops.
Although written in hindsight, a bombing survey was carried out under
presidential order after the surrender of Japan. According to the United States
Strategic Bombing Survey, “it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31
December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would
have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if
planned, but had been due to clerical blunders by staff at the Japanese embassy in
Washington; moreover, because Roosevelt and other American leaders in fact already knew
this, it became no longer possible to claim the “sneak attack” at Pearl Harbor as justification
for dropping the atomic bombs. In the February 1947 edition of Harper’s Magazine, Henry
Stimson published his well-known essay “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” in
which—even though he estimated that if the operation to take the Japanese mainland was
carried through to its conclusion, it “might be expected to cost over a million casualties, to
American forces alone” [p. 102]—there was no longer any mention of extracting revenge for
Pearl Harbor. On the other hand, proceedings such as the Tokyo Trial began instead to
condemn the “Nanking Incident” of 1932.
Akira Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu to Nihon no unmei (jo, ge)
[Mokusatsu—The truth about the Potsdam Declaration and the fate of Japan (vols. 1 and 2)]
(Tokyo: NHK Books, 2000), pp. 1:112-4 and 2:97-166; Seishiro Sugihara, Gaimusho no
tsumi wo tou—yahari Gaimusho ga Nihon wo dame ni shite iru (Tokyo: Jiyusha, 2013), pp.
136-7. For an English translation, see Seishiro Sugihara, Question of Guilt: Japan’s Foreign
Ministry and Its War Responsibility (SDHF 2016), translated by Norman Hu http://www.sdhfact.
11 Suketaka Tanemura, Daihon’ei kimitsu nisshi [Imperial Headquarters secret diary]
(reprinted edition) (Tokyo: Fuyosha, 1979), pp. 290-1.
Page 13 of 27
Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or
However, if the war had been conducted according to Roosevelt’s
directions, the campaign to land on the Japanese mainland would definitely
have been carried out and would have led to the sacrifice of innumerable
American troops; and if the enactment of his strategy had been an inflexible
condition, it can only be concluded that Soviet entry into the war against Japan
would have been crucial.
On July 12, four days before the successful detonation of the first atomic
bomb in human history (July 16), Truman was in Potsdam and had read
decoded intercepts of cables sent by Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to
Naotake Sato, Japan’s ambassador to Moscow; he learned that Japan was
looking for a way to surrender, and was asking the Soviet Union to mediate its
From Japan’s perspective, the intention to surrender had been clarified, so
it can surely be said it was possible to bring about Japan’s capitulation even
without dropping the atomic bomb.
Nevertheless, the view emerged on the Japanese side that the United
States, which had brought atomic bombs into the war, was prioritizing the use
of those bombs, and deliberately delaying Japan’s surrender. In fact, Truman
had arranged the timing of the big summit meetings at Potsdam to coincide with
the development schedule of the atomic bomb, and was constantly mindful that
all policy-making with regards to the war was linked to these bombs that
potentially could change the war dramatically.
However, it should probably be pointed out that, even though it might
seem as though there had been a policy to not allow Japan to surrender until the
atomic bombs were used, one cannot go so far as to say that such a position
existed as conscious policy.
In other words, within American government circles, it clearly had been
decided first and foremost to carry out a mainland landing strategy to destroy
Japan in the same way as Germany, and that to do so the United States faced a
situation where Soviet participation in the war was indispensable. When
Truman met with Stalin for the first time on July 17, he had received reports the
previous day about the successful detonation of the atomic bomb; it was under
these circumstances, in a good mood and his face wreathed in smiles, that he
12United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (Pacific War), Washington DC, 1
July 1946 (Washington: USGPO, 1946), p. 26. For a Japanese translation, see Kengo
Tominaga, ed., Gendaishi shiryo 39—Taiheiyo senso 5 [Modern history materials Vol. 39—
The Pacific War Pt. 5] (Tokyo: Misuzu shobo, 1975), p. 56: Beikoku senryaku bakugeki
chosadan “Taiheiyo senso hokokusho” [United States strategic bombing survey “Pacific war
13Dobbs, Six Months in 1945, p. 300; FRUS, Potsdam II, p. 1587.
Page 14 of 27
greeted Stalin who made clear promises to join the war against Japan.14 Stalin
too deduced the situation faced by the American government, and calmly
conveyed the information to Truman that Japan had asked the Soviet Union to
mediate for surrender.
In a telegram from Foreign Minister Togo addressed to Japan’s
ambassador to Moscow requesting mediation by the Soviet Union, he stated that,
“as long as America and England insist on unconditional surrender, our country
has no alternative but to see it through in an all-out effort for the sake of
survival and the honor of the homeland.”15 From the American point of view,
Japan was calling for elimination of the “unconditional surrender” condition
about which the United States was most adamant, and would fight it out with all
its resources if this was not removed; thus, it was perhaps unavoidable that they
would not view the situation as having reached a stage where the landing
operation could be abandoned and surrender negotiations could begin.
However, not only had the test regarding the atomic bomb succeeded, but
a detailed report about it reached Stimson on July 21, along with other reports
stating that the atomic bomb would be ready for use earlier than expected.16
Moreover, it was revealed how the power generated exceeded pre-test
expectations. It seemed possible now to force Japan to surrender through the
shock of dropping the atomic bomb. This meant that the point of view of
Truman and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, who had been closely involved
with the use of the atomic bomb, would evolve rapidly.
While Soviet participation in the war against Japan had been hailed with
enthusiasm, feeling towards the Soviet Union gradually soured; rather than
relying on Soviet power, it came to be regarded as a better idea if Japan’s
capitulation could be realized through the use of American power alone. Disgust
was building over the Soviet Union’s growing violence in eastern Europe, so if
by using the atomic bomb American power on its own could categorically bring
about Japan’s capitulation, this was something to be welcomed. 17 Moreover, if
there was a heightened awareness that it would also have the effect of checking
14 Dobbs, Six Months in 1945, p. 296; Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (jo),
pp. 309-10; FRUS, Potsdam II, pp. 43-6, 1562-87.
15 Cable #893, Togo to Sato, July 12, 1945. See “Japanese Peace feelers in the Soviet Union”
Japan Foreign Ministry, ed., Shusen shiroku (jo), [Historical account of the end of the war,
vol. 1] (Tokyo: Shimbun Gekkan-sha, 1952), pp. 448-9.
16 Dobbs, Six Months in 1945, pp. 302-3; “detailed report,” see Leslie. R. Groves to Henry
Stimson, July 18, 1945, “Memorandum for the Secretary of War” – see Truman Library,
Lamont Papers; “earlier than expected,” see Stimson, Diary, July 21, 1945. See also Stimson,
Diary, July 19, 1945; Truman, Memoirs, July 25, 1945.
17Dobbs, Six Months in 1945, pp. 304-5; Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu,
pp. 310, 314. See also: Diary of John J. McCloy, “July 23-24, 1945,” in John J. McCloy
Papers (Box DY1, folders 16-19), Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College
Library; Stimson, Diary, July 22, 1945.
Page 15 of 27
the Soviet Union, then on the contrary wasn’t this a result that would be eagerly
With regards to the atomic bomb, Truman at this time lacked the detailed
knowledge of a scientist, and still had no strong feelings about the ethics of its
military use, making it easier to consider only its efficiency as a weapon;
furthermore, his disposition was one of intense outrage because he was
convinced the “sneak attack” at Pearl Harbor had been a deliberate act by Japan
to start the war with the United States. On top of this, Truman himself was
known to hold racist prejudices,18 and if we consider that he probably had less
objection using it against Japan than Germany, then this was truly regrettable
for the side against whom the bomb was actually used, namely Japan. We can
only conclude that, deep down, Truman at this time probably had no hesitation
in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The most important and pressing problem for Truman was how to reduce
the number of American troops sacrificed during the bloodshed of the planned
invasion strategy; if using the atomic bomb could eliminate the need to carry
out the invasion plan altogether, then Truman had no reason to demur from
using the bomb.
Truman announced on July 25 that the atomic bomb would be used on
military facilities only, and should not target women or children. He was
apparently convinced this was how the operation would be carried out, so here
too there was no reason to think twice about it.19
However, let us consider here what would have happened if, to the
contrary, the first atomic bomb test on July 16 had failed and atomic weapons
had not been developed. In other words, what sort of outcome would have
resulted in lieu of the atomic bombings?
Probably the most obvious thing is that the atomic bombs would not have
been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Conversely though, the campaign to
invade the Japanese mainland would have been executed, the number of victims
would surely have increased, and the impact of the Soviet Union’s entry into the
war against Japan would have grown; in the worst case scenario, Japan may
even have become a partitioned nation.
18 It is widely known that Truman was an ardent bigot. After dropping the atomic bomb on
Hiroshima, Truman wrote in private correspondence: “When you have to deal with a beast
you have to treat him as a beast.” However, it is also true he was against the compulsory
detention of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the war between Japan and
the United States.
See “Correspondence between Harry S. Truman and Samuel Cavert,” August 11, 1945.
Truman Papers, Official File. 692-A: Manhattan Project; Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why
America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), pp. 93-
19 Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (ge), pp. 67-8.
Page 16 of 27
Under these circumstances, as the war continued the Soviet Union would
have entered hostilities against Japan, but with stiff resistance from the Japanese
side it is doubtful invasion of the Japanese mainland could have been easily
accomplished. Nevertheless, it still would not have been prevented, and
annexation of the Japanese mainland was entirely possible. Once an area was
occupied by the Soviet Army it was unlikely to be relinquished, and that area
would become part of the partitioned nation. On August 16, Stalin asked
Truman to hand over the northern half of Hokkaido, but Truman refused on
August 1820; however, the longer the war persisted, the more likely Japan’s
partition would become possible. The situation as of August 16 was still
formally based on the premise of an amicable cooperative relationship enjoyed
by the United States with the Soviet Union, and a committee within the U.S.
military had drawn up plans for the shared occupation of Japan, with Hokkaido
and Tohoku allotted to be occupied by the Soviet Union.21
Let us take a look at the Potsdam declaration. This was an enumeration of
the United States’s anticipated occupation policy if Japan surrendered
unconditionally, and to that extent arguably it represented the framework of
unconditional surrender from the viewpoint of the United States; but from the
Japanese perspective, it was an enumeration of surrender conditions which, if
accepted, would lead to surrender, namely surrender with conditions. From the
perspective of international law, it specified occupation policy in advance,
therefore Japan’s surrender under international law was irrefutably one of
So the question is whether any guarantee of the emperor system was
included in those conditions. At the very least, there was no stipulation in the
Potsdam declaration that clearly guaranteed it.
Under military pressure, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki issued his
notorious mokusatsu [ignore] comment regarding the Potsdam declaration on
July 28, 1945 (Japan time). This was inevitably reported abroad as a “rejection,”
and was directly linked to the atomic bombing. If he wanted to stipulate as to a
guarantee for the emperor system, he should at least have inquired about it, even
if he could not immediately accept the Potsdam declaration. By so doing, the
United States would have been obliged to respond to that inquiry and the
dropping of the atomic bomb would have been delayed at least while that
response was put together. The lack of a guarantee for the emperor system
proved fatal for the Potsdam declaration, but it cannot be argued the United
States omitted provision for the emperor system so that Japan would not
surrender immediately. There are no statements or records of meetings to
indicate this. The emperor system would be established within the framework of
20 Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (ge), pp. 298-300.
21 Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge), pp. 216-221; “JWPC 385/1, Ultimate
Occupation of Japan and Japanese Territory (August 16, 1945),” Record Group 218, National
Archives II, College Park, Maryland.
Page 17 of 27
occupation policy, under the unconditional surrender formula doggedly adhered
to by the United States; it was likely President Truman and Secretary of State
Byrnes felt it would cause problems in the court of public opinion if any
guarantee was offered, thus invalidating the unconditional surrender formula. In
this respect, it should be noted that Stimson’s knowledge of the circumstances
in Japan gave him a different perspective.
Before President Truman left the United States for Potsdam, War
Secretary Stimson prepared a clause for inclusion in the declaration to be made
at Potsdam which specifically guaranteed the maintenance of the emperor
system, and handed it to Truman. However, there was intense opposition within
the State Department to issuing a statement that included any such guarantee of
the emperor system; so on July 16, Truman, along with Byrnes who had just
been appointed secretary of state on July 3, decided not to make this statement,
going along with the opinion of the former secretary of state Cordell Hull.22
Taking into account the likelihood of fierce resistance within the State
Department, Hull sent a telegram to Byrnes which arrived on July 16. In that
telegram, Hull explained that if this guarantee for the emperor system was
included, “the Japs would be encouraged while terrible political consequences
would follow in the U.S.” If the guarantee was going to be made, “would it be
well first to await the climax of allied bombing and Russia’s entry into the
On the evening of July 16, Stimson received word of the successful
atomic bomb test. Stimson had been closely involved in the drafting of the
Potsdam declaration, and he persuaded Truman that there would still be the
option of dropping the bomb if Japan did not accept the declaration; the
Potsdam declaration, which at one time was not going to be issued, was now
linked with the dropping of the atomic bomb, and brought out again.24
Unfortunately, the clause in Stimson’s draft which guaranteed the
emperor system was deleted; however, the main reason at the time for this was
that, as previously mentioned, the American government could not make any
guarantees for the emperor system that appeared at odds with its firm adherence
to the unconditional surrender formula.
The basic policy was to use the atomic bomb to force Japan’s early
surrender and bring an end to the operation to invade the Japanese mainland:
dropping the atomic bomb and the surrender of Japan perfectly complemented
each other. From Truman’s viewpoint the Potsdam declaration was being forced
into the process, and he had no great expectations for it on its own.
22 Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge), p. 198; Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu
sengen no shinjitsu (jo), p. 299.
23 U.S. Department of State, FRUS: Diplomatic papers: The Conference of Berlin, 1945, vol.
2, p. 1267.
24 Sugihara, Between Incompetence and Culpability, p. 19.
Page 18 of 27
On the subject of methods to coerce Japan to surrender, another was to
suggest that the Soviet Union enter the war against Japan. However, after a
secret accord about Soviet participation in the war was reached at Yalta in
February 1945, this accord remained “confidential” even within the American
government, and even the State Department was not informed until Roosevelt
passed away; secrecy was maintained within government circles, and was
dutifully maintained by the American government from start to finish.
On June 9 Truman, accompanied by acting Secretary of State Joseph
Grew, discussed the secret accord with a prominent Chinese official T. V.
Soong who was in the United States, and Soong relayed this to Chiang Kai-shek.
There was a provision in this accord that Soviet participation in the war against
Japan required the agreement of the Kuomintang government of China, and the
United States was required to provide the necessary cooperation for that; even
under these circumstances Truman dutifully explained that he too was bound by
the terms of this secret accord. He had no intention of breaching the terms of the
Even though Japan would have found Soviet participation in the war
equally as shocking as the use of the atomic bomb, in the end there was no
intention to use this as a means to bring about an end to the war.
Stimson made preparations in the United States for a declaration to be
made at Potsdam that could also include the Soviet Union as a signatory nation,
but Truman hoped for a Japanese surrender without Soviet cooperation, and
without consulting the Soviets at all, issued the declaration signed by only three
countries: England, China and the United States.26 However, Japan interpreted
25 Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge), pp. 174-5.
As a means to force Japan to surrender, advising the Japanese of plans for the Soviet
Union to join the war against Japan should have been a very effective method; however,
among those at the time in a position within the U.S. government to exert any influence over
policy formation, none noticed this or suggested it strongly. Japan would have perceived
Soviet participation in the war against Japan as a threat, and although advanced warning of
such plans would have been a very compelling way to usher the Japanese towards surrender,
there was no one who clearly specified it or suggested it. It seems strange from today’s
perspective, but in short, during the approximately four months between Roosevelt’s death
and Japan’s surrender, the U.S. government was restricted to, was under the spell of, and
rigidly adhered to the line set out by Roosevelt. See J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter
Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan (Chapel Hill: The
University of North Carolina Press, 1996), p. 91.
26 The draft for the Potsdam declaration submitted by Stimson made provision to include the
Soviet Union. After Truman and Secretary of State Byrnes examined this draft in Potsdam,
references to the Soviet Union were removed. There are few details in the historical materials
about the process of removing such references, but it probably came about because of the
confidence that the United States could on its own force Japan’s surrender, thanks to it being
the first to succeed in developing the atomic bomb.
It could be argued that, legally, the Soviet Union was not in a position to be included
in the Potsdam declaration, because it had signed a neutrality pact with Japan; but it is
Page 19 of 27
the absence of the Soviet Union as a signatory nation to mean Soviet mediation
was still possible and it hesitated to accept the declaration, delaying its eventual
acceptance. At this time, neither Truman nor Byrnes had noticed that the
absence of the Soviet Union as a signatory to the Potsdam declaration would
have this contrary effect.
In any event with regards to the Potsdam declaration, from Japan’s
perspective the lack of clarity concerning the preservation of the emperor
system, as well as the notion discussed in the previous paragraph that Soviet
mediation might still be possible because Stalin’s signature did not appear on
the declaration, made its immediate acceptance impossible, and led to the
mokusatsu comment; time passed inexorably on towards the atomic bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.27 However, when the Potsdam declaration was issued,
unlikely that this was taken into consideration when the Soviet Union was excluded. Rather,
after the declaration was made in Potsdam, Byrnes was somewhat confused when Stalin
requested a document be issued calling upon the Soviet Union to join the war against Japan.
In a sense it was only natural that Stalin would ask the United States and England to
explicitly make such a request, if the Soviet Union was going to unilaterally abrogate the
neutrality pact. Conceivably, when the American side received this request it might have
been the first time the United States became aware of the neutrality pact issue. However, the
American government could not overtly tell the Soviets to break the neutrality pact. This
would account for Byrnes’s confusion.
There may have been a certain logic in removing the Soviet Union as a signatory to
the Potsdam declaration; but from Japan’s perspective it appeared as though the Soviet Union
was maintaining its neutrality, and gave hope that Moscow might yet take up the mantle of
mediation. This became a factor in delaying Japan’s surrender, and is surely an irony of
See James F. Byrnes, Speaking Frankly (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947), pp.
27Upon hearing the announcement of the Potsdam declaration, Japanese government leaders
could not decide immediately how to respond. Therefore, under pressure from the military
who feared a collapse in morale, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki explained at a cabinet press
conference on July 28 that, “This declaration is a rehash of the Cairo talks, and I don’t think
there is any need to attach great importance to it [jushi suru yo naki].” This was dispatched
by a Japanese news agency as “ignore” [mokusatsu], which in turn was paraphrased as “reject”
by a foreign news agency.
In Japan, a particular theory has long been promulgated during the postwar era:
namely, that this statement by the prime minister could be interpreted as mokusatsu, and in
fact ended up being reported as mokusatsu; and that it triggered the decision to use the atomic
bomb and brought about Soviet participation in the war against Japan. But this interpretation
The U.S. government knew from intercepted and decoded cables that Japan intended
to surrender, but as discussed in the main body of this essay, it was probably not at the stage
where it could accept Japan’s intention to surrender, given that Japan was trying to avoid the
unconditional surrender formula insisted upon by the United States, and that it knew fully
well Japan was making preparations for a decisive battle for the Japanese mainland.
Therefore, Truman and Byrnes did not have high expectations for the Potsdam declaration.
Truman considered the issuing of the declaration as giving Japan one last chance before the
Page 20 of 27
not much was anticipated in the first place from the American side, and it
should be noted that Japan’s refusal was almost exactly the reaction Truman had
expected; it is worth mentioning that afterwards, the atomic bombs ended up
being used as planned.
Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, out of shock over the use of the
atomic bombs. The Soviet Union unilaterally broke its neutrality pact with
Japan by entering the war on August 9 while the pact was still in effect, and this
also had some impact, but it is obvious that Japan’s surrender was accelerated
by the shock of dropping the atomic bomb; it is also clear that, because of this,
the operation to invade the Japanese mainland was canceled, many American
soldiers no longer needed to die, and many more Japanese soldiers and civilians
did not need to die.
If there had been no shock brought about by the use of the atomic bombs,
and Japan had not surrendered on August 15, the Soviet Union’s entry into the
war would have been virtually assured on August 15, and the U.S. operation to
invade the Japanese mainland would have commenced with the Kyushu
landings on November 1; although the Japanese military would have resisted,
isn’t it worth pointing out that the Soviet Union’s invasion of the Japanese
mainland would have been virtually certain? Japan would then have become a
partitioned nation. At a banquet held by Churchill in Potsdam on July 23, Stalin
“proposed that our next meeting [of the Big Three] should be in Tokyo.”28
Viewed in this way it has to be concluded that, in some respects, it is
difficult to deny American assertions that the use of the atomic bombs brought
atomic bombs were used, and while the Japanese government indeed “rejected” it, this was
not necessarily disappointing. In fact, in his announcement after dropping the atomic bomb
on Hiroshima on August 6, the president stated that the Potsdam declaration had been
rejected; but when the “rejection” response was actually received, there had been no sign of
any surprised reaction within the U.S. government at all.
Moreover, although refusal of the Potsdam declaration has clearly been specified as
the pretext for the Soviet Union’s participation in the war against Japan, from Moscow’s
perspective, fighting Japan had been an idea embraced by Stalin since before the secret
accord was reached at Yalta in February, 1945; considering the enormous profit to be gained
in the Far East by joining the war against Japan, it would have fought Japan under any pretext,
and it should probably be noted that Prime Minister Suzuki’s mokusatsu comment had
nothing to do with it at all. If the Japanese side had immediately accepted the declaration at
Potsdam when it was issued, it can certainly be argued that it would have been possible to
bring an end to the war without dropping the atomic bombs; however it should be obvious
that, at that moment, the Japanese side was not in a situation where it could make such a
See: Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shusen shiroku (ge) [Historical record of the
end of the war, vol. 2] (Tokyo: Shimbun Gekkan-sha, 1952), pp. 501-18; Naka, Mokusatsu—
Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (jo), pp. 27-51.
28 Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (ge), p. 28; Winston S. Churchill, The
Second World War, vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), p.
Page 21 of 27
about Japan’s early surrender, and prevented an even greater tragedy befalling
Japan. Nevertheless, if we consider what might have been if Roosevelt had not
laid out his formula for unconditional surrender, it can be said with certainty
that the use of atomic bombs would have been totally unnecessary to bring
about Japan’s surrender.
Roosevelt knew better than anyone else in the United States how much
the Japanese government had hoped to avoid hostilities before the outbreak of
war between Japan and the U.S. He also knew that the “sneak attack” at Pearl
Harbor had been brought about by administrative blunders at Japan’s
Washington embassy, a pivotal truth about the war between Japan and the
United States. He was also well aware that the war itself had been the result of
provoking Japan, and was a war substantially started by the United States,
because he had been the very person who had committed that provocation.
Nonetheless, he forced the unconditional surrender formula on Japan,
expanded hostilities between Japan and the U.S. as far as possible, and brought
about the deaths of not only Japanese citizens but also many Americans by
embroiling them in the war.
Moreover, war acts committed against Japan were brutal. As mentioned
above, the air raid over Tokyo on March 10, 1945, was an atrocity that killed
around 100,000 civilians. It cannot be denied that, from the very start, this had
been targeted against civilians; it was without doubt a war crime, a bombing
raid that obviously violated international law. Not only that, the Tokyo air raid
was not associated with lofty goals that could somehow legitimize its
application, such as speeding up the end of the war, or reducing the number of
American soldiers to be sacrificed. Nor was anything equivalent to an advance
warning given, such as the declaration, however imperfect, made at Potsdam
before the atomic bombings.
The U.S. servicemen who carried out this air raid did not know that,
around the time of the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, the
American government had forced the Hull Note upon Japan, or that the “sneak
attack” on Pearl Harbor had not been intentional; they believed that Japan had
unilaterally picked a fight with the United States by launching a “sneak attack,”
and consequently the air raid seemed like a logical act of retaliation. For the
United States it was a just war, and this may have seemed like logical conduct
as part of that.
People in the United States must appreciate that these acts of brutality,
based as they were on such misunderstandings, were carried out under
Roosevelt who knew everything about the circumstances of the outbreak of war
between Japan and the United States.
At a June 18 meeting Truman held with military leaders to decide how to
carry out the operation to invade the Japanese mainland, it was reported that the
first Kyushu landing operation alone, scheduled to start on November 1, would
commit 190,000 troops, and 66,500 battle casualties could be expected if the
Page 22 of 27
battle of Okinawa was taken as a guide.29 In a postwar report regarding the use
of the atomic bombs issued in January 1947 under Stimson’s name, the
projected number of battle casualties overall in an operation to invade the
Japanese mainland had swelled to one million; but in any case if the mainland
invasion campaign had been carried out, it is clear that U.S. troop casualties
would have numbered in the tens of thousands.
Roosevelt had no qualms about presiding over a war that led to an
extraordinary number of war casualties around the world, and may have seemed
like a lighthearted leader to the American public, but in fact he was a president
with a fiendish side. Truman, on the other hand, could be faulted for embracing
Roosevelt’s war leadership uncritically. No-one should make light of that flaw
when appraising Truman, but in the leadership role he inherited, he was
arguably an honest president who earnestly and in complete sincerity did all he
could to minimize the sacrifice of American troops.
As one of the few Americans who learned early on how merciless the
atomic bomb was as a weapon, on August 10, 1945, Truman accepted
Stimson’s counsel and cancelled further use of the atomic bomb beyond the first
From the discussion above it becomes clear that, in substance, the
responsibility for using the atomic bomb lay not with Truman but with
(6) The greatest historical significance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
was that it freed the U.S. from the spell of the atomic bomb
On May 27, 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama, leader of the nation that
had used the atomic bomb, visited Hiroshima which was devastated by the
bomb; he laid a wreath at the memorial to the deceased, made some remarks,
and talked with hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors. Japan’s Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe, leader of the side against whom the bomb was dropped, also laid a
wreath at the memorial, and gave a speech calling for the abolition of nuclear
Through the concerted efforts of President Obama and Prime Minister
Abe, a settlement between Japan and the United States concerning the atomic
bombing has been reached, at least formally; it must be noted that, in the name
of all humankind, the settlement also represents forgiveness of this wrong
perpetrated against humanity by the use of the atomic bomb. Obama’s visit to
bomb-torn Hiroshima as president of the United States, and all the events that
29 Iokibe, Beikoku no Nihon senryo seisaku (ge), pp. 180-3; “Minutes of Meeting held at the
White House on Monday, 18 June 1945 at 1530.” By JCS Secretary, CCS File, RG 218,
National Archives. These figures are based on Admiral Leahy’s estimates that “the troops on
Okinawa had lost 35 percent in casualties.” [p. 5.]
30 Naka, Mokusatsu—Potsudamu sengen no shinjitsu (ge), pp. 254-5.
Page 23 of 27
took place at the Peace Memorial Park with Prime Minister Abe, were part of
the ceremony to mark this. All wrongs committed against humanity must one
day be forgiven; and if this is the case, then the events which took place in the
peace park are a part of the ceremony to mark this.
On this occasion both President Obama and Prime Minister Abe called
for the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the president made the following
remarks in his speech at the memorial: “Among those nations like my own that
hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear
and pursue a world without them.” It is indeed a solemn task that lies ahead for
humanity, so that humankind will never again repeat this tragedy.
Needless to say, the abolition of nuclear weapons is no simple thing.
During President Obama’s visit, the black briefcase containing secret launch
codes for the use of nuclear weapons in fact also came with him to the atomicbombed
area of Hiroshima; and it should not be overlooked that, during the
president’s speech too, it was placed near the memorial monument.
Even while conducting a ceremony calling for the abolition of nuclear
weapons, preparatory measures for nuclear war cannot be neglected because,
when contemplating the threat of nuclear war, one cannot let down one’s guard
for a moment.
Incidentally, back in October 2013 when it didn’t occur to anyone that
President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima would happen—namely, two and a half
years before the actual event—there was someone who predicted it would
undoubtedly take place. This was Mr. Toshio Motoya, president of the APA
Group, a Japanese hotel and hospitality chain. In October 2013, when
approached with the matter of a project to construct a 14-story, 727-room hotel
in Hiroshima, Motoya predicted that President Obama would visit Hiroshima
and immediately decided to purchase the hotel because of an anticipated rise in
tourism. About fifteen months before Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, a
groundbreaking ceremony for the hotel was held on February 18, 2015; a
reporter at a press conference at the time asked whether enough demand existed
to justify building a hotel of this size, the largest in the Chukoku/Shikoku region.
“President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has appealed for nuclear
disarmament, will surely come to Hiroshima in 2016. This will mean a rapid
rise in the number of people visiting Hiroshima from Europe and the United
States.” It was obvious that no reporter present had even considered President
Obama would visit Hiroshima, and laughter broke out.31
President Obama gave a speech in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic,
on April 5, 2009, in which he said, “As a nuclear power, as the only nuclear
power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral
31 Toshio Motoya, (Seiji Fuji, pseud.), Honto on Nihon no rekishi: riron kingendaishi II
(shikaban 2016) [The Real History of Japan: Theoretical Modern History II] (self-published,
2016), pp. 92-3.
Page 24 of 27
responsibility to act.” As president, he maintained the hope to leave a visit to
Hiroshima as part of his political legacy.
But in reality, how feasible was it for President Obama to visit Hiroshima?
Public opinion in the United States was unshakable that no apology be given.
And would people in Japan who had actually been bombed really welcome the
president’s visit to Hiroshima without an apology?
However, as the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombings approached,
atomic bomb survivors swallowed their pain and welcomed President Obama’s
visit to Hiroshima. This was a remarkable response from the hibakusha
In connection with President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, Motoya
referred to something quite significant regarding the atomic bombings. He
pointed out that, so far, the United States had been under a spell with respect to
the use of these atomic bombs. The United States wronged humanity by using
the atomic bombs as weapons, and continued to embrace a sense of guilt. In
order to alleviate these feelings of guilt, it was necessary to keep believing that
Japan had been an evil country deserving of the punishment of having atomic
bombs used against it. And it was necessary to have the Japanese themselves
believe Japan had been an evil country, therefore implementation of the War
Guilt Information Program was continued, even after the Occupation was lifted.
This is in substance the case Motoya made.32
However, thanks to the visit to Hiroshima by President Obama, it must be
pointed out that the United States has been released from this spell. The wrong
committed by the U.S. has been forgiven. In other words, all the events in the
Peace Park during President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima were part of a
ceremony to forgive the past wrong of dropping the atomic bombs, and to
release the United States and the American people from the spell of using them;
indeed, it can be argued that the American public was released from the spell of
the atomic bomb.
This means that with the conclusion of these ceremonial events, the
United States, which has been released from the spell of the atomic bomb, no
longer needs to consider Japan to have been an evil country, nor is it necessary
any longer to have Japan itself continue to believe it had been an evil country.
If this is the case, then from now on both the Japanese and American
peoples, thanks to this alone, will be able to speak plainly and correctly when it
comes to this chapter of history.
From the American perspective, it will no longer be necessary to distort
historical facts to such an extent that Japan is seen as having been evil; and
there will no longer be any need to have the Japanese continue to believe that
Japan had been an evil country.
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Although slightly off topic, China is now accusing Japan of using its
troops to slaughter 300,000 civilians in Nanjing in 1937, even though there is no
photographic evidence, not even a single picture, to prove this. On October 9,
2015, China registered historical materials at UNESCO’s Memory of the World
Register regarding the fabricated Nanjing massacre. Notwithstanding, these
materials have not been made public. They can’t be made public because they
are bogus materials, so why is Japan undeservedly being forced to deal with
such ridiculous matters?33
At present, the comfort women issue which implicates the former
Japanese military is being spread around the world by South Korea, but it is
clear this issue started in 1982 when articles published by the Asahi Shimbun
reported that someone by the name of Seiji Yoshida claimed to have had
experiences which in fact were lies, namely that he had violently hunted and
rounded up comfort women. Nonetheless, South Korea is still attacking Japan
over claims that 200,000 jugun ianfu (comfort women in military service) were
forcibly abducted by Japanese authorities. Not only do these attacks denigrate
Japan, but they also distort the Korean people’s view of themselves, and
undeniably damage the interests of the Korean nation.34
Even if for instance such things actually happened in the past as real
historical events, why can they not be forgiven after 70 years? Let alone
bringing up things that have no basis in historical fact: why must Japan be
denigrated in this way?
One must not distort historical facts to such an extent regarding a
particular country in order to produce a censorious historical awareness.
Historical awareness means having an understanding of history which allows
everyone to frankly engage in free discussion about the past, while enriching the
way of life for all, and allowing all peoples to coexist in peace. History wars
over an historical awareness to denigrate a particular country are simply not
something which should exist in this world.
The greatest significance behind President Obama’s Hiroshima visit is
that, as Motoya indicated, it frees the American people from the spell of
dropping the atomic bombs; this allows the proper development of a fair
historical awareness, as it should have been all along, and makes it possible to
elevate humankind to an even higher plane.
33 Seishiro Sugihara, “ ‘Nankin jiken’ sekai kioku isan toroku no dai shittai” [Terrible
blunder at the Memory of the World Register regarding the ‘Nanking Incident’], Voice,
December 2015, pp. 145-50.
34 On September 2, 1982, the Asahi Shimbun published an article based on a lecture given by
a certain Seiji Yoshida on “ ‘Hunting Down’ young Korean women.” Many follow up articles
were also published afterwards. However, in 1992 historian Ikuhiko Hata conducted field
surveys, and determined that the account of these experiences had been fabricated. But the
Asahi Shimbun did not retract these bogus articles. Nonetheless, on August 5 and 6, 2014, it
admitted these articles were erroneous, and retracted them, 32 years after the fact.
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Humanity must make even more progress, and historical awareness can
be restored to something fair by regarding President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
as an occasion to forgive the wrongs committed by the United States. President
Obama’s visit to Hiroshima at this time is the essence of what Japan and the
United States have worked so hard to realize.
Motoya makes another important point about President Obama’s visit to
Hiroshima. The atomic bombings by the United States of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, are themselves extremely
tragic events; but he points out that the innumerable dead atomic bomb victims
were instrumental in curtailing a Third World War which may have led to war
dead and injured reaching ten million, that would have arisen if, as anticipated,
the Soviet Union had turned large parts of the world Communist. In other words,
the atomic bomb casualties of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by undergoing an
atomic baptism of fire which transformed them into sacrificial victims, made the
people of the world aware that atomic bombs should never be used as weapons
of war. The result, according to Motoya, was that the “Hot War” became a
“Cold War” and averted the outbreak of a Third World War which might have
led to 10 million war dead and injured.35
While those who died in the atomic bombings did not willingly acquiesce
to this, perhaps paradoxically we must come before their spirits and recognize
that they indeed fulfilled such a purpose through their passing.
President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima is imbued with this significance,
and after he laid a wreath at the memorial, he prayed silently before the
monument; but among the things that must have been passing through his mind
at that time would have been thoughts of the hibakusha who brought about
peace through their sacrifice in the atomic bombs.
Unfortunately, peace in the world at present includes the reality of
nuclear weapons, and these are maintained as a means of deterring war. But one
day we must respond to the hibakusha spirits so that peace can be realized not
by nuclear might but by the power of the human mind.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor on December
26 (Dec. 27, Japan time) the same year President Obama visited Hiroshima, and
laid a wreath to comfort the souls of victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
35 See fns. 31 and 32.
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This trip was not made in return for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima,
but as a separate act to visit Pearl Harbor to comfort the spirits of the victims.
And it symbolized paying respect to all American troops who lost their lives
during the war between Japan and the United States.
Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor was essential as far as this
essay is concerned, but it was splendid that he took the opportunity provided by
President Obama’s trip to Hiroshima to immediately visit Pearl Harbor and pay
his respects to the souls of the victims.
The issue over responsibility for the dropping of the atomic bombs will
probably be pursued at a later time.