70th Anniversary of Victory Over Japan (VJ) Day Ceremony

Saturday, August 15, 2015
InfoAge Science History Museum and Learning Center
Marconi Road
Wall Township, N.J.
Remarks of John J. McLaughlin
njww2bookclub@aol.com

Dr. John J. McLaughlin gave this lecture on August 15, 2015 to a group of
veterans at Camp Evans, Wall Township, NJ on the occasion of the 70th
Anniversary of VJ Day. A number of the people in the audience were combat
veterans who had served in Europe, and were slated to travel to the Pacific to
take part in Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese homelands, but
were saved from this ordeal by the dropping of the Atom Bombs. Many of the
veterans are angry about reading and hearing stories which criticize the use of
the bomb to end the war. They all said "Thank God For The Bomb."
Dr. McLaughlin has given lectures to many groups in New Jersey and elsewhere
on topics regarding both Revolutionary War history as well as that of World War
II. He is a World War II historian and the author of “General Albert C.
Wedemeyer: America's Unsung Strategist in World War II.”
Paul Zigo has allotted me ten minutes to talk about VJ Day. In order to do justice
to this important topic one would have to review and put into context a good deal
of history that preceded it, including the major battles of the Pacific. In particular
one would have to make at least some passing reference to:











Pearl Harbor
Wake Island
Midway
Battle of Coral Sea
New Guinea and the Solomons
Guadalcanal
Philippines
Saipan
Iwo Jima
China Burma India
Okinawa, and finally
The Atom Bomb

Additionally, one would have to look at how the Japanese conducted themselves,
both before and during the war particularly in China. We would have to examine
The Rape of Nanking, Japan's use of Chemical Warfare, treatment of prisoners

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of war, The Bataan Death March, slave labor, medical experiments on prisoners,
and Japan's use of comfort women.
So you can see the problem I was confronted with in condensing this topic into a
ten-minute presentation!
The challenge puts me in mind of the Television Reporter who was assigned to
cover Moses when he brought the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai. He
approached Moses and said "What are those stone tablets in your arms?" Moses
replied, "They are the Ten Commandants that the Lord has given us to guide our
lives." "Wow," the reporter replied, "that is fascinating, but ten? Listen, we have a
station break in 20 seconds. Just give me the five most important ones."
Like Moses, I don't even have time for five of the "most important" ones, so I will
select a single one that above all else was, indeed, the most important, The Atom
Bomb.
The inspiration for selection of the Atom Bomb comes from a powerful essay
penned by Paul Fussell published in The New Republic August 1981, on the
occasion of the 42nd anniversary of the atom-bombing on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. The title of his essay was "Thank God For The Bomb". He wrote it to
counter the mounting criticisms being penned, mostly by younger writers,
historians, newspaper columnists and some college professors. I commend it to
anyone who harbors qualms about the wisdom of using the bomb to end the war.
Fussell, incidentally, is the author of several great books, including, in my
judgment the best book ever written about World War I The Great War and
Modern Memory.
Fussell was a 21-year old second lieutenant in the U.S. Army who had fought his
way through Europe. His particular unit had been completely reconstituted three
times due to such enormous casualties. When Germany surrendered, he and his
comrades rejoiced, and expected to be quickly returned home. But he, and
thousands like him, were dismayed to learn that they would soon be shipped to
the Pacific to take part in Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese Home
Islands. Fussell had been seriously wounded in the back and his legs, (post war
he was awarded 40 percent disability) but he was declared well enough to
"qualify" for Operation Downfall. Of course, Fussell was spared the ordeal of the
battle, as were countless thousands of other American fighting men, many of
whom would surely have perished in the operation, except for the dropping of the
Atom Bombs.
Criticism over the use of the bomb surfaced almost immediately after the ending
of hostilities, and Fussell, disheartened as he observed the continued and
mounting tide of criticism determined to answer the critics. Criticism fell into
several categories: (1) we should have warned the Japanese that the bomb was
going to be used so they could leave the cities that were targeted; (2) If we would

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have been more patient, Japan would have surrendered without the use of the
bomb by continued bombing and blockade; (3) we should have invited the
Japanese to witness the dropping of the bomb on some neutral site, which would
have impressed them and encouraged them to surrender, and (4) the most
outrageous of all, the dropping of the bomb was a crime against humanity.
Fussell's personal war experience and writing skills command enormous respect
and the close attention of any who venture into the debate on the question as to
the ethics or morality of using the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially
those who never saw combat duty.
Every one of the critics who fault the use of the atom bomb to end the war suffers
from the same disability. They were not in combat; their lives were never in
jeopardy and consequently they had no idea what it was like to be under enemy
fire and see your comrades blown to bits or have one die in your arms. It is the
difference, he says, between "experience" and just plain theorizing about a topic
that you know little about. Fussell puts it this way:
I want to consider something suggested by the long debate about the
ethics, if any, of that ghastly affair. Namely, the importance of experience,
sheer, vulgar experience, in influencing, if not determining, one’s views
about that use of the atom bomb...the experience I'm talking about is
having to come to grips, face to face, with an enemy who designs your
death.
In Fussell's view those who criticize the use of the bomb have not had that
experience, and cannot understand what that involves. They are too distant from
it.
Fussell quotes Churchill, who says "...that the people who preferred invasion to
A-Bombing seemed to have no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front
themselves." Some, said Fussell, even "fiddle the facts", like J. Glenn Gray in his
book The Warriors, wherein he says the Hiroshima Bomb was dropped "without
any warning." This is False! Two days before the bomb 7,200 leaflets were
dropped on the city urging everyone to get out and indicating that the place was
going to be (As the Potsdam Declaration had promised) obliterated. Of course
few left.
Another critic, John Kenneth Galbraith, is persuaded that the Japanese would
have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thought the
invasion was unnecessary because the war was ending anyway. The A-Bombs
meant, he says "a difference of, at most two or three weeks." But at the time, with
no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking
American vessels (the Indianapolis was sunk on July 30,1945 and 800 men died)
and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. Two weeks meant
14,000, three weeks 21,000. Three weeks meant the world if you're one of those

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thousands. And as for Galbraith's qualifications: What did he do in the war? He
worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington. Fussell said: "I don't
demand that he experience having his ass shot off. I merely note that he didn't."
Another critic, Michael Sherry, author of The Creation of Armageddon, argued
that we didn't delay long enough between the test explosion and the actual
dropping of the bomb. He claimed that the "risks of delaying the bombs use"
would have been small -- not the thousands of casualties expected in an invasion
but only a few days or weeks of "relatively routine operations." But while these
"relatively routine operations" were enacting, Michael Sherry was safe at home.
Indeed, when the bombs were dropped, he was going on eight months old and
as Fussell says the only danger he was facing was "the risk of falling out of his
pram."
So, as Fussell says the principal to remember is the farther from the scene of
horror the easier the talk.
Keep in mind plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands were
completed by the spring of 1945. The initial forces preparing for the invasion
included thirteen divisions, which were scheduled to land in November 1945 on
the southern island of Kyushu, and then sixteen divisions to land on the main
island of Honshu in March 1946. (A division is about 15,000 men, so we are
talking about 435,000 men, not including the naval and air personnel, at least in
this first phase.) Planners assumed that it would require a full year for the
Japanese to be completely conquered. By that time, according to some
estimates, up to a million American casualties were anticipated. An invasion
would have been a fight to the death. Young children, old men and women were
being trained to resist with whatever weapons were available, including knives
and spears. The Japanese strategy was called "Ketsu Go" The message was
"The sooner the Americans come the better ... "One Hundred million die
proudly..." was the slogan. A Japanese writer came up with a pre-invasion
patriotic song, "One Hundred Million Souls for the Emperor." And they meant it.
The Japanese planned to deploy the undefeated bulk of their ground forces, over
two million men, plus 10,000 kamikaze planes, plus, as noted, the elderly, and all
the women and children in a suicidal defense.
The second bomb on Nagasaki brought the surrender. Clearly, a ground invasion
would not have done the same. The Emperor's surrender broadcast, after the
second bomb was the only thing that brought the war to a close.
As to the effect of the bombs, and the entry of the Russians into the war, Japan's
Lord Keeper of the Seal, Hirohito's closest advisor, Koichi Kido said Soviet
intervention did not invalidate the Ketsu-Go military strategy. The Imperial Army
had already written off Manchuria. Later, in a post-war commentary, he
expressed the view shared by many of the key Japanese war leaders that the
atomic bomb served not only as an important cause but as an indispensable

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excuse for the surrender. In other words, "If military leaders could convince
themselves that they were defeated by the power of science and not by lack of
spiritual power or strategic errors, they could save face, such an important
concept to the Asians. In ending the war, the responsibility for defeat was on the
atom bomb alone, and not on the military. This was a clever pretext. So the
Russian intervention was a reinforcing, but not a decisive reason for Japan's
surrender. The best book on this subject is Downfall - The End Of The Imperial
Japanese Empire by Richard B. Frank.
The debate about the reasons for Japan's surrender, continue. On this, the
seventieth anniversary, commentary appeared in all the major newspapers and
magazines. Voices pro and con the use of the bomb appear, and there is no
consensus.
On final thing I want to point out to the people who criticize the use of the bomb.
They never mention that both the Nazis and the Japanese were working on the
development of an atom bomb. Robert Wilcox's book, Japan's Secret War,
details this. In early 1945, the Germans dispatched U-234 loaded with Uranium
to Japan. It was captured off Newfoundland and sent to Portsmouth where the
cargo was unloaded. I mention this only to pose the question: If the Japanese
had developed an atom bomb, is there anyone who would doubt that they would
have used it?
I am troubled by, what I consider this lack of candor by the critics of the bomb.
However, I get comfort from reflecting on a Russian proverb which I came across
years ago: "Only the Future is certain. The past continues to change."
So, in conclusion I believe that over the long course of history eventually the
critics will lose out, and the justification for using the bomb to end the war will be
completely vindicated. Then we can join with Paul Fussell and the many, many
thousands of American fighting men and women who also say: "Thank God For
the Bomb".

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