Day 3

Question: Why was your program's treatment of the period before the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki not intellectually honest enough to include references to the ethical opposition, notably on the part of Leo Szilard, to using the atomic bomb at all, and to the recommendation of a "committee of social and political implications" (three physicists, three chemists, and one biologist) that, in order to avoid "a wave of horror and repulsion sweeping over the rest of the world" that would "outweigh the saving of American lives" -- a demonstration of the new weapon be made "before the eyes of representatives of all the United Nations on the desert or a barren island." My quotations are from The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945, Tokyo: Pacific War Research Society, Kodansha Ltd., 1972. Conceivably, if any of you associated with producing the program had read and taken to heart Chris Hedges' trenchant discussion of nationalist distortions of truth (inWar Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning), you might have avoided the complacent chauvinism that ran through your treatment of one of the most hideous of all historic episodes. -R. C. S., Newton, Masssachusetts

Answered by Austin Hoyt:

Austin Hoyt

The question we asked in producing "Victory" was "what happened and why" not "what might have happened." We looked at history the way the participants saw it at the time, not the way it might be viewed after the fact. Our treatment of Truman's decision making on the use of the atom bomb noted, in the words of Stanford historian Barton Bernstein, that there were "no sustained or serious doubts about using the bomb" on the part of Truman's advisors. Leo Szilard was not one of his advisors. There were scientists advising the Truman administration on the so called "Interim Committee", including Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project, and they did not share Leo Szilard's opposition to the use of the bomb.

The Interim Committee did consider the idea of a demonstration of the bomb and rejected it. They feared a demonstration would not be as effective a way to end the war as the actual use of the bomb. They were also concerned that if the demonstration bomb were a dud, it would embolden the Japanese resistance. Mr. Sterne, like many over the decades, may wish that the committee had recommended otherwise, but it did not.

Mr. Sterne feels that dropping the atomic bomb is "one of the most hideous historic episodes." It may well be, although the alternative to the bomb would likely have been starving a nation into surrender, something we explore in a supplemental feature on our DVD. It is not clear to me how mass starvation, which might have killed millions, would have ranked in the annals of "hideous historical episodes." What I found interesting in researching the bomb was that at the time it was considered a terrible weapon but a useable one. Only after the war did its use become such a morally charged issue. As I said our interest was to examine what happened and not what might have happened.

It is not clear to me what Mr. Sterne means by "complacent chauvinism" that pervades the program. We tried to represent fairly the mindset of both the Americans and the Japanese.


Question: Although it is often overlooked in debates on the justification of using nuclear weapons against Japan, the very first night of the firebombing of Tokyo caused more deaths than either of the nuclear attacks, as was correctly pointed out in the film. It seems likely to me that this precedent of massive civilian deaths must have made it easier for the Truman administration to approve the use of nuclear weapons, knowing that this would unavoidably kill large numbers of civilians. One could have rationalized, with some justification, that nuclear weapons were not fundamentally more destructive than the extensive use of conventional explosives, but that they were simply much easier to deliver to a target.

However, the film implied that the low-elevation napalm bombing was initiated because of the inability of the B-29 crews to hit industrial targets with conventional bombs dropped from an elevation of 30,000 feet. If that was the problem, why wasn't low-elevation, conventional bombing of those industrial targets the solution? There must have been a simultaneous shift in thinking that made civilians legitimate targets.

If so, shouldn't LeMay's firebombing campaign be considered a significant step in the decision to use nuclear weapons? -R.W., Encinitas, California

Answered by Herbert Bix:

Herbert Bix

Good question. Yes, LeMay's firebombing campaign helped pave the way for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It should also not be forgotten that LeMay tested out his low altitude fire-bombing technique on Chinese cities in Japanese-occupied China, at a time when China was an ally. Unfortunately, the PBS program Victory in the Pacific glorified the B-29 bomber and treated LeMay uncritically.


Question: Did any American leader or political consultant understand the extreme dominance of the Emperor when they made the Potsdam ultimatum in July of l945? -Douglas Hedlund, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Answered by Herbert Bix:

Grew and Ballantine certainly understood the ideological importance of the Emperor to the Japanese people, though neither grasped the role he was playing in actual decision-making.


Question: Do you believe that Japanese civilians on the island of Okinawa sacrificed their lives in caves and jumped off cliffs were brainwashed by Emperor Hirohito in believing that American soldiers would rape and kill them as the Japanese military had done in Nanking? -R. D., Virginia Beach, Virginia

Answered by Herbert Bix:

Some undoubtedly believed, not unrealistically, that U.S. soldiers took no prisoners and mutilated the wounded on the battlefield. Whether Japanese civilians fighting on Okinawa in May and June were influenced by rumors of what their soldiers had done in Nanking seven years ealier I cannot say. Both sides of course practiced "brainwashing."

Question: I was a member of the Fourth Marine Division in August 1944 and our Division was packed, on notice to ship out for Japan on 36 hour notice. what were the plans for the 4th division as far the as the November invasion? -C. A. B., Northville, Michigan

Answered by Edward Drea:

Edward Drea

The Fourth Marine Division was not scheduled for the November 1945 invasion. As part of III Amphibious Corps, however, the 4th Division was to assault the Tokyo Plain in the spring of 1946. The 4th, along with the 1st and 6th Marine divisions, would assault the Kujukuri beaches, a long, flat coastline on the Boso Peninsula east of Tokyo Bay. The plan was for the main push to advance northwest along the northern rim of Tokyo Bay and attack Tokyo from the east. Other units would secure the peninsula. Simultaneously U.S. Eighth Army divisions, which had landed on the southwest side of Tokyo Bay, would attack the city from the west.


Question: I found it very interesting the way U.S. military and political leaders would invoke the will of the "public" when they pushed for a particular war plan, saying that the public didn't want a drawn out war, and the public wanted unconditional surrender...etc. To what extent was the bombing of civilian targets like Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki prompted by what our leaders thought was the public desire for revenge and punishment for the harm inflicted on US troops? -Stan Clark, Los Angeles, California

Answered by Edward Drea:

It's difficult to say for certain how much the desire for revenge played in decisions to destroy cities and civilian targets. No doubt for some planners the more destruction they could wreak on Japan the more they could settle scores for Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, and other Japanese atrocities. There was a degree of hatred against Japanese that is not evident against the Germans. On the other hand, British, and at times, U.S. bombers destroyed scores of German cities and killed thousands of civilians. There were also commanders and planners who regarded attacks on any target with any weapon as a legitimate means of warfare. And there were also those who recoiled at the attacks on cities. Certainly the desire for revenge was present, but other factors also influenced the commanders who decided who lived and who died.


Question: What was the estimated Japanese troop strength that could have met the planned invasion by U.S. troops at Kyushu in 1945? How many possible Kamikaze suicide bombers could have been unleashed at the invasion forces? My dad was with 33rd Div slated to spearhead at Kyushu. -Chuck Sharp, Darien, Illinois

Answered by Edward Drea:

The 33d Division, as part of I Corps, was scheduled to assault the beaches at Miyazaki on the east coast of southern Kyushu. I Corps would land the farthest north of the three corps involved in the invasion. Three Japanese divisions, the 212th, the 154th, and the 156th were located on the coastline of Miyazaki. The 154th and 156th were to fight in place and the 212th, deployed further north, was to move to reinforce them within 48 hours of the landing. The Japanese 57th Army, which commanded the Miyazaki divisions, also had 150 suicide boats available to attack landing craft and small boats close inshore at night. Prime targets were LSTs and transports.

In August 1945 the Japanese navy had about 2,700 aircraft available to use as kamikaze and the army another 2,100, with more projected to be available in the coming months. Plans were incomplete for employment against specific beaches. Most likely the landing area considered most vital to Japanese plans would see the most kamikazes thrown against the attackers.

By November U.S. air and naval strikes would likely have eliminated hundreds of would-be kamikaze aircraft. Aircraft were also of poor quality and far inferior to U.S. aircraft which would have knocked hundreds more from the skies. By this point Japanese pilots were also poorly trained and far less skillful than earlier in the war. So on paper the Japanese might have 4,000 or 5,000 potential kamikaze aircraft, but by the time of the invasion might be able to muster about half that number or less. Still, they would have a lot of suicide planes to attack the beachheads.


My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Were you there for the storming of Normandy beach? The Bombing of Germany? The Victory in the Pacific? Or perhaps your friends and relatives have passed on stories of their own World War II experiences that you would like to share.