Fighting on after Nagasaki
After Hiroshima was bombed, the Imperial War Council was told the Americans only had one bomb.
The Japanese and German scientific advice was that building an atomic bomb and processing enough uranium was so hard even for a war economy as big as the US that it could only have built one atomic bomb. Capture of the Nazi stockpile of uranium was a big boost to the Manhattan project. But Los Alamos had far better physicists than the Germans or Japanese regarding how small an atomic bomb could be and how much uranium ore was required.
After Nagasaki, many in the Japanese military still wanted to fight on because they were already living underground anyway.
Most of all, the Japanese policy of maximum bloodletting had already turned the war in their favour. The Potsdam declaration offered Japan much better surrender terms than to the Nazis. It was not just unconditional surrender and there was a concession to the survival of the Emperor system.
Imagine what better terms they could win after a couple of million lives were lost on both sides after southern Japan was invaded. The Japanese knew from American newspapers circulated in neutral countries that the Americans were already war weary and having manpower problems.
The strongest card the Japanese had was their several million strong armies in China would not necessarily surrender even after a conquest of Japan. They only surrendered because members of the Japanese royal family were sent to personally order them to lay down their arms.
The Russian invasion of Manchuria quickly ran out of steam because the Trans-Siberian railway was not much of a supply line and was perilously close to Japanese lines in Mongolia and sabotage.
The Japanese oligarchy decided in 1944 that the war was no longer to their advantage; they would get out on the best terms they could by spilling as much blood as they could until the Allies grew war weary. Their goal was to avoid the occupation of Japan and the end of Japanese fascism.
The 2nd atomic bomb tipped the hand just enough in favour of the peace faction that the Imperial War Council split 3:3 and pretended to allow the puppet Emperor to resolve the tie. That way, everyone involved could fane they were not responsible for the surrender decision. Assassinations were already common enough in Japanese politics.
The military, under the Meiji Constitution, could have bought the government down after Nagasaki by either the Navy or Army minister resigning. The resignation of the Navy minister forced Prime Minister Tojo to resign in 1944. He led Japan into the war but now a new prime minister was required by the Japanese oligarchs to find a way out of the war. Mind you, the generals in Tokyo stood on the side-lines during the junior officers’ coup attempt to make sure they could still come up for air on the winning side.
The atomic bombings bought the war to an early conclusion. But for them, tens of thousands would still have been slaughtered in China every week. The war would have continued for several years with an invasion of Japan and a further invasion of China with millions more lives to be lost.
There was no other choice because of the brutality of Japanese imperialism. War is a nasty brutal thing; best get it over with as quickly as is possible. There were no easy options against Japan and Germany, who started wars of annihilation, brutal conquest and genocide.
Jim Rose is a public policy graduate from a Japanese university