* By June 18 events had progressed to the point where Admiral Leahy was able to note privately in his personal diary:
* It is my opinion that at the present time a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense against any future trans-Pacific aggression.
* This is two months before Hiroshima.
* But also on June 18, when Grew spoke to Truman about brokering peace with the Japanese, The President shut him down.
* He said he wanted to hold off until the Potsdam meeting.
* Which, as we know, he was putting off to coincide with the Trinity test.
* About 5000 American troops died between May and August. (page 22)
* A total of 24,000 casualties during that period.
* The Battle of Okinawa 1 April until 22 June, 1945.
* If saving American lives was the objective, why not talk peace with the Japanese during this period?
* Unfortunately we don’t know much about what Truman was thinking during these months.
* Contemporaneous documents concerning Truman’s attitude at this time are scarce.
* We have far fewer hard facts illuminating his calculations than we have concerning the thinking of Marshall, Stimson, and Grew.
* Truman did give a public speech in June where he said his main priority was minimizing the loss of American lives.
* And yet the invasion was set for November 1, 1945.
* Which everyone knew was going to be a bloodbath.
* Admiral Leahy said that he could not agree with those who said to him that unless we obtain the unconditional surrender of the Japanese that we will have lost the war.
* Which suggests at least some people were worried about the optics.
* McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War, claims that at the June 18 meeting, he strongly advocated to Truman that they should spell out terms of surrender to the Japanese, assuring them that they could keep the Emperor,
* The President said that is just what I have been thinking about. “Why don’t you draft something and take it to Jimmy Byrnes.”
* Byrnes, as we know, was acting as a special advisor to Truman and was soon to become the Sec of State.
* He also thought HE should be the President.
* And he disliked Truman.
* When McCloy took his proposal to Byrnes, it was shot down because Byrnes thought it would be considered a weakness on America’s part to conclude the war without a total surrender.
* So twice on June 18, Truman told people that he agreed with the idea of offering the Japs a deal.
* But then Byrnes said no.
* And it never happened.
* Like the official Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, the internal War Department report concluded the atomic bomb had not been needed to end the war.
* Its assessment of the impact of the Soviet declaration of war paralleled that of American historian Ernest May: It was a “disastrous event which the Japanese leaders regarded as utter catastrophe and which they had energetically sought to prevent at any cost.…”
* Had the atomic bomb not been available or not been used, the study concluded, it is “almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.…”
* The Japanese leaders had decided to surrender and were merely looking for sufficient pretext to convince the die-hard Army Group that Japan had lost the war and must capitulate to the Allies.
* The entry of Russia into the war would almost certainly have furnished this pretext, and would have been sufficient to convince all responsible leaders that surrender was unavoidable.
* And, as we know, American leaders had been trying to get the Soviets to engage with the Japanese since a few days after Pearl Harbour.
* General George C. Marshall, June 18, 1945: “An important point about Russian participation in the war is that the impact of Russian entry on the already hopeless Japanese may well be the decisive action levering them into capitulation at that time or shortly thereafter if we land in Japan.”
* There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Japs also knew Russia’s entry into the war meant the end.
* On April 29, Colonel Tanemura — Chief of the Planning Bureau of the General Staff — stated: “Needless to say, moves of Soviets could be fatal in continuing the Great Asian War, and this has been the matter of greatest concern in planning of the war since before the beginning of the war.…”
* Even though Japan may have to give up Manchuria, South Sakhalin, Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, [w]hich means reverting to the borders before the Sino-Japanese War, Japan has to avoid the Soviet entry into the war no matter what, and has to accomplish fighting with the U.S. and U.K.
* The Supreme Council for the Direction of the War held on May 11, 12, and 14, Umezu, Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff, urged the central importance of preventing a Russian attack.
* A formal Council decision taken at this time stated:
* While Japan is fighting with the U.S. and U.K., once the Soviets enter the war Japan will face inevitable defeat; therefore, whatever happens in the war with the U.S. and U.K., Japan has to try as much as possible to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the war.
* And Umezu was one of the guys who opposed the surrender in August.
* He was personally ordered by Hirohito to sign the instrument of surrender on behalf of the armed forces on September 2, 1945 and thus, was the Army’s senior representative during the surrender ceremonies on the battleship USS Missouri.
* In prison he converted to Christianity… and died of rectal cancer a few years later.
* So… thanks a lot, Jesus.
* In 1946, Albert Einstein’s wrote that in his opinion, the bombing flowed from “a desire to end the war in the Pacific by any means before Russia’s participation.”
* And that “if President Roosevelt had still been there, none of that would have been possible. He would have forbidden such an act.”
* Also in 1946, the editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, Norman Cousins—writing together with former assistant secretary of state and, subsequently, secretary of the air force Thomas K. Finletter—suggested that:
* The first error was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Not the making of the atomic bomb; that we were forced to do out of sheer national preservation, for the enemy was working on atomic weapons as well. It was what we did with the atomic bomb after we made it that was a mountainous blunder.…
* Can it be that we were more anxious to prevent Russia from establishing a claim for full participation in the occupation against Japan than we were to think through the implications of unleashing atomic warfare?
* On April 24, 1945, at the height of the tense stand-off with Moscow over Poland—indeed, the day after Truman’s White House session with his top advisers and his “showdown” with Molotov—Stimson sent the following letter to Truman:
* Dear Mr. President: I think it is very important that I talk with you as soon as possible on a highly secret matter. I mentioned it to you shortly after you took office but have not urged it since on account of the pressure you have been under. It, however, has such a bearing on our present foreign relations and has such an important effect upon all my thinking in this field that I think you ought to know about it without much further delay.
* The next day Truman met with both Stimson and Leslie Groves to get brief in detail about the Manhattan Project.
* It’s important to realise the timing – it happened the day after the showdown with Molotov – and Stimson’s wording about “our present foreign relations” and it having “such an important effect upon all my thinking”.
* Groves’ notes from that meeting say “A great deal of emphasis was placed on foreign relations and particularly on the Russian situation.”
* Truman and Byrnes both later said that Byrnes had brought Truman up to speed about the bomb during the first days of his Presidency.
* Including Byrnes’ belief the bomb “might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.”
* And, as we know, Truman deliberately kept pushing back the date of the Potsdam meeting to coincide with the planned Trinity test.
* There’s a very interesting paragraph in Stimson’s diary from May 14.
* After having lunch with British FM Anthony Eden, Stimson met alone with Marshall and McCloy.
* He wrote:
* I told them that my own opinion was that the time now and the method now to deal with Russia was to keep our mouths shut and let our actions speak for words. The Russians will understand them better than anything else. It is a case where we have got to regain the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way. They have rather taken it away from us because we have talked too much and have been too lavish with our beneficences to them. I told him this was a place where we really held all the cards. I called it a royal straight flush and we mustn’t be a fool about the way we play it. They can’t get along without our help and industries and we have coming into action a weapon which will be unique. Now the thing is not to get into unnecessary quarrels by talking too much and not to indicate any weakness by talking too much; let our actions speak for themselves.
* “Let our actions speak for themselves”.
* Sounds to me like Stimson is saying “let’s show the Russians what we’ve got… by bombing Japan.”
* On May 28, three scientists—Leo Szilard, the brainchild behind the bomb, Walter Bartky, and Harold C. Urey—met with Byrnes to discuss atomic bomb-related issues at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
* They were worried about an atomic arms race between America and Russia
* Szilard subsequently reported that at their meeting, “Mr. Byrnes did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war . . . ”
* He said Byrnes “was concerned about Russia’s postwar behavior.”
* “Russian troops had moved into Hungary and Rumania; Byrnes thought it would be very difficult to persuade Russia to withdraw . . . and that Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might.”
* “I shared Byrnes’s concern . . . but I was completely flabbergasted by the assumption that rattling the bomb might make Russia more manageable . . . .”
* So according to one source, Byrnes didn’t think they needed to use the bomb to defeat Japan.
* And we have a sense of what Stimson and Byrnes thought.
* But what about Truman?
* It’s a strange thing – we know nearly nothing about Truman’s thoughts about using the bomb from when he became President through to the dropping of them in August.
* It’s not like he wasn’t talking about it with his inner circle.
* But for some reason none of them have recorded his thoughts at the time.
* We only have his post-hoc explanations in his own memoirs.
* The man responsible for dropping the world’s only nuclear weapons used against human targets – and we have no record of what he was thinking at the time.
* We do have the record of the Interim Committee.
* So called because it was anticipated that a permanent committee to manage America’s nuclear weapons would be set up after the war.
* We’ve talked about them before.
* Stimson himself was chairman. The other members were: James F. Byrnes, former US Senator and soon to be Secretary of State, as President Truman’s personal representative; Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy; William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State; Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of the Carnegie Institution; Karl T. Compton, Chief of the Office of Field Service in the Office of Scientific Research and Development and president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology; James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and president of Harvard University; and George L. Harrison, an assistant to Stimson and president of the New York Life Insurance Company who later went on to be the lead guitarist of The Beatles.
* WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS
* Byrnes, as the President’s personal representative, was probably its most influential member.
* Most knowledgeable experts no longer credit the Interim Committee per se with significant influence on the decision to use the atomic bomb.
* In fact, so far as we know the question of whether the atomic bomb should or should not be used was never seriously discussed by the Interim Committee. Historians pondering this point have suggested that the committee simply assumed the bomb would be employed; the only thing it apparently discussed during its May 1945 deliberations was “how” to use it, not “whether.”
* The committee decided to use the bomb against Japan, on a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses, without any warning – and the only dissent was from Bard, the Under Sec of the Navy.
* Bard later said he had the impression that instead of having a meaningful debate about how and where to use the bomb, the Committee just ratified a decision that had already been made.
* Groves was later to comment privately: “… the story as to the Interim Committee having any influence on [the decision to use the atomic bomb] … is just plain bunk.”
* One questions about the Interim Committee is whether or not they were made aware that the Japanese had been trying to surrender.
* We do know that Truman knew.
* On July 18, a handwritten entry in Truman’s journal shows him referring to the intercept of a cable from the Japs after a conversation with Churchill as the “telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
* But the public and historians didn’t get to see this until it was declassified in 1979.
* One reason Byrnes’ powerful role in the early Truman administration is often forgotten is that Truman and Byrnes subsequently had a major falling-out: Byrnes was replaced as secretary of state by George Marshall in January 1947, and after he and Truman parted ways Byrnes seemed to fade in significance.
* Byrnes was, in fact, secretary for under nineteen months (and only a brief six weeks before Japan surrendered).

HOW TO LISTEN

If you’re already a subscriber, you can listen to the full show in the player below or subscribe through iTunes or any podcast player.

If you haven’t heard any of the series and want to know if you’ll like it before you sign up, you can listen to the first six episodes totally free. You might want to start with Episode 1, unless of course you’re an old school George Lucas fan, in which case feel free to start at Episode IV. We don’t recommend it though.

Sign Up or Login to listen to our premium episodes

If you haven’t already, join our Facebook page and you’ll be in the running to win prizes in our regular “Share The Love” and other competitions.

If you’d like a chance to win a prize, write a funny or insightful review on iTunes.