Then there was the kamikaze. From April 6 to June 22, when the island was finally declared secure, the Japanese staged 10 big attacks involving 1,465 aircraft, inflicting tremendous damage, in terms of ships sunk, lives lost, and morale depleted. Indeed, historian Max Hastings notes in his superb account, “Retribution,” that “For the sacrifice of a few hundred half-trained pilots, vastly more damage was inflicted upon the U. S. Navy than the Japanese surface fleet had accomplish since Pearl Harbor” [italics added]. What was the number of aircraft available to Japan to defend the home islands against an American invasion? Answer: 10,000. Half of those were kamikaze. That’s not to mention suicide boats, human-torpedoes, human-bombs, and swimmers with bombs.
No doubt pondering this information worsened the soul hollowing-out nature of casualty estimates for an invasion of Japan, which President Truman had been receiving since August 1944. The most recent figures from the last week of July 1945, were provided by General George C. Marshall and entailed the loss of anywhere from a quarter million to one million Americans. Likely, Japan would lose all of its nearly three-quarter-million man army in the region, along with millions of civilians. For numbers like these, the word “intolerable” barely gnaws on the edge of one’s imagination.
Which of course brings to mind the way the war actually ended, with the dropping of two atomic bombs, the Russian invasion of Manchuria, Emperor Hirohito’s dramatic radio message to his people, and the signing of the surrender terms on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. In the final analysis, by the emperor’s own words, it was the atomic bombs, and not the Russian invasion of Manchuria, that forced the issue: “The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but it would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
So the greatest war in history finally came to an end. And not just to an end, but to the best conclusion that could be expected, considering the circumstances. And for the millions of lives, Americans and Japanese alike, saved by Truman’s decision, no better expression of relief can be found than in the words of notable historian and former combat soldier, Paul Fussell: “For all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live.”
Thanks to him, President Truman, and millions of other brave men and women, so are we.