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Liveblogging World War II: June 20, 1946: Letter to Harry S. Truman

Frankilin D'Olier: Nuclear Files: Library: Correspondence: Harry S. Truman: Letter, June 20, 1946:

Letter on the US Strategic Bombing Survey

From: Frankilin D'Olier, Chairman of the US Strategic Bombing Survey
To: Harry S. Truman, President
Date: June 20, 1946

My dear Mr President:

Within the next fortnight the Survey will submit to you a summary report on the study of air power in the Pacific war requested by your letter of 15 August 1945.

The Survey is submitting herewith a separate and more detailed report on the effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the next few days this will be followed by a separate report on the events which led to the Japanese surrender.

The report on the atomic bombings has been coordinated with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy and approved by them in all respects. It has also been cleared by the Manhattan District for security.

In view of these clearances with respect to policies and security, it is suggested that should the report meet with your approval it would be appropriate for your release to the public in accordance with the views you expressed in our last conversation.

Respectfully submitted

Franklin D'Olier

The war continued many more weeks, whether sanctioned by the censors or spread by the ever-active rumor channels so common in the country. 

It is apparent that the effect of the atomic bombings on the confidence of the Japanese civilian population was remarkably localized. Outside of the target cities, it was subordinate to other demoralizing experiences. The effect which it did have was probably due largely to the number of casualties and the nature of the injuries received. These consequences were in part the result of surprise and the vulnerability of the raid defense system. Properly enforced warnings, precautions, and an emergency care organization of the scale of the bomb's effects might have reduced casualties and, therefore, the effects on morale. 

Even in the target cities, it must be emphasized, the atomic bombs did not uniformly destroy the Japanese fighting spirit. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when compared with other Japanese cities, were not more defeatist than the average. The bombs were tremendous personal catastrophes to the survivors, but neither time nor understanding of the revolutionary threat of the atomic bomb permitted them to see in these personal catastrophes a final blow to Japan's prospects for victory or negotiated peace. 3.

The Japanese Decision to Surrender

The further question of the effects of the bombs on the morale of the Japanese leaders and their decision to abandon the war is tied up with other factors. The atomic bomb had more effect on the thinking of government leaders than on the morale of the rank and file of civilians outside of the target areas. It cannot be said, however, that the atomic bomb convinced the leaders who effected the peace of the necessity of surrender. The decision to seek ways and means to terminate the war, influenced in part by knowledge of the low state of popular morale, had been taken in May, 1945 by the Supreme War Guidance Council. 

As early as the spring of 1944 a group of former prime ministers and others close to the Emperor had been making efforts toward bringing the war to an end. This group, including such men as Admiral Okada, Admiral Yonai, Prince Konoye, and Marquis Kido, had been influential in effecting Tojo's resignation and in making Admiral Suzuki Prime Minister after Koiso's fall. Even in the Suzuki Cabinet, however, agreement was far from unanimous. The Navy Minister, Admiral Yonai, was sympathetic, but the War Minister, General Anami, usually represented the fight-to-the-end policy of the Army. In the Supreme War Guidance Council, a sorty of inner cabinet, his adherence to that line was further assured by the participation of the Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff, so that on the peace issue this organization was evenly divided, with these three opposing the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Navy Minister. At any time military (especially Army) dissatisfaction with the Cabinet might have eventuated at least in its fall and possibly in the 'liquidation' of the anti-war members. 

Thus the problem facing the peace leaders in the government was to bring about a surrender despite the hesitation of the War Minister and the opposition of the Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff. This had to be done, moreover, without precipitating counter measures by the Army which would eliminate the entire peace group. This was done ultimately by bringing the Emperor actively into the decision to accept the Potsdam terms. So long as the Emperor openly supported such a policy and could be presented to the country as doing so, the military, which had fostered and lived on the idea of complete obedience to the Emperor, could not effectively rebel. 

A preliminary step in this direction had been taken at the Imperial Conference on 26 June. At this meeting, the Emperor, taking an active part despite his custom to the contrary, stated that he desired the development of a plan to end the war as well as one to defend the home islands. This was followed by a renewal of earlier efforts to get the Soviet Union to intercede with the United States, which were effectively answered by the Potsdam Declaration on 26 July and the Russian declaration of war on 9 August. 

The atomic bombings considerably speeded up these political maneuverings within the government. This in itself was partly a morale effect, since there is ample evidence that members of the Cabinet were worried by the prospect of further atomic bombings, especially on the remains of Tokyo. The bombs did not convince the military that defense of the home islands was impossible, if their behavior in government councils is adequate testimony. It did permit the Government to say, however, that no army without the weapon could possibly resist an enemy who had it, thus saving 'face' for the Army leaders and not reflecting on the competence of Japanese industrialists or the valor of the Japanese soldier. In the Supreme War Guidance Council voting remained divided, with the War Minister and the two Chiefs of Staff unwilling to accept unconditional surrender. There seems little doubt, however, that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weakened their inclination to oppose the peace group. 

The peace effort culminated in an Imperial conference held on the night of 9 August and continued into the early hours of 10 August, for which the stage was set by the atomic bomb and the Russian war declaration. At this meeting the Emperor, again breaking his customary silence stated specifically that he wanted acceptance of the Potsdam terms. 

A quip was current in high government circles at this time that the atomic bomb was the real Kamikaze, since it saved Japan...