“We didn’t fully understand the true horror of nuclear weapons until Richard Nixon annihilated North Vietnam.”
Wow, I had no idea the Linebacker II missions of 1972 were so devastating! But actually, this post asking “What if … Atom Bombs Weren’t Used” against Japan at the conclusion (funny how that worked out, huh?) of World War II is a nice piece of “What-if” writing from the Iconic Photos blog — complete with some pretty good what-if Photoshops to illustrate it:
In 1950, Japan was divided into North and South Japans with Tokyo itself jointly administered between the Soviet Union, China and the United States. In 1955, the Chiyoda Wall dissecting the Imperial Palace went up; in the years that followed, its importance was underlined in two famous presidential speeches made in front of it: Adlai Stevenson’s “Today we are all Japanese,” and Ronald Reagen’s “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall”, but back in 1955, so palpable were the fears that the Soviet Union would drive 20 miles down the 36th parallel delimitation line to invade Tokyo that the wall came as a relief.
The idea of using the atomic weapons seems ridiculous now, knowing as we do the atom’s perverse effects. But back in the 1950s, everyone entertained those ideas; Generals MacArthur and Le May nearly prevailed upon President Dewey to use them when the Soviets invaded Korea and Hungary and squashed revolts there. There were proposals to use nuclear weapons to shot down Russian satellites, to quell insurgants against American-supported dictators in South America, and to control weather. Senator Joseph MacCarthy of Wisconsin denounced Dewey as a red agent for his refusal to use them against the Russian fleet. Only with President Steveson’s gentle explanation after the Cuban Missile Crisis, did we finally come to terms with the dangers of what Oppenheimer called, “Destoryer of Worlds”. Even then, we didn’t fully understand the true horror of nuclear weapons until Richard Nixon annihilated North Vietnam.
To yearn nostalgically for the destruction of multiple Japanese cities is definitely a taboo, but it is always tempting to indulge in some alternative history. Atom bombs would undoubtably have ended the war before the Soviets joined it, and would have led to the American occupation of entire Japan, not just its southern parts. And without the constant anxieties about the Soviet presence in the Far East, America would not have gone into Vietnam. Without the costly war for Japan, American would have prevented the communist encroachments in China and East Europe. On the other hand, a Japan devastated by nuclear bombs and its population alienated by such inhumanity would not have warmed up to Americans occupiers who dropped the bombs. It is equally hard to imagine a modern futuristic Japan without the industrial centers in the south. But all these counterfactuals aside, this much is certain: despite its high human costs and less-than-satisfactory outcome, Operation Olympic was America’s finest hour.
As for the other half of great World War II what-ifs, Robert Harris has you more than covered.