July 11, 2007

Worlds of If...

Hatched by Lee

Apropos our post below about erstwhile Defense Minister of Japan, Fumio Kyuma -- who was forced to cut his (career) stomach for saying, in essence, that the cost of America not dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 could have been far worse than the cost Japan actually bore -- we offer up the following cautionary tale, as Rod Serling might have said...

Back in 1998, the History Book Club ran a contest: Members could submit essays about alternate histories, or alternate-history essays.

Friend Lee decided to take a poke at it; and as luck (for us today) would have it, he picked that very subject. (Either that, or the whole contest was about the a-bombs, and there was no luck about it, and this entire lousy intro is a murder of crow droppings. What do I care? I get paid the same either way.)

In any event, here it is, straight from the tremulous hand of Friend Lee... who is reputed to be the first mainstream Caucasian-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, ever to post on Big Lizards. I mean, that's a storybook, man.

So without frittering away any more of your valueless time, here is Friend Lee's contribution to the worlds of "if." Oh, one more thing: You have to remember that this essay is written from the point of view of a world where we never did drop the bombs... a world that looks very, very different from our own. Herewith...


Computer modeling of alternate World War II scenarios, which began in the academic world, has begun to generate considerable controversy in popular opinion. In one much-discussed simulation, Harry S. Truman made the immense, irrevocable decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan. To the relief of a war-weary world, this hastened Japan's surrender. But relief swiftly gave way to doubt and fear -- doubt about whether the use of such weapons had been justified, and, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly ended, fear that America had created the instrument of her own eventual demise. The simulation, however, produced a surprising result: the grim warning of the destroyed cities, together with stockpiled nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrent, ensured that the leaders of a multi-polar nuclear world, in future international crises, never pushed brinksmanship across the final threshold. A sort of "cold war" ensued, but catastrophe was averted. Deterrence worked.

Readers are doubtless aware that this scenario is also the basis for a popular board game simulating the politics of an imaginary twentieth century. What actually happened, of course, bore no resemblance to a "cold war".

First you must remember that in 1945, the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was gravely ill but did not die. At Yalta and Potsdam, FDR's condition left him no match for Stalin, and he continued to deteriorate. Vice President Truman was obliged to make some difficult decisions, but whether to use the atomic bomb was not one of them. The military did not inform Truman of the successful Trinity test, because the extent of FDR’s infirmity was concealed by the President’s staff. By default, use of the bomb against Japan was never authorized.

More than 2.5 million American, Russian, and Japanese lives were lost in an invasion that many theoreticians now argue should never have happened. In the think-tank scenario, Operation Downfall (the plan for the invasion of Japan) is a minor footnote.

The divergence between history and the simulation widens. As we know, Japan was partitioned after the Allied victory. The Soviets demanded sovereignty over the Kurils, Sakhalin, and Hokkaido; the northern third of Honshu and an enclave in Tokyo comprised the Soviet Occupation Zone. The remainder of Japan was under U.S. occupation. Before FDR’s death in late 1946, the ailing President bowed to the Russian and Chinese demand that Hirohito stand trial as a war criminal. When the Emperor was sentenced to hang, MacArthur refused to recognize the war crimes tribunal’s authority. A newly-sworn President Truman relieved MacArthur of his duties.

There is a photograph which haunts the memory of every historian. An angry crowd is outside the building where the tribunal was convened. A young man waves a sheaf of political pamphlets. Many hands reach for the proffered tracts. His face is unmistakable; he is Yukio Mishima.

In the simulation, Mishima has an important place in twentieth-century literature, but in a prosperous, non-partitioned, postwar Japan, his politics are completely marginalized. In history, Mishima’s Emperor-worship, his fanatical hatred of Russia, and his willingness to threaten nuclear war to regain lost territory became dominant themes in South Japanese politics. The forever-demonized image of Mishima is inescapably linked to that day thirty years ago when everything changed forever, the day that the Hokkaido crisis exploded in a nuclear exchange involving Japan, Russia, China, America, Britain, and France. Today we remember over two billion dead.

The theorists have created a scenario in which the destruction of two cities allows the world to be spared. The public is obsessed with this alternate history because it does not approach the horror of the truth.

Hatched by Lee on this day, July 11, 2007, at the time of 2:59 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/2245

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Worlds of If...:

» A Bit Of Alternate History from Rhymes With Right
What would have happened if the US didn't bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII? here is a scenario written from the perspective of a world in which the atomic bombings didn't happen. Computer modeling of alternate World... [Read More]

Tracked on July 11, 2007 8:21 AM


The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

I suppose I needn't tell anyone this, but I will anyway: Everything after the big "~" symbol is by Friend Lee, not Dafydd nor Sachi. Direct your compliments, critiques, and nitpicks to Lee, not me!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2007 3:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: WGPu


I recommend to your readers this book:


Before reading this, I have never known that even after "Fat Man" was delivered to Nagasaki, leaders of the Japanese military attempted a coup so that the Emporer could not issue his surrender rescript.

It's interesting, Richard Rhodes, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1995) in an address at the Hanford "B" Reactor 60th anniversary in 2004, noted that since 1945 the number of man-made deaths in the world have dropped significantly. He attributes that drop to "the discovery of how to release nuclear energy, and the application of that discovery to the development of small, portable immensely destructive weapons of war." He notes, credibly: "Does anyone doubt that the United States and the Soviet Union would have gone to war given their mutual belligerency. . . if the fear of nuclear retaliation had not kept the war cold?"

The above hissed in response by: WGPu [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2007 4:02 AM

The following hissed in response by: oarmaswalker

Where we have really failed is in not using or threatning to use the bomb since, allowing the World to proliferate in terrorist states. How would Korea have ended, for example, if the US had used the bomb the day elder Kim invaded the South. Would there have been a Vietnam war at all; Cuba, Angola, and Berlin come to mind as well. It is hard to phanthom, because the loss of life to Americans has been low, but the results of nuclear detterence have been very marginal, relative to the cost. I maintain that nuclear detterence has NOT worked, with the exception of the post war Soviet melt down, that took more than forty years to occur.

The above hissed in response by: oarmaswalker [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2007 7:34 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

The other scenario that always gets discussed is the "demonstration test". The U.S. drops a nuclear bomb at night off-shore of Tokyo. The flash and power is felt by millions, but no damage occurs. It is accompanied by the warning "surrender or else".

This probably would not have worked. Even after Hiroshima the Japanese were not planning surrender. It was only after the second bomb was dropped and Manchuria invaded that Japan considered surrender. In fact, news of Nagasaki reached the emperor just he and his ministers were discussing what to do. Even THEN the cabinet evenly split between surrender and continuing the fight. The emperor made the final decision to surrender shortly thereafter.

Another course of action was for Truman to accept less than unconditional surrender. But then we've seen how that went in Iraq - 10 years later we have to fight the whole thing over. With nuclear weapons.

In retrospect, it is hard to imagine a better outcome for Japan than what occurred - no partition, rich, prosperous, peaceful. No one would have believed such an outcome possible in 1945. Which is why I have no patience for those who suggest dropping the bomb was not the right decision.

Those who question history so frequently have little knowledge of it.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2007 9:32 AM

The following hissed in response by: WGPu

"Big D"

Very well stated; particularly your last sentence.

The above hissed in response by: WGPu [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 11, 2007 12:31 PM

The following hissed in response by: narciso79

Had events occurred closer to history, and Truman had initiated Operation Downfall; it'slikely the
fallout might have driven him out of office, replacing him with Secretary of State Byrnes; there was no Vice President remember. Also the
continuation of the war, would have provoked greater pressures on Nationalist China, and French
Indochina; through the Soviet proxies like Mao & Ho Chi Minh; In addition, the British would have
been reluctant to continue the war; we know how
the Atlee government's squeamishness led to the
Indian partition; and the Balkan crisis of '47

The above hissed in response by: narciso79 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 12, 2007 4:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: Jhn'1

I was living in the Tampa Bay area when a letter to the editor of the St. Pete Times claimed to be from an analyst who was involved in both preOverlord loss forecasting as well as the Japanese mainlands.
IIRC, he claimed to be a very junior officer who was a member of one of several groups forecasting Overlord death and loss totals. His group was closest to the actual numbers so the same group was assigned to the Japan problem.
With a few unknown (unspecified in his letter) variables that could make a difference, the most likely outcomes were all over 1 million US lives lost over a generation and a half to pacify Japan (hah, you only thought that the Nazi Werewolves were bad)(also remember that as of D-Day, Stalin had made no commitment to help the US in the Pacific Theater.)
I do recall that he gave only a first name of James, and I think he claimed to have been Navy.
That would have been very late in '89 or in '90.

The above hissed in response by: Jhn'1 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 12, 2007 9:29 PM

The following hissed in response by: porkopolitan

Sweet! My specfic tastes generally don't run to alternate worlds, but I would really like to read this one.

I remember watching a program sometime within the last year on the History Channel (search for "The Last Mission" at history.com) about the attempted coup, and being apalled at just how fortuitous its failure was. Though not entirely surprised to learn of the specific event, given the supremacist nature of the military culture...

The above hissed in response by: porkopolitan [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 13, 2007 4:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: Lee

To the Big Lizards readers, thank you for your insights on this piece.

Not that you wondered—but no, I did not win the History Book Club essay contest!

Oarmaswalker cited some of the places where people suffered much during the Cold War, such as Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Angola, Berlin, and maintained that deterrence did not work. You could expand that list to include many other people who also endured hard times or terrible events during the Cold War, but I would counter that strategic deterrence was never intended to bring down the opposing system, and could not be expected to guarantee that no brushfires would break out. The world had seen total war, and total war between nations with nuclear weapons had to be avoided. The Richard Rhodes quote posted by WGPu goes directly to this point.

Several readers’ comments address different facets of the complexity and intrigue, even after the bombings, in securing Japan’s surrender. These folks understand very well that just because events turned out as they did, there was no inevitability to that particular outcome.

In the sixties, Yukio Mishima did in fact pamphleteer for Japan to have the H-Bomb, and he became part of an anti-Communist group whose principles held that violence was justified because of the threat Communism posed to the Emperor system. See The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima, by Henry Scott Stokes, pp.244-245. In 1945, Mishima was twenty. Allowing Roosevelt to linger in ill health, and imagining Mishima’s reaction to the Emperor’s war crimes trial, help form the “departure point” for this alt-hist piece.

Now I am wondering if Krzystof Penderecki would still have composed his “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” but just given it a different title?

The above hissed in response by: Lee [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 14, 2007 2:41 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved