Hot War to Cold War

When Foreign Minister’s Togo initially learned of the Hiroshima atomic bombing from the Domei News Agency, he believed that it was time to give up and advised the cabinet that the atomic attack provided the occasion for Japan to surrender on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration. Togo could not persuade the cabinet, however, and the Army wanted to delay any decisions until it had learned what had happened to Hiroshima.

When the Foreign Minister met with the Emperor, Hirohito agreed with him; he declared that the top priority was an early end to the war, although it would be acceptable to seek better surrender terms – probably U.S. acceptance of a figure-head emperor – if it did not interfere with that goal. In light of those instructions, Togo and Prime Minister Suzuki agreed that the Supreme War Council should meet the next day August 7.

Unfortunately, military hard-liners were very much in charge and Prime Minister Suzuki was talking tough against surrender, by evoking last ditch moments in Japanese history and warning of the danger that subordinate commanders might not obey surrender orders.

Despite the bombing of Hiroshima, the Soviet declaration of war and growing worry about domestic instability, the Japanese cabinet (whose decisions required unanimity) could not form a consensus to accept the Potsdam Declaration.  Members of the Supreme War Council, “the Big Six” wanted the reply to Potsdam to include at least four conditions (e.g., no occupation, voluntary disarmament, etc.); they were willing to fight to the finish.

The peace party however, deftly maneuvered to break the stalemate by persuading a reluctant Emperor to intervene. Hirohito had become convinced that the preservation of the monarchy was at stake. Late in the evening of August 9, the emperor and his advisers met in the bomb shelter of the Imperial Palace. Zenshiro Hoshina, a senior naval official, attended the conference and prepared a detailed account.

With Prime Minister Suzuki presiding, each of the ministers had a chance to state his view directly to Hirohito. While Army Minister Anami tacitly threatened a coup (“civil war”), the emperor accepted the majority view that the reply to the Potsdam Declaration should include only one condition, not the four urged by the “Big Six.” Nevertheless, the condition that Hirohito accepted was not the one that foreign minister Togo had brought to the conference.

What was at stake was the definition of the kokutai (national policy).  Togo’s proposal would have been generally consistent with a constitutional monarchy because it defined the kokutai narrowly as the emperor and the imperial household.  What Hirohito accepted, however, was a proposal by the extreme nationalist Kiichiro Hiranuma which drew upon prevailing understandings of the kokutai: the “mythical notion” that the emperor was a living god.

“This was the affirmation of the emperor’s theocratic powers, unencumbered by any law, based on Shinto gods in antiquity, and totally incompatible with a constitutional monarchy.” Thus, the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration opposed “… any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of his Majesty as a sovereign ruler.”  This proved to be unacceptable to the Truman administration.

An account of the cabinet debates on August 13 (four days after the Nagasaki atomic bombing) prepared by Director of Information, Toshiro Shimomura, showed the same divisions as before with Anami and a few other ministers continuing to argue that the Allies threatened the kokutai and that setting the four conditions (no occupation, etc.) did not mean that the war would continue.

Nevertheless, Anami argued, “We are still left with some power to fight.”  Suzuki, who was working quietly with the peace party, declared that the Allied terms were acceptable because they gave a “dim hope in the dark” of preserving the Emperor. At the end of the meeting, he announced that he would report to Hirohito and ask him to make another “Sacred Judgment”.

Meanwhile, junior Army officers plotted a coup to thwart the plans for surrender. That important elements in the Japanese Army were unwilling to surrender is evident from intercepted messages dated August 12 and 13.  Willingness to accept the “destruction of the Army and Navy” rather than surrender inspired the military coup that unfolded and failed during the night of August 14.

After Suzuki gave the war party – Umeza, Toyoda, and Anami – an opportunity to present their arguments against accepting the American Surrender Note, he asked the emperor to speak. Asking the leadership to accept the Note, Hirohito argued that continuing the war would reduce the nation “to ashes.” Hirohito’s language about “bearing the unbearable” and sadness over wartime losses and suffering prefigured the language he would use in his public announcement the next day.

According to Bix, “Hirohito’s language helped to transform him from a war [leader] to a peace leader, from a cold, aloof monarch to a human being who cared for his people” but “what chiefly motivated him … was his desire to save a politically empowered throne with himself on it.”

Hirohito said that he would make a recording of the surrender announcement so that the nation could hear it. That evening army officers tried to seize the palace and find Hirohito’s recording, but the coup failed. Early the next day, General Anami committed suicide.

On the morning of August 15, Hirohito’s announcement was broadcast to the nation (although he never used the word “surrender”). On September 2, 1945, Japanese representatives [at the direction of General Douglas MacArthur,] signed surrender documents on the American battleship USS Missouri, in Tokyo harbor [before thousands of sailors and dignitaries – including General Jonathan Wainwright, the man he left behind on Corregidor in 1942 and Admiral Chester Nimitz, the submarine officer who had commanded the Pacific Fleet].”

Critics have charged that Truman’s decision was a barbaric act that brought negative long-term consequences to the United States and that a new age of nuclear terror led to a dangerous arms race. Some military analysts insist that Japan was on its knees and the bombings were simply unnecessary. The American government was accused of racism on the grounds that such a device would never have been used against white civilians.

Other critics argued that American planners had ulterior motives. The Soviet Union had entered the war against Japan, and the atomic bomb could be seen as a strong message for the Soviets to tread lightly. In this respect, Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have been the first shots of the Cold War as well as the final shots of World War II. Regardless, the United States remains the only nation in the world to have used a nuclear weapon against another nation.

Truman stated at the time that his decision to drop the bomb was purely military. A Normandy-type amphibious landing would have cost an estimated one-million casualties. Truman believed that the bombs saved Japanese lives as well based upon a reading of decoded Japanese intercepts. Prolonging the war was not an option for the President. Over 3,500 Japanese kamikaze raids had already wrought great destruction and loss of American lives.

Truman would cite these predictions at the time and forever after as the most significant issue in his decision to use the atomic bomb to end the war without the necessity for an allied invasion. There could be no rationalization to the American people if the invasion went forward, the casualties were taken and then the existence of the bomb became public (which it inevitably would) – a weapon that would have saved one million Americans – and their families – from needless suffering.

The President rejected a demonstration of the atomic bomb to the Japanese leadership. He knew there was no guarantee the Japanese would surrender if the test succeeded, and he rightly felt that a failed demonstration would be worse than none at all. Truman saw little difference between atomic bombing Hiroshima and fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany or Tokyo under his predecessor – which have also been questioned by latter-day critics. And, at the time, even the scientific community failed to foresee the awful long-term effects of radiation sickness.

The ethical debate among historians and pundits, over the decision to drop the atomic bomb, will never be resolved. The debate among America’s great leaders however, ended as soon as the facts were laid upon the table for Truman. Using a maxim authored by one of history’s greatest leaders and military historians, General George S. Patton; “…the object of war is not for you to die for your country but to make the other fellow die for his country”, Truman had no ethical or moral choice, as Commander-in Chief, but to order the use of the atomic bomb in order to avoid the needless sacrifice of even one more American life and the suffering of one more American family. After all, America did not start this war and the bombs did bring an immediate end to the most destructive war in history. 

“Survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha were, unbelievably, ostracized by Japanese society. Japan provided no special assistance to these people until 1952. By the 65th anniversary of the bombings, total casualties from the initial attack and later deaths reached about 270,000 in Hiroshima and 150,000 in Nagasaki. About 230,000 hibakusha were still alive as of 2010 and about 2,200 were suffering from radiation-caused illnesses as of 2007.

Japan received emergency aid from the Government Aid and Relief in Occupied Areas Program, as did Germany. In early 1946, the Licensed Agencies for Relief in Asia [LARA] were formed and permitted to supply Japanese with food and clothes. In April 1948, the Johnston Committee Report recommended that the economy of Japan should be reconstructed due to the high cost to US taxpayers of continuous emergency aid.

The alliance between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union began to deteriorate even before the war was over, when Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill exchanged a heated correspondence over whether the Polish government-in-exile, backed by Roosevelt and Churchill, or the Provisional Government, backed by Stalin, should be recognized. Stalin won. Several allied leaders felt that war between the United States and the Soviet Union was likely. On May 19, 1945, American Under-Secretary of State Joseph Grew went so far as to say that it was inevitable. Truman knew he could never sell another conflict to the American people especially since he had presided over the literal decimation of the Armed Forces of the United States.

On March 5, 1946, in his famous “Sinews of Peace” (Iron Curtain) speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill, accompanied by President Truman, said “a shadow” had fallen over Europe. He described Stalin as having dropped an “Iron Curtain” between East and West “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic…” Stalin responded by charging that co-existence between Communist and capitalist systems wasimpossible. In mid-1948 the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on the Western zone of occupation in Berlin.

In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the city’s population. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day, such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict.

By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On May 12, 1949, the frustrated Soviets lifted the blockade of West Berlin. 

Due to the rising tension in Europe and concerns over further Soviet expansion, American planners came up with a contingency plan code-named Operation Dropshot in 1949. It considered possible nuclear and conventional war with the Soviet Union and its allies in order to counter a Soviet takeover of Western Europe, the Near East and parts of Eastern Asia that they anticipated would begin around 1957. In response, the US would saturate the Soviet Union with atomic and high-explosive bombs, and then invade and occupy the country.

In later years, to reduce military expenditures while countering Soviet conventional strength, President Dwight Eisenhower would adopt a strategy of massive retaliation, relying on the threat of a US retaliatory nuclear strike to prevent non-nuclear incursions by the Soviet Union in Europe and elsewhere. The approach entailed a major buildup of US nuclear forces and a corresponding reduction in America’s non-nuclear ground and naval strength. The Soviet Union viewed these developments as “atomic blackmail”.

The US sought to promote an economically strong and politically united Western Europe to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its “allies” in Eastern Europe. This was done openly using tools such as the European Recovery Program, which encouraged European economic integration. The International Authority for the Ruhr, designed to keep German industry down and controlled, evolved into the European Coal and Steel Community, a founding pillar of the European Union.

The United States also worked covertly to promote European integration, for example using the American Committee on United Europe to funnel funds to European federalist movements. In order to ensure that Western Europe could withstand the Soviet military threat, the Western European Union was founded in 1948 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO – in 1949.

The first NATO Secretary General, Britain’s Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization’s goal was ” …to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. However, without the manpower and industrial output of West Germany, no conventional defense of Western Europe had any hope of succeeding.

To remedy this, in 1950 the US sought to promote the European Defense Community, which would have included a rearmed West Germany. The attempt was dashed when the French Parliament rejected it. On May 9, 1955, West Germany was instead admitted to NATO; the immediate result was the creation, by the Soviets, of the Warsaw Pact five days later.

As agreed at the Yalta Conference, the Soviet Union went to war against Japan three months after the defeat of Germany. The Soviet forces invaded Manchuria. This was the end of the Manchukuo puppet state and all Japanese settlers were forced to leave China. The Soviet Union dismantled the industrial base in Manchuria built up by the Japanese in the preceding years and moved it to Russia. Manchuria also became a base for the Communist Chinese forces because of the Soviet presence.

After the world war ended, the Kuomintang (KMT) party in China (led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) and the Communist Chinese forces resumed their civil war, which had been temporarily suspended when they fought together against Japan. The fight against the Japanese occupiers had strengthened popular support among the Chinese for the Communist guerrilla forces while it weakened the KMT, who depleted their strength fighting a conventional war.

Full-scale war between the opposing forces broke out in June 1946. Despite some U.S. support to the Kuomintang, Communist forces (encouraged and supported by the Soviet Union which turned over all of its captured Japanese weapons and a substantial amount of their own supplies to the Communists, who received Northeastern China from the Soviets as well.) were ultimately victorious and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland. The KMT forces retreated to the island of Taiwan in 1949. Hostilities had largely ceased in 1950.

With the Communist victory in the civil war, the Soviet Union gave up its claim to military bases in China that it had been promised by the Western Allies during World War II. The defeat of the US-backed KMT led to a debate in the United States about who in the US government was responsible for this, the debate is commonly labeled “Who lost China?”

By having not had the foresight to see that the Chinese Communists would resume their civil war after Japan was defeated, the Democrat Party – in control of every facet of the federal government for the previous 14 years – was singularly responsible for “losing” China by not properly preparing for the post-war world in the Far East as the Soviets had (a failure of the Roosevelt administration) and not supporting our strategic wartime ally – the KMT – in their struggle with the Soviet backed Communists (a failure of the Democrat dominated Congress). Collectively, they “lost” China and we are still paying the price.

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 diverted the attention of the PRC at the same time as it bolstered belated US support for Chiang Kai-shek, the two main factors that prevented the PRC from invading Taiwan. Intermittent military clashes occurred between the PRC and Taiwan from 1950-1979. Taiwan unilaterally declared the civil war over in 1991, but no formal peace treaty or truce exists and the PRC officially sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that rightfully belongs to it and has expressed its opposition to Taiwanese independence. 

At the Yalta Conference, the Allies foolishly agreed that an undivided post-war Korea would be placed under four-power multinational trusteeship. After Japan’s surrender, this agreement was modified to a joint Soviet-American occupation of Korea. The fatally-flawed agreement was that Korea would be divided and occupied by the Soviets from the north and the Americans from the south. The evolution of the border between the two Koreas, from the 38th parallel division to the stalemate of 1953 that persists even today.

Korea, formerly under Japanese rule, and which had been partially occupied by the Red Army following the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan, was divided at the 38th parallel on the orders of the US War Department. A US military government in southern Korea was established in the capital city of Seoul. The American military commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, enlisted many former Japanese administrative officials to serve in this government.

North of the military line, the Soviets administered the disarming and demobilization of repatriated Korean nationalist guerrillas who had fought on the side of Chinese nationalists against the Japanese in Manchuria during World War II. These troops would form the corps of the North Korean Army that instigated the Korean War in 1950.

Simultaneously, the Soviets enabled a build-up of heavy armaments to pro-communist forces in the north. The military line became a political line in 1948, when separate republics emerged on both sides of the 38th parallel, each republic claiming to be the legitimate government of Korea. This culminated in the north invading the south, and the Korean War two years later. American forces remain in Korea to this day since no peace treaty has ever been signed between the two countries.

Events during World War II in the colony of French Indochina (consisting of the modern-day states of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) set the stage for the First Indochina War which, in turn, led to the political debacle that was the Vietnam War.

During World War II, the Vichy-French-aligned (Nazi German controlled) colonial authorities in French Indochina cooperated with the Japanese invaders. The communist-controlled common front Viet Minh (supported by the Allies) was formed among the Vietnamese in the colony in 1941 to fight for the independence of Vietnam, against both the Japanese and prewar and Vichy French powers. The Vietnamese support for the Viet Minh was bolstered as the front launched a rebellion, sacking rice warehouses and urging the Vietnamese to refuse to pay taxes.

Because the French colonial authorities started to hold secret talks with the Free French, the Japanese interned them on March 9, 1945. When Japan surrendered in August, this created a power vacuum and the Viet Minh took power in an August Revolution, declaring the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam. However, the Allies (including the then allied Soviet Union) all agreed that the area belonged to the French.

Nationalist Chinese forces moved in from the north and British forces moved in from the south (as the postwar disarray in France made French forces unable to do so immediately themselves) and then handed power to the French, a process completed by March 1946. Attempts to integrate the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with French rule failed and the Viet Minh launched their rebellion against French rule starting the First Indochina War that same year (the Viet Minh organized common fronts to fight the French in Laos and Cambodia as well).

The war ended in 1954 with a French defeat and withdrawal and a partition of Vietnam that was intended to be temporary until elections could be held. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam held the north while South Vietnam formed into a separate republic under the control of Ngo Dinh Diem – who was backed in his refusal to hold elections by the US. The fear was that the Communist North would “steal” the election – a good bet.

The communist party of the south eventually organized the common front NLF to fight to unite south and north under the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and thus began the Vietnam War, which ended with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam conquering the American abandoned South in 1975.

When the divisions of postwar Europe began to emerge, the war crimes programs and de-nazification policies of Britain and the United States were relaxed in favor of recruiting German scientists, especially nuclear and long-range rocket scientists. Many of these, prior to their capture, had worked on developing the German V-2 long-range rocket at the Baltic Coast German Army Research Center at Peenemünde and on the German heavy-water reactor and atomic bomb project. Prudently, Western Allied occupation force officers in Germany were ordered to refuse to cooperate with the Soviets in sharing captured wartime secret weapons.

In Operation Paperclip, beginning in 1945, the United States imported 1,600 German scientists and technicians, as part of the intellectual reparations owed to the US and the UK, including about $10 billion ($121 billion in 2014 dollars) in patents and industrial processes. Many had escaped the Russian occupied zones to get to the West. In late 1945, three German rocket-scientist groups arrived in the U.S. for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, as “War Department Special employees”.

The wartime activities [potential war crimes] of some Operation Paperclip scientists would later be investigated. Arthur Rudolph left the United States in 1984, in order to not be prosecuted. Similarly, Georg Rickhey was returned to Germany to stand trial at the Mittelbau-Dora war-crimes trial in 1947. Following his acquittal, he returned to the United States in 1948 and eventually became a US citizen.

Not to be outdone, the Soviets began Operation Osoaviakhim (aviation support) in 1946. NKVD (Soviet secret police) and Soviet army units effectively deported thousands of [mostly unwilling] military-related technical specialists from the Soviet occupation zone of post-war Germany to the Soviet Union. The Soviets used 92 trains to transport the specialists and their families, an estimated 10,000-15,000 people.

Much weapons-related equipment was also moved, the aim being to virtually transplant research and production centers, such as the relocated V-2 rocket center at MittelwerkNordhausen, from Germany to the Soviet Union. Among the people moved were Helmut Gröttrup and about two hundred scientists and technicians from Mittelwerk. Personnel were also taken from AEG, BMW‘s Stassfurt jet propulsion group, IG Farben‘s Leuna chemical works, Junkers, Schott AG, Siebel,  Telefunken, and Carl Zeiss AG.

The operation was commanded by NKVD deputy Colonel General Serov, outside the control of the local Soviet Military Administration. The major reason for the operation was to circumvent compliance with Allied Control Council  agreements on the liquidation of German military installations in order to establish the Soviet Union as a first-rate military power to challenge the United States in the post-war world.

Unfortunately, there was no such major concerted effort on the part of the United States. Virtually the only priority was in getting the troops home to America and any strategic military, financial, economic or cultural considerations for the post-war world were largely ignored. This lack of leadership – doing what is right, not necessarily what is popular, changed the course of history for the worse and condemned millions of Europeans to decades of terror under the Soviet dictatorship.

From where the United States stood at the time, the cost is incalculable. Here too, the New Dealers, in most of the positions of power in Washington were therefore, responsible and, in retrospect, invited the 45 years of the Cold War. 

Next time: The wartime to peacetime disaster.








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