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Charles's avatar

What would have happened if the US did not drop the atomic bombs on Japanese Cities in WWII?

Asked by Charles (4815points) December 28th, 2011

What would have happened in WWII if the US did not have atomic bombs and there was no bombing of those two Japanese Cities. I suspect that the battle of the Japanese Mainland (including Tokyo) would have killed more people in the long run and the war would have gone on for many years. I understand that even kids as young as 7 were expected to fight against the Americans. Any theories?

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42 Answers

Qingu's avatar

No man can say.

The Japanese were probably as terrified of a Russian invasion from the west as they were from the American invasion or even nuclear weapons. By 1945 it seemed clear to many senior Japanese military that there was no way they could possibly win the war. Though you can argue that the nukes sealed the deal as far as a quick unconditional surrender goes.

Propaganda played a huge role in Japanese intransigence. A lot of people genuinely believed that the Allied forces would enslave them, kill them all, or commit other atrocities. Dispelling such propaganda would have been difficult, probably not as expedient as simply dropping two nukes.

By the way, more Japanese people were (probably)* killed in the incendiary bombing raids on Tokyo than in either Hiroshima and Nagasaki. *(caveat comes from later radiation deaths from nukes). To me, the horrifying use of nuclear weapons in World War II is not really separate from the careless or even deliberate targeting of Axis civilians in bombing raids that occurred throughout the war.

Coloma's avatar

Trading one method of carnage for another, well…why even bother?
Either/or, all war is tragic and innocents suffer.
Protracted or prolonged, doesn’t change ugly.

PhiNotPi's avatar

Either Russia was going to take over Japan, or we were. If Russia succeeded, Japan would have turned communist/dictatorship and would have been part of the Soviet Block. That is actually one reason we dropped the bombs, to keep Russia away.

zenvelo's avatar

There were estimates of over 1 million dead if the Home Islands were invaded, with tremendous casualties on both sides. It is one of the factors that led to the decision to drop the bombs; the destruction needed to be so overwhelming that the Japanese would realize they had no choice but to surrender.

There is a lot of hindsight criticism of the use of the A- bomb, but given what the Allies had met on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima and other places, and that the US was not the aggressor in the war, I find it hard to condemn the decision. It is important, though, that now that we understand how horrible they are, that no one ever use them again.

saint's avatar

Amphibious landing on Honshu. Estimated casualties a million. Might have included two of my blood relatives, and I might not have been here to write this.

Qingu's avatar

You know, I don’t buy the argument that we would have done an amphibious landing. Even without nukes our air supremacy in 1945 was such that the strategy would probably have just involved bombing the shit out of them until they surrendered, even if it was limited to conventional bombing.

That’s why it’s hard to answer this question. Because our worst conventional bombing raids were arguably just as deadly as the nukes.

cazzie's avatar

The Russians were not invading anything at that stage. They had more killed in that war than… well, I would have to look up the stats, but you got that wrong and a decade or so out of context. @Qingu.

cazzie's avatar

The Russians did what they wanted to. They lost the Winter War for Finland, but they concentrated their efforts on gaining valuable ground (and scientific technology) in Europe, after the fact.

john65pennington's avatar

Have you ever heard of The United States of Japan?

cazzie's avatar

@john65pennington Not sure what your point is…...

Qingu's avatar

@cazzie, wait, what? The Russians were at war with Japan in 1945. It’s true that they weren’t in the process of mounting an invasion force in 1945, but presumably they would have eventually, and that scared Japan.

cazzie's avatar

The Russians were crushed…. seriously, after WW2. They had suffered more casualties than all of the allies combined (need to look up reference there….) At the end of the war, there was a reason they were doing all their positioning on the European side of things. They wanted the Nazi scientists and what they could land grab out of Eastern Europe. It was there their efforts were put. Not on the orient.

cazzie's avatar

They had not that long ago gone to war with the Japanese…. in the Russo-Japanese war had taken place in 1904. They had cooperated in the Boxer Rebellion. They didn´t want to piss off the Japanese again. They knew full well that trade ties were worth more. Providing food and support to a war ravaged country (and essentially stealing aid money) was worth more than spending the money and lives it would have taken to invade.

cazzie's avatar

The Russians did invade Japan in 1945. Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation. It probably had as much to do with the surrender of Japan as the dropping of the bomb did. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Manchuria

BUT, instead of taking Japanese territory, they traded it for the land in Eastern Europe and, of course, they kept their presence in North Korea… leading to what we all now know quite well in our own times.

CWOTUS's avatar

Without a ground invasion and occupation force, and without removing the fanatical military leaders of Japan, the war would have continued in whatever way Japan could (and still would) produce men and materiél to fight. (Japan had no naval ships at the time of its surrender, so that was not an option, but they were still producing and flying kamikaze aircraft.)

The point is that the Japanese leadership absolutely had to be replaced. The “conventional aerial attacks” that @Qingu mentions (which were every bit as deadly as he says) did not have a significantly adverse effect upon the leadership. They knew that the American air war was very costly in terms of logistics alone – the number of planes and crews, the fuel required for the raids and the staging on western Pacific islands, and supply lines needed to keep all of that in place was very expensive.

At that point in history no “air war” had ever won a war. (In fact, after the war, investigators on the ground in Germany and Japan were astonished to find how ineffective low-level daylight bombing was at stopping war production, even when strictly military targets were chosen. Even the stunning show of air superiority mounted by the Allies in the Persian Gulf War and the “shock and awe” campaign of 2003 failed to kill the Iraqi military machine.) Even to this point in history, “air wars” do not “win” wars. Ground troops are still required.

The Japanese military leaders were confident that a ground invasion would absolutely be required. With their total propaganda campaign, they had a broad base of citizen support. Soldiers were not allowed to surrender, even those who had an inclination to do so. It was only when the Americans demonstrated clearly what could be done with single airplanes dropping single weapons – twice – that it was made perfectly clear to the leadership, and finally to the Emperor himself, that the war could not continue without even worse asymmetric Japanese casualties. The ratios had gone from “hundreds of American dead to each Japanese” (in the kamikaze attacks), to “tens of thousands of Japanese killed – to not a single American flyer”, and at “sustainable cost” to the Americans.

Anyone could do that math.

The Russians were not a factor until the Japanese capitulation was all but signed off.

Qingu's avatar

So wait, you are saying the Japanese did not fear a Russian invasion because they considered Russia a paper tiger?

Maybe I should do research, it’s been a while since I’ve looked into this stuff. I certainly could be wrong!

Qingu's avatar

@CWOTUS, let me put my point another way: if we didn’t use nukes, I think it’s likely that we would have used incendiary bombing raids instead. Which probably would have killed similar numbers of people. Maybe it wouldn’t have had the same psychological (surrender-inducing) effect as the nuclear bombs. But this wasn’t meant to be an argument against using nuclear weapons, just pointing out that we were already killing or preparing to kill plenty of Japanese civilians and infrastructure.

CWOTUS's avatar

Yes, I realize that, @Qingu. But the point I was trying to make was that the cost was pretty tremendous for the US to stage and mount those attacks. The military leaders in Japan knew that. They had to figure that time and public opinion would be on their side, and they clung to their belief that the US wouldn’t pay the cost of a ground invasion. (Perhaps that was part of their continuing miscalculation of our resolve at the time; maybe they would have been proven right, and we would have negotiated a peace instead of paying that cost in American blood.)

I don’t doubt that the incendiary attacks would have continued. But the Japanese military leaders simply didn’t care about civilian deaths. Those people were not part of the calculus. (I suspect that many American pilots and air crews were more horrified by those attacks than the Japanese military.)

But when they saw what could be done with two one-plane attacks, they knew that was a cost that the Americans would willingly bear, and especially since there was no large scale public approbation against using “the bomb”.

Qingu's avatar

That makes sense. Though of course the cost of those atom bombs was pretty large too. But the Japanese didn’t know that necessarily.

CWOTUS's avatar

Absolutely, the “development cost” was astronomical for the time. But once you’ve got the technology, then it’s just engineering, procurement and manufacturing. Which is why we can have all the nukes we want today…

cazzie's avatar

They needed to be institutionally crushed, in the first instance… I think is what we are saying.

majorrich's avatar

Had the bombs not been used, my Mother’s family would have survived and she would not have met my father. She also feels the war would have gone on for a long-long time with a horrific loss of life.

Nullo's avatar

IIRC, the Allied forces had projected a long, grueling ground war. The Japanese government had plans to organize its remaining people into a militia had issued dangerous implements (including tools and bamboo spears) to anyone who could carry them, with orders to fight until the very bitter end. The general sentiment (courtesy of propaganda) was that the Allies were brutal monsters, and that it was better to kill yourself than to be captured. During their conquest of the Pacific, the Allies saw many civilians do precisely that, pitching themselves over cliffs to avoid the torture and death that they had been taught to expect. Stories from POWs indicate that torture was very much in keeping with the methods of the Japanese army, so their fear is hardly a stretch.
Odds are good that this would have actually happened, though I suspect that there would be more surrenders and suicides towards the end than actual fighting. I offer as evidence The Japanese Holdouts.

flutherother's avatar

Anyone who thinks that dropping an atomic bomb on a city is a legitimate form of warfare should think again.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Nullo don’t forget the knapsack bombs issued to kindergarteners to be used as antitank weapons, with training in class on how to use them.

filmfann's avatar

Russia would have fought a long, hard war in Japan. They would have won enough land to force us to trade all of Germany to them.
It would have been a disaster for the US, Germany, and for Japan.

ETpro's avatar

We lost 4,500 men and the Japenese 7,000 in the battle for a tiny bit of Okinawa, the Batttle of Hacksaw Ridge, in which the Japanese were heavily fortified and dug in to an internecine series of tunnels with multiple escape routes and heave fortification. Uncounted thousands of Okinawans and Japanesse slave laborers brough from elsewhere died of drowing in flash floods, starvation, and massive choera outbreaks as they hid in water eroded coral tunnels elsewhere on the island.

Given that battle and the suicidal nature of the Japanese resistance, as well as the concerns about waiting till Stalin launched a land invasion; Truman decided to use the A-bomb. He expected the Emperor to surrender after the demonstration of its devastating power on Hiroshima. That didn’t happen, and so he ordered the Nagasaki attack with the implicit threat that if the Japanese did not surrender, we would destroy every major population center in Japan.

That’s what it took to effect an immediate, unconditional surrender. Seeing that it took that second strike, I think your guess that a land invasion would have meant that street fighting house to house would have lasted for months or years and would have exacted a far greater death toll is probably correct.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Conservative British post war estimates put the number of dead Americans at between 400,000–800,000 to conquer all of Japan, with a further 1.4 to 2.7 million wounded. The Japanese dead and wounded were estimated to be 30–40% of the entire population, including civilians, with 75–80% mortality.

I got these numbers from a 30 volume British encyclopedia of WW2 that I acquired a number of years ago.

ETpro's avatar

@WestRiverrat I don’t doubt the authenticity of those numbers. As hideous as nuking two cities is, I think it was the most humane alternative open to Truman.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@ETpro It was, especially when you consider the US Generals planned to use tactical nukes in an assault on Japan.

Nullo's avatar

@flutherother Practically speaking, a nuke is just another, particularly large and deadly kind of bomb. It accomplishes the same sort of task – killing people and breaking their stuff.
That said, I would ask you to find anybody nuking a wartime target after 1945. It’s possible that if they knew then what we know now about atomic warfare, they may have never done it.
The Mexican standoff that was the Cold War was simply escalation. AFAIK nobody really thought that thermonuclear war was a good idea.

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo does have a point. In 1945, we didn’t actually know much about the radioactive effects of nuclear weapons.

Hell, a year afterwards we tested more nuclear weapons during Operation Crossroads. We exploded one nuke underwater to test the effects on naval vessels… which painted the vessels, later to be inspected by unshielded sailors, in radioactive water. The naivety would be almost charming if it wasn’t so scary.

Radioactivity and fallout are the biggest reasons why nukes are especially dangerous. We actually have conventional bombs that can cause as much blast damage as Hiroshima, and incendiary raids killed as many people as Hiroshima.

mattbrowne's avatar

Most likely Japan would still have surrendered by late 1945 or early 1946. Their factories were unable to keep up their war machine. So the situation would have been a bit like the American Civil War, on a different scale of course. The North eventually outproduced the South.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne The problem with that theory is that neither Trumann, Churchill, De Gaule, and MacArthur did not think Stalin would wait our a seige of Japan; and they were almost certainly right. If we had held back, and Russian forces had invaded Japan, the result would have been amss carnage and a Soviet Hegemony far greater than the one we eventually stared down.

ace4968's avatar

@ETpro
I would like to point out that the United States didn’t “stare down” shit.

ETpro's avatar

@ace4968 I’m nbot certain what you mean ny that. Can you explain that concept in greater detail?

sheilahabib's avatar

If they did not send the atomic bomb, the Japanese would feel confident about the U.S because in Pearl Harbor and in the Panay Incident, they attacked the U.S. and we did nothing. So, they would probably return to attack. And the war would not have been stopped in nineteen forty five (1945). The continuation of the WWII would have caused more deaths, more poverty, and more damages in more cities. The allies would not been able to take Japan home islands. US dropped the bombs to show the world what an attack to the US could turn into, and that would not have happened. The attack to the twin towers in two thousand one would not probably have been happened.

ETpro's avatar

@sheilahabib Atomic bomb or no, you certainly cannot say the US did “nothing” in response to Pearl Harbor. We declared war on Japan. We rebuilt the Pacific Fleet and captured island after island in the Pacific, clearly setting the stage for a land invasion of Japan if necessary. We never had a bomb dropped on US mainland soil, but we flew thousands of bombing sorties over Japan devastating Tokyo and major manufacturing centers all across Japan.

Still, if it had just been the US and Japan involved in WWII, your hypothesis might have merit. But the end of the European war meant that the Stalin had turned his focus on Japan as well. If we (the USA) had not ended the war quickly, Stalin would have invaded Japan and his Russian troops would have been merciless in pursuit of a total Japanese surrender. One more reason to state that as horrific as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, the strategy saved Japanese lives.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@ETpro Japan did bomb the US mainland using unmanned paper balloons. They were largely ineffective, but there were over 200 that did reach the mainland. But other than that you are correct.

The US Navy despite its battle losses went from 790 ships of all types on Dec 7, 1941 to 6768 when the Japanese ceased hostilities on Aug. 14 1945.

ETpro's avatar

@WestRiverrat I did not know that, and if it had been as effective as our bombing of the Japanese mainland, I would have know it. I was around then.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@ETpro It was a closely guarded secret at the time, they did not want to encourage the Japanese to increase their efforts.

ragingloli's avatar

Japan would likely have capitulated anyway after the Soviet declaration of war.
In fact, Historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa contends that this is what actually happened.
According to him, Japanese leadership was not too concerned about the Nuclear bombs, especially after the firebombing of Tokio, and that they were hoping for the Soviet Union to pressure the US into favourable terms for a surrender. That hope disappeared when the Soviets declared war on Japan, and that is what triggered the surrender.

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