How the United States Strategic Bombing Survey reports endorsed the use of the atomic bombs

The United States Strategic Bombing Survey reports do not state or even suggest that the use of the atomic bomb against Japan was unwise. On the contrary, a careful analysis of the USSBS findings supports the wisdom of using the bombs.

The USSBS Summary Report for the Pacific war states (page 26, emphasis added):

On 6 August the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and on 9 August Russia entered the war. In the succeeding meetings of the Supreme War Direction Council, the differences of opinion previously existing as to the Potsdam terms persisted exactly as before. By using the urgency brought about through fear of further atomic bombing attacks, the Prime Minister found it possible to bring the Emperor directly into the discussions of the Potsdam terms. Hirohito, acting as arbiter, resolved the conflict in favor of unconditional surrender.

The public admission of defeat by the responsible Japanese leaders, which constituted the political objective of the United States offensive begun in 1943, was thus secured prior to invasion and while Japan was still possessed of some 2,000,000 troops and over 9,000 planes in the home islands. Military defeats in the air, at sea and on the land, destruction of shipping by submarines and by air, and direct air attack with conventional as well as atomic bombs, all contributed to this accomplishment.

There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.

Which makes it abundantly clear that:

Writers who question the wisdom of the atomic bombings ignore all these points. Worse, these writers also fail to ask the obvious question: What casualties would have occurred if the United States had used only conventional air power and naval blockade to force Japan out of the war? Would they have been worse than those caused by the atomic bombings?

The following table lists the casualties of various kinds that would have occurred had the war been prolonged and unconditional surrender forced by conventional air power and naval blockade, instead of by the atomic bombs.

Souce of additional casualties

Notes and Survey References

Japanese military and civilian casualties resulting from continued air attack.

The Survey's pet scheme was to interdict transportation. It believed this would have "reduced Japan to a series of isolated communities, incapable of any sustained industrial production, incapable of moving food from the agricultural areas to the cities, and incapable of rapid large-scale movements of troops and munitions." (Summary Report, p. 19).

In addition, the Survey said, "In order to bring maximum pressure on the civilian population and to complicate further the Japanese economic problems, night and bad weather attacks on urban areas could have been carried out simultaneously with the transportation attack." (Summary Report, p. 20)

Given that 185,000 casualties were sustained during the first Tokyo attack on 9 March 1945 (Summary Report, p. 20), it seems likely that direct casualties from continued conventional bombardment would have exceeded those caused by the atomic bombs.

Japanese civilian casualties from malnutrition and disease.

"The average diet suffered even more drastically from reductions in fats, vitamins and minerals required for balance and adversely affected rates of recovery and mortality from disease and bomb injuries. Undernourishment produced a major increase in the incidence of beriberi and tuberculosis." (Summary Report, p.21)

Obviously significant casualties would have accrued, had the war been prolonged several months, from malnutrition and disease. (Remember that antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis and other bacterial infections was not available to Japanese civilians at that time.)

Japanese military casualties in bypassed areas.

"In the Central Pacific, many of the islands the Japanese expected us to attack were bypassed, and the garrisons left to wither and die. Survey examination of the bypassed islands in the Pacific and interrogation of the Japanese survivors confirmed their intolerable situation. Their planes and ground installations were destroyed by air attack. Cut off from any supplies or reinforcements, except occasionally by submarine, their food ran out. On certain of the islands, Japanese actually ate Japanese." (Summary Report, p. 13)

Prolonging the war would have resulted in even greater suffering for these soldiers, and for any civilians unfortunate enough to be on the same islands.

Civilian casualties in Japanese-occupied areas.

Vast areas of  China, Korea, Indochina, and Indonesia were still under Japanese occupation at the time of surrender (see map at bottom of page).  Civilians in these area were systematically starved, beaten, shot, beheaded, gassed, infected (germ warfare) and tortured.   Every day the war went on cost thousands of civilians their lives.


"From the invasion of China in 1937 to the end of World War II, the Japanese military regime murdered near 3,000,000 to over 10,000,000 people, most probably almost 6,000,000 Chinese, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos, and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war. "  See R. J. Rummel, Statistics of  Democide, ch. 3, for details.  (For printed or Kindle version, see Amazon).


This included 100,000 to 500,000 (probably the higher end) in the Manila Massacre of  February-March 1945,  a carnival of cruelty that included :

  • Bayoneting, shooting, and bombing of unarmed civilians—men, women, and children—with rifles, pistols, machine guns, and grenades.
  • Herding large numbers of civilians—men, women, and children—into buildings, barring the doors and windows, and setting fire to the structures.
  • Throwing grenades into dugouts, where unarmed civilians were taking cover; burying alive those who were not killed by the grenades.
  • Assembling men into large groups, tying their hands, and then bayoneting, beheading, or shooting them.
  • Blindfolding and restraining Chinese and Filipino men, and then beheading them with a sabre on a chopping block.
  • The taking of as many as a hundred girls at a time by force to serve as “comfort women” to Japanese troops.
  • The killing of refugees, doctors, and nurses at the Philippine Red Cross Headquarters, disregarding the rights of the Red Cross under the Geneva Convention.

United States military casualties.

Although those who criticize the use of the atomic bombs seem not to care at all about U.S. military casualties, the result of continuing the war for several additional months would have been substantial casualties -- from combat, tropical diseases, accidents and losses at sea.

Economic cost of continuing the war.

False piety aside, war is a very expensive business, and delaying our demobilization by several months would have been very, very costly. I assume here that readers understand that human life cannot be viewed as priceless, and is not viewed so by any civilized country on earth.

The preceding discussion assumes the reader already understands that:

1. Use of the bombs was not "necessary" in a causal or logical sense.  To say the bombs were "necessary" to end the war would imply that the war could not have ended without them.  Obviously nobody believes that.   But it is important to bear in mind when reading out-of-context quotations from this or that military or political figure who says the atomic bombings were not "necessary" or not "militarily necessary".  Of course they were not.   This does not mean they were not the most expeditious and humane way to end the war. 

2. Even after the atomic bombings and Russia's entry into the war (not opportunistic, Stalin had  promised at Yalta to attack Japan three months after the end of the war in Europe) the Imperial Council was deadlocked 3-3 on surrender, and it was Hirohito's intervention that broke the tie.  Still, it took five days (and the threat of a military coup that would have continued the war) for Japan finally to communicate clear acceptance of surrender terms, which belies the bizarre notion that Japan was ready to surrender (on terms unfavorable to itself)  before the atomic bomb attacks. Much has been written on this and there is no need to recap it here, except to cite this telling passage from the Imperial Rescript that Hirohito recorded for broadcast to the nation at noon (Japanese time) August 15:

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

3. The U.S. always assumed that the atomic bomb, when ready, would be used to shock the Japanese into surrender.  We did not develop the bomb just for the fun of it.  The British had approved use even before the Trinity test (15 July, 1945).  When Truman informed Stalin of the successful test, Stalin said he hoped the weapon would soon be used against the Japanese.   Of course Stalin was already well-informed by espionage.

4. It is occasionally suggested that the real aim of the atomic bombings was to terrorize the Russians.  This argument is made by people who think it is only possible to have one single, pure, unmixed motive for doing anything.  Which of course is stupid.  It would be more accurate to say terrorizing the Russians was viewed as icing on the cake.  But they weren't that terrorized anyway, since they already had their own project under way, and had their first successful test in 1949 (well in advance of the 20 years General Groves said it would take them).     

There is a widespread but erroneous belief that in August, 1945 the Japanese were huddled on the home islands totally surrounded and beleaguered, when in fact they still controlled vast areas occupied by millions of people who were being systematically starved, beaten, shot, beheaded, tortured, and so on.   Every day the war went on cost thousands of civilians their lives.   This map shows the situation on 14 August, 1945:

Situation on 14 August, 1945

Complete text of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (Pacific War)


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