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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:

·         The Survey's estimate of Japan's likelihood of surrender without the atomic bombings, subject only to continued conventional attack, was based largely on information collected after the end of the war, and not known to decision makers in August, 1945;

·         The Survey acknowledged that use of the atomic bombs hastened the end of the war; and

·         The Survey did not, in any way, criticize the use of the atomic bombs or suggest that they were not the most humane and least costly means for ending the war. (They merely opined that Japan's surrender could have been achieved through conventional air power only; they did not say that the use of conventional air power would have been more merciful or less costly.)

Writers who question the wisdom of the atomic bombings ignore all these points. As a result, these writer impute to decision makers a knowledge they did not possess. These writers also fail to ask the obvious question: what casualties would have occurred if the United States had used only conventional air power 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, 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.

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.

The savage mistreatment of civilians in Japanese-occupied China (e.g. germ warfare experiments and promiscuous slaughter of civilians) and French Indo-China (more slaughter, including the use of mustard gas) is well known. These areas were still in Japanese possession at the time of the Japanese surrender. Prolonging the war would have prolonged the agony of these civilian populations.

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.


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


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