Racing the enemy

RACING THE ENEMY

 

STALIN, TRUMAN AND THE SURRENDER OF JAPAN

TSUYOSHI HASEGAWA

Harvard University Press 2005 £19.99 pp382

Index, References, Photographs, Maps

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa is the Professor of History and Director of the Centre for Cold War Studies at the University of California.

His new book has to be essential reading for anyone interested in the history surrounding the decision to use the atomic bombs in August 1945.It is a much more complicated history than many  realise.

The title explains the context. Both the Americans and the Soviets, already deeply distrustful of each other, wanted a rapid Japanese surrender. At the start of the July conference in Potsdam Truman was delighted to hear from Stalin that the Soviets would enter the eastern war by the 15th of August. ‘Fini the Japs when that comes about’ noted Truman in his diary.

However when the full news of the successful atomic bomb test reached Potsdam on July 21st another race started. Could the Americans get the Japanese to surrender before the Soviets entered the war? If they could then the Soviets might be kept out of the post war settlement .

The answer was No. By the time the Japanese accepted the allied Potsdam surrender terms  the Soviet army was already on the move.

Secretly a vast army had been moved from the western to the eastern front . Stalin ordered his attack to begin on the 8th August- after Hiroshima but before Nagasaki. His army took most of Manchuria in ten days and were still in the process of occupying the remaining Kuril islands even after Japanese officials had signed the document of surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2nd.Plans for the partial occupation of the island of Hokkaido,the ‘top’ island of the Japanese mainland, were dropped before then. Stalin did not want to have a direct military confrontation with American forces.

Professor Hasegawa gives  in great detail a new understanding of the complications and complexities, both from the American and Japanese side ,of the demand for unconditional surrender. The deference and respect given to the Emperor, even by  the Japanese war party, is something those of us from other traditions find it hard to understand. It is also hard to understand why the Americans did not make it easier for the Japanese by making clear that the position of the Emperor would not be challenged. After all, post surrender, that is just what did happen. There was no attempt to indict the Emperor as a war criminal though he certainly was just as responsible as many who were put on trial.

Hasegawa’s final conclusion is that ‘ the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki alone were not decisive in inducing Japan to surrender…….the Soviet invasion was…’

Readers can agree or not as they wish with this challenge to the story of 1945 as many of us have learnt it. For everyone this is raw history in great detail ,always referenced, beautifully written and fascinating from first to last page. Indeed I wish there had been other pages on the immediate post war settlement and relations then with the Soviets. Perhaps there will be a volume 2.

Sept 2005