‘Hell To Pay’ Sheds New Light On A-Bomb Decision (NPR.org – January 16, 2020)

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The atomic bombs that ended World War II killed — by some estimates — more than 200,000 people. In the decades since 1945, there has been a revisionist debate over the decision to drop the bombs.

Did the U.S. decide to bomb in order to avoid a land invasion that might have killed millions of Americans and Japanese? Or did it drop the bomb to avoid the Soviet army coming in and sharing the spoils of conquering Japan? Were the prospects of a land invasion even more destructive than the opening of the nuclear age?

D.M. Giangreco, formerly an editor for Military Review, has taken advantage of declassified materials in both the U.S. and Japan to try to answer those questions. He talks with NPR’s Scott Simon about his new book, Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947.

Estimating Casualties

As U.S. military planners contemplated a land invasion of Japan in 1943, military units were being held back from possible action in Berlin because it was understood that they would have to be sent to the Pacific.

“There was a very, very tight timetable,” Giangreco says. There were “clearly not enough forces in the Pacific.” The participation of other Allied forces in a Pacific invasion would have been limited — Great Britain, France, Canada and the Soviet Union had been fighting the war longer than the United States. They had just won, and they were ready to get back to normal life.

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