9. Soviet entry and the bombing of Nagasaki

It is, in any case, very difficult to disaggregate the effect of the Hiroshima bombing from the impact of two other profound shocks that soon followed in its train. First, and despite his longstanding pessimism that his government’s overtures to the Soviets would amount to anything, Ambassador Sato was nevertheless stunned when Foreign Minister Molotov summoned him, at 5.00 p.m. Moscow time on 8 August, to inform him that, ‘as of August 9, the Soviet Union will consider itself in a state of war with Japan’. The declaration fulfilled the promise Stalin had made to Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta six months earlier. That it came despite the Soviets not yet having got from China a satisfactory territorial agreement suggests that its timing, if not its fact, was in part determined by the bombing of Hiroshima. Stalin had apparently spent much of the previous day discussing the bomb with advisers. James Byrnes, the American Secretary of State, had hoped the bombs would end the war with Japan short of the Russians getting ‘too much in on the kill’, but the bombing may have moved Stalin to act more quickly than he might otherwise have done. And Molotov’s statement to Sato that the declaration would take hold on the 9th was mendacious: it turned out Molotov was referring to the time at the front. Thus, just after midnight Trans-Baikal time—it was 6.10 in the evening of 8 August in Moscow—Soviet troops crossed into Manchuria in force and on several fronts at once. They surprised the Japanese Kwantung Army, which was understrength and demoralized, and drove hard toward the cities of Changchun, Mukden, Harbin, and Kirin. Another force attacked Korea. Some Japanese units resisted, while others withdrew or simply melted away.43

As he was driven away from the Kremlin after his stark meeting with Molotov, Sato told his embassy secretary, ‘The inevitable has now arrived.’ Prime Minister Suzuki said much the same thing when he learned of the Soviet declaration at dawn on the 9th. Togo and leading foreign ministry officials were already awake and discussing the new crisis; they quickly resolved that Japan would have to accept the Potsdam Declaration. Togo called on Yonai, another of the Big Six, who agreed that the time had come to bow to the inevitable. Just before 10.00, the Emperor called in Kido. Because of the Soviet attack in Manchuria, the Emperor said, ‘it is necessary to study and decide on the termination of the war’, and he directed Kido to sound out Suzuki on the matter. Kido told Suzuki, who turned up at the Imperial Palace ten minutes later, that the Emperor wished to end the war ‘by immediately taking advantage of the Potsdam Declaration’, though whether Kido had actually heard the Emperor put it this way remains unclear. Suzuki summoned the Big Six, and within twenty minutes the group had been collected and the meeting begun in a room in the palace basement.

Maneuver and intrigue followed; the details of these are best chronicled elsewhere. Suzuki began by arguing for the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, for the combination of the atomic bomb and the Soviet invasion made it impossible to win. He and Togo understood that accepting the Declaration meant that the kokutai must be preserved—that is, the Emperor would not be punished nor deprived of the privileges and symbols of his office. Yonai, whom Togo had thought had agreed with this position that morning, now suggested that three additional conditions might (not should) be attached to Japan’s acceptance, and Umezu and Anami elaborated: the Japanese military should have responsibility for disarmament, there must be no occupation, and the Japanese government should decide who should be designated as war criminals. All four conditions, the two army representatives insisted, must be met by the Americans before Japan would agree to surrender. Thereafter, multiple lines were drawn. Togo advocated surrender with just the first condition, Suzuki and Yonai (according to Tsuyoshi Hasegawa) ‘were leaning toward Togo’s position’ but did not speak against demanding the other three conditions, and Toyoda thought two conditions might be met but doubted that four would be.44

Then, an hour into the debate, came the second added shock: the Big Six learned that an atomic bomb had struck Nagasaki.

LeMay had resumed the firebombing after Hiroshima, sending 152 B-29s on the 7th and 373 more on the 8th over Japanese cities, including the industrial hub of Yawata. The second atomic bomb, an implosion device with a plutonium core like the one tested at Trinity, was meanwhile under assembly on Tinian. It was designated for Kokura, a medium-sized city (about 195,000) in northern Kyushu with a substantial arsenal. The attack was scheduled for 11 August. Predictions of stormy weather for the 10th and after persuaded Tibbets to move the mission forward to the 9th. The bomb would be carried by Major Charles W. Sweeney in a B-29 dubbed Bock’s Car. Fat Man weighed 1,000 pounds more than Little Boy;

Sweeney thought it ‘resembled a grossly oversized decorative squash’. Like its predecessor, Fat Man bore messages for the Japanese. The engineer Harlow Russ scrawled verse inside the bomb’s tail cone:

Sappy Jappy started scrappy,

Bombed Pearl Harbor,

Pretty crappy.

Jappy have reached end of scrappy,

Bomb will knock Japan slappy happy.

Sweeney sought an audience with the Catholic priest assigned to Tinian. The two men discussed sin, Christian ethics, and Thomas Aquinas’s conditions for a just war.45

Things went wrong. Bock’s Car’s backup fuel pump failed, leaving inaccessible 600 gallons of precious fuel. Two hours into the flight the red warning light on Fat Man’s fuse monitor started flashing, which seemed to indicate that some of the bomb’s fuses had been activated, threatening detonation. A weaponeer discovered that ground technicians had misaligned two switches and caused the monitor’s circuits to malfunction; he solved the problem. The pilot of the photography plane, James Hopkins, missed the rendezvous point over Yakoshima, forcing Sweeney, already burning limited fuel, to go on without him. The weather over Kokura was supposed to have been clear, but by the time Bock's Car reached the city the wind had shifted and the area was obscured by smoke from burning Yawata, victim of LeMay’s incendiaries the previous day. Pursued by flak and Japanese fighter planes, Sweeney tried three passes over Kokura, failing each time to discern his aiming point. He made a quick decision: proceed to the secondary target, Nagasaki. The plane had enough fuel for one bombing run, and even then it might not be enough to get them home. Nagasaki was clouded over. Navigating by radar, the plane’s bombardier, Kermit Beahan, found a target 2 miles north of the intended one, in the district where many of the city’s Catholics lived near the great Urakami Cathedral. Beahan released Fat Man. ‘Bombs away!’ he called. Then he corrected himself: ‘Bomb away!’ Sweeney got his plane back as far as Okinawa with two engines out and running on fumes. He and his crew were bruised and exhausted. They had left far worse in their wake. Fat Man had blasted to rubble the Urakami Cathedral, beheading some of its stone statues, and the Mitsubishi torpedo factory, whose workers had built the weapons used at Pearl Harbor. The merciful cloud cover and a series of ridges had protected the center of Nagasaki and much of its population, but the toll was nevertheless staggering: estimates of the dead ranged from about 40,000 to nearly

140,000 by 1950, with thousands more injured. Some 7,000 of the dead were Catholics, their families having accepted conversion by European missionaries some generations earlier. Only a few hundred of the Nagasaki dead were military men. Between 60 and 80 American POWs died, their presence in Nagasaki known in advance to US officials, who nevertheless judged their sacrifice necessary for the greater good of ending the war more quickly. More than a month after the bombing, a US navy officer visited Nagasaki. He wrote to his wife: ‘A smell of death and corruption pervades the place, ranging from the ordinary carrion smell to somewhat subtler stenches with strong overtones of ammonia (decomposing nitrogenous matter, I suppose). The general impression ...is one of deadness, the absolute essence of death in the sense of finality without hope of resurrection.’ Terai Sumie remembered the bombing with a sequence of haiku:

my child’s sleeping face

on this blue earth

radiation everywhere

to the unknown tomorrow

the bomb victims’

prayers turn to sobs

guidepost for the soul

sunflowers that fill

the blue vase

as if

the A-Bomb Maiden incarnate

a dove flies

constant vertigo

still I dread

the White Nagasaki46

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