This book by no means settles the debate over whether or not it was wrong ethically or strategically for the United States to use atomic weapons (they had not yet graduated to being called nuclear weapons at this period) near the end of the war with Japan in 1945. Frank's contribution draws heavily on facts and details known at the time -- to help render a judgement without benefit of hindsight. His research into military strengths and weaknesses, production capabilities, longer-range plans is thorough and far more engaging that one would normally think a presentation of large amounts of statistical data would be. His use of sources from both the Japanese and American sides, as well as his analysis of diplomatic versus military concerns and strategies is well done. His analysis of cabinet-level thinking on both sides deserves to be carefully studied, as it draws upon contemporary documents and, where those conflict with hindsight recollections, he lays the controversy bare and lets the readers decide for themselves. His analysis of the role of the emperor in particular deserves special consideration, for it neither paints Hirohito as a puppet or a warmonger, but as a human leader with internal and external considerations to weigh in decision making. Frank begins with a description of the firebombing of Tokyo, a tactic in itself probably as horrific as an atomic blast, with similar resulting damage and casualty counts (remember, the early atomic weapons were quite a bit less powerful than todays models). I would have welcomed more maps, in particular showing Japanese and American forces at the end of the war.Read more ›
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169 of 178 people found the following review helpful
The Definite Account19 Oct. 1999
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This book will become the standard against which all future study of the use of atomic bombs against Japan is judged. The author describes in detail the continuous flow of new information to both the military and government bureaucracies of Japan and the United States. That information, mixed with prevailing ideology on both sides, helped determine the course of the World War II in the Pacific during the summer of 1945. Among pieces of the whole picture which I was not aware of before reading this book are: 1. While the United States was intercepting diplomatic messages sent from Japan to the USSR attempting to achieve a negotiated peace through Russian intervention, it was also intercepting many more messages planning for the last ditch battle against the expected American invasion of Japan. An invasion that the Japanese - including the Emperor - expected to end in a Japanese victory followed by a relatively favorable peace for Japan. (In fact, by August of 1945, Admirals Nimitz and King of the United States Navy worried that the planned invasion would end in a Japanese victory!) 2. The fire-bombing of Japanese cities was just as horrendous as the use of the atomic bomb, causing more deaths when done "correctly," and causing many more deaths in total than were caused by the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Plus, if General LeMay hadn't figured out how to "do it" right using B-29s and "conventional" weapons, he would have almost certainly been replaced by someone else, almost as fast as he replaced his predecessor. (His predecessor having failed to get much obvious destruction in Japan out of the B-29s at his command.) 3. About 100,000 civilians in Japanese occupied territory, including the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, China, French Indochina, and the Philippines, were dying because of the war each month the war lasted. Needless to say, given the facts above, and many others presented in the book, the author of Downfall believes that the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan was almost inevitable, and morally defensible.
98 of 104 people found the following review helpful
how the war ended, and why it ended that way15 Dec. 2003
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Was Hiroshima necessary? What about Nagasaki? Would the invasion of Japan really have cost the lives of a million American soldiers, or were the Japanese eager to give up? And hey, what about those Russians? People know amazingly little about the Pacific War, compared to the epic conflict between the white nations in Europe. Indeed, the first two weeks of August 1945 loom larger for the chattering classes than do the four years that preceded them--eight years if you date the war from the invasion of China proper--fourteen years if you consider that it started with Japan's annexation of Manchuria. I've been reading about the events of August 1945 for a decade, and I have to say that the analysis gets better as the years go by. Richard Frank's book is the best yet. Olympic: First off, Frank gives a good capsule description of Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu planned for November 1, and Ketsu-go, the preparations being made to destroy the American invasion force at the beaches. Frank then brings up evidence that during the summer of 1945, the Japanese reinforcement of Kyushu was so fearsome that American planners were beginning to turn against the invasion. By October 15, they now believed, 625,000 troops would be defending Kyushu. On Luzon, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, the Japanese had shown their willingness to fight almost to the last man, with death tolls running as high as 97 or 98 percent. Meanwhile, they inflicted casualties at the rate of one American for every one or two defenders. To me, that suggests 600,000 Japanese soldiers dead on Kyushu, and upwards of 300,000 Americans killed, wounded, or missing. No wonder Truman wanted the Russians in the war, and no wonder he dropped the atomic bombs. The Russians are coming! After stringing Japan along for several weeks--the Japanese foolishly hoped that the Soviet Union would broker a negotiated peace with the Allies--the Russians attacked on August 9. So poor were the communications that neither Tokyo nor the Japanese armies on the mainland were aware of how massive the onslaught would be. The battles continued to August 22 in Manchuria--a week after the Japanese surrender--and in Korea the Russians continued to advance until they reached the 38th parallel at the end of the month. The third object of the Russian attack was Japanese-occupied Sakhalin, and from there an amphibious landing on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. As might be expected, the Japanese fought more ferociously in defense of the homeland than they did for their mainland possessions, and the Russian advance was slow. That resistance, plus an equally stubborn reaction by President Truman, prevented the Soviet Union from gaining a foothold on Hokkaido and thus a voice in the occupation of Japan. On August 22, Stalin halted operations in this area. Frank estimates that 2.6 million overseas Japanese were captured by the Russians and sent into slave labor. Of this number, about 350,000 died or disappeared into the Gulag--a loss that probably exceeded all of Japan's losses to American air raids in the last year of the war, including the great Tokyo fire-bombing raid and the two atomic attacks. National suicide: "Even though we may have to eat grass, swallow dirt, and lie in the fields, we shall fight on to the bitter end, ever firm in our faith that we shall find life in death"--so said General Anami, the army minster and one of three (possibly four) hard-liners in the Big Six war cabinet. Given the Japanese requirement for consensus, the military men held veto power over cabinet deliberations. They were backed by officers at all levels of the army and navy: on August 13, Admiral Onishi broke into a government conference to urge: "Let us formulate a plan for certain victory, obtain the Emperor's sanction, and throw ourselves into bringing the plans to realization. If we are prepared to sacrifice 20,000,000 Japanese lives in a special [suicide] effort, victory will be ours!" Prime Minister Suzuki: "[T]he atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war are, in a sense, gifts from the gods." Lacking these new incentives, he feared a revolution that would topple the throne. General Anami, by the way, wasn't just talking the talk. He walked the walk, committing suicide when the government finally agreed to surrender. The atomic arsenal: Frank believes that "another bomb was not ready anyway" at the end of the war, because George Marshall and Leslie Groves had delayed transport of the core to Tinian, "making it impossible to ready a third bomb until about August 21." (See the third bomb on this site.) "Groves and Marshall took this action because they believed two bombs would move the Japanese to capitulation, concurring with [SecWar] Stimson's policy that [atomic] bombs should be used only to end the war." Elsewhere, Frank says that on August 13, Maj Gen John Hull telephoned an officer at the Manhattan Project on behalf of General Marshall, saying that the chief of staff wanted all future bombs reserved for tactical use in Operation Olympic. The Manhattan Project officer estimated that seven bombs would be ready by October 31--the day before the projected invasion. Displaying the then-universal ignorance of long-term radioactivity, he advised a 48-hour "safety factor" before American soldiers advanced into areas hit by atomic weapons. (In an earlier report, the same officer had guessed that radioactivity could be lethal out to 3,500 feet from an explosion, but that the ground would be safe just one hour later.) At noon on August 14 in Washington, President Truman met with the Duke of Windsor and British ambassador John Balfour. He told them that the latest Japanese message indicated no acceptance of the surrender terms, and that (in Balfour's words) "he had no alternative but to order an atomic bomb dropped on Tokyo." It was at 4:05 p.m. local time that he learned that the Japanese had indeed surrendered. This is an extraordinary book that belongs on the shelf of anyone with an interest in how the Pacific War was concluded, and why it ended that way -- Dan Ford
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
The End and The Beginning2 Jun. 2000
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It is an overworked cliche but still true: the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan is one of those crucial, pivotal events in human history. Richard Frank's "Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire" is undoubtedly the finest history written about the end of World War II and, thus, the beginning of the post-war tribulations. Using many Japanese primary sources as well as new American information, he provides a view into the events, emotions, and intentions nowhere previously available. He succeeds at showing us what people thought and felt and believed in addition to what they did. The insights into the Japanese plans and deliberations are especially illuminating and are essential to understanding the unfolding of events. I don't believe that Mr. Frank will put to rest the argument over the efficacy of using atomic weapons but he has provided the best narrative and explication of the analysis, plans, and decision to use them against Japan. My sole quibble with the writing in "Downfall" is that Mr. Frank breaks Barbara Tuchman's dictum never to argue the sources in the midst of the narrative. If ever there is a book to be an exception to that rule, this one is it.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A tremedous narrative to read.28 May 2000
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This book takes you to those days in late 1945, and gives up all of the facts and feelings from both the Japanese and American viewpoints. It is excellently written, fully documented and researched, and finely tuned to keep the readers' interest at all times. While it does slow down, somewhat in places, suffering from conveying too much detail, overall it kept my interest from cover to cover. I thought I knew all about this period in time, and the events that occured then, but I was wrong. I learned a lot that I never knew just from reading this narrative. The author also does a masterful job of conveying the feelings which were in force then, so you feel like you are there also. From a historial viewpoint, this book is far, and above, the best that I have ever read on this subject and period of time. It is a must for every reader of historical facts, and battle periods that have affected our lives ever more. The one single fact that this books deals with is the wide diferences we, and the Japanese felt about conducting the war, and ending it. I highly recommend this book for all serious readers of historial, and military events.
49 of 55 people found the following review helpful
This Book Ends The Nonsense About Using The Bomb!8 Jun. 2000
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This exhaustively-researched and carefully documented book is the necessary slap in the face that a new generation of Americans evidently need in order to reconcile themselves with the facts surrounding the use of the atomic bomb in ending the war with Japan in 1945. Too often we hear criticism of its use as too inhumane, savage, indiscriminate, or as a racist tool we would only use against Asians (as opposed to other whites, such as the Germans). This book make shambles of such notions by taking each in hand and examining all the evidence. First, the Japanese were not willing to surrender in August 1945, and were in fact preparing for an invasion of the main islands, which they planned to make as costly and bloody for the Allies as possible. Estimates of more than a million Allied killed and wounded are quite conservative, not to mention the devastation that would have been visited on the entire main island system. All bridges, reservoirs, industry, highways, hospitals, etc. would have been laid to waste. Second, demonstrating the bomb's capabilities wasn't practical, as the Japanese would have viewed it as propaganda, discounting the threat. Thus, we would have lost one of only two devices, and could not afford to take the risk. Thirdly, tactical use of the bomb to end the war was not indiscriminate, since it was construed by the American military as a quick, relatively painless, and highly effective way to bring the Japanese to their senses. While it is true that hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were casualties of the two bombs, there were in fact more German civilians casualties as a result of the fire bombing of Dresden, a small and strategically unimportant city in south-central Germany. Finally, if one takes the fact that the conduct of the Japanese during the war was the bane of civilized behavior, constituting a deliberate and systematic program of rape, mistreatment, starvation, and torture of combatants and noncombatants alike, it's hard to feel much empathy for the fate of the Japanese at the end of the war. One does well to recall that the Japanese never complied with the articles of the Geneva Conventions, and routinely murdered, raped, and pillaged without regard for human life. They started a war then conducted with murderous ferocity, and they ended it eating their own swords. Such is the fortune of war; those who live by it, die by it. Too bad. As a final note, one should remind the nattering nabobs of negativity that the Atomic Bomb was developed specifically as a device to be used against the Germans, not the Japanese. The fact that it was not ready to so deploy is one of the ironies of history. This is a great book, and one that one hopes will end this self-flagellation we seem to be involved in. It's just too bad we didn't have the bomb in 1941. Perhaps then, if we had dropped two on Tokyo Bay and Berlin in mid-December 0f '41, a whole generation of young Americans wouldn't have had to fight and die in the rotting stink-holes of the south Pacific or the foxholes of France to save the world for their soul-searching and self-doubting and perhaps ungrateful grandsons and granddaughters. Read the book, which is bound to become the standard text on the use of the bomb in ending the war.