I have watched two episodes so far of Oliver Stone's fascinating history of the United States. Stone has provided an overview of the second world war in the first programme of his series and a separate episode was subsequently devoted to the decision to drop the atom bombs on Japan at the end of the war. As expected given the nature of his feature films, his view is not to everybody's taste and could be described as more left of centre of the traditional American view of history - certainly if you are the type of American whose country can do no wrong, this series is not for you.
Stone has chosen to narrate the series himself and he does this very well and he uses mostly newsreel films of the war and very few interviews with historians, which makes a pleasant change from a succession of talking heads and armchair experts.
I mostly agreed with his views as expressed in the overview of the second world war but I part company with Stone to some extent when it came to his coverage of the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He contends that neither attack was necessary as Japan was on the verge of defeat so if the allies had waited a little longer the Japanese would have surrendered, thus making it unnecessary to drop the atomic bombs. Their defeat was certainly on the cards but I think they would have held out longer than Stone believes. They had made it clear that they would have fought with all the fanaticism they had showed throughout the war and make the Americans pay a terrible price if they landed on Japanese soil. The whole population would have been mobilised in a way that would have made an invasion extremely costly in lives. With the benefit of hindsight, I think it may have been premature to drop the atom bombs when they did but the people at the time had to assess the situation as they saw it back then. Given the horrendous loss of American lives at Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Philippines, Iwojima and Okinawa and a hundred other places, I can see why nobody wanted to invade the Japanese mainland unless they really had to and possessing the atom bomb gave them another option that must have seemed far more appealing.
How would the American government explain to their people that they possessed a weapon that they chose not to use that could have ended the war sooner and spared the thousands of lives of young Americans that would have been lost if an invasion of Japan had taken place.
The number of Japanese civilians who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far fewer than would have been the case if the allies had been forced to land on the Japanese mainland and fight all the way through the island chain to Tokyo and the numerous other Japanese cities and towns. Thank God that this did not happen as it would have lead to a scale of deaths and injuries that would have put those that occurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the shade.
The Japanese had little conception of the power of the atomic bombs and even after they were dropped, their government and military regarded the attack by Russia in Manchuria and the defeat of the Japanese forces there as a bigger threat to the existence of the empire than the atom bombs. It was the thought of the Red Army flooding southwards across China towards Japan that persuaded them to surrender as much as the dropping of the atom bombs. It was a horrendous decision to drop these hideous weapons but in the long run it probably saved lives, not least the lives of many thousands of Japanese civilians who were spared and lived to enjoy the fruits of peace and the prosperity that followed.
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