It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’.” (Eisenhower)
A look at the primary sources related to the nuclear bombing shows that the American government officials knew fully well that the Japanese were seeking peace, their motivation for the nuclear bombing was a desire to be the ‘top dog’ in the East Asian region and to deny the USSR influence in the post-war Japan. If the Japanese surrendered to the Soviets, it would give the USSR a great strategic and diplomatic advantage and allow them to dominate East Asia.
Walter Brown, an aide to the Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes records in his notes: “President, Leahy and JFB agreed Japan looking for peace. President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden” (Brown)
Based upon interviews with hundreds of Japanese military and public official, the US Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that the nuclear bombing was certainly not crucial to the Japanese surrender rather:
“…. it is the survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” (The United States Strategic Bombing Survey)
According to General Henry Arnold of the US Airforce:
“It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse” (Wainstock)
The Japanese rejection of the Potsdam ultimatum, that was the immediate trigger for the deployment of the nuclear weapons, happened because the Japanese were not willing to surrender unconditionally without assurances that the Japanese monarchy would be allowed to continue (Wainstock). Before the nuclear attack the allied side continued to insist on unconditional surrender, but after the nuclear attack, they agreed to accept a conditional Japanese surrender which allowed a continuation of the Japanese monarchy. It’s clear that the Japanese were looking for a face-saving way to give their surrender. Had the Potsdam declaration included a promise to allow the Japanese Emperor to remain upon his throne, it’s likely that the Japanese would have accepted it. If the US were insistent upon displaying their might, a less densely populated area than the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could perhaps be chosen to make that demonstration. It is also possible that if the wording of the Potsdam declaration had been more explicit and it were made clear to the Japanese that the Americans intended to use nuclear weapons upon their urban centers, the Japanese would have been more inclined to surrender unconditionally.
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