IRVING* reveals that the Allies were aware of Japanese
attempts to quit the war before Hiroshima. The Japanese were
not the first to find that it is easier to get into a war
than to get out.
FORMERLY SECRET FILES in London and Washington now reveal that Japan was trying to surrender, and had put out the most serious peace messages, three weeks before the atomic bombs were dropped; and that Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and the other Allied leaders were aware of this.
In December 1946 a Liberal Member of Parliament challenged the British government to admit it. Internal documents of the Foreign Office show that they deduced that the M.P. knew the truth, but although the F.O. felt it was time to come clean ("it would be unwise to continue unofficially to conceal the fact") prime minister Clement Attlee fobbed off the M.P. with evasive answers, out of deference to the feelings of U.S. President Harry S Truman.
I WAS drawn into investigating this Hiroshima mystery by two seemingly routine radio messages that I found twenty years ago among low-level In and Out files kept by Truman's staff, now archived in a neat building at Independence, Missouri.
OUT-105 itself was missing, and that intrigued me.
The second (right) was IN-178, dated nineteen days later. It was a bland two-line reply sent by Truman, then returning to Washington from the Big Three summit conference at Potsdam, Germany, to Henry L Stimson, his elderly Republican Secretary of War.
"Suggestions approved," it said. "Release when ready but not sooner than 2 August."
Release whom or what? A public declaration? An officer from service? There was no clue, and the rest of the file was pretty routine stuff.
JAPAN 's military position was already hopeless. Her oil stocks were running low, and American air raids and naval bombardments were wrecking her war economy. A fire raid in March 1945 had already killed over 100,000 civilians in Tokyo. During May and June the bombing had reached a crescendo with individual raids by B-29 Super-fortresses cascading seven thousand tons of bombs into Japanese cities.
For Tokyo the writing was on the wall. On June 18, Truman's chief of staff Admiral William D Leahy voiced the opinion that a surrender could be arranged "with terms that can be accepted by Japan."
By that time Japan had begun running discreet surrender flags up the flagmasts of several of her diplomatic missions around the world, particularly in messages radioed to ambassadors in Moscow and Stockholm. They were using, intriguingly, a code -- PURPLE -- which they knew both the Americans and British were capable of reading.
It was a neat way of doing things. They could inform London and Washington indirectly yet swiftly of their earnest desire to throw in the towel, while still saving face. By mid-July the emphasis of these messages was on obtaining Moscow's assistance in negotiating peace.
There were however snags. The Japanese ambassador in Moscow was an indolent, opinionated diplomat who felt it useless even to put such proposals to the Russians. The Soviet Union was not at war with Japan; Stalin had no interest whatever in promoting an early peace in the Pacific, and was about to declare war on Japan himself.
Washington too decided to squelch every sign that Japan was trying to quit. When the International News Service wired on July 7, 1945 that three influential newspaper publishers captured in Okinawa had confirmed that Japan would surrender immediately provided that the United States put in only a token occupation force, the State Department forbade publication of the news.
On July 8, the Department learned that the Japanese military attaché at Stockholm had told Prince Bernadotte over dinner that the Emperor Hirohito would ask Sweden's King Gustav to contact the Allies when the right time came, and that he had stated only one Japanese condition of surrendering: namely, that the Emperor himself remain in office. (This term was subsequently adopted by the Allies).
So even on this date it was plain that all American talk of a million soldiers losing their lives in an invasion of Japan was at best ill-informed, and at worst a deliberate deception of the British and American publics. It was obvious that there was not going to be any opposed invasion.
It was now that the Japanese diplomatic traffic being routinely deciphered by the British and Americans began to yield its extraordinary content: Tokyo's foreign minister had begun booting his sluggish ambassador in Moscow into action, demanding that he ask for an interview with Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Typical of Tokyo's new urgency was the tone of these messages, for example that on July 9: "Your opinions notwithstanding, please carry out my orders."
Two more days of catastrophic American air raids followed. On July 11 Tokyo revealed that Emperor Hirohito himself was behind an Extremely Urgent and Strictly Secret message, deciphered by the Americans as MAGIC intercept No. H-1961505:
Since we are secretly giving consideration to termination of war . . . you are . . . to sound out the extent to which it is possible to make use of Russia with regard to ending the war as well.
After listing various concessions which Japan was willing to make as a price to Russia for this service, the telegram directed the ambassador to secure an interview with Molotov at once, "since this is a matter about which the Imperial court also is tremendously concerned."
The U.S. Navy codebreakers deciphered further instructions on July 12 urging the ambassador to inform Molotov immediately of "the Imperial will concerning the end of the war," using these precise terms:
His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice upon the peoples of all the belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated.
While the Anglo-American insistence upon Unconditional Surrender left no alternative to the Japanese but to fight on, the instructions however continued:
"His Majesty is deeply reluctant to have blood lost among the peoples on both sides for this reason, and it is his desire, for the welfare of humanity, to restore peace with all possible speed."
Hirohito proposed therefore that Moscow immediately accept Prince Fumimaro Konoye, a former Japanese prime minister, as high-ranking special envoy.
By this time Truman had left with a large entourage for Potsdam. The significance of this latest intercept was not lost on the few Americans privileged to read it, among them Navy secretary James V Forrestal. (The pages of his diary relating to it were removed after his death and classified top secret for the next thirty years).
THIS intercept, it now transpires, was the signal missing from the file in the Truman archives, OUT-105.
It was rushed to Potsdam on July 13, 1945 in a locked pouch. Over the high-speed teletype from Washington a Major Putnam urged a Colonel Bowen of the advance staff in Potsdam: "When party arrives be sure to see Map Room OUT-105."
Bowen telexed back from Potsdam, curious about the contents of "105".
The White House replied, "'105' is one of the messages that we get by locked pouch and cannot be transmitted from here."
In Moscow meanwhile the Soviet foreign minister Molotov was cannily refusing to see the Japanese ambassador. His deputy did so at five P.M. on July 13: he listened to the Emperor's offer of a special envoy and languidly -- and wholly untruthfully -- apologised that his superiors were leaving for Potsdam that very night. The Japanese ambassador, now frantic to fulfil his mission, suggested the Russians contact Potsdam by phone. (His despatch on all this, radioed to Tokyo, was also intercepted by the Allies.)
Tokyo's urgent telegrams, attempting to surrender, continued for the next two weeks. The American government many years ago released these intercepts, buried among half a million others, to the National Archives in Washington, DC.
Although the British codebreakers obtained the whole series, the British government has only recently confessed to their existence and even then -- in a fit of limited openness -- recently only two of those telegrams revealing Japan's surrender attempts, those dated July 24 and 25, 1945, to the Public Record Office, where they can be found in Class HW.1. The fact that Whitehall was aware of Japanese surrender attempts ever since July 13 is still concealed from British researchers.
As though unaware of them, on July 26 the British and Americans issued from Potsdam a proclamation calling on Japan to surrender unconditionally. They threatened: "The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."
Only two days later did Joseph Stalin pass on to his Allies across the Potsdam conference table the Japanese surrender offer.
"It was the personal desire of the Emperor," Stalin accurately quoted, "to avoid further bloodshed. Our answer of course will be negative."
A deadpan Harry S Truman -- to whom all this was known from the codebreakers anyway -- said merely, "I appreciate very much what the Marshal has said."
SO why was the Bomb dropped?
In my view the billion-dollar "Manhattan Project" had gathered a momentum of its own. It was unstoppable. Too many people had an interest in seeing it used, particularly the statesmen who had pushed it and the technicians who had built it. The latter wanted it used on an as yet undamaged target, to calibrate its infernal power against real flesh and blood, against buildings and bridges.
The private diary of General Hap Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces, shows him on July 22, 23, and 24 in hour-long sessions with Secretary Stimson, conferring about the Super Bomb -- about "where, why, and what effects," as Arnold pencilled in his notes. Stimson did not tell him of Japan's surrender attempts.
It was Secretaary of War Henry Stimson (right) who formally suggested employing the Bomb. The body-count would be Japanese, but it was the effect on the Russians that counted on him and other statesmen now.
As early as May 14, 1945, after talking over this "hot potato" with General Marshall, he had dictated into his files an opinion that the way to deal with Russia now was to "let our actions speak for words."
The Russians, he felt, would understand actions better than anything else. "We (Americans) have got to regain the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way."
This time, he had reminded Marshall, Washington held all the cards -- "a royal straight flush," was how he put it.
"We mustn't fool about the way we play it," he had said. "We have coming into action a weapon which will be unique."
© David Irving, 1995