Why not just blockade Japan into surrender, WWII? Resolved...it was a bad idea.

Based on this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9raqHGJH4Q, I thought we could revive a part of previous debates about the end of WWII in the Pacific. Basically, this often comes up in the threads discussing the use of atomic bombs as an argument for why we shouldn’t have used the bomb, and instead just blockaded Japan into surrender.

Some assumptions I think are necessary. Russia still enters the war as they did. They also invade and push out Japanese forces from Manchuria the mainland as they did. They also invade the northern islands as they did. However, when it comes to the main island invasion, the US basically declares they won’t invade the southern islands while Russia invades the northern core islands as was proposed, and this forces the Russians to backoff of their own further invasion plans in the face of having to go it alone. I think those are reasonable assumptions…I seriously doubt Russia would or could have invaded the core islands on their own without allied support. Finally, obviously the US decides against using it’s atomic bombs to end the war.

So, the above video, for those unwilling to watch it, basically goes into why blockade wasn’t really a viable option. It can be broken down into 3 reasons (I’ll give another one at the end that’s mine, not part of the video).

  1. No guarantee of success: This one is talking about the time frame, and posits that there is nothing in the Japanese makeup demonstrated during WWII that they weren’t willing to starve if necessary to hold out. In addition, the US et al would have to station and support almost permanent forces to maintain the blockade.

  2. Japanese civilian and military causalities would have gone easily into the millions from the blockade alone. Pretty self explanatory.

  3. Prolong the war. Again, this one is self explanatory, but I’ll elaborate and say the war planners in the US were worried about a prolonged war and the effects on public morale. I’m fairly sure the other allies would have been worried about that as well, though the US would have been doing the lions share of maintaining the blockade.

The other reason I will give is sort of implied in the above…basically the cost would be staggering in terms of resources and money. The US would have to maintain, permanently (or until the Japanese surrendered) a very large naval force. In addition, we’d still need to keep troops on hand in case they were needed. The cost of this over time would be tremendous, and the American people (as well as the citizens of the other allies) would be paying it for an unknown time.

So, I’m going to say this one is resolved…it was not a viable option and would have been more costly than using the atomic weapons in basically all terms, including Japanese killed.

Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what it would look like, but what if the Allies pursued some containment-style objective other than outright surrender? Given the extent of the damage to the Japanese military at that point, what happens if we decide that it was sufficient to drive Japan back to its home islands and otherwise opt for none of the above? No invasion, blockade, or atomic bomb? Would Japan have resumed being a threat to its neighbors, and if so, how soon?

I do not see politically how president Truman could have sold ending the war without a Japanese surrender. Tell the American people that after four years and 350,000 casualties and lord knows how much money was spent that we’re packing up and leaving Japan with its war government intact despite being on the brink of defeat?

No way that happens.

That was pretty much what we did in 1918. And what happened was that Germany almost immediately began planning out how it would evade the restrictions that had been imposed on it and rebuild its military in order to fight another war and reverse the losses it had suffered.

Dictatorships turn out to be pretty resilient. Like weeds. If you just mow the lawn, the weeds will all grow back. If you want to eliminate the weeds, you have to put in some real work. You’ve got to dig out the weeds, root and all, and then do it again when the next generation sprouts. And you’ve got to help the grass and flowers grow. It takes time and effort to produce a healthy lawn.

If we had just declared victory in 1945 and come back home, Germany and Japan would have almost certainly reverted to being dictatorships. And within a couple of decades at most, they would have again been threatening neighbouring countries. The best thing we did in World War II was spend the time and money after the war to help those countries turn themselves into stable democracies.

You also need to take into account that despite the landings at Okinawa and the huger defeats in Manchuria, Japan still had armies fighting in Burma. and most if not all of Indo-China, and China itself.

Those Japanese armies would not have surrendered had they not been ordered to do so by the Imperial High Command - so simply laying siege to Japan would have still led to a great deal of killing throughout South East Asia

Not only would far more Japanese civilians have died, but so would all of our POWs. And , it is fairly possibly a number would have been eaten.

So, more Americans dead, more Japanese dead. In very horrible ways.

I think the basic principle controlling the situation was simple. "You fucked with us, you sonofabitch - we are going to make you sorry your father ever met your mother.

Yeah, yeah - you can keep your little emperor, as long as he keeps his mouth shut and his head down and does what MacArthur tells him. But that’s all you get. Take it, or leave it.

And if you leave it, your cities are going to cease to exist, one after another. And you are not going to go out in a blaze of glory, or take any of our guys with you like your fucking kamikazes. You are just going to die. Hiroshima was first, Nagasaki was second. Tokyo is next.

We are done messing around with you. Sign that surrender."

I think that really was the dominant thinking. IMO dropping the bomb was the correct decision, morally, but it is just one of those times where morality coincides with expediency.

It was time to be done - not sit around for a year on blockade patrol like we didn’t have anything better to do with our time.


What’s the point of having a terrible resolve if you don’t resolve things with it?

The notion that without the A-bomb the U.S. would have gone into some “let’s wait them out” posture doesn’t square with pre-nuclear reality. Both sides had already prepared for the invasions; Tokyo had already been fire bombed into bits and pieces and the USAF was bombing interior cities; the Japanese had established a command structure for the defense of the islands, and had begun preparing their citizens to defend the Empire to the death. Japan’s limited diplomatic effort to negotiate a peace included its keeping captured territories.

And remember, even when the Emperor called on the cabinet to surrender, it almost led to a military coup. The Japanese may have been already defeated by any reasonable measurement, but that doesn’t mean they were ready to admit it.

We’ll never know for certain if there was a non nuclear solution that would have ended the war with fewer casualties, but with the knowledge they had at the time, I think using nuclear weapons was a reasonable choice (if still among the least bad of many bad options). I’m not sure if the decision to drop a second bomb without giving the Japanese a chance to surrender after the first, was reasonable, however.

Well, the US Navy was supportive of the 'starve them out" blockade, so it wasn’t entirely out of the question. Just unlikely.

Yes we are. No scenario ends with less Japanese deaths. Starve them out would have led to less US deaths.

Hiroshima was on the 6th and nagasaki on the 9th, between the time Japan still insisted on their four conditions (none of which had been transmitted directly to the USA): (wiki)*On August 7, a day after Hiroshima was destroyed, Dr. Yoshio Nishina and other atomic physicists arrived at the city, and carefully examined the damage. They then went back to Tokyo and told the cabinet that Hiroshima was indeed destroyed by a nuclear weapon. Admiral Soemu Toyoda, the Chief of the Naval General Staff, estimated that no more than one or two additional bombs could be readied, so they decided to endure the remaining attacks, acknowledging “there would be more destruction but the war would go on”.[181] American Magic codebreakers intercepted the cabinet’s messages.[182]

Purnell, Parsons, Tibbets, Spaatz, and LeMay met on Guam that same day to discuss what should be done next.[183] Since there was no indication of Japan surrendering,[182] they decided to proceed with dropping another bomb…Until August 9, Japan’s war council still insisted on its four conditions for surrender. The full cabinet met on 14:30 on August 9, and spent most of the day debating surrender. Anami conceded that victory was unlikely, but argued in favour of continuing the war nonetheless. The meeting ended at 17:30, with no decision having been reached. Suzuki went to the palace to report on the outcome of meeting, where he met with Kōichi Kido, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal of Japan. Kido informed him that the emperor had agreed to hold an imperial conference, and gave a strong indication that the emperor would consent to surrender on condition that kokutai be preserved. A second cabinet meeting was held at 18:00. Only four ministers supported Anami’s position of adhering to the four conditions, but since cabinet decisions had to be unanimous, no decision was reached before it ended at 22:00.[233]*

The four conditions being:

  1. the preservation of the Imperial institution,
    2.assumption by the Imperial Headquarters of responsibility for disarmament and demobilization,
  2. no occupation of the Japanese Home Islands, Korea, or Formosa,
    4 delegation of the punishment of war criminals to the Japanese government.

I will point out that the US only made a promise that we’d consider #1, no actual deal was made on that point. In the end the Emperor was allowed to continue as a figurehead only.

It’s as close to certain as any hypothetical can be that a non-nuclear solution would have produced far more casualties. The deaths from the two atomic bombings were around 200,000 people. Estimates of how many people would have been killed by a blockade before Japan surrendered run into the millions. And not all deaths are equal. Starvation is one of the worst ways to die.

I don’t see why you’re saying the Japanese didn’t have a chance to surrender after the first bombing. The second bombing was three days later. The Japanese Supreme Council had met after the first bombing, assessed the impact of the bombing, and made the decision to continue fighting.

If the other option was dropping the atomic bomb, it was unlikely. As against telling Mr. and Mrs. America that another million of their sons were going to die, I think even in those times, it’s a closer call.

If I’m correctly recalling my history we didn’t explicitly signal to Japan that they must immediately surrender or face further atomic bombings after the first.

Yes we did.

Check out Truman’s statement about Hiroshima on August 6. Seems pretty clear to me.

Fair enough, I stand educated.

Wait – you think that we have an unequaled weapon, one that we have spent a huge amount of money developing (.6% of the entire war budget) – and now you think our elected leaders should decide not to use it?
Instead, pursue a slower, longer course that will result in many more deaths (on both sides)? Why would our leaders do that?

And could they have stayed in office if they had tried to do so?
Refusing to use all the weapons at our disposal could have arguably be called ‘giving aid and comfort to the enemy’.

As others point out, OP’s list of the disadvantages of prolonging the war overlook the on-going suffering in the still-vast Japanese-controlled territories in China and Southeast Asia.

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If no A-bomb had been dropped on Japan, one would have been used against North Korea. Seeing is believing. I don’t believe that passive demonstrations would have been sufficient for humanity to understand with certainty these weapons’ horror.