Anniversary of the Potsdam Declaration

Today is the anniversary of the Potsdam Declaration.
I highly recommend “Japan’s Decision to Surrender” by Robert Butow. He explores contemporaneous testimony on Japan’s leadership in those final days of WWII. Japan’s leadership, both civilian and military, wanted to keep their emperor; this conflicted directly with the demand for unconditional surrender and the elimination of all authority. Japan’s civilian leadership believed that this was possible if they surrendered to the UK (who had royalty) and the USA, but if they surrendered to the Soviet Union, that was it for the emperor.
While it my be true that continued bombardment of Japan with nuclear and conventional bombs would probably had eventually made it impossible for the country to continue to wage war, the two nuclear strikes did not do that, and the USA did not have additional nuclear bombs ready. Dropping conventional bombs also effectively destroyed military targets and started firestorms that caused massive infrastructure damage. Conventional strikes put more military personnel and resources at risk, but compared to a land assault, it may have been a less costly path. We’ll never know because the Soviets invaded Manchuria.
After reading Butow’s book, I think that the Soviet’s invasion of Manchuria was the breaking point. Not only did Japan lose a much needed resource that was feeding everyone in Japan, but it put the Soviet Union in close proximity. A land assault at this point would not have been just the western allies who were fighting in the Pacific; it would have included the Soviets who had just violated their non-aggression pact with Japan. So not only did the Soviets not keep their word with Japan, but the Soviets would most likely not allow Japan to keep their emperor.
And so, Japan chose to surrender to the UK and USA.
I don’t know how broadly distributed this interpretation was in the 1950s. However, I do know that the focus on nuclear weapons has been the dominant thread in more current interpretations. When I was a child, I learned the story as “We dropped one nuke; they didn’t surrender, so we dropped the second; they surrendered” which is chronologically true, but I think inaccurate.
As an adult, I’ve also heard the story that American casualties were expected to exceed 6 million for a land assault, which would have included my father and my husband’s father, but that begs the question of why not use conventional bombs to flatten Japan. Again, I think the nuclear weapon debate has taken this over: we had to use the nukes to avoid the massive casualties of a land assault. And, of course, both of these story lines are all about the USA and our choices, not about Japan and their choices at the end of WWII.

Happy Buphonia

Today is the day to sacrifice a working ox to Zeus, protector of cities (since most of us live in cities …).
I’m not sure where I’d get a working ox or 5, but this is how it is supposed to work:
A group of oxen was driven forward to the altar at the highest point of the Acropolis. On the altar a sacrifice of grain had been spread by members of the family of the Kentriadae, on whom this duty devolved hereditarily. When one of the oxen began to eat, thus selecting itself for sacrifice,[1] one of the family of the Thaulonidae advanced with an axe, slew the ox, then immediately threw aside the axe and fled the scene of his guilt-laden crime.
The slaughter of a laboring ox was forbidden; it was excused in these exceptional circumstances; nonetheless it was regarded as a murder. The axe, therefore, as being polluted by murder, was immediately afterward carried before the court of the Prytaneum, which tried the inanimate object for murder, and, after the water-bearers who lustrated the axe, the sharpeners who sharpened it, the axe-bearer who carried it, each denied in turn responsibility for the deed, the guilty axe or knife was there charged with having caused the death of the ox, for which the axe was acquitted (Pausanias) or the sacrificial knife was thrown into the sea (Porphyry). Apparently this is an early instance analogous to deodand. In the enactment of this comedy of innocence, and the joint feasting of all who participated save the slayer himself, individual consciences were assuaged and the polis was reaffirmed.
New words: lustrate and deodand

A Day to Live in Infamy

“Ten hours before the attack on December 7, 1941, Americans intercepted a 14-part Japanese message. It was deciphered at 4:37 am, just hours before the attack, but it remained in the code room. Three hours later it was delivered to President Franklin Roosevelt. By the time the deciphered message was transmitted to the Pacific, the receiver was not working. The attack cost 3400 lives. The message was delivered to Pearl Harbor three hours after the attack.”  from On This Day.

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