In the last month of the summer of 1945, UsefulNotes/WorldWarII was in its endgame. With UsefulNotes/NaziGermany defeated, ImperialJapan stood alone. The half-million men of [[KatanasOfTheRisingSun the China Expeditionary Force]] had been cut off from all supply and its garrisons were left to rot on the vine, scouring the countryside for food and grain on an even greater scale than ever before even as [[ChiangKaiShek Generalissimo Chiang's]] [[NoMoreEmperors Guomindang]] moved to crush them one by one. [[note]] Despite the inefficiency, incompetence, and slowness that was endemic in the coalition-army the Generalissimo half-shared and half-bullied out of China's lesser warlords, with Japanese forces completely un-supplied and isolated Guomindang victory was inevitable. [[/note]] The 1.5 million men of the Kwantung (aka [[WhyMaoChangedHisName Guandong]]) Army were busy being routed by some two million elite armoured and mechanised units of the Soviet Union's Red Army, more than a million Kwantung Army troops having thrown down their weapons and surrendering en masse[[note]]This was not unprecedented. Nearly a tenth of the two hundred thousand men defending Okinawa surrendered, and more than half of the Ryukyu island chain's civilians survived the battle despite the best efforts of the IJA and IJN to get them to commit suicide or have them killed[[/note]], the Red Army hounding their panicked retreat onto the North China Plain around Beijing and down the Korean Peninsula. [[KatanasOfTheRisingSun The Imperial Navy having been totally annihilated the previous year]], save for the Tokubetsu Kogeki[[note]]''[[SuicideAttack Special Attack]]''[[/note]] Speedboat and Submarine units, even the Soviets ''tiny'' Far Eastern Flotilla was able to help the Red Army take Southern Sakhalin island. Given the Soviets' total air-supremacy, this left them in a position to make a supported landing on the northernmost 'Home Island' of Ezo/Hokkaido from the tiny and isolated IJA forces that had been assigned to defend it, and use this as a springboard to take Honshu [[note]] The distance between Ezo/Hokkaido and Honshu being about the same as the English Channel (at Calais). However, would've been an ongoing issue even if they'd managed to quickly secure good ports - albeit one partly compensated by the fact that the Japanese had virtually no (food) supplies whatsoever to spare for their own troops outside Kyushu and The Tokyo Plain.[[/note]]. Or so the plan went; if given enough time the Soviets would have undoubtedly accomplished it, but even their stellar performances elsewhere in Sakhalin and the Kurils had demonstrated several problems they had in the sort of operation necessary for this, and it would likely have been a very hard slog.
The icing on the cake, though, was ''[[MeaningfulName Operation Downfall]]''. For while Hokkaido was of no strategic value, and the Soviets would not be able to amass land forces large and well-supplied enough to take Tokyo because of the supply constraints[[note]] The Soviets had nowhere near The Allies' capacity to supply places by ship, as their merchant navy was so tiny by comparison. Moreover, the Soviets would've had trouble using Japanese railway lines to supply their forces as they would've had a hard time finding trains for them or even fuel for said trains. Honshu's mountainous and hilly terrain is also bad news for tank and mechanised units, whose vehicles also require a lot of supplies to run. Thus, the Soviets probably would've forgone their massive advantage in mobile warfare in favour of using their elite mountain infantry troops. That said, said mountain troops had extensive experience fighting through the Caucasus, Carpathian, and Khingan mountain ranges, so there's no reason to think they should have found Honshu particularly difficult.[[/note]], ''Operation Downfall'' promised to bring the fight directly to the capital. For the Tokyo Plains, the closest thing to 'tank country' in all the Japanese Isles, had - you guessed it - Tokyo smack-bang right in the middle of them. Worse still, the whole thing was girded by miles and miles of ''excellent'' beaches for landing an invasion force of over half a million men and (tens of) thousands of armoured vehicles on. Keeping said force supplied was not going to be a problem either, given the number of good ports in the area - and places to ''make'' good ports from scratch - and just how many transport ships the Allies had. Preventing the landings outright would be impossible, as the largest and most powerful battle-fleet ever assembled (with over ten thousand carrier-based aircraft) would help the troops annihilate any force within twenty kilometers of the coast, whether they used fortifications or not.
[[folder: ''Operation Downfall'']]
The prospects were ''not'' good, even accounting for just how transparent and easily-anticipated The Allies' overall plan for ''Operation Downfall'' was [[note]] i.e. a landing on Kyushu, the southernmost major island, to establish airbases and use them to provide air-cover for the main landings on the southern and eastern coasts of the Tokyo Plain to take the capital in a swift, overwhelming strike. [[/note]] Although some two thousand aircraft and several thousand speedboats had been made available or constructed for ''Tokubetsu Kogeki'' duty, only a handful of regular submarines and mini-submarines were left, and though the Home Islands Defence Corps had enough regular soldiers to match the invaders' million men man-for-man, they didn't have enough weapons for a fifth of them and the [[HomeGuard 'Volunteer Defence Corps']] which took over most of the support roles was largely composed of unarmed women, kids, and the elderly; 'unarmed', because there weren't enough weapons (or even food) for them. Ammunition production was hovering a touch above zero, despite the attempt at using hundreds of thousands of Korean slave-labourers to improve productivity, since the USAF's strategic bombing campaign had caused such extensive damage to the country's infrastructure - i.e. the railway and telegraph lines were cut more often than not, more and more roads were out, the power was out 24/7, and water supplies were iffy. The fact that they were willing to work their workers to death (on threat of torture and death) didn't help increase productivity, since they physically weren't able to do the work without power or raw materials.
Despite their best efforts to conscript the civilian population to build fortifications, the conscript-workforce's efficiency had been severely reduced by starvation, low morale resulting from starving military personnel stealing food from and brutalising civilians, and deaths from air-raids. There also wasn't enough concrete-mix, let alone enough iron or steel, to construct the fortifications properly - even once the use of such materials in any other capacity (including bomb-shelters) had been forbidden. This was a major contributing factor to the lethality of the USAF's strategic bombing campaign on Japanese urban centres, which killed between 250 and 900k civilians[[note]]The Great Firebombing of Tokyo, which killed 80k and wounded another 40k, would not have been anywhere near as lethal had there been a single adequate bomb-shelter in the city outside the grounds of the Imperial Palace.[[/note]] The food situation was also slightly desperate, as the average citizen was living on some 1200 of the 2000 calories-a-day they needed to survive - the country had had to import food for decades by that point, and domestic agriculture had been devastated by the disappearance of the fertilizer and agricultural-machinery industries[[note]]Both had been sacrificed upon the altars of the gods of explosives and war-machines, respectively[[/note]] and the wartime labour shortage. Unsurprisingly, morale [[ScrewThisImOuttaHere hung by a thread]] as every sane man, woman, and child in The Empire realized that its strategic position could very easily be summed up [[http://youtu.be/pje5ROe5Y_w?t=1m38s in a single, rude word]].
[[folder: The Junta Decides]]
Knowing very well close they were to total defeat, the Cabinet was split on those who wanted to surrender now, please, before they kill us all, and those who wanted to fight to the death. The latter were an oddity whom the former allowed to be a vocal minority to buck up morale and make it appear to The Allies that resistance would remain fierce despite the mass-surrenders evident in Manchuria. But the former faction was evenly split on those who wanted to 'surrender now, please, before the surrender terms get worse and we have to be subjected to war crime trials that we'll probably all be hanged for[[note]]Because of those few hundred thousand people we had enslaved for hard labour or sexual services, and those five million civilians and POWs we had or let be killed, and those ten-to-twenty million civilians who died of exposure or starvation-related diseases because we forced them to flee as refugees or stole or burned their crops[[/note]]', and those who wanted to 'surrender with some dignity'. In any case, peace-negotiations were ongoing throughout 1945 but the Cabinet was ''loathe'' to admit that they basically had zero bargaining power until after the fall of Germany that May, whereupon they insisted merely upon the retention of the Emperor as Supreme Head of State (with full powers, naturally) and that there would be no war-crimes trials after the war. The Allies weren't having any of that, however, because they had all agreed that ''Un-conditional''/total surrender was what they were aiming for.
[[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgement This page isn't a place for tropers to discuss whether the bombings were 'justified' or not,]] [[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgement thank you.]]
[[folder: Impressing the Soviets]]
Just as if not more important was the balance of power; by this point in time the Red Military was a massive, sophisticated juggernaut. By some estimates, it had thee times as many combat troops as the Western Allies put together, twice as many AFVs,and an only slight inferiority in fighter-aircraft, and though the Soviets lacked bombers The Allies' bombers didn't have the range to damage any Soviet urban or industrial centres (the latter having been moved to the Urals and Siberia during the first months of Germany's ''Operation Barbarossa''). [[ThoseWackyNazis The Nazis]] had thought right up 'til the end that the mutual threat posed by the Soviet Union was sufficiently great that The Allies would happily sign a truce with them in exchange for Germany's support against the Soviets. [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Unthinkable The prognosis of a war with the USSR]] would be, at best, a gruesome stalemate... and at worst, the loss of western Europe and China.
Of course, in many ways, these figures were and are highly misleading, as you might have guessed by the above reference that the utterly devastated Japanese could have had a good chance of turning back an attack by them on Honshu. In fact, it's notable that the Soviets actually suffered significantly larger per-capita casualties in their limited roles in the Pacific War than many of the larger players (popping in only around the leadup during the border wars with Japanese-occupied Korea and Manchuria and as the largest aid-givers in the pre-Pearl Harbor days, and at the end in 1945).The Soviet Union was a rightfully formidable force, but it was also demographically devastated by the "Great Patriotic War" in a way that places like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Metropolitan France, India, and most of the colonies never were. In addition, the Soviet Union lagged far behind the West economically and especially technologically and in terms of research, which would have likely seen the Soviet advantages ( outpaced like the German and Japanese ones had been. The Soviet Union's massive wartime rebuilding, upgrading, and advances were largely enabled by resources and supplies shipped by the West, which would naturally have been cut off if the Soviets had gone to war. And finally, the Western Allies had lost Western Europe and China just a few years before during WWII and managed to rebound little worse for the wear.
Ultimately though, it boiled down to the fact that the Soviets were still deeply formidable up front and the Western public was tired. After years of being told that the Soviets were trustworthy and good allies, a sudden about face would've been quite shocking, and while the West probably would have the edge in a "Long Game"- like it would eventually use in the Coldwar - just about everybody was interested in finishing the partition of the world without more war than necessary. In light of that, the Soviets and Chinese could get the best deal by continuing to advance using their dominant land force, while the West would get the best by forcing a Japanese surrender in the Home Islands and forcing terms that would allow them to march in and disarm the remaining Japanese where they could.
So it became beneficial for the USA to force an unconditional Japanese surrender, and do it *quickly.*
[[folder: Blood Price]]
The prospects for Operation Downfall were absolutely bone-chilling for anyone sane, especially for the Japanese (who faced the non-trivial chance of being wiped off the face of the planet) and Western nations like the USA (which had escaped the worst fighting and horrors of the war). There was no doubt about the poor shape of the Japanese military by this point or the regime's inefficiency, but the fanaticism the Japanese military and even civilian population had carved deep into the psyche of just about anyone who had dealt with them in their heyday. By any conventional standard, the Japanese were suffering from poor morale, but that could be offset 'by balls to the wall' desperation that might cause those of them who weren't fainting from hunger to fight just as hard as they were when they had been on their winning streaks. On the other hand, it could also lead to straightup collapses and mass-surrenders like what had taken place with the Kwantang Army or the sizable (by their standards) surrenders in Burma and Okinawa, but the dominant experience of most that had been fighting the Japanese for years was of utter, fanatical refusal to surrender for even the most minor and barren of objectives. So nobody could imagine what confronting them for the Home Islands themselves would bring.
However, all estimates agreed it would be ugly. Casualty estimates for the Western Allies range from the tens of thousands to the millions, with estimated deaths usually clocking in in the hundreds of thousands range, making it very possible that it would cause more casualties than the entire rest of the war the West had fought in put together.[[note]]The U.S. planned for this by manufacturing 500,000 of the medals that their country gave its troops for being wounded in combat - the 'Purple Heart'. To this day—despite fighting in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, a messy partisan war in Iraq, and everything in between—the U.S. ''still'' has about 100,000 of these Downfall-era medals.[[/note]] It was thought that Japanese dead would reach German, Soviet or Chinese levels, estimates of the time reckoning that several million would be killed on the field and die from related reasons (the bombings, blockade, starvation, obliteration of what little infrastructure still remained, etc). We think now that a decent ten-plus million would be plausible given the lack of food and fuel in the country, which could see the islands suffer conditions (and death-rates) like those of The Siege of Leningrad during the winter of '45-46.
Unsurprisingly, this was horrifying to the Western Allies - who had lost relatively few people in the war, Bengal/Indian Famine of '42-43 aside - and particularly The Western Allied political leadership. Everyone wanted the war over and nobody wanted there to be any more Allied military dead - they were already facing domestic turmoil just from the ongoing war's monetary costs, which were just a fraction of Downfall's price tag (which also had a blood-price, as we mentioned). Going through with Downfall would have been ''incredibly'' unpopular at home, especially if the public thought there was any way it could be avoided. So they decided to use the bombs against the cities that they had had trouble fire-bombing and were still largely intact. This was done to prove the bombs' killing-power and would be part of a huge bluff - the USA would pretend that it had lots of these bombs. The Junta wanted to resist because it thought that the USA's elected politicians were so afraid of its people dying trying to take the Home Islands (and thus being voted out of power) that they would make peace with The Junta to avoid that. But if the USA had a lot of atomic bombs, then it could defeat the Junta with a minimum of US losses... and The Junta would have no bargaining power because the USA could just as easily defeat them as negotiate with them.
[[folder: The Atomic Bombing Campaign]]
The choosing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima as the targets was almost a chance event, as there were four target cities which were still hadn't been totally destroyed. All had been 'raided', yes, but various reasons, i.e. importance of the military industries therein, layout of the city, weather/climate conditions (e.g. lots of rain all the time = bad), strength of anti-air defenses meant that none of them had been razed to the ground like all the other cities in Japan. The Enola Gay launched the first nuclear device, Little Boy, at Hiroshima at 8:15 am, on a hot summer day. People had ironically just gotten out of the air raid shelters when the bomb went off after Necessary Evil, a scout plane, passed by. (perhaps a fitting name?) Wind caused it to miss the point it was aimed for, the Aioi Bridge, and detonate over Shima Surgical Clinic instead. It killed some 30% in the blast and firestorm alone.
Japan's main broadcasting corporation's radio control operator soon noticed the signal to the Hiroshima station was as dead [[ShapedLikeItself as something an atomic bomb had been dropped on]]. At military headquarters, many thought it the result of some technical error or meteorological phenomenon or other, despite the total loss of contact with all stations in and around Hiroshima. It wasn't August the 8th that Radio Tokyo reported that "Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death" and people realized it was neither an error, a natural phenomenon, or just another run-of-the-mill strategic-bombing. The Nagasaki bomb was detonated at 11:01 AM on 9 August 1945. Nagasaki was a rather hilly city and most of the city was merely demolished rather than vaporised, which meant there was plenty of stuff left over for the firestorms (which did most of the actual work in destroying the city and killing its people) to burn. Total death toll was c.150-250k - not bad, considering, and as little as an eighth of the total USAF strategic bombing campaign. The Soviet Union, having lost some c.27 million military and civilian dead, was totally nonplussed and the Chinese (having lost c.10-20 million civilian and c.3-million-plus military dead) were if anything somewhat disappointed (but still a tad or more gleeful).
The American public, on the other hand, was a little shocked. Though they weren't told of the figure until long-afterwards (the USA only lost 0.42 milllion military dead throughout the war and negligible civilian dead, making the death toll seem very large by comparison), the tales some heard of the destruction made it all seem a bit unnecessarily brutal. At the time the reaction to the bombings was rather varied, with a VocalMinority advocating the dropping of more atomic bombs and the genocide of the Japanese nation. Genocide was never on the cards, but it's hard to see how the USA could have earned an even greater reputation for being almost as brutal, if not more so, than the USSR whose Red Army had killed some six million German troops. Government censorship of the effects of the bomb, and especially of photographs, meant that very few people understood that most of the bomb-deaths were not instantaneous but rather from radiation-poisoning. That said, nobody had much of an idea of the lasting effects of fallout at the time.
[[folder: Defeat With Honour]]
The Imperial Cabinet first ignored the bombing of Hiroshima, but when Nagasaki was hit the pre-existing rifts came to the surface and promptly caused it to fall apart. The "Doves" in the Cabinet viewed the bombings as an unrequited- if macabre- blessing. The bombings provided a ''perfect'' excuse for just getting the whole 'giving up' thing over with because, hey, surrendering to an enemy who has 'the power of a thousand suns, in a bomb' doesn't sound so bad really - it would totally overshadow the fact that it was less your collective fault for getting the entire country [[SecondSinoJapaneseWar into a massive regular-and-guerilla war]] [[ForeverWar it couldn't possibly win]], and then ''[[UsefulNotes/WorldWarII getting involved in another]]'' just to avoid stopping the first one [[GeneralFailure because really, guys, come on, we're gonna win this one any year and loss of a hundred thousand men now, be good sports why don't you.]] So it was that they reduced their conditions to just retaining the Emperor, who was not to be tried for war crimes[[note]]Like establishing Research Unit 731 of the Kwantung/Guandong Army, which went through several (tens of) thousand(s of) 'logs' in live human experiments to develop chemical and biological weapons which were used on Chinese urban centres and agricultural areas during [[SecondSinoJapaneseWar the war.[[/note]] This was promptly rejected by the Allies again, and so the decision to surrender unconditionally was soon decided.
In contrast, the aforementioned VocalMinority of hardliners who would have nothing but victory or extinction decreased further in number as even some of their ranks defected, but those who remained stayed just as stalwart. Ultimately, the united front the Doves made in the aftermath and the personal declaration of the Emperor were needed to force the issue and convince most of the remaining Hawks to accept defeat. [[RunningGag And even then, some were still defiant]] to the point where they told junior and non-commissioned officers what was happening and encouraged them to save Japan's honor by [[InsaneTrollLogic launching a coup against the Emperor and his government]] to kidnap him, kill several of his senior staff, and destroy all records of the Japanese surrender in order to try and rally the rest of the country to one final glorious stand. The young patriots were soon put down by security forces, despite a final attempt by them to hijack the truck carrying the recording of the Emperor's 'Jewel Voice' speech, and the Emperor's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was broadcast soon after.
[[folder: The Soviets 'Overawed', the Japanese vanquished, and lives saved]]
The Allies accepted, and so a truce was concluded on the 15th of August until the representatives of both countries' governments could meet (on September the 2nd) to sign the peace treaty. In the meantime, The Cabinet set about destroying all the records they could of everything even remotely related to War Crimes before the Americans' troop-ships landed to occupy the place some two weeks later. This would leave the post-war Tokyo (war crime) Trials a teensy bit short of critical evidence... which meant a lot of pretty-obviously-guilty individuals got off scot-free[[note]]Such as, at one point, ''The Prime Minister''. Kishi Nobusuke, Prime Minister from 1957-60, provided Chinese slaves for Japanese state-run corporations in Manchuria. None of the documentation survived, however, so there was nothing to prosecute him with.[[/note]]
The decision to prove the bombing accomplished everything it was meant to achieve... sorta. The Soviets appeared to respect the USA's ruthlessness and power enough not to [[WorldWarThree start anything]] or drive too hard a bargain over the future of East Asia[[note]]In reality, they were just too tired and could not be bothered. The war had totally exhausted them, at the last thing they wanted was another right now, even if they did blunder into several sizable armed conflicts with Western forces at the tail end. Interestingly, the Soviet intelligence services knew pretty much everything about the bombs except how exactly they worked, and even that didn't stay hidden from them for more than a few years[[/note]], the premature defeat of Japan allowed the Guomindang to reclaim most of China for themselves (the USAAF used its transport planes and bombers to ferry them over to accept the surrender of most garrisons) and it would remain that way until the Nationalists blundered into another war with the CCP and would up thoroughly vanquished. All of Japan was secured for the USA, the c.500 000 (inc. c.100k deaths) almost-entirely-American[[note]]Just three divisions of British, Canadian, and Australian troops were included in the force. Their weaponry and ammunition, equipment, unit-structure, and tactical-strategic doctrine was just too different for them to be included in greater numbers. Most of the Royal Navy was slated to show up, however[[/note]] and c.1-10 million Japanese civilian casualties[[note]]The estimate at the time was a bit lower, but we now know that the cessation of hostilities and the massive quantities of food-aid from the Allies prevented an absolutely massive famine from occurring in the autumn of 1945 onwards[[/note]]expected to result from ''Downfall'' were averted, and [[UsefulNotes/TheKoreanWar even a bit of Korea was given over to The Allies...]]
It is interesting to note that the use of nuclear weapons were a part of some variants of ''Downfall''. However, they would have been used to bomb the beaches to eliminate Japanese fortifications before an invasion. One plan involved using twenty nuclear weapons, nine of which were decoys to fool the Japanese troops to amass at the bombing site and not at the real landing beach, which would also have conveniently irradiated the Japanese army. Except, read that again. The United States intended to use atomic bombs to ''establish a beachhead'' -- meaning they planned on dropping nukes and then marching their own troops through the impact zone while it was still glowing. While obviously nobody at the time knew the long-term dangers of fallout and radiation poisoning, hindsight lets us look back in horror at just how close the atomic bombs came to killing everyone in ''both'' armies.
[[folder: Your Own Citywide Hell: The initial effects of the atomic bombings]]
Immediately after the atomic bomb detonated, there was an immense blinding flash which the Japanese onomatopoeia was ''pika'', which [[EyeScream melted the corneas]] of anyone unlucky enough to look directly at the light. Along with it was immense heat, 3 times hotter than the surface of the sun, that reduced anyone out in the open in the epicenter, to carbon. Much of the way the effects of atomic bombings are portrayed in fiction comes from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
!!Depictions in fiction:
* ''BarefootGen'' A semiautobiographical account of the author's own experiences surviving Hiroshima.
* Both 1989 films titled ''Black Rain''. The Japanese film is an account of the bombing of Hiroshima, while the American film, directed by Ridley Scott, uses Hiroshima as the villain's motivation. Both films take their title from the ''kuroi ame'', or black rain, a rain that was heavy with soot, ash and nuclear fallout, that fell on Hiroshima for days after the bombing.
* In ''Series/TheTwilightZone'' episode "No Time Like The Past", a man goes back in time to Hiroshima right before the bomb drops to warn the military, but they don't listen to him, thinking he's crazy.
* In ''Obasan'' by Joy Kogawa, Naomi's mother dies in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, although she doesn't find out until years later.
* The opening of ''Film/TheWolverine'' takes place at the bombing of Nagasaki. Wolverine is being held at a POW camp across the bay, where he survives with one Japanese soldier. [[spoiler: Said soldier is Ichiro Yashida, the grandfather of Wolverine's love interest Mariko.]]