Responsibility of U.S. and Soviet Union
War responsibility of the United States and the Soviet Union in the Showa War has barely been discussed. The Great Tokyo Air Raid of March 10, 1945, killed about 88,000 civilians and others and there were other similar raids across Japan. In addition, the United States dropped two atomic bombs, killing about 140,000 in Hiroshima and about 74,000 in Nagasaki. Before those attacks, the U.S. forces examined how many incendiaries were necessary to incinerate Japanese cities through air raids by B-29 bombers. Some evidence indicates U.S. President Harry Truman considered limiting the atomic bombs’targets to military facilities and concentrations of soldiers. In reality, however, he ordered the atomic bombs to be dropped on cities without an official warning. Were the incendiary attacks and atomic bombings necessary even though Japan’s ability to keep fighting was on the verge of collapse?
Helen Mears, a Japan expert and former member of the Advisory Committee for the Labor Bureau of the General Headquarters of the Occupation forces, pointed out that the U.S. authorities made policy decisions based on an exaggerated image that portrayed the Japanese people as the “world’s most militaristic nation” and most “fanatic warlike people”—in spite of the fact that Japan’s defeat was inevitable.
U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, who ordered the massive incendiary attack on Tokyo, said after World War II: “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side.”
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union declared war against Japan on August 8, 1945, and attacked the Kwantung Army in Manchuria (now northeastern China) on August 9, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Since the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact was binding until April 1946, the Soviet entry into the war was an obvious violation of the pact. On August 14, Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and notified its acceptance to the Allied Powers. However, the Soviet forces continued fighting. They perpetrated all kinds of atrocities not only against Japanese military forces but also against Japanese and Chinese citizens.
The Soviet Union failed in its plan to occupy Hokkaido in the face of U.S. opposition, but it occupied Japan’s Northern Territories—the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets—between August 28 and September 5, despite the fact that Japan signed surrender documents on September 2.
After giving up on taking Hokkaido, Soviet leader Josef Stalin on August 23 ordered Japanese soldiers and civilians to be sent as prisoners of war to Siberian internment camps, mainly for forced labor. About 575,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were detained there and forced to work under brutal conditions. Records show that at least 55,000 people died during their forced detention.