Read 1945 Online

Authors: Robert Conroy

Tags: #World War; 1939-1945 - United States, #Alternative histories (Fiction), #World War; 1939-1945, #General, #United States, #Historical, #War & Military, #World War; 1939-1945 - Japan, #Japan, #Fiction

1945 (54 page)

BOOK: 1945
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Byrnes shrugged, but the compliment pleased him. He had hoped to give it another year or so at State, but the pressures of the job in the past several months had accelerated the overall deterioration of his health. All his ambitions were now behind him.

"Harry, if I want to live to enjoy my retirement, I'd better go now. At any rate, General Marshall will do an outstanding job as my replacement. Sometimes I get the feeling Marshall's been prepping for this all his life. He's the man to shepherd the new world as it develops."

After a few minutes of small talk, Byrnes departed, leaving Truman with his many thoughts.

First and foremost, World War II was over and now the world was learning the true nature of nuclear warfare. Scientists from many nations were examining the ruins of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and the residue of the straits bomb. Radiation, so casually dismissed as a factor in earlier calculations, was being redefined as a deadly killer that never stopped killing.

Truman knew that a portion of the world's population would forever castigate him for using the terrible weapon, but he had done so with a clear conscience and the hope that the bomb would bring an early end to the war. That the war had not finally concluded until the early months of 1946 was sad, but not as awful as it could have been for either side had it dragged on even longer.

In the war's beginning, many predictions had called for fighting the Japanese until the latter part of the 1940s. "The Golden Gate in '48" had been the GIs' sarcastic lament. It meant that they themselves did not figure to get home until 1948. Truman considered himself responsible for doing much better than that.

The "peace with honor" had been less than the unconditional surrender of Japan that FDR had first declared was requisite. American military occupied less than a third of Kyushu and were negotiating with the Japanese government for long-term leases for naval, air, and army bases in the Kagoshima, Ariake, and Sasebo areas. After the boys came home, the total number of Americans at the several bases would likely be less than a hundred thousand and would be more concerned with Russia than Japan. That American troops would be coming home had offset any resentment that perhaps the Japs had gotten off too easily. Of course, newsreel films of the devastation in Japan reinforced that the Japs had been brutally beaten.

Joseph Grew was ensconced in Tokyo with several hundred civilian and military "advisers" who now worked with the new Japanese government. Homma and Ozawa had announced their intention to resign and retire from public life. Hirohito had renounced his claim to being a godhead, and democratic elections were being planned. The political face of Japan was being restructured.

Japan had withdrawn any claims to Formosa or Korea, although Okinawa would revert to Japanese control. Japanese garrisons, many starving and in wretched condition, had almost all departed from distant parts of the Empire and, like their brethren on the home islands, were being disarmed by their own government while American representatives watched. It was all astonishingly peaceful now.

War crimes were a touchy issue. Many of the major possible criminals were already dead. Anami, Sugiyama, and Tojo, to name a few, had either been killed or had committed suicide, while Ishii seemed to have disappeared. Even so, an international tribunal made up of representatives from Spain, Portugal, the Vatican, Switzerland, and Sweden would judge those the United States wished to prosecute.

Homma would not be prosecuted. There was substantial evidence that he might not have known the Bataan Death March was occurring. He had accepted moral responsibility for the atrocity insofar as he had been in command of the Japanese forces involved. In light of his subsequent actions in bringing the war to an end, he was given the benefit of a reasonable doubt.

Truman received the latest on casualties for Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu. The total stood at just under 350,000, and almost a third of those were dead. It was a staggering addition to the total of 300,000 Americans killed in all the other battles of World War II.

Many of the wounded were physically and mentally maimed for life. The medical profession took justifiable pride in that so many of the wounded would live, whereas, in prior wars, they would have succumbed to their wounds. While they might be crippled, they would at least have a chance at some kind of life.

It further grieved Truman that almost half the Allied POWs in Japanese hands the previous summer had died of various causes. These included starvation, mistreatment, murder, and death from American bombs and shells directed at where the Japs had placed them.

All of this, Truman thought, to conquer an area of Kyushu that was only a little larger than the state of Delaware. The hills must have been painted with dead. He thought it incredible that only a few months before, he and his advisers had debated just how hard, or even if, the Japs would fight. Now they knew. The Japanese had fought like tigers for their homes and their way of life. How could he and his advisers have been so wrong?

If he wanted good news, all he had to do was check what was happening to the Soviet Union. With their economy in shambles, ostracized by the Western nations, and living on plunder stolen from Eastern Europe, the Russians were now having a difficult time. In China, the collapse of the Nationalists and the departure of the Japanese had left a power vacuum. When both the Soviets and the Chinese Communists had tried to seize control, their forces had collided. Now, Chinese Reds and Russian Reds were killing each other, and the Russians, at the end of a long and tenuous supply line, were definitely getting the worst of it.

The Russians had also been forced to withdraw from Korea, this time urged on by a Korean national named Syngman Rhee, whose irregular armies had made life miserable for the Soviets. The Soviets' inability to succeed in Asia was not lost on European nations, which were gaining confidence in their dealings with the far from omnipotent Russian bear.

Only in the Middle East were American troops in any danger. Palestine was in ferment, and the British had informed Truman that they were no longer interested in policing it. Now that the British had Hong Kong back, there was little motivation for them to hang on in the bloody and not so Holy Land that had already claimed a number of lives.

The Arabs hated the United States for helping out the Jews, but that could not be helped. France and Holland were on Truman's back to help them reclaim their colonies in Southeast Asia, but he'd be damned if he would aid either country to enslave other human beings.

"What a helluva complicated world we live in," he said to the wall. He checked his watch. It was time for a drink.

 

Postscript

 

Many of the characters were people whose roles in "real" history were, of course, different from those shown. However, care was taken to make their behavior in the story consistent with what is known about them, their personalities, and their motives. To satisfy the curious, here is a summary of what actually happened to a number of those historical characters.

Truman, of course, was elected president in his own right in 1948 and subsequently fired Douglas MacArthur over his handling of the Korean War. MacArthur was replaced by Matthew Ridgway, who is generally given credit for stopping the Chinese. George C. Marshall became secretary of state and sponsored the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe, while Omar Bradley became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Most of the other Americans retired shortly after the end of the war.

The Japanese were not always so lucky.

After the war, Hirohito renounced any claims to divine status and continued to reign as emperor until his death in 1989. He was then succeeded by Crown Prince Akihito.

Defense Minister Anami committed suicide on August 15, 1945, after realizing that the coup attempt had failed because of his lack of support.

Lieutenant General Homma was executed in 1946 after being found guilty of war crimes involving the Bataan Death March. His degree of guilt is still debated.

Field Marshal Sugiyama committed suicide immediately after Japan's surrender.

Admiral Ozawa was never charged with any war crimes. He retired and died in the 1960s. There is confusion about the exact year of his death.

Captain Minoru Genda rejoined the Japanese military after the war and became chief of staff of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. He died in 1989.

Comdr. Mochitsura Hashimoto testified in the court-martial of the captain of the
Indianapolis
. After that, he disappeared and may have entered a monastery.

Lieutenant General Ishii was never tried for any crimes. Ironically, he was called upon to speak as a lecturer on chemical and biological warfare at what is now Fort Detrick, Maryland. Like Hashimoto, his ultimate fate is not known.

 

About The Author

 

Robert Conroy is a semi-retired business and economic history teacher living in suburban Detroit .

 

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