What defeated Japan in World War II? What prevented a full-scale and in all likelihood incredibly bloody invasion of the Japanese home islands, or, in former President Herber Hoover’s memorable phrase “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other”?
The answer that most people will probably come up with, without much hesitation, is: the nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945. Others may also point to the almost simultaneous Soviet invasion of Japanese-held northeast China – blitzkrieg on a massive scale and one of the greatest tank operations of all time.
However, China’s official view today is that Japan’s eventual defeat was the result of a cluster of much more complex factors.
“Japan was defeated in the Second World War not just by two atomic bombs dropped by the US,” China’s ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said this week, “but by all the peace-loving, anti-fascist countries and people — the peoples of the United Nations — including China and the United States, of course.”
Cui, who was speaking at a forum at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said the perception among some politicians in Tokyo that the Japanese Empire was defeated mainly by the Americans had real-life implications for present-day diplomacy.
“They believe that if you don’t antagonize the United States, everything would be OK for them, they don’t have to take care of the concerns of other countries,” he said.
The ambassador has a point. It’s not widely recognized in the west that China had been at war with Japan for eight years by the time the generals in Tokyo were forced to throw in the towel. It could even be argued, as this website does, that the Sino-Japanese War began as early as 1931, with the Japanese takeover of the northeast Chinese provinces known then as Manchuria.
The war in China almost definitely hastened the Japanese surrender by tying down a large number of Japanese troops that could have been sent to fight American soldiers and marines in the Pacific – if the Japanese had had the means to transport them to the island outposts forming their first line of defense. And that’s a big if.
The fact is that in the last years of the war in the Pacific, the ocean belonged to the Americans, and more specifically to the American submarine fleet. Any Japanese vessel moving on the surface did so at immense risk of being sunk by the devastatingly efficient US subs.
The contribution of the US submarines to the defeat of Japan is yet another key factor behind the victory in the Pacific – and one not widely appreciated outside the United States. Which actually goes to confirm the Chinese ambassador’s claim that it took more than two nuclear bombs to force Japan to its knees.