Kursk - could the outcome have been different?

Paul M. Weir

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Hawaiian invasion after multiple airstrikes by the Kido Butai obtain complete air supremacy over the islands - the Close escort force battleships bombard landing beaches near Pearl City - and assault waves come ashore with the smoking ruins of the US Pacific Fleet still at anchor where they sunk or capsized? Could the Japanese have pulled off a surprise invasion on December 7th?
They had a good chance of getting ashore, if they could have got there with sufficient troops. I'm not suggesting that an invasion fleet and subsequent landing force would have been badly damaged, the Japanese had surprise on theirs side and I suspect would have gained substantial lodgements if not complete control on one or more of the islands. Unlike Wake or Midway with the Hawaiian islands just have too much coast to be defended with sufficient density and the Japanese could pick weak spots.

The problem is logistics. As it was the historical PH strike force was at the limit of it's logistical range. It was expected that they would have to leave destroyers behind to fend for themselves on the return leg due to the difficulty of at sea refuelling. They just managed that, but an invasion force would have required the services of a multitude of smaller than cruiser sized ships that would not have had the range to get to Hawaii and back and then assist in SE Asia. The larger combat vessels would have had the range without refuelling, but would have had to hang round to assist the invasion, severely weakening or delaying the SE Asia attack. Let us not forget that the raw material resources (oil, tin, rubber, etc) of SE Asia was the primary and dominant reason to go to war, everything else was subordinate to that.

As it was ground forces that were used in the Philippines had to be drawn off for the Malay invasion before the Philippines invasion was completed and were later returned/replaced. Even I have difficulty in comprehending the thinness of force margin that the Japanese had. Everything had to go just right. With the exception of the first Wake invasion, that indeed happened, so it appeared then and still appears to a good extent now, that the Japanese had great force superiority. A major defeat or severe delay in one enterprise would have affected the next like a snowball starting an avalanche. (Don't start me on MacArthur, grrrrrr!)

I have a feeling that they could easily have held the islands for a bit more than a year, the loss of PH would have been a severe brake on the USN, but supporting the islands would have been an utter nightmare and once the US arrived in sufficient force the Japanese would have had to kiss their garrison goodbye.

If PH was a smash and grab raid by a strong, fleet footed teenager, the invasion of the Islands would have been the equivalent of bringing your extended family, including grandparents, pregnant women and babies along.

In summary, while temporarily more successful than Seelöwe, the end result would have been the same, the loss of any garrison. Besides the Japanese simply did not have the spare forces.

As an aside, while in Alternate History fora the Unmentionable Sea Mammal (Seelöwe) is a standing joke, an invasion of the Hawaiian Islands rarely gets mentioned as it is considered so implausible and so strategically moronic (even by Japanese standards).
 

von Marwitz

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Hawaiian invasion after multiple airstrikes by the Kido Butai obtain complete air supremacy over the islands - the Close escort force battleships bombard landing beaches near Pearl City - and assault waves come ashore with the smoking ruins of the US Pacific Fleet still at anchor where they sunk or capsized? Could the Japanese have pulled off a surprise invasion on December 7th?
Yeah, that would do for a move from Kursk over Seelöwe to another place... ;)

von Marwitz
 

Paul M. Weir

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The use of the atomic bomb was never necessary in the large sense. Japan was going to lose the war whether the atomic bomb was used or not. I would argue that given the evidence available at the time its use was justifiable. I also think that a fair case can be made that its importance in the actual way the war ended was not crucial. The Japanese were probably going to surrender anyway, but there is no way that the Americans could have guessed that.

JR
While with the benefit of hindsight the use of nuclear weapons might or might not been necessary (the Soviet DoW being a major, major shock to the Japanese), given the previous experience that the US had of the unyielding and utterly fanatical resistance by the Japanese, I simply can't condemn the US. I suspect that the Japanese participants in the surrender debate really could not pinpoint any one reason as absolutely dominant, more likely the sheer mass of unremitting disasters was what forced their hands. It at least give the leadership a fig leaf. So while the use of a nuclear weapon is a stain on humanity, I in all conscience have to give the US a pass on this with only a sad Tut-Tut.
 

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While with the benefit of hindsight the use of nuclear weapons might or might not been necessary (the Soviet DoW being a major, major shock to the Japanese), given the previous experience that the US had of the unyielding and utterly fanatical resistance by the Japanese, I simply can't condemn the US. I suspect that the Japanese participants in the surrender debate really could not pinpoint any one reason as absolutely dominant, more likely the sheer mass of unremitting disasters was what forced their hands. It at least give the leadership a fig leaf. So while the use of a nuclear weapon is a stain on humanity, I in all conscience have to give the US a pass on this with only a sad Tut-Tut.
We definitely wanted to prevent the USSR from having much impact on post war Japan. I suspect the ancillary reasons for using the atomic bomb had more influence on the decision than did military strategy.
 

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They had a good chance of getting ashore, if they could have got there with sufficient troops. I'm not suggesting that an invasion fleet and subsequent landing force would have been badly damaged, the Japanese had surprise on theirs side and I suspect would have gained substantial lodgements if not complete control on one or more of the islands. Unlike Wake or Midway with the Hawaiian islands just have too much coast to be defended with sufficient density and the Japanese could pick weak spots.

The problem is logistics. As it was the historical PH strike force was at the limit of it's logistical range. It was expected that they would have to leave destroyers behind to fend for themselves on the return leg due to the difficulty of at sea refuelling. They just managed that, but an invasion force would have required the services of a multitude of smaller than cruiser sized ships that would not have had the range to get to Hawaii and back and then assist in SE Asia. The larger combat vessels would have had the range without refuelling, but would have had to hang round to assist the invasion, severely weakening or delaying the SE Asia attack. Let us not forget that the raw material resources (oil, tin, rubber, etc) of SE Asia was the primary and dominant reason to go to war, everything else was subordinate to that.
I believe that the Japanese could have managed to successfully land on the Hawaiian isles and subdued them albeit at difficulties as Paul points out.

But the most crucial point IMHO would not have been the logistics of getting the invasion force there and the involved ships back. Even tougher and in fact impossible would have been the supply of a Japanese force on the Hawaiian islands after it had been successfully established.

The Japanese fleet carrier force was superior to their US counterpart in that it was routinely able to form multi-carrier airgroups of aircraft being launched from several carriers. This gave them tremendous offensive power. At the time, the US was only able to launch airgroups from a single carrier but not to effectively coordinate aircraft from several carriers in flight. However, while the Japanese fleet carriers were a formidable strike force, they were not able to maintain station to actually secure a huge area of the sea which would have to be guarded to allow for the supply of Hawaii. Using the Japanese fleet carrier for the purpose would furthermore have deprived the Japanese Navy of the best asset they had: The ability to strike with overwhelming power at any point they wanted. They could effectively threaten everything and make successful strikes where they chose. They could not secure vast areas of the sea, while at the same time forfeiting their striking power.

Thus, the US would have been able to disrupt the supply of any established Japanese force on the Hawaiian isles. For this reason, it was prudent for the Japanese not to attempt to invade them.

von Marwitz
 

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Also, there was no way the US was going to have spent that much time, energy and resources (approx 2% GNP) to develop such a weapon, invade Japan and suffer possibly horrendous casualties (and the resultant political fallout) and not use the weapon is almost inconceivable. That Japan, still possessing a huge empire and the majority of their army intact, would have sued for peace simply to alleviate the possible suffering of the homeland is highly doubtful. The use of the two atomic bombs probably saved the lives of up to at least 2 million Japanese from starvation and the additional depredations of a prolonged war.
 

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Also, there was no way the US was going to have spent that much time, energy and resources (approx 2% GNP) to develop such a weapon, invade Japan and suffer possibly horrendous casualties (and the resultant political fallout) and not use the weapon is almost inconceivable. That Japan, still possessing a huge empire and the majority of their army intact, would have sued for peace simply to alleviate the possible suffering of the homeland is highly doubtful. The use of the two atomic bombs probably saved the lives of up to at least 2 million Japanese from starvation and the additional depredations of a prolonged war.
No it was actually quite plausible and there had already been feelers. In addition, the Japanese did not want to tackle the Soviet Union and were deathly afraid of communism.
 

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No it was actually quite plausible and there had already been feelers. In addition, the Japanese did not want to tackle the Soviet Union and were deathly afraid of communism.
FEELERS! The proposal to the Soviet Union included a proviso that there should be no occupation of Japanese lands or holdings, no war tribunals or reparations, and the Japanese Empire, true to their display of humanity, would dispose of POWs in accepted principles (whatever that meant); And finally, the Emperor must remain in place as a divine being! The term peace feelers is so ridiculous as to be deemed not even laughable. The Japanese Empire was an evil empire on par with, if not exceeding that of, the Nazis. Their wanton decimation of Chinese, Filipino, South East Asians and countless other non-Japanese peoples is comparable to only the Nazis or Stalinist Soviet Union standards. The hardliners certainly had not been removed from positions of power or influence as evidenced by the last minute attempt to dispose of the Emperor once the decision had been arrived at to sue for peace after the bombings and the assassination of the most senior peace advocate and former prime minister by elements of the armed forces. Their continued ability to deceive not only the populace of Japan, but themselves, to the true state of affairs is almost without compare and almost incomprehensible to present day people. They continued to deny responsibility for their actions as it pertained to the war or common standards of decency and humanity. This can be evidenced by their actions even after the war refusing to bring to justice some of the worst humanitarian offenders, nor even to take responsibility as a government for their actions.
As for our decision to use the bomb(s) to dissuade Communism, that's a CROC! The U.S & to a lesser extent Britain (it was they that had a truer handle on Soviet aims), had pleaded with Stalinist Russia to enter the war even sooner. It was Stalin that upon being apprised of the bomb and its imminent use, that rushed preparations to launch their attack into Manchuria on the eve of their usage. Had not the bombs been available, the U.S. was fully prepared to invade the home islands on schedule - and it is fairly certain that the Japanese had every intent to defend them to the last to best of their ability.
 

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I am trying to figure out how incinerating Japanese civilians either by atomic bombs or normal incendiaries is retribution for the ruling class in Japan's "lack of decency." In addition, I never said that we dropped atomic bombs to dissuade communism. I said that the Japanese were afraid of communism and the entry of the Soviet Union in the war against them.
 

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I believe that the Japanese could have managed to successfully land on the Hawaiian isles and subdued them albeit at difficulties as Paul points out.

But the most crucial point IMHO would not have been the logistics of getting the invasion force there and the involved ships back. Even tougher and in fact impossible would have been the supply of a Japanese force on the Hawaiian islands after it had been successfully established.

The Japanese fleet carrier force was superior to their US counterpart in that it was routinely able to form multi-carrier airgroups of aircraft being launched from several carriers. This gave them tremendous offensive power. At the time, the US was only able to launch airgroups from a single carrier but not to effectively coordinate aircraft from several carriers in flight. However, while the Japanese fleet carriers were a formidable strike force, they were not able to maintain station to actually secure a huge area of the sea which would have to be guarded to allow for the supply of Hawaii. Using the Japanese fleet carrier for the purpose would furthermore have deprived the Japanese Navy of the best asset they had: The ability to strike with overwhelming power at any point they wanted. They could effectively threaten everything and make successful strikes where they chose. They could not secure vast areas of the sea, while at the same time forfeiting their striking power.

Thus, the US would have been able to disrupt the supply of any established Japanese force on the Hawaiian isles. For this reason, it was prudent for the Japanese not to attempt to invade them.

von Marwitz
The US Pacific Fleet entered the war woefully unprepared for any offensive action designed to seize and hold any portion of the sea or any land base. hence, it was not until August of 1942 that a string bag fleet was scraped together with enough troops, airplanes, supplies and transport and Oilers to make an attempt at Guadalcanal.

(And that only after the Kido Butai had been castrated by the Coral Sea and Midway debacles)
It took all the rest of 1942 for the US to understand and develop the pattern that became the dual drive to Japan - the combination island-hopping and fleet train grand strategy supported by an overwhelming striking force of carriers.

The Kido Butai began the war as an overwhelming force of carrier power. The IJN after the defeat at Pearl (especially if a full invasion destroys all of the Pacific Fleet there) had the staying power in combat heavy ships to hold any sea or ocean area desired, and the land- based airpower after the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies fell (not to mention Singapore and Malaya), to gain air superiority over any close island chain (they even maintained air parity over Guadalcanal, flying over 600 miles from their bases at Rabaul, for over 6 months of constant combat). One needs only witness how their land based airpower gutted first the Asiatic Fleet and then Force Z to see it in action.

Why assume that a man as intelligent as Yamamoto in conjunction with great naval minds like Nagumo and Genda to name but a few, could not conceive of the "fleet train" supported by transports carrying land forces and covered by the overwhelming air power of the Kido Butai in Dec of 1941 or early 1942 before Coral Sea?

True, Coral Sea and Midway proved that they went the wrong path in that respect of grand strategy - but they could just as well have stumbled upon the correct answer as the incorrect one. With a working fleet train to supply units in forward bases, it would have meant the US likely would not have been in any position to retake Hawaii or other areas until early 1944, when shipbuilding finally caught up to turning a fleet carrier every 4 months off the slips.

end result, it becomes August of 1945 and Japan still holds a sizable inner perimeter of island bases - nukes get used earlier and off of Japanes soil. Do they then sue for peace?

A bit wide of the historical mark - far less plausible in my mind than the 7th Flieger and 22nd Luftlande seizing the British government in August of 1940 - but still we are taking ahistorical events.

On that, what if the Northern Task Force at the Midway operation had hit Dutch Harbor and Sitka instead? Or even Jeaneau and Whidbey Island?
 

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I am trying to figure out how incinerating Japanese civilians either by atomic bombs or normal incendiaries is retribution for the ruling class in Japan's "lack of decency." In addition, I never said that we dropped atomic bombs to dissuade communism. I said that the Japanese were afraid of communism and the entry of the Soviet Union in the war against them.
Face it, at this point the war, all had progressed far beyond any of the antagonists being "Mr Nice Guy". The decisions had been made to bomb population centers both in Europe as well as Japan (or any country involved in the conflict, occupied or actual antagonists, high military value or minimal, it really made little real difference to those caught up in the bombings). The ethical dilemma had been reach & resolved, it simply became of one doing their job to end the war, "Too bad, so sad; Pass the beer nuts". The ultimate fact of the matter is that both cities were valid targets, the people therein a declared enemy supporting a warring faction possessing the aim to inflict grievous losses on Allied forces bent on destroying their will to resist. Only the revisionist historian has taken the stance that these were poor little innocent civilians. If you want to debate the concept of total war conducted by air campaigns, OK, but let's not attribute these two bombings as more than a simple continuation of a policy that had been firmly implemented long before and employed in all theaters of the war.
To your point of the Japanese fearing Communism, yes I did misread your line here. However, I truly doubt that they feared Communism any more than any outside influence (especially European/Western). The Japanese Empire was a racist society based upon medieval concepts and twisted with a militaristic bent (an eastern ISIS on steroids if you will). What they feared was Russian power and the loss of territory more than Communism itself. Their self importance and delusional sense of racial and cultural superiority almost demanded that the end would have to be dramatic and awe inspiring to move them from an intractable path of seeming self destruction.
 

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One aspect which is not often considered in the use of atomic weapons is the extent to which the use of two fairly small devices dissuaded the use of much more powerful ones later on. If we had not been able to witness the actual destruction, I suspect a later war would have seen the use of more terrible weapons to horrid result.
 

Vinnie

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If the Japanese had sized the Hawaiian islands, they, like the US would have been unable to defend against a counter invasion fit the she reasons the US could not defend them.
Logistics. They matter.
 

von Marwitz

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The ultimate fact of the matter is that both cities were valid targets, the people therein a declared enemy supporting a warring faction possessing the aim to inflict grievous losses on Allied forces bent on destroying their will to resist. Only the revisionist historian has taken the stance that these were poor little innocent civilians.
Industries in cities are valid targets.

Wholesale attack of civilian populations never is. The latter is an atrocious crime with no justification whatsoever - no matter who commits it.

I honestly hope that I misunderstand you, but if you believe that the wohlesale bombing of civilian populations is justified, then I would find that outrageous and disgusting. As would be labelling 'revisionist historian' those opposing such wholesale civilian bombings.

von Marwitz
 

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Face it, at this point the war, all had progressed far beyond any of the antagonists being "Mr Nice Guy". The decisions had been made to bomb population centers both in Europe as well as Japan (or any country involved in the conflict, occupied or actual antagonists, high military value or minimal, it really made little real difference to those caught up in the bombings). The ethical dilemma had been reach & resolved, it simply became of one doing their job to end the war, "Too bad, so sad; Pass the beer nuts". The ultimate fact of the matter is that both cities were valid targets, the people therein a declared enemy supporting a warring faction possessing the aim to inflict grievous losses on Allied forces bent on destroying their will to resist. Only the revisionist historian has taken the stance that these were poor little innocent civilians. If you want to debate the concept of total war conducted by air campaigns, OK, but let's not attribute these two bombings as more than a simple continuation of a policy that had been firmly implemented long before and employed in all theaters of the war.
To your point of the Japanese fearing Communism, yes I did misread your line here. However, I truly doubt that they feared Communism any more than any outside influence (especially European/Western). The Japanese Empire was a racist society based upon medieval concepts and twisted with a militaristic bent (an eastern ISIS on steroids if you will). What they feared was Russian power and the loss of territory more than Communism itself. Their self-importance and delusional sense of racial and cultural superiority almost demanded that the end would have to be dramatic and awe inspiring to move them from an intractable path of seeming self-destruction.
I tend to agree with your salient points. That said, I also feel it is a much harder "sell" to justify the flattening of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the Japanese people of today as a necessary event to end the war quickly. (as an example. I would presume you will find similar resistance in selling the idea as necessary from the Russian Federation and from the People's Republic of China, and so on and so forth.) As you note well, the cultures of the East have many differences from those in the West. Self-justification on the part of the United States ( or even the Western Allies of WW2) does not equal worldwide justification for the use of nuclear weaponry. (or any WMD - witness what ultimately happened to Hussein for using Mustard Gas on the Kurds.)

It is an interesting experience (albeit as an American, perhaps a bit frightening the first time) to walk through Hiroshima's Peace Park or Ground Zero on August 6th of any given year.
 

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One aspect which is not often considered in the use of atomic weapons is the extent to which the use of two fairly small devices dissuaded the use of much more powerful ones later on. If we had not been able to witness the actual destruction, I suspect a later war would have seen the use of more terrible weapons to horrid result.
I personally believe this holds great validity - albeit the combat use of the weapons never stopped the testing of larger and more destructive devices.


You can literally FEEL the immense crushing emotional weight as you walk from the Eternal Flame to the schoolhouse in Peace Park, any time of the year. Crossing the arch and then descending again, it is nearly overwhelming - and this from a Marine who has met many a good friend and fellow Marine who served in that war,(and a grandfather who fought the Japanese from 1941 to 1945) before they passed away.

you just can't accept the policy of "24 empty missile tubes, a mushroom cloud, and now it's Miller time, boys!". (Irrespective of how much screwballs like Islamic State terrorists deserve it, IMO) - as a matter of establishment of security. I think that you note it well, this is the final lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. without the blasts, later development would have led to their use elsewhere, and perhaps an early and massive end to the Cold War (and perhaps mankind as well).
 

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If the Japanese had sized the Hawaiian islands, they, like the US would have been unable to defend against a counter invasion fit the she reasons the US could not defend them.
Logistics. They matter.
Why presume that it would take the Japanese any longer than it took Nimitz and his staff to discover the key was the Fleet Train?

At the beginning of the war, they had the shipping capacity and the fleet and air forces to keep it afloat and project it. They simply chose to expand as any empire does (in the bid for quick resources to exploit), rather than methodically conquer to gain a real positional advantage before the American industrial giant could get into full swing to a point of parity (mid 1943 - assuming no shattering defeats at Coral Sea and Midway), and finally supremacy (early 1944). Yamamoto said 6 months- the reality was they had more like 18 months before a parity was reached. The push for a decisive blow in 6 months is what led to Midway and its disaster. A better-planned offensive could have resulted in a longer Pacific War. Still lost, more US casualties, perhaps lengthening the European War if the US felt as they did in mid 1941 that Japan was still the primary threat over Nazi Germany, thereby lengthening the entire war in both theaters. End results the same, I agree. Total casualties, higher from a prolonged and protracted war extending into 1946 or maybe even beyond.
 

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Why presume that it would take the Japanese any longer than it took Nimitz and his staff to discover the key was the Fleet Train?

At the beginning of the war, they had the shipping capacity and the fleet and air forces to keep it afloat and project it. They simply chose to expand as any empire does (in the bid for quick resources to exploit), rather than methodically conquer to gain a real positional advantage before the American industrial giant could get into full swing to a point of parity (mid 1943 - assuming no shattering defeats at Coral Sea and Midway), and finally supremacy (early 1944). Yamamoto said 6 months- the reality was they had more like 18 months before a parity was reached. The push for a decisive blow in 6 months is what led to Midway and its disaster. A better-planned offensive could have resulted in a longer Pacific War. Still lost, more US casualties, perhaps lengthening the European War if the US felt as they did in mid 1941 that Japan was still the primary threat over Nazi Germany, thereby lengthening the entire war in both theaters. End results the same, I agree. Total casualties, higher from a prolonged and protracted war extending into 1946 or maybe even beyond.

Which brings up my last question - if the bombs were ready to go in August for use, and we were still fighting the desperate fight for Peleliu and Saipan and Tinian and Guam had just occurred - would we have used the bombs on Japanese soil, or Okinawa and Formosa to shorten the war by striking military targets?
 

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Face it, at this point the war, all had progressed far beyond any of the antagonists being "Mr Nice Guy". The decisions had been made to bomb population centers both in Europe as well as Japan (or any country involved in the conflict, occupied or actual antagonists, high military value or minimal, it really made little real difference to those caught up in the bombings). The ethical dilemma had been reach & resolved, it simply became of one doing their job to end the war, "Too bad, so sad; Pass the beer nuts". The ultimate fact of the matter is that both cities were valid targets, the people therein a declared enemy supporting a warring faction possessing the aim to inflict grievous losses on Allied forces bent on destroying their will to resist. Only the revisionist historian has taken the stance that these were poor little innocent civilians. If you want to debate the concept of total war conducted by air campaigns, OK, but let's not attribute these two bombings as more than a simple continuation of a policy that had been firmly implemented long before and employed in all theaters of the war.
To your point of the Japanese fearing Communism, yes I did misread your line here. However, I truly doubt that they feared Communism any more than any outside influence (especially European/Western). The Japanese Empire was a racist society based upon medieval concepts and twisted with a militaristic bent (an eastern ISIS on steroids if you will). What they feared was Russian power and the loss of territory more than Communism itself. Their self importance and delusional sense of racial and cultural superiority almost demanded that the end would have to be dramatic and awe inspiring to move them from an intractable path of seeming self destruction.
Point of Order - Nagasaki was not the intended target for the 2nd device.
 

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If you want to debate the concept of total war conducted by air campaigns, OK, but let's not attribute these two bombings as more than a simple continuation of a policy that had been firmly implemented long before and employed in all theaters of the war..
My point is that is indeed that the atomic bombs were only a continuation of our policy to incinerate the Japanese population.
 
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