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Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire

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In a riveting narrative that includes information from newly declassified documents, acclaimed historian Richard B. Frank gives a scrupulously detailed explanation of the critical months leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb. Frank explains how American leaders learned in the summer of 1945 that their alternate strategy to end the war by invasion had been shattered by the massive Japanese buildup on Kyushu, and that intercepted diplomatic documents also revealed the dismal prospects of negotiation. Here ...

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In a riveting narrative that includes information from newly declassified documents, acclaimed historian Richard B. Frank gives a scrupulously detailed explanation of the critical months leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb. Frank explains how American leaders learned in the summer of 1945 that their alternate strategy to end the war by invasion had been shattered by the massive Japanese buildup on Kyushu, and that intercepted diplomatic documents also revealed the dismal prospects of negotiation. Here also, for the first time, is a comprehensive account of how Japan's leaders were willing to risk complete annihilation to preserve the nation's existing order. Frank's comprehensive account demolishes long-standing myths with the stark realities of this great historical controversy.

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Editorial Reviews

J. Samuel Walker
...a carefully reasoned and admirably balanced account that should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the atomic bomb and the end of the war...a well-informed, thoughtful and judicious account...
New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The premise behind this excellent history of the concluding stages of WWII in the Pacific is that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has cast a light so bright that it has blinded historians to many of the political, diplomatic and military realities that existed before August 6, 1945. In his comprehensive study of the last months of WWII, Frank (Guadalcanal) aims to present events "as they were perceived and recorded by American and Japanese participants in 1945--not years or decades thereafter." In 1945, American strategists developed their plan, "Operation Downfall," for forcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. Japanese leaders, meanwhile, mobilized all available military and civilian resources for a final defense of the homeland. Though they knew the war was lost, Japanese military strategists believed their preparations were sufficient to compel the Allies to offer more generous terms on which the war might end. Frank immerses his readers in the flow of intelligence estimates, battle experience and shifting strategy on both sides. The centerpiece of the book is an exacting and dispassionate examination both of the American decision to use the atomic bomb and of whether Japan would have surrendered absent the bomb. Frank marshals an impressive and complex array of evidence to support his contention that surrender by Japan was by no means imminent in August 1945, and that alternatives to the bomb, such as incendiary bombing, carried no certainty of causing less suffering and fewer deaths than the atomic bomb. In his balanced use of sources and in his tough-minded sensitivity to moral issues, Frank has enriched the debate about the war's conclusion. Agent, Robert Gottlieb of William Morris. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Few historical issues have generated as much controversy as the question of whether the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was necessary to compel Japan's surrender. No single book can be expected to end such a heated debate, but Frank's masterly study of Japan's decision to surrender comes close to doing so. Based on extensive documentation from contemporary U.S. and Japanese diplomatic and military sources, it is the most authoritative treatment available of the end of the Pacific War. Frank (Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Campaign) emphasizes the enormous reluctance of Japan's military and civilian leaders even to consider, let alone accept, Allied demands for unconditional surrender prior to the atomic bombings. Skillfully weaving together the strands of military and diplomatic events, Frank contends that absent the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the war would have continued for at least several more months, at a cost in Japanese and Allied civilian and combatant lives far in excess of the admittedly awful toll that the atomic bombs exacted. A powerful work of history that belongs in all libraries.--Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
William L. O'Neill
The publication of Richard Frank's long-awaited Downfall is an event of great importance, not only to historians, but to the general public. No aspect of World War II is more controversial today than the use of atomic bombs against Japan in 1945. Some have argued that this act was cruel and unnecessary since Japan was on the verge of surrender.

By Means of exhaustive research, and the employment of previously neglected and recently declassifed sources, Frank proves in this definitive book that neither the Emperor nor the Japanese armed forces were anywhere close to surrendering in August 1945. In a stunning tour de force, Frank recreates the end of the war, not as it seemed to people writing much later, but as it appeared to American and Japanese decision-makers at the time.

Often seen as the worst possible way of ending the Pacific War, Frank established that using the bomb was superior to all the existing alternatives, and saved not only allied but Japanese lives as well. Masterful in conception brilliantly reasoned, superbly researched, Downfall is all but impossible to put down. Anyone concerned with the moral, military, and political issues surrounding the end of the Pacific War must read this book.

Kirkus Reviews
Military historian Frank (Guadalcanal, 1990) constructs a detailed history of the last months of the US war with Japan using both Japanese and American sources. Frank insists that events of the time be understood as they were perceived then, by both sides, not as they are now interpreted and judged. Using this method, Frank arrives at three conclusions: the US considered the use of atomic weapons not as extraordinary events but as part of a larger strategy of blockade and bombardment; not until after the use of atomic weapons did the Japanese indicate they were willing to surrender; and the use of atomic weapons was justified. The moral dimension of US actions was conditioned by the war in Europe and also by what was known of Japanese intentions. Devastating strategic bombing had taken place in Germany and continued in Japan. In March of 1945, up to 100,000 people perished in the firebombing of Tokyo. The use of atomic weapons was the culmination of strategic thinking, not a departure from it. On the Japanese side, according to that nation's sources as well as US intelligence reports, while offers of a negotiated settlement were floated, there was still strong support among top leaders, including the emperor, for ketsu-go, a last ditch effort to resist an invasion of the Japanese main islands. Thus, on the US side there was a general certainty that an invasion of Japan would create large numbers of US casualties. Frank discusses in great detail these and other themes, and his defense of the use of atomic weapons is convincing. Still, his contention that both sides would have readily accepted the bombing had they known it would have led to two generations of peace and prosperity isa violation of his own method of describing events as they were seen then, and so is a disingenuous defense that allows him to ignore deeper moral questions raised by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (maps, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141001463
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 266,920
  • Product dimensions: 5.59 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard B. Frank was born in Kansas in 1947. He served for almost four years in the United States Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam as an aerorifle platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division. He is the author of Guadalcanal.

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Read an Excerpt

Tokyo Burns: Raid of March 9-10

"A silver curtain falling"

With the night came north winds, blowing bitter and cold across the uneasy city. By 8:00 p.m., great shuddering gusts, at 45 to 67 miles per hour, "violent as a spring typhoon," shoved against the wooden walls and pried at the doors and windows of the dwellings of Tokyo's 4.3 million citizens. Elsewhere, the winds toppled or jammed radar antennas and made mischief with communications. On the pitching seas to the south, picket-boats raised frantic alerts of many approaching bombers, but faulty radio reception--and faulty organization--muffled the alarms.

On radios throughout the capital, the voice of Hidetoshi Matsumura, the spokesman for Imperial General Headquarters, hailed the coming day, March 10, as Army Day. His oration ended in the weary cliché: "The darkest hour is just before dawn." His words had barely faded when, at 10:30 p.m., sirens sounded the long, steady wail warning of distant but potentially threatening aircraft. In contrast to the pervasive disorder that had invaded and overwhelmed all aspects of daily life in the capital, the air-raid alert system that roused many from mid-slumber was still respected for its efficiency. With electric lights forbidden after nightfall and cooking gas nonexistent, most families now habitually prepared and ate meals at twilight and then retired early. But even in repose, Tokyo's denizens remained partly dressed, usually in shapeless, loose monpe trousers.

Near midnight, coast watchers reported droning noises that were likely from B-29s. The listeners could speak with authority, for the dreaded Superfortresses--known to theTokyoites as "bikko," "B-san," "Lord B.," "okyakusama" (visitors), and "regular mail"--had come many times to the capital, though only once at night, and never in such numbers or so low. Surprised and confused, civil-defense authorities hesitated, and the sirens did not exclaim the sharp, broken notes of the air-raid alarm, signifying an imminent attack, until 12:15 a.m. By then, bombs had been falling for seven minutes, and rusty red-yellow roses of flame already flowered across eastern Tokyo.

A Danish diplomat, Lars Tillitse, dutifully ventured outside to make sure that his property betrayed no light. A "terrific noise" assailed him as the four-motored bombers thundered by overhead. Another Western observer, Robert Guillain, was more exact: A B-29 passed with "an odd, rhythmic buzzing that filled the night with deep, powerful pulsation and made my whole house vibrate." Tillitse observed his neighbors erupting from their homes, animating the dark narrow streets, the men in helmets, everyone else in padded air-raid hoods. "Radios were going full blast and doors and windows were open, so that people in the street could keep informed," recalled Tillitse. "Already we could see fires."

Radios proclaimed the approach of another wave of bombers, and Tillitse stayed outside to watch. Energetic searchlight crews fanned the slender, probing white columns of their beams from horizon to zenith. As the diplomat gazed upward, six or seven times a bomber punctured a column of illumination, whereupon five or six other lights converged to hold it. Centered in an aura, the silvery body became the target for gunners, who sent shells skyward. But in each case, the shiny cross glided on unhurt. Then Tillitse heard the crowd cheer and swiveled his head to behold one B-29 alight. The whole body glowed red, but the plane continued its flight until, like lightning, white flames burst from the sides. Enveloped in fire, the Superfortress plummeted to the ground.

Everywhere across Tokyo, the night teemed with citizens scurrying from their houses clutching sleeping mats and carefully culled possessions--pots and pans and, above all, treasured hoards of rice and soya paste--seeking refuge. The entire city had only eighteen satisfactory concrete shelters, with a total capacity of five thousand, little more than one space for every thousand persons. The next-best shelters comprised the basements of the relatively few Western-style buildings, constructed to resist earthquakes, and some equally sparse cave shelters. But the mass of citizens lacked any adequate haven. Some families gathered in clothes cupboards within their homes, as the government recommended. Most citizens, however, headed for their bokugo, little holes that had been bored beside their houses or in the little ribbon of earth between street and sidewalk. These were typically crude, two to five meters long, one meter across, and one and one-half to two meters deep, covered with a roof made with a few poles, bamboo rafters, and a thin crust of earth. The citizens provided these rudimentary protections themselves, chanting "oh, one, two, oh, one, two" as they dug, around which many then planted flowers, and into which many a man or woman tripped, breaking bones.
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Table of Contents

1 Tokyo Burns: Raid of March 9-10 3
2 Strategies Old, Strategies New 20
3 From Zeppelins to B-29s 38
4 LeMay Takes Command 57
5 Fire and Mud 68
6 The "Fundamental Policy" 83
7 Magic Insights 103
8 Downfall and Olympic Plans 117
9 The Invasion and the President 131
10 Pummeling and Strangling: Bombardment and Blockade, June to August 149
11 Ketsu Operation on Kyushu 164
12 Kamikazes, Civilians, and Assessments 178
13 The Eclipse of Olympic 197
14 Unconditional Surrender and Magic 214
15 Magic and Diplomacy with the Soviets 240
16 Hiroshima 252
17 Manchuria and Nagasaki 273
18 The Decisive Day 288
19 Surrender 308
20 Assessing Realities 331
21 Alternatives and Conclusions 349
App. A 361
App. B 363
Notes 365
Bibliographic Note 445
Index 461
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2013

    Excellent book

    This is an excellent book, which describes the end of World War 2 in the Pacific.

    Well researched
    Provides context for the critical decisions of the time clearly showing what information decision makers had access to
    Covers both sides of the conflict

    None, in my opinion this is the most authoritative book on the subject

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  • Posted July 26, 2012

    One of the best books of the Pacific War

    This is one of the best books of the Pacific War. It goes in chronological order and reveals what Imperial Japan was communicating to its troops and diplomats during WWII. The best part of this book is Franks doesn't interject his opinion. It is left to the reader to interpret. As a professor in Japan, I gave copies of this book to the school’s history department and library. After reading it, they thought it was a valuable addition to their collection.

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    Posted June 4, 2010

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    Posted December 9, 2008

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    Posted January 20, 2009

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