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Soviet victory over Japan made decisive contribution to end of World War II

23:51 | 28.08.2020 | Analytic


28 August 2020. PenzaNews. For the first time in the modern history, Russia will celebrate the end of World War II on September 3 – it will be the 75th anniversary of the USSR’s victory over Japan. The corresponding law that establishes a new date to commemorate Russian military glory was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 24 April 2020. Previously, this change was adopted by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council.

Surrender of the Kwantung Army

Photo: Yevgeny Khaldei, RIA Novosti

Japan’s act of unconditional surrender was signed on 2 September 1945. It recorded the implementation of the Yalta Conference agreements regarding the transfer of South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands under the sovereignty of the Soviet Union.

On the same day, by the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, September 3 was declared a holiday of victory over Japan. However, the day of the national celebration – that is how it was indicated in this document – after only two years, in 1947, became a working day and was gradually forgotten as a holiday.

The conclusion report of the Russian government for the bill on amendments to the Federal Law on Days of Military Glory and Commemorative Dates in Russia emphasized that the victory of the Soviet Union over Japan in 1945 made a decisive contribution to the end of World War II.

According to the explanatory note to this bill, one of the initiators of which was Head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Hero of Russia, Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov, over 300 thousand Soviet citizens were awarded orders and medals for exploits and military distinctions during the war with Japan; more than 1.8 million people were awarded the medal “For the victory over Japan,” on the reverse side of which there is an inscription “September 3, 1945”; and about 100 people were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

“The inscription ‘September 3 – Day of the end of World War II (1945)’ symbolizes the transition from a state of war to peace, the search for ways of reconciliation and cooperation. The day of the end of World War II is also celebrated in the allied states of the Soviet Union in the anti-Hitler coalition. For example, the Day of Victory of the Chinese People in the War of Resistance to Japan is widely celebrated on September 3 annually,” the document says.

It also notes that in 2015, 12 foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in the festive anniversary events on this occasion.

According to many historians, the defeat of Japan by Soviet troops was the logical culmination of Tokyo’s long-term aggressive policy in the Far East. Despite the pact of neutrality concluded in 1941 – two years after the border conflict on the Khalkhin-Gol River – Tokyo, in fact, kept the Kwantung grouping of troops numbering up to 1.5 million people near the territory of the USSR until the very end of World War II. This forced Moscow to maintain large covering forces in the Far East even at the most difficult stages of the war with Nazi Germany. After the signing of the pact, the Japanese have repeatedly violated the border of the Soviet state and carried out other provocative actions. Until the end of 1943, Tokyo was developing a plan of aggression against the Soviet Union.

Although some Western and Japanese researchers share a widespread point of view about an allegedly “treacherous attack” on the Land of the Rising Sun, the USSR declared war on Japan in full accordance with the agreements reached at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, and four months before had denounced the pact on neutrality in accordance with international law. Thus, Moscow demonstrated its readiness to fulfill its allied duty, in contrast to Great Britain and the United States, which evaded opening a second front for several years.

The USSR war against Japan was of a liberating nature. It put an end to years of Japanese oppression of peoples in the region. At the same time, despite the readiness of the USSR allies to compensate for its the entry into the war by the annexation of new vast territories, Moscow refused any annexations, declaring only its desire to retrieve the Kuril Islands ceded to Japan in 1875 and South Sakhalin, which it had torn away in 1905.

According to various estimates, by the summer of 1945, Japan had sufficient resources to continue the hostilities for several more years, since the United States did not manage to completely destroy its military and economic potential. According to the calculations of the American command, the war could drag on until 1947 and lead to a huge number of victims. Meanwhile, Tokyo, after inflicting unacceptable losses on US troops and creating a situation of strategic impasse, hoped to achieve an honorable peace through active defense of the metropolis and hoped to turn to Moscow for mediating assistance in negotiations with Washington in exchange for territorial concessions. In turn, the Western allies realized that they could not quickly end the war with Japan without the help of the USSR.

The swift defeat of the most powerful and combat-ready formations of the Japanese ground forces by the Red Army in Manchuria and the loss of its industrial base located in Northeast China determined Tokyo’s decision to surrender. The command of the imperial armed forces intended to hold back the offensive in the Manchu direction for up to a year, but Soviet troops completely destroyed the Kwantung Army in 11 days. The military-political leadership of Japan decided to lay down arms on August 14, the day of the end of the main phase of the operation in Manchuria, which is known in the West as Operation August Storm.

According to experts, this successful Soviet operation not only became the final chord in the end of World War II, but also significantly influenced the international situation in the Pacific region.

At the same time, Western historiographers have long noted the alleged dominant role of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ignoring the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to the victory. But the Japanese documents which recently appeared in the open access emphasize that Moscow, having declared war on Tokyo, thereby hastened the defeat of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Thus, in the Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of 17 August 1945, the commander-in-chief of the Japanese army and navy, Emperor Hirohito, called the USSR’s entry into the war the main reason for the surrender. “Now that the Soviet Union has also entered the war against us, continuing resistance ... means endangering the very foundation of our empire’s existence,” the document says. American atomic bombs and the destruction of cities are not mentioned in it.

According to a number of analysts, the traditional position of the West on the decisive role of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is understandable and convenient. For example, Ward Wilson, the author of The Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, points out that this version satisfies the emotional needs of both the United States and Japan.

“If the Bomb won the war, then the perception of US military power would be enhanced, US diplomatic influence in Asia and around the world would increase, and US security would be strengthened. The 2 billion dollars spent to build it would not have been wasted. If, on the other hand, the Soviet entry into the war was what caused Japan to surrender, then the Soviets could claim that they were able to do in four days what the United States was unable to do in four years, and the perception of Soviet military power and Soviet diplomatic influence would be enhanced. And once the Cold War was underway, asserting that the Soviet entry had been the decisive factor would have been tantamount to giving aid and comfort to the enemy,” says his article “The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan … Stalin Did” published in Foreign Policy.

Moreover, many experts not only do not consider the nuclear bombings of Japan to be a turning point in the war, but also speak of their absolute inexpediency.

“There was no military necessity for this barbaric bombing. Today even some Western scholars admit this. In fact, Truman wanted, firstly, to intimidate the USSR with the destructive force of a new weapon, and secondly, to justify the enormous costs of developing it. But it was clear to everyone that the entry of the USSR into the war with Japan would put an end to it,” RT quotes Valery Kistanov, Head of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, Director at Nuclear Studies Institute, American University, also called it a myth that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks ended the war.

“It was actually the invasion by the Red Army on August 8 [at 18.00 Moscow time, at midnight Zabaikalsky time] that forced the Japanese surrender. This came as no surprise. US intelligence had been predicting this as early as April. On April 11, 1945, the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported, ‘If at any time the USSR should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable’,” he said.

“The May 16 statement issued by Japan’s Supreme War Council said clearly, ‘Soviet entry into the war will deal a death blow to the Empire.’ After lunching with Stalin on July 17 at Potsdam, Truman wrote in his diary that Stalin will ‘be in the Jap War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.’ He wrote home to his wife Bess the next day that Russia was coming in and ‘We'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won't be killed!’ And that is exactly what happened,” Peter Kuznick reminded.

According to him, the Soviet invasion undermined Japan’s Ketsu-go strategy and precipitated surrender.

Japan’s leaders, cruel as they were, accepted the fact that the U.S. could wipe out their cities. Destruction reached as high as 99.5 per cent in the city of Toyama. To them, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just two more cities. What changed the strategic situation was the Soviet entry. The top officials gathered at the residence of Foreign Minister Togo on the morning of August 9, prior to the Nagasaki bomb, and agreed that what they most dreaded had occurred. […] When Prime Minister Suzuki was asked on August 13 why Japan could not delay surrender he responded, ‘I can’t do that. If we miss today, the Soviet Union will take not only Manchuria, Korea, Karafuto, but also Hokkaido. This would destroy the foundation of Japan. We must end the war when we can deal with the US’,” the historian gave a quote.

Much like with the even more obvious case of the Soviet Union deserving but no longer receiving credit for the victory over the Nazis in Europe, many Western historians downplay or belittle the Soviet role in defeating Japan as they have several reasons for this, he said.

“First, the Soviets were only in the war very briefly whereas the Allies had been slogging it out for several years. Second, they want to deny the Soviet Union any credit for defeating fascism and Japanese militarism in order to maintain the fiction that the mighty United States singlehandedly defeated the bad guys in WWII and therefore deserved to become the leader of the ‘free world.’ This is tied up with both the idea of American exceptionalism and of American righteousness in the Cold War,” Peter Kuznick said.

Moreover, according to him, it also fit into the anti-Soviet narrative that emerged in the postwar period.

“It took a great effort on the part of Truman and his advisors to transform the Soviets from gallant wartime allies to dangerous, freedom-hating enemies who were out to conquer the world. Everything good about them had to be denied. Had Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived or had Henry Wallace remained as vice president and replaced Roosevelt upon his death on April 12, I’m convinced there would have been no Cold War and no nuclear arms race. That entire sordid chapter in human history might have been averted,” he suggested.

In his opinion, the countries are still living with malign consequences of that period.

“If the Soviet role were acknowledged, it would obviate the need for the atomic bombs, thereby further jeopardizing America's claim to moral leadership in the world. The irony is that those historians who attribute the surrender to the atomic bombs and not Soviet entry are also effectively downplaying and demeaning the extraordinary sacrifice made by US troops in the Pacific War, which set the preconditions for the Soviet invasion and the Japanese surrender,” the expert said.

“There are two other important considerations. First, because the Japanese were trying to get the Soviets to intercede on their behalf to help them secure better surrender terms, Soviet leaders knew better than anyone how desperate the Japanese were to surrender and how unnecessary the bombs were. As a result, and as prescient U.S. scientists had warned would be the case, they interpreted the bombs as a ruthless US warning of what would happen to the USSR if it interfered with postwar US plans in Europe or Asia,” Peter Kuznick added.

In turn, Jacques Sapir, Director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, Head of the Center for Research of Industrialization (CEMI-EHESS), Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that one of the reasons for the relative obscurity in which the Soviet offensive was plunged, despite its success, can be understood from the extraordinary novelty represented by the two atomic weapons launched on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“With these two bombings began the age of nuclear deterrence, an age that still lasts today. However, it must be remembered that until their use, atomic weapons remain a major unknown for the American military. No one knew what their exact power would be. That is why the American leadership called on the USSR to declare war on Japan. In July 1945, everyone thinks that Japan, despite the destruction of its military and civilian fleet, will resist until 1946. The United States has planned a landing in Japan, and so that the latter does not transform not in a bloodbath, they need the Japanese not to be able to bring all or part of the Kwantung army back to Japan. This is the reason for their insistence on Stalin to attack Manchuria,” the expert said.

According to him, the use of nuclear weapons then caused a psychological shift in the Japanese leadership, giving the upper hand to supporters of surrender against supporters of all-out war.

“Japanese leaders who favour surrender will use the novelty and ‘monstrous’ nature of nuclear weapons to impose their point of view. In fact, the United States no longer has nuclear weapons after the bombing of Nagasaki. But, that the Japanese leaders do not know,” Jacques Sapir reminded.

Meanwhile, from his point of view, the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Japan in 1945 must be put into perspective with the battles that took place between Japanese and Soviet forces in 1939 at Khalkin-Ghôl: the heavy defeat suffered by the Japanese forces had led them to adopt a defensive posture against the USSR.

“At the Yalta conference, in February 1945, Stalin accepted the entry into the war of the USSR against Japan within three months after the defeat of Germany, the USSR receiving in exchange the south of the island of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. The Soviet offensive, carefully prepared and remarkably commanded by Marshal Vassilievsky, Marshal Malinovsky and Marshal Meretskov, launched on August 8, resulted in a total defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army. This army consisted of 990,000 men and 1,155 tanks to which were added more than 210,000 auxiliaries. Facing it, the Soviet army had deployed 1.5 million men and 5,600 tanks and assault guns, organized into three ‘Fronts’, that of Trans-Baikalia, and the 1st and 2nd Fronts of the Far East,” the foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.

“This operation was carried out on three axes, from West to East through the Trans-Baikal front through the Great-Khingan range, from North to South and East to West from Vladivostok. These three axes of attack completely surprised the Japanese General Staff. The offensive across the Great-Khingan Mountains caused the complete collapse of the Japanese defence. The 2nd Far Eastern Front also advanced very quickly towards Mutanchiang, which was taken after heavy fighting on August 14 and 15. Japanese forces were surrounded on August 16 and surrendered on August 20, although isolated elements fought until August 26. The Manchurian operation is regarded as the ‘masterpiece’ of Soviet military art, and with good reason. The Soviet forces demonstrated not only material but conceptual superiority over the Japanese forces which were never able to defend themselves in an organized manner and could only endure the Soviet offensive,” Jacques Sapir said.

Meanwhile, Lewis Siegelbaum, Professor Emeritus of History, Michigan State University, expressed the opinion which is popular in the West: the contribution of the USSR to the defeat of the Japanese “was important, but not decisive.”

“Sadly, the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki proved so overwhelmingly horrifying, that it sapped the will of the Japanese authorities to continue hostilities. The Soviet entry into the war – on the very day that Stalin had indicated at Yalta it would occur – facilitated the Japanese capitulation. Given the weakened state of the Japanese armed forces, the prospect of thwarting the Soviet army’s invasion seemed even less realistic than it would have otherwise,” the expert said.

He also stressed that in more general terms, one should not treat American and Soviet efforts as mutually exclusive or a zero-sum situation.

“The Japanese might have assumed that they could play one against the other, but even though the Truman administration did not inform its ally that it had decided to proceed with the "nuclear option" - or even that it possessed the means to do so - and, as many historians have argued, decided to drop the bombs in part to limit Soviet gains at the expense of the Japanese, Stalin continued to operate in accordance with allied agreements,” Lewis Siegelbaum said.

Meanwhile, Professor Martin J. Sherwin, Department of History & Art History, George Mason University, stressed that it was the Soviet Union’s declaration of war on Japan on August 8, 1945, that forced the Japanese to surrender.

“The Japanese military could not fight a two-front war and its government was extremely anti-communist. The thought of the Soviet Union participating in the occupation was the Japanese government’s worst nightmare, and all correctly assumed that Stalin would seize the territories Russia had lost in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war plus Hokkaido. Surrender to the US suddenly became the best option,” the historian explained.

Analyzing the reasons why the West is still making enormous efforts to distort and belittle the role of the Soviet Union in ending World War II, Martin Sherwin pointed out that this position was and still remains beneficial for the American leadership.

“The American government promoted the idea that the atomic bomb ended the war and prevented an invasion. That made sense in 1945 and the growing rift between the US and USSR prevented any public consideration of the idea that it was the Soviet Union’s entry into the war rather than the atomic bomb that brought Japan to surrender. The current state of US-Russian relations continues to influence that history,” the expert concluded.

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