The clock was ticking that morning of August 6, 1945 as the Enola Gay struggled into the air with a full load of fuel and the massive Little Boy atomic bomb. President Harry Truman had rolled the dice hoping that the shock of seeing entire cities destroyed by single bombs would persuade the Japanese to call it quits. History records that the president guessed correctly. But every August there are services of mourning in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, filled with accusations that the United States is guilty of a war crime for the bombings. If history is a guide, there will also be assertions and articles to the effect that just a hint from President Truman that the Japanese emperor could stay on his throne would have brought the war to an end in a matter of days.
The butcher’s bill for the war in the Pacific was totaled up on August 15, 1945, when Japan’s surrender was announced. That’s fact. Any suggestion that the Japanese might have surrendered in mid-August without either an invasion or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the sixth and ninth is speculation.
What would have happened had the Allies meeting in Potsdam, Germany sent word to Japan that Hirohito would stay on the throne if the Japanese surrendered? The Japanese gave no hint they would go that far. Rather, they asked the Soviet Union, still officially neutral, to communicate to the Allies that Japan would accept the Potsdam Declaration under four conditions.