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Evaluate the Wisdom of American Insistence on the "unconditional Surrender" of Japan

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Evaluate the wisdom of American insistence on the "Unconditional Surrender" of Japan.


The United States of America is a warrior nation. To pretend otherwise ignores a national history colored in red blood and gun smoke. Despite this, the American national conscience seeks forever the moral high ground. This national need extends to America's ability to wage and sustain war. World War II was no exception. The Call to Arms came only after Japan's killing of unprepared men in Pearl Harbor. The nation did not see the attack as an attack on a legitimate target but as an immoral attack. Giving in to its warrior spirit, the nation looked for retribution. Unable to shake a conscience developed and tempered by its early religious heritage, though, the nation needed more justification than mere revenge for the coming actions it would take. America's policy of "Unconditional Surrender" provided this justification. Implied in Unconditional Surrender was the concept of Unconditional Warfare Ð'- total war. Further implied in the concept of total war was the justification for a fully violent and vengeful response. America needed the moral justification implied in the policy of Unconditional Surrender.

Elegant Violence: Japanese v. American views on Warfare

To the Japanese, the concept of Unconditional Surrender was a nightmare. The Japanese government had instilled in its people the idea that Unconditional Surrender to American forces would involve horrendous tortures and degradations. Whether or not the Japanese government actually believed their own war propaganda, there was concern among the Japanese leadership that Unconditional Surrender would mean the end of Japan as a nation-state due to the expected American dismantling of the Japanese Imperial system (Freedman 201).

The American public's perception of Unconditional Surrender was not necessarily the perception of the nation's leaders, though. In fact, most post-war planners in Washington saw America's Unconditional Surrender policy as flexible (James 725) . However, the President did not choose to share his actual views on Unconditional Surrender with the public. To do so, would have been to negate the violent imperative behind America's total war against Japan.

Japanese and American perceptions of total war were much more in accord. Both the Japanese and American military cultures had strange and sometimes conflicting ideas about legitimate actions and targets. Both cultures could justify outrageous carnage and destruction in the pursuit of victory.

That being said, the Japanese military's almost fanatic devotion to Mahanian warfare mixed with their own Samurai code meant that, many times during the war, Japanese commanders passed up incredible targets of opportunities deeming them not worthy enough. One of the Japanese military's most glaring errors was their failure to attack the American submarine fleet in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 deeming the submarines unworthy targets. This mistake allowed the United States to begin pursuing total war immediately through unrestricted submarine warfare.

Meaningless Legalities: American Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

Without a doubt, unrestricted submarine warfare was illegal. German use of unrestricted submarine warfare had brought America into the first World War. Its use was so abhorrent to American policy makers that they banned unrestricted submarine warfare in the Treaty of Versailles, at the Washington Conference of 1921 and again in the London Naval Treaty of 1930 (Baer 207). As with so many policies during the war, the public image presented was not necessarily the reality. Certainly, a majority of officers in the American navy saw the policy and treaty limitations placed on submarines as effectively making these weapons systems useless.

Despite the numerous treaties, on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, gave the following order to the Pacific fleet, "Execute unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan." In effect, America discarded countless treaties, laws and policies in a few brief moments.

Immediate justification was not necessary to an outraged populace. However, in the long run and at least for historical purposes, some justification would have to be given. Certainly, Germany had violated international law first. In effect, such a violation, in a time of war, negated that law. Since Japan had allied itself with Germany, the negation of that law extended to merchants flying Japanese flags as well as German flags. In the international arena, such an argument would hold little validity unless (of course) the Allies won the war. There was an easier path to self-justification, though, and this was through the policy of Unconditional Surrender and the total war it implied.

Interestingly, the Japanese military never seemed to grasp the lessons of submarine attacks on merchant shipping from either the Germans or the Americans. There were a variety of reasons for this. First, Japan never intended to fight a prolonged war. Attacks on merchant shipping implied a long-term strategy. At the outbreak of the war, Japan had the third largest merchant fleet with 2,146 ships (Baer 207). Japan's devotion to the Mahanian battleship also led them to believe that they could protect their merchant fleet by using their surface war fleet to destroy our surface war fleet. Secondly, Japan believed that the incredible vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the time it took to transit the ocean would prove an insurmountable obstacle to the American submarine fleet. The Japanese military mindset just did not include American submarines among the major threats to its existence.

Beaches Colored Red: Casualties of Total War

Americans wanted revenge for Japan's actions at Pearl Harbor. Anger made justification for war easy. However, the loss of men at Pearl Harbor was nothing compared to the loss of men that was to come.

In its coldest light, the loss of personnel in war represents a reduction in resources. It is not the mere fact of losing

weapons bearers but also losing

whatever training and experience those weapons bearers may have possessed.

Of course, war is never fought in a cold light. Generals and Admirals can argue dispassionately about what exactly constitutes acceptable losses. However, in a culture that values the individual, justification for the loss of an individual is required and retribution for the unnecessary and violent



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