On Books & Reading: ‘Hell to Pay’ Gets Added to My TBR Stack

(C) 2020 Naval Institute Press

As I reported yesterday on my blog post Musings & Thoughts for Thursday, November 3, 2022, or: Movies, Moods, and Aspirations, Amazon Prime delivered my copy of D.M. Giangreco’s Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, a non-fiction book about the plans, projections, and preparations for the U.S.-led Allied invasion of Japan that, mercifully, was avoided by President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs to convince the militaristic Japanese regime to surrender in August of 1945.

Originally published by the Naval Institute Press in 2010, Hell to Pay was reissued in October 2020 in an updated and expanded edition that pays closer attention to several topics Giangreco discussed in the first edition but couldn’t get too detailed about because his publication deadline was looming and he needed to turn in the manuscript to the Naval Institute Press.

Photo by the author

About ‘Hell to Pay’

Here’s the book’s back cover publisher’s blurb:

“This work is a must-read for those interested in U.S. and Japanese military and political historiography and strategy in the final year of World War II and the critical factors contributing to war termination in the Pacific.” —Naval War College Review

Hell to Pay examines the invasion of Japan in light of the large body of Japanese and American operational and tactical planning documents the author unearthed in familiar and obscure archives. It includes postwar interrogations and reports that senior Japanese commanders and their staffs were ordered to produce for General MacArthur’s headquarters. This groundbreaking history counters the revisionist interpretations questioning the rationale for the use of the atomic bomb and shows that President Truman’s decision was based on real estimates of the enormous human cost of a conventional invasion.

This revised edition of Hell to Pay expands on several areas covered in the earlier book and deals with three new topics: U.S.-Soviet cooperation in the war against Imperial Japan; U.S., Soviet, and Japanese plans for the invasion and defense of the northernmost home island of Hokkaido; and Operation Blacklist, the three-phase insertion of American occupation forces into Japan.

I became interested in Operation Downfall when I was a college freshman at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College’s South Campus. It was 1985, and I came across a copy of Alfred Coppel’s The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan, an “alternate history” set in a 1946 where the first A-bomb test goes awry and President Truman reluctantly orders General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz to carry out Operations Olympic (the landings on Kyushu in November of 1945) and Coronet (the landings on Honshu in March 1946).

That novel does not mention the term “Downfall” – the code-name for the overarching invasion of Japan – so I didn’t learn about that aspect of the plan till I read World War II: America at War, 1941-1945, a one-volume encyclopedia devoted to the Second World War by Norman Polmar and Thomas B. Allen. There’s a substantial entry about Downfall in that book, so between that and Coppel’s riveting The Burning Mountain, I found myself wanting to know more about this invasion-that-never-was and the actual end of the Pacific War.

Annoying Myths and Misconceptions

I also confess that I was – and still am – annoyed by the revisionist idea that the use of atomic bombs was either unnecessary because Japan was trying to surrender to the Allies by late July of 1945, or that Truman – and the American government in general – dropped the Bomb primarily as a demonstration of American military power aimed not just at the Japanese, but also (and some say mainly) at the Soviet Union just as the Grand Alliance that defeated Hitler in Europe was splitting and the Cold War starting.

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain

This revisionist view was first presented circa 1960 – 15 years after the war’s end – and latched onto not just by younger Americans whose parents, most of whom were veterans of either the battlefront or the home front but never talked about the war to their kids, but also by historians, many of whom had leftist or at least post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynical views of U.S. military and foreign policies in the 1940s and ‘50s. No doubt, these views were quietly encouraged by the Soviet Union, which sought to muddy the waters about America’s role in World War II and enhance its own by making it seem that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were intended to frighten Joseph Stalin and the Russians into accepting American global hegemony in 1945 and afterward.

My TBR stack.

I have zero patience with this view since I knew several World War II veterans who told me that they were still in uniform in August of 1945 and dreaded the upcoming invasion of Japan, for which preparations were already underway. Shipping for Operation Olympic was beginning to be assembled in Okinawa, and Allied forces from Great Britain, Western Europe, and the U.S. were either en route to the Pacific or given “warning orders” for re-deployment when word came, on August 15, 1945, that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, with the proviso that Emperor Hirohito would not be dethroned.

Anyway, since I am a fan of alternate history, and the invasion that never took place is one of my favorite subjects, I am looking forward to reading Hell to Pay, as well as the earlier book by Polmar and Allen, Code-Name Downfall.

Well, that’s all I have to share with you today, Dear Reader, so I’ll close for now. Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

2 thoughts on “On Books & Reading: ‘Hell to Pay’ Gets Added to My TBR Stack

    1. Revisionism, per se, is not always a terrible thing. History is not a field that remains static; diligent researchers unearth the latest information when they look in the archives, conduct interviews with people who have not been interviewed, or – in the case of WWII – veterans’ families find correspondence, diaries, and journals belonging to their parents and grandparents and donate them to museums or various other archives.

      When new or previously unpublished information becomes known, or historians do their diligent research and write new accounts of battles that have been made part of the WWII canon (the Battle of Britain, Midway, Market-Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle for Berlin, and, yes, Operation Downfall, that’s where the “good” version of revisionism is acceptable.

      The “bad” sort of revisionism occurs when someone with a nefarious agenda like, say, David Irving comes along and authors books that claim the Holocaust never occurred and that if Jews were killed in the war, Hitler did not sanction it himself. There are other revisionists, who tackle other topics, such as the alleged deliberate mistreatment of German prisoners by American commanders, or, as in the case of Downfall and the use of atomic weapons against the Japanese, injecting Cold War ideology/Vietnam era anti-military sentiments into their “questioning the official story” efforts.

      While I wish that the U.S. had not had to drop the Bomb on Japan in August of 1945, I am aware that the Allies had to choose the lesser of two evils. Either use atomic weapons to shock the stubborn militarists that ran the Imperial Japanese Empire into accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration of July 1945, or launch an invasion that, if it had been carried out, would have killed more Japanese civilians than the atomic bombs did.

      Also, it is ridiculous to assert that Allied tactics, especially the bombing of cities in Axis countries, were immoral and unjustified. The Axis powers chose war as part of their national policies to expand their empires, starting with Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931. They reaped what they sowed, and the only way to reverse what Japan, Italy, and Germany did during the war was through violence. Sad, but true.


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