Feb 8

A Deeper Dive into Hell to Pay

Thursday, February 8, 2018 12:01 AM



In 2009, the Naval Institute Press published D. M. Giangreco’s award-winning book Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945–1947. We recently spoke with Mr. Giangreco about his latest book—a revised and expanded edition of Hell to Pay (Naval Institute Press, 2017).

Naval History: Tell us about the expanded edition of Hell to Pay.

D. M. Giangreco: The new Hell to Pay expands on several areas examined in the previous 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 U.S. occupation forces into Japan. Readers of the original work may recall General Douglas MacArthur’s flagrant and repeated disregard of the “commander’s intent” of his boss, General George C. Marshall, to put General George Patton and his staff in command of a U.S. field army during the invasion of the Tokyo area in 1946. Revealed in this edition is that MacArthur had even devised—and was in the process of implementing—the sidetracking of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, who had been picked by Marshall to lead the Tenth Army when its commander was killed on Okinawa. Additional details are also provided on the 1945 production of Purple Hearts as well as the decision to halt U.S. forces on Germany’s Elbe River instead of having them become embroiled in a bloody street fight in Berlin that would disrupt the redeployment of U.S. troops to the Pacific.

NH: Your chapters detailing U.S.-Soviet cooperation make up much of the new material and are a revelation.

DMG: It was originally my intent that the extensive and still unknown degree of cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union, as well as the three antagonists’ Hokkaido plans, be covered as a single chapter in the first edition. The generous assistance offered by Larry Bland and Jacob Kipp briefly encouraged me to think that I might even be able to get it done in time to meet my deadlines. But I was deluding myself. The matter was far too complex and was ultimately dropped with only a brief and totally inadequate account of the shifting Soviet designs against Hokkaido. These subjects are now covered in individual chapters: “To Break Japan’s Spine,” titled after a Joseph Stalin quotation, and “The Hokkaido Myth.”

NH: How has this remained unknown for so long?

DMG: Jim Hornfischer [author of The Fleet at Flood Tide, among other books] recently wrote to me about how easy it is to swerve into writing history “from a 1980s lens.” In this case, however, the scope of the U.S. assistance to the invasion of Manchuria didn’t really become a part of history in the first place. Unlike Lend-Lease in the war against the Nazis, which was given great visibility and trumpeted throughout the war—convoys above the Arctic Circle valiantly fighting their way to Murmansk; trains festooned with American and Soviet flags rumbling across Iran to the Caucasus; and so on—Lend-Lease aid to prepare the Russians for their coming war with Japan was a closely guarded secret. The reason was the extreme vulnerability to preemptive action by even a weakened Japan against both their land and sea lines of communication. In fact, just last year David Sears addressed the very real Soviet fears in the February issue of Naval History [“Flying the Empire Express,” pp. 26–31; “Pipeline to Freedom,” pp. 32–37].

Immediately after war, the secrecy surrounding America’s part in the Manchurian operation had its own momentum. And besides, we had plenty to crow about that wasn’t secret. The Soviets themselves made absolutely zero mention of it, as they wanted nothing to distract from the image of a magnificent achievement of Soviet arms. Within a relatively short time, knowledge of the massive U.S. effort would have grown on its own. For example, The Strange Alliance: The Story of Our Efforts at Wartime Cooperation with Russia, by the chief of the U.S. Military Mission to Moscow, Major General John R. Deane, was cleared in 1946 and published the following year. But increasing tensions with the Soviets was already giving more and more credence to the criticism of Yalta and Potsdam, which had begun in earnest as soon as the shooting stopped. Even before the communist victory in China and tensions had developed into a full-blown Cold War—and long before the “hot war” of Korea—our direct aid in the seizure of Manchuria by Red armies was not something that anyone in either the U.S. or Soviet governments, each for their own reasons, wanted to draw any attention.

Interestingly, the Defense Department produced, out-of-the-blue for public release, an extremely carefully crafted, 107-page white paper on the joint effort in 1955.

D. M. Giangreco

D. M. Giangreco

NH: Why then?

DMG: Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) had already been savaging George C. Marshall for years as supposedly being responsible for the fall of China to the communists, and McCarthy’s hearings on subversives in the U.S. Army had only recently concluded, so the timing seems to suggest that perhaps this was done to get out ahead of even more mischief by the senator. Did I have enough qualifiers in that sentence? Anyway, vague references to the U.S. aid from the Yalta and Potsdam conferences periodically showed up in a small number of works, but it was more than ten long Cold War years before the State Department provided various relevant documents hinting at its scale in a 1966 edition of the Foreign Relations of the United States series. Other stuff was buried throughout the mass of Army documents declassified in the early and mid ’70s but by that time the narrative on the war had been long established.

It’s too bad, really, because while it was a political hot potato that undoubtedly would have caused enormous grief to the Truman administration, the Army, and to Marshall in particular—I believe the Navy would have been able to skate on this since they were largely uninvolved in the 1944–45 Moscow negotiations—a fuller understanding of the depth of U.S.-Soviet cooperation would have effectively undercut the nonsense on President Truman’s atom bomb decision and endgame in the Pacific put forth by Gar Alperovitz during the Vietnam period and more recently by Hasegawa.

NH: You’re referring to Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, who wrote Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan?

DMG: Yes. In the expanded Hell to Pay, I make it clear that the supposed “race” by Truman to drop atomic bombs on Japan before Stalin could enter the Pacific war, posited by Hasegawa, is completely imaginary. Both the Roosevelt and Truman administrations believed that Stalin’s entry into the war against Japan was in the interest of the United States and went to great lengths to ensure that end, which included both political guarantees and a vast quantity of supplies specifically tailored to support Soviet military operations against Japan.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Averell Harriman, noted at the time that his instructions were “not only to obtain Russian participation but also to have them give us the right kind of help and enough time to prepare to make their help effective.” And that is exactly what the Soviets did. If there was a “race” involving the United States and Soviet Union in the Far East, it was a race by both allies to get Red armies into the war against Japan as quickly as possible.