31 August 1941

31 August 1941

31 August 1941

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British and Soviet troops meet at Kazvin

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RAF Bomber Command uses Flying Fortress bombers to attack Bremen



August 31, 1943: USS Harmon, 1st US Ship Named for an African-American

On August 31, 1943, the Buckley Class destroyer, USS Harmon DE-678 was commissioned, the first American Navy ship named after an African-American person. The Harmon got its name from the heroic Leonard Roy Harmon, a Mess Attendant aboard the USS San Francisco in 1942.

Digging Deeper

Back in World War II there were limited specialties available to African-American sailors in the segregated armed forces of the United States, and for the most part African-American sailors were limited to service type positions. Of course, on board a warship sailors have to have emergency duties assigned for combat, and Harmon was assigned damage control and caring for wounded sailors. During the Battle of Guadalcanal on November 23, 1942, the cruiser San Francisco was in a battle for its existence against heavy Japanese naval forces. Severely damaged, the ship’s captain and Rear Admiral Callaghan in charge of the fleet were both killed, along with a total of 77 killed, 105 wounded and 7 missing crewmen.

Harmon gallantly worked furiously to aid the wounded, and was killed when he protected a wounded shipmate against enemy fire with his own body, costing Harmon his life. Harmon was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the second highest US medal. His citation reads: “The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty in action against the enemy while serving on board the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), during action against enemy Japanese naval forces near Savo Island in the Solomon Islands on the night of on 12–13 November 1942. With persistent disregard of his own personal safety, Mess Attendant First Class Harmon rendered invaluable assistance in caring for the wounded and assisting them to a dressing station. In addition to displaying unusual loyalty in behalf of the injured Executive Officer, he deliberately exposed himself to hostile gunfire in order to protect a shipmate and, as a result of this courageous deed, was killed in action. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice, maintained above and beyond the call of duty, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

Originally the ship that became the HMS Aylmer was to be named the USS Harmon, but that ship was transferred to the British Navy, leaving DE-678 to become theHarmon. A modest sized ship built for escorting larger ships, the Harmon was 306 feet long with a beam of 37 feet, displacing 1673 tons in normal fitting. Armed with a triple threat of 3 X 3 inch guns, 3 X 40mm guns, and 3 X 21 inch torpedo tubes, as well as depth charges and smaller anti-aircraft guns, the Harmon had a decent bite to accompany its bark. The Buckley Class Destroyer Escorts (called Frigates by the British) were built in large numbers, with 102 being completed. Some ships of this design were built as high speed transports. Speed varied from 24 to 27 knots for this class. Assigned to the Pacific theater, Harmon earned 3 Battle Stars, but was decommissioned in 1947 as the enormous war sized Navy was trimmed down. (In March 1945 Harmon’s 3 inch guns were replaced with 5 inch guns.)

Leonard Harmon was just 25 years old when he died, but his legacy should be remembered as long as there is a US Navy.

Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite African American to have served in the Navy? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Buildup to World War II: January 1931-August 1939

During the buildup to World War II in 1939, Winston Churchill called for a British-Russian alliance, which was declined by Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin. The World War II timeline below highlights this event as well as other important events that took place from May 31, 1939, to August 2, 1939.

World War II Timeline: May 31-August 2

May 31: In a move that emboldens Adolf Hitler, Vyacheslav Molotov addresses the Supreme Soviet and denies that the Soviet Union is aligning itself with the Western powers against Nazi Germany.

Nazi ­Germany signs a nonaggression pact with Denmark.

June 2: Just two days after Vyacheslav Molotov's denial that the Soviets had picked sides, Soviet Union authorities attempt to create a mutual assistance pact with France and Britain.

July 9: Realizing that Britain could not successfully defend Poland against Nazi German aggression, British Parliament member Winston Churchill calls for a British-Russian alliance. Having imperialist designs of his own on Poland, Joseph Stalin will decline.

July 26: Secretary of State Cordell Hull informs the Japanese ambassador that the United States will not extend the 1911 commercial treaty between the two nations.

August: Despite pressure from the West and his own dire assessment of the German threat, Polish General Edward Smigly-Rydz declares that allowing the Soviets passage through Poland would be a mistake, claiming that once the Red Army enters Polish territory, "they will never leave it."

The Nazi SS obtains 150 concentration camp prisoners, dresses them in Polish army uniforms, and shoots them. Their bodies are used as planted evidence of Polish aggression along the German border, and Adolf Hitler uses the fictional skirmish as a pretext for war.

August 2: Physicist Albert Einstein signs a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stating that scientists have discovered how to create a nuclear chain reaction, which could lead to "extremely powerful bombs of a new type." This will be a key factor in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pushing for the U.S. atomic bomb project.

World War II Headlines

Below are more highlights and images that outline the events of World War II and show the details of a Kindertransport journey, as well as the Jewish Youth Aliyah organization in the late 1930s.

The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht): Jews in Berlin spent days cleaning up their homes and neighborhoods after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), which raged on November 9 and 10, 1938. After a Jewish teenager shot a German diplomat in Paris, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels organized a pogrom against German Jews. Citizens joined Storm Troopers in destroying and looting Jewish homes, stores, and synagogues, and killing nearly 40 Jews. Some 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps. In addition, Hermann Göring levied an "atonement fine" to pay for all the damage. Kristallnacht signaled many more Nazi cruelties to come.

The British government agrees to take in Jewish children: A Jewish child rests following a Kindertransport journey. After Kristallnacht, the British government agreed to receive Jewish children under age 17 from Nazi Germany and its occupied territories. Jewish organizations selected children -- generally orphaned, impoverished, in danger of arrest, or with parents in concentration camps -- and financially guaranteed each child's care and eventual re-emigration. From December 1938 to September 1939, about 10,000 children traveled by train and ferry to Great Britain, where they lived in foster families, in group homes, or on farms. Most of the refugees never saw their parents again.

The Youth Aliyah Organization encourages Jewish emigration: Jewish students sing at the Youth Aliyah school in Berlin. Before the war, the Youth Aliyah organization prepared Jewish children for a future life in Palestine. When other Jewish youth groups were banned by the Nazis, the Youth Aliyah was allowed to continue because it encouraged Jewish emigration. The organization helped as many as 22,000 Jewish children reach Palestine and other countries. In 1941 the Nazis prohibited all Jewish emigration and closed the Berlin school, but many former Youth Aliyah students would play key roles in the establishment of Israel.

Nazi Germany takes control of Prague on March 15, 1939: The German annexation of Bohemia and Moravia occurred soon after President Hácha's capitulation. The Germans occupied Prague on March 15, 1939, and seized the Czech armaments industry and tank production lines. The Czech army was disbanded, with much of its excellent equipment adopted by the Germans -- including 469 tanks. Politically, the annexation furthered Adolf Hitler's policy of developing Lebensraum (living space) for Nazi Germany in the east. It also delivered some 120,000 Czech and refugee German Jews into the hands of the SS.

In April 1939, Britain institutes conscription for men ages 20 to 21: Because Great Britain had only a small professional army, in April 1939 men ages 20 and 21 were required to register for six months of military training. This was the first peacetime conscription in British history, and all Labour and Liberal members of Parliament voted against it. By 1941 conscription was extended to men ages 18 to 41 (single men were inducted before married men) and to unmarried women.

Jews are denied access to Cuba, the U.S., and Canada: Twins Renate and Innes Spanier gaze out of a porthole on the ship St. Louis. In May 1939, more than 900 Jewish refugees booked passage on the liner, hoping to escape Nazi Germany. However, Cuba, the United States, and Canada all denied permission for the ship to dock. After fruitlessly sailing up and down the North American coast, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Most passengers had to disembark in countries that were later overrun by Nazi Germany. Many died in concentration camps, though the Spaniers survived in Holland and eventually immigrated to the U.S.

Nazi Germany and Japan signed the German-Soviet nonaggression agreement, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and agreed to destroy Poland. Continue on to the next page for a detailed timeline on the important World War II events that occurred from August 4, 1939, to August 23, 1939.


Historic Headlines: World War II

This week is the anniversary of the beginning – and, arguably, the end – of World War II, which began on September 1, 1939, and ended virtually exactly six years later.

In commemoration, below are links to nearly 40 original New York Times front page images and articles reporting on World War II milestones, from our On This Day in History archive.

Ideas for using this collection include the following:

  • Use one of the articles as primary source material for a document-based question (DBQ) assignment.
  • Compare the news coverage with the content in the course textbook.
  • Mine the articles to develop projects about the war, such as creating infographics or scrapbooks.
  • Hold a debate on the question of when the war actually ended.

What other ideas do you have for using these articles with students? Please share them in the comment box below.

And for more resources, see our Teaching Topics page on the Holocaust and our World War II student crossword.


    In 1940, during World War II, Adolf Hitler gained a stunning victory as France was forced to sign an armistice eight days after German forces overran Paris.
    In 1940, during World War II, the 114-day Battle of Britain began as Nazi forces began attacking southern England by air. By late October, Britain managed to repel the Luftwaffe, which suffered heavy losses.
    In 1940, Nazi Germany began its initial blitz on London during World War II.
    In 1940, during World War II, Germany began dropping incendiary bombs on London.

    In 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill launched his “V for Victory” campaign in Europe.
    In 1941, President Roosevelt signed into law the Lend-Lease Bill, providing war supplies to countries fighting the Axis.
    In 1941, Japanese warplanes attacked the home base of the United States Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, an act that led to America’s entry into World War II.
    In 1941, the United States entered World War II as Congress declared war against Japan, a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
    In 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States the U.S. responded in kind.
    In 1941, Winston Churchill became the first British prime minister to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

    In 1942, Gen. Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia to become supreme commander of Allied forces in the southwest Pacific theater during World War II.
    In 1942, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a lend lease agreement to aid the Soviet war effort in World War II.
    In 1942, the World War II naval Battle of Guadalcanal began. The Americans eventually won a major victory over the Japanese.
    In 1942, President Roosevelt ordered nationwide gasoline rationing, beginning December 1.

    In 1943, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opened a wartime conference in Casablanca.
    In 1943, the remainder of Nazi forces from the Battle of Stalingrad surrendered in a major victory for the Soviets in World War II.
    In 1943, the World War II battle of Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific ended with an American victory over Japanese forces.
    In 1943, during World War II, Axis forces in North Africa surrendered.
    In 1943, during World War II, United States forces seized control of the Tarawa and Makin atolls from the Japanese.
    In 1943, President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin met in Tehran during World War II.

    In 1944, the D-Day invasion of Europe took place during World War II as Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France.

    In 1945, President Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin signed the Yalta Agreement during World War II.
    In 1945, during World War II, some 30,000 United States Marines landed on the Western Pacific island of Iwo Jima, where they encountered ferocious resistance from Japanese forces. The Americans took control of the strategically important island after a month-long battle.
    In 1945, American forces invaded Okinawa during World War II.
    In 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Ga., at age 63. Vice President Harry S. Truman became president.
    In 1945, during World War II, United States and Soviet forces linked up on the Elbe River, in central Europe, a meeting that dramatized the collapse of Nazi Germany.
    In 1945, the Soviet Union announced the fall of Berlin and the Allies announced the surrender of Nazi troops in Italy and parts of Austria.
    In 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters in Rheims, France, to take effect the following day, ending the European conflict of World War II.
    In 1945, the USS Indianapolis, which had just delivered key components of the Hiroshima atomic bomb to the Pacific island of Tinian, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Only 316 out of 1,196 men survived the sinking and shark-infested waters.
    In 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, killing an estimated 140,000 people in the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare.
    In 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, the United States exploded a nuclear device over Nagasaki, killing an estimated 74,000 people.
    In 1945, President Truman announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally, ending World War II.
    In 1944, Paris was liberated by Allied forces after four years of Nazi occupation.
    In 1945, Japan formally surrendered in ceremonies aboard the USS Missouri, ending World War II.
    In 1945, 24 Nazi leaders went on trial before an international war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.

Comments are no longer being accepted.

I find it incredible that events relating to the Soviet Union, a country which was crucial in defeating Nazi Germany, do not merit any mentioning. Bombining of London gets at least 3 mentionings invasion of the Soviet Union – none. Battle of Stalingrad aparently less important compared to the arrival of a general in Australia, etc. I really would have expected more from a newspaper which claims preeminence when it comes to world news

the united states is the superpower of the world it doesnt come as a suprise to me that we held off japan as well as invading the exact same army

i wouldn’t like to be evacuated.

I dont know any one who would like it. When you are evacuated there is always gonna be somthin bad happinin. So,yeah, I aint carin for it eather.

One can learn a lot of information about WWII, however, were is the mention of the finding of the concentration camps and the atrocities that were taken place there? Or for that matter, General Eisenhower’s remarks when he saw the horror?


Carving History

Gutzon Borglum observes two workers carving Jefferson's eye on Mount Rushmore.

October 4, 1927 - October 31, 1941

Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. The duties involved varied greatly from the call boy to drillers to the blacksmith to the housekeepers. Some of the workers at Mount Rushmore were interviewed, and were asked, "What is it you do here?" One of the workers responded and said, "I run a jackhammer." Another worker responded to the same question, " I earn $8.00 a day." However, a third worker said, "I am helping to create a memorial." The third worker had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish.

The workers had to endure conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500 foot face of the mountain in a "bosun chair". Some of the workers admitted being uneasy with heights, but during the Depression, any job was a good job.

The work was exciting, but dangerous. 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite . The powdermen would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock.

Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers would have to be cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers. If they went too fast, the drillers in their bosun chairs would be dragged up on their faces. To keep this from happening, young men and boys were hired as call boys. Call boys sat at the edge of the mountain and shout messages back and forth assuring safety. During the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred.

Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface. At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.

Visitors to the site were very interested in the honeycombed granite and would often ask, "How can I get a piece of rock like that?" The hoist operator would usually respond, "Oh, I can't give that away. I'm holding onto it for a buddy of mine that works up on the mountain." The visitor would respond, "I'll pay, I'll give you $2.00 for it." The hoist operator's reply was, "Nope, nope, I'd really catch it if I gave away my buddy's piece of granite." If the visitors were very determined to get a piece of that granite, they would make another offer. "I'll give you $6.00 for that piece of honeycomb granite." The hoist operator would pretend to pause and think about it. then he would say, "Alright for $6.00 I'm willing to take the heat." The hoist operator would give the visitors the piece of honeycombed granite and take their $6.00. The visitor would leave very pleased with their rare and hard won souvenir. The hoist operator would wait until he was sure the visitors were gone and he would get on the phone to the top of the mountain and say, "Boys send down another one!" Another piece of honeycombed granite was sent down, ready for the next visitor looking for a special souvenir from Mount Rushmore.

After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.

From 1927 to 1941 the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore were doing more than operating a jackhammer, they were doing more than earning $8.00 a day, they were building a Memorial that people from across the nation and around the world would come to see for generations.


Pictures from the past: Leeds over the last 100 years

Next year, Leeds will open the doors of its long-awaited £60 million Leeds Arena, an ambitious project that is set to see people from all around Yorkshire flocking to the city for concerts, sports events and comedy. In the same year, Europe's largest shopping centre will open in the heart of the city in the form of Trinity Leeds, which is certain to attract equal numbers of shopping crowds.

These developments are further proof of the city's self-boosting nickname of the 'London of the North', but as important as it is to look to these future prospects, examining Leeds' history through pictures can shine a light on the triumph and turmoil that made it into the progressive and vibrant city it has become.

Like many major cities in Britain in 1941, Leeds was bombed during the Blitz, with Beeston taking the brunt of the attack. The walls and roof of the Town Hall also took significant damage. In all, 77 people were killed in the raids and almost 200 buildings were badly damaged.

Yet despite these dark times, Leeds has still flourished. St James Hospital was founded in 1925, and 1933 saw the creation of Leeds Civic Hall. Leeds Polytechnic (later Leeds Metropolitan University) opened in 1970, the same year the Playhouse and the Bond Street Centre (now Leeds Shopping Plaza) threw their doors open to the public.

Aladdin's cave - the auditorium of Leeds' Grand Theatre.

Rose Gibson runs Leodis.net, an archive of photographs and illustrations spanning back to the 18th century. Just a cursory search unearths fascinating insights into Leeds life in the last 100 years. Trams, carts, quaint shop signs it's a world that seems so far removed from ours, but set in the familiar backdrop many of us pass on a daily basis. She says:

Leodis enables people to share their memories of life in Leeds by adding their own reminiscences, keeping the history of the city vibrant and bringing alive the personal stories behind the images," she said. "The photographic archive of Leeds is managed by our library and information service, and has over 58,000 images of Leeds showing its past right through to the present.

The website currently has over 40,000 user contributions and receives thousands of visits each month from around the world.

Now, to celebrate the changing streets of Leeds, Leodis.net and city-based estate agents Morgans City Living have created a graphic that shows iconic locations in the city centre 100 years ago, contrasting them against how they appear now. Here's a taster:

The resource can be found in full here.

Amy Byard - BA Broadcast Journalism Graduate - Leeds

Amy Byard is a BA broadcast journalism graduate of Leeds university.


Fact #888: August 31, 2015 Historical Gas Prices

In the first six months of 2015, the average retail price of regular gasoline was $2.49 per gallon—the lowest average price since the economic recession in 2009. Gasoline has always been subject to price swings but the degree of price volatility has increased since the mid-1970s. Between 1930 and 2015, the average price of regular gasoline has ranged from a low of $1.43 per gallon in 1998 to a high of $3.69 per gallon in 2012 when measured in constant 2015 dollars. The effect of the U.S. embargo of Iranian oil can be seen in the early 1980's with the price of gasoline peaking in 1982.

Historical Gas Prices, 1930 – 2015

Notes: Average annual retail price of regular gasoline. The 2015 average is for January through June.

Supporting Information

Notes: Notes: Retail price includes Federal and State taxes.
Price is for regular leaded gasoline until 1990 and for regular unleaded gasoline thereafter.
Constant dollars calculated using the Gross Domestic Product Inflation Index.

Source: Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Table 9.4.


Central Europe

German authorities began to deport Jews from the Greater German Reich in October 1941, while the construction of the killing centers was still in the planning stage. Between October 15, 1941, and November 4, 1941, German authorities deported 20,000 Jews to the Lodz ghetto. Between November 8, 1941, and October 1942, German authorities deported approximately 49,000 Jews from the Greater German Reich to Riga, Minsk, Kovno, and Raasiku, all in the Reich Commissariat Ostland (German-occupied Belorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia). SS and police officials shot the overwhelming majority of the deportees upon arrival in the Reich Commissariat Ostland. German authorities deported another approximately 63,000 German, Austrian, and Czech Jews to the Warsaw ghetto and to various locations in District Lublin, including the transit camp-ghettos at Krasnystaw and Izbica and the killing center in Sobibor, between March and October 1942. German Jewish residents of the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos were later deported with Polish Jews to Chelmno, Treblinka 2, and, in 1944, to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The first transport of Jews from the Greater German Reich directly to Auschwitz arrived on July 18, 1942, from Vienna. From late October 1942 until January 1945, German authorities deported more than 71,000 Jews remaining in the Greater German Reich to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Germans deported elderly or prominent Jews from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and western Europe to the Theresienstadt ghetto, which also served as a transit camp for deportations further east, most often to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Between May and July 1944, Hungarian gendarmes, in cooperation with German security police officials, deported nearly 440,000 Jews from Hungary. Most of them were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. With the cooperation of Slovak authorities, the Germans deported more than 50,000 Slovak Jews to the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek. The Slovak Jews were the first to be selected for the gas chambers at Birkenau. In the autumn of 1944, German SS and police officials deported 10,000 Slovak Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Slovak uprising. This deportation was the last major one to a killing center.

Between March 1942 and November 1943, the SS and police deported approximately 1,526,000 Jews, most of them by train, to the killing centers of Operation Reinhard: Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Between December 1941 and March 1943, and again in June-July 1944, SS and police officials deported at least 167,000 Jews and approximately 4,300 Roma to the killing center at Chelmno by train, by truck, and on foot. Between March 1942 and December 1944, the German authorities deported approximately 1.1 million Jews and 23,000 Roma and Sinti to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the overwhelming majority by rail. Fewer than 500 survived the Operation Reinhard killing centers. Only a handful of Jews survived the transports to Chelmno. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Jews survived deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau by virtue of having been selected for forced labor upon arrival.


Five myths about the atomic bomb


The Hiroshima A-bomb blast, photographed by the U.S. military on August 6, 1945. The explosion was not the sole reason Japan surrendered, despite what American history textbooks say. (Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum/EPA)

Gregg Herken is an emeritus professor of U.S. diplomatic history at the University of California and the author of “The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War” and “Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller.” As a Smithsonian curator in 1995, he participated in early planning for the National Air and Space Museum’s Enola Gay exhibit.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Another bomb fell Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Decades later, controversy and misinformation still surround the decision to use nuclear weapons during World War II. The 70th anniversary of the event presents an opportunity to set the record straight on five widely held myths about the bomb.

1 . The bomb ended the war.

The notion that the atomic bombs caused the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, has been, for many Americans and virtually all U.S. history textbooks, the default understanding of how and why the war ended. But minutes of the meetings of the Japanese government reveal a more complex story. The latest and best scholarship on the surrender, based on Japanese records, concludes that the Soviet Union’s unexpected entry into the war against Japan on Aug. 8 was probably an even greater shock to Tokyo than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima two days earlier. Until then, the Japanese had been hoping that the Russians — who had previously signed a nonaggression pact with Japan — might be intermediaries in negotiating an end to the war . As historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa writes in his book “Racing the Enemy,” “Indeed, Soviet attack, not the Hiroshima bomb, convinced political leaders to end the war.” The two events together — plus the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Aug. 9 — were decisive in making the case for surrender.

2 . The bomb saved half a million American lives.

In his postwar memoirs, former president Harry Truman recalled how military leaders had told him that a half-million Americans might be killed in an invasion of Japan. This figure has become canonical among those seeking to justify the bombing. But it is not supported by military estimates of the time. As Stanford historian Barton Bernstein has noted, the U.S. Joint War Plans Committee predicted in mid-June 1945 that the invasion of Japan, set to begin Nov. 1, would result in 193,000 U.S. casualties, including 40,000 deaths.

But, as Truman also observed after the war, if he had not used the atomic bomb when it was ready and GIs had died on the invasion beaches, he would have faced the righteous wrath of the American people.

3 . The only alternative to the bomb was an invasion of Japan.

The decision to use nuclear weapons is usually presented as either/or: either drop the bomb or land on the beaches. But beyond simply continuing the conventional bombing and naval blockade of Japan, there were two other options recognized at the time.

The first was a demonstration of the atomic bomb prior to or instead of its military use: exploding the bomb on an uninhabited island or in the desert, in front of invited observers from Japan and other countries or using it to blow the top off Mount Fuji, outside Tokyo. The demonstration option was rejected for practical reasons. There were only two bombs available in August 1945, and the demonstration bomb might turn out to be a dud.

The second alternative was accepting a conditional surrender by Japan. The United States knew from intercepted communications that the Japanese were most concerned that Emperor Hirohito not be treated as a war criminal. The “emperor clause” was the final obstacle to Japan’s capitulation. (President Franklin Roosevelt had insisted upon unconditional surrender, and Truman reiterated that demand after Roosevelt’s death in mid-April 1945.)

Although the United States ultimately got Japan’s unconditional surrender, the emperor clause was, in effect, granted after the fact. “I have no desire whatever to debase [Hirohito] in the eyes of his own people,” Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied powers in Japan after the war, assured Tokyo’s diplomats following the surrender.

4 . The Japanese were warned before the bomb was dropped.

The United States had dropped leaflets over many Japanese cities, urging civilians to flee, before hitting them with conventional bombs. After the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945, which called on the Japanese to surrender, leaflets warned of “prompt and utter destruction” unless Japan heeded that order. In a radio address, Truman also told of a coming “rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth.” These actions have led many to believe that civilians were meaningfully warned of the pending nuclear attack. Indeed, a common refrain in letters to the editor and debates about the bomb is: “The Japanese were warned.”

But there was never any specific warning to the cities that had been chosen as targets for the atomic bomb prior to the weapon’s first use. The omission was deliberate: The United States feared that the Japanese, being forewarned, would shoot down the planes carrying the bombs. And since Japanese cities were already being destroyed by incendiary and high-explosive bombs on a regular basis — nearly 100,000 people were killed the previous March in the firebombing of Tokyo — there was no reason to believe that either the Potsdam Declaration or Truman’s speech would receive special notice.

5 . The bomb was timed to gain a diplomatic advantage over Russia and proved a “master card” in early Cold War politics.

This claim has been a staple of revisionist historiography, which argues that U.S. policymakers hoped the bomb might end the war against Japan before the Soviet entry into the conflict gave the Russians a significant role in a postwar peace settlement. Using the bomb would also impress the Russians with the power of the new weapon, which the United States had alone.

In reality, military planning, not diplomatic advantage, dictated the timing of the atomic attacks. The bombs were ordered to be dropped “as soon as made ready.”

Postwar political considerations did affect the choice of targets for the atomic bombs. Secretary of War Henry Stimson ordered that the historically and culturally significant city of Kyoto be stricken from the target list. (Stimson was personally familiar with Kyoto he and his wife had spent part of their honeymoon there.) Truman agreed, according to Stimson, on the grounds that “the bitterness which would be caused by such a wanton act might make it impossible during the long postwar period to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians.”

Like Stimson, Truman’s secretary of state, James Byrnes, hoped that the bomb might prove to be a “master card” in subsequent diplomatic dealings with the Soviet Union — but both were disappointed. In September 1945, Byrnes returned from the first postwar meeting of foreign ministers, in London, lamenting that the Russians were “stubborn, obstinate, and they don’t scare.”

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Malayan Independence

The independent Federation of Malaya came into being on August 31st, 1957.

The history of British involvement in Malaya goes back to 1786, when the East India Company established a trading post on Penang Island. Sir Stamford Raffles founded a British settlement on the island of Singapore in 1819 and by 1830 the British Straits Settlements also included Malacca. From the 1870s the sultans of the small Malay states began accepting British ‘advisers’, who were effectively rulers. In 1896 a federation of Negri Sembilan, Perak, Selangor and Pahang was established with its capital at Kuala Lumpur. Heavy immigration from China and India was encouraged to supply labour for British rubber plantations and tin mines.

Invading from the north, the Japanese rapidly overran Malaya and took Singapore in 1942. After the war, in 1948, a Federation of Malaya was created under British protection, but British and Commonwealth troops had to put down a Communist insurrection, which lasted into the early 1950s. It was by now agreed that Malayan independence was the answer to the Communist claim that they were fighting to free the Malayan people from the British yoke. An election in 1955 was won hands-down by the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) by running Malay candidates in Malay-dominated areas, Chinese candidates in Chinese areas and Indian candidates in Indian ones. The UMNO’s leader Tunku Abdul Rahman became prime minister when the independent Federation of Malaya came into being in 1957.

At a ceremony in the new Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Abdul Rahman proclaimed Malaya as ‘a sovereign, democratic and independent State founded on the principles of liberty and justice, and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.’ He went on to say that Malaya had been ‘blessed with a good administration forged and tempered to perfection by by successive British administrators’ and called for Britain’s legacy not to be forgotten or spoiled in the future. A message from the Queen welcomed Malaya to the Commonwealth and numerous Commonwealth premiers sent goodwill wishes. The Union Jack was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted in its place, while elsewhere in the country there were fireworks, bonfires, dances and concerts.

The federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963, when besides Singapore and all the Malay states it also included two areas in North Borneo – Sarawak and Sabah. Singapore opted out and went its own way in 1965.


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