Round Table: August 1945 in the Asia-Pacific Theater: From Total War to Nuclear War
The Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University Japan Present
August 1945 in the Asia-Pacific Theater:
From Total War to Nuclear War
Friday 6 August 2021
8 pm Tokyo (JST) | 12 pm U.K. (BST) | 7 am U.S. (EST)
Aaron William Moore, University of Edinburgh
Sayaka Chatani, The National University of Singapore
Ran Zwigenberg, Pennsylvania State University
The year 1945 was probably the worst year of the war. Millions of lives were lost in the Götterdämmerung that was the downfall of the Axis. These were not just military deaths. For the first time in the history of modern warfare, the deaths of civilians exceeded those of soldiers. The culmination of the ever-increasing brutality of WWII was in the two nuclear bombs that exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the slaughter started much earlier, with civilians targeted in Nanjing, Warsaw, London, Manila, Hamburg, Tokyo, and many other places. Both the Allies and the Axis targeted non-combatants as a deliberate policy, abandoning earlier efforts to only strike military targets. In Japan, the United States Army Air Force burned whole cities in an effort to “break Japanese morale” with the use of the new and destructive weapons like napalm. At the same time, Japanese atrocities on the continent were continuing right up to and beyond the official end of the war. Why did governments that had previously decried the mass slaughter of civilians as “barbaric” now target them with ever-increasing killing power?
In our round table, we propose to look at the problem of atrocities through the lens of imperialism, total war, and mass mobilization. Treating the American nuclear attacks of August 1945 as part of a continuum, we examine the development of mass atrocities, bombing strategies, psychological warfare, and the mobilization of the whole society. We examine both the longer history and postwar ramifications of these events, as governments continued to put non-combatants to work for the purposes of waging war, arguably making them legitimate targets in the age of “mutually assured destruction”.