Cover image for Downfall : the end of the Imperial Japanese empire
Downfall : the end of the Imperial Japanese empire
Frank, Richard B.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xix, 484 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D767.2 .F73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D767.2 .F73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"These pages present the untold story of how American leaders learned in the summer of 1945 that their compromise strategy to end the war by blockade and bombardment, followed by invasion, had been shattered; radio intelligence had unmasked a massive Japanese buildup on Kyushu designed to turn the initial invasion into a bloody shambles. Meanwhile, the text and analysis of diplomatic intercepts depicted sterile prospects for negotiation before a final clash of arms. Here also, for the first time, is a full and balanced account of how Japan's leaders risked annihilation by gambling on a military strategy aimed at securing political bargaining leverage to preserve the old order in Japan." "Downfall replaces the myths that now surround the end of the war and the use of the bomb with the stark realities of this great historical controversy."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The closing months of the Pacific theater in World War II remain a subject of controversy among historians, particularly those with political agendas. At the core of this controversy, of course, is the decision to drop the bomb. Was it truly a military decision, designed to save American lives by making unnecessary an invasion of the Japanese home islands? Or was it, rather, a cynical effort to pressure our Soviet "ally" into diplomatic concessions in Europe? Frank, a Vietnam veteran and military historian, has done a masterful job of recounting the closing months of the war while avoiding the trap of historical hindsight. He strives mightily to re-create the perceptions of American and Japanese military planners, diplomats, and politicians during the cauldron of violence on a massive scale. He places the bomb within the proper overall context of the air campaigns against Japan, and he also stresses the often-neglected effectiveness of the American naval blockade. This is a brilliant, strongly argued, but scrupulously fair examination of these brutal, horrifying, but critical months. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The premise behind this excellent history of the concluding stages of WWII in the Pacific is that the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has cast a light so bright that it has blinded historians to many of the political, diplomatic and military realities that existed before August 6, 1945. In his comprehensive study of the last months of WWII, Frank (Guadalcanal) aims to present events "as they were perceived and recorded by American and Japanese participants in 1945Änot years or decades thereafter." In 1945, American strategists developed their plan, "Operation Downfall," for forcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. Japanese leaders, meanwhile, mobilized all available military and civilian resources for a final defense of the homeland. Though they knew the war was lost, Japanese military strategists believed their preparations were sufficient to compel the Allies to offer more generous terms on which the war might end. Frank immerses his readers in the flow of intelligence estimates, battle experience and shifting strategy on both sides. The centerpiece of the book is an exacting and dispassionate examination both of the American decision to use the atomic bomb and of whether Japan would have surrendered absent the bomb. Frank marshals an impressive and complex array of evidence to support his contention that surrender by Japan was by no means imminent in August 1945, and that alternatives to the bomb, such as incendiary bombing, carried no certainty of causing less suffering and fewer deaths than the atomic bomb. In his balanced use of sources and in his tough-minded sensitivity to moral issues, Frank has enriched the debate about the war's conclusion. Agent, Robert Gottlieb of William Morris. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Few historical issues have generated as much controversy as the question of whether the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was necessary to compel Japan's surrender. No single book can be expected to end such a heated debate, but Frank's masterly study of Japan's decision to surrender comes close to doing so. Based on extensive documentation from contemporary U.S. and Japanese diplomatic and military sources, it is the most authoritative treatment available of the end of the Pacific War. Frank (Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Campaign) emphasizes the enormous reluctance of Japan's military and civilian leaders even to consider, let alone accept, Allied demands for unconditional surrender prior to the atomic bombings. Skillfully weaving together the strands of military and diplomatic events, Frank contends that absent the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the war would have continued for at least several more months, at a cost in Japanese and Allied civilian and combatant lives far in excess of the admittedly awful toll that the atomic bombs exacted. A powerful work of history that belongs in all libraries.ÄSteven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Tokyo Burns:  Raid of March 9-10 "A silver curtain falling" With the night came north winds, blowing bitter and cold across the uneasy city. By 8:00 p.m., great shuddering gusts, at 45 to 67 miles per hour, "violent as a spring typhoon," shoved against the wooden walls and pried at the doors and windows of the dwellings of Tokyo's 4.3 million citizens. Elsewhere, the winds toppled or jammed radar antennas and made mischief with communications. On the pitching seas to the south, picket-boats raised frantic alerts of many approaching bombers, but faulty radio reception--and faulty organization--muffled the alarms. On radios throughout the capital, the voice of Hidetoshi Matsumura, the spokesman for Imperial General Headquarters, hailed the coming day, March 10, as Army Day. His oration ended in the weary cliché: "The darkest hour is just before dawn." His words had barely faded when, at 10:30 p.m., sirens sounded the long, steady wail warning of distant but potentially threatening aircraft. In contrast to the pervasive disorder that had invaded and overwhelmed all aspects of daily life in the capital, the air-raid alert system that roused many from mid-slumber was still respected for its efficiency. With electric lights forbidden after nightfall and cooking gas nonexistent, most families now habitually prepared and ate meals at twilight and then retired early. But even in repose, Tokyo's denizens remained partly dressed, usually in shapeless, loose monpe trousers. Near midnight, coast watchers reported droning noises that were likely from B-29s. The listeners could speak with authority, for the dreaded Superfortresses--known to the Tokyoites as "bikko," "B-san," "Lord B.," "okyakusama" (visitors), and "regular mail"--had come many times to the capital, though only once at night, and never in such numbers or so low. Surprised and confused, civil-defense authorities hesitated, and the sirens did not exclaim the sharp, broken notes of the air-raid alarm, signifying an imminent attack, until 12:15 a.m. By then, bombs had been falling for seven minutes, and rusty red-yellow roses of flame already flowered across eastern Tokyo. A Danish diplomat, Lars Tillitse, dutifully ventured outside to make sure that his property betrayed no light. A "terrific noise" assailed him as the four-motored bombers thundered by overhead. Another Western observer, Robert Guillain, was more exact: A B-29 passed with "an odd, rhythmic buzzing that filled the night with deep, powerful pulsation and made my whole house vibrate." Tillitse observed his neighbors erupting from their homes, animating the dark narrow streets, the men in helmets, everyone else in padded air-raid hoods. "Radios were going full blast and doors and windows were open, so that people in the street could keep informed," recalled Tillitse. "Already we could see fires." Radios proclaimed the approach of another wave of bombers, and Tillitse stayed outside to watch. Energetic searchlight crews fanned the slender, probing white columns of their beams from horizon to zenith. As the diplomat gazed upward, six or seven times a bomber punctured a column of illumination, whereupon five or six other lights converged to hold it. Centered in an aura, the silvery body became the target for gunners, who sent shells skyward. But in each case, the shiny cross glided on unhurt. Then Tillitse heard the crowd cheer and swiveled his head to behold one B-29 alight. The whole body glowed red, but the plane continued its flight until, like lightning, white flames burst from the sides. Enveloped in fire, the Superfortress plummeted to the ground. Everywhere across Tokyo, the night teemed with citizens scurrying from their houses clutching sleeping mats and carefully culled possessions--pots and pans and, above all, treasured hoards of rice and soya paste--seeking refuge. The entire city had only eighteen satisfactory concrete shelters, with a total capacity of five thousand, little more than one space for every thousand persons. The next-best shelters comprised the basements of the relatively few Western-style buildings, constructed to resist earthquakes, and some equally sparse cave shelters. But the mass of citizens lacked any adequate haven. Some families gathered in clothes cupboards within their homes, as the government recommended. Most citizens, however, headed for their bokugo, little holes that had been bored beside their houses or in the little ribbon of earth between street and sidewalk. These were typically crude, two to five meters long, one meter across, and one and one-half to two meters deep, covered with a roof made with a few poles, bamboo rafters, and a thin crust of earth. The citizens provided these rudimentary protections themselves, chanting "oh, one, two, oh, one, two" as they dug, around which many then planted flowers, and into which many a man or woman tripped, breaking bones. Excerpted from Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard B. Frank All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.