2021-01-28 15:42:18 UTC
Freelance Historical Writer
Why wasn't the US’s plan to simply starve Japan into submission, at the
end of the war? Why even contemplate a horrendously costly invasion?
Originally Answered: Why did the US feel it had to either A-bomb Japan
or invade at the cost of a million American casualties? Couldn't they
have just surrounded Japan and starved them into submission?
This question is periodically asked here on Quora and to some it would
have seemed a far better alternative to using nuclear devices against
As mentioned in other responses, a strong Allied Navy blockade was
already in place, blocking foodstuffs and produce from Taiwan, SE Asia,
and Mainland China. The Autumn rice crop in central and southern Japan
was projected to be (and was) one of the worst in the past 50 years.
Japanese civilians had been told year by year to sacrifice more and more
until victory was certain.
While the majority of the military leadership in Japan and the Imperial
Household continued to enjoy substantial meals and drink, the average
civilian was expected to survive on 1000 calories per day or less.
“Helpful” home economy tips published in women’s magazines encouraged
housewives in Japan and Korea to incorporate clean sawdust or boiled
tree bark into breads and porridges. Older members of families
instructed children on which plants in the forests and fields could be
gathered to add to their meager meals.
The Japanese military would have been the last to have been “starved
out”. Substantial stocks of canned foods and bags of rice had already
been pre-positioned around southern and central Japan to support
Ketsu-Go, the IJA plan to defend against invasion by the Allies. Long
after Japan’s surrender, US Army units documented the frequent
confiscation and removal of large stocks of IJA provisions that were
still being sold on the black market by corrupt Japanese officials and
ex-IJA officers, often assisted by the Yakuza.
Had the surrender of Japan occurred any later, during Autumn 1945 or
into Winter 1946, both Japanese government officials and the Allied
authorities projected that widespread famine would have occurred. As it
was, many old and young Japanese passed away during the first year of
the Occupation after prolonged malnutrition and lack of immunity to
outbreaks of typhoid, dysentery, cholera, influenza, and even leprosy.
Prime Minister Yoshida later acknowledged the central role of General
MacArthur and the US military in providing canned foods and agricultural
products from America’s farmers that averted large scale famine. The
transport infrastructure in Japan was still poor, so reports of pallets
of wheat rotting in port warehouses was not unusual.
The Japanese were also unfamiliar with many US foods, such as macaroni
and beans. MacArthur initiated a school lunch program that utilized
American commodities such as powdered milk and biscuits. For most
Japanese children during the late 1940s, this was their primary meal of
the day. Many Japanese recalled as schoolchildren during the Occupation,
eating large fresh-baked biscuits and drinking milk for the first time.
GIs also interceded individually by giving up their own rations and
chocolate to local children. From most of the correspondence I’ve read
from GIs to their families back home, they were not fully aware of the
struggles many Japanese families endured to acquire food. The black
market prices were out of the range for many civilians, and rationed
foods ran out quickly while the lines were still forming. Farmers lacked
seed and equipment in order to quickly build up their production.
In summary, Japan was on the brink of collapse in August 1945 as far as
self-sufficiency in food and the ability to produce more due to lack of
fuel. Public health and morale were poor. Yet hardline militarists and
planners had boldly allowed for the deaths of up to twenty million
civilians during the invasion of Kyushu, with tens of millions more
deaths projected on the Kanto Plain. The callous disregard in how the
IJA treated civilians during war was evident in the Battle of Okinawa.
Had the Allies taken the same approach by starving the Japanese, a
million or more might have died—A major humanitarian disaster caused by
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