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In 1776, had a man walked into the Continental Congress and told the Founding Fathers that the city of Boston seemed to be "gone". A few days prior, as he approached Boston, in the distance he'd seen a burst of light and then a mushroom cloud. The following day, he found nothing other than what seemed like melted metal and some of the ground had turned to a glassy texture where Boston used to be.

This man would not have been believed. Turning Boston into melted metal and glass would have been so preposterous that the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia would have ignored him. NOT thought that the Red Coats have just developed a new super weapon...

So, what was the process, and how long did it take, for Japanese high command in Tokyo to believe that the USA had a super-weapon that could turn cities into melted metal and glass?

My guess is that the atomic bomb was not an "out of the blue" surprise?? Such a super-weapon had been discussed as theoretically possible for 20 years? The Manhattan Project was no secret. And, when the reports of Hiroshima arrived, "the realization of this theoretical super-weapon was the only explanation"?????

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – rs.29 Feb 14 at 7:17
  • In 1776 people used almost the same war technology as in 1726. In 1895 there were no planes and no radio. – OON Feb 14 at 7:29
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    Too many suppositions, not enough research. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 14 at 8:11
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    "The Manhattan Project was no secret." -- I beg your pardon? Voted to close as "too basic as it could be answered by a single link to the relevant Wikipedia article". For that link, see the comment by rs.29. – DevSolar Feb 14 at 9:08
  • On August 7, a day after Hiroshima was destroyed, Dr. Yoshio Nishina and other atomic physicists arrived at the city, and carefully examined the damage. They then went back to Tokyo and told the cabinet that Hiroshima was indeed destroyed by a nuclear weapon. – Moishe Kohan Feb 14 at 13:13
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By 1945, believe it or not, there were such things as radios, film and photo cameras, aircraft, and cars that could and were used to relay the information to the Japanese high command in minutes.

There were also, contrary to popular belief, quite a few survivors on the ground to tell their story, including military personel.

Even if nobody came running to Tojo to tell him that Hiroshima had just been bombed into oblivion by what appeared to have been a single aircraft, it wouldn't take long for someone in Tokyo to try and get radio or telegraph contact with the city and either failing, leading to a scout aircraft or car to be sent, or succeeding and being told what happened.

Even then, they might not realise it was a single explosion causing the destruction, but even were it a larger number of American aircraft and bombs involved the level of destruction would have been such as to get the Japanese high command's attention.

And of course the USAAF had in the days prior to the bombing dropped leaflets over the cities in question warning the civilian population of what was coming and advising them to evacuate, leaflets which no doubt had made their way to Tokyo in short order.

This could be done by the Americans as by then the Japanese air defenses were so poor that even telling them that a city was going to be bombed wasn't going to help them put up much of a threat to the attacking bombers.

So it is quite likely that the war cabinet knew or at least suspected that the Americans had the capability even before the bomb was actually dropped. And that even if they didn't believe it before, that the reality of it happening would have quickly disspelled any disbelief. They might have been fanatics, but they weren't stupid.

The reason they didn't surrender immediately wasn't because they didn't believe what had happened, it was because they didn't care. They were well used to their cities being bombed into oblivion almost at will by the USAAF, this was just a new and somewhat troubling new way for the Americans to do it.

It wasn't until the Emperor himself intervened after the second bomb was dropped that the war cabinet bowed to the inevitable.

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  • I just think "city destroying bombs" sounds as preposterous as the terror tactic of using "teleportation machines to assassinate world leaders". I'd need more than videos and 1st person testimonials to believe in teleportation. I've never heard of Curtis Lemay dropping leaflets to protect civilians. I'll definitely get on the google tomorrow and check that out. I'm very intrigued. – user312440 Feb 14 at 7:09
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    @user312440 - Obviously, the Japanese military leaders didn't think it sounded so preposterous. The completely conventional bombing of Tokyo had destroyed large parts of the city and possibly killed more people than each of the individual atomic bombings. Military development was at a fever pace during the war. That the US could have had somewhat larger and more destructive bombs would not have seemed too incredible. – Obie 2.0 Feb 14 at 7:17
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    @user312440 well, leaflets were not to protect civilians. They were to inform as much Japanese as they could about the Potsdam declaration, and thus create pressure on Japanese government. They only had vague threats of "prompt and utter destruction", without mentioning method, timing or location. As far as I know, the "evacuate your cities" leaflets identifying the weapon used were only dropped after Hiroshima - and again, without specifying Nagasaki as the next target. – Danila Smirnov Feb 14 at 9:35
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As @jwenting very correctly said: radios, film and photo cameras, aircraft, and cars existed. Japan also had their own scientists. They weren't exactly stupid.

Their scientists may not have been working on an atom bomb, but they were at least aware such as weapon was possible. They may not have known the exact capabilities of a nuclear weapon, but most certainly knew something like that was on a different level.

So, what was the process, and how long did it take, for Japanese high command in Tokyo to believe that the USA had a super-weapon that could turn cities into melted metal and glass?

Within minutes, most likely. Not much longer than 10-20 minutes. An hour at the most. The highest surviving officer in or near Hiroshima would call his superior who would pass the message upwards. The delay might be due to confusion and finding working telephone lines. 80.000 dead is not everybody dead. I can't find quickly how many people lived that at the time of the bombardment, but I think close to or more than a million. That's <10% casualties. That means lots (>90%) of people survived. Many of them were military officers who would at least attempt to pass on the message.

The reason they didn't surrender immediately wasn't because they didn't believe what had happened, it was because they didn't care.

Partially correct. They most certainly believed what had happened. But they didn't care:

The Japanese high command expected only one or two bombs existed. So Hiroshima was nuked. Big deal. Let them nuke another city if they like that. After that they would have to invade and pay the price in blood.


This is very important:

The whole strategy of the Japanese military command was to make any invasion of Japan so costly in human lives that the Allies would rather negotiate a peace settlement. The Allies had learned that lesson when they invaded Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Japanese command was convinced the Allies would not be willing to pay that price. They were right. But the Allies an alternative for invasion: the bomb.

My guess is that the atomic bomb was not an "out of the blue" surprise?? Such a super-weapon had been discussed as theoretically possible for 20 years?

There is a very big difference between something that is theoretically possible and the real thing. Theoretically we can fly to Mars and colonize it. In reality we aren't even close to do it. Plans to build a nuclear weapon only got on the way after WW2 had begon. Only one nation, America, had the wherewithal to fight the war and build a nuclear weapon at the same time. Do mind that to deliver the bomb the B 29 had to be developed, and that cost as much if not more than the entire Manhattan project.

The Manhattan Project was no secret.

Entirely wrong, the Manhattan Project was a huge secret. The fact that the USSR was able to penetrate it does not want to say it was open to the public.

@jwenting wrote: It wasn't until the Emperor himself intervened after the second bomb was dropped that the war cabinet bowed to the inevitable.

Even that was not enough. Major Kyūjō tried to commit a coup (more like a hold up of the imperial palace) to get hold of the recording with the speech of the emperor. His goal was to destroy that recording in the hope to continue the war. That coupe came after the high command already had accepted defeat and obeyed the emperors command. The coup was a failure, Kyūjō couldn't find the recording, had to flee the palace and committed suicide.

The most important reason Japan surrendered was not the destruction of 2 towns. All towns were already destroyed. It was the news that Manchuria was invaded and taken over by the USSR. If anything, the atomic bombs were an honorable way out, sort of. ("How could we fight against such horrible weapons?")

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    mind that B-29 development started before the development of the atomic bomb.It first flew as far back as 1942, entered squadron service in 1944. It was designed from 1938 for a specification for a bomber with longer range than the B-17 which was deemed inadequate for use in an expected upcoming war with Japan. – jwenting Feb 14 at 9:46

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