#5-147 Memorandum of Conversation from John J. McCloy

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Memorandum of Conversation

from John J. McCloy

May 29, 1945 [Washington, D.C.]

Top Secret
Subject: Objectives toward Japan and methods of

concluding war with minimum casualties.

The Secretary of War referred to the earlier meeting with the Acting Secretary of State and Mr. Forrestal on the matter of the President’s speech and the reference to Japan. He felt the decision to postpone action now was a sound one. This only postponed consideration of the matter for a time, however, for we should have to consider it again preparatory to the employment of S-1 [i.e., the atomic bomb].1 The Secretary referred to the burning of Tokyo and the possible ways and means of employing the larger bombs.2 The Secretary referred to the letter from Dr. Bush and Dr. Conant on the matter of disclosing the nature of the process to other nations as well as to Dr. Bush’s memorandum on the same general subject. General Marshall took their letters and stated he would read them and give his views on their recommendations as soon as possible.3

General Marshall said he thought these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that, he thought we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave—telling the Japanese that we intended to destroy such centers. There would be no individual designations so that the Japs would not know exactly where we were to hit—a number should be named and the hit should follow shortly after. Every effort should be made to keep our record of warning clear. We must offset by such warning methods the opprobrium which might follow from an ill considered employment of such force.

The General then spoke of his stimulation of the new weapons and operations people to the development of new weapons and tactics to cope with the care and last ditch defense tactics of the suicidal Japanese. He sought to avoid the attrition we were suffering from such fanatical but hopeless defense methods—it requires new tactics. He also spoke of gas and the possibility of using it in a limited degree, say on the outlying islands where operations were now going on or were about to take place. He spoke of the type of gas that might be employed. It did not need to be our newest and most potent—just drench them and sicken them so that the fight would be taken out of them—saturate an area, possibly with mustard, and just stand off. He said he had asked the operations people to find out what we could do quickly—where the dumps were and how much time and effort would be required to bring the gas to bear.4 There would be the matter of public opinion which we had to consider, but that was something which might also be dealt with. The character of the weapon was no less humane than phosphorous and flame throwers and need not be used against dense populations or civilians—merely against these last pockets of resistance which had to be wiped out but had no other military significance.

The General stated that he was having these studies made and in due course would have some recommendations to make.

The Secretary stated that he was meeting with scientists and industrialists this week on S-1 and that he would talk with the Chief of Staff again after these meetings5 and the General repeated that he would shortly give the Secretary his views on the suggestions contained in the letter above referred to.

J. J. McC.

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), Secretary of War Safe, S-1, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. At mid-morning on May 29, at President Truman’s suggestion, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew requested a meeting in Secretary of War Stimson’s office “to decide upon an announcement to the Japanese which would serve as a warning for them to surrender or else have something worse happen to them.” The atomic bomb—the “something worse”—could not be mentioned, however, because some of the assistants present did not know about the project. Grew read the statement the State Department had written and asked for comments. Stimson favored modifying the unconditional surrender formula hoping thereby to induce the Japanese “to practically make an unconditional surrender without the use of those words.” Nevertheless, Stimson thought it was the wrong time to issue such a warning. “I was backed up by Marshall and then by everybody else.” (For more on the unconditional surrender warning, see McFarland Memorandum for Admiral Leahy, Admiral King, General Arnold, June 4, 1945, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-152 [5: 211–12].) Following the meeting, Marshall and John J. McCloy stayed behind to discuss “the situation of Japan and what we should do in regard to S-1 and the application of it.” (May 29, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 51: 143–44].)
2. In early 1945, Major General Curtis E. LeMay, commander of Twentieth Bomber Command, converted his B-29s from high-altitude missions over Japan to low-level (i.e., under ten thousand feet) night fire-bomb attacks on Honshu Island urban areas aimed at burning as much of the cities as possible. Tokyo had been the first target: a 334-bomber raid on the night of March 9–10 that burned 15.8 square miles of the capital. (Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., The Pacific: MATTERHORN to Nagasaki, June 1944 to August 1945, a volume in The Army Air Forces in World War II [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953], pp. 614–16.)
3. Vannevar Bush was the director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development in Washington, D.C. James B. Conant was chairman of the National Defense Research Committee. Marshall may have been referring to a September 1944 memorandum and a subsequent summarizing letter to the secretary of war concerning release of information about the atomic bomb and its development. “We cannot emphasize too strongly,” Conant and Bush wrote, “the fact that it will be quite impossible to hold the essential knowledge of these developments secret once the war is over.” They hoped to avoid an atomic arms race “by complete international scientific and technical interchange on this subject, backed up by an international commission acting under an association of nations and having the authority to inspect.” (Bush and Conant to the Secretary of War, September 19 and 30, 1944, in Correspondence [“Top Secret”] of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942–1946 [Washington: National Archives, 1980], microfilm M1109, reel 3, Subseries I file 26L.) The French government’s beginning work on an atomic energy project in May 1945 and the approaching bomb test doubtless stimulated a renewal of interest in this issue. See Leslie R. Groves, Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1962), pp. 228–29.
4. For an examination of the background and potential use of gas and other chemical weapons during the proposed invasion, see Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar, Code-Name Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan—and Why Truman Dropped the Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), pp. 174–79.
5. Stimson spent most of May 30 working on atomic bomb issues, and the following morning he met with Marshall prior to that day’s meeting of the Interim Committee, which the Secretary had appointed in early May 1945 to advise and report to him on atomic energy issues. The eight-member committee held its fourth meeting on May 31; also invited were Marshall, Leslie Groves, and a four-man panel of scientists. The scientific panel talked about the way the bomb might be employed and its likely effects. Stimson concluded that the bomb should be used without advance warning and in a way to maximize the weapon’s psychological impact on the Japanese. By this meeting, Marshall had come to agree, despite the opinion he expressed to McCloy cited in the document printed here. (May 31, 1945, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 51: 146]; Vincent C. Jones, MANHATTAN: The Army and the Atomic Bomb, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1985], pp. 531–32.)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981– ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945–January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 205–207.

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