The Pacific War began first, in 1937, when Japan invaded China. Then the European War began in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. But those were separate conflicts until 1941. No, that doesn't mean I'm arguing for December 7th. That's when the United Stated entered the Pacific War. But the two theaters didn't join fully until the 12th, when Germany declared war on the United States. Only then did it become a truly worldwide conflict, with all of the coordination that implies.
It's far easier to determine when World War II ended, though, right? Sadly, no. The Pacific War didn't end by treaty until 1952, the European War wasn't sorted out fully until 1990, and Russia and Japan still haven't signed a full and complete peace treaty.
As anyone who's gone through a break-up or divorce can attest, endings can be messy.
Still and all, for our purposes, this is the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. As ugly as it was, and it was the bloodiest war in the history of humanity, it could have been worse.
What if we really had to invade?
Half a million Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the casualties from Operation Olympic, scheduled to begin on November 1, 1945. The landings on X-Day would have made D-Day look like a warm-up. Fourteen divisions were scheduled to hit the beaches on that first day. They would be supported by the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Fleets, over two thousand ships total, including over fifty aircraft carriers. They would also be supported by the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Twentieth Air Forces; fourteen bomber groups, ten fighter groups, over a thousand B-29 Superfortress bombers and a similar number of B-17s redeployed from Europe.
This is the fury of an industrial nation made manifest. Armaments in quantities utterly unimaginable today. Granted, that's due in part to modern munitions being so much more precise, but the raw, distilled, purified rage implied by such numbers is more than a little frightening. When Halsey once claimed that by the time he was finished, Japanese would only be spoken in Hell, the man wasn't exaggerating for dramatic effect.
Estimates varied widely. But taking Operation Olympic, together with its follow-on Operation Coronet scheduled for March 1946, the invasion of Japan could have cost 1.4 million American casualties, with 400,000 dead. That's the low end. At the high end, 4 million American casualties with 800,000 dead, and about ten million Japanese fatalities from combat, disease, and starvation.
Understand that this was the piece of paper Truman was looking at as he made his decision.
Understand that this was the responsibility that fell to him when Roosevelt died.
Understand that we have struck no new Purple Hearts since 1945. We are still awarding medals intended to have been given out between November 1945 and January 1946.
Understand ... that as bad as it was, it could have been far worse.