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#194: The War in the Pacific

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Ruins left by the explosion of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945
Ruins left by the explosion of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

(MUSIC)

American military planners had to make an important decision when the United States entered the Second World War at the end of nineteen forty-one.

American forces could not fight effectively in Asia and Europe at the same time. The military planners decided to use most of their forces to defeat the German troops of Adolf Hitler. Only after victory over the Nazis was clear in Europe would they use all of America's strength to fight Japan in Asia and the Pacific.

Because of this decision, Japan was able to win many of the early battles of the war in Asia. The fighting in the Pacific is the subject of program this week.

(SOUND)

Japanese planes bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December seventh nineteen forty-one.

BROADCASTER: "We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by air, President Roosevelt has just announced.

"We take you now to Washington. The attack was apparently made on all naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu."

The surprise raid marked the first of several major victories for the Japanese.

(MUSIC)

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, imperial forces attacked American bases in the Philippines. And within days Japan captured the American island of Guam. Japanese troops landed in Thailand. They marched into Malaya, and they seized Hong Kong. The Japanese also moved into Indonesia and Burma.

Even Hitler's troops in Europe had not moved so quickly or successfully. As one American historian wrote later, the Pacific Ocean looked like a Japanese lake.

(SOUND)

The United States began to fight back. General Jimmy Doolittle led a group of sixteen American B-25 bombers that took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo in a surprise raid.

General Jimmy Doolittle led an air raid on Tokyo
General Jimmy Doolittle led an air raid on Tokyo

JIMMY DOOLITTLE: "The B-25 was selected because it was small, because it had the sufficient range to carry two thousand pounds of bombs, two thousand miles, and because it took off and handled very well."

(SOUND)

STEVE EMBER: It was a bold move. The B-25 had never been launched from an aircraft carrier before. And the demands on the planes -- and the pilots -- were even greater with the weight of a full load of bombs.

Japan's leaders believed no army could stop them. So they expanded their goals and launched new campaigns.

This was Japan's mistake. It stretched its forces too thin and too quickly. The military leaders in Tokyo believed that the United States could not resist because American forces were busy fighting the war in Europe. But no country could extend its communications and fighting ability over such a great distance and continue to win.

The turning point came in June nineteen forty-two in the central Pacific in the great battle of Midway Island.

Smoke rises from the Yorktown after a Japanese bomber hit the American aircraft carrier in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Bursts of anti-aircraft fire fill the air.
Smoke rises from the Yorktown after a Japanese bomber hit the American aircraft carrier in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Bursts of anti-aircraft fire fill the air.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto launched the battle. He wanted to meet and destroy the remaining ships in the American fleet before the United States could recover from the destruction at Pearl Harbor.

Yamamoto had one hundred sixty-two ships. The American admiral, Chester Nimitz, had just seventy-six. But the United States had discovered how to read the secret messages of the Japanese forces.

For this reason, Nimitz and the Americans knew exactly where the Japanese ships would sail. And they put their own ships in the best positions to stop them.

The fighting between the two sides was fierce. But when it ended, the Americans had won a great victory. Admiral Yamamoto was forced to call off his attack and sail home. For the first time, the Japanese navy had been defeated.

(MUSIC)

The next big battle was at Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific. Guadalcanal's beaches were wide and flat. Japanese officers decided to build a military air base there. The United States learned of the plans. American commanders decided that they had to prevent Japan from establishing that base.

United States Marines quickly landed on the island. They were joined by troops from Australia and New Zealand. But Japanese ships launched a surprise attack and destroyed many of the American ships in the harbor. Allied forces on the island were left without naval support and suffered heavy losses.

For six months, the two sides fought for control of the island. Historian and naval officer Samuel Eliot Morison described the fighting this way in his book "The Struggle for Guadalcanal":

"For us who were there, or whose friends were there, Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion, recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply or construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells."

The fighting continued, seemingly forever. But finally, in February, nineteen forty-three, the Japanese were forced to leave Guadalcanal.

The battle was an important defeat for Japan. It opened the door for the American and other Allied forces to go on the attack after months of defensive fighting.

But American military planners did not agree about the best way to launch such an attack. Admiral Nimitz of the Navy wanted to capture the small groups of Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, then seize Taiwan, and finally attack Japan itself. But General Douglas MacArthur of the Army thought it would be best to attack through New Guinea and the Philippines.

The American leadership finally decided to launch both attacks at once. Nimitz and MacArthur both succeeded. Nimitz and his naval forces moved quickly through the Marianas and other islands. General MacArthur's troops attacked through New Guinea and into the Philippines.

American ships defeated Japanese naval forces in the battle for Leyte Gulf.

Throughout the Pacific and East Asia, the fighting continued. Many of the fiercest battles were fought on tiny Pacific islands. Japanese troops captured the islands early in the war. And they quickly built strong defenses to prevent the Allies from invading.

Allied military leaders found a way to defeat the Japanese plan. They simply avoided the islands where the Japanese were strong and attacked other islands.

But sometimes the Allies could not avoid a battle. They had to land on some islands to seize airfields for American planes.

The names of these islands became well-known: Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. Truk in the Marshall Islands. Saipan in the Marianas, and other islands including Guam and Tinian.

The two sides fought fiercely in the battle of Iwo Jima. And, on Okinawa, Japanese forces resisted for eighty-three days before finally being defeated by Allied troops.

After the defeat at Okinawa, many Japanese understood that the war was lost, even if Japan had not yet surrendered. Emperor Hirohito appointed a new prime minister and ordered him to explore the possibilities of peace.

But both sides still expected the Allies to launch a final invasion into Japan itself. And everyone knew that the cost in human life would be great for both sides.

But the invasion never came.

For years, American scientists had been developing a secret weapon, the atomic bomb. The code-name was the Manhattan Project. President Harry S. Truman made the decision to use it against Japan.

HARRY TRUMAN: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. We won the race of discovery against the Germans. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war."

(SOUND: Atomic bomb tests)

American planes dropped one of the bombs on Hiroshima on August sixth, nineteen forty-five, and another on Nagasaki three days later.

Exactly how many people in those two cities died from the force and heat of the blasts or later from radiation may never be known. The Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Japan estimates that between one hundred fifty thousand and two hundred forty-six thousand died within two to four months of the bombings.

Japan surrendered on August fifteenth, nineteen forty-five, six days after the Nagasaki bombing.

(MUSIC)

Suddenly, sooner than expected, World War Two was over. More than twenty-five million people -- soldiers and civilians -- died during the six years of fighting. Germany and Japan were defeated. The Soviet Union was strong in much of eastern Europe. But the United States found itself the strongest military, economic and political power in the world. Our story continues next week.

Our program was written by David Jarmul. You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #194. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

1941年年底美国加入第二次世界大战时,美国军事指挥官必须做出一个重要决定。美军部队不能在亚洲和欧洲两个战场上同时作战,所以美军指挥官决定,集中主力部队,首先击败希特勒率领的德国部队。在欧洲打败德国纳粹后,再回过头来全力在亚洲和太平洋地区对付日本。正是因为这个原因,日本在二战初期打了很多胜仗。

日本1941年12月7号偷袭美国在夏威夷的珍珠港海军基地。当时的一段广播说:"我们打断本节目的正常播出,插播一条特别新闻:罗斯福总统宣布,日本向夏威夷珍珠港发动了空袭。很显然,日本的进攻目标是瓦胡岛上的所有海军和军事设施。"

这次偷袭行动是日本多次重大胜利中的第一次。日本偷袭珍珠港后不久,又对美国设在菲律宾群岛的军事基地发动攻击,并于几天后占领了美国关岛。日本军队登陆泰国,进入马来亚,占领香港,随后又陆续进入印度尼西亚和缅甸。

日军进攻的速度和取得的胜利,就连欧洲的希特勒部队也望尘莫及。美国一位历史学家曾写道:"当时的太平洋似乎就是日本的一个湖泊。"

美军予以还击。杜立德将军率领16架B-25轰炸机从大黄蜂号航空母舰上起飞,对日本首都东京发动突袭。杜立德将军说:"选择B-25轰炸机是因为B-25体形小,能携带两千磅重的炸弹,飞越2000英里的路程,而且起飞和驾驶都很容易操作。"

这是一次大胆行动。此前,B-25轰炸机没有从航空母舰上起飞过,外加携带了一飞机的炸弹,对飞行员的要求格外高。

日本领导人以为,没人可以阻止他们,因此扩大战线,发起更多新行动,而这正是日本失策之处,因为这样一来,日本军力迅速分散。日军领导人以为,美军兵力集中在欧洲作战,因此无力抵抗。但事实上,没有哪个国家可以把阵线拉得这么长,还能继续打胜仗的。1942年6月太平洋中途岛一役,成为了战争的转折点。

这场战役的发起者是日本海军上将山本五十六,他希望彻底消灭珍珠港偷袭后剩下的美国海军舰只,不让美国有机会重建海军。山本五十六率领了162艘战舰,而美国海军将领尼米兹只有76艘战舰。不过,美国掌握了破译日军秘信的方法。

这样一来,尼米兹率领的美国海军就能知道日本舰只的准确动向,并提前赶到,占据有利地势,打击日本战舰。双方展开激战,最后美军获胜。日本海军上将山本五十六被迫撤退,日本海军第一次战败。

接下来的一场重大战役是太平洋西南部所罗门群岛的瓜达尔卡纳尔岛战役。瓜达尔卡纳尔岛海滩宽阔平坦,日军指挥官决定在那里建立一个空军基地。美国得知这一消息后,决定不能让日军得逞。

美国海军陆战队迅速登陆瓜达尔卡纳尔岛,跟澳大利亚和新西兰的部队会合,但是日本战舰出其不意地发动袭击,摧毁了美军停泊在港口处的很多船只,让岛上的盟军失去了海上支援,损失惨重。

瓜达尔卡纳尔岛一役持续了六个月。历史学家,海军指挥官莫里森在"瓜达尔卡纳尔的斗争"一书中是这样描述当时战斗的:

"对于自己亲身经历过,或是有朋友经历过那场战役的人来说,瓜达尔卡纳尔不是一个名字,而是一种情感,让人回忆起誓死的空战,激烈的夜间海战,紧张繁忙的供给和建筑,泥泞丛林里的原始搏斗,还有被呼啸而过的炸弹和震耳欲聋的爆炸声惊醒的夜晚。"

瓜达尔卡纳尔岛的战斗似乎永无止境,直到1943年2月,日本才被迫撤离瓜达尔卡纳尔。这次战役的胜利十分重要,让美国和盟军从被动防守转为主动进攻。

然而,在从何下手的问题上,美军将领却出现了意见分歧。海军上将尼米兹主张先夺取日本在太平洋占领的小岛,然后夺取台湾,最后攻打日本;但是陆军将领麦克阿瑟却认为,最有效的途径是从新几内亚和菲律宾下手。

美军将领最后决定双管齐下。结果尼米兹和麦克阿瑟将军都取得了胜利。尼米兹率领海军迅速穿过马里亚纳群岛等岛屿,麦克阿瑟将军也率部穿过新几内亚进入菲律宾。美国舰只也在莱特湾击败日本海军。

太平洋和东亚地区到处硝烟弥漫。很多最激烈的战斗都是在太平洋岛屿上展开的。二战初期,日本部队占领了很多岛屿,并迅速建立强大防御,防止盟军进攻。

盟军将领找到了击败日本的偏方。他们避开防御严密的岛屿,先去攻打其他防御相对薄弱的岛屿,但是有些战斗也是不可避免的,盟军部队有时不得不登陆某些岛屿,为美军战机夺取飞机场。

这些岛屿都很有名,其中包括吉尔伯特群岛的塔拉瓦岛;马歇尔群岛的特鲁克岛;马里亚纳群岛的塞班岛;以及关岛和天宁岛。双方还在硫磺岛发生激战。日军部队在冲绳岛抵抗83天,最后被盟军打败。

冲绳岛战役失败后,虽然日本尚未宣布投降,但是很多日本人都知道,大势已去。日本裕仁天皇任命了一位新首相,并下令让他探讨寻求和平的可能性。

此时,交战双方都猜想,盟军还会向日本本土发动最后进攻,而且大家都知道,双方都会伤亡惨重,但是这次进攻最后并没有发生。美国科学家多年来一直在开发一种秘密武器,被称为曼哈顿项目,研究出来的最后产品就是--原子弹。

当时的美国总统杜鲁门决定,向日本投放原子弹。杜鲁门说:"全世界都会知道,第一枚原子弹被投掷到了广岛的军事基地。我们在德国之前研制出原子弹,我们动用原子弹的目的是要缩短战争的痛苦,我们会一直使用原子弹,直到彻底摧毁日本的战斗能力为止。"

1945年8月6号,美军战斗机向广岛投掷了一枚原子弹,三天后又向长崎投掷了一枚原子弹。广岛和长崎有多少人当场毙命,又有多少人日后死于原子弹的辐射,我们不得而知。日本核辐射效果研究基金会估计,在投掷原子弹后的两到四个月里,日本有15万到24万6千人死亡。

1945年8月15号,也就是原子弹在长崎爆炸的六天后,日本宣布投降。第二次世界大战瞬间结束,比大家预计的早了很多。在长达六年的战争中,共有五千多万平民和士兵丧生。德国和日本战败。苏联在东欧大部分地区势力强大,美国也一举成为世界上最大的军事、经济和政治强国。

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