The article by Bernstein dwells on the fact that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved not 500,000 American lives, as claimed by President Harry S. Truman, but only 40,000 to 50,000 and perhaps as few as 20,000 American lives. I believe there is a far more important point to be made, namely that an invasion was not the only alternative to the use of the bomb. In fact it appears likely that the Japanese could have been induced to surrender without using the bomb and without launching an invasion.
By August, 1945, the Japanese wee beaten. We had control of the sea and air and were systematically eliminating her capabilities of waging war. There is reason to believe that the Japanese would have surrendered if we had not, by insisting on unconditional surrender, opened the possibility that the emperor would be tried as a war criminal. The single concession of the inviolability of the emperor would, probably, have brought the war to an immediate end.
We had become aware, by decoding secret cables, that the Japanese were hunting for a third country to negotiate terms of a surrender. Secretary of War Henry Stimson had urged Truman to assure the Japanese, in his ultimatum prior to the dropping of the bomb, that the emperor might be acceptable as a constitutional monarch. Truman refused. Considering the generosity of the terms offered after surrender it seems now a strange response.