A documentary that airs Tuesday night examines a retired KU professor's involvement in World War II.
U.S. Army translator Grant Goodman would have joined the bloody invasion of Japan if two devastating atomic weapons hadn't ended World War II.
Goodman, professor emeritus of East Asian history at Kansas University, realizes President Harry S. Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later might have saved his life.
Despite 50 years of hindsight, Goodman still supports Truman's order to become the first and only nation to use atomic weapons in war. An estimated 120,000 Japanese died in the two air raids.
"I think you have to keep in mind that Mr. Truman was the president of the United States. He was not the president of Japan," Goodman said. "His responsibility to the American public clearly was to do everything in his power to minimize American casualties."
He said the U.S. military anticipated that an invasion of Japan would cost 200,000 American lives. Perhaps millions of Japanese would be killed.
Goodman and other Japanese translators and interpreters who served in the war looked back on those days for a public television documentary to be broadcast 9 p.m. Tuesday on KCPT, Channel 19.
The program -- "Reunion: A Streetcar to Hibiya?" -- refers to a lesson Goodman had in the Army's intensive Japanese language program. The Hibiya stop is in Tokyo.
Graduates of the program gathered at the University of Michigan in 1990 for a reunion, which was captured on film by a Japanese documentary crew.
Goodman served on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters staff in Manila from June to September 1945. In October, he was transferred to occupied Japan to head a Tokyo translation team.
Part of the unit's responsibility was to translate letters from citizens of Japan to MacArthur. Some Japanese expressed relief and gratitude in those letters that Truman brought the war to an end when he did despite the devastating consequences of atomic bombings.
"I think the Japanese themselves, to a significant extent, today understand this better than the Americans seem to," Goodman said.
Some experts believe Japanese military leaders were hoping for a U.S. invasion. It was a last-ditch chance for a victory or at least an opportunity to inflict so great a loss of life that Americans would negotiate a surrender.
Goodman said armchair generals who condemn Truman's decision don't understand the war's history.
"The number of people left alive who actually experienced this is declining," he said. "You get historical revisionism from people who are of the post-World War II generations."