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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Victory In The Pacific

Airs Monday, March 29, 2010 at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS

Above: Photo taken during the invasion of Okinawa. In June 1945, after 82 days of intense fighting, US Army and Marines secured Okinawa. The cost was enormous: 12,000 Americans and 70,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts lost their lives in a battle that would be remembered as one of the most terrible in the history of warfare.

Japanese pilots embarked on one-way missions in a desperate attempt to damage the US fleet supporting the invasion of Okinawa. On April 6, 1945, 355 Japanese planes began the first of 10 waves of kamikaze attacks that would claim the lives of 1,900 Japanese pilots.
Enlarge this image

Above: Japanese pilots embarked on one-way missions in a desperate attempt to damage the US fleet supporting the invasion of Okinawa. On April 6, 1945, 355 Japanese planes began the first of 10 waves of kamikaze attacks that would claim the lives of 1,900 Japanese pilots.

“Take no prisoners. Fight to the bitter end.” Those were everyday words to combat troops on both sides at the end of World War II in the Pacific. And they led to an unprecedented orgy of slaughter. In this provocative, thorough examination of the final months of the war, American Experience looks at the escalation of bloodletting from both Japanese and American vantage points.

A B-29 Superfortress, the most advanced bomber in the world, drops fire bombs on Kobe, Japan's major port, in March 1945. The raids began the night of March 9 when B-29s incinerated a quarter of Tokyo, killing as many as 100,000 civilians.
Enlarge this image

Above: A B-29 Superfortress, the most advanced bomber in the world, drops fire bombs on Kobe, Japan's major port, in March 1945. The raids began the night of March 9 when B-29s incinerated a quarter of Tokyo, killing as many as 100,000 civilians.

As the film shows, most of Emperor Hirohito's inner circle was determined to continue the war even after losses in the Philippines in February 1945 cut off Japan's supply lines. And though he was warned that the country, brought to its knees by the conflict, might erupt in a Communist revolution, Hirohito believed that one last decisive battle could reverse Japan's fortunes.

The Americans, for their part, were startled by the intensity and determination of the Japanese defenders in the South Pacific.

From the U.S. capture of the Mariana Islands through the firebombing of Tokyo and the dropping of the atomic bomb, this program chronicles the dreadful and unprecedented loss of life, and the decisions made by leaders on both sides that finally ended the war.

You can watch the entire film online, and explore a timeline.

Video

Preview: American Experience: Victory In The Pacific

Above: "Victory in the Pacific" examines the final year of World War II in the Pacific theater, including the rationale for using the atomic bomb, and features the first-hand recollections of both American and Japanese civilians and soldiers -- even a kamikaze pilot who survived his failed mission. "In the annals of warfare, the final year of the war in the Pacific stands alone," says director Austin Hoyt. "It would be as brutal as war gets." "Victory in the Pacific" traces that fateful year, from the American capture of the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific in July 1944 to the surrender broadcast of Emperor Hirohito in August 1945.