During World War II, a mid-20th-century conflict that involved several nations, the United States military dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Wikipedia, 2005). The first atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima on August 5, 1945; the second was detonated over Nagasaki four days later. The bombs killed more than 120,000 people immediately and about twice as many over time. Many of the victims were civilians.
As a result of the bombings, Japan surrendered unconditionally. These bombings went down in history as the first and only nuclear attacks, and have been the source of much debate in the sixty years that have followed. This paper discusses the decision to drop the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to demonstrate that the decision to drop these bombs was indeed the right decision.
The atomic bombs were secretly created by the United States, with the help of the United Kingdom and Canada, under the codename "Manhattan Project" (Wikipedia, 2005). The bombs were initially created for use against Nazi Germany. However, as Worls War II progressed, it was increasingly clear that the U.S. military needed to resort to stronger tactics.
Even before Japan initiated WWII, its leadership was divided into two opposing groups (McManus, 1995): 1. The peace party, who never wanted any hostilities between Japan and the United States; and 2. The war party, who believed that Japan should rule the Pacific and most of the lands touching it. The war party launched a vicious attack on a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Japan's only sizeable victory during the war.
According to historian Victor Hanson, the Battle of Okinawa, the last major battle of World War II, demonstrates Japan's determination to fight until the bitter end (Wikipedia, 2005). More than 120,000 Japanese and 18,000 American soldiers were killed in this battle and it was one that strongly influenced Truman's decision. The Japanese were a deadly enemy in the eyes of U.S. leaders, as they upheld a strong tradition of pride and honor: Many Japanese soldiers followed the Samurui Code, an ancient ethical code of content, and would fight until the very last man was dead.
The Decision to Drop the Bombs
The decision to drop the bombs in Japan was made by U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who stated that the bombs were necessary to generate a quick resolution of the war by inflicting destruction, and instilling fear of further destruction, that was strong enough to cause Japan to surrender (Wikipedia, 2005). Immediately following the Hiroshima atomic attack (and prior to the Nagasaki atomic attack), Truman issued the following statement (Wikipedia, 2005):
"It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth."
When President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman took over the Presidency, which included responsibility for final nuclear weapon decisions (Morton, 1960, p. 66). The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan was his first major decision. The Target Committee, which consisted of Groves' deputy, two Army Air Forces officers, and five scientists, met in Washington in mid-April 1945. Their initial intention was to choose cities that had not already been heavily damaged by the Twentieth Air Force's conventional-weapon bombing campaign, but the committee determined that these types of targets were scarce. Finally they decided on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as ideal military targets.
Near the end of the war, Stimson observed that Japan was near defeat but not near surrender and looked upon the bomb to push Japan into surrendering (Bernstein, 1976, pp. 119-121). It is well documented that alternatives plans were under consideration; however, these were risky compared to simply dropping a bomb, and therefore passed over in favor of the bomb (Oh, 2002, p. 22). For example, one alternative would have been to invade Japan. However, Truman felt that the decision to drop the atomic bomb saved half a million U.S. lives, not to mention numerous Japanese casualties.
To the extent that the bomb was a military necessity for the war to end, domestic political pressure played a major part in the decision (Oh, 2002). The Manhattan Project was a bureaucratic industrial giant with over 120,000 employees and facilities all over the U.S. (Takaki, 1995, p. 38).
With the exception of Congress' participation in the discussions of the use of the atomic bomb, it appears that Congress had little involvement in Truman's decision (Bernstein, 1976, p. 119). By early 1945, more than two billion dollars had been dumped into the project. Truman's advisors knew that Congress would not continue to blindly fund a project without more details and guarantees. For this reason, it is often suggested that the bombs were used partially because the Manhattan Project could have seemed a huge waste if its value had not been demonstrated by the use of the atomic bomb. Still, there is little evidence to suggest that Truman decision was influenced by this factor.
Debate on the Necessity of the Bombings
When considering the details surrounding the atomic bomb decision, it is difficult to overlook the fact that hundreds of thousands of innocent lives were lost in the bombings (Wikipedia, 2005). While opponents of the Truman's decision use this fact to argue against the atomic bombings, proponents counter that the bombings ended the war sooner than would otherwise have been the case, ultimately sparing many lives that would have been lost if Japan had carried out its invasion plan. Japanese officials argue that the bombings were completely unncessary, as Japan was planning to surrender anyway. Still, the United States had no evidence that demonstarted this plan of surrender.
While proponents of Truman's decision admit that the civilian leadership in Japan was cautiously and discreetly sending out diplomatic communications before the bombings, they argue that Japanese military officials were strongly opposed to any negotiations before the atomic bombs were dropped (Wikipedia, 2005). Many historians support the decision, citing Japanese resistance as a major cause of concern.
Proponents of the atomic bombings also argue that WWII was becoming far too costly and waiting for Japanese surrender would have caused many more deaths than the bombings did (Wikipedia, 2005). As a result of the war, civilians were dying throughout Asia at a rate of about 200,000 per month. The war caused Japanese imports and military aid to stall, resulting in unprecedented rates of famine and malnutrition. "Immediately after the defeat, some estimated that 10 million people were likely to starve to death," noted historian Daikichi Irokawa.
In addition, it is believed that the United States would have lost many soliders in the planned invasion of Japan, although estimates of fatalies and casulaties are the source of much debate (Wikipedia, 2005). After the war ended, Secretary of State James Byrnes claimed that 500,000 American lives would have been lost. Some military advisors stated that a worst-case scenario may have involved up to 1,000,000 American casualties.
On a positive note, the atomic bombings directly caused a quicker end to WWII, liberating hundreds of thousands of Western citizens, including approximately 200,000 Dutch and 400,000 Indonesians from Japanese concentration camps (Wikipedia, 2005). In addition, Japanese atrocities against millions of Chinese, such as the Nanking Massacre, were ended.
By August 1945, U.S. Navy submarines and aerial mining by the Army Air Forces (AAF) drastically restricted Japanese shipping (Morton, 1960, pp. 48-49). The AAF controlled Japanese skies and the AAF's B-29 bombing attacks destroyed its war industry. A plan for the invasion of Japan was in the works and scheduled for November 1945. To combat this invasion, Japan had a veteran army of approximately two million ready, an army that had demonstrated great ferocity in combat. The Japanese also had 8,000 military aircraft available for Kamikaze (suicide) attacks on U.S. ships. The draft had been extended to include men from age 15 to 60 and women from 17 to 45, adding millions of civilians ready to fight the enemy to the death, by any means possible.
Experience throughout the Pacific war had shown that Japanese combat casualties had run from five to 20 times those suffered by the Allies, particularly in the battles of the Philippines and Okinawa (Morton, 1960). Whatever the predicted Allied losses, the potential Japanese military and civilian casualties would have been staggering. Whether Japan would have surrendered prior to invasion without the use of the atomic bombs is a question that can never be answered. Using the history and projections available to him, President Truman made the grave decision to use the atomic bomb in an effort to end the war quickly, thus avoiding a costly invasion.
The orders to release the atomic bomb for use was sent to General Carl Spaatz, commander of the Strategic Air Force in the…