Truman and the Atomic Bomb Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's executive order to contain Japanese-Americans in internment camps could have created mistrust in the Japanese and their descendants in the U.S. Such racial antagonism could have made many Americans feel justified to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

Earlier Presidential Statement and Other Motivations

The decision to bomb Japan's cities may not be deduced from documents during President Truman's presidency or blamed entirely on President Truman. A respected Boston University attorney, Harvey Bundy, on March 3, 1945, presented to his boss, the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the draft of a three-page memorandum by then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eight weeks before his death. It was to be issued when the atomic bomb was used. It appeared to have been the basis for later statements issued on August 6, 1945 from the White House and the War Department after the bombing of Hiroshima.

President Truman's own decision could have been triggered mainly by Japan's brutal conduct during that War and the American desire to avoid costly invasion. Japanese utter brutality was demonstrated by their attacks against Asians, Pearl Harbor, Bataan in the Philippines and prisons of war. Only a terrible shock from the a-Bomb could jolt them from such acts, which killed so many people and injured a lot more. Moreover, the Truman administration wanted to end the bloody war before November 1, 1945 of Kyushu. It was also on account of casualties and losses during past campaigns in Iwo Jima and Okinawa and imminent casualties and losses in an American invasion of Japan. General George C. Marshall, the then army chief of staff, told President Truman that 250,000 American soldiers' lives would be lost to force Japan's surrender. Dropping the bomb, then, was deemed sufficient to rattle the Japanese and save the 250,000 American lives.

Pathway of Truman's Order, President Truman's Own View and Values

In late July 1945 at Postdam, President Truman sent a 15-word handwritten note for radioing to Secretary of War Stimson. It said, "Reply to your suggestion approved. Release when ready but no sooner than August 2." The order was to issue the Washington draft of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's statement, not to drop the Atomic bomb. There was no signed or initialed note from President Truman to do so, although the cabled Washington statement implied the act. His subjective motivations and values may, however, be inferred from statements he later made on the decision. He acknowledged the terrible cruelty and incivility of Japan in warfare. "I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner." He also expressed regret for "the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the 'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation." He stressed that his objective was to save as many American lives as possible, but that he also had a "humane feeling for the women and children of Japan." But he further explained that the use of the atomic bomb was exceeded by the disturbing and unwarranted attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and the brutal murder of prisoners of war. "The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast, you have to treat him as a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true." These last statements underlie his justification and responsibility for dropping the dreadful atomic bombs.

Only One Bomb to be Authorized

In July 1945 at Potsdam, Germany, President Truman told British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of his intention to drop only one bomb. His order was to do so on August 3 or later. Further blasts were to be launched only when preparation was completed. He did not specify the number of bombs to be dropped. Bit a second was detonated on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima. In a memo to Swiss State Minister Max Petitpierre on September 18, 1946, Churchill said that the U.S. did not act according to its plans. He also said that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was present during the same Potsdam Conference. Stalin, however, did not seem to understand the power and impact of the new invention. Churchill likewise told Petitpierre that President Truman did not impress him as a very intelligent of skillful person. The motivation to drop the second bomb on Nagasaki was then a question in many minds. Diaries of a U.S. cabinet member of the time confirmed that President Truman stopped the use of the bomb after Nagasaki. He said it would be horrified to kill another 100,000 people.

To Save American and Japanese Lives

Bombing Japan would cost fewer lives than if America invaded Japan. Dreadful figures were at the base of Truman's decision. Japan boldly ignored the warning of the Allied Powers for its immediate and unconditional surrender. It even officially announced to the world that it would continue fighting. Truman had to make calculations from estimates of possible casualties and to choose between American lives and Japanese lives. The U.S. already lost more than 405,000 of its approximately 16 million militants in World War II. Of the total, 671,278 suffered minor to severe wounds. These tragedies occurred when the U.S. entered the War in December 1941 in Pearl Harbor and the surrender of the Japanese in September 1945. If President Truman did not order the bombing of Japan and an invasion had to be done, another million American lives would have been lost or many more wounded.

US forces earlier planned to assault Kyushu and Honshu, including Tokyo in November 1945. Based on documents, Pacific military leaders predicted that the attacks could lead to 250,000 casualties in Kyushu alone. They belonged to the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commanded of the Southwest Pacific Command. They predicted an overall conservative casualty of more than a million for the entire operation. These figures were drawn from declassified documents on Operation Downfall on the total conquest of Japan. As President Truman described, Japan was "pigheaded" despite its weakness against the Allied forces. It apparently drew its stubborn resistance from a master plan to defend its home land. The plan, "Ketau-Go," focused on the suicide warrior, its most reliable weapon. For months, the Japanese kept aircraft, fuel and ammunition for the purpose. They were also building airplanes and training more kamikaze pilots. Declassified information said that the Japanese had 12,000 different planes, ready to fly and fight. They also had 40 operational submarines, 23 destroyers, 2 cruises, a big fleet of suicide submarines, human torpedoes and exploding radio-controlled motor boats. Ground troops would be more numerous than invaders. And these ground troops would be better fed, armed and prepared for the clash. So they calculated that casualties and the wounded could be twice or much more if the war continued. Japan lost 1,219,000 lives and almost 300,000 wounded in the War, not counting casualties on suicide missions. From these calculations, it can be gleaned that President Truman's decision probably even saved an additional 2 million Japanese lives if the war continued and the U.S. attacked Japan. And it would have been the bloodiest and costliest battle in world history.

Looking Back: Was the Decision Really Necessary?

As early as the summer of 1945, Japanese leaders were aware that they could not win the War. But they continued fighting in order to secure better surrender terms. President Truman gave Japan a number of options towards quitting the War. The already heavy bombings could intensify. Japan could wait for the Soviet Union to join the Allies. It could allow Japan's Emperor Hirohito to remain on the throne. The last option was for the U.S. To invade Japan. The first three options were unlikely to elicit a Japanese surrender. These options also entailed severe military, political and diplomatic risks. An invasion would cost more American lives and the last option the Americans wanted to take. The creation of the atomic bomb in July 1945 seemed the most preferable option to end the War soonest without the disastrous consequences of the alternatives. The bombing of the two cities finally moved Emperor Hirohito to end the War. The Soviet Union also joined the conflict. These developments all led to the surrender of Japan within a few days. Hence, the bombing of Japan was a necessity, as circumstances called for.

Other analysts and observers, however, believe that it was unnecessary. When Secretary of War Stimson informed the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, that the bomb would be used, General Eisenhower said it was not necessary. By then, Japan was already substantially defeated. The atomic bomb could not possibly save more lives, he argued. U.S. intelligence officials saw the War ending if two things happened. One was if the U.S. told Japan that their Emperor could remain a figurehead. The other was a Soviet attack. Both things happened. But U.S. officials did not verify the information and instead dropped the bombs on Japan. Logistics problems prevented…

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