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The United States' decision to use the atomic bomb was made after great debate, but still led to a massive loss of human life.
History Shorts: How the Atomic Bomb Was Used in WWII - HISTORY
To listen to this presentation on Sermon Audio, click here .
Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki, 9 August 1945.
Suspicion Over 70 th Anniversary Events in Japan
What led to this researched article and presentation, for which there are video and audio links, was when my youngest son, Calvin, was to join the Scouts Jamboree (an international, every four year, event), in Japan, August 2015. I was immediately suspicious that they were going to use this International Scout Jamboree event for some anti-American propaganda concerning the A-bomb which everyone knew was essential to end WW2 and to save both America and Japanese lives.
The Facts Can Really Ruin a Good Story
That was why I poured myself into research and was astounded to find that all America’s top military leaders, at the time, opposed it! I am not politically correct, I have never been part of the social justice warriors. I am not part of a “we hate America” movement. I have written many pro-American articles, countered much of the anti-American rhetoric of the left, in camps, courses, on radio, on TV, at public meetings, in schools, in colleges, in debate, for over 40 years. That is why American patriots like Dr. James Kennedy had me regularly on his radio programme, TV programme and in his pulpit.
The Battle to Understand History
I do not support socialists like Chomsky. However, even a stopped clock can be right twice a day. For this reason, I occasionally even quote Karl Marx. Marx said that the first battlefield is the re-writing of history, his disciples have been super busy doing that.
American Military Leaders at the Time Opposed It
In this presentation, I am quoting from Admiral William Leahy, General Douglas McArthur, General Curtis le May, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and other American leaders including U.S. President Herbert Hoover.
American Conservatives Opposed the Liberal Democrats Use of the A-Bomb
It astounded me that throughout the late 40s and 50s, American opposition to the use of the A-bomb in Japan was consistent among conservatives. It was the liberal democrats who were justifying this A-bomb attack, while the Republican conservatives were in opposition. For the reasons given.
USAF Assessment of the Ethics and Effectiveness of Bombing Cities
My good friend, General Ben Partin, U.S. Air Force retired, is a Board member of Frontline Fellowship. General Partin was the first to explain to me how counter-productive the saturation bombing/strategic bombing campaigns of the RAF and USAAF were during WW2. It was General Partin who pioneered the precision guided weapons. Because of his conviction, as a Christian USAF Weapons Specialist, he was convinced that the strategic bombing campaign/saturation bombing of cities prolonged the war and of course, greatly increased the “collateral damage” of civilian deaths. He therefore promoted and energetically dedicated his life to the development of LAZER, GPS, button batteries, producing, in time, cruise missiles.
Truth Does Not Fear Investigation
I am not a pacifist and I am by no means anti-American. It is a mark of a Christian to be self-critical in a balanced way. Military ethics are my concern as one who has regularly lectured the military and trained military chaplains. What is the point of this study? To show the truth of what General George Patton wrote about in 1945, that communist agents of influence had infiltrated the U.S. State Department and White House to such an extent that they were serving the cause of communism in both Asia and Europe. The U.S. Military were against it. The scientists were against it. Even many senior politicians, such as U.S. Secretary of Defence, Under Secretary of the Navy and Military Intelligence opposed it. However, as Admiral Nimitz reported: “Truman succumbed to a tiny handful of people putting pressure on the President to drop atom bombs on Japan.”
We Need to Learn from History to Build a Better Future
My concerns are for the best for both America and for the world, which is our mission field.
Did the Atomic Bombs Actually Save Lives?
I was taught that the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end WWII and save both American and Japanese lives. But most of the top American military officials at the time said otherwise. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman to study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of 1946 that concluded: "Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945 and in all probability, prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered, even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
Atomic Weapons Were Not Needed to End the War, or to Save Lives
General (and later president) Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces, said: "The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." (Newsweek, 11/11/63, Ike on Ike). Eisenhower also noted: "In July 1945, Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act… I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…."
Unnecessary and Unethical
Admiral William Leahy , the highest ranking member of the U.S. military from 1942 until retiring in 1949, who was the first de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote: "It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
No Military Justification
General Douglas MacArthur agreed: "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed…. He saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."
The Potsdam Threat
Moreover: The Potsdam Declaration, in July 1945, demanded that Japan surrender unconditionally, or face 'prompt and utter destruction'. MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General's advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been unnecessary.
Assistant Secretary of War John McLoy noted: "I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam (July 1945), we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted… We missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."
The War was Already Won
Under Secretary of the Navy, Ralph Bird said: "The Japanese were ready for peace, and they already had approached the Russians and the Swiss. And that suggestion of giving a warning of the atomic bomb was a face-saving proposition for them, and one that they could have readily accepted. In my opinion, the Japanese war was really won before we ever used the atom bomb. Thus, it wouldn't have been necessary for us to disclose our nuclear position and stimulate the Russians to develop the same thing much more rapidly than they would have if we had not dropped the bomb… The Japanese were becoming weaker and weaker. They were surrounded by the Navy. They couldn't get any imports and they couldn't export anything. Naturally, as time went on and the war developed in our favour it was quite logical to hope and expect that, with the proper kind of a warning, the Japanese would then be in a position to make peace, which would have made it unnecessary for us to drop the bomb and bring Russia in." (War Was Really Won Before We Used A-Bomb, U.S. News and World Report, 8/15/60)
It Had Nothing to do with Ending the War
General Curtis LeMay , the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force "hawk", stated publicly shortly after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan: "The war would have been over in two weeks… The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all."
No Invasion was Necessary
The Vice Chairman of the U.S. Bombing Survey Paul Nitze wrote: "I concluded that even without the atomic bomb, Japan was likely to surrender in a matter of months. My own view was that Japan would capitulate by November 1945. Even without the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seemed highly unlikely, given what we found to have been the mood of the Japanese government, that a U.S. invasion of the islands scheduled for 1 November 1945 would have been necessary."
Opening up Asia for Communism
Deputy Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence Ellis Zacharias wrote: "Just when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead to Russia to swarm over Eastern Asia. Washington decided it was time to use the A-bomb. I submit that it was the wrong decision. It was wrong on strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds." (Ellis Zacharias, How We Bungled the Japanese Surrender, Look, 6/6/50)
Immoral and Unnecessary
Brigadier General Carter Clarke , the Military Intelligence officer in charge of preparing summaries of intercepted Japanese cables for President Truman and his advisors, said: "When we didn't need to do it, and we knew we didn't need to do it, and they knew that we knew we didn't need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs. Many other high-level military officers concurred. For example: The commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, Ernest J. King, stated that the naval blockade and prior bombing of Japan in March of 1945, had rendered the Japanese helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb was both unnecessary and immoral."
A Double Crime
"Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz stated in a press conference on 22 September 1945, that 'The Admiral took the opportunity of adding his voice to those insisting that Japan had been defeated before the atomic bombing and Russia's entry into the war.' In a subsequent speech at the Washington Monument on 5 October 1945, Admiral Nimitz stated 'The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.' It was learned also that General Eisenhower had urged Truman, in a personal visit, not to use the atomic bomb. Eisenhower's assessment was 'It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing… to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians, without even attempting negotiations, was a double crime.' Eisenhower also stated that it wasn't necessary for Truman to 'succumb' to the tiny handful of people putting pressure on the president to drop atom bombs on Japan."
"British officers were of the same mind. For example, General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, said to Prime Minister Churchill that 'when Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.' On hearing that the atomic test was successful, Ismay's private reaction was one of 'revulsion.'"
Why Were Bombs Dropped on Populated Cities Without Military Value?
Even military officers who favoured use of nuclear weapons mainly favoured using them on unpopulated areas, or Japanese military targets… not cities.
Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy Lewis Strauss proposed that a non-lethal demonstration of atomic weapons would be enough to convince the Japanese to surrender… and the Navy Secretary agreed: "I proposed to Secretary Forrestal that the weapon should be demonstrated before it was used… the war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate… My proposal… was that the weapon should be demonstrated over… a large forest of cryptomeria trees not far from Tokyo… Would lay the trees out in windrows from the centre of the explosion in all directions as though they were matchsticks, and, of course, set them afire in the centre. It seemed to me that a demonstration of this sort would prove to the Japanese that we could destroy any of their cities at will… Secretary Forrestal agreed wholeheartedly with the recommendation… It seemed to me that such a weapon was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion, that once used it would find its way into the armaments of the world…"
Warning Should Have First Been Given
General George Marshall agreed: "'these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and… a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave - telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centres….'"
Neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki were deemed militarily vital by U.S. planners. (This is one of the reasons neither had been heavily bombed up to this point in the war.) Moreover, targeting at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was aimed explicitly on non-military facilities surrounded by workers' homes.
Historians Agree that the Bomb Wasn't Needed
Historians agree that nuclear weapons did not need to be used to stop the war or to save lives. As historian Doug Long notes: "U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker writes, 'The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisors knew it.'" (J. Samuel Walker, The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update, Diplomatic History, Winter 1990)
Politicians Agreed that Atomic Bombs were Not Needed
Ex-president Herbert Hoover said: "The Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from February 1945… up to and before the time the atomic bombs were dropped… if such leads had been followed up, there would have been no occasion to drop the atomic bombs."
The Japanese Wanted to End the War
Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew noted: "In the light of available evidence I myself and others felt that if such a categorical statement about the retention of the dynasty had been issued in May 1945, the surrender-minded elements in the Japanese government might well have been afforded by such a statement a valid reason and the necessary strength to come to an early clear cut decision. If surrender could have been brought about in May 1945, or even in June, or July, before the entrance of Soviet Russia into the Pacific war and the use of the atomic bomb, the world would have been the gainer."
Why Then Were Atom Bombs Dropped on Japan?
If dropping nuclear bombs was unnecessary to end the war, or to save lives, why was the decision to drop them made? Especially over the objections of so many top military and political figures?
Scientists Like to Test their Toys
One theory is that scientists like to play with their new toys: On 9 September 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, was publicly quoted extensively as stating that the atomic bomb was used because the scientists had a:"toy and they wanted to try it out… The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment… It was a mistake to ever drop it."
Even Scientists Opposed Using the Atom Bomb
However, most of the Manhattan Project scientists, who developed the atom bomb, were opposed to using it on Japan. The scientists questioned the ability of destroying Japanese cities with atomic bombs to bring surrender when destroying Japanese cities with conventional bombs had not done so. They recommended a demonstration of the atomic bomb in an unpopulated area of Japan.
Precipitating an Atomic Arms Race
Albert Einstein , an important catalyst for the development of the atom bomb (but not directly connected with the Manhattan Project), said: "'A great majority of scientists were opposed to the sudden employment of the atom bomb'. In Einstein's judgment, the dropping of the bomb was a political, diplomatic decision rather than a military or scientific decision. Indeed, some of the Manhattan Project scientists wrote directly to the Secretary of Defense in 1945 to try to dissuade him from dropping the bomb. 'We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons." (Political and Social Problems, Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy files, National Archives (also contained in: Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed)
Launching the Cold War
History.com notes: "In the years since the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, a number of historians have suggested that the weapons had a two-pronged objective…. It has been suggested that the second objective was to demonstrate the new weapon of mass destruction to the Soviet Union. By August 1945, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States had deteriorated badly. The Potsdam Conference between U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Russian leader Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill (before being replaced by Clement Attlee) ended just four days before the bombing of Hiroshima. The meeting was marked by recriminations and suspicion between the Americans and Soviets. Russian armies were occupying most of Eastern Europe. Truman and many of his advisers hoped that the U.S. atomic monopoly might offer diplomatic leverage with the Soviets. In this fashion, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan can be seen as the first shot of the Cold War."
A Crime Against Humanity
The conventional explanation of using the bombs to end the war and save lives is disputed by Peter Kuznick and Mark Selden, historians from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. New studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives suggest that Truman's main motive was to limit Soviet expansion in Asia.
New Scientist reported in 2005: "The US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War rather than end the Second World War, according to two nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing the controversial theory. Causing a fission reaction in several kilograms of uranium and plutonium and killing over 200,000 people was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to cow Japan. 'He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species', says Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC, US. 'It was not just a war crime it was a crime against humanity.'"
Japan was Searching for Peace
According to an account by Walter Brown, Assistant to US Secretary of State James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a meeting three days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that Japan was 'looking for peace'. Truman was told by his army generals, Douglas Macarthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and his Naval Chief of Staff, William Leahy, that there was no military need to use the bomb. "Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan."
Russia was our Real Enemy not Japan
John Pilger points out: "The US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was 'fearful' that the US Air Force would have Japan so 'bombed out' that the new weapon would not be able 'to show its strength'. He later admitted that 'no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender'… General Leslie Groves, Director of the Manhattan Project that made the bomb, testified: 'There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.' The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with the 'overwhelming success' of 'the experiment'".
Conservatives Opposed the Atom Bomb as Immoral
University of Maryland professor of political economy, and former Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and Special Assistant in the Department of State, Gar Alperovitz declared: "Though most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers of historians now recognize the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945. Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast majority of top American military leaders in all three services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of 'liberals', as is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years following World War II.
Serving the Cause of Communism in Asia
"Instead of allowing other options to end the war, the United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost exactly the time that an 8 August Soviet attack had originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August. The timing itself has obviously raised questions among many historians."
The most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread that most Americans haven't paused to ponder something rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite openly and publicly.
A Political Decision
General George C. Marshall is on record as repeatedly saying that it was not a military decision, but rather a political one.
On 11 August 1945, the Japanese government filed an official protest over the atomic bombing to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss Legation in Tokyo, observing: "Combatant and non-combatant men and women, old and young, are massacred without discrimination by the atmospheric pressure of the explosion, as well as by the radiating heat which result therefrom. Consequently there is involved a bomb having the most cruel effects humanity has ever known… The bombs in question, used by the Americans, by their cruelty and by their terrorizing effects, surpass by far gas or any other arm, the use of which is prohibited. Japanese protests against U.S. desecration of international principles of war paired the use of the atomic bomb with the earlier firebombing, which massacred old people, women and children, destroying and burning down Shinto and Buddhist temples, schools, hospitals, living quarters, etc. They now use this new bomb, having an uncontrollable and cruel effect much greater than any other arms or projectiles ever used to date. This constitutes a new crime against humanity and civilization."
In 1963, the bombings were the subject of a judicial review. The District Court of Tokyo found, "the attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused such severe and indiscriminate suffering that they did violate the most basic legal principles governing the conduct of war."
The Hague Conventions
In the opinion of the court, the act of dropping an atomic bomb on cities was at the time governed by International Law found in the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare of 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922 - 1923 and was therefore illegal.
In the documentary The Fog of War, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara recalled General Curtis LeMay, who relayed the Presidential order to drop nuclear bombs on Japan, said: "If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"
Indiscriminate Mass Murder
Takashi Hiraoka, Mayor of Hiroshima , said in a hearing to The Hague International Court of Justice (ICJ): "It is clear that the use of nuclear weapons, which cause indiscriminate mass murder that leaves effects on survivors for decades, is a violation of international law". Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, declared in the same hearing: "It is said that the descendants of the atomic bomb survivors will have to be monitored for several generations to clarify the genetic impact, which means that the descendants will live in anxiety for [decades] to come. with their colossal power and capacity for slaughter and destruction, nuclear weapons make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants or between military installations and civilian communities. The use of nuclear weapons. therefore is a manifest infraction of international law."
University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings states there is a consensus among historians "the Nagasaki bomb was gratuitous at best and genocidal at worst."
Professor R.J. Rummel's definition of democide includes not only genocide, but also an excessive killing of civilians in war, to the extent this is against the agreed rules for warfare he argues the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes, and thus democide. Rummel quotes among others an official protest from the US government in 1938 to Japan, for its bombing of Chinese cities: "The bombing of non-combatant populations violated international and humanitarian laws." He also considers excess deaths of civilians in conflagrations caused by conventional means, such as in the Tokyo bombings, as acts of democide.
In 1967, Noam Chomsky described the atomic bombings as "among the most unspeakable crimes in history". Chomsky pointed to the complicity of the American people in the bombings. The definition of terrorism is "the targeting of innocent civilians to achieve a political goal".
Unnecessary Suffering and Destruction
The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 set rules in place regarding the attack of civilian populations. The Hague Conventions stated that religious buildings, art and science centres, charities, hospitals, and historic monuments, were to be spared as far as possible in a bombardment, unless they were being used for military purposes. The Hague Conventions also prohibited the employment of "arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering".
The War Did Not Need to Have Lasted so Long
McArthur had also told Roosevelt that: "Peace could be made with the Japanese any time after the Philippines were taken… with their supporting legs cut off, they were beaten." He said that: "Roosevelt, however was determined that he should not command in the final movement on Japan…"
The Atom Bombs Were Not Necessary to End the War
General McArthur declared: "We would have avoided all of the losses of the atomic bomb and the entry of Russia into Manchuria, had the Japanese peace overtures been accepted, in early 1945."
Betraying Asia to Communism
McArthur told President Herbert Hoover in 1946 that: "Truman's policies were enabling Russia to make a puppet state out of Manchuria and betraying all of China and Mongolia to communism."
"When you besiege a city for a long time while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees…" Deuteronomy 20:19
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Beyond the Decision: Strategies to Teach the History of the Atomic Bombs and the End of World War II
A presentation of The National WWII Museum's curricular resources to help educators teach about the use of atomic bombs against Japan.
Top Image: Mushroom clouds rising over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). Courtesy of the United States Department of Energy.
Teaching the history of atomic bombs and the role these weapons had in ending the conflict plaguing the Pacific theater of World War II presents a set of unique challenges that forces educators to confront a combination of topics, including military history, nuclear science, and questions of morality. Required by national teaching standards, American educators face the task of finding ways to teach and discuss an event of such significance it altered the trajectory of global history. Added to this challenge, educators must find a way to carve out the necessary time to fit this event within its proper context a context that only happens to include the largest and most significant global conflict to occur in the history of the modern world.
Frequently, lessons about the atomic bombs and the end of World War II center on President Harry Truman’s decision to use these new weapons. Centering the decision within questions of morality can encourage students to imagine alternative outcomes fictionalized narratives in which the United States did not drop the bombs. Use of counterfactuals can appear to be a compelling teaching strategy, especially when approaching such a difficult, polarizing topic. Use of counterfactual, or “what if?” history, however, takes precious time away from teaching students what actually happened: President Truman issued the order and the United States dropped two atomic bombs on two separate Japanese cities. This order led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, and it brought the war in the Pacific to an abrupt end.
The history of the atomic bombs expands far beyond Truman’s decision, however, and educators seeking new ways to cover these events have a deep well of content from which they can pull. Curriculum resources offered by The National WWII Museum gives educators access to lesson plans, essays, and oral histories aimed to help them to teach a challenging topic a task made all the more difficult by tight limits on available class time. Through these materials, educators can find overview essays, comprising of only a few pages, that will help introduce their students to big topics such as the Manhattan Project, the top-secret operation that brought over 100,000 people together to work on the creation of the atomic bombs. Lesson plans ask students to consider the different experiences and perspectives of individual workers who were a part of the Manhattan Project but often did not know what they were helping to build. Through oral history clips, students can also hear directly from participants, such as Lawrence Johnston, a physicist who helped develop nuclear weaponry and witnessed the Trinity Test, the first successful detonation of an atomic bomb.
Additional resources offered by the Museum help educators teach their students about the state of the war in the Pacific in 1945. This includes maps that detail the extensive firebombing campaigns carried out for months by the US across Japan, and essays that capture the refusal of Japan’s leaders to concede defeat in spite of those attacks. Curriculum materials cover the diplomatic history of the Potsdam Declaration, as well as the numerous factors that fed into Truman’s ultimate decision to use the new atomic bombs against two cities on the Japanese home island. Through these materials, Truman’s decision, which is a critical component to the history of the atomic bombs, comes to fit within a larger narrative. The enhanced context can help students to analyze that critical moment when the two bombs, codenamed “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Essays also help students understand the aftermath of the atomic bomb attacks, including the devastation incurred at the moment of detonation, and also the years of anguish that resulted from radiation poisoning.
Educators face a daunting task of teaching an event in history that remains deeply enmeshed within a litany of significant events, each that contributes a necessary element to the context that surrounds those two momentous days in August 1945. Pressures of time and teaching requirements puts educators in a difficult position of deciding what to prioritize and what to cut. Through concise essays and ready-to-use lesson plans, The National WWII Museum seeks to help educators successfully cover this complicated subject, all while fulfilling teaching requirements, in a manner that looks beyond sole consideration of Truman’s decision. The history of atomic weaponry is both horrific and captivating. It is a key part of the history of World War II, while also comprising only a portion of the war’s overall timeline. The reality of what occurred affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, well before Truman issued that fateful order. The events that followed were of such significance, that counterfactual narratives threaten to diminish the true weight of how two bombs changed the world. By incorporating a larger perspective and an expanded historical context through the Museum’s curriculum offerings, educators can present a more thorough view of the events that led up to, and the critical moments that followed, the decisive moments the United States dropped the bombs.
The Situation Today
Some have asked what Japan would have done had it obtained an atomic bomb during World War II. Would it have used it on an enemy civilian population, as the US did? The Japanese government did send a letter to the US after the bombing of Nagasaki, declaring the atomic bomb a violation of the Hague Convention and a crime against humanity. Nevertheless, there are some indications that Japan would have acted in a similar manner, had their atomic project succeeded, though it is impossible to say definitively one way or the other.
Some historians have argued that the US was more willing to use its atomic bombs because it had already conducted extensive bombing raids. Japan was no stranger to bombing civilian targets, since it did so in China and (to a lesser extent) Australia. However, the Japanese did not do nearly as much bombing as the US did.
Yoichi Yamamoto, an IJA officer who worked on uranium procurement, defended the dropping of the atomic bombs as a wartime necessity. Japan also showed willingness to attack civilians, such as atrocities committed against civilians during their conquest of China. Japan even caused civilian fatalities in the US, albeit on a much smaller scale, during the attacks on Pearl Harbor and via explosives sent by balloon to the West Coast. The fact that their government pursued an atomic bomb and might have used it is troubling to some Japanese citizens, especially since the project is absent from many museums, textbooks, and other historical sources.
Today, Japan is one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations, and has invested a great deal in nuclear energy. It has not pursued weaponizing that technology, however, since World War II. Part of this is due to the pacifist constitution that was ratified after the war, limiting the Japanese military to self-defense forces. Japan subsequently adopted a three-point policy of not possessing, producing, or allowing entry of nuclear weapons, and later ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Wariness of nuclear technology in general has increased since the incident at Fukushima in 2011.
There have been rumblings of change in Japanese policy in recent years, corresponding with the increasingly threatening presence of nuclear-state neighbors China and North Korea. After North Korea announced a resumption of its nuclear program in 2009, former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa gave a speech saying that Japan should develop nuclear weapons as a check, though the government condemned his statement. As recently as 2014, anonymous statements from government officials confirm that Japan has “a bomb in the basement,” i.e. the capability to produce a nuclear weapon in a short space of time.
Those losses hastened the war's conclusion but were not solely responsible for it, both Wellerstein and Carr said. Likewise, other misconceptions form a familiar story surrounding the bombings.
For example, Wellerstein said, not much deliberation went into using the bomb. Other historians hold the same view, including Carr. He cited a paper by historian Barton Bernstein, a Stanford University professor, from 2005.
"He said it wasn't a decision so much as the implementation of an assumption," Carr said by phone from Los Alamos on July 16. "And I really do think that was the case, looking back on this."
The scale and momentum of the war dictated using the bombs, Carr said. Every day, hundreds of Americans died in combat. Every 500-plane raid launched by U.S. Army Air Forces over Tokyo put hundreds of airmen in harm's way. During peak fighting on the Eastern Front, tens of thousands of Soviet troops and civilians died daily. And thousands of Americans were expected to die in an invasion of the Japanese homeland, planning for which went on despite the atomic bombings.
"All of sudden you have what is essentially an irresistible weapon. There is no countermeasure for a nuclear bomb. One plane out of nowhere could destroy a city in a moment," Carr said. "These were weapons that were made to go into combat and serve a purpose and I think that's what happened."
The Scientific Tragedy of the Atomic Bomb
Throughout history, improperly used science has posed a great threat to society. With the development of the atomic bomb, science has unleashed the means to destroy the world and burdened future generations with its destructive presence. Such threats are the result of unethical science. While for centuries scientists have dedicated themselves to explaining the earth’s mysteries, they have often ignored the moral implications of their discoveries. In Richard Rhodes’ book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb , scientist Robert Oppenheimer asserted that "it is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful they are found because it was possible to find them." Although research is a scientist’s primary role, Oppenheimer’s statement is dangerous in its meaning. It implies that a scientist’s sole responsibility is to function as nature’s detective a role too widely defined in its scope. Science, and its practicioner
s, should not be exempt from morality. Nearly all professions—such as medicine and education—are regulated by a basic ethical code. Just as doctors have an ethical responsibility to consider the consequences of their treatments, scientists should be held partially accountable for the applications of their discoveries.
In many ways, the greatest deficiency of modern science is its lack of moral standards. While the purpose of science is to discover knowledge, ethics are virtually absent from the discipline. This deficiency often causes scientists to investigate potentially evil subjects—like the atomic bomb—without ethical guidance. While delivering a lecture in 1936, physicist Francis W. Aston speculated about the consequences of atomic study, warning that:
there are those about us who say that [atomic] research should be stopped by law, alleging that man’s destructive powers are already large enough…Personally, I think there is no doubt that sub-atomic energy is all around us, and that one day man will release and control its almost infinite power. We cannot prevent him from doing so and can only hope that he will not use it exclusively in blowing up his next door neighbor. (141)
Such a statement foretold an era when science would harness the means to annihilate humanity a condition that stems from a lack of ethics. As a discipline, science answers only questions regarding physical properties, processes and histories its stringent use of the scientific method marks its distinction from other schools of thought. Moral standards were divorced from science long ago and redistributed to the realm of philosophy. As a result, science no longer has an ethical foundation.
All scientists should be required to learn ethical guidelines that would include absolute standards and exposure to those philosophical modes, such as utilitarianism and relativism, which produce ethical pitfalls. Scientists would then be forewarned of faulty philosophical reasoning thus, they would possess the ethics necessary to measure the value of their work. Research conducted without applied ethics is morally bankrupt because when scientists lack morals, outside sources can more easily manipulate their work for destructive purposes. In such situations, scientists are likely to adopt the rationalizations of that party to justify their efforts. This dilemma occurred with many of the scientists who conducted nuclear research during WWII. Edward Teller recalled his agreement with President Roosevelt’s description of a scientist’s role in the war effort: "If scientists in free countries will not make weapons to defend the freedom of their countries than freedom will be
lost" (336). From this statement, Teller "believed Roosevelt was not proposing what scientists may do ’but something that was our duty and that we must do…’" (336).
Unfortunately, some scientists actually believe that research without ethics has substantial value. While promoting the value of research, Robert Oppenheimer promoted moral deficiency when he remarked:
It is not possible to be a scientist unless you believe that the knowledge of the world, and the power which this gives, is a thing which is of intrinsic value to humanity, and that you are using it to help in the spread of knowledge, and are willing to take the consequences. (761)
According to this description, a scientist’s only work would be to discover empowering knowledge for humanity a notion that has value by itself. Such a premise is morally defunct because it does not consider the outcomes of a scientist’s work. If scientists were the only ones affected by their work, then consequences would be confined to the individual. Scientists, however, live in a world where all men use their discoveries and share the consequences. The wrong application of technology can detrimentally influence humanity.
Because scientific discoveries potentially affect all of humanity, scientists should be subject to a minimum of ethical standards when doing their research. For example, in 1934 the Hungarian theoretical physicist Leo Szilard prophetically noted that "the discoveries of scientists…have given weapons to mankind which may destroy our present civilization if we do not succeed in avoiding future wars" (214). Although Szilard was probably referring to military aircraft and "the horrors of strategic bombing…almost certainly he was thinking of atomic bombs" (214). Szilard knew that science was on the brink of developing the technology capable of destroying mankind. Accordingly, atomic research was concentrated in America during WWII. Named the Manhattan Project, this scheme involved a $2 billion investment and the gathering of the world’s greatest scientists, all to build the world’s most destructive weapon.
Despite any peaceful benefits achieved from nuclear technology, its predominant application can still destroy mankind. As citizens of the society that will inherit their discoveries, scientists have a moral duty to consider the consequences of their work. Men have done much to liberate themselves through science. Yet when they use it improperly, they have also caused some of humanity’s greatest miseries. For example, during World War I, poison gases—such as chlorpicrin and dichlorethyl sulfide—were used to efficiently immobilize and kill soldiers. More effective than a thousand bullets, these compounds caused masses of inhumane deaths and many other injuries. Although a blatant violation of the Hague Convention, the method was justified as "a way of saving countless lives, if it meant that the war could be brought to an end sooner" (93). This premise paradoxically sanctions the use of killing as a means of preserving life. Science is used to introduce new and im
moral mechanisms which are historically permanent and intensify violence. Human talents that could have improved humanity are abandoned for more violent pursuits. In this capacity, scientists use their skills to destroy their brothers, convincing themselves that their efforts are humanitarian. The creators of the gasses, "like bargain hunters, imagined they were spending a pittance of tens of thousands of lives to save a purseful more" (95). Using science this way for the preservation of life is morally bankrupt human lives are not guaranteed. Every time a scientific development—such as gassing—is used to kill more efficiently, a destructive precedent is established for future generations to supersede. Thus, the nature of science is perverted, establishing a new standard of human cruelty ironically, the occupation that discovers cures for illness also develops methods of mass destruction.
Despite ethical obligations, scientists should not be held responsible for every application of their work because they cannot predict the future. Ethical responsibilities do not obligate a scientist to improve society but to at least morally question his work. It is when deliberate research is conducted for destructive purposes and rationalized as humanitarian that great dilemmas arise. Historically, the destruction during WWI established a precedent for using atomic weapons and saturation bombing in World War II. The old methods of destruction had become inefficient therefore, new techniques were required. Accordingly, the "most compact, efficient, inexpensive, inexorable mechanisms of total death are nuclear weapons. Since 1945 they have therefore come to dominate the field" (779). Like their predecessors, the new breed of scientists rationalized their atomic developments for shortening the war, ending Hitler’s terror and saving lives. While justifying the
necessity of atomic research after the war, Robert Oppenheimer asserted:
The reason we did this job was because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing…you believe that it is good to find out how the world works that it is good to find out what the realities are that it is good to turn over to mankind…the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values. (761)
Although it is a noble intention to empower the world, Oppenheimer’s statement indulges in ethical rationalizations which have no moral foundation. Mankind’s control of nature is by its values, which is a belief or condition held in high esteem. Knowledge given to the contemporary world would be wasted because it is obsessed with expanding destruction.
Despite their role in the discovery of knowledge, scientists are not the only parties at fault for the destructive application of science. Once knowledge leaves a scientist’s hands, he often has little control over how his discoveries will be used. For example, the American military wanted to utilize the atomic bomb before the technology was replicated, thereby using their atomic monopoly to cement a dominant role in the postwar era. "When other countries acquired nuclear weapons, as they would in ’just a few years,’ that advantage would be lost" (637). Rather than share the information, it would be used to intimidate other countries into complying with American political objectives. President Truman’s Secretary of State James Byrnes believed "international relations worked like domestic politics as money was to banking, a medium of enriching exchange. Only naifs and fools gave it away" (635).
When the Trinity test proved its reliability, the atomic bomb became a political weapon removed from the scientific realm. Two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities filled with innocent men, women and children that were vaporized in seconds. Telling themselves it was in the world’s best interest, American political and military personnel created reasons for the bomb’s use and its evil was unleashed. For example, former U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson ironically justified the bombings mainly as a humanitarian endeavor. His:
chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men…In the light of the alternatives…which were open to us I believe that no man…holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities…could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face. (696)
This statement is a prime example of the danger ethically unguided science and politics pose to mankind. When both are manipulated, the world is endangered by great opportunities for destruction. Politicians eager to pursue their agendas manipulate science for their own ends, while scientists eager to empower the world unleash harmful information. Ultimately, scientists should be careful because their efforts are the primary source of harmful technology.
The world was irrevocably changed with the initiation of the nuclear era. Although not currently embroiled in war, the world has spent half a century in preparation for nuclear fallout. Many people would argue that the devices themselves created peace, but it is an existence established through fear. Danish theoretical physicist, Niels Bohr recognized that nuclear technology had engulfed the world "in a new situation that cannot be resolved by war" (532). When nuclear weapons "spread to other countries…no one would be able any longer to win. A spasm of nuclear destruction would be possible. But not war" (532). Because he believed such a future was inevitable, he envisioned a world so terrorized by nuclear weapons that it would unify mankind. Nevertheless, Bohr and his compatriots were not rationalizing peace but a nuclear cold war. The future they foretold has become psychologically imprisoned by fear and hatred a world unable to distinguish between
fear and safety. I. I. Rabi remarked that:
the lesson we should learn from all this…and the frightening thing we did learn during the course of the war, was…how it is easy to kill people when you turn your mind to it. When you turn the resources of modern science to the problem of killing people, you realize how vulnerable they really are. (779)
Rabi’s statement is the crux of unethical science. Scientists must be subject to ethical guidelines lest their efforts let mankind destroy itself.
Erica Cook is a senior from North Canton, Ohio studying Political Science and Journalism-English.
Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Simon and Schuster, 1986.
World War Two – Effects of an Atomic Bomb – Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945, President Truman gave the order to drop the first bomb known as “Little Boy”. Hiroshima was chosen as the location to drop the bomb after careful strategic consideration. The primary reasons why Hiroshima was chosen were because of it’s relatively small size, which would make it easier to study the effects of a bomb and because it was the Japanese city that had suffered the least amount of damage during World War 2 and a place where a high concentration of their military remained and also it has been said that there were no allied POW prisons there. At the time there were close to “300,000 civilians and 43,000 soldiers” (The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima ).
The Enola Gay and “Little Boy”
The Enola Gay, B-29 Bomber, carried the bomb from Tinian Island located in the Central Pacific and dropped “Little Boy”, who was not so little, weighing approximately 8000 pounds consisting of Uranium. The moment the bomb was dropped at 8:15 AM, people up to 1640 ft were completely vaporized. Around 80,000 people including at least 12 American POWs were killed in an instant, those who were not killed instantly, within a half mile or less of the site were killed by a fire storm which quickly followed, in total around 135,000 perished (Total Causalities). Nearly every building within a mile from the blast was destroyed and buildings up to ten miles suffered some damage. Glass on buildings up to 12 miles away was shattered.
Water Contamination and Radiation
The water became so contaminated within the area from the nuclear fallout that had occurred and from the dead bodies floating in the river that some people died almost immediately after consuming. Many witnesses had noticed that after the water was consumed the unlucky survivors would cough up a yellow substance. While I have not been able to find out why so many died immediately after drinking the water and others managed to survive after consuming the same water, I can only assume that it must have been some sort of allergic reaction to the radiation (Doomsday For Hiroshima Came With A Blinding Flash ).
Black Rain and the Radioactive Fall-Out
One half hour after the bomb exploded, “black rain” began to fall. It has been describe as a tarry substance that stained anything that it fell upon, black. This rain carried the radio active fallout and spread it into areas past Hiroshima. Those affected by the black rain also were exposed to radiation which carried the same health effects-radiation poisoning.
Many of the people who were not killed immediately upon the blast later died from radiation exposure, this has been shown for up to three miles from the bomb site. Vomiting, diarrhea, swollen mouth and throat including bleeding from these areas were the first symptoms that appeared within hours of the explosion. Strange bluish spots began to appear on survivors as well. Little was known about the full effects of radiation, but soon doctors began describing patients that showed no outside injuries started falling sick and showed many of the symptoms noted above, this strange disease became known as “Disease X” (Selden). The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was created in 1947 under the supervision of U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Their purpose was to study the short and long term effects of radiation exposure (Shigematsu ). Thus far, the Commission, now known as Radiation Effects Research Foundation, has studied over 75,000 Hiroshima survivors.
Infants and Radiation
Unborn children did not escape the wrath of the bomb. “One of the most conspicuous signs of the horror is the children whose mothers were hit while carrying them. Most of them perished before birth, but of those who survived some were born with heads abnormally small and are severely mentally –retarded” (After Effects). Miscarriages were common in women who were within the vicinity as well as carrying a baby to full term and then when they were born realizing that they literally had no brain. The babies that did survive after birth, those who were breastfed, succumbed to the radiation poisoning that was passed through the mother’s system.
Cancer and the Survivors
Those who have survived Hiroshima still fear for their lives as well as their offspring’s lives on a daily basis because of the lingering health effects. Many of them have suffered lung and liver cancer as well as breast cancer and Leukemia. The offspring of these survivors worry what cancer they will develop as their parents were exposed to such a vast amount of radiation. As of 2005, no proven links were found to show that offspring had any greater risk than those not born from radiation exposure, however, a full blown study involving survivors and their offspring started taking place in May 2005.
Hiroshima Today – Safe Zone
Hiroshima is apparently safe and thriving today with their main industries being automobile manufacturing, food processing and machinery with a population of close to one million. Due to the fact that the bombs exploded approximately 600 meters above the ground very little nuclear by product was deposited into the ground. A few weeks after the bomb was dropped, scientists went in to take radiation measurements and it was found that the radiation levels had fallen to a relatively safe zone.
Nagasaki and “Fat Man”
Hiroshima was not the only place to receive this horrific fate, three days after we dropped the bomb on them, we swiftly moved forward to Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. The initial target for this mission was supposed to be Kokura, Japan because it was a heavily industrialized area but due to cloud coverage the mission was moved to the secondary target of Nagasaki chosen because it had a large “ship building industry and a large military port” (Nagasaki – August 1945 ) . The bomb for Nagasaki was called “Fat Man” and was made up of Plutonium and weighed about 10,000 pounds. Approximately 80,000 deaths, including those from radiation poisoning were recorded. After this second bombing, Japan finally surrendered.
The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: Arguments in Support
The main argument in support of the decision to use the atomic bomb is that it saved American lives which would otherwise have been lost in two D-Day-style land invasions of the main islands of the Japanese homeland. The first, against the Southern island of Kyushu, had been scheduled for November 1 (Operation Torch). The second, against the main island of Honshu would take place in the spring of 1946 (Operation Coronet). The two operations combined were codenamed Operation Downfall. There is no doubt that a land invasion would have incurred extremely high casualties, for a variety of reasons. For one, Field Marshall Hisaichi Terauchi had ordered that all 100,000 Allied prisoners of war be executed if the Americans invaded. Second, it was apparent to the Japanese as much as to the Americans that there were few good landing sites, and that Japanese forces would be concentrated there. Third, there was real concern in Washington that the Japanese had made a determination to fight literally to the death. The Japanese saw suicide as an honorable alternative to surrender. The term they used was gyokusai, or, “shattering of the
jewel.” It was the same rationale for their use of the so-called banzai charges employed early in the war. In his 1944 “emergency declaration,” Prime Minister Hideki Tojo had called for million gyokusai,” and that the entire Japanese population be prepared to die.
For American military commanders, determining the strength of Japanese forces and anticipating the level of civilian resistance were the keys to preparing casualty projections. Numerous studies were conducted, with widely varying results. Some of the studies estimated American casualties for just the first 30 days of Operation Torch. Such a study done by General MacArthur’s staff in June estimated 23,000 US casualties.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall thought the Americans would suffer 31,000 casualties in the first 30 days, while Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, put them between 31,000 and 41,000. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester Nimitz, whose staff conducted their own study, estimated 49,000 U.S casualties in the first 30 days, including 5,000 at sea from Kamikaze attacks.
Studies estimating total U.S. casualties were equally varied and no less grim. One by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April 1945 resulted in an estimate of 1,200,000 casualties, with 267,000 fatalities. Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, estimated 268,000 casualties (35%). Former President Herbert Hoover sent a memorandum to President Truman and Secretary of War Stimson, with “conservative” estimates of 500,000 to 1,000,000 fatalities. A study done for Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s staff by William Shockley estimated the costs at 1.7 to 4 million American casualties, including 400,000-800,000 fatalities.
General Douglas MacArthur had been chosen to command US invasion forces for Operation Downfall, and his staff conducted their own study. In June their prediction was American casualties of 105,000 after 120 days of combat. Mid-July intelligence estimates placed the number of Japanese soldiers in the main islands at under 2,000,000, but that number increased sharply in the weeks that followed as more units were repatriated from Asia for the final homeland defense. By late July, MacArthur’s Chief
of Intelligence, General Charles Willoughby, revised the estimate and predicted American casualties on Kyushu alone (Operation Torch) would be 500,000, or ten times what they had been on Okinawa.
All of the military planners based their casualty estimates on the ongoing conduct of the war and the evolving tactics employed by the Japanese. In the first major land combat at Guadalcanal, the Japanese had employed night-time banzai charges—direct frontal assaults against entrenched machine gun positions. This tactic had worked well against enemy forces in their Asian campaigns, but against the Marines, the Japanese lost about 2,500 troops and killed only 80 Marines.
At Tarawa in May 1943, The Japanese modified their tactics and put up a fierce resistance to the Marine amphibious landings. Once the battered Marines made it ashore, the 4,500 well-supplied and well-prepared Japanese defenders fought almost to the last man. Only 17 Japanese soldiers were alive at the end of the battle.
On Saipan in July 1944, the Japanese again put up fanatical resistance, even though a decisive U.S. Navy victory over the Japanese fleet had ended any hope of their resupply. U.S. forces had to burnthen out of holes, caves, and bunkers with flamethrowers. Japanese forces staged multiple banzai attacks. At the end of the battle the Japanese staged a final banzai that included wounded men, some of them on crutches. Marines were forced to mow them down. Meanwhile, on the north end of the island a thousand civilians threw committed suicide by jumping from the cliff to the rocks below after being promised an honorable afterlife by Emperor Hirohito, and after being threatened with death by the Japanese army. In the fall of 1944, Marines landed on the small island of Peleliu, just east of the Philippines, for what was supposed to be a four-day mission. The battle lasted two months. At Peleliu, the Japanese unveiled a new defense strategy. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander, constructed a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions, and waited for the Marines to attack them, and they replaced the fruitless banzai attacks with coordinated counterattacks. Much of the island was solid volcanic rock, making the digging of foxholes with the standard-issue entrenching tool impossible. When the Marines sought cover and concealment, the terrain’s jagged, sharp edges cut up their uniforms, bodies, and equipment. The plan was to make Peleliu a bloody war of attrition, and it worked well. The fight for Umurbrogol Mountain is considered by many to be the most difficult fight that the U.S. military encountered in the entire Second World War. At Peleliu, U.S. forces suffered 50% casualties, including 1,794 killed. Japanese losses were 10,695 killed and only 202 captured. After securing the Philippines and delivering yet another shattering blow to the Japanese navy, the Americans landed next on Iwo Jima in February 1945, where the main mission was to secure three Japanese airfields. U.S. Marines again faced an enemy well entrenched in a vast network of bunkers, hidden artillery, and miles of underground tunnels. American casualties on Iwo Jima were 6,822 killed or missing and 19,217 wounded. Japanese casualties were about 18,000 killed or missing, and only 216 captured. Meanwhile, another method of Japanese resistance was emerging. With the Japanese navy neutralized, the Japanese resorted to suicide missions designed to turn piloted aircraft into guided bombs. A kamikaze air attack on ships anchored at sea on February 21 sunk an escort carrier and did severe damage to the fleet carrier Saratoga. It was a harbinger of things to come.
After Iwo Jima, only the island of Okinawa stood between U.S. forces and Japan. Once secured, Okinawa would be used as a staging area for Operation Torch. Situated less than 400 miles from Kyushu, the island had been Japanese territory since 1868, and it was home to several hundred thousand Japanese civilians. The Battle of Okinawa was fought from April 1 – June 22, 1945. Five U.S. Army divisions, three Marine divisions, and dozens of Navy vessels participated in the 82-day battle. The Japanese stepped up their use of kamikaze attacks, this time sending them at U.S. ships in waves. Seven major kamikaze attacks took place involving 1,500 planes. They took a devastatingtoll—both physically and psychologically. The U.S. Navy’s dead, at 4,907, exceeded its wounded, primarily because of the kamikaze.
On land, U.S. forces again faced heavily fortified and well-constructed defenses. The Japanese extracted heavy American casualties at one line of defense, and then as the Americans began to gain the upper hand, fell back to another series of fortifications. Japanese defenders and civilians fought to the death (even women with spears) or committed suicide rather than be captured. The civilians had been told the Americans would go on a rampage of killing and raping. About 95,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, and possibly as many as 150,000 civilians died, or 25% of the civilian population. And the fierce resistance took a heavy toll on the Americans 12,513 were killed on Okinawa, and another 38,916 were wounded.
The increased level of Japanese resistance on Okinawa was of particular significance to military planners, especially the resistance of civilians. This was a concern for the American troops as well. In the Ken Burns documentary The War (2007), a veteran Marine pilot of the Okinawa campaign relates his thoughts at the time about invading the home islands:
By then, our sense of the strangeness of the Japanese opposition had become stronger. And I could imagine every farmer with his pitchfork coming at my guts every pretty girl with a hand grenade strapped to her bottom, or something that everyone would be an enemy.
Although the estimates of American casualties in Operation Downfall vary widely, no one doubts that they would have been significant. A sobering indicator of the government’s expectations is that 500,000 Purple Heart medals (awarded for combat-related wounds) were manufactured in preparation for Operation Downfall.
Argument #1.1: The Bomb Saved Japanese Lives
A concurrent, though ironic argument supporting the use of the bomb is that because of the expected Japanese resistance to an invasion of the home island, its use actually saved Japanese lives. Military planners included Japanese casualties in their estimates. The study done for Secretary of War Stimson predicted five to ten million Japanese fatalities. There is support for the bomb even among some Japanese. In 1983, at the annual observance of Hiroshima’s destruction, an aging Japanese professor recalled that at war’s end, due to the extreme food rationing, he had weighed less than 90 pounds and could scarcely climb a flight of stairs. “I couldn’t have survived another month,” he said. “If the military had its way, we would have fought until all 80 million Japanese were dead. Only the atomic bomb saved me. Not me alone, but many Japanese, ironically speaking, were saved by the atomic bomb.”
Argument #1.2: It Was Necessary to Shorten the War
Another concurrent argument supporting the use of the bomb is that it achieved its primary objective of shortening the war. The bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9. The next day, the Japanese requested a halting of the war. On August 14 Emperor Hirohito announced to the Japanese people that they would surrender, and the United States celebrated V-J Day (Victory over Japan). Military planners had wanted the Pacific war finished no later than a year after the fall of Nazi Germany. The rationale was the belief that in a democracy, there is only so much that can reasonably be asked of its citizen soldiers (and of the voting public).
As Army Chief of Staff George Marshall later put it, “a democracy cannot fight a Seven Years’ war.” By the summer of 1945 the American military was exhausted, and the sheer number of troops needed for Operation Downfall meant that not only would the troops in the Pacific have to make one more landing, but even many of those troops whose valor and sacrifice had brought an end to the Nazi Third Reich were to be sent Pacific. In his 2006 memoir, former 101st Airborne battalion commander Richard Winters reflected on the state of his men as they played baseball in the summer of 1945 in occupied Austria (Winters became something of a celebrity after his portrayal in the extremely popular 2001 HBO series Band of Brothers):
During the baseball games when the men were stripped to their waists, or wearing only shorts, the sight of all those battle scars made me conscious of the fact that other than a handful of men in the battalion who had survived all four campaigns, only a few were lucky enough to be without at least one scar. Some men had two, three, even four scars on their chests, backs, arms, or legs. Keep in mind that…I was looking only at the men who were not seriously wounded.
Supporters of the bomb wonder if it was reasonable to ask even more sacrifice of these men. Since these veterans are the men whose lives (or wholeness) were, by this argument, saved by the bomb, it is relevant to survey their thoughts on the matter, as written in various war memoirs going back to the 1950s. The record is mixed. For example, despite Winters’ observation above, he seemed to have reservations about the bomb: “Three days later, on August 14, Japan surrendered. Apparently the atomic bomb carried as much punch as a regiment of paratroopers. It seemed inhumane for our national leaders to employ either weapon on the human race.”
His opinion is not shared by other members of Easy Company, some of whom published their own memoirs after the interest generated by Band of Brothers. William “Wild Bill” Guarnere expressed a very blunt opinion about the bomb in 2007:
We were on garrison duty in France for about a month, and in August, we got great news: we weren’t going to the Pacific. The U.S. dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, the Japanese surrendered, and the war was over. We were so relieved. It was the greatest thing that could have happened. Somebody once said to me that the bomb was the worst thing that ever happened, that the U.S. could have found other ways. I said, “Yeah, like what? Me and all my buddies jumping in Tokyo, and the Allied forces going in, and all of us getting killed? Millions more Allied soldiers getting killed?” When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor were they concerned about how many lives they took? We should have dropped eighteen bombs as far as I’m concerned. The Japanese should have stayed out of it if they didn’t want bombs dropped. The end of the war was good news to us. We knew we were going home soon.
Those soldiers with extensive combat experience in the Pacific theater and with first-hand knowledge of Japanese resistance also express conflicting thoughts about the bomb. All of them write of the relief and joy they felt upon first hearing the news. William Manchester, in Goodbye, Darkness: a Memoir of the Pacific War, wrote, “You think of the lives which would have been lost in an invasion of Japan’s home islands—a staggering number of American lives but millions more of Japanese—and you thank God for the atomic bomb.”
But in preparation for writing his 1980 memoir, when Manchester visited Tinian, the small Pacific island from which the Hiroshima mission was launched, he reflected on the “global angst” that Tinian represents. He writes that while the battle to take Tinian itself was relatively easy, “the aftermath was ominous.” It was also from Tinian that napalm was dropped on Japanese cities, which Manchester describes as “one of thecruelest instruments of war.” Manchester continues:
This is where the nuclear shadow first appeared. I feel forlorn, alienated, wholly without empathy for the men who did what they did. This was not my war…Standing there, notebook in hand you are shrouded in absolute, inexpressible loneliness.
Two other Pacific memoirs, both published decades ago, resurged in popularity in 2010, owing to their authors’ portrayal in another HBO mini-series, The Pacific (2010). Eugene Sledge published his combat memoir in 1981. He describes the moment when they first heard about the atom bomb, having just survived the Okinawa campaign:
We received the news with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief. We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. Sitting around in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.
Robert Leckie, like Manchester, seems to have had conflicting feelings about the bomb in his 1957 memoir Helmet for my Pillow. When the bomb was dropped, Leckie was recovering from wounds suffered on Peleliu:
Suddenly, secretly, covertly–I rejoiced. For as I lay there in that hospital, I had faced the bleak prospect of returning to the Pacific and the war and the law of averages. But now, I knew the Japanese would have to lay down their arms. The war was over. I had survived. Like a man wielding a submachine gun to defend himself against an unarmed boy, I had survived. So I rejoiced.
But just a paragraph later, Leckie reflects writes:
The suffering of those who lived, the immolation [death by burning] of those who died–that must now be placed in the scales of God’s justice that began to tip so awkwardly against us when the mushroom rose over the world…Dear Father, forgive us for that awful cloud.
Argument #1.3: Only the Bomb Convinced the Emperor to Intervene
A third concurrent argument defending the bomb is the observation that even after the first two bombs were dropped, and the Russians had declared war, the Japanese still almost did not surrender. The Japanese cabinet convened in emergency session on August 7. Military authorities refused to concede that the Hiroshima bomb was atomic in nature and refused to consider surrender. The following day, Emperor Hirohito privately expressed to Prime Minister Togo his determination that the war should end and the cabinet was convened again on August 9. At this point Prime Minister Suzuki was in agreement, but a unanimous decision was required and three of the military chiefs still refused to admit defeat.
Some in the leadership argued that there was no way the Americans could have refined enough fissionable material to produce more than one bomb. But then the bombing of Nagasaki had demonstrated otherwise, and a lie told by a downed American pilot convinced War Minister Korechika Anami that the Americans had as many as a hundred bombs. (The official scientific report confirming the bomb was atomic arrived at Imperial Headquarters on the 10th). Even so, hours of meetings and debates lasting well into the early morning hours of the 10th still resulted in a 3-3 deadlock. Prime Minister Suzuki then took the unprecedented step of asking Emperor Hirohito, who never spoke at cabinet meetings, to break the deadlock. Hirohito responded:
I have given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad and have concluded that continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation and prolongation of bloodshed and cruelty in the world. I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer.
In his 1947 article published in Harper’s, former Secretary of War Stimson expressed his opinion that only the atomic bomb convinced the emperor to step in: “All the evidence I have seen indicates that the controlling factor in the final Japanese decision to accept our terms of surrender was the atomic bomb.”
Emperor Hirohito agreed that Japan should accept the Potsdam Declaration (the terms of surrender proposed by the Americans, discussed below), and then recorded a message on phonograph to the Japanese people.
Japanese hard-liners attempted to suppress this recording, and late on the evening of the 14th, attempted a coup against the Emperor, presumably to save him from himself. The coup failed, but the fanaticism required to make such an attempt is further evidence to bomb supporters that, without the bomb, Japan would never have surrendered. In the end, the military leaders accepted surrender partly because of the Emperor’s intervention, and partly because the atomic bomb helped them “save face” by rationalizing that they had not been defeated by because of a lack of spiritual power or strategic decisions, but by science. In other words, the Japanese military hadn’t lost the war, Japanese science did.
Argument 2: The Decision was made by a Committee of Shared Responsibility
Supporters of President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons point out that the President did not act unilaterally, but rather was supported by a committee of shared responsibility. The Interim Committee, created in May 1945, was primarily tasked with providing advice to the President on all matters pertaining to nuclear energy. Most of its work focused on the role of the bomb after the war. But the committee did consider the question of its use against Japan.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson chaired the committee. Truman’s personal representative was James F. Byrnes, former U.S. Senator and Truman’s pick to be Secretary of State. The committee sought the advice of four physicists from the Manhattan Project, including Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientific panel wrote, “We see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” The final recommendation to the President was arrived at on June 1 and is described in the committee meeting log:
Mr. Byrnes recommended, and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes and that it be used without prior warning.
On June 21, the committee reaffirmed its recommendation with the following wording:
…that the weapon be used against Japan at the earliest opportunity, that it be used without warning, and that it be used on a dual target, namely, a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to homes or other buildings most susceptible to damage.
Supporters of Truman’s decision thus argue that the President, in dropping the bomb, was simply following the recommendation of the most experienced military, political, and scientific minds in the nation, and to do otherwise would have been grossly negligent.
Argument #3: The Japanese Were Given Fair Warning (Potsdam Declaration & Leaflets)
Supporters of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb point out that Japan had been given ample opportunity to surrender. On July 26, with the knowledge that the Los Alamos test had been successful, President Truman and the Allies issued a final ultimatum to Japan, known as the Potsdam Declaration (Truman was in Potsdam, Germany at the time). Although it had been decided by Prime Minster Churchill and President Roosevelt back at the Casablanca Conference that the Allies would accept only unconditional surrender from the Axis, the Potsdam Declaration does lay out some terms of surrender. The government responsible for the war would be dismantled, there would be a military occupation of Japan, and the nation would be reduced in size to pre-war borders. The military, after being disarmed, would be permitted to return home to lead peaceful lives. Assurance was given that the allies had no desire to enslave or destroy the Japanese people, but there would be war crimes trials. Peaceful industries would be allowed to produce goods, and basic freedoms of speech, religion, and thought would be introduced. The document concluded with an ultimatum: “We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces…the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” To bomb supporters, the Potsdam Declaration was m5ore than fair in its surrender terms and in its warning of what would happen should those terms be rejected. The Japanese did not respond to the declaration.Additionally, bomb supporters argue that Japanese civilians were warned in advance through millions of leaflets dropped on Japanese cities by U.S. warplanes. In the months preceding the atomic bombings, some 63 million leaflets were dropped on 35 cities target for destruction by U.S. air forces. The Japanese people generally regarded the information on these leaflets as truthful, but anyone caught in possession of one was subject to arrest by the government. Some of the leaflets mentioned the terms of surrender offered in the Potsdam Declaration and urged the civilians to convince Japanese government to accept them—an unrealistic expectation to say the least.
Generally, the leaflets warned that the city was considered a target and urged the civilian populations to evacuate. However, no leaflets specifically warning about a new destructive weapon were dropped until afterHiroshima, and it’s also not clear where U.S. officials thought the entire urban population of 35 Japanese cities could viably relocate to even if they did read and heed the warnings.
Argument 4: The atom bomb was in retaliation for Japanese barbarism
Although it is perhaps not the most civilized of arguments, Americans with an “eye for an eye” philosophy of justice argue that the atomic bomb was payback for the undeniably brutal, barbaric, criminal conduct of the Japanese Army. Pumped up with their own version of master race theories, the Japanese military committed atrocities throughout Asia and the Pacific. They raped women, forced others to become sexual slaves, murdered civilians, and tortured and executed prisoners. Most famously, in a six-week period following the Japanese capture of the Chinese city of Nanjing, Japanese soldiers (and some civilians) went on a rampage. They murdered several hundred thousand unarmed civilians, and raped between 20,000-80,000 men, women and children.
With regards to Japanese conduct specific to Americans, there is the obvious “back-stabbing” aspect of the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That the Japanese government was still engaged in good faith diplomatic negotiations with the State Department at the very moment the attack was underway is a singular instance of barbaric behavior that bomb supporters point to as just cause for using the atom bomb. President Truman said as much when he made his August 6 radio broadcast to the nation about Hiroshima: “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.”
The infamous “Bataan Death March” provides further rationale for supporters of this argument. Despite having a presence in the Philippines since 1898 and a long-standingstrategic plan for a theoretical war with Japan, the Americans were caught unprepared for the Japanese invasion of the main island of Luzon. After retreating to the rugged Bataan peninsula and holding out for months, it became evident that America had no recourse but to abandon them to their fate. After General MacArthur removed his command to Australia under the cover of darkness, 78,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese, the largest surrender in American history.
Despite promises from Japanese commanders, the American prisoners were treated inhumanely. They were force-marched back up the peninsula toward trains and a POW camp beyond. Along the way they were beaten, deprived of food & water, tortured, buried alive, and executed. The episode became known at The Bataan Death March. Thousands perished along the way. And when the survivors reached their destination, Camp O’Donnell, many thousands more died from disease, starvation, and forced labor. Perhaps fueled by humiliation and a sense of helplessness, few events of WWII aroused such fury in Americans as did the Bataan Death March. To what extent it may have been a factor in President Truman’s decision is unknown, but it is frequently cited, along with Pearl Harbor, as justification for the payback given out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to those who started the war.
The remaining two arguments in support of the bomb are based on consideration of the unfortunate predicament facing President Truman as the man who inherited both the White House and years of war policy from the late President Roosevelt.
Argument 5: The Manhattan Project Expense Required Use of the Bomb
The Manhattan Project had been initiated by Roosevelt back in 1939, five years before Truman was asked to be on the Democratic ticket. By the time Roosevelt died in April 1945, almost 2 billion dollars of taxpayer money had been spent on the project. The Manhattan Project was the most expensive government project in history at that time. The President’s Chief of Staff, Admiral Leahy, said, “I know FDR would have used it in a minute to prove that he had not wasted $2 billion.” Bomb supporters argue that the pressure to honor the legacy of FDR, who had been in office for so long that many Americans could hardly remember anyone else ever being president, was surely enormous. The political consequences of such a waste of expenditures, once the public found out, would have been disastrous for the Democrats for decades to come. (The counter-argument, of course, is that fear of losing an election is no justification for using such a weapon).
Argument 6: Truman Inherited the War Policy of Bombing Cities
Likewise, the decision to intentionally target civilians, however morally questionable and distasteful, had begun under President Roosevelt, and it was not something that President Truman could realistically be expected to roll back. Precedents for bombing civilians began as early as 1932, when Japanese planes bombed Chapei, the Chinese sector of Shanghai. Italian forces bombed civilians as part of their conquest of Ethiopia in 1935-1936. Germany had first bombed civilians as part of an incursion into the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, President Roosevelt was troubled by the prospect of what seemed likely to be Axis strategy, and on the day of the German invasion of Poland, he wrote to the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Great Britain. Roosevelt said that these precedents for attacking civilians from the air, “has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.” He went on to describe such actions as “inhuman barbarism,” and appealed to the war-makers not to target civilian populations. But Germany bombed cities in Poland in 1939, destroyed the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1940, and infamously “blitzed” London, Coventry, and other British cities in the summer and fall of the 1940. The British retaliated by bombing German cities. Allied war leaders rationalized that to win the war, it was necessary to cripple the enemy’s capacity to make war. Since cities contained factories that produced war materials, and since civilians worked in factories, the population of cities (including the “workers’ dwellings” surrounding those factories) were legitimate military targets.
Impact of the Atomic Bomb
The atomic bombings were devastating. The surrender that they hoped to accomplish with the bombings came on 15 August 1945, six days after the bombing of Nagasaki. Thus the last member of the Axis had surrendered effectively ending World War 2. While the war was over, the doubts regarding the use of the bomb had just begun. The first people including servicemen and scientists that arrived at the bombing sites reported a landscape filled with ash and populated by people begging for death.
The atomic age had begun in one of the most ethically debated uses of technology in human history.
If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used
Was Japan already beaten before the August 1945 bombings?
About a week after V-J Day, I was one of a small group of scientists and engineers interrogating an intelligent, well-informed Japanese Army officer in Yokohama. We asked him what, in his opinion, would have been the next major move if the war had continued. He replied: "You would probably have tried to invade our homeland with a landing operation on Kyushu about November 1. I think the attack would have been made on such and such beaches."
"Could you have repelled this landing?" we asked, and he answered: "It would have been a very desperate fight, but I do not think we could have stopped you."
"What would have happened then?" we asked.
He replied: "We would have kept on fighting until all Japanese were killed, but we would not have been defeated," by which he meant that they would not have been disgraced by surrender.
It is easy now, after the event, to look back and say that Japan was already a beaten nation, and to ask what therefore was the justification for the use of the atomic bomb to kill so many thousands of helpless Japanese in this inhuman way furthermore, should we not better have kept it to ourselves as a secret weapon for future use, if necessary? This argument has been advanced often, but it seems to me utterly fallacious.
I had, perhaps, an unusual opportunity to know the pertinent facts from several angles, yet I was without responsibility for any of the decisions. I can therefore speak without doing so defensively. While my role in the atomic bomb development was a very minor one, I was a member of the group called together by Secretary of War Stimson to assist him in plans for its test, use, and subsequent handling. Then, shortly before Hiroshima, I became attached to General MacArthur in Manila, and lived for two months with his staff. In this way I learned something of the invasion plans and of the sincere conviction of these best-informed officers that a desperate and costly struggle was still ahead. Finally, I spent the first month after V-J Day in Japan, where I could ascertain at first hand both the physical and the psychological state of that country. Some of the Japanese whom I consulted were my scientific and personal friends of long standing.
From this background I believe, with complete conviction, that the use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds of thousands—perhaps several millions—of lives, both American and Japanese that without its use the war would have continued for many months that no one of good conscience knowing, as Secretary Stimson and the Chiefs of Staff did, what was probably ahead and what the atomic bomb might accomplish could have made any different decision. Let some of the facts speak for themselves.
Was the use of the atomic bomb inhuman? All war is inhuman. Here are some comparisons of the atomic bombing with conventional bombing. At Hiroshima the atomic bomb killed about 80,000 people, pulverized about five square miles, and wrecked an additional ten square miles of the city, with decreasing damage out to seven or eight miles from the center. At Nagasaki the fatal casualties were 45,000 and the area wrecked was considerably smaller than at Hiroshima because of the configuration of the city.
Compare this with the results of two B-29 incendiary raids over Tokyo. One of these raids killed about 125,000 people, the other nearly 100,000.
Of the 210 square miles of greater Tokyo, 85 square miles of the densest part was destroyed as completely, for all practical purposes, as were the centers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki about half the buildings were destroyed in the remaining 125 square miles the number of people driven homeless out of Tokyo was considerably larger than the population of greater Chicago. These figures are based on information given us in Tokyo and on a detailed study of the air reconnaissance maps. They may be somewhat in error but are certainly of the right order of magnitude.
Was Japan already beaten before the atomic bomb? The answer is certainly "yes" in the sense that the fortunes of war had turned against her. The answer is "no" in the sense that she was still fighting desperately and there was every reason to believe that she would continue to do so and this is the only answer that has any practical significance.
General MacArthur's staff anticipated about 50,000 American casualties and several times that number of Japanese casualties in the November 1 operation to establish the initial beachheads on Kyushu. After that they expected a far more costly struggle before the Japanese homeland was subdued. There was every reason to think that the Japanese would defend their homeland with even greater fanaticism than when they fought to the death on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. No American soldier who survived the bloody struggles on these islands has much sympathy with the view that battle with the Japanese was over as soon as it was clear that their ultimate situation was hopeless. No, there was every reason to expect a terrible struggle long after the point at which some people can now look back and say, "Japan was already beaten."
A month after our occupation I heard General MacArthur say that even then, if the Japanese government lost control over its people and the millions of former Japanese soldiers took to guerrilla warfare in the mountains, it could take a million American troops ten years to master the situation.
That this was not an impossibility is shown by the following fact, which I have not seen reported. We recall the long period of nearly three weeks between the Japanese offer to surrender and the actual surrender on September 2. This was needed in order to arrange details: of the surrender and occupation and to permit the Japanese government to prepare its people to accept the capitulation. It is not generally realized that there was threat of a revolt against the government, led by an Army group supported by the peasants, to seize control and continue the war. For several days it was touch and go as to whether the people would follow their government in surrender.
The bulk of the Japanese people did not consider themselves beaten in fact they believed they were winning in spite of the terrible punishment they had taken. They watched the paper balloons take off and float eastward in the wind, confident that these were carrying a terrible retribution to the United States in revenge for our air raids.
We gained a vivid insight into the state of knowledge and morale of the ordinary Japanese soldier from a young private who had served through the war in the Japanese Army. He had lived since babyhood in America, and had graduated in 1940 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This lad, thoroughly American in outlook, had gone with his family to visit relatives shortly after his graduation. They were caught in the mobilization and he was drafted into the Army.
This young Japanese told us that all his fellow soldiers believed that Japan was winning the war. To them the losses of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were parts of a grand strategy to lure the American forces closer and closer to the homeland, until they could be pounced upon and utterly annihilated. He himself had come to have some doubts as a result of various inconsistencies in official reports. Also he had seen the Ford assembly line in operation and knew that Japan could not match America in war production. But none of the soldiers had any inkling of the true situation until one night, at ten-thirty, his regiment was called to hear the reading of the surrender proclamation.
Did the atomic bomb bring about the end of the war? That it would do so was the calculated gamble and hope of Mr. Stimson, General Marshall, and their associates. The facts are these. On July 26, 1945, the Potsdam Ultimatum called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. On July 29 Premier Suzuki issued a statement, purportedly at a cabinet press conference, scorning as unworthy of official notice the surrender ultimatum, and emphasizing the increasing rate of Japanese aircraft production. Eight days later, on August 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the second was dropped on August 9 on Nagasaki on the following day, August 10, Japan declared its intention to surrender, and on August 14 accepted the Potsdam terms.
On the basis of these facts, I cannot believe that, without the atomic bomb, the surrender would have come without a great deal more of costly struggle and bloodshed.
Exactly what role the atomic bomb played will always allow some scope for conjecture. A survey has shown that it did not have much immediate effect on the common people far from the two bombed cities they knew little or nothing of it. The even more disastrous conventional bombing of Tokyo and other cities had not brought the people into the mood to surrender.
The evidence points to a combination of factors. (1) Some of the more informed and intelligent elements in Japanese official circles realized that they were fighting a losing battle and that complete destruction lay ahead if the war continued. These elements, however, were not powerful enough to sway the situation against the dominating Army organization, backed by the profiteering industrialists, the peasants, and the ignorant masses. (2) The atomic bomb introduced a dramatic new element into the situation, which strengthened the hands of those who sought peace and provided a face-saving argument for those who had hitherto advocated continued war. (3) When the second atomic bomb was dropped, it became clear that this was not an isolated weapon, but that there were others to follow. With dread prospect of a deluge of these terrible bombs and no possibility of preventing them, the argument for surrender was made convincing. This I believe to be the true picture of the effect of the atomic bomb in bringing the war to a sudden end, with Japan's unconditional surrender.
If the atomic bomb had not been used, evidence like that I have cited points to the practical certainty that there would have been many more months of death and destruction on an enormous scale. Also the early timing of its use was fortunate for a reason which could not have been anticipated. If the invasion plans had proceeded as scheduled, October, 1945, would have seen Okinawa covered with airplanes and its harbors crowded with landing craft poised for the attack. The typhoon which struck Okinawa in that month would have wrecked the invasion plans with a military disaster comparable to Pearl Harbor.
These are some of the facts which lead those who know them, and especially those who had to base decisions on them, to feel that there is much delusion and wishful thinking among those after-the-event strategists who now deplore the use of the atomic bomb on the ground that its use was inhuman or that it was unnecessary because Japan was already beaten. And it was not one atomic bomb, or two, which brought surrender it was the experience of what an atomic bomb will actually do to a community, plus the dread of many more, that was effective.
If 500 bombers could wreak such destruction on Tokyo, what will 500 bombers, each carrying an atomic bomb, do to the City of Tomorrow? It is this deadly prospect which now lends such force to the two basic policies of our nation on this subject: (1) We must strive generously and with all our ability to promote the United Nations' effort to assure future peace between nations but we must not lightly surrender the atomic bomb as a means for our own defense. (2) We should surrender or share it only when there is adopted an international plan to enforce peace in which we can have great confidence.