Seventy years ago, the US became the first and only nation to use a nuclear weapon in war At least nine countries now have nuclear weapons, but the United States remains the only country that actually used an atomic bomb against an enemy. On Aug. 6, 1945, the US dropped an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima; three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Six days later, on Aug. 15, Japan announced it would surrender, effectively ending World War II. But the decision to use this devastating weapon remains controversial.
Analyzing the Arguments
Dropping the atomic bomb was necessary to end the war with Japan at the earliest possible moment. By the early summer of 1945, Japanese leaders knew they couldn’t win. But they fought on in hopes of securing better surrender terms.
President Harry S. Truman recognized that he had several options to convince Japan to end the war: 1) intensifying the already-heavy bombing of Japanese cities; 2) waiting for the Soviet Union, an ally in defeating Germany, to join the war against Japan; 3) telling Japan that the US would allow Emperor Hirohito to remain on his throne after the war; and 4) invading Japan with ground troops.
But there was no guarantee that any of these options, or a combination of them, would force the Japanese to surrender quickly, and each one posed serious military, political, and diplomatic risks. Invading Japan may have been the least uncertain militarily, but it carried the highest price: More than 100,000 Americans had already died fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, and an invasion was certain to be very costly in American lives. And for Truman, any number of American lives that could be saved by using the bomb would be well worth it.
When the atomic bomb became available in July 1945, it was the most promising way to end the war as soon as possible and without the drawbacks of the other options.
The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki persuaded Emperor Hirohito, who had wavered for weeks, that the war must end immediately. Combined with the Soviet Union’s entry into conflict after Hiroshima, the atom bombs brought about Japan’s surrender within a few days.
The bomb was necessary to accomplish Truman’s primary objectives of forcing a prompt Japanese surrender and saving American lives, perhaps many thousands of them.
J. Samuel Walker
Author, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan When General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the Supreme Allied Commander, was informed by the US Secretary of War that the atomic bomb was going to be used, he later recalled saying it was unnecessary because Japan was already largely defeated. Eisenhower said the bomb was “no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.” After the war, as president of the United States (1953-1961), he even stated publicly: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
Before the bomb was used, American intelligence officials believed the war would likely end when two things happened: When the US let Japan know the emperor could remain as a figurehead, and when the Soviet army attacked. The US did tell Japan the emperor could remain on his throne as part of a surrender, and the Soviets declared war, as agreed, on August 8.
But American officials chose not to test whether this intelligence was correct. For logistical reasons, an invasion of Japan couldn’t begin for another three months, so the US could have waited to see if Japan would surrender before dropping the atomic bombs. Instead, Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, and Nagasaki on August 9.
Hiroshima was of only marginal value as a military target, which is why it hadn’t already been a target of conventional bombings, and it was full of women, children, and old people, since most of the men had left to fight the war.
Many top World War II military leaders are on record agreeing with Eisenhower that using the atomic bomb was unnecessary. Some felt it was deeply immoral. Even Admiral Leahy, President Truman’s chief of staff, later called the bomb a “barbarous weapon” that should not have been used. Leahy wrote, “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender...In being the first to use it, we...adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Gar Alperovitz
American lives because the Japanese would not have given up. The U.S.
bombings burned out Japanese towns and rivers but were necessary to defeat the
Japanese and to save American lives. Q.: Where were you when the Bombs were dropped?
J.M.: I was at sea when the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in
August of ’45. Emperor Hirohito gave up after the second bomb was dropped. A
treaty was signed on September 2, 1945. After the treaty was signed, half of my
division flew in to the south of Tokyo and then went on to Tokyo. The
paratroopers went in North of Tokyo. My first 60 days were spent in Niigata,
Japan which we took over. McDermott, Jack. Interview. 26, November, 2010. BY THE NUMBERS 150,000-246,000: Estimated number of people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including those
killed instantly and those who died of radiation sickness soon after.
111,606: Number of US troops killed or missing in the Pacific theater of WWII.
137,582: Number of people killed in the 65 conventional bombing raids on Tokyo between Dec.
1944 and Aug. 1945
Sources: Radiation Effects Research Foundation Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus; Pacific War Online Encyclopedia ASSIGNMENT
Amid the discussion is one basic question: Should the US have dropped the atom bomb?After having read these pieces write an argument (contains an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs making your arguments and a conclusion) that expresses your views on whether or not you believe the US should have dropped the atomic bomb. Be sure to use your Evidence to explanation ratio (at least 1:2).