Is Total War Justified? The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb

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Is Total War Justified? The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb

BACKGROUND: Nazi scientists were known to be working on an atomic bomb early in World War II and US President Franklin Roosevelt was persuaded to push forward with the ultra-secret “Manhattan Project” that ultimately cost some $2.5 billion and took over three years to complete a functional weapon. By the time the US was ready to use the new bomb in July 1945, Nazi Germany had surrendered. Roosevelt died in April, 1945, and the new American President, Harry Truman, was faced with the final decision regarding if, when and how atomic bomb would be used.
FIRSTHAND ACCOUNT: Keiji Nakazawa was 11 when the atomic bomb was dropped. He has written several books about his experiences.

The atomic bomb exploded 600 meters above my hometown of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 A. I was a little over a kilometer away from the epicenter, standing at the back gate of Kanzaki Primary School, when I was hit by a terrible blast of wind and searing heat. I was six year old. I owe my life to the school’s concrete wall. If I hadn’t been standing in its shadow, I would have been burned to death instantly buy the 5,000 degree heat flash. Instead, I found myself in a living hell, the details of which remain etched in my brain as if it happened yesterday.

My mother, Kimiyo, was eight months pregnant. She was on the second floor balcony of our house, had just finished hanging up the wash to dry, and was turning to go back inside when the bomb exploded. The blast blew the entire balcony, with my mother on it, into the alley behind our house. Miraculously, my mother survived without a scratch.

The blast blew our house flat. The second floor collapsed onto the first, trapping my father my sister Eiko and my brother Susumu under it. My brother had been sitting in the front doorway, playing with a toy ship. His head was caught under the rafter over the doorway. He frantically kicked his legs and cried out for my mother. My father, trapped inside the house, begged my mother to do something. My sister had been crushed by a rafter and killed instantly.

My mother frantically tried to lift the rafters off them, but she wasn’t strong enough to do it by herself. She begged passersby to stop and help, but nobody would . In that atomic hell, people could only think of their own survival. They had no time for anyone else. My mother tried everything she could, but to no avail. Finally in despair she sat down in the doorway, clutching my brother and helplessly pushing at the rafter that was crushing him.

The fires that followed soon reached our house. It was quickly enveloped in flame. My father kept begging my mother to get some help,. My mother, half-mad with grief and desperation, sobbed that she would stay and die with them. But our next door neighbor found my mother just in time and dragged her away.

The shock sent my mother into labor, and she gave birth to a daughter by the side of the road that day. She named the daughter Tomoko. But Tomoko died only four months later – perhaps from malnutrition, perhaps from radiation sickness, we didn’t know.

After escaping the flames near the school, I found my mother on the side of the road with her newborn baby. Together we sat and watched the scenes of hell unfolding around us.

In 1966, after seven years of illness, my mother died in the A-Bomb victim’s hospital in Hiroshima. When I went to the crematorium to collect her ashes, I was shocked. There were no bones left in my mothers’ ashes, as there normally are. Radioactive cesium from the bomb had eaten away at her bones to the point that they disintegrated. The bomb had deprived me of my mothers’ bones. I was overcome with rage. I vowed I would never forgive the Japanese Militarists who started the war, nor the Americans who so casually dropped the bomb on us…..
The documents below are excerpts from some of the information President Truman had to consider when making the final decision on whether or not to use the bomb against Japan.
Document A: Memorandum from J.R. Oppenheimer to Brigadier General Farrell, May 11, 1945
“The bomb under consideration differs from normal explosive bombs in that its detonation involves the production of radiation and of radioactive substances.

1. The active material of the bomb itself is toxic. There is about 109as much toxic material initially in the bomb itself as is needed for a single lethal dose.

2. During the detonation, radiations are emitted which (unless personnel is shielded) are expected to be injurious within a radius of a mile and lethal within a radius of about six-tenths of a mile.

3. After detonation, highly radioactive materials are produced. The activity decreases inversely with the time. One second after detonation there will be the equivalent of about 1012 curies [a unit of radioactivity]. After a day this will fall to about 10 million curries.

Document B: June 6, 1945 Secretary of War Henry Stimson Diary Entry

“I told him [President Truman] that I was busy considering our conduct of the war against Japan and I told him how I was trying to hold the Air Force down to precision bombing [of military/industrial targets, rather than civilians] but that with the Japanese method of scattering its manufacture within civilian areas it was rather difficult to prevent area bombing. I told him I was anxious about this feature of the war for two reasons: first, because I did not want to have the United States get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities; and second, I was a little fearful that before we could get ready, the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength.”

Document C: Memorandum by scientist J.R. Oppenheimer to Pres. Truman, "Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons," June 16, 1945

“You have asked us to comment on the initial use of the new weapon… The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender. Those who advocate a purely technical demonstration would wish to outlaw the use of atomic weapons, and have feared that if we use the weapons now our position in future negotiations will be prejudiced. Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use, and believe that such use will improve the international prospects, in that they are more concerned with the prevention of war than with the elimination of this specific weapon. We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.”


“2. Over-all situation. Sea and air operations have virtually destroyed the capability of the Japanese naval and air forces for other than suicide operations against our forces…The incendiary [fire] bombing attack of Japanese cities has had a profound psychological and economic effect on the Japanese. The complete destruction of major areas in all of the important war production centers is placing a tremendous strain upon residual economy and producing a chaotic condition in administration and control. . .

3. Economic Situation. The Japanese economic position has deteriorated greatly. . . The Japanese are so short of aviation fuel that orthodox air operations of a sustained nature in any significant force are improbable…

4. Armed Forces. a. Ground. The ground component of the Japanese armed forces remains Japan’s greatest military asset. There are at present some 110 infantry and 4 armored divisions in the Japanese Army with a total strength of about 4,600,000 men. b. Naval. The Japanese navy has been reduced in size to about the equivalent of one small and unbalanced task force. With the exception of two damaged cruisers, one destroyer, and some submarines in Singapore area, remaining battle ships, carriers, and cruisers appear to be immobilized in home waters.

5. Defense of Japan.  The defense of the main islands of Japan is receiving and will continue to receive the primary attention of the Japanese. We estimate that by late 1945 there will be available in the Japanese Home Islands troops totaling over 2,000,000 men. The Japanese also will continue development of the “National Volunteer Army” and may form combat home defense units to supplement their regular armed forces.  Fanatical resistance will be offered in the defense of any of the Home Islands. .

10. Political Situation. . . .  The Japanese still find unconditional surrender unacceptable, but they are becoming increasingly desirous of a compromise.  Fully aware of the growing weakness of Japan’s position, her leaders will make desperate attempts to keep the Soviet Union at least neutral…

Conclusions…Although individual Japanese willingly sacrifice themselves in the service of the nation, we doubt that the nation as a whole is predisposed toward national suicide…They would probably prefer national survival, even through surrender, to virtual extinction. The Japanese believe, however, that unconditional surrender would be the equivalent of national extinction. There are as yet no indications that the Japanese are ready to accept such terms…the loss of prestige entailed by the acceptance of “unconditional surrender” are most revolting to the current Japanese leaders.

Assignment #5 – Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb Documents & Paragraph

Summary of Document

(What Does Document Say)

Document Analysis

(What Do you Think About What Document is Saying)






On back: Consider the evidence in the documents as well as what you have learned about World War II and answer this question in a paragraph with a topic sentence, evidence and analysis:
The authorization of the use of the atomic bomb against Japan by President Truman was appropriate.

Agree, Disagree or Modify this statement.

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