Robert E. Lee Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified?

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Robert E. Lee

Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified?

Scott Meholick

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Table of Contents

  1. Cover Page

  2. Table of Contents Page

  3. Introduction


Against Bombing

Other Possibilities 4-6

Operation Downfall 7

Success of Bombings 7-8

U.S. Violence 8-9

For Bombing

Death of F.D.R. 10

Competition from Foreign Countries 9-14

Bibliography 15


Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified?
The period of time surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was filled with much turmoil and political disputes. Following the end of war in Eastern Europe, many political decisions were in the works regarding the division of land and power. The U.S.S.R., a communist nation, was attempting to obtain land and power in countries such as Hungary, Bosnia, and Turkey. While the U.S.S.R. was an ally in the war versus Germany, intrinsic differences led many leaders in the United States Government to believe that Conflict with the rising superpower was unavoidable. During these negotiations, the war in Japan raged on. An agreement was reached at the Yalta that the Soviets would join the war against Japan. However, before the U.S.S.R. could start a second front against the Japanese, the United States dropped the Atomic Bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bomb caused thousands of deaths, and caused millions of dollars worth of damage. While the war was brought to a quick end, was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified?


The Dropping of the Bombs Wasn’t Justified

World War II was one of the most destructive wars ever fought, crippling its victims mentally and physically. The development of the bomb started out as a competition between the United States and Germany, each nation attempting to obtain the most powerful weapon of the time period. The Manhattan Project was a secret military project tasked with turning radioactive material into a weapon. This project, which employed 140,000 people and cost $2,000,000,000, led to the production of the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Levering 210). This was a large amount of money that was spent that could have been utilized in other diplomatic situations, in order to improve relations with the Japanese. While the war was taxing, there was a definite end in sight. There were multiple options available for forcing a Japanese surrender. An invasion of the Japanese mainland had been planned, but following the successful test of the atomic bombs, the U.S. opted for a quicker way out of the war. Another key factor of the time period was the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his succession by Harry Truman. Franklin Roosevelt had been satisfied with making deals with the U.S.S.R, sacrificing many ideals that the United States felt were key. The change in presidency led to a change in American foreign policy. This change included the refusal to negotiate with the Soviet Union (Falk 762). Before the bombs were dropped on Japan, several deals were in the works regarding Germany. The borders of Poland were being redrawn to give the U.S.S.R. more territory, but from these negotiations arose many conflicts. The death of Roosevelt and Truman’s takeover as president represented a change. While the United States and the U.S.S.R. attempted to stay Allies, there were intrinsic differences in worldviews, setting the stage for future confrontation.

Before the bombs were dropped, a major foresight occurred. The United States misinterpreted the Japanese response to the Potsdam Ultimatum. The Ultimatum stated that the Japanese must surrender immediately or face “death from above”. The Japanese responded to this with a single word, “Mokaustsu”. The message was interpreted in Washington D.C. to mean “treat with contempt” rather than the actual meaning which is “pending further review”. This lack of communication led the United States to drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan, ending the war before the Japanese could provide a proper response to the United States’ order. (Correll 12).

There has been much speculation about the developments surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was stated in an official U.S. Government report that “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”. You would wonder why a bomb that inflicted such damage to the general public would be used. The Japanese Motto of the time period was “100 Million will die for the emperor”, so it can be inferred that if the United States invaded the main land, many civilians would end up committing suicide rather than be defeated by the United States. This rash of suicides would portray the United States as a country willing to sacrifice civilians in order to The death of the few is better than the death of many. The power of the atomic bomb gave any country holding it an upper hand in world policy for years to come. With the United States and Great Britain the only two powers with a definite understanding of the atomic bomb, the balance of power was shifted to two major capitalist countries.

The intrinsic differences between the U.S. and Soviets lead to a dysfunctional relationship. Truman found out about the first successful test of the Atomic Bomb during the Potsdam conference, which took place to set guidelines for post World War II Germany. It was reported that this test gave Truman “a visible boost of confidence”.(Levering 124). While the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was clearly an attack on Japan, the possibility exists that Truman approved the strike on these Japanese cities in order to do one thing: prove a point to the U.S.S.R. that the United States was the major world power. Norman Cousins wrote of his conversations with Douglas MacArthur, "When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor." (Cousins 66). Why would the General in charge of overseeing nearly all military action in the pacific go without say? Apparently, “MacArthur had stated his displeasure with the efforts to create an Atomic Weapon” (Edmondson 230).

Operation Downfall

The alternative to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a land invasion of Japan called Operation Downfall. This invasion would begin with the overthrow of the Kanto Plain and end with the Invasion of Honshu, an island near Tokyo. However, there were very few possible routes into Japan that were suitable for an invasion. This made the invasion plans very obvious to the Japanese. While the casualty predictions were high, it would give the Allies control over who ended up dying. Yet another option was to continue the bombing runs that had decimated the majority of Tokyo. Yet Truman did not have much compassion for the residents of Tokyo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. He said “The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true". While it is unlikely that Truman would do so, these messages have racial undertones which could lead us to believe that Truman used the bomb as a method of extermination, due to his belief that the Japanese were somehow less deserving of life than the Americans.

Success of Bombings

Bombing runs became increasingly popular in the Pacific. These runs lead to nearly 100,000 deaths and destroyed nearly 16km of the most densely populated city in the world. Other U.S. military officers who disagreed with the necessity of the bombings include General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (the Chief of Staff to the President), Brigadier General Carter Clarke (the military intelligence officer who prepared intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials) and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. With so many military leaders opposed to the bombings, there must have been a reason other than a quick defeat of the Japanese. While there may be many opinions weather or not the attack was justified morally, there must be legal justifications as well to the attack. In May of 1955, 5 individuals sued the Japanese Government for damages suffered in the bombing. After 8 years of deliberation, the Japanese Courts ruled that the “United States had violated international law by dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. (Falk, Richard 2) If the United States was in violation of international law by bombing the Japanese, repercussions should be enforced. Dropping the atomic bomb was destructive to both cities, but the United States chose not to warn the civilians of Japan. The failure to warn the citizens of Japan could be accredited to the belief that the U.S. Government used the fear of the Japanese people to force the government into surrender. The success of the bombing raids would lead you to question why would there be a need of Nuclear Warfare? One could argue that less planes would be needed to drop a single nuke, but according to Louis Morton, “the size of the bombing fleet matched that of the size during attacks on Tokyo” (Morton 350).

U.S. Violence

The dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political reasons”. It seems that the United States acted as a terrorist unit by deciding to drop the bombs. In The Politics of Terrorism by Michael Stohl, he writes that “terror coercive of government is terrorism indeed”. The way that the United States went about achieving the surrender of the Japanese went totally against our moral standpoint. Attempting to justify the bombing, as an attempt to end the war quickly is the same thing as using force to effect the decisions of the Japanese. The

There had always been a code of conduct with the Japanese people: Death before dishonor. The Japanese motto of the time period “100 Million will die for the emperor” (Weingartner, 56) led the United States to believe that if a land invasion began, there would be mass suicide among the Japanese people. The solders that the United States face routinely chose suicide, or fighting to their death over surrender. It is possible that the leaders of the United States chose the bombing of the Japanese cities over the eventual overtaking of the Japanese by land invasion to limit the number of civilian deaths. The Japanese code of bushido—"the way of the warrior"—was deeply ingrained. The concept of Yamato-damashii equipped each soldier with a strict code: never be captured, never break down, and never surrender. Surrender was dishonorable. Each soldier was trained to fight to the death and was expected to die before suffering dishonor. Defeated Japanese leaders preferred to take their own lives in the painful samurai ritual of seppuku (called hara kiri in the West). Warriors who surrendered were not deemed worthy of regard or respect."  (Correll, John 190). This perception of respect could lead one to believe that the United States acted out of respect when dropping the Atomic Bomb on the Japanese, giving the soldiers a honorable, quick death.

Competition from the Foreign Countries

The final argument about justifying the use of the bomb was the American belief that the Japanese were close to building an Atomic bomb of their own. David Snell wrote that during the time period, the position that Japan had a nuclear program is “refuted by historians, who have found that the Japanese nuclear missile program was undeveloped, even when compared to the Germany Nuclear Program” It is always possible that the United States did not know about the absence of the Japanese Nuclear Program, but the use of spy planes allowed for much reconnaissance to be completed.

While the possibility exists that the bombing was not justified, the rising pressure from the Soviet Union’s attempt to gain more power in Eastern Europe forced the United States to make a display of their power: by bombing Japan with an awesome new weapon. Following the dropping of the bomb, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union begins to change. It was written that the explosion of the Fat Man, the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, “Shattered many of Stalin’s previous thoughts and calculations” (Levering 104). While the attacks on the Japanese may have created much death and destruction, the bombs dissuaded the U.S.S.R from pursuing territories and rivers that had been in dispute. “The first victim was the Soviet Perception of the United States as a remote, relatively harmless giant that would be unable to present a real threat to Soviet security and would be moreover likely to withdraw to its traditional sphere of influence after the war” (Levering 104). Prior to the bombing, the U.S. had a reputation for being isolationist, therefore not playing a large role in developing worldviews. However, after the use of the bomb, the United States could retreat back into their old ways and still be able to influence views due to the new weapon. The atomic bomb is a weapon that drove fear into the hearts of many. The process of obtaining such a large amount of energy such as what was used in the bomb, was not understood by many. This lack of knowledge allowed the United States to gain control over the world due to their superior power.

Prior to the dropping of the atomic bomb, the U.S.S.R. had very ambitious goals. They wished to gain “some control over the Turkish straits; internationalize the Kiel Canal; maintain a Soviet presence in the northern part of Iran in order to protect the Caucasus border and to open up lines of communication to the Persian Gulf; and secure trusteeships over the Dodecanese Islands, Tripolitania (Libya), Somalia, Eretria, and even Palestine” (Levering 91). If the Soviet’s had been able to take control over this much territory in African nations, then the United States would have had trouble controlling them else. The Atomic Bomb was necessary to keep the Russians from occupying foreign countries against the will of the United States.

Death of F.D.R.

The death of Franklin D. Roosevelt was key in the role the Atom bomb played. Roosevelt had adopted a policy when dealing with the Soviet Union that was similar to that of a little brother. A little brother typically complains about not getting his way, only to give into the older sibling due to pressure or threat of violence. Roosevelt took a path which resulted in less confrontational moments with Stalin, but bent on several key points which the U.S. held key. Stalin recognized that Roosevelt’s death “was a serious blow to Soviet calculations”. It was said that “Despite Stalin’s lingering mistrust of Roosevelt, the American president was a favorite and most reliable Western Partner, as well as a personal guarantor of what the continuation in Moscow called the Roosevelt trend in foreign policy, a policy of cooperation with the Soviet Union based on recognition, and respect for Soviet Security needs” (Levering 101). This policy of understanding ended, as Truman came into power. Truman had been quoted saying that the “United States would help whoever was losing in the war”. While this quote may have been misguided, it haunted the Soviet view of the new president. The quote was misguided because it was in taken out of context, while Truman had just previously denounced Hitler and his actions in Europe. While the quote was taken out of context, the soviet fears were well founded as Stalin verbally reprimanded Molotov, a soviet leader, for the political situation that was on going in Poland. He reprimanded him for surrendering to many Soviet objectives to Truman due to the threat of the atomic warfare. The bomb shook the apprehensions that were assigned to the United States that they were a large, docile country that would not act aggressively towards others. It could be said that the effect the dropping of the bomb had on the Soviet-U.S. relationship was not worth the pain and suffering that the Japanese civilians suffered, but the actions of the United States and Great Brittan saved the lives of countless civilians throughout Eastern Europe. It did this by possibly preventing another war between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the years following World War II. In the first summit with the “Big Three”, the negations were tensely disputed at Potsdam. Then Harry Truman received a phone call reporting the successful test of the Atomic Bomb and many things changed. Truman became much more confident in his positions on major issues such as the post war agreements on the Turkish Straits and on reparations in Germany. He even had the audacity to drop a hint to Stalin, telling him how he currently had a “very powerful weapon”. This shows that the even possession of the bomb allowed the United States to pursue its ideals. The argument comes down the value of life, and as President of the United Status, Harry Truman had a duty to protect the citizens from forms of evil. The mounting evils in Moscow and the war in the Pacific both created situations that the bomb could solve.

Another major reason the bombing was justified was the amount of lives the bombs saved. The war in the Pacific had been raging for four years, and countless American lives had been lost. Yet the United States was presented with one alternative to a land invasion. Military Projections had but U.S. loss of life at around 250,000 people if Operation Downfall took place. Also, the predicted loss of life off Japanese was around 1,000,000 people. While the death toll from Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems large, the damage incurred could have been much worse. The Japanese had the largest civilian militia in the world, which they used to maintain the perception of innocence but were actually a fighting force in them. The damage that the atomic bomb left was still not as destructive as the bombing raids that Tokyo suffered. The citizens of Tokyo were firebombed, killing as many as 100,000 people. The Atomic Bomb was much better option, and provided the quickest and least deadly option to end the war. Most people were upset that the atomic bomb was so gruesome. While the bomb was extraordinarily harmful for humans, it provided the Japanese an excuse to end the war.

While the entire process of ending World War 2 was a messy and strained ordeal, the decision to use and atomic bomb to attack the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified due the positive repercussions it had on the United States, Britain, and the other Eastern and Pacific nations that could have been effected by a Soviet or Japanese rule. While the bomb killed many “innocent” civilians, the bomb allowed the United States to pursue diplomatic interests in other parts of the world. The use of the bomb showed the Soviet Union that the United States was a force to be reckoned with and was not the pushover country they were assumed to be. Also, the bomb saved the lives of many Japanese and the lives of even more U.S. soldiers. The use of the bomb was correct and justified.

With so much political turmoil in Eastern Europe, it is possible that the bombings were meant to dissuade the Soviet Union from pursing further territory in Europe. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified due to the political pressure it forced upon the Soviet Union and the number of U.S. lives it saved. The efforts of the United States lead to a quick, and controlled end to the war, ultimately benefitting the United States.


Morton, Louis. "THE DECISION TO USE THE ATOMIC BOMB." Foreign Affairs 35.2 (1957): 334-353. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 2 June 2011.

Falk, Richard A. "The Shimoda Case: A Legal Appraisal of the Atomic Attacks Upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The American Journal of International Law 2nd ser. 59.4 (1965): 759-93. Web.

United States. United States Government Printing Office. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, Containing the Public Messages. Washington D.C., 1961. Web. Pg. 212
Weingartner, James J. "Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941-1945." Pacific Historical Review Vol. 61.1 (1992): 53-67. Web.
United States. U.S. Airforce. The Smithsonian and the Enola Gay. By John T. Corell. Web.
Levering, Ralph B., Vladimir O. Pechatov, and C. Earl Edmondson. The Origins of the Cold War. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. Print.
Cousins, Norman. The Pathology of Power. New York, NY: Penguin, 1987. 60-71. Print.

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