Should the United States Have Dropped the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Directions

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Should the United States Have Dropped the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Directions: 4 sources related to the dropping of the atomic bomb have been provided. Read these sources and answer the questions that follow.

Source 1 – President Truman’s Views of the Atomic Bomb in his Private Diary

We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

Anyway we "think" we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexico desert was startling - to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower 1/2 mile away and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful...

Q1: List any 2 important details from Truman’s diary.



Source 2 – A 1995 Seattle Newspaper Article Summarizes the Pros and Cons of Dropping the Bomb

Historians are still divided over whether it was necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II. Here is a summary of arguments on both sides:

Why the bomb was not needed, or unjustified:

  1. Japan was ready to call it quits anyway. More than 60 of its cities had been destroyed by conventional bombing, and the home islands were being blockaded by the American Navy.

  2. A demonstration explosion over Tokyo harbor would have convinced Japan's leaders to quit without killing many people.

  3. The bomb was used partly to justify the $2 billion spent on its development.

  4. The two cities were of limited military value. Civilians outnumbered troops in Hiroshima five or six to one.

  5. Even if Hiroshima was necessary, the U.S. did not give enough time for word to filter out of its devastation before bombing Nagasaki.

  6. Japanese lives were sacrificed simply for power politics between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Why the bomb was needed or justified:

  1. The Japanese had demonstrated near-fanatical resistance, fighting to almost the last man on Pacific islands, committing mass suicide on Saipan and unleashing kamikaze attacks at Okinawa. Fire bombing had killed 100,000 in Tokyo but did not lead to surrender. Only the atomic bomb could jolt Japan's leadership to surrender.

  2. With only two bombs ready (and a third on the way by late August 1945) it was too risky to "waste" one in a demonstration over an unpopulated area.

  3. An invasion of Japan would have caused casualties on both sides that could easily have exceeded the toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  4. The two targeted cities would have been firebombed anyway.

  5. Immediate use of the bomb convinced the world of its horror and prevented future use when nuclear stockpiles were far larger.

Q2. Which of the two sides above do you think has the stronger argument? Why?


Source 3 – First Hand Account of Injuries and Suffering at a Hospital Soon After the Bombing

Q3: Does the first hand account of the injuries and deaths caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs influence your view of the decision to drop the bombs? Why/why not?


Source 41995 essay arguing that the dropping of the atomic bombs were justified.

The 50th anniversary of the end of World War II led to a wide variety of commentaries about the war itself, but most especially about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two bombs killed and maimed a horrific number of people. It is not unreasonable to suppose that more than 125,000 people were killed and perhaps another 125,000 severely injured.

It has been common and appropriate to emphasize the human suffering caused by the bombs. What was always most moving were the hospital scenes of burned children who, one easily imagined, died miserable deaths a few months after the camera recorded their suffering.

However, we must also consider the casualties that would have borne on both sides had the bombs not been dropped. So what might it have been like not to drop the bombs? Very likely the war would have continued for some time. The bombing campaign of the mainland would have continued, perhaps for two or more months. The number of Japanese killed from these bombings alone would likely have equalled those killed by the two nuclear bombs.

But then there is the invasion of Kyushu (one of the 4 main islands of Japan) to consider. It was scheduled for early November 1945. In size and scope, that campaign was to be much larger than the costly fight for Okinawa. Okinawa cost the Japanese well over 100,000 lives, in effect their whole fighting force on the island. On the U.S. side more than 12,000 soldiers and sailors died, and more than 40,000 were wounded. But the Kyushu invasion would have involved a U.S. fighting force at least twice the size of the Okinawa force. The Japanese defenders on the mainland were likely five or six times more numerous compared to those on Okinawa. Further, the suicide attackers in the form of several thousand airplanes, hundreds of mini submarines and small boats were likely to be far more effective defending the homeland than Okinawa, simply because the American and other Allied ships would be right off shore rather than several hundred miles away.

U.S. casualties very likely would have reached more than 200,000 and, if things had not gone well, even 300,000. Japanese casualties no doubt would have been much higher both because of overwhelming U.S. and Allied fire power and the desperate way the Japanese were fighting.

But now, beyond these figures, one needs to imagine all those dead soldiers and civilians, and the lives they would have led had they not been cut short by a bomb or a bullet. One needs also to imagine the suffering of all their relatives and friends, and imagine, as well, the suffering of those who survived the battle minus appendages, sight and sanity. Only after one has done this and then compared all that suffering to all the suffering caused by the dropping of the nuclear bombs is one in a position to begin making a rational judgment about whether nuclear bombs should have been dropped.

Q4. Why does the author think the dropping of the atomic bombs may have been justified? Do you agree? Why/why not?


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