On August 6 and August 9, 1945, the world saw the first and only usage of atomic weaponry in the history of the world. President Truman said that his decision to use the bomb was for the chief purpose of ending WWII, the deadliest war in human history, as quickly as possible. Multiple warnings were given to Japan about this new weapon in the hope that they would surrender.
Japan did not heed these warnings before or even after the dropping of the first bomb on the city of Hiroshima. An invasion of Japan, which was planned for the spring of 1946, would cost an estimated 500,000 American lives and in the event of such an invasion, it was learned that plans dated August 1944, for the murder of more than 100,000 Allied POWs would be carried out. (Goodwin, 2003 pg.
338) However, the major scientists of the day who worked on the project as well as the chief Allied commanders in the field, believed that the use of the bomb was unnecessary as Japan was planning to surrender in the immediate future without the influence of the bomb and that further usage of atomic bombs, was not only unnecessary but immoral and constituted a war crime as it was a crime against humanity. The atomic bomb started with the Manhattan Project.
This was the name given to the highly classified, top secret project in order to beat the Germans to have the first atomic bomb in the history of the world. The project was initially started by refugee European scientists, most notably, Albert Einstein, who in a letter to President Roosevelt in the spring of 1939, warned that the Germans were aggressively seeking out the use of such a bomb and that the atomic age, whether the world liked it or not, was upon us and it would behoove the United States if they were the first ones with this technology and not the Axis powers.
This letter sparked what would become the largest and most costly development research project of its time. During World War II, the number of American deaths would exceed 400,000. This was nothing in comparison to the more than the seventeen million deaths that were suffered by the Soviet Union; America’s contentious ally. This resulted in the aggressive pursuit of the war in which any means necessary would be used in order to end the war as quickly as possible and decrease the number of American deaths.
It was also necessary that the Manhattan Project be kept top secret. The project was so top secret that Vice President Harry Truman did not know of its plans until he secured the White House at the death of President Roosevelt in April of 1945. Only then did President Truman learn and then approve the further testing and continuation of the plan. The atomic bomb was World War II version of chemical warfare, except that it was on a much larger scale. Therefore, a greater degree of responsibility must be attached to its possible use in war.
As a result, President Truman commissioned a group of prominent citizens and respected scientists to advise the President on the possible use of the atomic bomb. U. S. Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, concluded the report by saying: “Our great task is to bring this war to a prompt and successful conclusion. ”(Lamplier 2006) However, there were other thoughts on the subject. Robert Oppenheimer said that the bomb could kill 20,000 people and that the target should be a military and not a civilian target. Furthermore, Dr.
Arthur Compton, a scientist, argued that the bomb should be dropped in a remote area of Japan where there was known to be a sparse population so that minimal life would be lost but that Japan could see first hand, the destruction of the bomb and be prompted to surrender. This suggestion was soon dismissed as it would be disadvantageous if Japan was prompted of the attack before it happened and the plane would be shot down or if the bomb was dropped and did not detonate, this would be a major problem as future attempts to warn the Japanese would fall on unbelieving ears.
Also, there was a real possibility that the bomb would not work as this was a new invention with only one test explosion under its belt. “In July of 1945, President Truman reexamined the use of the bomb and in the end, agreed that the best thing to do, in order to bring a prompt end to the war, would be to utilize the bomb’s destructive force and appeal for intimidation in order to bring the war to an end. ” (McCullough, 2005 pg. 188) The stage was set for the world’s only use of this new and terrible weapon.
On July 26, 1945 President Truman and other Allied leaders outlined their conditions for surrender in what would be called the Potsdam Declaration. It said: “The full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forced and just as inevitably, the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland… We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forced, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action.
The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction. ” (Rhodes, 1985 pg. 129) This message would be rebroadcast over Japanese radio as well as printed on thousands of leaflets that were dropped over Japan. This did not yield the response that the Allied Forces had hoped for and it was ignored. Emperor Hirohito was yet to receive word that the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan, or were ever going to and therefore, did not feel the necessity to accept the possibility of surrender. The bombings would have to continue as planned.
Upon waiting for ideal weather temperatures, a B-29 named the Enola Gay after one of the pilot’s mother, set off for their target of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Six hours after the flight began, the B-29 and its captain, Paul Tibbits, came upon their target and the bomb, nicknamed ‘Little Boy” for the shape of the bomb was dropped on the unsuspecting city. The bomb contained over 130 pounds of the highly explosive uranium-235 and even though only 1% of that would be efficiently used in the drop, the bomb performed as expected. (Meyers, 2001 pg.
77) The bomb detonated 600 meters above the ground and had a blast equal to 13 kilotons in which 90,000 people were instantly killed. It is also likely that hundreds of Allied Prisoners of War and 2,000 Japanese Americans present before the war in which they were attending school overseas and were unable to leave once the war broke out, died in the blast as well. Also, the number of deaths needs to be grouped into two main categories: those that died at the initial blast and those that lingered in agony for days or even weeks before the succumbed to the high levels of radiation that they had been exposed to as a result of the blast.
90% of the buildings in Hiroshima were leveled to the ground and fires which stretched for 11 square miles were also seen as a result of the bombing. (Nichols, 1985. 229) A new and most lethal weapon had been unleashed for the first time upon a city. The destruction was complete but was still not enough to compel Japan to surrender. Plans for a second atomic bomb had been already planned for, in the event that it would be needed. Plans were now made for the usage of this second bomb and its dropping over Nagasaki.
Despite the total destruction of the bomb, a second one was needed as the first did not compel Japan to surrender. President Truman declared: “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth. ” (McCullough, 2005 pg. 219) On August 8th, 1945, thousands of additional leaflets were dropped and warnings were given to Japan. As a result of Japan’s refusal to surrender, a second bomb was dropped over the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
This bombing included more than 14 lbs of plutonium 239 and which exploded more than 430 meters above the ground. This cased winds of more than 600 mph and had the power of 21 kilotons of TNT. The estimated heat that the bomb caused was more than 7000 F and an estimated 80,000 people were killed with another 60,000 injured; many of whom would die from their injuries in the coming weeks and months. (Lamplier, 2006) There still was no sign of Japan’s surrender and the United States planned for more bombings.
The debate over America’s use of the atomic bomb has increased as the years continued. There is a great deal of evidence, both for and against the use of the atomic bomb. It was later learned by the public, that a mass invasion of Japan was scheduled in March of 1946 in a final attempt to end the war. There is no way of being able to accurately calculate the number of casualties but one estimate from Secretary of State James Byrnes, believed that 500,000 American lives would be lost as well as hundred of thousands Japanese lives as well if an invasion were to occur.
(Lamplier, 2006) An initial wave of American forces, it was estimated, would yield close to 100,000 deaths and with future waves of invasion forces, three to four times that number would be seen it was generally believed. Also, there has been a political stalemate within Japan between the military and the civilian forces over the possibility of surrender. The civilian forces had been seeking a way in which to obtain a favorable and honorable surrender but this was seen as out of the question among the military generals.
Also, after the war, it was learned that plans by Japanese forces to murder more than 100,000 Allied POWs, if an invasion were to occur, helped the cause of justifying the use of the atomic bomb in order to avoid an invasion and end the war as quickly as possible, thus saving hundreds of thousands of American lives as well as Japanese lives in the process. However, there has been in the decades after the war, an increasing number of detractors who have said that the usage of the atomic bomb was unnecessary and that more peaceful measures could have been used in order to bring the war to a close.
One of the scientists, Leo Szilard, wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939, about the morality of the bomb. It seemed as a paradox that many of the scientists, who worked on the Manhattan project, did not advocate the usage of the bomb. In the letter, it was believed that had Germany used the bomb of the United States, the US would almost certainly decry this action as being representative of war crimes. Therefore, the same would have to be believed had America dropped such a bomb on their enemies.
The letter reads as such: “Suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of the atomic bombs on cities as war crimes, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them? ” (Goodwin, 2003 pg. 225) However such beliefs have now come under intense scrutiny as to date, the droppings of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki still stand as the world’s only use of atomic weaponry upon the world.
There were further scientific detractors from the use of the bomb. In March 1945, scientist Dr. James Franck questioned the use of the bomb in relation to public opinion towards the United States on a world wide basis. “If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons. ” (Meyers 2001 pg. 227)
Further backlash against the use of the bomb was seen by the Federal Council of Churches in March 1946 in which a joint statement read: “As American Christians, we are deeply penitent for the irresponsible use already made of the atomic bomb. ” However, at that time, there were no implications against President Truman concerning possible political motivations until after he had left office in 1953. Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, believed that the President was politically motivated in his use of the bombs.
“He knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species. It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity” The usage of the atomic bombs, resulted in many believing that the world, as the result of American usage of the bombs, had pushed the world to the point of no return in the usage of atomic weaponry. “ (Goodwin, 2005 pg. 255) It was then implied that the United States was motivated by the desire to scare the Soviet Union with their new invention.
Ever since the meting at Yalta in which President Roosevelt, Joseph Stain and Winston Churchill met in order to carve out a post war Europe and what the future of the world would represent, there had been a tremendous amount of suspicion towards the Soviet Union and their communist ideas. At the Yalta Conference, President Roosevelt erroneously believed that he and the United States could keep the Soviet Union in check. This was an assumption which proved to be incorrect to an alarming degree, the closer the Allies got to realizing victory in World War II.
By the summer of 1945, it was obvious to all, that the end of WWII would only signal the beginning of a new war between the Soviet Union and the United States. At that time, nobody knew how that war would end as the Soviet Union, despite their heavy losses in WWII, was an even match with the United States. The only thing which the United States had was the atomic bomb and it could not have been seen than in only four short years after the end of the war, The Soviet Union would have an atomic bomb of their own.
This further increased the number of detractors of the use of the atomic bomb and its suspected use towards intimidating the Soviet Union with its use on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also, two of the most famous and powerful American generals during the war, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, both disagreed with the use of the bomb. Eisenhower, in his memoir The White House Years, commented on the use of the bomb.
“During the recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him (Secretary of War Stinson) my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that our dropping of the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking the world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. ” (Eisenhower, 2003 pg 77) Eisenhower was not alone. Other generals also believed that the dropping of the bomb was unnecessary.
Douglas MacArthur, who publicly hated Truman said that he thought that such an event was unnecessary and later said: “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. ” (Tarver, 2004) Also, by President Truman not dropping the bomb when he had the chance to, upon the American public learning of this, would have sealed Truman’s political future as well as the political future of the Democratic Party for years to come, regardless of an Allied victory soon after August 1945.
The American public had endured three and a half years of a deadly war, not seen in measure since the Civil War and the American public had been largely in favor of the bombings of Dresden and Tokyo which yielded comparable numbers of deaths as it was believed that such bombings would end the war quicker. When President Truman said that his motivation for use of the bomb was to end the war as quickly as possible, he echoed the prevailing opinion of the American public. In the decades since the end of the war, there has been new information which has both led to a further belief in the correctness and the immorality of the usage of the bomb.
The suggestion to drop the bomb in a desolate area of Japan would have been a proper compromise between the two prevailing schools of thought. The bomb would have been dropped and a successful display of this new invention and its destructive power would be achieved with minimal loss of life. This did not occur and only President Truman, as it was he who had the final power to drop the bomb, knew what his real motivations were in what still is, the world’s only usage of the atomic bomb upon its citizens. WORKS CITED Goodwin, D. (2003). No Ordinary Time. New York: Simon & Schuster Eisenhower, D. (1998). The White House Years.
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