On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb to be dropped on foreign soil was released from Enola Gay on Hiroshima, Japan. This nuclear bomb, named Little Boy was dropped as a devastating attack in an attempt to make Japan surrender, and destroyed Hiroshima as over 70,000 people were instantly killed.
When Hirohito, emperor of Japan refused to accept the United States’ terms of surrender, the second atomic bomb, ‘Fat Man’ was dropped over Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945. Many people detested the use of the atomic bombs as the mass murder of civilians was believed to be an inhumane act.
The aim of this investigation is to find out whether America’s decision to drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan was justified. This investigation will concisely cover the events that brought the US into the Second World War and its connections with Japan during the war before the nuclear attack. This investigation will also examine the US’s decision to allow the bombs to be dropped over the cities.
Content from a variety of documents, stories from those who witnessed the event, and writings from Truman’s speeches and diary will help reveal if his decision to drop the atomic bombs was justified or not.
1. The United States going into World War II
When World War II began, the United States was a neutral country. That was until Japan attacked on US soil in Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a US naval base found in the Hawaiian Islands. On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was struck by Japanese forces.
Recently before the attack, US had received a message from Japan informing them that their relationship is now ‘broken.’ This shocking attack resulted in the death of 2400 Americans and almost 1200 injured. Furthermore, about 200 aircraft vehicles were destroyed and several ship vessels were sunk or damaged, as well as four battleships and three destroyers. Japanese casualties included 64 dead from dangerous kamikaze attacks. The intention of the attack on Pearl Harbor was to maintain Japan’s advancement into Singapore and the Dutch East Indies as the US naval fleet would be crippled and not able to intrude.
Roosevelt responded to the tragic attack as he brought together Congress and said the attack on Pearl Harbor is a “day which will live in infamy”. Congress would then declare war on Japan, furious at the assault on Pearl Harbor and Japan’s late message of their broken relationship. American citizens are torn apart as to whether they should come into the war or not. But Americans would eventually have a similar hatred against Japan and enter war.
2. What lead to the US’s decision to the Drop the Atomic Bombs?
The atomic bombs were used for political reasons and as a manner of getting Japan to surrender. The USSR was planning to enter the pacific war against Japan a month after VE Day. But America wanted to end the war before Russia can enter in order to stop them from taking Japan and spread communism. Therefore, to stop Soviet influence on Japan, America had to finish off Japan before the Russians get involved. The atomic bomb was an excellent tactic of clearing the Soviet Union away from the Pacific War and containing communism. Furthermore, the joint war committee of America estimated that an invasion against Japan would result in over a million casualties, which left the idea of the atomic bombs to be the better choice as Truman had a desire to save lives.
3. Making and Dropping of the Atomic Bombs
The Manhattan Project was a massive project to construct the first ever nuclear
weapon. It was rooted from Albert Einstein and using dangerously reactive elements such as uranium and plutonium, it would leave behind devastating results. In 1945, the US had made three of these atom bombs. The first atomic bomb made, named “Trinity”, was tested, in New Mexico on July 16. The second “Little Boy,” was dropped on Hiroshima, on August 6. The third and the last bomb, “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
But more than a week before the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, an
ultimatum was sent to the Japanese empire. The Potsdam Ultimatum required unconditional
surrender from Japan. A few months before Little Boy was released, the Japanese were prepared to accept defeat as long the Japanese empire was preserved and they would not be punished as war criminals. Unfortunately for Japan, those terms did not match those of the ultimatum, and a week later, Hiroshima was wiped out after Little Boy was dropped on it. However, two days later, the Japanese still did not want to surrender to the US, and ‘Fat Man’ was released over Nagasaki. On 12 August 1945, Japan had no choice but to agree to the terms of the ultimatum.
Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. NYC Praeger Publishers.
This book takes vast research from both in the United States and Japan to give a perspective on both countries. The book examines both the choices that had to be made in the US and Japan that resulted in this massive decision and also looks into all the things that could have been done to avoid the dropping of the bombs. This resource examines the political and military
actions that helped the US and Japan make their decisions. This book also goes into depth with the Manhattan Project and the arguments in Congress as to what the US should do to force Japan to surrender. The book’s value lies mostly in that the book offers perspectives from both Japanese and American side and in addition to giving open minded views of the problem. Limitations of the book include the fact that it does not cover the feelings Truman had about dropping the bombs and the moral issues he faced.
Severance, Dominick A. (2007) The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb: Truman’s True Intentions Christendom College
This source is valuable because it gives a detailed view at both the United States and Japan and their relationship before and after the bombs. Unlike the first source this gives an in depth analysis on how Truman was feeling and his moral views.
The limitations of this source could be that it does not provide a lot of facts that deal with the situation; it just displays what US and Japanese leaders felt during this time period.
The progression towards the decision to drop the atomic bombs is extremely important in this investigation. The European Campaign was now over as Germany had accepted defeat, and mean while in the Potsdam Conference, the Potsdam declaration laid out the conditions of Japan’s surrender. The declaration states that if Japan refused to surrender they would face heavy consequences.  The Allies were far more superior then Japan as they had stronger forces, abundant land, and thousands of resources. Now, the Allies had beaten the Germans by using conventional war methods which are basically fighting methods that don’t include using chemicals or nuclear weapons.
Truman thought about using this type of method. He thought about a land invasion on the Pacific Island. However, when asked for estimation of casualties, numbers were in the millions.  The estimated casualties of dropping the atomic bombs were much lower to the land invasion. To choose which idea was the best to utilize was perhaps one of the most grueling moral issues Truman faced during his presidency. Visibly, the better choice would be the atomic bombs as it had less casualties, but in the International Laws and Customs of War on Land, it states that “the attack of areas that are not defended is forbidden.” Attacking innocent civilians is not a way to win a war. 
However, President Truman found a ‘loophole’ and identified Hiroshima as a “military” base. In his personal diary, he wrote that the bomb was dropped on solely a military target. 
Another moral issue Truman faced was how to utilize a bomb with such force. When Trinity was detonated in New Mexico, the power of the atom bomb was immense. Scientists had to monitor the explosion from a huge distance. Scientists reported that the “Atomic bomb was equivalent to bringing the sun to earth.”  Scientists say that the explosion of the atomic bomb was equal to 13 kilotons of TNT. The immense power from the atomic bomb made scientists scared as they believed dropping the atomic bomb would initiate a nuclear age. The usage of the nuclear bomb was overwhelming to some scientists and they came up with the Szilard Petition in 1945.  It was authorized by 70 scientists who helped develop the atom bomb and they pleaded Truman to not drop the atom bomb as nuclear war would arise. They stated that the usage of the weapon is morally wrong and all countries faced the danger of being completely wiped out. However, Truman refused to listen to the pleas of the scientists and decided to drop the atomic bombs regardless of the moral issues he would have to deal with.
Though even with the moral issues that came with the bombs, Truman had great motives to drop them. The result of a land invasion on Japan was too much of a risk and Truman wanted to save lives. Also a land invasion would have taken months most likely. Instead of fighting for a long period of time, the idea of releasing a nuclear bomb and putting a finish to the World War was more likeable. In addition to the land invasion being costly, the US also wanted to finish off Japan as quickly as possible in order to prevent Russia from entering. If Russia had entered communism would expand to Japan and eventually to the entire Pacific. The US simply did not want that.
The United State’s ultimate decision to release the atomic bombs on Japan was definitely justified as they were thinking of the better result. In other words, what result had the least damage and least cost. A conventional war against Japan that would result in millions of casualties is surely more dreadful than the nuclear bomb that had much less casualties.
Truman’s original choice to drop the atomic bomb was justified, however dropping the second one was not right. Before Little Boy, the US gave a warning to Japan that an attack was eminent and it warned the Japanese government to surrender. But in the Fat Man bombing, it was dropped just a few days later. Japan had no time to react to the drop to see if they should accept defeat or not. The US should have given more time for Japan to find out if they are going to surrender or not.  If they had given more time, the result would have perhaps been much less devastating.
1.”Potsdam Ultimatum | Birth of Japan.” Birth of the
Constitution of Japan. 2004. National Diet Library. 15 May 2011
2.Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Praeger
Publishers. 17 May 2011
3.”The Avalon Project – Laws of War: International Laws(Hague,II); July 29, 1899.” 1998. Yale University. 15 May 2011
4. Weaver. Jeff “Atom Bomb: Decision. Penguins Publisher. NYC. 2001. 17 May 2011
5. Severance, Dominick A. (2007) The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb: Truman’s True Intentions Christendom College FLA. 17 May 2011.
6. U.S. National Archives, RG 377, Records of the Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Green Groves, 13 May 2011.
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