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The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan

In August 1945 the world changed. Two American atomic bombs were dropped on Japan with devastating effects. On the 6th of August 1945, the Enola Gay, a B- 29 Superfortress plane, dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. This single bomb killed 80,000 people immediately and about 60,000 more within six months. On August 9, a second atomic bomb that ultimately killed about 70,000 people was dropped on Nagasaki.

The dropping of these nuclear bombs is perhaps one of the most debated decisions in history. There are many arguments as to whether it should or should not have happened but we will never really know the truth as we can not go into the heads of Truman and his advisors or Suzuki the Japanese Prime Minister.

Truman said to an aid, “I am going to have to make a decision which no man in history has ever had to make… it is terrifying to think about what I will have to decide.”

Truman’s decision was a hard one to make as there were many reasons for and against the bombs.

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We assume that his decision was altruistic, trying to make the best possible decision based on the information that he had at the time. The main reason given for dropping the bomb was that it was going to shorten the war and save American lives. Truman said he had acted “In order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

A plan for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up, Operation Olympic was scheduled for November 1945.

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Truman was of course reluctant to launch another land invasion as he had just suffered from the battle of Okinawa. The Japanese had defended their home islands with huge ferocity sending out one hundred and ninety three kamikaze planes. Out of these attacks launched against the American fleet, 169 were destroyed. Those planes that managed to get through did cause a great deal of damage, especially to America’s carrier fleet which unlike the British carriers did not have armoured flight decks. However, the destruction of so many kamikaze flights did a great deal to undermine the potential for damage that the kamikazes could have inflicted.

The battle of Okinawa which lasted from the 1st of April 1945 until the 21st of June 1945 was the bloodiest part of the Pacific War, with U.S forces losing 12,613 soldiers and 40.000 were wounded. Also more than 110,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. After this Truman’s military advisors estimated an invasion of Japan could cost the lives of one million Americans. The Operation Olympic plan, was scheduled for November 1945. Truman horrified by these figures searched for an alternative way to end the war, as American emotion was high after sustaining heavy losses in Okinawa.

Japan had a very proud and honorable psyche. The Japanese would rather commit suicide than be beaten. They still followed the tradition of the Bushido, an ancient tradition of self disembowelment. In more extreme forms, dying honorably would consist of, the training of young children to be ‘Sherman carpets.’ Japanese children were to be strapped with TNT and throw themselves under American tanks thereby dying in the most honorable way possible- by killing the enemy. For example Hiroshima people were ashamed that before they were bombed they had not received any attacks from the allies and this is making them look unimportant and insignificant, as if not a threat to the war. Citizens were proud of their “war effort” but were ashamed of being left unhurt and not attacked, they thought enemy had contempt for them. With this mind set it can not be assumed that they would surrender.

The creation of the atomic bomb was the terrifying result of scientific developments starting with Rutherford’s splitting of the atom in 1919. In 1938 Hahn discovered the fission process. By 1939 scientists in Britain, France and the U.S were investigating the military possibilities of nuclear energy, and they were concerned that Germany also might be attempting to create the bomb. The Manhattan Project was officially established in 1942. This was responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb on which the, American government had spent 2 billion dollars. It was successfully tested at Alamogordo in New Mexico on the 16th of July 1945.

The Japanese were given an opportunity to surrender after being told about the construction and trial of the atomic bomb. Truman authorized the use of the bomb on the 28th of July 1945, giving Japan twelve days to surrender. It would be naïve to presume that America would not use the bomb after such expenditure having developed such a huge leap in scientific technology. Army generals have always searched for new available technology such as the European use of modern guns and a fleet of ships against the Samurai in July 1853. After all, generals in charge of the war are given the job of winning it at all costs.

After the Americans had spent 2 billion dollars building these bombs they would always find it hard to explain to the American citizens where all the money had gone and why they were not using the bombs. After all the general attitude of Americans at the time was that they should drop the bomb in some ways as revenge for the surprise and unprovoked attack of Pearl Harbour and for all the youth they had lost in other battles.

As well as this there were the truly sickening stories coming home of the treatment of American prisoners of war such as the story of The Nagona bullion bunker which was only one of numerous treasure sites where loot from all over Asia was buried before the war’s end. Here, gold, platinum, diamonds and valuable religious artifacts including a golden Buddha figurine weighing one tonne all up totalling approximately $190 billion were buried together with live Allied Prisoners Of War who had been forced to dig the tunnels.

We hear stories such as “My grandfather died in Bataan as a prisoner of war. When he was no longer able to keep up with the forced march, having a gangrenous infection of the shoulder that made him feverish and delirious, he was shot to death.” (Anonymous)

Its no wonder the Americans felt bitter towards the Japanese when they heard stories like these. Stories of rape, murder, forced incest, medical experiments on human guinea pigs and fetal disembowelment. Some of the stuff we read makes us sick so you can understand that in America there were many people strongly in favour of dropping the bombs.

Truman had another motive for the use of the atomic bomb, he had fallen out with allied Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin due to the Soviet armies occupying and controlling much of central Europe. He wanted to impress Stalin with the power of his new bombs and show that he was man enough to use them and not afraid of the consequence. Stalin had already promised to join the U.S.A in the war effort in Japan but Truman was having second thoughts about whether or not he actually wanted Stalin moving in on his kill. Truman wanted to end the war quickly before the Soviets had chance to win territory. The Soviets declared war on Japan and entered in Manchuria three days after the first bomb. This was a crushing blow on Prime Minister Suzuki who had hoped for the Russians help in signing a peace treaty.

Soon after the first bomb Truman said “This is the greatest thing in history.” Truman was extremely pleased with the results of the first bomb. This may have had an impact in the decision to drop the second bomb. Also as soon as he heard the news of the Soviet’s entry Truman sent the other bomb to Nagasaki. Had he seen the human devastation of Hiroshima he may have felt differently about repeating this terrible suffering.

America dropped both the bombs in such close succession in the attempt to cause maximum impact. As well as this they hoped to trick Japan into believing that they had more, readily available nuclear power. Which apparently they did have. A third bomb was in construction and would be available by late August 1945.

Another reason justifying the dropping of the bombs was that these two cities would have been fire bombed anyway. On the 9-10 March 334 B-29s raided Tokyo dropping around 1,700 tons of bombs. Around 16 square miles of the city was destroyed and over 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the fire storm. It was the most destructive conventional raid of the war against Japan. In the following two weeks there were almost 1,600 further sorties against the four cities, destroying 31 square miles in total at a cost of only 22 aircraft. This shows that if the nuclear bombs had not been dropped, and the cities had instead just been fire bombed, it may not have made such an immediate difference. In the past fire bombing had caused just as much death and destruction, just with a larger amount of American losses as well.

In hindsight we can safely say that the immediate use of the bomb convinced the world of its horror and prevented future use when nuclear stockpiles were far larger. There are definitely some arguments that show the use of the bomb in a positive light.

At the time Americans were full of emotion especially a strong hate towards the Japanese due to disgusting war crimes committed on the prisoners of war. Also, the fact that at the time Truman thought he was doing the right thing. He was hoping to end the war quickly and before the Soviets could get in and claim some of the land after all they had enough of central Europe. He made the decision to save American lives that would have been taken in a land invasion, he did it to keep the American people happy. Some say he did it, because he could.

There was also a lot of fate involved in the dropping of the bombs. Perhaps if Roosevelt had not unexpectedly died and Truman was not an inexperienced President a different conclusion may have been reached, however we can not assume this. President Roosevelt may have made the same decision. As well as this the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was originally sent to Kokura but due to bad weather they had to return to base. Via Nagasaki.

There were talks of having a demonstration bomb showing the effects, maybe dropping it in the harbour at Tokyo or off one of the island of Japan, somewhere that the Japanese would see how serious this was. A way that they could save a few lives but still get the surrender however they decided against this as they could not a afford to waste a bomb on demonstration.

In the minds of many the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were at the least unjustified and to many were an act of a terrifying cruelty. Since the time of the bombs were used there has been a growing increase of opinion that the bomb should not have been used. At the time Japan was already on the verge of surrender and the two cities bombed were of a questionable military value. It is argued that America was inflexible in not changing its stance of “unconditional surrender” and that Truman was merely trying to justify the 2 billion dollar expenses. Finally after Hiroshima the Americans did not give sufficient time to the Japanese for surrender before dropping the second bomb.

Japan was ready to call it quits. More than sixty of its cities had already been destroyed by conventional bombing, the home islands were being blockaded by the American Navy, and the Soviet Union entered the war by attacking Japanese troops in Manchuria. With all of this up against Japan they were ready to surrender.

The Americans refused to modify its “unconditional surrender” demand. They were not prepared to take into account the fact that the Japanese would probably have surrendered within minutes of hearing the news that if they surrendered they would be allowed to keep their emperor. This needlessly prolonged Japan’s resistance. “The time has come when we must bear the unbearable… I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation…” said the Emperor Hirohito. Eventually the Americans accepted the surrender without the Emperor losing his reign. The Americans allowed him to stay but they curtailed his powers.

If America had decided to demonstrate the power of the atomic bomb with an explosion over Tokyo harbor they would probably have convinced the Japanese leaders to surrender, this method of forcing the surrender would have caused perhaps the deaths of a couple of fish which would soon be turned into sushi anyway. It would certainly have been a better option than the one they decided upon causing 200,000 casualties.

Why was the second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki? Was it because this was a plutonium bomb whereas the Hiroshima bomb was a uranium bomb? Were the dead and irradiated of Nagasaki, as Professor Howard Zinn asks, ‘victims of a scientific experiment’? Even if the bombing of Hiroshima was necessary, the U.S. did not give nearly enough time for word to filter out of its devastation before bombing Nagasaki. Nor did the Americans give enough time for the Japanese to come to a decision of surrender or if they had of had time to make the decision then to get it across to the Americans before Nagasaki was to suffer.

After Presidents Frank Roosevelt and Harry Truman decided to allow two billion dollars for the costs of the research, construction and testing of the Atomic Bombs it would have been a bit hard to explain to the American people where all this money had been spent and why they did not drop the bomb after putting so much time, effort and money into it. After all a lot of the Americans hated the Japanese, many had suffered lost husbands, fathers and brothers, not to mention some of the women raped and killed by the Japanese. The bomb was used to justify the $2 billion spent on its development.

The two cities that were chosen targets, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were of limited military value. They had not had a particularly big influence on the war effort and were cities where civilians outnumbered troops, in Hiroshima it was six to one. The bomb exploded about 500 m above the ground and directly beneath it was a suburb of schools, factories, and private houses. Not quite the target you would expect if you wanted to ruin the cities military capabilities. Truman had said, “The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.” This was simply untrue. Truman was lying. Those 100,000 killed immediately in Hiroshima were almost all civilians. The US Strategic Bombing Survey said in its official report: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population.”

Harry Truman was influenced in the making of his decision by the involvement of the Soviet Union. As British scientist P M S Blackett said in his book, “Fear, War, and the Bomb,” the United States was anxious to drop the bomb before the Russians entered the war against Japan. In other words, Blackett says, the dropping of the bomb was ‘the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia. American Historian, Gar Alperovitz, notes in his diary that Secretary of State James F Byrnes is “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians get in”.

Truman also wanted to show the Soviets that he had a weapon, a killing machine, one single bomb that could wipe out an entire city. As well as this the Soviets were entering the war in Manchuria and Truman did not want Stalin on the receiving end of any land claims after the war was finished. Basically Japanese lives were sacrificed simply for power and politics between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Finally the use of conventional bombing would have caused as much significant damage as dropping the Atomic bombs without making the U.S. the first nation in History to use nuclear weapons. Soon after World War Two the Cold War began and this was basically just an arms race between Russia and the U.S.A, Both countries wanting to have more nuclear power than the other.

In conclusion, due to the exaggeration of casualty figures by Harry Truman, a foreseeable Japanese collapse, and an evasion of peace negotiations, dropping the atomic bomb was not a justified act. The main argument put forward by Truman that the atomic bomb saved a million American lives is weak, as a more tactful route would have accomplished the same means without having to sacrifice a single life.

It has also been proven that the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse, and that American intrusion merely hastened an inevitable surrender a few months later. When compared with other options, the use of the atomic bomb seems to have had the most negative as well as the most unreasonable effect. Truman’s true motives for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki may never be fully understood as we can not get inside the heads of the decision makers. Hopefully soon instead of people wondering how many American lives were saved by the use of the bomb they might question how many innocent Japanese women and children were killed through these clinical acts of violence.

Finally after close examination of both sides of the argument, from the strongest supporters of the bomb who have wanted it for revenge as well as some very strong points on the other side of the argument where we see an overwhelming amount of information telling us that these acts were cruel and unjustified. I think that even if one can see that there was some good in the bombing of Hiroshima and that it could be argued that it was necessary there was certainly no excusing the events that took place on the 9th of August in Nagasaki.

I finish this argument with a quote from the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

“With ninety percent of Japans shipping sunk or disabled her Air and Sea forces crippled, her industries wrecked, her peoples food supplies shrinking fast her collapse was certain.”

Cite this page

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. (2016, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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