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An argument in favor of americas decision to use the atomic bomb on japan

Scientists and the atomic bomb

The decision to use the atomic bomb Written By: Truman received a long report from Secretary of War Henry L. Rooseveltthe expectations of the American public, an assessment of the possibilities of achieving a quick victory by other means, and the complex American relationship with the Soviet Union.

After returning home, he became convinced that he probably would have been killed if the war had lasted a few months longer. His first-hand experience with warfare clearly influenced his thinking about whether to use the atomic bomb. It was also an expression of the American temperament; the United States was accustomed to winning wars and dictating the peace.

On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered unconditionally to great rejoicing in the Allied countries. The hostility of the American public toward Japan was even more intense and demanded an unambiguous total victory in the Pacific. Truman was acutely aware that the country—in its fourth year of total war—also wanted victory as quickly as possible.

A skilled politician who knew when to compromise, Truman respected decisiveness. Meeting with Anthony Edenthe British foreign secretary, in early May, he declared: Headed by Stimson and James Byrneswhom Truman would soon name secretary of state, the Interim Committee was a group of respected statesmen and scientists closely linked to the war effort.

After five meetings between May 9 and June 1, it recommended use of the bomb against Japan as soon as possible and rejected arguments for advance warning. Scientists and the atomic bomb Among those who had full knowledge of the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb, most agreed that the weapon should be used. As he listened to them argue that the United States should refrain from using the bomb and that it should share its atomic secrets with the rest of the world after the war, Byrnes felt that he was dealing with unworldly intellectuals who had no grasp of political and diplomatic realities.

He neither took their suggestions seriously nor discussed them with Truman, who most likely would have shared his attitude anyway. Szilard and his associates seem to have represented only a small minority of the many hundreds of scientists who worked on the bomb project. In July 1945 project administrators polled 150 of the 300 scientists working at the Chicago site and could find only 19 who rejected any military use of the bomb and another 39 who supported an experimental demonstration with representatives of Japan present, followed by an opportunity for surrender.

  1. The more obvious objection, however, is that the first atomic test took place in July 1945, two months after the Nazi surrender in May.
  2. Tokyo had begun sending out peace feelers and the country was on the verge of a famine. Moreover, the entire Japanese civilian and military leadership had a special interest in his survival.
  3. Japanese casualties were staggering, with approximately 90,000 defending troops and at least 100,000 civilians killed. On August 6 one B-29 dropped a single atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Most of the scientists, however, supported some use of the bomb: McCloyclaimed to have opposed using the bomb, but there is no firm evidence of any substantial contemporary opposition. Most of the scientists, civilian leaders, and military officials responsible for the development of the bomb clearly assumed that its military use, however unpleasant, was the inevitable outcome of the project. Truman faced almost no pressure whatever to reexamine his own inclinations. The military situation in the Pacific When Truman became president, a long and bitter military campaign in the Pacific, marked by fanatical Japanese resistance and strongly held racial and cultural hostilities on both sides, was nearing its conclusion.

In February 1945, about a month after he was sworn in as vice president, American troops invaded the small island of Iwo Jimalocated 760 miles 1,220 km from Tokyo. The Americans took four weeks to defeat the Japanese forces and suffered nearly 30,000 casualties. On April 1, 12 days before he became president, the United States invaded Okinawalocated just 350 miles 560 km south of the Japanese home island of Kyushu. The battle of Okinawa was one of the fiercest of the Pacific war.

Offshore, Japanese kamikaze planes inflicted severe losses on the American fleet. After nearly 12 weeks of fighting, the United States secured the island on June 21 at a cost of nearly 50,000 American casualties.

Japanese casualties were staggering, with approximately 90,000 defending troops and at least 100,000 civilians killed. The Americans considered Okinawa a dress rehearsal for the invasion of the Japanese home islands, for which the United States was finalizing a two-stage plan.

  • Most Americans wanted him removed; many assumed he would be hanged;
  • About the only thing they wanted is for the war to be over as soon as possible;
  • They now use this new bomb, having an uncontrollable and cruel effect much greater than any other arms or projectiles ever used to date.

The first phase, code-named Olympicwas scheduled for late October 1945, with a landing on Kyushu, defended by an estimated 350,000 Japanese troops backed by at least 1,000 kamikaze planes. Olympic entailed the use of nearly 800,000 American assault troops and an enormous naval fleet. The scale of the operation was to be similar to that of the Normandy invasion in France in June 1944, which involved 156,000 Allied troops in the first 24 hours and approximately 850,000 others by the end of the first week of July.

Estimates of casualties from an invasion of Japan varied, but nearly everyone involved in the planning assumed that they would be substantial; mid-range estimates projected 132,000 American casualties, with 40,000 deaths.

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The same mid-range estimate that predicted 132,000 casualties for Olympic projected 90,000 for Coronet. If both invasions were necessary, by the most conservative estimates the United States would suffer 100,000 killed, wounded, or missing, as compared to a Pacific War total that by mid-June was approaching 170,000.

Thus, the best estimates available to Truman predicted that the war would continue for a year or longer and that casualties would increase by 60 to 100 percent or more. But would Japan have surrendered without either invasion? By mid-1945, an American naval blockade had effectively cut off the home islands from the rest of the world.

Moreover, regular incendiary bombing raids were destroying huge portions of one city after another, food and fuel were in short supply, and millions of civilians were homeless. General Curtis LeMaythe commander of American air forces in the Pacific, estimated that by the end of September he would have destroyed every target in Japan worth hitting.

The argument that Japan would have collapsed by early fall is speculative but powerful. Nevertheless, all the evidence available to Washington indicated that Japan planned to fight to the end.

  • No one will ever know whether the war would have ended quickly without the atomic bomb or whether its use really saved more lives than it destroyed;
  • Would Truman have used the bomb against the Germans?
  • In anticipation of the invasion, the Japanese had 540,000 troops and 5,000 kamikaze pilots stationed in Kyushu, ready to put up enough of a fight to force Washington into accepting a negotiated settlement;
  • Each operation would have been larger than the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Throughout July, intelligence reports claimed that troop strength on Kyushu was steadily escalating. Moreover, American leaders learned that Japan was seeking to open talks with the Soviet Union in the hopes of making a deal that would forestall Soviet entry into the Pacific war. The future of the emperor In the absence of formal negotiations for a Japanese surrender, the two sides communicated with each other tentatively and indirectly, and both were constrained by internal sentiment that discouraged compromise.

In Japan no military official counseled surrender, and civilian leaders who knew that the war was lost dared not speak their thoughts openly. Vague contacts initiated by junior-level Japanese diplomats in Sweden and Switzerland quickly turned to nothing for lack of high-level guidance. The Japanese initiative to the Soviet Union also produced no results because Tokyo advanced no firm concessions.

Japan faced inevitable defeat, but the concept of surrender carried a stigma of dishonour too great to contemplate. In the United States, conversely, the sure prospect of total victory made it close to impossible for Truman to abandon the goal of unconditional surrender. The most tangled problem in this conflict of national perspectives was the future of the Japanese emperor, Hirohito.

Americans viewed Hirohito as the symbol of the forces that had driven Japan to launch an aggressive, imperialistic war. Most Americans wanted him removed; many assumed he would be hanged.

Few imagined that the institution he embodied would be allowed to continue after the war. Although some thought it necessary to keep Hirohito on the throne in order to prevent mass popular resistance against the American occupation, others wanted him arrested and tried as a necessary first step in the eradication of Japanese militarism.

American propaganda broadcasts beamed at Japan hinted that he might be kept on the throne, but Truman was unwilling to give an open guarantee.

The Japanese saw the emperor as embodying in a near-mystical way the divine spirit of the Japanese race. Although not exactly an object of religious worship, he was venerated as an all-important symbol of national identity. Moreover, the entire Japanese civilian and military leadership had a special interest in his survival. In the absence of something approaching formal negotiations, American and Japanese diplomats could not even meet to discuss a compromise formula for postwar Japan.

The problem of the Soviet Union Although the atomic bomb was never conceived as a tool to be employed in U. Truman regarded the Soviet Union as a valued ally in the just-concluded fight against Nazi Germany, but he distrusted it as a totalitarian state and was wary of its postwar plans.

His personal diaries and letters reveal hope for a satisfactory postwar relationship but determination not to embark on a policy of unilateral concessions. Truman and Byrnes also certainly assumed that the atomic bomb would greatly increase the power and leverage of the United States in world politics and would win the grudging respect of the Soviets.

On July 16, the day before the conference opened, Truman received word that the first atomic bomb had been successfully tested in the New Mexico desert.

He shared the information fully with Churchill Britain was a partner in the development of the bomb but simply told Stalin that the United States had created a powerful new weapon. Stalin—who had detailed knowledge of the project through espionage—feigned indifference.

He also reaffirmed an earlier pledge to attack Japanese positions in Manchuria no an argument in favor of americas decision to use the atomic bomb on japan than mid-August. Truman, apparently uncertain that the bomb alone could compel surrender, was elated. Thereafter events moved quickly and inexorably. On August 6 an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshimainstantly killing some 70,000 people and effectively destroying a 4. Two days later a powerful Soviet army attacked Manchuria, overwhelming Japanese defenders.

On August 9 the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasakiinstantly killing approximately 40,000 people. After that, Japanese supporters of peace were able to enlist Hirohito to order a surrender.

In addition to those killed instantly, many died over the next year of severe burns and radiation sickness. Significant numbers of people also died later from cancer and related diseases, and fatal birth defects may have been caused by the radiation.

The Japanese surrender offer that reached Washington on August 10 requested the retention of the emperor.

The decision to use the atomic bomb

Having received detailed reports and photographs from Hiroshima, Truman did not want to use a third atomic bomb solely for the purpose of deposing Hirohito.

He told his cabinet that the thought of killing another 100,000 people—many of them children—was too horrible. Truman always felt that he had done the right thing. But never again—not even in the worst days of the Korean War —would he authorize the use of atomic weapons. There were no significant international protests over the use of the atomic bomb in 1945. The vanquished were in no position to make them, and the world had little sympathy for an aggressive Japanese nation that had been responsible for the deaths of millions of people in Asia and the Pacific.

From the beginning, however, many Americans thought that the atomic bombs had changed the world in a profound way, one that left them with a feeling of foreboding.

The influential radio commentator H. In an article for the New Yorker later published separately as Hiroshima [1946]the writer John Hersey put a human face on the casualty figures by detailing the horrible effects of the bomb on six Japanese civilians.

Doubts about the wisdom of using the atomic bomb grew in subsequent generations of Americans but were never accepted by a majority. Hersey and writers who followed him left the American public conversant with the awful facts of nuclear warfare. In the minds of many Americans—and the citizens of other western nations—these two streams merged to create a powerful argument for banning atomic weapons.

No Other Choice: Why Truman Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan

It is possible to construct scenarios in which the use of the atomic bomb might have been avoided, but to most of the actors the events of 1945 had a grim logic that yielded no easy alternatives. No one will ever know whether the war would have ended quickly without the atomic bomb or whether its use really saved more lives than it destroyed.

In the decades following the end of the war there was increasing debate about the morality of using the atomic bomb, with opponents arguing that even if it did hasten the end of the war, its use was unjustified because of its horrific human consequences.