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The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan

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In May 1943, the United States of America was setting up a plan of using an atomic bomb, not on Germany but on Japan. In September that year, American and British leaders consented on using the bomb against Japan. Immediately after the spring of 1945, Japan was in an exceedingly weak position. The United States on the other hand was exploring several ways of bringing to an end the Second World War which had gone on for quite a long time. One of their plans was to invade the mainland of Japan in November that year. The other plans were: to request the Soviet Union to help them fight Japan, to reassure them of the maintenance of the emperor system, or to make use of the atomic bomb. The United States of America believed that if the atomic bomb could lead to the end of the war, then the influence of the Soviet Union could have been restricted thus justifying their enormous cost of development domestically. In August 6 and August 9, 1945, the U.S. with the approval of President Harry Truman dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. Debates continue to grow on whether these atomic bombings were indeed necessary.

What Happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

As aforementioned, the United States of America dropped atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the sixth and ninth of August, 1945 respectively. Hiroshima was the first target at around 08.15. The atomic bomb which was dropped in Hiroshima was carried by a B-29 super-fortress known as Enola Gay. The bomb exploded about five hundred and fifty meters above the city of Hiroshima releasing an equivalent of fifteen kilotons of energy. Those who witnessed the scenario reported to have seen a parachute falling from the sky, followed by a terrific blast of extreme temperatures. It was reported that between 130,000 and 200,000 people either died, got seriously wounded or disappeared.

The government of Japan underestimated the significance and impact of this attack which was subsequently followed the bombing of Nagasaki after a few days. The weapon that hit Nagasaki had been destined for Kokura near the island of Kyushu, but there was a lot of cloud cover which compelled the crew to hit their secondary target. This weapon was about twenty kilotons, but it did not do so much damage thanks to the local topography of Nagasaki. The injuries and the damage which was caused by the two bombs were influenced by three major factors. The first one was the intensity of the blast which was indeed very large. The second factor was the release of thermal radiation which caused a lot of burns, as well as causing fires. The third factor was the presence of nuclear radiation which resulted to injuries and deaths of individuals due to damaged tissues. Each of these three factors caused injuries on victims up to 1.6 kilometers away from the epicenter of the blast, but most of the deaths occurred as a result of the first two factors. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to elicit reactions over the use of atomic bombs. Nevertheless, in purely military perspective, these attacks proved decisive in convincing the government of Japan to think of the unthinkable by accepting defeat.

Why did President Truman decide to drop the bomb?

After the Second World War, very few people questioned the validity of the decision of President Harry Truman to use atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many Americans were contented with the palpable reasoning that the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about a timelier end to World War II. They found nothing wrong with the killing of more than one hundred thousand people perceived to be their enemies using the atomic bomb. After all, the Japanese had earlier on attacked America through the bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, in the subsequent years, many people begun to question President Harry Truman’s conservative wisdom of trying to save people’s lives through killing and harming others, thus coming up with theories of their own. A close examination of this circumstance however reveals that there is a clear cut line between the truth and fiction as to why Truman decided to use the atomic bombs instead of alternative bombs. Indeed, Truman’s verdict to use the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was for the purpose of saving many more lives, and to allow for a speedy end of the war so as to avert the possibility of a devastating land invasion.

The people who are presently questioning the motives behind Truman’s decision are commonly referred to as Revisionists since they continuously attempt to revise the common historical perceptions, thus proposing their own unconventional theories and motives. As early as in 1946, these people had begun to postulate their ideas, but a large number of people started showing credibility to their words in 1960’s and 1970’s. Revisionists believe that President Truman had his own ulterior motives which led him to use atomic bombs on Japan, or that he did it for an exclusively different reason which had totally nothing to do with the claim of saving lives. Most of the people who were present at the time of these bombings, particularly the veterans believe on the traditional conviction that President Truman decided to attack Japan using atomic bombs because of exclusively military reasons. They believe that a timely end of the Second World War meant that there was no need to invade Japan’s land. According to them, such an invasion could have been extremely costly to both the American people and the Japanese people. They believe that a quick end of the war would have given soldiers the chance of going back home and rebuilding their lives.

The Revisionists, on the other hand, believe that President Truman bombed the two Japanese cities for entirely different reasons. The most obvious reason according to them was to punish Japan for its attack on Pearl Harbor and for its dreadful treatment of United States’ prisoners of war. In addition, they believe that an atomic bombing of Japan was the only action that would have helped him to justify the cost of the Manhattan Project. Revisionists believe that if President Truman could not have been in a position to justify this extraordinary cost, he would have been probed through a Congressional inquiry for misappropriation of two billion U.S. dollars. In addition, he did not only wish to avoid the Congressional probes, but also wanted to secure another term in office as President. According to the Revisionists, his chances of being re-elected would have been very minimal if the general public realized that he had wasted funds and failed to protect American lives by holding a weapon that could have brought a quick end to the war. The final Revisionist assertion is that President Truman wanted to give America an edge over other nations in the impending Cold War through a public expression that they were not scared of using weapons of mass destruction.

Was it necessary for the U.S. to drop the atomic bomb on Japan so as to end World War II?

It is worth to note that there was, and perhaps there is no more controversial issue in the American history of the twentieth century than President Truman’s decision to invade Japan using the atomic bomb. A great number of historians argue that this idea was necessary so as to bring the war to an end, and that it in deed saved many lives, both American and Japanese, through circumventing a land invasion of Japan which could have probably led to the death of many more people. Nevertheless, other historians argue that Japan could have capitulated even without being attacked using the atomic bomb. They in fact believe that President Truman and his advisors essentially decided to use the atomic bomb so as to frighten the Soviet Union. According to these historians, the United States was aware of the fact that the Japanese were in the quest for a conditional surrender as depicted by the signals of the messages which they had intercepted between Tokyo and Moscow. Nevertheless, American policy-makers were not ready by all means to accept a Japanese surrender that would have changed nothing in its military dictatorship. They also believed that such surrender could have even allowed Japan to retain some of its war conquests. In addition, the U.S. leaders were anxious to quickly bring the war to an end.

It is worth to note that the period between July and August, 1945 was not a bloodless interlude of conciliation. In essence, there were still no evident negotiations taking place during this period. America sustained more casualties towards the end of July and in early August that year, particularly from the suicidal “kamikaze” attacks which employed the use of aircrafts and Japanese midget submarines. A perfect example is the sinking of the Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine on the 29th of July. Among the 1,199 crew members who were on board, only three hundred and sixteen survived. On the other hand, the people of Japan were also suffering by far during this time. Naval bombardment and air raid attacks were a common phenomenon day by day, and starvation was already setting in.

Were there any alternatives for the U.S. apart from dropping the atomic bomb?

According to some historians, there were several alternatives at hand, even though only a few political planners and military personnel thought that these alternatives could bring the desired outcome quickly. Most of them were of course for the idea that the shock of a swift series of bomb attacks was the best way to intimidate Japan. The idea of demonstrating the power of the atomic bomb in a secluded area was a decision that was supported by a majority of the Manhattan Project scientist, since they thought that providing Japan with a warning could have allowed them to try to intercept the delivering bomber. Such a warning could also have led to Japan moving the American prisoners of war to the targeted areas.

Another alternative which the U.S. had was to wait for the much anticipated imminent Soviet declaration of war with the hope that this could have convinced Japan to capitulate unconditionally. However, the Soviet declaration was not anticipated until the mid of August. On the other hand, President Truman was trying to avoid the scenario that could have required him to share the administration of Japan jointly with the Soviet Union. Another alternative was to use a blockade alongside a series of conventional bombing attacks. However, it was not clear how long these attacks would have gone on for Japan to surrender, if they really worked.

The only remaining option which President Truman and his advisors thought would indeed lead to a Japanese surrender apart from the atomic bomb was a physical invasion of the Islands in Japan. Plans were already underway for these invasions, the initial landings having been occasioned to take place during the winter of 1945 and 1946. Nonetheless, not even a single person knew of how many people would perish; the Americans, the Japanese and the Allies, but the latest capture of Okinawa provided a horrible clue. The struggle to seize this small island extended over a period of ten weeks resulting to the loss of more than twelve thousand Americans, one hundred thousand Japanese, and possibly more than one hundred thousand native Okinawans.

The only possible way that anyone can judge President Truman’s motives of attacking Japan using an atomic bomb is through a careful analysis of the outcome of his decision. No one can tell the precise reason or reasons, even through reading his private diary. Nevertheless, it is agreed by many historians that the decision was likely an outcome of a combination of many reasons, chief among them being punishment, saving lives, justification of cost and the desire to end World War II. It is however quite evident that the use of the atomic bomb saved the lives of many people. It should be noted that even though many people perished in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (about 105,000 people), an American invasion of Japan would have probably caused far much more deaths (between 250,000 and 3,000,000 Japanese and American lives), and the war would have continued for at least four more months. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the number of people who perished in the atomic bombings was far much less than what would have been if there was an invasion of Kyushu. It is also pragmatic to conclude that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about a quick end to World War II. As such, President Truman’s motives cannot be questioned in terms of the outcomes of his decision. This is a clear scenario in which the end justifies the means.

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