The Bomb

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It is the morning of August 6, 1945. On the runway sits the Enola Gay, an American B-29 bomber, powering up her engines to leave for a mission that would change the world forever. Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, Japan, 2 B-29 bombers were sighted passing over the city by local military watchers. They are passed off as reconnaissance planes, and nothing more. The people continue about their daily lives. Enola Gay approached her target. She climbed to about 31,000 feet and finished the settings on "Little Boy", the atomic bomb sitting in the bomb bay. At 8:11 a.m. "The Bomb" was dropped on Hiroshima.

Much controversy has swelled in the decades that have followed the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many people understand that the bombing of Hiroshima was seen as a possible necessity at the time to end the war. But why was Nagasaki bombed? There are opinions that say Japan got the message after Hiroshima that they were going to surrender.

This is far from true. Some weeks before, there were meetings held at Potsdam, Germany. American President Harry S. Truman and the heads of the United Nations had come up with a package that would allow the Japanese to surrender to the United Nations unconditionally. They would be able to return to their way of life without worry of outside policing by the nations involved in the war. It is believed that the Cold War between the United States and the USSR began here. Truman had a strategy of a "Delayed Showdown" in an effort to delay the Potsdam meeting until after the nuclear test. He was advised that the A-Bomb would intimidate the Russians for political leverage (Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Alfred A. Knoph, inc. New York. 1995, p.41).

The basic essence of the Potsdam Declaration was that there would be a regime of control over Japan, preventing it from starting another great war. If the Japanese surrendered their arms, they would be able to go about their lives like they had before the war. They would also be allowed to rebuild their factories, railroads, and homes while leaving the past to the past.

Japan had no desire to agree with the West's demand for "unconditional surrender". Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro, unwilling to abandon the emperor, which he believed would be required under unconditional surrender, decided to "slightly ignore" the declaration (Brummett, Palmira [et al.]. Civilizations Past & Present-11th ed. Pearson Education Inc. p.933).

In hindsight it appears as if there existed alternatives to the dropping of the atomic bombs: a non-combat demonstration, a modification of the demand for unconditional surrender, a pursuit of Japanese peace seekers, awaiting Soviet entry into the war and lastly continuing conventional warfare: aerial bombing of cities and naval blockades. Japan was clearly not for the type of surrender that was being demanded by the United Nations.

The military pressures stemmed from discussion and meetings Truman had with Secretary of War Stimson, Army Chief of Staff General Marshal, Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal and others. On 18 June 1945 General Marshall and Secretary of War Stimson convinced Truman to set an invasion of the island of Kyushu for November 1945. Truman knew of the ferocious fighting currently taking place in the Pacific, and naturally had a desire to minimize what he felt would inevitably be a long, bloody struggle. In an article written to Harper's magazine two years after the dropping of the bombs, Stimson wrote that the, "Allies would be faced with the enormous task of destroying an armed force of five million and five thousand suicide aircraft, belonging to a race that had already amply demonstrated its ability to fight literally to the death" (Henry L. Stimson, Harper's Magazine, November 1, 2006). Stimson, Truman and others believed the invasion of the Japanese mainland would be extremely costly, and therefore embraced the bomb as a military weapon whose use fully condoned and never questioned. Truman's feelings that the bomb was a necessary military weapon can be seen in his diary on July 25, 1945, in which he recorded that he had told Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, to use the atomic bomb so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children (Hiroshima: Harry Truman's Diary and Papers. November 4, 2006). In these diary entries it seems that military pressures lied most heavily on Truman's mind.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb was not reached lightly. One of the plans to end the war with Japan was a full military invasion of the mainland. Navy Admiral King projected losses in the first thirty days of the invasion to be approximately 41,000 American men. General Nimitz projected personnel the losses to reach about 49,000 men. The Pentagon predicted losses of the entire invasion of north and south Kyushu (the Japanese Mainland), to be around 220,000 men killed in action. The determination of the Japanese not to surrender gave good reason to fear the loss of 1,000,000 Americans at the end of the Japanese invasion campaign. If the invasion were avoided all together, the Pentagon believed that 500,000 to 1,000,000 lives, Japanese and American would be saved (Hiroshima: Harry Truman's Diary and Papers).

After Potsdam had been rejected by the Japanese, Truman had several meetings with Russian diplomat Molotov. One of his final meetings did not go well, as the United States had been trying to convince Russia not to renew its neutrality pact with Japan. Russia had been in conflict with Poland for months, and Truman told Molotov that American intervention was the only solution. Molotov was not very agreeable to American involvement in Poland. Many agreements had been broken by the Russians in ending their neutrality pact with Japan, which irritated Truman. The meeting became somewhat heated, and afterward, Molotov is quoted saying, "I have never been talked to like that in my life." Truman had a quick reply, "Carry out your agreements and you won't get talked to like that" (Origins of the cold war. November 4, 2006). Delays like this caused Russian involvement in the Pacific War to not occur. Russia did however send an envoy to Japan announcing that the neutrality pact would end in May of 1946 and, at that point, would begin the war between Russia and Japan.

To decide if the bomb would have been a savior of lives, we must guess how many Americans and Japanese would have died in the invasion. Truman, Stimson and even some modern writers such as David McCullough, want the American public to believe that the invasion would have cost America one million casualties. In a meeting on 18 June the Joint War Plans Committee gave Truman projected death rates ranging from a low of 31,000 to a high of 50,000. During fighting in the Pacific, from March 1, 1944 to May 1, 1945, the Japanese were killed at a ratio of 22 Japanese soldiers to every 1 American soldier. Thus, if we use an estimate of 40,000 American deaths, we can estimate 880,000 Japanese deaths: for a combined total of 920,000 deaths (Bernstein, Barton J. Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known Near Disasters, and Modern Memory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.45). Although death rates for Hiroshima and Nagasaki vary widely, none are even half this high. Estimates of those killed instantly range from 78,000 to 140,000; an additional 100,000 were seriously, often mortally wounded. The second bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed about 70,000 (Brummett, p.933). Thus we can conclude that if an invasion of Kyushu had been necessary, and the Japanese were killed at a rate comparable to previous fighting, then the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved lives.

Marines who were fighting the war knew of the Japanese resolve better than anyone. Japan was not going to quit. Despite the fact she was militarily finished, Japan's leaders were still going to fight right on. To not lose face was more important than hundreds and hundreds of thousands lives. And the people concurred, in silence, without protest. To continue was no longer a question of Japanese military thinking; it was on aspect of Japanese culture and psychology.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan have to be put in a much better perspective. It has been said that more people died in these two bombings than in any other attack in the history of war. They do forget to mention, and quite purposely so, the Tokyo Fire Raid a few days after Nagasaki. After Nagasaki the U.S. Military believed that the Japanese would surrender outright to the unconditional terms set before them, however this was not the case. Days after the bombing of Nagasaki there is still no word of Japanese surrender. A new attack is set into motion to level parts of Tokyo with conventional bombs. Approximately 83,000 men, women and children were dead or missing. Another 102,000 were injured, for a total casualty list of 185,000 people. More people were lost and injured in Tokyo alone with conventional warfare than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined with Atomic Warfare.

When put into perspective, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Tokyo were all three factors that brought the swift end to the war. As many as 1,000,000 lives were saved on both sides of the conflict. If the math is done, as many as 22 Japanese soldiers were killed to every one American soldier; as many as 22,000,000 Japanese may have died at the end of the invasion of Kyushu and Honshu. When numbers like these are taken into account, the nuclear bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.


Alperovitz,Gar-The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Alfred A. Knoph, inc. New York 1995

Bernstein, Barton J.-Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known Near Disasters, and Modern Memory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Brummett, Palmira [et al.]-Civilizations Past & Present-11th ed. Pearson Education Inc.

Henry L. Stimson- Harper's Magazine,

Hiroshima: Harry Truman's Diary and Papers.