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A_bomb Essay, Research Paper

Was the Atomic Bomb Really Necessary World War II

“I have to decide Japanese strategy-shall we invade Japan proper or shall we bomb

and blockade? That is my hardest decision to date. But I’ll make it when I have all the

facts.”-Harry S. Truman

Many questions have arisen dealing with the need for the atomic bomb since it was

twice used in 1945 to end World War II on the Pacific Front. Did it save lives when

compared to an all out invasion, or could it have been a statement to Russia in an effort to

start suppressing Communism?

What is it that made the United States feel that Japan would not go down by

conventional bombing and invasion like we had done with Germany? Most of this idea

came from the fact that Japan had instilled an attitude in their people to always fight until

death. Surrender was considered a disgrace and it would be better for them to die for

their country. Also the United States was having trouble fighting through the islands that

Japan had taken over due to their isolation from one another and that there were so many

of them. Japan, in actuality, was chosen as the target in 1943. There was a fear that if the

bomb did not work on Germany that the Germans would be able to disassemble it and

figure out how to make it work. There was not this fear with Japan. Also a revenge

factor was set in the heart of Americans ever since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The American citizens were behind using the bomb because they were tired of the

war. It had been five years and many had not seen their loved ones and were afraid they

would not ever again if they had to invade Japan’s mainland. Americans were not willing

to sacrifice more lives to end this war. They felt that the developed technology should be

used. After all, creating the atomic bomb had been a long and hard task. It had taken

many years of planning, developing, and testing. The making of the bomb combined

theories and ideas from countless chemists and physicists. Most of all it had cost large

amounts of money and the project workers feared being investigated by the postwar

Congress if it was discovered that funding had gone to a secret project with nothing to

show for it.

The alternative was an all out invasion of Japan with continued bombing raids. In

July 1945, an invasion was being planned by all of the allies. The plan included the United

State’s Navy whose role was to impose a blockade on Japan to try to strangle them

economically into surrender. Then on July 16 the A-bomb was successfully tested.

Truman then made his decision to use it unless Japan surrendered. On July 26 Truman,

Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek issued an ultimatum demanding the unconditional

surrender of Japan. Japan chose not to surrender at that time. Feelings of a British

scientist P.M.S. Blackett were a bit different. He wrote a book titled Fear, War, and the

Bomb, in which he said that the United States wanted to end the war with Japan prior to

Russia’s entrance. Blackett felt that the USA wanted all of the credit for defeating Japan

and that we were hoping to deter Russia from invading other lands in an effort to suppress

Communism. He feels that the dropping of the bomb was ‘the first major operation of the

cold diplomatic war with Russia. (www.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/

History/20th_Century/World_War_II/Atomic_Bomb_The/) Also an American historian,

Gar Alperovitz, wrote a book titled Atomic Diplomacy. His book contains a diary entry

from 28 July 1945 by U.S. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal that describes Secretary

of State James F. Byrnes as ‘most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the

Russians got in’. (www.yahoo.com/Arts/Humanities/ History/20th_Century/World

War_II/Atomic_Bomb/The/) Also Byrnes’ assistant Secretary of State, Walter Brown, has

a diary entry that suggests that Truman and Byrnes saw the bomb as a way to reduce

Soviet political influence on Asia, particularly China. This was basically saying that in

order for Americans to have an advantage over the Russians in getting China that a

quarter of a million Japanese had to die. Most of the deceased would probably be women

and children.

When discussing the decision-making process many people had opinions in favor

of the use of the bombs. A secret government advisory group called the Interim

Committee on June 1, 1945, recommended to President Truman “that the bomb should be

used against Japan as soon as possible; that it should be used on a war plant surrounded by

workers’ homes; and that it be used without prior warning.” Byrnes felt that one million

lives would be saved; General George Marshall stated that the figure would be closer to a

half a million. After the dropping of the two bombs Truman noted that Hiroshima was a

military base and that we wished to avoid killing civilians. Despite the fact that Truman

was trying to justify killing civilians people surrounding him believed that the bomb would

not do much more harm than continued conventional bombing. This idea came from the

fact that in Tokyo alone, conventional bombing had killed 100,000 civilians. This basically

forced killing civilians to be deemed proper and inevitable even in democratic nations.

Truman in a diary entry on August 11 of 1945 stated that “nobody is more disturbed over

the use of Atomic bombs than I am but I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted

attack by the Japanese of Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only

language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.” A US

intelligence study does say that Truman knew that the bomb was not really needed. What

the study does not point out is that Stalin’s declaration of war was not really sufficient

enough for Truman’s decision. He did not feel Stalin was that dependable. The Russian

leader had promised for months to enter the war against Japan but never did make a

declaration until August the sixth, the day of the bombing of Hiroshima. An American

soldier stationed in North Africa had an opinion that supported Truman’s beliefs about

Russia. The soldier felt that it would be ridiculous to expect the Soviet Union to enter the

war against Japan for three main reasons: the Soviets had heavy losses fighting Germany;

the soldiers were left exhausted and starving; and they would have to be transported

almost halfway around the globe from western Russian to the eastern front. This soldier’s

credibility is not known but his statement fits in with Truman’s own beliefs. It is believed

that Truman, beneath the surface, felt an exaggerated sense of self-importance for the US,

a mind-set that was first installed in the United States during Theodore Roosevelt’s

presidency. He felt that if we did not use our great powers that some other nation surely

would. Some people feel that the bomb was used for the purpose of keeping the

American people behind the war effort. The war had been dragging on and the death toll

for America kept rising. Introducing this weapon of previously unheard-of destructive

force would get the backing of the American people. The bomb surely would secure an

American victory without the aid of the Soviet Union. (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the

Politics of Memory)

However, many people were against using the atomic bombs, before and after they

were actually used. A survey set up by the War Department called the US Strategic

Bombing Survey came to this conclusion after interviewing hundreds of Japanese in 1944.

‘Japan would have surrendered by December 31, 1945, even if the bombs were not

dropped, even if Russian had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been

planned or contemplated.’ Ralph Bard, who was under the Secretary of the Navy and a

member of the committee, wrote a memo to Secretary of War Henry Stimson on June 27,

1945. It is also believed that he discussed this memo with Truman in early July. The

memorandum stated that Japan should have prior warning if the bomb is used; he did not

want the United States status of a great humanitarian nation to be damaged. He also felt

that Japan was ready to surrender and that there would be no harm in waiting a little while

longer to see what they would do to end the war. Others suggested dropping the bomb in

a place where the Japanese could see its destructive forces and then letting them decide if

it was still worth continuing the war effort. Professor Howard Zinn of Boston University

wrote A People’s History of the United States. In his book, he says that the ‘estimates of

invasion losses were not realistic, and seem to have been pulled out of the air to justify

bombing which, as their effects became known, horrified more and more people.’


History/20th_Century/World_War_II/Atomic_Bomb_The/) Hanson Baldwin, a military

analyst for The New York Times wrote shortly after the war that Japan was in desperate

shape and ready to surrender by July 26, 1945, at the time the unconditional surrender was

demanded at Potsdam. The United States had even already broken Japan’s code of

messaging and knew that their ambassador had been sent to Moscow to work out peace

negotiations. Also they had begun talking of surrender a year prior and in June of 1945

the emperor of Japan had begun discussing alternatives to fighting to the end. Martin

Sherwin says that American Intelligence relayed messages to the President about these

events but they had no effect on his final decision to drop the bomb. Howard Zinn feels

that the bombing of Nagasaki was surely unnecessary and that it seems the only reason for

its use was that it was a plutonium bomb whereas the one dropped on Hiroshima was

filled with uranium. He posed the question, ‘were the victims of Nagasaki part of a

scientific experiment?’ (www.he.net/~douglong/bard.htm) The Japanese people felt

afterwards that while the first bomb may have been necessary, the second was just a war

crime. Others hold the belief that Japan had already basically mailed in their surrender

before the bombings and that dropping the bomb was like using a sledgehammer to kill an

ant. In fact Truman himself had diary entries which stated his feeling that Russia entering

the war would provide such a jolt to Japan that they would surrender. Russia had said it

would enter by August 15.

The United States’ decision on using the atomic bomb weighed on many different

views and sources of information. The opposing arguments stemmed from the belief that

Japan would have surrendered soon enough without an invasion. It was believed that a

naval blockade would choke off Japan or dropping the bomb elsewhere just for them to

see would scare them to surrender. Even if an all out invasion had to occur many believed

that it would not cost nearly as many lives and the supporters of using the bomb had

stated. Despite these arguments the decision was made to use it under the belief that a

quick end was needed. The government was doing what it felt would please its own

citizens the most. We did not need the war to drag on any longer and were looking for

the quickest way out and it seemed this was true no matter what the consequences would

be. Truman’s thoughts are best summed up by his diary as to why he decided to use the

bomb whether Russia was going to enter the war with Japan or not. His statement from

his diary from January 1, 1946, is from an unsent letter to Byrnes that discusses his

feelings following Potsdam Conference about Russia entering the war. It reads, “At the

time we were anxious for Russian entry into the Japanese War. Of course we found later

that we didn’t need Russians there and the Russians have been a head ache to us ever

since.” He wrote on August 11, 1945, “We are all on edge waiting for the Japs to answer.

Have had a hell of a day.”

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