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It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were almost defeated and ready to surrender?in being the first to use it, we? adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.”
—Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy,
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during World War II
In early August 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs quickly yielded the surrender o f Japan and the end of American involvement in World War II . By 1946 the two bombs caused the death of perhaps as many as 240,000 Japanese citizens. The popular, or traditional, view that dominated the 1950s and 60s–put forth by President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson– was that the dropping of the atomic bombs was a solely military action that avoided the loss of as many as a million lives in the upcoming invasion of the island of Kyushu. In the e1960s a second school of thought developed–put forth by “revisionist” historians–that claimed the dropping of the bomb was a diplomatic maneuver aimed at intimidating and gaining the upper hand in relations with Russia. I feel that the dropping of the bomb was born out of a complex myriad of military, domestic and diplomatic pressures and concerns.
Truman’s monumental decision to drop these bombs was born out of the complex background of the Japanese army. This background was that the Japanese always fought to the death and that they had citizens prepared to fight. Pressure to drop the bomb stemmed from three major categories: military, domestic and diplomatic.
The military pressures stemmed from discussions 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 June 18 1945 General Marshall and Secretary of War Stimson convinced Truman to set and invasion of the island of Kyushu for November of 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 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, belong to a race that had already amply demonstrated it?s ability to fight literally to the death.”(Stimson p45), 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 was fully condoned and never questioned. Truman’s feeling 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 “Sec. 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.”(Loebs p56) In these diary entries it seems that military pressures lied most heavily on Truman’s mind.
After the dropping of the bombs President Truman, Secretary of War Stimson and others claimed that the military pressures discussed above were the only reason for deciding to drop the bombs. Stimson wrote, “At no time, from 1941 to 1945, did I ever hear it suggested by the President, or any other responsible member of the government, that atomic energy should not be used in the war,: and also added, “The entire purpose was the production of a military weapon .”(Stimson p98) Thus the traditional view was established–the bomb was a legitimate weapon of war and used only for military purposes.
This simplistic military view was furthered by press release in the weeks following the bombings. For example, The New York Times quoted Truman on August 7the with phrases as, Hiroshima was a major military target,” and, “We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history and won.” (Shalet) These phrases and others gave readers the single-sided view that the bomb was dropped for military reasons, and through the entirety of the 1940s and 1950s, no other major contradictory statement of any kind was ever made. The praising and glorifying of the scientists involved which filled the paper after the bombs were dropped, Truman implied the bomb was something fo which the American people should be proud of.
The second major source of pressure on Truman and his advisors to drop the atomic bombs came from domestic tensions and issues of reelection, combined with a collective American feeling of hatred toward the Japanese race. As in most major military conflicts, there was an effort to establish the American as morally superior to the Japanese. Truman was no exception to this generalization, and on July 25, 1945 he wrote that the Japanese people were, “savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic?”(Hogan p91) Furthermore, there was fear amongst Truman’s advisors that if they were to, “interpret the supreme war goal more leniently for Japan than had been the case with Germany,” they would, “leave an unwanted impression, at home and abroad, of ‘appeasement.”(Stimson p106) Truman knew that if he backed down and did not remain firm on his stance with Japan the American public might be outraged. Furthermore, if the bomb was not dropped, Truman feared that it would prove extremely difficult in post war America to justify the two billion dollars spent on the Manhattan Project.(Miles p124) Truman became president because Roosevelt died while in office, and although he never fully embraced the idea of being President, a desire to ensure the possibility of his reelection would certainly have been at least a subconscious consideration.
The third major source of pressures on Truman to drop the bomb was diplomatic tensions with Russia. The “revisionist” historian Alperotiz claims that Truman made a conscious effort to postpone the Postdam meeting until the atomic bomb could be tested, which he calls the “strategy of delayed showdown.”(Stimson p100) In this way, Truman would be able to intimidate the Russians and gain the political upper hand, or as Secretary of State Byrnes told Truman the bomb could, “put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.”(Alpervitz p317) On May 16 1945 Stimson told President Truman that, “We shall probably hold more cards in our hands later that now,” and supposedly urged him to adopt the policy of delay.(Alpervitz p317) Although Alperovitz himself admits that many of the details are missing from the Truman’s meetings with his advisors, it nonetheless becomes extremely difficult to believe Truman and Stimson’s claim that the only reason the bomb was dropped was for military reasons.
In his diary on July 17the, the first day of the Postdam Conference, Truman recorded that, “Most of the big points are settled. Stallin will be in the war on August 15the, Fini Japs when that comes about.”(Loebs p13) Those last six words are of the utmost importance, for they strongly suggest that Truman desired not to receive help from the Russians, but instead to finish the war before Russia aid came into being. Perhaps, as Alperovitz maintains, there may well have been a desire on Truman’s part to drop the bomb to gain an upper had against Russia.
A non-combat demonstration would have entailed either dropping the bomb in a desolate area with international observers or dropping of the bomb on an unpopulated area of Japan. This alternative was brought up twice, once on May 31, 1945 at the Interim Committee Lunch and again in the Frank Committee report on June 11, 1945. The recommendation by the Scientific Panel, was to use the bomb only in “direct military use.”(Stimson p105) This recommendation was collectively embraced by Stimson, Truman, Byrnes and others because they feared that the bomb might turn out to be a “dud” and thus prove counterproductive toward intimidating the Japanese. Thus this alternative was not pursued, for the logistical obstacles were thought to be difficult to overcome, and Allied military and political advisors were not sure the observers would be allowed to report the demonstration to the Japanese Emerpor accurately.
The second alternative to dropping the bomb would have been to modify the American demand for the unconditional surrender so as to guarantee the continuance of the Japanese emperor. It was believed by many American officials that this was the single issue restraining the peace factions in Japan. After consulting with Joseph Grew and Harry Hopkins, who both believed that Japan was already on the verge of defeat, Admiral Leahy recommended to Truman on June 18, 1945 that the demand for unconditional surrender be modified. Truman commented that he would think about it, but voiced concern over public opinion on this matter.(Miles p135) Stimson concurred, and in his July 2, 1945 memorandum to Truman he wrote that he advised adding the clause that while the United States demanded a “peacefully inclined government,” they would “not exclude a constitutional monarchy under Japan’s present dynasty.”(Stimson p104) In the end Truman did not except this recommendation, and the Postdam Declaration was released without any mention of the Japanese emperor. Truman made this decision because he feared that such a modification might “embolden the Japanese to fight on for better terms.”
Since these alternatives were not explored by Truman and his officials, we will never know if the atomic bombs were indeed a savior of lives( as said by many who support the droppings). The decision to drop the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the most controversial and written about subjects. The majority of people feel it was an immoral diplomatic maneuver or a glorious military action. I feel it was combination of military diplomatic and domestic issues that led Truman’s decision. In addition instead of passionately declaring the bomb to have cost innocent lives, or declaring blankly that it was without doubt a savior of lives, it seems most reasonable to conclude the we simply can not tell. Furthermore, Truman became President only weeks before making his monumental decision; he seems to have dropped the bomb simply because he never considered not dropping the bomb. Together with his advisors, Truman never thought to rethink the basic principals established under the Manhattan Project’s inception under Roosevelt, and therefore dropped the bomb because they believed in their heart it was the right thing to do, and never reconsidered.
?Part of being responsible for our actions is knowing what our choices are and living with our decisions. Choosing to hit the snooze alarm can send shock waves through the rest of your life.? (Steigerwalt p715)
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