Should President Truman have used the Atomic Bombs? World War Two remains to be the deadliest conflict in world history. The United States is arguably the biggest world power to have participated in it; it transformed from a nation of isolationists to one that dictated the results of a world war. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, President Truman decided to drop atomic bombs on two cities in Japan.
Since then, his decision has been hotly debated. Some historians justify the dropping of the bombs by claiming that they saved thousands of lives and brought the war to an end.However, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was an unnecessary display of power. The decision was both unjustifiable and immoral. Japanese officials and Emperor Hirohito were already prepared to surrender. It also unintentionally instigated a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. Both Fat Man and Little Boy, the bombs developed by American scientists, were dropped unnecessarily because Japan was already a defeated nation by June 1945.
The country had no troops and the once glorious Imperial navy and air force were all but destroyed.The American strategy of “island hopping” had ended any maritime battles after the battles of Coral Sea and Midway. Three hundred American bombers had bombed Tokyo in March of 1945, killing about a 100,000 people and 60 other Japanese cities had been beaten. Then in May, 520 giant B-29 “Superfortress” bombers unleashed 4,500 tons of incendiary bombs on the same city (DBQ B). The capital city had been battered and Japan’s morale was at an all time low. President Truman’s chief of staff, William D. Healy, said that “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender” (Alperovitz).
The American intelligence program MAGIC had intercepted Japanese code from the homeland to the embassy in America and the Soviet Union; the Japanese had been speaking to the Russians for peace negotiations when they found that the United States would not accept their conditional surrender (Zinn 414). In January 1945, Roosevelt received a 40-page “secret memorandum” from General Douglas MacArthur outlining surrender terms from several high-level officials right before he left for the Yalta Conference.It stated, in short that the Japanese would agree to the complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, occupation of Japan an its possessions by Allied troops, the Japanese relinquishment of seized territory during the war, release of all war prisoners, regulation of Japanese industry to stop war production, and the surrender of designated war criminals (Weber). And in fact, the only condition that the Japanese were willing to surrender with was to keep the Emperor, a holy symbol in their culture. Truman refused to listen to peace terms.He said himself “I was applauded frequently, and when I reaffirmed the policy of unconditional surrender, the chamber rose to its feet” (qtd. in Cooper).
Then on August 12, the United States announced that it would accept the Japanese surrender, making clear in its statement that the emperor could remain in a purely ceremonial capacity only. Even the United States Strategic Bombing Survey admitted that prior to November 1945, “Japan would have surrendered even if the bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated” (Maddox 414).Therefore, the atomic bombs could have been avoided and the one Japanese term of surrender could have been accepted months earlier. The other enduring argument is that the dropping of the atomic bombs was highly immoral. This war marked a large violation of international law set forth by the League of Nations: that the “intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal” (Churchill). Although the League of Nations cannot legally enforce any of its bylaws, its decisions are regarded as honorary conventions to which nations should abide.Roosevelt and Leahy would agree with Churchill, who penned this document.
Truman wrote that the “target would be a highly military one” so that the “soldiers and sailors are targets and not women and children” (Diary July 25 1945). This does not explain the deaths at Hiroshima, which resulted to about 175,000 Japanese civilians, not including the thousands of military personnel. And Hiroshima was considered to be a military base because of its high concentration of military factories and facilities. Nagasaki, on the other hand, was an industrial base where civilians worked in factories.The death toll is estimated to be about 250,000 lives and about 100,000 were injured (Bernstein). Evidence also exists that Japan was chosen instead of Germany for the dropping of the atomic bombs because of racism. In the same diary entry, Truman said that the “Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic” (Diary July 25 1945).
Political cartoons depicted Japanese as subhuman, savage monkeys or vermin. American films like Despicable (1945) dehumanized and demonized Japanese people, portraying them as monsters who “worked sixteen-hour days and then went home and ate Chinese babies”.It served to prepare Americans for the purpose of total warfare and cement in their minds the inhuman qualities of Japan that made it okay to go so far as to drop atomic bombs on them. Movies like Despicable are highly criticized as being highly inaccurate and unilateral, but Americans in the forties believed the so called “captured war footage” (Amazon). The internment of Japanese Americans in forced labor camps further deepened this image and made the atomic bombs acceptable in the average American citizen’s eyes.Furthermore, the dropping of Fat Man and Little Boy was an incendiary that sparked the Cold War. At the Yalta Conference which Churchill, Truman, and Stalin attended, it was decided that “two months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into war against Japan ” (Yalta Conference).
Two months after the German surrender would be August 8th: Little Boy was dropped on August 6th. The United States declared to the other Allied nations that it was a means of ending the war early. However, the date is not a coincidence.The United States distrusted the Soviet Union because of the suspicion that they wanted to open a sphere of influence in Asia, especially China, which the United States felt was finally moving away from its destructive regime. The fear of communism was a large part of the decision to drop the bombs. The bombs were also looked upon as a potential and not a military weapon. They would show the Soviet Union not to interfere with US business.
Some of the very scientists who developed the bombs were hesitant to use nuclear power for destruction, especially to spite the Soviet Union.Nuclear physicist said that “[James Byrens’] view that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe I was not able to share. Indeed I could hardly imagine any premise more false and disastrous upon which to base our policy” (DBQ F). The Russians accepted the challenge and tested their first weapon in 1949. Since World War Two, eight nations have successfully detonated nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear power is high and the weapons themselves are dangerous in the wrong hands.The United States’ justifications for the bombs that they saved more lives than they ended and prevented the Soviet Union from interfering in Eastern Europe and Asia are weak.
The dropping of the atomic bombs was highly unnecessary, immoral, and resulted in unpleasant consequences.
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