Was Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan in World War II justified?

A: Plan of Investigation (2 Marks) Was Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan in World War II justified? On 6 August 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped by a B-29 Superfortress aircraft on Hiroshima, Japan. This atomic bomb, dropped as a nuclear attack in an attempt to make Japan surrender, destroyed Hiroshima and over 90,000 people were instantly killed. Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese government refused to accept the United States’ terms of surrender, and on 9 August 1945, the second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. Many people opposed to the use of the atomic bombs, as the bombing off civilians was considered a barbaric act. The aim of this investigation is to find out whether Truman’s decision to drop the Atomic Bombs over Japan was justified. This investigation will briefly cover the events that led to the United States’ involvement with World War II and its interactions with Japan during the war before the atomic bombings, as well as Truman’s decision to allow the bombs to be dropped over the cities. Research from various official documents, eyewitness accounts, and transcripts from Truman’s speeches and diary will indicate whether his decision to drop the atomic bombs over Japan in World War II was justified or not.

B: Summary of Evidence (5 marks)

1. Events Leading to the United States’ involvement in World War II

From the start of World War II in September of 1939, the United States remained neutral until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor was a naval base located in Hawaii, and as the Japanese forces pushed into China, the United States started increasing defenses. However, a mock attack was conducted and the defenses were deemed a “failure”. However, on the morning of 7 December 1941, the fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor and other US forces were attacked by the Empire of Japan’s Carrier Striking Task Force. Thirty minutes prior to the attack, a message was sent to the US, breaking off relations. This surprise attack left 2403 Americans dead and 1178 wounded. In addition, 188 aircraft were destroyed and numerous vessels were sunk or damaged, including five battleships and three destroyers. In this attack, Japan’s losses included 64 dead and 1 captured. In addition, 29 aircraft and 5 submarines were lost. The purpose of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was to protect Japan’s advances into Singapore and the Dutch East Indies by preventing the US fleet from intervening. Roosevelt’s response to the Pearl Harbor surprise attacks was that he called a joint session of Congress and called the day of the attacks a “day which will live in infamy”. Congress declared war on Japan, outraged at the attacks and Japan’s late notification of their broken relations. Public opinion had been divided as to whether the US should enter the war or not, but overnight it changed Americans shared a common opposition against Japan.

2. Reasons Which Lead to Truman’s Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs over Japan The atomic bombs were dropped both for diplomatic reasons and as a method of forcing Japan to surrender. Russia was planning to join the war against Japan 90 days after VE Day according to the Potsdam Agreement, but the US wanted to win the war before the USSR joined in order to prevent Stalin from claiming land in Japan and spreading communist influence. Thus, in order to decrease the potential Russian influence in post-war Japan, the Allies had to defeat Japan before the USSR joined the fight. The atomic bomb was a diplomatic way of keeping the USSR out of the fight and the decision over post-war Japan. In addition, military simulations predicted that a land attack against Japan would result in over 1,000,000 casualties, making the idea of dropping the atomic bombs more strategic.

3. Production and Dropping of the Atomic Bombs In 1941, the Manhattan Project was started to develop the first nuclear weapon. The project was directed by J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American physicist, and administrated by General Leslie R. Groves. In 1945, three nuclear weapons were successfully produced. The first, “Trinity”, was a test bomb, detonated near Alamogordo, Mexico on July 16. The second bomb, “Little Boy”, was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6. The third and final bomb, “Fat Man”, was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9.

Ten days before the US dropped “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, an ultimatum was presented: The Potsdam Declaration demanded unconditional surrender from the Japanese emperor. Months before the Hiroshima bombings, the Japanese were willing to surrender on the terms of preservation of the Japanese empire and national polity, assumption by the Japanese for responsibility of disarmament and demobilization, and no occupation and delegation to the Japanese government of the punishment of war criminals. However, this did not meet the ultimatum, and ten days later, the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. Two days later, the Japanese still did not surrender, and the second bomb was dropped over Nagasaki. On 12 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito accepted the Potsdam Agreement’s terms of surrender.

C: Evaluation of Source (4 marks)

Two of the sources used were: Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Praeger Publishers. This book is based on extensive research both in the United States and Japan regarding the decision to drop the atomic bomb. The book follows both the decisions made in Washington, USA and Tokyo, Japan that led to this deadly decision and also investigates the possible opportunities that could have led away from these decisions. This book analyzes the politics, diplomacy and military actions that influenced both the United States and Japan. The book also looks into

topics such as the Manhattan Project and the numerous debates within the Truman administration, such as whether to change the United States’ demands, plan a land invasion of Japan, or bomb Japan to surrender. The book’s value lies mostly in that the book offers a view from both the Japanese and American side as well as providing a non-opinionated view of the situation; the author’s personal comments were kept to the back of the book. However, this is limited because the book does not cover the moral dilemma Truman face adequately.

Knebel, Fletcher and Bailey, Charles W. (1960). No High Ground. Harper and Row. This source is most valuable because it provides an objective view at both the United States and Japan before and after the decision to drop the atomic bombs. This was written by two American authors who wrote political books. The limitations of this source could be that it does not provide any moral views regarding this situation; it merely provides the facts.

D: Analysis (5 marks) The events leading up to the point where Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb are critical points in this debate. The Germans had recently surrendered, and in the Potsdam Conference, Japan’s terms of surrender were explained in the Potsdam Declaration. If Japan did not surrender, it would face utter destruction. The United States, USSR, and China (hereon referred to as the Allies), after defeating Germany, had the upper hand against Japan.1 They had

more forces, more resources, far more land, and more leverage in the political struggle. The Allies had defeated Germany through conventional warfare (fighting with military units such as infantry, tanks, and aircraft, or any military fighting which does not involve chemical, biological, or nuclear payloads), starting with the D-Day assault on Normandy. Truman considered attacking Japan with conventional warfare, but military simulations projected over 1,000,000 casualties in a land invasion of Japan.2 The number of people killed by the atomic bombs in Japan was merely a fraction compared to the number of soldiers that would be lost in a land battle. One of the difficult morality issues Truman had to decide on was whether to send in soldiers to invade Japan when he knew that there were going to be many casualties or whether to drop the most powerful bomb the United States had ever made on a Japanese city. Obviously one would think to go with the strategy that involves the least deaths, but it was stated in the International Laws and Customs of War on Land that “the attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations, or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited”; bombing civilians was a cruel means to win a war.3 However, Truman got around this issue by referring to Hiroshima as a “military” base in a radio speech and told his diary that he ordered the bomb dropped on a “purely military” target.4 Truman also had to deal with the issue of the use of such a powerful weapon. The “Trinity” test was dropped in Alamogordo, Mexico with several eminent scientists observing from positions 10-25 miles away. The closest scientist, Enrico Fermi, described the explosion as a “very intense flash of light

and a sensation of heat on the parts of my body that were exposed”. Similar accounts were also reported by other scientists up to 25 miles away from the bomb site. Fermi estimated the explosion of the blast to be about 10,000 tons of TNT. This intense power shocked many of the scientists, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, also known as “the father of the atomic bomb”, who felt that he had become the “destroyer of worlds”, that, instead of using science to improve humanity, he had used it to destroy.5,6 In fact, the thought of using such a powerful weapon against other humans was such a shock to the physicists and scientists that the Szilard Petition (1945) was written, signed by 69 members of the Manhattan Project. These scientists strongly urged the President not to use the atomic bomb for fear of bringing the world to a nuclear age where different nations will have no limit to the amount of destructive power that can be harnessed by the atomic bombs. The moral point was also raised, saying that using such a weapon is not justified and would weaken the United States’ moral position and that all the cities of the United States and other countries will be in constant danger of sudden annihilation.7 Truman went on with the bombing of Hiroshima, despite the voiced concerns from many of the very scientists who had designed and created the atomic bomb and felt that it was morally wrong to drop the bomb. However, it must be said that, despite the moral issues of this situation, Truman had many reasons to make the decision to drop the atomic bomb. The Japanese were ready to fight, should a conventional war be brought to their homeland, causing many casualties on both sides. One side effect of a

conventional war would have been a prolonging of the fight. Rather than spending months, even years, fighting a war in Japan and suffering many losses, the prospect of simply dropping a bomb over Japan and ending the war was more appealing. Truman wanted to minimize the amount of time needed to force an unconditional surrender because Russia was to join the fight against Japan within 90 days after VE Day. If Russia joined the fight against Japan, the other countries would be obligated to give her a portion in determining post-war Japan, which would result in the communist influence being spread over to Japan and eventually the entire Pacific.

E: Conclusion (2 marks) Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan was justified in the sense that he was making the decision that would lead to what he thought would be the best outcome, or rather the outcome with the least amount of loss and destruction. Losing 1,000,000 Americans in a land invasion of Japan would surely be worse than dropping the atomic bomb, even with the moral issues. Although Truman’s initial decision to drop the atomic bomb was justified, the second atomic bombing was not. Before the first bombing, ten days were given to the Japanese citizens in advance, with airplanes dropping leaflets warning them of the upcoming bombing. However, the second atomic bomb was dropped only three days later. The Japanese citizens and government had very little time to react and decide whether to surrender or not. Truman’s decision should have been to wait another ten days to drop the second atomic bomb rather

than drop the second bomb three days later and run out of nuclear weapons. This would have given the Japanese citizens more time to convince the government to surrender, and could have possibly led to a more peaceful and less destructive outcome.

F: List of Sources (2 marks)

Endnotes 1. "Potsdam Declaration | Birth of the Constitution of Japan." Birth of the Constitution of Japan. 2004. National Diet Library. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/etc/c06.html>. 2. Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Praeger Publishers. 3. "The Avalon Project - Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague, II); July 29, 1899." Yale University. 1998. Yale University. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague02.htm>. 4. Dannen, Gene. "Atomic Bomb: Decision (Hiroshima-Nagasaki)." Atomic Bomb: Decision. 2000. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.dannen.com/decision/index.html>. 5. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 227, OSRD-S1 Committee, Box 82 folder 6, "Trinity." 6. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, 201 Groves, L. R. Lt. Gen., telephone conversations.

7. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76.

Bibliography 1. Dannen, Gene. "Atomic Bomb: Decision (Hiroshima-Nagasaki)." Atomic Bomb: Decision. 2000. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.dannen.com/decision/index.html>. 2. Knebel, Fletcher and Bailey, Charles W. (1960). No High Ground. Harper and Row. 3. "Potsdam Declaration | Birth of the Constitution of Japan." Birth of the Constitution of Japan. 2004. National Diet Library. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/etc/c06.html>. 4. "President Truman Did Not Understand." US News & World Report 15 Aug 1960: 68-71. 5. "The Avalon Project - Laws of War: Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague, II); July 29, 1899." Yale University. 1998. Yale University. 13 Jun 2007 <http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague02.htm>. 6. Truman, Harry S. Year of Decisions . Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1955. 7. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project File '42 to '46, Folder 5B "(Directives, Memos, Etc. to and from C/S, S/W, etc.).”

8. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, 201 Groves, L. R. Lt. Gen., telephone conversations. 9. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76. 10. U.S. National Archives, Record Group 227, OSRD-S1 Committee, Box 82 folder 6, "Trinity." 11. Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Praeger Publishers.

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