In early August 1945 atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs quickly yielded the surrender of 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 citizens1.
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 bomb was a diplomatic maneuver aimed at intimating and gaining the upper hand in relations with Russia. Today, fifty-four years after the two bombings, with the advantage of historical hindsight and the advantage of new evidence, a third view, free of obscuring bias and passion, can be presented. First, the dropping of the bomb was born out of complex infinite military, domestic and diplomatic pressures and concerns. Second, many potentially viable alternatives to dropping the bombs were not explored by Truman and other men in power, as they probably should have been. Lastly, because these alternatives were never explored, we can only conjecture over whether or not Truman’s decision was a morally just one, and if indeed it was necessary to use atomic energy to win the war.
The war in Asia had its roots in the early 1930s. Japan had expansionist aims in Eastern Asia and the Western Pacific, especially in Indochina2. In July of 1940 the United States placed an embargo on materials exported to Japan, including oil in the hope of restraining Japanese expansionism. Nevertheless, tensions remained high in Asia, and only increased in 1939 when Germany ignited World War II with an invasion of Poland. America’s determination to remain isolated changed abruptly following Japan’s “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. Military strategists and politicians poured the majority of American war effort into the European theater, and before the United States could fully mobilize most of South-East Asia had fallen to Japan, including the Philippines.
Slowly, the United States recaptured the many small islands invaded by Japan, including Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. These “Japanese forces waged a stubborn, often suicidal battles were ferocious; although the Americans won each, resistance. ” They demolished the Japanese fleet and established air bases3, for at the naval battle of Midway Island, America supporting conventional bombing. Under the guidance of President Roosevelt, a top-secret joint effort between America and the United Kingdom had begun to build an atomic bomb that could be used against Germany. Run by General Leslie R. Groves at locations such as Los Alamos, New Mexico, this project then called by its code name only to a handful of scientists and politicians.
Truman learned of the project, then called by its code name S-1 (and later as the Manhattan Project), from Secretary of War Stimson on April 25 19454, only after becoming President. Concurrent with the Manhattan project, both Japan and America were making preparations for a final all-encompassing conflict, which both sides expected would involve an American invasion of mainland Japan. The Americans expanded conventional bombing and tightened their increasingly successful naval blockade5. The Japanese began and stockpiling of aircraft, amassed a giant conscripted military force, and commenced the creation of a civilian armywho swore total allegiance to the emperor. This awe-inspiring army included “so-called Sherman Carpets,’ children with dynamite strapped to their bodies and trained to throw themselves under American tanks. ” 6In the end, these final preparations were not employed.
On August 26th, 194 the American B-29 bomb, named Enola Gay by the Pilot Paul W. Tibbets, dropped the “little boy” uranium atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb, made of plutonium and nicknamed “fat boy,” was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. On August 14th, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally and the war in Asia ended. Truman’s monumental decision to drop these bombs was born out of the complex background discussed above.
Pressure to drop the bomb stemmed from three major categories: military, domestic and diplomatic.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 .