Skip to content

Should We Have Dropped Atomic Bomb Essay

As evidence of the link between the bomb decision and diplomacy toward Moscow, Mr. Alperovitz points to Truman's postponement of his Potsdam meeting with Stalin and Churchill until July 1945, when the new weapon would have been tested. At Potsdam, after hearing about the first successful detonation in New Mexico, Truman turned suddenly more truculent. According to Stimson, Churchill marveled that the President "was a changed man. He told the Russians just where they got on and off and generally bossed the whole meeting." Truman confided to his crony and reparations negotiator Edwin Pauley that the bomb "would keep the Russians straight." Mr. Alperovitz argues that "the U.S. feeling of cheerfulness rather than frustration" over differences with the Soviets at Potsdam "makes little sense unless one realizes that top policy makers were thinking ahead to the time when the force of the new weapon would be displayed."

But how might Truman, if he were disinclined to use the bomb, have ended the war without the large number of casualties required, by any estimate, for the invasion of Japan? Mr. Alperovitz says that the President could have shown himself a lot more eager to welcome the Soviets into the Asian conflict. Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, had wanted Stalin to help pin the Japanese down on the Chinese mainland, making it harder for them to reinforce their home armies when the Americans invaded.

Mr. Alperovitz suggests that on the issue of Soviet participation in the Japanese war, Truman zigged and zagged after taking office in April 1945. In mid-June, American officials like General Marshall were arguing that a Soviet war declaration might "prove to be the decisive blow to force a Japanese surrender." But at Potsdam, Mr. Alperovitz writes, Truman sought to delay a Soviet war declaration: although it might have precluded the use of the bomb on Japan, it would have given Stalin a large foothold in east Asia. Mr. Alperovitz says that the timing of the Hiroshima bombing -- Aug. 6, 1945 -- was no accident. Two days later the Soviet Union declared war on the Japanese and then crossed the border into Manchuria.

MR. ALPEROVITZ offers another alternative for ending the war without using the bomb: relaxing the unconditional surrender demand issued by Roosevelt in 1943 at Casablanca. He suggests that the President might have provided assurances that if Tokyo surrendered, the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, would be permitted to retain his throne. This idea indeed found strong support among Truman's advisers. Stimson proposed that Truman allow the Japanese "a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty if it be shown to the complete satisfaction of the world that such a government will never again conspire to aggression." Mr. Alperovitz notes that in mid-August, after the bombs had been dropped and the Russians had entered the conflict, Truman and Byrnes were willing to provide assurances about the Emperor. Doesn't the fact that these weren't provided earlier, when they might have helped end the war, indicate an eagerness to drop the bomb?

Mr. Alperovitz gives less weight than other scholars to the arguments against such an offer. As the Stanford historian Barton Bernstein has recently noted in the journal Diplomatic History, the Tokyo regime of mid-summer 1945 was badly split over what kind of American peace offer, if any, to accept. At that point, granting a concession on the Emperor's role could have drawn the United States into extended bargaining with the Japanese leaders. Haggling with a regime that Roosevelt and Truman had denounced as criminal, that had attacked Pearl Harbor and that had committed well-publicized atrocities was the kind of thing the unconditional surrender doctrine had been drafted to avoid. Not irrationally, Truman told Churchill that he did not think the Japanese had "any military honor after Pearl Harbor." (And there is also the possibility that ambiguity over Hirohito's role might have impeded America's ability to occupy the country and reform the political system from the ground up.)

Mr. Alperovitz devotes considerable space to showing how Stimson's article in Harper's, misleading official memoirs and the American Government's refusal over the years to release certain classified documents helped enshrine the original explanation of the atomic bomb decision. Yet, as energetically as he argues his case, he is unlikely to convert those who do not believe that finding an alternative to the atomic bomb should have been an overarching priority for Truman in the summer of 1945.

Moreover, Mr. Alperovitz's new volume lacks what the Harvard historian Charles S. Maier has called the "shock value" of his earlier one. One reason is that we are more skeptical about the motives of our leaders and the origins of the cold war than we were in 1965. But another is the degree to which Mr. Alperovitz's views have pushed other scholars to re-examine their assumptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

IN "Code-Name Downfall," Thomas B. Allen and Norman Polmar, the authors of "CNN: War in the Gulf" and "Rickover: Controversy and Genius," reveal new sidelights on the planning to invade Japan. Amid some purple prose (the book begins, "The United States was plunged into despair on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941," and later says, "MacArthur's life and career were a parade of superlatives"), they show how the fall of Okinawa in July 1945 became the prelude to the planned landing by seven Army and three Marine divisions on Kyushu and the 17-division landing on the main Japanese island of Honshu, the latter action scheduled for March 1946. They describe the fictitious attacks and feints devised to deceive the foe, and the possible American use of poison gas, anthrax germs and atomic weapons during the invasion. Told of Hiroshima, one American planner said he wanted "six of these things" for the Kyushu landing. Ignorant of the danger of radiation to his own troops, General Marshall pondered using atomic bombs on Kyushu before the Americans came ashore.

Mr. Allen and Mr. Polmar explain that before the atomic bombs were dropped the Pentagon expected to be faced with Japanese resistance until November 1946. Grimly recalling a March 1945 bombing attack on the Japanese capital, General Marshall said, "We had 100,000 people killed in Tokyo in one night, and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever."

The authors also describe Truman's effort to assess the possible casualties that would result from a full-scale invasion. Whereas Mr. Alperovitz laments Truman's manipulation of casualty estimates after his retirement (in 1959 he argued that the bomb saved "millions of lives"), Mr. Allen and Mr. Polmar are more intrigued by the manipulation of casualty estimates before Truman made his decision. They note a "worst-case scenario" in June 1945 that estimated the number of battle casualties at 220,000, but caution that the military was not averse to reshaping casualty estimates in order to influence Truman's thinking on whether or not to invade Japan: "High estimates would make the invasion a far less attractive alternative to the bomb."

The authors display little ambivalence about the question raised by the second half of their subtitle, "And Why Truman Dropped the Bomb." They dispose of the immensely complex problem of whether or not the bomb should have been dropped in a few paragraphs, writing, "As for the use of the atomic bomb as an implied threat to the Soviet Union, geopolitics may have been on the minds of some of Truman's advisers, but the war and American lives were on his mind. Preparations for the massive amphibious assault on Japan were under way, and Truman went to Potsdam in July seeking assurance that Stalin would enter the war against Japan. Then Truman learned on July 16 that the atomic bomb would work, and he ordered it used. It was a weapon, and it might end the war without an invasion." Mr. Allen and Mr. Polmar conclude that Kyushu "would have been the bloodiest invasion in history" and "could have been surpassed by the assault of Honshu." The debate goes on.

Continue reading the main story
  • Lesser of two evils.

    The Japanese predicted twenty million clandestine deaths defending the home islands. The more revised US estimates predicted up to four million Allied casualties with one million dead. Not to mention the 1.6million Soviet troops who had just entered the theatre of conflict and who were ruthless in their warfighting and had a tendency to die in their thousands themselves.
    In comparison, the atomic bombs killed between 150,000-250,000 depending on the source. Can you really say that they were unnecessary when looking at these statistics? They unquestionably saved MILLIONS and MILLIONS of lives.
    Sure, it could be said that the use of atomic weapons created a nuclear precedent that led to the Cold War, but the Soviets themselves were developing atomic weapons anyway as Soviet spies had gained access to the Manhattan Project and implemented an atomic weapons program in Russia.
    Other historians have said that the US dropped them simply to show their might and assert their authority. This is absolute rubbish, the US homefront was relatively unscathed and industry was booming with exports and war manufacturing. The US was in pole position to dominate the post-war world with or without the atomic bomb.
    Furthermore, cases have been made for using the bombs over non-populated areas, but where's the guarantee that Japan would have heeded this warning? They outright rejected the threat of annihilation promised in the Potsdam declaration and despite some cities suffering up to 97% damage as a result of area bombing and firebombing, Japan still refused to surrender.
    Elsewhere, historians believed that a continued naval blockade along with conventional bombing would have eventually brought Japan to her knees, however, the US nor the allies for that matter had any intention of allowing a war that had raged for six years to rumble on any further when the means to end it swiftly were readily available. Anyway, with the Soviets invading on the other side, allied lives would still have been lost in their droves, not to mention the lives of the fanatical defenders. It wasn't just the Japanese army that was defending the islands, but a 'civilian militia' that numbered in the millions, all of whom were expected to fight until the last bullet.
    I see these comments about 'de-classified documents estimating 40,000-60,000 deaths' and can't help but laugh at your naivety. On Iwo Jima alone there were almost 50,000 combined casualties, and while it was soverign territory, the home islands of Japan would prove a different battle.
    The terrain of Japan made a land invasion highly predictable to the defenders and the planned guerilla style resistance would have created a battle of attrition. The death toll would have been millions, WITHOUT QUESTION.
    I am a former member of the British military and a third-year American History student, I know what I'm talking about. I challenge any of you to come up with a more thoroughly researched argument.

  • Yes i do think we should have drop the bomb

    I think we should have dropped the bomb on Japan they deserved it. Remember at Pearl Harbor, they bombed us. The war would keep going until they were tired of fighting or until they didn't have any more men to fight with or even if they didn't have any more equipment to fight with. I think you should agree with me.

  • Yes, we should have!

    We dropped the bomb because the Japanese were ruthless jerks who dropped bombs on us first. They destroyed our ships making it to where we couldn't ship as much and defend ourselves. They tore apart Pearl Harbor so much that they could have invaded there and took over and they were sad they didn't. It was only fair that we bomb them in return. It may have killed hundreds but they killed our people, too!

  • Yes they should have

    Yes we should have because they had plenty of opportunities to surrender and they didn't. We told them if they didn't surrender, there would be utter mass destruction put upon them. They chose to ignore it and brush it off. If we had invaded, then probably 1/4th of Japan's population would have been killed. Yes, it was terrible that so many people died, but in the end, it was what the U.S. Thought was necessary. Japan still didn't surrender after the first bomb was dropped, only after the second one was dropped, the emperor of Japan stepped in and gave the final decision of surrendering.

  • The atomic bomb was the best choice.

    If the atomic bomb didn't happen a lot of people would have died for no reason. The Japanese only kept fighting because there leader was making them. All the had to do was just kick him out or something. They started the war so they deserve to bombed. It saved millions of people lives.

  • Of course they should have.

    Think of it, they killed about 15000 people, but if they didn't do it, who knows what could of happened! The war have gone on and on and billions of people could have died! Yes, they could have just stopped at Hiroshima, but still! They killed thousands to save millions.

  • WHY NOT DROP

    What if that was your Family member, Friend, Lover.
    What if that was you fighting in the war. Would you want to get killed, So all people who said we shouldnt have dropped the bomb i think you need Think agian because without that bomb we would have lost more than we killed so think about that maybe just maybe you will change you mind.

  • The U.S had to drop the bomb

    The dropping of those two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was very bad. However, a land invasion would have costed an excess of one million American lives. The Japanese of the 1940's would have fought to the last inch of that island, and the body count would have been astronomically higher if the bombs weren't dropped.

  • Quick ending to the war.

    The us wanted to end the war quickly without costing the lives of more soldiers. So the president agreed to drop the bombs. It made the Japanese surrender because they knew that if they continued the war they could not win. The atomic bomb's destructive power would have defeated them anyways.

  • Not good at tittles :)

    A lot of the arguments I am seeing on the opposing side talks about how lots of innocent people would have been spared if the bombs were not dropped but in reality that would not have been the case.
    If the US would have continued fighting without the dropping of the bomb it would have ended in the invasion of the Japanese home islands since a larger majority of Japanese people did not believe in surrender because of their Samurai code. If the US had decided to go ahead with an invasion it would have resulted in a lot more deaths since the Japanese were teaching children to run into large groups of US soldiers and under tanks and then trigger the explosives, School children were also told to attack them with sharpened wooden sticks. These sort of tactics would probably have had a lot of physiological affects on a lot of people. On top of that once the Nazis had been defeated the Soviet Union had set up a lot of puppet governments in European countries that the Nazis had previously been in control of. If the US were to do a conventional invasion the Soviet Union would probably have done the same thing, with this happening to the Japanese Home Islands a lot of other countries may have also turned against the Japanese (mainly the Pacific ocean countries).
    In conclusion the US was also looking for a fast way out of the war that would have resulted in the last amount of US citizen deaths. The US also gave Japan a chance to surrender before they dropped the 1st bomb but the Japanese government did not understand the power of this weapon since nothing like this has never been seen before. In response to people who say the the bomb was dropped without warning and that their was no reason to do so, the bombing of pearl harbour procured without warning or a solid reason.

    Sorry If I missed anything important or if some of my arguments are not 100% accurate, most of my sources are from western documentaries which can be a little 1 sided.
    (also to lazy to fix any Grammar issues cause I was in class while typing this and that is now over :) )