Question for Discussion: Did the United States
need to drop the atomic bomb on Japan
in order to end World War II?
Reading: Smithsonian editorial
(web); Stimson "The
Decision to Drop the Bomb" (web);
Survey (web); Alperovitz "More
on Atomic Diplomacy"
The Day after Trinity
The Impact of the Atomic
Bomb on Japan
The U.S. Decision to Drop
The Atomic Bomb and the
1. The Atomic Bombing of Japan
2. The U.S. Decision to drop the Bombs
3. The Atomic Bomb and the Cold War
1. Do you accept Stimson's argument that after
so much money producing an atomic bomb that it was
necessary to use it in order to justify all the money spent
to build it?
2. Do you accept Stimson's argument that dropping
the atomic bomb prevented an American invasion of Japan?
3. If Truman had already concluded that Japan
to surrender, why did he decide to drop the atomic bomb
4. What do you think Stimson meant when he
wrote in his diary that "the atomic bomb was the United States'
master card in dealing, not just with Japan, but with the Soviet
Union as well"?
5. Why did Truman use the atomic bomb on Japan
when he wrote in his diary that Japan would surrender as soon as
the Soviet Union entered the war? Why didn't he wait for
the Soviets to enter the war?
6. Why did Truman tell the American people
that it was necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to end the
war when many top military leaders such as Eisenhower, Leahy, and
Bard told him that it wasn't necessary to
drop the bomb?
7. Why didn't Truman allow the Japaneese to
make a conditional surrender, with the terms that they could keep
their Emperor, knowing that this would have allowed the war to end
in June 1945?
8. What did Secretary of State Byrnes mean
argued that "rattling the bomb miht make Russia more
9. Why if most American historians have concluded
that it wasn't necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan in order
to end the war do so many Americans continue to believe that dropping
the bomb ended the war?
10. What does it mean that the American military's
own study, "U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey," in 1946 concluded
that it wasn't necessary to drop the bomb on Japan" is ignored
by President Truman and other Americans who still insist that we
were forced to drop the bomb?
11. Why are so many Americans so uncomfortable
with the growing evidence that the United States didn't need to
drop the bomb to end the war against Japan?
12. What are the larger conclusions that Americans
be forced to draw if they accepted this evidence that the
U.S. didn't need to drop the bomb in order to force Japan
Dates for Understanding Truman's Decision
1. Truman delays Potsdam
meeting with the Soviets until he is informed that the atomic bomb
was successfully tested. The atomic bomb exploded in Alamogordo,
New Mexico, on July 16th, and the Postdam meeting began on
July 17th, 1945.
2. At Postdam, Truman gets
the Soviets to agree to enter the war a week later than they had
originally promised, moving the date from August 8th to August 15th,
3. After Soviets agree
to enter the war against Japan on August 15th, Truman then orders
that the Atomic bombs be dropped on August 6th and 9th, 1945.
4. If Truman thought that
the war would be over as soon as the Soviets entered the war against
Japan, why did he drop the atomic bombs on Japan before the Soviets
could enter the war on August 15th, 1945?
Recognizing that the United States had misled them, after the American
atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, the Russians entered
the war against Japan on August 9th. After the atomic bombing of
Nagasaki and the Russian entry into the war on August 9th, the Japanese
surrendered on August 10th and the U.S. accepted their surrender
on August 15th--the day the Russians were scheduled to enter the
war against Japan.
6. In order to keep the Russians
out of any peace settlement with Japan and prevent any Russian claims
on Asia, the United States accepted the Japanese offer of conditional
surrender on August 10th.The Japanese surrender wasn't an unconditional
surrender, which President Truman had demanded of the Japanese since
7. Had the United States
allowed the Japanese to keep their emperor the Japanese would
have surrendered much earlier, as early as June 1945 when the Japanese
offered a conditional surrender through Russian and Italian intermediaries.
The Real Reason
Truman dropped the Atomic Bomb
"Secretary of State James
Byrnes wanted to use the atomic bomb to end the war before 'Moscow
could in so much on the kill.' Byrnes did not argue that is was
necessary to use the bomb against the cities of the Japan in order
to win the war.... Byrnes's...view was that our possessing
and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable."
President Truman wanted to end the war before the Russians could
enter the war against Japan in Asia. Truman didn't want
Russia to play a major role in determining the post-war peace
While at the Potsdam
meeting, Truman National Security Advisor, James Byrnes advised
Truman that a combat display of the weapon might be used to bully
Russia into submission, and the the bomb "might well put us
in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war."
Or, consider a diary
entry by Walter Brown, an assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes
which clearly suggests Truman and Byrnes saw the bomb as a way
to reduce Soviet political influence in Asia. Brown noted that
Byrnes, whom Truman had designated his main adviser on the issue,
was 'hoping for time, believing that after (the) atomic bomb Japan
will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill,
thereby being in a position to press for claims in China'.
In other words, to ensure
that the Americans had an advantage in the US-Soviet scramble
to grab China, a quarter of a million Japanese, mostly women and
children, had to die.
When General Marshall
dispatched Truman's order to drop the atomic bomb, Marshall already
believed that Japan had lost the war. Shortly before he died,
Marshall told an interviewer that the atomic bomb had precipitated
the surrender only "by months."
First let's go to the Pro
and Con Arguments on Dropping the Atomic Bomb site
on the internet. There you will find competing perspectives on
whether the United States needed to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.
Notice that the arguments for dropping the bomb on Japan focus
on saving American lives in the event of an invasion of Japan,
quickly ending the war, and preventing the Soviets from playing
a major role in the post-war peace settlement with Japan. However,
one of the major arguments against using the bomb was to intimidate
the Soviets in a game of "power politics between the U.S.
and the Soviet Union." I will argue that, in fact, as one
of the pro arguments for dropping the bomb states, "the bomb's
use impressed the Soviet Union and halted the war quickly enough
that the USSR did not demand joint occupation of Japan."
The conventional arguments for dropping the bomb--to prevent an
invasion and to force Japan to surrender--are not the real reasons
for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. The truth is that President
Truman made a conscious and calculated decision to drop the atomic
bomb on Japan in order to intimidate the Soviet Union and force
the Russians to accept American leadership and domination of the
post-war world. The larger unanswered question is why President
Truman did not tell the American people the truth and instead
fabricated a story about saving American lives and the bomb being
necessary to force Japan to surrender.
Let's look at the conventional arguments
used to support the atomic bombing of Japan that McGeorge Bundy
restates in his essay, "Danger and Survival." In order
to understand McGeorge Bundy's position, we need to remember that
he co-wrote an influential article with the Secretary of War Stimson
in 1946 justifying the use of the atomic bomb. His current essay
merely rehashes the points he made supporting dropping the atomic
bomb in 1946. In fact, in 1946, President Truman encouraged Stimson
to write a defense of his decision to drop the bomb. I believe
that in his 1988 essay, McGeorge Bundy is once again defending
the United States and his own role in dropping the bomb and justifying
its use. Therefore, we must recognize that McGeorge Bundy's arguments
are biased and used to justify and support his own role in the
United States' efforts to convince Americans and others that it
had to use to bomb to end the war against Japan.
McGeorge Bundy argues that the President
Truman and the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan
in order to end the war and win a complete victory as fast as
possible. He argues that dropping the bomb saved hundreds of thousands
of American lives that would have been lost if the United States
was forced to invade Japan. McGeorge Bundy also argues that the
atomic bomb was used just like any other weapon of war; the U.S.
military did not see the atomic bomb as anything other than an
instrument of war. In fact, he argues that there is little difference
between the conventional destruction of Tokyo that killed 100,000
people caused by conventional American saturation bombing and
the atomic bombing of Hiroshima which also killed 100,000 people.
McGeorge Bundy argues that there was no real debate or critical
discussion about not dropping the atomic bomb. He claims that
the President's advisors and the American military were unanimous
in their support for dropping the bomb. He concludes that the
bomb was dropped in 1945 to "shorten the war, and in that
they succeeded." For McGeorge Bundy, as for many Americans
since, there is little reason to question why the United States
dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
But let's look at the mounting evidence
that the conventional arguments supporting dropping the atomic
bomb are misguided and disingenuous. In fact, as a result of recent
work by American historians, the Smithsonian museum was prepared
to open its exhibit on the Hiroshima bombing by carefully looking
at both sides of the debate over whether we should have dropped
the bomb. But conservative politicians, numerous veteran groups,
and other concerned Americans forced the Smithsonian to rework
its planned exhibit to focus and highlight the arguments supporting
dropping the bomb and discount the arguments against. Why after
fifty years would Americans still be so emotionally and politically
divided over the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima? I will argue
that these divisions are the result of the nagging suspicion that
the United States government lied to the American people about
the true reasons for dropping the bomb. Americans are forced to
accept the conventional arguments supporting dropping the bomb
or admit that their President lied to them about the real reasons
for dropping the bomb. This creates a complex and difficult dilemma
for many Americans.
Let's now look at the growing and
substantial evidence that the United States did not need to drop
the atomic bomb on Japan in order to end the war. In 1946, the
U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey examined the evidence and concluded
that that "certainly prior to December 31, 1945, and in all
probability prior to November 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered
even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia
had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned
or contemplated." In June 1945, the United States had intercepted
Japanese cables to the Soviet Union seeking help with their offer
of surrender. In addition, American diplomats and negotiators
in June 1945 told President Truman that the Japanese were seeking
to surrender on one condition--that they be allowed to keep their
emperor. But President Truman and the United States refused these
initial Japanese offers, demanding that Japan surrender unconditionally
and agree to give up their emperor.
In June and July 1945 American planes,
using saturation bombing, firebombed and destroyed 59 out of Japan's
66 largest cities, killing over one million people and leaving
20 million homeless. If American planes controlled the skies over
Japan, why did we just continue to bomb Japanese cities with conventional
bombs in order to force them to surrender? We now know that Hiroshima
and Nagasaki were two of a small number of Japanese cities sparred
from this saturation bombing in order to determine the effects
of an atomic bomb on a city. Clearly, American bombing and the
complete American naval blockade of Japan in the summer of 1945
was slowly strangling Japan.
In June 1945, top American military
commanders advised President Truman not to use the atomic bomb.
General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of American forces
in Europe, told Secretary of War Stimson "that Japan was
already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary."
In July 1945 Eisenhower met with Truman and advised him not to
use the bomb. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral
Leahy, also advised Truman not to drop the atomic bomb, arguing
that Japan was already defeated. Moreover, the Army Air Force
Chief, General Henry Arnold, believed that Japan would have surrendered
without the use of the atomic bomb and without an American invasion
of Japan. So when McGeorge Bundy and others argue that the military
unanimously supported the dropping of the atomic bomb, he is simply
As a result of President Truman's
own argument that he dropped the bomb in order to avoid a costly
American invasion of Japan, many Americans believe the bomb was
necessary because it saved American lives. Stimson and McGeorge
Bundy in their 1946 article defending the dropping of the bomb
argued that it prevented up to one million American casualties
that would result from an American invasion. But there is no military
evidence that the casualties would be this high. In fact, the
highest military casualty figures for an American invasion of
Japan are 46,000. But this is really beside the point. There is
no real evidence that American leaders were seriously preparing
an invasion of Japan. Our military leaders and diplomats were
telling President Truman that they were ready to surrender. So
why do American Presidents and other Americans continue to use
this argument that the bomb prevented a costly American invasion?
Let's now look at the real reason
President Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. In his own
diaries as early as June 1945, Truman indicates that he knows
that Japan is trying to surrender. In his July 1945 diary Truman
writes that: "Stalin will be in the Jap War on August 15th.
Fini Japs when that comes about." In writing to his wife
on July 18th, Truman said: "I've gotten what I came for--Stalin
goes to war on August 15th with no strings on it...I'll say that
we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who
won't be killed." But if Truman realized that the Japanese
would surrender soon after the Russians entered the war, why did
he drop the atomic bombs about one week before the Russians declared
war against Japan? If he wanted to end the war quickly and save
lives as he said he did, why didn't he simply wait for the Russians
to enter the fighting against Japan on August 15th? This is the
critical question to ask in order to understand the real reasons
the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.
In July 1945, Truman delayed the
Potsdam meetings between himself, Churchill, and Stalin until
he heard whether the atomic bomb worked. Being informed of the
successful test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16th, Truman
agreed to allow the Potsdam meetings to begin on July 17th. During
his meeting with Stalin, Truman got the Russians to delay their
entry into the war against Japan a week; they agreed to enter
the fight against Japan on August 15th and not on August 8th has
they had originally agreed to. After Truman got the Russians to
delay their entry into the war, he then gave the order to drop
the atomic bombs in the weeks before the Russian entry into the
war. But why did he do this, knowing that the Japanese were already
defeated and that Russian entry would force the Japanese to accept
an unconditional surrender?
Clearly, President Truman wanted
to quickly force the Japanese to accept an American unconditional
surrender before the Russians could get involved in the war and
demand a role in the post-war peace in Asia. Recognizing that
the United States had misled them, after the American atomic bombing
of Hiroshima on August 6th, the Russians entered the war against
Japan on August 9th. After the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and
the Russian entry into the war on August 9th, the Japanese surrendered
on August 10th. In
order to keep the Russians out of any peace settlement with Japan
and prevent any Russian claims on Asia, the United States accepted
the Japanese offer of conditional surrender on August 15th.The
Japanese surrender wasn't an unconditional surrender, which President
Truman had demanded of the Japanese since May 1945. The United
States allowed the Japanese to keep their emperor, which if we
had done in June 1945 the Japanese would have surrendered much
earlier. So why then did we drop the atomic bombs on Japan?
To keep the Russians out of the war against Japan and out of Asia.
When the atomic bombing didn't succeed in getting an unconditional
surrender, the United States accepted a Japanese conditional surrender
in order to keep the Russians out of the war.
Truman explained his actions at the
Potsdam conference this way: "One of the main objectives
of the Potsdam Conference was to get Russia in as quickly as we
could and then to keep Russia out of Japan--and I did it."
Truman's Secretary of State James Byrnes wanted to use the atomic
bomb to end the war before Moscow "could get in so much of
the kill." Byrnes told Leo Szilard in May 1945 that "rattling
the bomb might make Russia more manageable." Truman himself
refers to what the Russians would later call dangerous "atomic
diplomacy" by describing his strategy for dealing with the
Russians: "He doesn't know it but I have an ace in the hole
and another one showing--so unless he has two pairs (and I know
he has not) we are sitting all right." For Truman and Byrnes,
dropping the atomic bomb on Japan would quickly force Japan to
surrender on American terms before the Russians could get into
the way and would also demonstrate to the Soviet Union that the
United States had the will and the power to use the atomic bomb
against its enemies. So why didn't President Truman go to the
American people and tell them the truth about why he dropped the
After dropping the atomic bombs,
President Truman and the United States immediately faced harsh
criticism from Americans and Europeans, some who compared the
American bombing with the German holocaust. Facing this criticism
and worried about re-election, Truman lied to the American people
about the real reasons the United States dropped the bomb. Instead
of telling the truth, Truman and other top American officials
created a series of lies that have become the conventional arguments
for dropping the bomb. McGeorge Bundy participated in the creation
of these falsehoods in 1946, and is still spreading these lies
in his 1988 essay. Many would now ask why so many Americans still
believe these lies despite the growing historical evidence that
the United States did not need to drop the bomb in order to defeat
In conclusion, the American atomic
bombing of Japan was the first act in a growing Cold War between
the United States and the Soviet Union. In order to win support
for American's involvement in the Cold War, President and top
government officials often lied to the American people, feeling
that Americans could not be trusted to understand and accept the
real reasons for American actions. The atomic bombing of Japan
is the first of many lies Presidents and American officials will
tell the American people. The larger question must be raised:
What is the impact on American democracy of American leaders lying
to the American people and no longer trusting them to support
American Cold War policies. Can America be a democracy when its
government lies to the American people and prevents them from
freely and openly debating American foreign and domestic policy?
Can America be a democracy when its leaders no longer trust Americans
to make the rights decisions in order to support American global
economic, political, and military dominance? These are the larger
troubling questions raised as a result of the debate over the
American atomic bombing of Japan. Rather than face the larger,
disturbing truth that American Presidents have lied to them, many
Americans continue to support these lies. If we didn't drop the
atomic bomb to save lives and force the Japanese to surrender,
then why did we do it, and why did the President lie to the American
people? These are dangerous and forbidden questions that the debate
over the Smithsonian exhibit proves Americans are still unwilling