History Ext 2

Holly Collins


Hiroshima and Nagasaki

... the cost of a speedy end?

'Hiroshima and Nagasaki [were] the cost of a speedy end to war or symbols of a war gone too far?'

(Suzuki and Oiwa 10)

The United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively, with the consent of the United Kingdom, as required by the Quebec Agreement. The two bombings unnecessarily immediately killed between 115,000 and 250,000 people, most of whom were civilians. Large numbers of people continued to die for months afterward from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries.

These bombings understandably remain the only uses of nuclear weapons in armed conflict.

Historians have extensively studied and debated the ethical, legal and morality questions about whether or not the bombings should have been used. Traditionalist historians, the majority of whom are Americans blinded by nationalistic prejudice, believe that the bombings were necessary to bring the war to a speedy end and prevent allied military casualties, traditionalists also wrongly believe Japan was refusing to surrender and action was necessary to force them out of the war.

Revisionist historians correctly believe that the bombings were military unnecessary, and they should be defined as war crimes, and through new evidence they also know Japan was about to surrender before the bombs were dropped. Some scholars, however, are undecided on their view and they believe that Hiroshima was necessary to get Japan to surrender, but Japan didn’t require another bombing to surrender and therefore Nagasaki was certainly unnecessary.

Since 1945, traditionalist historians have maintained that the bombs were necessary in order to save American lives and prevent an invasion that may (but unlikely) have cost many more lives than the bombs took. Those who argue in favour of the decision to drop the atomic bombs believe massive casualties on both sides would have occurred in Operation Downfall - the planned Allied invasion of Japan on November 1st, 1945.

President Harry Truman of the United States anticipated between 250,000 and one million fatalities should be expected during the operation (Giangreco). This figure has now been debunked with new figures suggesting less than 50,000 casualties was a much more likely number.

America and the allied forces also wanted to avoid the second part of the invasion, an assault on the Tokyo Plain which was scheduled for early March 1946 which could have seen another 15,000-21,000 American casualties. Nuclear physicist Karl Taylor Compton, who was closely associated with the development of the atomic bomb, wrote a defensive article stating the bombs needed to be used to save more lives. He summarised his conclusions as “If the atomic bomb had not been used, evidence…points to the practical certainty that there would have been many more months of death and destruction on an enormous scale.” (Compton) While Compton may have been correct about the fact more deaths and destruction would have happened if the war continued, the atomic bombs killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and almost definitely killed more people in the span of 3 days than if the war had continued through the planned invasions.

Traditionalist historians believe that the atomic bombs saved lives because without them a very long campaign would have ensued. The campaign would have involved heavy conventional bombing of Japanese cities, which would have killed thousands of civilians in the months leading up to “Operation Downfall”. A member of the Tokyo tribunal, Delfin Jaranilla, wrote; "If a means is justified by an end, the use of the atomic bomb was justified for it brought Japan to her knees and ended the horrible war. If the war had gone longer, without the use of the atomic bomb, how many thousands and thousands of helpless men, women and children would have needlessly died and suffered?" (Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II 473)

Jaranilla’s argument is true in the fact the bombs were one of the factors that “brought Japan to her knees and ended the horrible war” however, thousands of helpless people who weren’t associated with the military died in the atomic bombs. There was no hesitation about using an atomic bomb to kill many Japanese civilians in order to save 50,000 American soldiers who might have died in the invasions. American leaders viewed Japanese life – including civilian life- as cheap and not as worthy as American life. (B. J. Bernstein) Therefore, even though the atomic bombs saved thousands of military American lives, it killed hundreds of thousands helpless Japanese civilians, meaning that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “symbols of a war gone too far” (Suzuki and Oiwa)

Supporters of the bombs argue that they were essential into forcing Japan to surrender from WW2. Traditionalist historians see the deeply ingrained ancient Japanese warrior traditions of Bushido as a major factor in the resistance of the Japanese military to the idea of surrender. Additionally, the concept of Yamato-damashii gave soldiers a strict code: never be captured, never break down and never surrender. Each soldier was trained to fight to the death and was expected to die before suffering dishonour (Correll). This deeply ingrained ideology meant that the Japanese would refuse to surrender because they viewed it as “the equivalent of national extinction” (Asada), making it impossible to end the war. Nuclear Physicist, Karl T. Compton’s description of the bushido code clearly supports America’s view that Japan would refuse to surrender.

Compton wrote in “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used”: 'About a week after V-J Day [the day Japan ceased fighting in WW2], I was one of a small group of scientists and engineers interrogating an intelligent, well-informed Japanese Army officer in Yokohama. We asked him what, in his opinion, would have been the next major move if the war had continued. He replied: "You would probably have tried to invade our homeland with a landing operation on Kyushu about November 1. I think the attack would have been made on such and such beaches." "Could you have repelled this landing?" we asked, and he answered: "It would have been a very desperate fight, but I do not think we could have stopped you." "What would have happened then?" we asked. He replied: "We would have kept on fighting until all Japanese were killed, but we would not have been defeated," by which he meant that they would not have been disgraced by surrender.' (Compton)

This extract shows that Japan would refuse to surrender even with a deadly homeland invasion, thus proving something dramatic was necessary to make Japan surrender. Compton’s close relation with the atomic bomb and with the US military means he has a strong bias towards the use of the bombs. Like many traditionalist historians Compton believes the bombs were necessary to end the war. Traditionalists argue that the bombings were certainly necessary to force Japan out of the war and save hundreds of thousands of allied forces lives, however historians have not revised their argument to the new figures released stating less than 50,000 Allied deaths were likely. Therefore, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly “symbols of a war gone too far” (Suzuki and Oiwa) and revisionists historians’ arguments are no longer valid due to the introduction of new evidence.

Revisionist historians put forward that the use of the Atomic Bombings was certainly unnecessary. They argue that Japan was ready to surrender, and the use of the bombs could have absolutely been avoided if the United States had guaranteed that Emperor Hirohito could remain in power (as per the Potsdam Declaration). Historians opposed to the bombings also argue that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that was planned for August 8 and 9, 1945 would have precipitated Japan’s surrender and the use of the Atomic Bombings would not have been necessary.

Progressive historians and some people responsible for the planning, making and deployment of the atomic bombs view them as militarily unnecessary. Assistant Secretary of the US navy, Ralph Bard was convinced that typical firebombing and a naval blockade strategy would be enough to force Japan into surrendering. Bard also asserts that that he had seen definite signs of Japan looking for a way out of the war, weeks before the bombs were dropped. A survey conducted in 1946 concluded the atomic bombs had been unnecessary to get Japan to surrender and other factors played a bigger role in their surrender on September 2nd;

…it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion…in all probability prior to 1 November 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. (United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (Pacific War))

The survey conducted in America, shows that the bombs were certainly unnecessary, and air supremacy over Japan could have made Japan surrender. The majority of revisionist historians share the view that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly militarily unnecessary. Gar Alperovitz an American historian says, “The war was won before Hiroshima – and the generals who dropped the bomb knew it.” (Alperovitz, The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It). This can be supported by the view of Admiral William Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, who wrote in his 1950 memoir I Was There that “the use of this barbarous weapon… was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.” (Alperovitz, The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It).

Lehay criticised the decision to drop the bombs and he, much like Bard, believed Japan was about to surrender. Leahy’s position can be maintained by Admiral William Halsey, Junior Commander of the US Third Fleet, who publicly stated in 1946 that “It was a mistake… [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it” (Alperovitz, The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It). With Admiral’s criticizing the decision, it is clear there was opposition and the decision to drop the bombs should have been reconsidered. The argument is clear, from the perspectives of a number of key leaders in the US military and many historians, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was certainly not military necessary and were definitely “symbols of a war gone too far”. (Suzuki and Oiwa)

Modern historians believe that Japan was very close to surrendering before either of the bombs were dropped. Admiral Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, was very opposed to the bombs as he believed Japan was close to surrendering. “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.” (Leahy 441)

Leahy argues that neither of the bombings were of any assistance to the US’s war effort because Japan was already defeated. General Dwight Eisenhower, stated in his memoirs, that when notified by the Secretary of War of the decision to use the atomic bombs, he “voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.” (Alperovitz, The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It) Therefore, because Japan was clearly about to surrender, and top US military personal knew this, Truman’s decision to use the bomb was “no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives” (Alperovitz, Messer and Bernstein, Marshall, Truman, and the Decision to Drop the Bomb) Therefore, Japan was very close to surrendering (as proven by reliable US military officials) and this fact would have been known by Truman. Further enforcing they should not have been deployed.

The second atomic bomb hit Nagasaki only 2 days after Hiroshima, so soon after that the devastation of Hiroshima hadn’t been fully comprehended by the Japanese military, government or civilians. Many historians and civilians are unable to come up with a definite conclusion to whether the bombing were “the cost of a speedy end to war or symbols of a war gone too far” (Suzuki and Oiwa) and instead choose to argue that Hiroshima was necessary but Nagasaki was “certainly unnecessary” (Sherwin 237) Historians agree that Hiroshima was necessary because Japan showed no signs of surrendering however, new evidence found in Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo’s memoir shows that there were developments in the Japanese government prior to the second bomb to seek peace, which makes it clear that the second bomb could undoubtedly have been avoided.

Barton Bernstein raises a valid point in his book stating; “It [bomb] was used because the original order directed the air force to drop bombs “as made ready” and, even after the Hiroshima bombing, no one in Washington anticipated an imminent Japanese surrender” (B. J. Bernstein). Bernstein’s view that America did not anticipate the Japanese to surrender immediately after the first bombing is evident in the fact there were more than two atom bombs ready to hit Japan. Historian Robert Maddox says “American officials believed more than one bomb would be necessary” (Maddox). Therefore, while some Historians agree that Hiroshima was necessary because Japan refused to surrender it is agreed upon that “the second – dropped on Nagasaki on August 9 – was almost certainly unnecessary” (B. J. Bernstein)

As historical debate over the bombings continues, different arguments have gained and lost support as new evidence has become available, “the controversy over the use of the bomb seems certain to continue” (Walker) The debate of whether the United States should have dropped the atomic bombs remains a scholarly and popular debate. Traditionalist historians view the bombs as necessary because Japan refused to surrender because of their strong link to the Bushido code. America believed it was necessary to get Japan to surrender otherwise thousands of casualties, from both sides, were imminent. Revisionist historians view the bombs as unnecessary because they were certainly militarily unnecessary and should be regarded as war crimes. Through new evidence becoming available it is clear that top American military personnel knew that Japan was on the brink of surrendering, thus because of this knowledge the use of the atomic bombs are inexcusable. However, some historians are unable to come to a final conclusion and instead argue that Hiroshima was necessary, but Nagasaki was “certainly unnecessary”. (Sherwin 237)

In conclusion, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly “symbols of a war gone too far” (Suzuki and Oiwa) and while Hiroshima may have been unavoidable because of Japans refusal to surrender, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki most definitely should have been avoided, it was unnecessary, repugnant and very likely a war crime.