Although WW II ended over 50 years ago there is still much discussion as to the events which ended the War in the Pacific. The primary event which historians attribute to this end are the use of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although the bombing of these cities did force the Japanese to surrender, many people today ask “Was the use of the atomic bomb necessary to end the war? ” and more importantly “Why was the decision to use the bomb made? ” Ronald Takaki examines these questions in his book Hiroshima.
The official reason given for dropping the bomb was to bring a quick end to tht war and save American lives. However, Takaki presents many different explanations as to why the decision to use the bomb was made. He disagrees with the popular belief that the decision to use the bomb was made solely to quickly end the war in the Pacific and to save American lives. Takaki presents theories such as international concerns, American sentiment, and racism in an attempt to more fully explain why this decision was made.
The United States entered WW II immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The U. S. entry was a major turning point in the war because it brought the strongest industrial strength to the Allied side. The Americans helped the Allies to win the war in Europe with the surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. However, the war in the Pacific continued. The war with Japan at this point consisted primarily of strategic bombings. America had recently completed an atomic bomb and was considering using this weapon of mass destruction for the first time.
The goal was to force the “unconditional surrender” of the Japanese. Roosevelt had used the term “unconditional surrender” in a press conference in 1943 and it had since become a central war aim. Truman and his staff (still feeling bound by FDR’s words) demanded unconditional surrender from the Japanese. Consequently on July 26, 1945 Truman issued an ultimatum to Japan. This ultimatum stated that Japan must accept “unconditional surrender” or suffer “utter devastation of the Japanese Homeland”. This surrender included abdication of the throne by their emperor.
Japan was not willing to surrender their dynasty and ignored the ultimatum. On August 6th and August 9th, atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. These citied suffered the “utter devastation” that Truman had promised and the Japanese surrendered on August 10th. Many of the key military and political figures who advised President Truman supported the use of the atomic bomb to end the war in the Pacific. One of the most instrumental forces in Truman’s decision to use the bomb was the Interim Committee.
The Interim Committee was assembled by Secretary of War Stimson. This Committee’s purpose was to advise Truman regarding the possible use of the atomic bomb. The Committee consisted of prominent atomic scientists, General Marshall, General Groves, and James Byrnes, the personal representative of the president. Stimson appointed himself chairman. The Committee considered using a test demonstration of the bomb in the hopes of inducing Japan to surrender. However, the Committee feared that if the test did not lead to the surrender of Japan the element of “surprise” would be lost in a later attack.
General Marshall also believed that Japan was ready to surrender and that it would be more wise to keep the atomic bomb as the secret weapon of the U. S. He believed this would increase the security of the nation following the war; “We would be in a stronger position with regard to future military action if we did not show the power we had”. (123) Many of the scientists including James Conant, Arthur Compton, and Edward teller believed in the use of the atomic bomb in combat.
They felt that combat usage was the only way to show the true destruction and horrible results of the bomb that would show the world the need to find another method to handle international disputes. In addition, these scientists believed that the next war would be “unbearably destructive. ” The ultimate decision of the Committee was to use the bomb against Japan. The committee advised that the bomb be deployed “without prior warning on a military installation or war industry plant “surrounded by worker’s houses. 40)
Hiroshima was chosen as the first target because it had not been previously bombed and therefore the destruction caused by the deployment of the atomic bomb could be more accurately assessed. Although many of the people who advised Truman supported the use of the bomb their was also another school of thought. One of the most prominent figures to disagree with the use of the atomic bomb in the Pacific was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Western Europe.
Eisenhower believed that in July, 1945 Japan was on the verge of surrender and that the use of the atomic bomb would not be necessary to force them to surrender. He saw no need for a military invasion to force this surrender and therefore did not view the deployment of the atomic bomb as a necessary measure to save American lives. Eisenhower also seemed to understand the great destruction that this bomb would cause and hoped that the United States would not be the first nation to use this technology to wage war.
General MacArthur, Pacific Commander in Chief agreed with Eisenhower that Japan was on the verge of collapse. Despite his key military role he was not consulted as to whether to use the bomb or not. Another individual who sided with Eisenhower and MacArthur was Chief of staff Admiral Leahy. Leahy believed that it was not necessary to force Japan to utter collapse but that a conditional surrender which would allow them to retain their emperor would be more in order. Japan was ready to make this type of surrender in July of 1945.
Many scientists also were concerned about the use of the atomic bomb. They worried that this new type of weapon would compromise the United State’s “whole moral position”. One of the most prominent scientists who felt this way was Hungarian scientist Leo Szilard. Szilard believed that the decision to use the bomb should be left to the highest political leadership” and not to the military. Szilard and several other atomic scientists sent a petition to President Truman protesting the bomb on moral grounds. This prompted a poll of the Manhattan Project scientists concerning the use of the bomb.
The poll concluded most of the scientists were opposed to using the bomb in the manner it was deployed. One day after the test of the bomb sixty-seven scientists signed Szilard’s “A Petition to the President of the United States” which stated that they had concluded that atomic power could bring about a quick end to the war. This petition presented the scientist’s belief that their were no limits to the power of atomic destruction and any nation that uses this power must “bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale”. 36)
The petition also stated the scientists did not believe the atomic bomb should be used against Japan unless they were given the opportunity to surrender and refused, and that the president seriously considered the moral implications of using the bomb. This petition was included in a letter received by General Groves and passed onto Stimson. However, he did not receive it until after the bombing of Hiroshima. Many key figures who later advocated the use of the atomic bomb to end the war also supported the idea of a conditional surrender. One of these was Secretary of War Stimson.
In July 1945 Stimson wrote in his diary about discussions of Japan’s possible surrender “I then spoke of the importance which I attributed to the reassurance of the Japanese on the continuance of their dynasty, and I had felt that the insertion of that in the formal warning was important and might be just the thing that would make or mar their acceptance”. Secretary of State Grew also believed that a conditional surrender was the best course of action and saw that this plan was approved by his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs. When Grew proposed this action Truman believed it to be a “sound idea” and agreed with it. 6)
However, he later revised his strategy and was determined to force “unconditional surrender” in the Pacific. The decision to use the bomb was a complex issue involving many factors. Most of the members of the Interim Committee viewed the atomic bomb as an important tool of diplomacy. Truman and many of the committee members were worried about Soviet expansionism. Truman feared that “The Russians were planning world conquest” and believed that “Force is the only things the Russians understand”. (60) The development of the bomb gave Truman greater confidence in his dealings with Stalin at the Potsdam Conference.
The bomb also enabled the U. S. to end the war without the entrance of the Soviets into the war in the Pacific. Truman and his advisors feared that Russia’s entrance would lead to strong Soviet influence in postwar Asia. I generally agree with President Truman’s decision to use the bomb to end the war. It achieved the goal of a ending the war without the loss of any additional American lives. Most Americans wanted a quick end to the war. “A poll conducted by Fortune in December 1945 found that 54 percent of the respondents approved of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 71)
I believe that the bomb was an important tool for diplomacy and that the demonstration and willingness of the Americans to use this tool on a military target led to America wielding a fair amount of power in postwar negotiations. General Byrnes believed this to be the best use of the bomb. He advised Truman that the use of the bomb “might put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war. ” (62) In addition, Stimson wrote an essay in Harper’s magazine following the war. This article was meant to explain the American decision to use the bomb against Japan.
However, “Stimson frequently interrupted his narrative with references to the ominous threat of Russia”. (130) Although I generally agree with using the atomic bomb to end the war I am not entirely sure it was the right decision. The Japanese surrendered after the bombing and were allowed to keep their dynasty. Therefore, I agree with Grew and Leahy who condoned accepting a conditional surrender of Japan rather than forcing them to utter collapse by the use of the atomic bomb. The same end with this regard could have been achieved without the complete destruction unleashed by the bomb.
In addition, I agree with Takaki that this decision was not made to save American lives but was affected by some other less than noble sentiments. One of these was racism. American shock over the bombing of Pearl Harbor greatly led to the hatred of the Japanese. The Americans viewed the enemy in the Pacific much differently than the enemy in Europe. The enemy in Europe was defined as Hitler and the Nazi whereas the enemy in the Pacific was “the Japs”. This demonized the entire race of people. This “demonization” was aided by the fact that the Japanese did not look like most Americans.
This racism spiraled out of control and many Japanese Americans began to suffer social injustices. In 1942, 120,000 Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were evacuated and placed in internment camps. This was justified by General Dewitt who stated “In the war in which we are now engaged racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race”. (91) Regardless of whether one supports the decision made by President Truman to use the atomic bomb it is unquestionable that this event changed the face of the world forever.
War would also never be the same following the deployment of this new technology. Also, the scientist’s prediction about the lack of limits on atomic power have proved true. I agree with the scientists who signed the petition to Truman ; the development of this weapon has convinced us that another war of this magnitude would mean the absolute annihilation of all nations. Hopefully, fifty five years after the bombing we as Americans and humans have learned and are closer to the day when we and all countries can rid ourselves of all weapons of mass destruction in favor of other methods for handling disputes.