Reasons for Atomic Bombing
What everyone was told:
Everyone was told that the atomic bombings were carried out to end the war and to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers, which might have been lost in invading the Mainland Japan.
It was not a military decision or a military need and it was known to be unnecessary:
Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not a military decision or a military need and was known to be unnecessary to the decision makers to end the war. Harry Truman was the ultimate decision maker and Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, was the ultimate advisor to Harry Truman. Both of them were told that it would not be necessary.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff is a body of military leaders that advises the President, the Secretary of Defense/War and other government leaders. “[However, as far as the use of atomic bombs was concerned “[t]he Joint Chiefs of Staff never formally studied the decision and never made an official recommendation to the President. Brief informal discussions may have occurred, but no record even of these exists. There is no record whatsoever of the usual extensive staff work and evaluation of alternative options by the Joint Chiefs, nor did the Chiefs ever claim to be involved. (“The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,” Gar Alperovitz, New ed. Edition, 6 August 1996)”
Both Harry Truman and Henry Stimson knew that the Japanese Government had contacted Swedish and Russia counterparts in pursuit of peace, and it was a matter of time for Japan to surrender. At least, Henry Stimson knew that (1) the Japanese military and industrial bases and cities were bombed without Japanese military contest and to the extent to which a request had to be made to the Air Force to save a few cities for atomic bombings, and (2) the Japanese fleet, both navy and civilian, was destroyed and the sea blockade prevented Japan from importing oil and other supplies required to continue the war.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946 concluded that the atomic bombings were not necessary to end the war:
The followings include accounts of some US military leaders:
What made Japan surrender?
Many historians believe that the invasion by the Soviet Union, which started on 9 August 1945, was a decisive factor that ultimately made Japan surrender. Historically, the Soviet Union had been the biggest threat to the Japanese army.
A recent study by Japanese researchers suggests that the following four factors brought the decision to surrender (“Showa-shi Kougi (Showa History Lecture),” Tabun Suzuki, 2015):
- A desire to avoid ultimate battles on the main land (because of the lack of capability to continue the war)
- Atomic bombings
- Soviet Union’s advancement
- Acceptable conditions of non-conditional surrender (the sounding of the Potsdam Declaration)
The above statement does not necessarily contradict the dominant opinion by scholars that the atomic bombings were not necessary to end the war.
Similarly, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, the author of the 2005 book “Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the Surrender of Japan” says: “The bomb played a part in Japan’s surrender, but it may not have been necessary.”
Reasons for atomic bombing
Despite the fact that Harry Truman knew that it was a matter of time for Japan to surrender, why did he decide to use the atomic bombs, knowing that many people would be killed? Few historians, if not none, would oppose the idea that he and Henry Stimson, by actually showing the power of the atomic bombs, wanted to intimidate the Soviet Union, which did not have the technology to produce such bombs yet and which was known to become an enemy of the US again after the war. Henry Stimson’s following remark reinforces the above idea:
One of the main reasons why GHQ took measures to prevent the dissemination of information about Hiroshima, including the suppression of reports on the medical effects of the atomic bombs, was that the US did not want the Soviet Union to know that only thousands out of those 70,000 who died by the end of the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, were believed to have died by the blast of the atomic bomb, which could indicate that atomic bombs were not so effective as a military weapon.
Another reason for Harry Truman’s decision can be found in his announcements soon after atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which he said respectively: “We have spent more than two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble of the history, and we have won.” and “Having found the bomb, we have used it.” These remarks suggest that there was no reason for him not to use the atomic bombs, particularly after spending an enormous amount of money without telling the public about it.
Hatred played a role.
The loss of lives of the Japanese was not a particular concern for Harry Truman or Henry Stimson. Harry Truman expressed his hatred of the Japanese in many public occasions as well as in his diaries, letters and private conversations.
Henry Stimson wrote in his memoir, [the use of atomic bombs was] the least abhorrent choice [of ending the war]. However, overseeing the Target Committee, he knew exactly where the atomic bombs would be dropped—in the heart of a dense urban area for maximum destruction and inevitably indiscriminately mass killings. He was the one who pushed for the internment of 112,000 Japanese Americans in 1942. (He was also the opponent of racial integration in the military, keeping the black soldiers serving only under white officers.) His controversial personality can be traced in his attitude toward the Jewish people as well:
Writing in the Institute’s journal, Patterns of Prejudice, American Jewish historian Harvey Strum said that Stimson repeatedly urged Roosevelt not to let Jewish war refugees into the U.S., opposed efforts to persuade the British to lift their restrictions on immigration to Palestine, and viewed a Jewish State as a threat to Anglo-American interests in the Middle East.
Under Stimson’s leadership.., the U.S. War Department repeatedly refused during World War II to disrupt the mass extermination of the Jews by bombing the deportation railways leading to Auschwitz or the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz. (“Behind the Headlines the Nefarious Role of Henry Stimson,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 27 December 1984.)
Hatred was an integral part of the US strategy against the Japanese. Under Henry Stimson, US service men were given distorted and prejudice views toward the Japanese through educational videos such as “Know your enemy–Japan.” In the Gallup poll conducted shortly after the atomic bombings, 85 percent of the US citizens approved the bombings. It is safe to assume that with the public hatred toward the Japanese, which was reinforced by the politicians, Harry Truman had no hesitation in using the atomic bombs.
Today’s US society
A survey in 2015 by Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of the Americans still justify the atomic bombings on Japan. As noted elsewhere on this website, the majority of Americans are open to nuclear strikes on enemy nations even if they are told two million civilians would be killed by the strikes.
A recent rise of populism in the US has been accompanied with increased levels of hatred against certain peoples or certain segments of its population. If such hatred is applied to a (perceived) enemy nation, we may see an increased level of tolerance in the US society for the use of a nuclear weapon against such a nation. The public, instead of being a checking power against a potential error of judgement—a decision to use a nuclear weapon– by the political leader, may become a perceived supporter of such an error of judgement. Certainly, hatred or prejudice will not lead to a world without nuclear weapons.