, Research Paper
Was it Necessary for the United States to Drop Atomic Bombs
on Japan to End World War II
The year was 1945. World War II was nearly over. Germany had been defeated and the allied forces were sure to win the war. The only unsure thing was how many lives would be lost in defeating Japan. The United States decided to drop the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. On that day the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. Three days later the United States dropped “Fat Boy” on Nagasaki. 240,000 civilians, mostly women and children, lost there lives on these two days. On August 14, 1945 Japan surrendered unconditionally. Was it necessary? I believe that the U.S. could have used other means to bring about the end of the war. This paper will note a few reasons for dropping the bomb, followed by a discussion of several alternatives to it’s the use.
There were a few reasons why the United States dropped the bombs. As Phillip Goodman points out, President Truman was under tremendous pressure from several sources. One source of pressure was his military advisors, who thought that an invasion of Japan would be too costly. A second source of pressure was domestic in nature. In particular, President Truman was under tremendous pressure to please the public because he was up for re-election. In addition to this pressure, there was a hatred for the Japanese, political problems that the U.S. had with Russia,(Doug Long),and the revenge that Americans wanted for the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Having said this, it does not seem to be obvious that the U.S. chose the right response. Admiral William D. Leaky, Chief of Staff to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, said that “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.” With all the alternatives that were at our disposal, I believe Admiral Leaky was right. According to Phillip Goodman, there were five major alternatives to dropping the bomb: using the atomic bomb in a non-combat demonstration, modifying the U.S. demand for unconditional surrender, allowing the entrance of the Soviets into the war, continuing conventional warfare, and pursuing “Japanese peace feelers.”
One alternative was to showcase the power of the atomic bomb in a non-combat demonstration. The dropping of the atomic bomb on an unpopulated area of Japan with international observers would have shown Japan the power of the bomb and they would probably have surrendered. If more casualties were sought by the Americans, a similar demonstration of exploding an atomic bomb in Tokyo Harbor could have achieved such results and might have pushed the Japanese to the brink of surrender(wso.williams.edu…). Such demonstrations would have saved the lives of thousands. Killing needlessly was a concern for some American officials. Herbert Hoover wrote to army and navy journal publisher Colonel John Callan O’Laughlin, “The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.”
A second alternative was to modify the U.S. demand for unconditional surrender. The Japanese did not want to surrender because they thought the emperor would be taken away from them. The Japanese believed that the emperor was a god, a belief that had the unfortunate effect of restraining the peace factions in Japan. The U.S. could have told the Japanese that if they surrendered they would be allowed to keep the emperor. This alternative was not used because it was thought that it would make the Japanese fight for better terms. Oddly enough, after the war the Japanese were allowed to keep the emperor.
Another alternative was for the U.S. to wait for the Soviets to enter the war. This would have put a tremendous strain on Japan’s military machine, thereby leading to an early surrender. I believe that this was one of the best alternatives to using the atomic bomb and should have been used.
A fourth alternative was the continuance of conventional warfare. The United States could have continued the naval blockade of Japan. This would have slowly caused Japan to run out of food, ammunition, and other necessities and forced them to surrender. Moreover, as Bill Dietrich has noted, the U.S. could have continued the conventional bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which had already destroyed 60 of Japan’s cities.
Last, the U.S. could have pursued Japanese peace feelers. The U.S. could have tried to gain support of the Japanese who wanted peace. Those people could have helped to get the public to want peace. I do not think that this alternative was as good as the others because it would have taken much longer than the others and might have failed.
Not only were the alternatives a strong enough reason not to use the bomb but the consequences of using the atomic bomb should have played a part in the decision-making to drop the bomb. According to Douglas P. Lackey, the use of nuclear weapons had a negative effect on international relations. Political and military leaders wanted to posses nuclear weapons so that they would have more power. Lewis Strauss, special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, said “It seemed to me that such a weapon was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion, that once used it would find its way into the armaments of the world….” The use of the atomic bombs ultimately brought about the Cold War. If even a few more atomic bombs were dropped, I believe this would have led to an uncontrollable urge to use the bomb, which would have led to man’s destruction. Joseph Grew said in a letter to Henry Stimson, “If surrender could have been brought about in May, 1945, or even in June or July, before the entrance of Soviet Russia into the [Pacific] war and the use of the atomic bomb, the world would have been the gainer.” Moreover, nuclear weapons produce radioactive fallout (dust contaminated with radioactive particles, drifting through the stratosphere), which affects the environment as well as people who have no involvement in the conflict. It also affects humans and animals for many future generations.
It is my belief that the use of the atomic bomb to bring about the end of World War II was not necessary. With the many alternatives that were at the United State’s disposal and all of the effects that the use of such weapons can have on both environment and people, the U.S. had no reason to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a meeting with Henry Stimson, Secretary of War during WW II, “… the Japanese were ready to surrender and it was not necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” After reading all of these quotes from prominent figures I am puzzled as to why the United States made the decision to drop the atomic bomb. The use of the atomic bomb killed thousands of lives that did not need to be killed and was the biggest mistake the U.S. has ever made.
Lackey, Douglas P.. The Ethics of War and Peace. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:
Prentice- Hall, Inc., 1989.
Goodman, Philip. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” [ http://users.erols.com/goodmank/ ].
Dietrich, Bill. “Pro and Con on Dropping the Bomb.” New York Times,
“Was the Bomb Needed?” [ http://wso.williams.edu/ globe/necessary.htm ].
Long, Doug. “Hiroshima: Was it Necessary?” [ http://mercury.he.net/ dlong/Hiroshima.htm ]. 1995-2000.
Kirkpatrick, Kaylee. Cerveny, Melissa. Wisecup, Andy. Retzer, Susan. “The Decision to Drop the Bomb.” [ www.uis.edu/ trammell/lsctimeline/Desicion.html ]. 1998.