Atomic Bomb: Alperovitz

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Why did the Truman Administration decide to drop the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945?

There has been much debate as to why Truman elected to drop the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. Historians have long debated the true purpose to which the atomic bombs were designed to fulfil upon there deployment. The Alperovitz thesis of the 1960 was accepted for many years. The thesis revolved around the idea that the atomic weapons were deployed as diplomatic tools to intimidate the Soviet Union. Like many revisionist historians this essay will oppose the thesis of Alperovitz, and in doing so, attempt to understand why it was that the Truman administration decided to drop the atomic weapons on Japan in the summer of 1945.

Truman's diary entries and letters are fundamental to understanding why it was that the President decided to deploy the atomic weapons in 1945. Truman’s diary entities suggest strongly that Truman's primary concern was to end the war in the Pacific in order to save American lives. Truman's entry from July 18th at Potsdam supports this statement: 'I'll say we'll end the war a year sooner now, and think of all the kids who won't be killed.'[1] The diary entry shown here from Truman clearly demonstrates that he believed that the Atomic weapons were the quickest way to end the war in the Pacific theatre and to save American lives His entry on the 6th August 1945 emphasises a similar point, associating the need to deploy the atomic weapons with saving American lives. 'We have to use it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we destroy Japans power to make war.'[2] Truman’s diary entry here, clearly suggests that Truman used the bombs primarily to save American lives. This diary entry also illustrates how Truman believed that the best way to defeat the Japanese was to disable them from being able to manufacture the instruments of war. But Truman was well aware that the war would not be ended by simply assaulting Japan with weapons. It a war which was not restricted to the Japanese main islands. The Pacific conflict was one which had manifested itself throughout the Pacific theatre. Ensuring peace throughout the Pacific would be an arduous task. The atomic bombs not were not only a guarantee that Japan's industry and power to make war would be crushed, they also ensured to destroy the Japanese peoples willingness to fight, and it was this which would be critical not only for peace in Japan but peace throughout the Pacific theatre. The Atomic weapons therefore, were the only option which could break the persistent Japanese mentality to continue the fight. It was this aspect of the atomic weapons which could not be provided by any other form of military hardware available in 1945.

Some historians such as Alperovitz argue that the deployment of the Atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was unnecessary. In his thesis, Alperovitz argues that 'Japans military position was so poor that its leaders would have surrendered before invasion.'[3]However, upon further inspection, this is an inaccurate statement by Alperovitz. The Japanese were not in a position to consider surrender by 1945. As Ambrose explains, the Japanese still had a land based army in China of 2 million soldiers and it was estimated that they still had 5,500 aircraft which were being tasked with kamikaze deployments.[4]Ambrose also goes on to state, ‘the Japanese may have been defeated but they were not prepared to surrender.[5] This aspect of the concluding years of the Pacific conflict is crucial to Truman’s decision to drop the atomic weapons. As demonstrated above Japan clearly still had all the paraphernalia of war scattered throughout the Pacific theatre. Even if the Japanese main islands were captured, there would be little holding the remaining Japanese forces from utilising what military capacity they had left. Especially...