The United States' Decision to Use Atomic Bombs Against Japan

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Audrey Ng
Society and History: Making of the Modern World Australia
World War II Research Essay
2013

Question 4:
Discuss the issues surrounding the United States’ decision to use atomic bombs against Japan. What motives were behind this action, and what arguments have been made against it?

“I wonder if I can ever have children in the future.”
- Words written from a young girl exposed to radiation from the A-bomb – Nagasaki. Hiroki Sato and Kentaro Okada. (-). A-Bomb Radiation Sickness, 14 May 2013 <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/05/13/national/a-bomb-survivor /#.UZIEcfBArIU.>

During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, the United States B-29 bomber dropped the first atomic bomb intended for the purposes of attack. Ironically dubbed as ‘Little Boy’, the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima instantly killing approximately 80,000 people. Three days later, on 9 August, a second bomb, ‘Fat Man’, was descended on Nagasaki killing 40,000 people. Shortly after successfully testing history’s first atomic explosion in New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, the order to drop the atomic bomb on Japan was issued on July 25. The decision to drop these bombs was influenced by the order of US President, at the time, Harry Truman. The two events are the only examples of use of nuclear weapons in war to date and this is because of the horrendous outcome and consequences that were inflicted on Japan, as well as the United States.

In the years that the two atomic bombs were dropped, Revisionists have concluded that the use of the weapons had a ‘two-pronged objective’. The Revisionists are the historians attempting to revise common perceptions of history, proposing alternative theories and motives. The first intention was to bring the war with Japan to an end; solely a military purpose. This allowed the United States to avoid a conventional invasion of the Japanese mainland and the extraordinary amount of cost in terms of Japanese and American lives. The Revisionists, however, believe that Truman had the objective for more than military reasons. The most common theory of motive mentioned was that it would punish Japan for the attack on Pearl Harbour (1941). Another reason would be that an atomic bombing of Japan would be the only thing that could justify the expense of the Manhattan Project (1941). Truman would have faced a Congressional inquiry into the misappropriation of $2 billion; the money used to financially support the Manhattan Project. Not only did he want to avoid Congressional hearings, but he also wanted another term of office. His chances of reelection would have been nil if it was learnt that he wasted money and time by shelving a weapon that could have ended the war more quickly. This was a main drive that caused Truman to propel the manufacturing of the bombs. The second objective was to prove to the world the power and destruction of the new weapons that was in their possession only. Revisionists contend that Truman had ulterior motives in the dropping of the atomic bombs to establish dominance. On August 2, 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt received the Einstein–Szilard Letter in which the fames scientists encouraged the United States to develop nuclear weapons lest Nazi Germany create them first. Spurred by this, Roosevelt authorized the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) to explore nuclear research. On June 28, 1941, he signed Executive Order 8807 which created the Office of Scientific Research and Development with American engineer, inventor and science administrator Vannevar Bush as the head and director. To directly address the need for nuclear research, the NDRC formed the S-1 Uranium Committee. The S-1 Uranium Committee succeeded Lyman Briggs’ Briggs Advisory Committee on Uranium which later evolved into the Manhattan Project. The...
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