The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Joseph Ercole
Final Draft – Week 7
October 21, 2012
On August 6, 1945 at 8:16am, the world changed forever. During the final stages of World War II, after the Allies were victorious in Europe, Japan still posed a very serious threat to the world. Not looking to commence a long, drawn-out and bloody ground assault on the island nation of Japan that would have cost many American soldiers their lives, U.S. President Harry S. Truman gave the order to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Nicknamed “Little Boy”, the bomb destroyed the entire city killing a total of approximately 90,000-160,000 people. It is estimated that half of the victims died during the initial blast. Three days later, on August 9th, another would be dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The way the world’s nations approached future warfare and diplomacy after WWII would now be dictated by the threat of the use of this new atomic weapon and by those who possessed it. We will explore the event itself, the events leading up to the decision to drop the bombs as well as the social, physical, medical and political after-effects using factual documentation and first-hand accounts from actual survivors. It was a hot August morning in Hiroshima, Japan on the day the atomic age would be ushered in. Many Japanese citizens went about their somewhat normal lives in the midst of an already taxing war that had Japan on the brink of defeat and had cost many lives to both sides. The Japanese government would not surrender and vowed to “fight to the death” in order to preserve the pride of their homeland not to mention the pride of the Japanese people as a whole. For many it was the beginning of just another normal business day, for others it would mean attending school or work or church services. All who survived though recall one common thing, a blinding flash of light streaking across the morning sky, seemingly brighter than one-thousand suns. Many times previously, the Japanese people recalled frequently hearing the air-raid warnings and seeing weather planes fly overhead. So frequently in fact that it became a common daily occurrence to the point that it was assumed they were simply enemy aircraft in the area. No one in Japan let alone Hiroshima was aware of impending doom that was to come the morning of August 6th. At 8:16AM the crew of the U.S. B-29 bomber “Enola Gay” released its deadly payload, an atomic bomb nick-named “Little Boy”, over the city of Hiroshima. Witnesses to the event say they saw a parachute open up and slowly drift downward carrying a large object. The bomb exploded at an altitude of 2,000 feet, above the central business district of the city. The 4 and a half ton bomb exploded with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT and the heat from its fireball reached approximately 300,000 degrees centigrade which is a temperature comparable to the surface of the sun. The temperature at ground zero, the point directly below the blast, was approximately 6,000 degrees centigrade (10,832 degrees Fahrenheit). There was a tremendous amount of damage caused by the heat generated from the chain reaction. Anything living at the initial blast site was vaporized. That would mean any living human, animal and all vegetation growing near the center was instantly killed. Stone buildings crumbled, wooden building caught fire, streets were either ripped up or buckled and blown away. While the heat from the blast was bad enough to inflict enough severe damage, the force from the blast was another factor that contributed to the substantial damage inflicted that day. The heated, compressed air expanded at four tons per square yard and at the speed of more than 1,000 feet per second. The incredible forces of the blast could only be withstood by reinforced concrete structures and anything else in the path of the blast was leveled to rubble. Finally, the deadly gamma rays that had been released also served as part of the carnage that killed thousands of Japanese citizens however those effects were not immediately felt. Radiation poisoning did not kill people as fast as the initial blast and heat generated by the bomb’s detonation did. In the days going forward, many would die from the ensuing radiation poisoning. Thousands would suffer and die in the months and years that followed the bombing. Many Japanese who were not killed in the initial blast suffered a fate far worse than those who perished quickly: An excerpt from John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” (1946, 1985): The night was hot and it seemed even hotter because of the fires in the sky, but the younger of the two girls Mr. Tanimoto and the priests had rescued complained to Father Kleinsorge that she was cold. He covered her with his jacket. She and her older Sister had been in the salt water of the river for a couple of hours before being rescued. The younger one had huge, raw flash burns on her body; the salt water must have been excruciatingly painful to her. She began to shiver heavily and again said it was cold. Father Kleinsorge borrowed a blanket from someone nearby and wrapped her up but she shook more and more and again said “I am so cold,” and then she suddenly stopped shivering and was dead. (p.45). For the crew of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber whose crew dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the view from above provided none of the effects of the exploding bomb. Their safety glasses shielded them from the bright flashing glare of the detonation. Suddenly, even as they were heading away from the blast site, the powerful shock wave and loud sound from the blast caught up with them and shook the plane violently. The plane’s crew thought they were hit by anti-aircraft fire however it was simply the powerful force of the blast’s outward air expansion catching up with the plane. One of the bomber’s crew members gave an eye-witness account after the bomb had detonated: “A column of smoke rising fast. It has a fiery red core. A bubbling mass, purple gray in color, with that red core. It’s all turbulent. Fires are springing up everywhere, like flames shooting out of a huge bed of coals…Here it comes, the mushroom shape…it’s like a mass of bubbling molasses…it’s nearly level with me and climbing…” Black, Wallace B. (1993). "Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb" (p.32-34) Until this day, no one had ever heard of any weapon causing as much initial and residual damage as the atomic bomb had caused. Where previously it had taken thousands of bombs to destroy a target, now an entire city was obliterated by this new atomic weapon. At the epicenter, most buildings were completely destroyed and anyone who had survived the immediate blast were either blinded by the flash from the fireball or covered with burns wandering around in a state of shock. Because no one had seen the type of damage an atomic weapon could cause, no one believed the first damage reports coming from eye-witnesses and survivors. It was only when people approached the heart of the city and when accurate reports finally reached Tokyo did it become apparent to the people of Hiroshima and Japan what had happened. It was estimated that within the first two to four months of the bomb being dropped that up to 160,000 people were killed both by the initial blast and the after effects of the radiation. Approximately half of these victims died on the first day. “Little Boy”, as it was so named, had been delivered successfully. This news ironically and in a sick, twisted way overjoyed those at the headquarters of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. It was a successful travesty in that the mission had been accomplished but at the price of many innocent Japanese lives. But such is the price of war and regardless of how you feel about it, there were many to blame on both sides for having used the atomic bomb. Either way, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima failed to unnerve the Japanese government to the point of surrender as America hoped it would and Japan stubbornly insisted that the war go on. The United States continued conventional bombing when Japan didn’t surrender but that all changed on August 9, 1945 when “Fat Man”, a plutonium bomb, was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Another 30,000 people died that day from the initial blast with more to follow from the after effects. That appeared to be the final straw and on August 15, 1945, Japan finally announced its surrender to the Allies. There were many reasons that led the United States to use the atomic bomb on the Japanese. Until the end of World War II, conventional weapons were the only types of weapons that had been used on the battlefield by any country’s army or navy that participated in a military conflict of any sort. Warships and submarines carried out their battles both above and below the surface of the ocean using standard artillery. The air forces and armies of the world conducted their operations in much the same fashion with tanks and troops dominating the ground attacks and fighter and bomber aircraft becoming much more involved in first strikes in order to inflict as much damage as possible to the enemy before a ground invasion was necessary. The idea of nuclear energy used in weaponry was unheard of and not even a thought in the mind of those overseeing and masterminding the political and battle strategies of WWII. Concerned that Nazi Germany might be successful in developing an atomic weapon to serve its own negative intentions and therefore be able to conquer the world; Albert Einstein sent a personal message to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and urged him to take an interest in supporting atomic energy research as a source for a military weapon. The Manhattan Project was created and was a joint civilian and military organization tasked with the assignment of this nuclear research project. Brigadier General Groves and Dr. Julius Robert Oppenheimer headed the project and began developing the world’s first atomic weapon. As Japan industrialized in the early twentieth century, it realized that it was vulnerable to trade blockades and the potential for losing the supply of valuable raw materials and other resources from other nations which it so greatly depended on. To combat this, Japan seized Manchuria, China’s Northern Province and then in 1937 it invaded central China. “America‘s major enemy in Asia has always been the strongest industrial power. In 1941 Japan was the strongest Asian power, with the largest industry and thus the greatest capability of any nation in that region to threaten America‘s trade and security. When Japan invaded China, it upset the balance of power.” Wainstock, Dennis D. (2011). “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb” (p. 4). The United States was beginning to realize that Japan was now gaining ground in becoming its greatest threat in Asia and knew it needed to do something about this. In 1941, the United States, England and the Dutch all ceased trade relations with Japan causing a serious blow to the Japanese economy. In fact, Japan received the majority of its oil supply from the three aforementioned countries. With this, the United States demanded that Japan remove its troops from China and Vietnam. The Japanese, of course, rejected this demand and defiantly attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 under the orders of General Hideki Tojo. The United States is forced into entering World War II. Japan’s overconfidence became its ultimate undoing in World War II. At the same time it was attacking Pearl Harbor, it was also overrunning areas in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia in order to obtain the oil it needed. Confident that the Americans did not have the desire or resolve to fight a prolonged war, the Japanese refused the demands of the United States and pushed them further. During battles at sea in the Pacific, the United States pummeled the Japanese fleet by sinking four aircraft carriers and one cruiser at the Battle of Midway and like many losses that the Japanese suffered; the defeats were kept secret from the Japanese people. The only ones aware were the Emperor and the top leaders of Japan. After success at Midway, the United States took back island after island pushing the Japanese back toward their mainland. They took Guadalcanal, New Georgia, Choiseul, Bougainville, Tarawa, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, New Britain, Kavieng, Rabaul, Truk, and the Marianas Islands in the southwestern Pacific. By early 1945, the U.S. took back the Philippines. This set the stage for what was to be several of the most bloody and costly battles in the entire war: The Battle of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Two small islands that by looking at a map didn’t seem like they offered any value to the United States however taking them meant that U.S. B-29 bombers would be able to fly shorter missions and not have to risk low fuel conditions so strategically it was crucial to the success of the war effort. “The battle of Iwo Jima was a death struggle. On February 19, 1945, 80,000 Marines stormed ashore on the eastern half of the island. On the first day, they suffered 2,420 casualties to secure a beachhead 4,000 yards wide and 1,000 yards deep. After five weeks of battle, the Americans had suffered 6,281 dead and 19,000 wounded. Nearly the entire Japanese garrison of 21,000 fought to the death”. Wainstock, Dennis D. (2011). “The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb” (p.6). The Battle of Okinawa was no better. From April 1 to June 21, 1945, this was the biggest single battle in the Pacific and if won, would provide the United States with a strategic position from which to operate their bombing missions on the mainland of Japan. Taking Okinawa meant that the U.S. would be within a close striking distance of 400 miles to the mainland islands of Japan. The Japanese mobilized military and civilians to defend the small island. In addition, the Japanese navy used kamikaze pilots to try to cause damage to the U.S. naval fleet. Kamikaze pilots would intentionally fly their explosive packed fighter aircraft into specific enemy targets. They were generally young men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country in the war effort. It was a desperate move for a desperate military that were unable to use their pilots in the conventional way as the American anti-air defense was too strong. The Battle of Okinawa proved to be just as much of a death struggle as Iwo Jima was and the U.S. navy suffered heavy losses however, they persevered against the proud, stubborn Japanese who were unwilling to yield to U.S. forces. The United States lost 12,613 dead and about 40,000 wounded and as many as 110,000 Japanese and Okinawa residents were killed. Once Okinawa was taken the United States had control over the entire Pacific region except for the main islands of Japan itself. The U.S. began a massive bombing campaign under the command of General Curtis LeMay. The strategy was that the American B-29 bombers would target industrial cities as Japanese cities were extremely vulnerable to incendiary bombings. These bombings caused massive fires that swept through large portions of each of the cities targeted. On March 9, 1945 firebombing attacks were launched on Tokyo and 50 percent of the city was destroyed including approximately 200,000 deaths due to the raging fires that devastated the city from the firebombing. To those who were witness it appeared as if Japan was crippled. Its largest city was in ruins and normal civilian life was brought to a halt. Much of the Japanese military was destroyed and there was no fathomable way that it could sustain a prolonged full-scale war effort. Even after all of this, Japan’s military leaders refused to surrender. They could have made things easier for themselves but stupid pride got in the way and there was no other choice for America but to sustain the attacks. The U.S. strategic bombing survey, which was a panel of experts whose job was to produce an assessment of the damage inflicted by American bombing efforts in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, indicated that the air attacks would be the primary reason that Japan would surrender. Losing the war in the air was very costly to the Japanese in that they could not establish a definitive military air presence to combat the Americans sustained air attacks. However, this was not the only reason that the Japanese were on the brink of surrender. The larger U.S. strategy included trade blockade, mining sea lanes and the destruction of any military air force that Japan might try to establish. Japan’s lack of industry prevented any chance of it mobilizing resistance or counter-attacks against the United States. If there was any doubt before, it was obvious that the Japanese empire was in no shape to defend itself never mind going on the offensive against the United States. The reality of an economic stranglehold was ever apparent. The island of Japan depended heavily on foreign sources for raw materials and food as well as oil, ore and coal. Any blockade of resources would mean that vital resources could not be acquired and the people as well as the nation of Japan would starve to death. The United States mined the waterways in and out of Japan and created the blockade that everyone on the island was afraid of. By July, it was reported that shipment of the majority of raw materials had ceased and the food getting through was only a fraction of that required to sustain the people of Japan. So desperate was their food situation that the Japanese government issued an alert to its citizens to “gather acorns” in order to survive. Imagine a country so proud as to be reduced to eating acorns instead of creating a plan for a peaceful surrender. Being proud is one thing but being stupid is quite another. At this point it was obvious to most that the blockade meant that defeat was a certainty and that it would come soon. By the summer of 1945, Japan’s mighty navy ceased to exist and because Japan is surrounded by sea, that meant that whoever controlled the sea, controlled the war. The U.S. air force had dropped 15,000 tons of bombs on Japan’s aircraft industry to the point where it provided little to no trouble for the United States in the forward progress of the war effort. Japan’s economic structure was disintegrating rapidly. Frequent bombings destroyed bridges, railways and roads and by July of 1945, Japan was militarily defeated. It was estimated that 22,000,000 Japanese were homeless, the food situation was worsening and there was little hope that the bleak situation would be turning in the favor of the Japanese as any sign of economic or physical recovery was estimated to take more than five years. Still, after all of this, the Japanese would not surrender. I found that utterly amazing and stubborn on the part of the Japanese. The Potsdam Conference was held in Potsdam, Germany from July 17 to August 2, 1945 to discuss how punishment was to be dealt out to Nazi Germany after their unconditional surrender. The Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain and China were the only participants. The goals of the conference also included the establishment of post-war order, peace treaties issues, and countering the effects of the war. In addition, the Potsdam Declaration was issued by Churchill, Truman, and Chiang Kai-shek, who was chairman of China on July 26, 1945. The Potsdam Declaration outlined the terms of unconditional surrender for Japan during World War II. As it was written, this document was an ultimatum that stated if Japan did not surrender unconditionally; it would suffer a “swift and utter destruction.” The Japanese refused and by this time, President Truman had had enough. Russia had not entered the war as Stalin promised and the Japanese were not willing to abide by the demands of the United States and the Allies. Even as there was speculation that an atomic bomb could be used on Japan, there were ongoing plans for a ground invasion of the island nation’s mainland. President Truman struggled with the decision to use the bomb but was also well aware that a conventional invasion of Japan’s mainland would cost both sides an enormous amount of bloodshed and loss of life. It was estimated as many as 500,000 American troops might lose their lives in the proposed invasion. This was entirely unacceptable to Truman and the decision to use the world’s first atomic bomb on Japan seemed clear to him at this juncture since Japan’s Prime Minister publicly rejected the demands of the Potsdam Declaration and stated that Japan would “…fight for the successful conclusion of this war.” When you take into consideration the many political and military decisions throughout history, few have been subjected to more criticism and analysis than the dropping of the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many opinions and interpretations exist however it would be ignorant to believe that Truman’s decision came down to only one mitigating factor. “Rather, President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Japan was a culmination of military, political and social motivations used to promote the self-interests of the United States, whether it was in the number of American lives saved in a potential invasion of the island or in shaping the geopolitical structure of the postwar era.” (Oh, Jung. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Decision to Drop the Bomb http://www.umich.edu/~historyj/pages_folder/articles/Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki.pdf) For example, it would be foolish to believe that the bomb was only used as a way to end the war and save American lives in the process. Many people believed that it wasn’t even necessary to use the atomic bomb in order to win the war. Some felt a peaceful solution was still within reach however others felt that a conventional invasion was still the best way to go in defeating Japan. It has repeatedly been argued that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less about ending World War II and more about gaining the upper hand in the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union. Also, the looming fear that the Nazi’s would first acquire the means to build such a destructive weapon of war before the United States weighed heavy on the minds of those in the west as Hitler would exercise no restraint in using the atomic bomb if he were allowed to have access to it. Here, excerpts from a letter to the Smithsonian Institute on the Enola Gay Exhibit, historians Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin challenge the Smithsonian’s skewing of the facts surrounding the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima: “*The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki "destroyed much of the two cities and caused many tens of thousands of deaths." This substantially understates the widely accepted figure that at least 200,000 men, women and children were killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Official Japanese records calculate a figure of more than 200,000 deaths--the vast majority of victims being women, children and elderly men.)” (Sherwin, M. 1995. Historians’ letter to the Smithsonian Institute). * "However," claims the Smithsonian, "the use of the bombs led to the immediate surrender of Japan and made unnecessary the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands." Presented as fact, this sentence is actually a highly contentious interpretation. For example, an April 30, 1946 study by the War Department's Military Intelligence Division concluded, "The war would almost certainly have terminated when Russia entered the war against Japan." (The Soviet entry into the war on August 8th is not even mentioned in the exhibit as a major factor in the Japanese surrender.) And it is also a fact that even after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, the Japanese still insisted that Emperor Hirohito be allowed to remain emperor as a condition of surrender. Only when that assurance was given did the Japanese agree to surrender. This was precisely the clarification of surrender terms that many of Truman's own top advisors had urged on him in the months prior to Hiroshima. This, too, is a widely known fact.” (Sherwin, M. 1995. Historians’ letter to the Smithsonian Institute). Some argue that the atomic bomb actually helped accelerate the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Stalin may have been angry at Truman for not telling him specifically about having “the bomb” but rather for telling him only that he had a weapon of “unusual destructive force”. It was also speculated that Stalin had his own nuclear program running in the Soviet Union and that he was well aware of the United States nuclear capability. Furthermore, there’s no disputing that Stalin saw the use of the atomic bomb more as a warning by America directed toward the Soviets as opposed to being merely a way to end the war with Japan. The Soviets felt the Americans were intimidating them and accused the U.S. of using its atomic advantage for imperialism. Ironically though, the Soviets had no qualms about entering the war until after the United States committed to using the atomic bomb on Japan. For the Japanese, Hiroshima and Nagasaki became symbols of failure as it was the first time the country ever surrendered to a foreign power. We categorize the bombings as events, things that “happened” to Japan however the people of Japan saw it not only as a horrible act of war but something to be ashamed of as well. The interpretation of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II will continue to be the subject of much debate even as we are so far removed from this horrific event. The ramifications of its use will be…should be…remembered for generations to come. There will always be groups divided about whether its use was justified and whether these opinions are based on fact or emotion, the one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that this type of weapon should never be used ever again.
In speaking of the negative outcomes of using the atomic bomb we can cite that over 200,000 Japanese died in the initial blasts and the after effects at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is an obvious negative as the death of so many so quickly from one detonation can only be seen as such. Massive amounts of structural, social and financial damage were done to each city, taking many years to rebuild. Arguably, using the atomic bomb was the catalyst for the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union which lasted until 1991. It ushered in the “Nuclear Age” prompting many other countries to begin their own nuclear weapons research program. Although difficult to believe that there were any positive implications from such a horrific event, dropping the atomic bombs did heavily contribute to the end of World War II. In my opinion, those who argue that Japan was going to surrender anyway weren't dealing with reality. The Japanese culture was so very different in the 1940's. They had demonstrated and voiced time and time again that they would fight to the death. In addition, they were in the process of preparing for an invasion by the Allies and most experts were talking of casualties (both killed and wounded) totaling in the millions when combining both sides. Did the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki save many Japanese lives? I’m confident that it did in the long run. Did it save American lives? Absolutely. Did the bombs kill civilians? Yes. But in comparison, so did the firebombing of Tokyo. Nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare since World War II. Japan was so thoroughly defeated, that the US was able to impose a new post war government. And now sixty years later, Japan and the US are trade partners. Their battles are now in trade. We are at peace and are allies. The decision to use the atomic bomb did not by itself win the war against Japan, but it most certainly ended it, saving thousands of Allied lives that would have most certainly been lost in any conventional invasion of Japan. Using the bomb very likely saved many