Bombing Japan: Was It the Only Option? : Revisiting the atomic horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

A newsboy shouting “Extra! Extra” came around flashing the headline “New Bomb Destroys Hiroshima.” It was August 6, 1945. We, a group of young Marines in the Navy Language School on the campus of Oklahoma A&M, were taking a short morning break from our intensive Japanese training to become “combat interpreters.” Going back to class with our Japanese-American teachers, we knew that some of them had relatives living in the Hiroshima area, but we could not ask them. A few days later, a letter came from a Jesuit I knew from university, “I told the students at the morning Mass, ‘With this bomb, America lost the war.’”

The next year I entered the Jesuits, and later was missioned to Japan. Over the past 70 years I have tried to learn as much as I could about how the war with Japan had begun and especially how it ended—when and why the United States lost the moral high ground by engaging in indiscriminate mass bombing of civilians, culminating in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Last year, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (the daughter of John F. Kennedy) visited Nagasaki. On that occasion, an association of citizen groups for the abolition of nuclear weapons published in The Japan Times (Feb. 6, 2014) an open letter to President Obama:

We urge you .... to acknowledge that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was a crime against humanity involving indiscriminate mass killing of civilians. Accordingly, we urge you to offer an official apology to the victims of these war atrocities. We are convinced that an American apology is vital to achieve the abolishment of nuclear weapons. We also sincerely believe that doing so will increase pressure on the Japanese government to acknowledge its own war crimes of the 1940s.

The letter goes on to enumerate in detail many of the Japanese war crimes, and assert that Japanese leaders, beginning with the Emperor, diverted attention from their own war crimes by assuming the role of victim of the atomic bombing. (For more on the question of a U.S. apology, see the postscript below.)

Night Raids

In early 1945, once the Japanese had been driven out of the Pacific islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam, the Air Force mounted a bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands. Soon, however, the strategy shifted from high-level bombing to mass low-level night raids dropping twirling metal racks that threw out burning blobs of napalm. The first large-scale raid on the windy night of March 9, 1945, burnt up a large densely populated area of central Tokyo. An estimated 86,000 people were incinerated. That was the kick-off of a campaign that, by August of 1945, had already gutted over 60 city centers. Warning leaflets were now being dropped off a few days ahead of the attacks so that people could try to escape the target cities.

For the atomic bombs, a “Target Committee” under General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, discussed how to use the bombs for the maximum shock effect. This group morphed into the “Interim Committee” of government, military and scientific members advising President Harry Truman on the use of the atomic bomb. They recommended dropping two bombs. The first was to be on Hiroshima, a city selected, not for its military importance, but because it was a broad flat area. In the city there was an army divisional headquarters, but no large war production factories within the target area—only a broad expanse of homes, schools, hospitals, shopping and city administration areas. The parachuted bomb was ignited 1,500 feet above the city—a height carefully calculated for maximum destructive effect. The Air Force had to be explicitly notified to “spare” Hiroshima from its fire-bombing campaign.

What could have morally justified killing 140,000 people, most of whom were civilians? The historical record shows that the decision to use the atomic bombs was effectively made in early June when President Truman approvingly received the recommendations of the Interim Committee from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. The official written military order, effectively pulling the trigger, was sent out on July 25, the day before, not after, the Allies issued the Potsdam Proclamation, which set terms of surrender for Japan. After the war, President Truman asserted that he decided to drop the atomic bomb after Japan failed to respond to the terms laid out in the proclamation.

President Truman, together with Secretary Stimson, in the years right after the war, was the source of the “myth” that killing 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 70,000 more in Nagasaki saved “a million casualties on both sides” if it should have come to a mass invasion and a desperate fight to the finish on the home islands of Japan. Historians and military experts have repeatedly disputed these numbers, making an estimate of a maximum of 46,000 deaths in the event of a full invasion. Such estimates as well as military planning, of course, had to assume the worst, namely that no acceptable terms of surrender would be offered, only “unconditional surrender.”

Moreover, we know now that among the top military officers at the time, most foresaw that the Japanese would likely have to capitulate within a few months without need for an invasion. Admiral William D. Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in 1950: “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. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender…” The Japanese Navy had been destroyed; the home islands were already blockaded by submarines and aircraft carriers. Shipping for essential oil imports, steel, and even for food had been cut off. Oil refineries and storage had been systematically bombed by B-29’s from Guam. Even if the horrendous supposition of President Truman were true, was it morally permissible to sacrifice 210,000 hostages with the A-Bomb in order to force Japan to surrender?

Many officers of the Japanese Army, especially those of middle-rank, were fight-to-the finish fanatics. But there were reasonable men among Japan’s military and political leaders. In summer of 1945, the Japanese government, then not at war with Russia, was trying through their ambassador and the Emperor’s special envoy in Moscow to persuade the Soviets to arrange negotiations for ending the war. Stalin and Molotov, however, duplicitously stalled the talks while rapidly moving their armies across Siberia to attack Japan. The U.S. government knew the intentions of the Soviets, for Stalin had assured Roosevelt already at Yalta (Feb. 1945) that the Soviets would attack Japan three months after the defeat of Germany (May 1945). The U.S. government, having broken the Japanese diplomatic code, was listening in on what they knew were feckless Japanese diplomatic efforts in Moscow. Is it naïve to ask why the U.S. government in the early summer of 1945 did not try to meet the Japanese in their efforts to negotiate a surrender? There were neutral countries such as Switzerland, Sweden or the Vatican that could have acted as go-between.

Proposals to End the War

By July 1945, proposals had been developed within the U.S. government to make it easier for the Japanese leaders to end the war. These proposals suggested dropping the blunt demand for “unconditional surrender” and offer more detailed conditions, namely that the armed forces surrender unconditionally and that all war potential be destroyed, while a democratic national polity with the Emperor as head of state could be retained. Such a proposal could, it was hoped, be a basis for negotiating an earlier surrender. But President Truman did not act on these recommendations. The Allied leaders Potsdam Proclamation (July 26) broadcast as a kind of ultimatum, omitted the proposed assurance that the Japanese would be “free to choose their own form of government.” With this omission the hardliners could see the Proclamation to be little different from “unconditional surrender.” The Japanese government delayed its response, still striving in vain—and open to U.S. intelligence—to negotiate for better conditions through the Soviets.

Would a virtual history in which the Japanese would have earlier been shown assurances that the imperial system could be maintained have led to an earlier end of the war? We don’t know, but it would have been a more humane attempt. If negotiation could have ended the war sooner, there would have been no temptation to drop the atomic bomb; the war could have ended before the Soviets could declare war and invade Japanese occupied Manchuria and Korea. Today, there might be only one Korea.

Whether one agrees or not with this projection of virtual history, the judgment remains that the U.S. leaders did not attempt more effective diplomatic efforts to bring the war to an earlier and more humane end, and that the bombing of Japan, culminating in the use of atomic bombs, was the use of immorally excessive force—and on predominantly civilian populations. Do we dare call it a war crime? 

Postscript: Is an Apology Called For?

Immediately after the dropping of the two atomic bombs, and before the actual surrender, the Japanese Foreign Minister sent a telling protest through the Swiss government:

It is the fundamental principle of international law in wartime that belligerents do not posses unlimited rights regarding the choice of the means of harming the enemy, and ….must not employ arms, projectiles or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. (Hague Conventions). The indiscriminateness and cruelty of the bomb the U.S. used this time far exceed those of poisonous gases and similar weapons, the use of which is prohibited because of these very qualities….The use of such a weapon is a new crime against human culture.

This was the first and only protest letter the Japanese government ever issued on the atomic bombings.

Less than a week later, on August 15, 1945 Emperor Hirohito broadcast his Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War. He gave as reason for accepting the Allies’ conditions:

The enemy has begun to employ a new and cruel bomb with incalculable power to damage and destroy many innocent lives. If we continue to fight, it would lead not only to the ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but it would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Japan, then, becomes the victim to save “human civilization.” In the Rescript, the Emperor, in the same vein, expressed concern for “our allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire toward the emancipation of East Asia.” At the end of the war, most people of East Asia would have preferred not to be “emancipated” in that way.

Later, in 1955, five victims of the Hiroshima atomic bomb sued the Japanese government for damages. The Japanese government then reversed its position on the criminality of the bomb:

The use of the atomic bomb hastened Japan’s surrender and consequently prevented belligerents on both sides from being injured or killed…Examined objectively no one can conclude whether or not the atomic bombings…violated international law. Moreover, given that an international agreement to ban the use of nuclear weapons is yet to be formulated, we think that it is not possible to hastily define it illegal…From the viewpoint of international law, war is fundamentally a situation in which a country is allowed to exercise all means deemed necessary to cause the enemy to surrender.

Given this stance of the Japanese government, the writers of the letter to President Obama believe that a straightforward apology and recognition that the dropping of the atomic bombs were a war crime, would pressure the Japanese government to acknowledge its own war crimes. But now 70 years later, such an apology from the United States is unthinkable unless the people of the United States can be emancipated from the myth that the people of the two cities were vicariously sacrificed to the gods of war to avoid an even greater holocaust.

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Tom Maher
2 years 3 months ago
The perspective of the horror and fierce military struggle in all of the scores hard-fought battles in the war with Japan in the Pacific causing hundreds of thousands of casualties of combatants is lost in this account. This account isolates the bombings of mainland Japan from the overall war where preparation were underway for an invasion of mainland Japan which would have caused even much higher casualties, estimated in the hundreds of thousands Americans and millions of Japanese. Astonishingly this account concludes , contrary to all numerous well-documented historic facts, that the planned invasion of mainland Japan and its consequential casualties are a myth. Contrary to what is stated in this account the Mariana Island campaign in the central Pacific 1,100 miles from Tokyo was concluded by August, 1944 (not early 1945) more than a year before the August, 1945 end of the war. The long-range bombers were launched from the Mariana islands of Tinian and Guam began in August, 1944 and continued to the war 's end in August 1945 when the atomic bonds were dropped from bombers from Tinian island in the Marianas. More than a year of bombing Japan with conventional weapons did not lessen Japan will or ability to inflict significant casualties on American forces in numerous major battles that took place in that year including the of the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Even the dropping of the first atomic bomb did not result in changing Japan war policy. Only a second atomic bomb caused Japan to negotiate the end of the war. It is indeed not acceptable to single out the ending of the war from the rest of the war and from the war's certain continuation with high casualty invasion of mainland Japan. There is nothing mythical about the urgent need to end the war by use of atomic weapons demonstrating the futility of further warfare by Japan. Using atomic weapons finally stopped the war which would have continued indefinitely and with the huge further lost of American and Japanese lives . The United States has nothing to apologize for in not allowing the war to continue on possibly for years by conventional means and hundreds of thousands of additional American casualties. The loss of additional American lives by continuing the war is not moral or politically acceptable. The reality is the use of nuclear weapons ended the horrors of the long war with Japan.
William deHaas
2 years 3 months ago
Thank you - both this post and the earlier one from the SJ skate very close to *revisionist history*. In addition, there is no mention of kamikaze attacks that were costing hundreds of US military lives every day in the last year of the war. There is no mention of the historical facts that some of the Japanese military and political leaders refused to agree with emperor even after two nuclear weapons use. The earlier post focuses on the time for an apology - like this one it cites *new* (there is no documentation on this but a reference to one conference that had historians) evidence that Japanese leaders were open to other end of war approaches (current history refutes this projection). Even the argument for an apology skips over the past and current Japanese government refusal to apologize for the Nanking Disaster or the *comfort women* - at best, a partial apology. Some other things skipped over: - Truman was not aware of the Manhattan Project until after the death of FDR and then when a decision about using the weapon was necessary. Given his lack of knowledge, it is revisionist thinking to say that he understood options, alternatives, etc. - agree with Mr. Maher - what is completely left out of this advocacy piece was any understanding of the military and American public's mindset in 1945 - the fear of even more US deaths; the fear that the war would be prolonged, etc. These references to the economic situation of Japan that would have caused their efforts to prolong the war to be void is Monday morning quarterbacking - and, in reality, they are assuming and guessing that economic deprivation would have pushed the end of the war.......that was not the experience to date in major battles such as Iwo Jima, Okinawa, or other islands that were bypassed by the military. - both articles state *historians* - to be balanced, it should say, *some historians* - and should have provided links to who and what evidence and historians are now advocating for this interpretation - it talks about the rush to end the war before Russion engagement. That issue is much larger and more complex than what either writer suggests here..... - same goes for their opinion about unconditional surrender - we demanded and got that from Germany - so, why not Japan? To suggest that folks were close minded to other alternatives is to write *what if* history. - statements about a year long bombing campaign being like terrorism......today, we would agree but both Britain and Germany did the same in terms of population, nite time bombing campaigns. In Europe, the US Army Air Force practiced daylight precision bombings of military and manufacturing sites. Should we apologize for the fire bombings, for Dresden, etc. Would agree but that is not connected to a decision to use nuclear weapons - the weakest argument appers to be the - use these weapons because we have spent $200 billion on them argument. Sorry, you may find some evidence of these types of thoughts, discussions, etc. but it is a stretch to attribute this to the final decision to use nuclear weapons - a demonstration in the ocean - historians have investigated this argument and have shown why it was not an option chosen (in fact, that we had to drop two weapons shows the weakness of that argument) - the unconditional surrender (as it was) was allowed to be modified by McArthur so that the emporer's role could continue and be respected - note that this is completely left out of this advocacy piece Yes, 70 years later we should apologize but let's base it upon facts, reasoned interpretations, and not revisionist history and an advocacy piece. Ask any parent of military personnel in the Pacific in 1945 about the use of nuclear weapons - doubt in 1945 or 1946 you would have found very many advocating for what is presented in this *tale*. You may as well start in the 1930s esp. 1939 with the US secretary of war and state and how they failed to tell FDR that they had cut off and suspended promised and agreed upon oil deliveries to Japan; thus, creating at a crucial time Japanese feelings of a US trade betrayal and feelings that the US had designs on destroying the Japanese Empire through embargoes, isolation, etc. This historical fact has been ignored for decades and created the Japanese war decision and Pearl Harbor attack designs.
William deHaas
2 years 3 months ago
Documentation - http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/ One other point - after the use of Little Boy and Fat Man, there were no more available nuclear weapons - not sure where the poster came up with more weapons might be used. It would have taken months to deliver another nuclear weapon. Some different historical points of view to underline *some historians*: "While officials at the Pentagon continued to look closely at the problem of atomic targets, President Truman, like Stimson, was thinking about the diplomatic implications of the bomb. During a conversation with Joseph E. Davies, a prominent Washington lawyer and former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Truman said that he wanted to delay talks with Stalin and Churchill until July when the first atomic device would have been tested. Alperovitz treats this entry as evidence in support of the atomic diplomacy argument, but other historians, ranging from Robert Maddox to Gabriel Kolko, deny that the timing of the Potsdam conference had anything to do with the goal of using the bomb to intimidate the Soviets.[9]" Apparently dissenting from the Targeting Committee’s recommendations, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall noted the “opprobrium which might follow from an ill considered employment of such force.” This document has played a role in arguments developed by Barton J. Bernstein that a few figures such as Marshall and Stimson were “caught between an older morality that opposed the intentional killing of noncombatants and a newer one that stressed virtually total war.”[10] George A. Lincoln, chief of the Strategy and Policy Group at the U.S. Army’s Operations Department, commented on a memorandum by former President Herbert Hoover that Stimson had passed on for analysis. Hoover proposed a compromise solution with Japan that would allow Tokyo to retain part of its empire in East Asia (including Korea and Japan) as a way to head off Soviet influence in the region. While Lincoln believed that the proposed peace teams were militarily acceptable he doubted that they were workable or that they could check Soviet “expansion” which he saw as an inescapable result of World War II. As to how the war with Japan would end, he saw it as “unpredictable” but speculated about “Russian entry into the war, combined with a landing, or imminent threat of a landing, on Japan proper by us, to convince them of the hopelessness of their situation.” Lincoln derided Hoover’s casualty estimate of 500,000. J. Samuel Walker has cited this document to make the point that “contrary to revisionist assertions, American policymakers in the summer of 1945 were far from certain that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria would be enough in itself to force a Japanese surrender.”[12] A former ambassador to Japan, Grew’s knowledge of Japanese politics and culture informed his critical stance toward the concept of unconditional surrender. He believed it essential that the United States declare its intention to preserve the institution of the emperor. As he argued in this memorandum to President Truman, “failure on our part to clarify our intentions” on the status of the emperor “will insure prolongation of the war and cost a large number of human lives.” Documents like this have played a role in arguments developed by Alperovitz that Truman and his advisers had alternatives to using the bomb such as modifying unconditional surrender and that anti-Soviet considerations weighed most heavily in their thinking. By contrast, Herbert P. Bix has argued that the Japanese leadership would “probably not” have “surrendered if the Truman administration had clarified the status of the emperor” when it demanded unconditional surrender.[15] http://www.nytimes.com/1995/01/31/us/hiroshima-a-controversy-that-refuses-to-die.html Synposis of historians' approaches - Alperovitz is a revisionist historian that only a few agree with. He uses economic data and poltiical data to interpret history.
ROBERT DEITERS
2 years 3 months ago
Thank you, William, for your well-informed comments. In my short article I wanted to emphasize that the dilemma: A-Bomb or invasion was logically defective, because there was at least one other alternative, the one I sketched briefly. Among the advisers of Truman there were well developed proposals to let the Japanese know sooner the conditions to be imposed after surrender. It was already agreed that the Emperor would be left as head of State, but of a demilitarized democratically organized state. U.S. planners also realized that the Japanese military would not surrender en masse unless that Emperor gave the command, and so he had to remain in position. If this were communicated in full and earlier to the Japanese, Grew and Secretary of War Stimson representing the opinion of others in the government, argued that the Japanese might surrender earlier making the invasion unnecessary. H. B. Bix opined that the Japanese would "probably not" have surrendered. But others who also knew Japan well, thought that the Japanese might surrender. The heart of my article is to ask: Why didn't the U.S. government TRY this approach? It required no elaborate preparation, military action, nor time delay. And the reward of success would have been an earlier end of the war, AND have ended the war before the Soviets could declare war on Japan, and seize territory in Northeast Asia. AND, of course, the A-Bomb could have been put on hold. A word in defense of Alperovitz. He has consulted original documents which he quotes in detail. It is true that he tries to trace the political process in the U.S. government. Dropping the A-Bomb was a political decision, not a military decision. Most of the top military people saw that situation of Japan was already "catastrophically hopeless" and that, if the Japanese reacted rationally, surrender was imminent. Again, some of them realized that assurance about the Emperor's position would help them to "act rationally." Another point, I am not a professional historian, but I dislike trying to classify historians as "orthodox" or "revisionist." Each historian must be judged on his thoroughness, credibility, and good judgment. Also, in the present discussion, more documents (some only later released) , memoirs, biographies as they become available enrich the understanding of who what, why, when, etc. A more nuanced or considerably different historical account written later should be judged on its own merits.
Vincent Varnas
2 years 3 months ago
There is also an excellent discussion of the morality of using the atomic bomb to end the war in Japan to be found in Chapter 8 of William C. Mattison's book entitled Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues. It is a Roman Catholic textbook in many Roman Catholic seminaries in basic moral theology. Mattison says, regarding peace negotiations between Japan and the United States: "Apparently the main sticking point in these negotiations was the insistence on the part of the Japanese that their emperor be given immunity rather than prosecuted, should the Japanese surrender. ... For its part, the United States insisted that the Japanese surrender be unconditional. This difference halted peace negotiations between the nations. Yet immediately after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the United States accepted a peace agreement with Japan that included precisely the protection and immunity for the emperor that the Japanese had earlier sought. Some wonder why this term was acceptable after the bomb if it was unacceptable before the bomb." (p. 165) Mattison also discusses the issue in terms of proportionality and double effect reasoning. If all of this is true, then it would appear that use of the atomic bomb was unjustified and immoral. However, one must have been privy to all the facts, discussions, and circumstances surrounding the decision to use the atomic bomb before a final condemnation of its use can be concluded with certainty. Only God can be the final arbiter and judge. The Rev. Father Vincent Varnas, Anglican Province of America
ROBERT DEITERS
2 years 3 months ago
Father Varnas, thank you for your comments that show you read my article thoroughly. I would like to make two responses. As you write, "one must be privy to ...facts, discussions, and circumstances...before a final condemnation.." Actually, much is no no longer privy, but government documents, biographies, and memoirs are numerous. This matter has been and is being worked over by professional historians. Searching the Internet shows almost too much info ration. Another comment. You ask why was keeping the Emperor in position actually accepted after surrender, but not before. Actually, keeping the Emperor as head of the Japanese nation was already planned months before the surrender. One point of my article was to say: "Why weren't the Japanese told this beforehand? Some advisers to Truman urged this, because they judged that not being assured of this was the main sticking point that strengthened the fanatic stand of some of the military among the top decision makers. Thank you.
John Sniegocki
2 years 3 months ago
Pope Paul VI summed up the matter well when he condemned the bombing of Hiroshima as "a butchery of untold magnitude."
Patrick Murtha
2 years 3 months ago
All of the talk of "revisionist historians" and the conjecture of how many American soldiers would have died had the United States invaded Japan is mere distraction from the moral point: is it morally acceptable for a nation to intentionally kill civilians as a means of causing a capitulation? or can a nation use all or any means at its disposal to end a war? (One must pause without passion and carefully consider how he answers this question. For here the statement, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," can be applied in all of its strict and destructive justice.) I would answer no, and our nation and all nations agree. The different treaties in Geneva and at the Hague make this obviously clear with the different stipulations in place, even after World War I, which prohibited the use of certain weapons because of their destructive nature. The principle is that the non-combatant civilian outside the battlefield, being unarmed and undefended, cannot be directly attacked by the armed and the defended. It is cowardly to use the argument that even one defenseless civilian should die so that even one armed fighter might live. It matters little whether the fighter is theirs or ours, whether the civilian is theirs or ours. The principle must stand, or reason must fall. However, the more the nations continue to devalue to human life and the more nations continue to view the human being as a mere "blob of cells" or as an economic or cultural chess piece, the more ethics will be tossed out the window in both peace and war. Mass destruction will continue to be blinked at, and instead of being called mass murder is goes under another name--"the cost of war" or more callously, "collateral damage."
Andrea Campana
2 years 3 months ago
As one of your Jesuit colleagues in Japan likes to point out, it was December 8 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) in Japan when Pearl Harbor was attacked, while the Japanese surrendered on August 15 (the Assumption).
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 3 months ago
I appreciate that the author is primarily interested in questioning the morality of using the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and, as a separate question, Nagasaki. But several facts presented in the article bring me to a different assessment of the case. First, Hiroshima was not the first city in which tens of thousands of civilians had been killed in the one-night bombing of a single city. The author notes the March, 1945 fire-bombing of central Tokyo, which killed 86,000, and acknowledges that about 60 other Japanese cities were similarly attacked, using large numbers of bombers in each case. The atomic bombings were unusual only in that a single plane dropping a single bomb created so much loss of life and property. This brings a different understanding of the Emperor's statement that the surrender was because of this "new and cruel bomb." The only "new" aspect of the atomic bomb was the enemy's (the U.S.) ability to deliver so much death while risking only a single bomber. As Churchill wrote in his memoir of the war, "Deliberate exterminations of whole populations was contemplated and pursued by both Germany and Russia in the eastern war. The hideous process of bombarding open cities from the air, once started by the Germans, was repaid twenty-fold by the ever-mounting power of the Allies, and found its culmination in the use of the atomic weapons which obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The Japanese leadership knew long before the atomic bombs were dropped that they were leaving their civilian population at risk every day that the war continued. Looking at the time lines involved, as the author suggests, I believe that it was the use of the atomic bomb that led the Japanese leaders to conclude that the U.S. no longer faced a long war of attrition, or heavy losses of planes and pilots, or a long series of land battles, and thus the Japanese war strategy had unquestionably failed.
Patrick Murtha
2 years 3 months ago
It is no good to point fingers and say that they left themselves open to the attack or that they used this type of warfare first. Remember that the golden rule is not "Do unto others as they have done unto us." A crime by one person does not justify a crime in retaliation. Regardless of the opinions of what would end the war or not, the dropping of the atomic bomb or even the napalm bombs on a city or non-combatant parts of the city would, under any reasonable understanding of the ethics of war, constitute a war crime. Only the Machiavellian notion of "to the victor goes the spoils" or rather "to the victor goes the morals" prevents any acknowledgement of responsibility of a crime. I hold that regardless of whether one drops a napalm bomb, a nuclear bomb, any type of bomb, or uses machine gun fire, or any other type of direct attack against non-combatants or areas which is home to non-combatants is immoral and constitutes a war-crime. It does not matter whether such an act is done by the enemy or by us. (Of course, there is a difference if an actual military target is targeted, then there might be true "collateral damage"--such an inhuman word. But then the weapon must be used within reason of the size and strength of the target.)
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 3 months ago
It seems we are in agreement. The atomic bomb dropped on a large civilian population produced an effect quite similar to what was already occurring with conventional weapons. The moral issues are the same. So, my point is, the arrival of the atomic bomb changed nothing morally. The atomic bomb, however, could be delivered with almost no risk to U.S. forces, compared to the major risks involved in large flights of bombers, a prolonged land war, etc. From the information in the article, I simply conclude that the Japanese leaders surrendered not out of concern for civilians, or out of moral outrage, but out of realization that defeat was inevitable.
Patrick Murtha
2 years 3 months ago
Mr. Dunn, I apologize. I misread your previous comment and thought the comment was sidestepping the moral question and looking to cast blame. What you conclude about the direct cause of surrender may be true. The fact of that I do not know.
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 3 months ago
Mr. Murtha-- Be not concerned. Misreading usually attaches to miswriting, as here. Peace, Joe Dunn
J Cosgrove
2 years 3 months ago
unless the people of the United States can be emancipated from the myth that the people of the two cities were vicariously sacrificed to the gods of war to avoid an even greater holocaust.
I am sorry but this statement is a joke. For a rather compelling analysis of why the atomic bombs were dropped and the folly of those who say it was a war crime watch: http://www.pjtv.com/series/afterburner-with-bill-whittle-56/from-the-archives-jon-stewarts-stupid-nuclear-commentary-1808/ And here is another: http://www.college.columbia.edu/core/sites/core/files/pages/Paul%20Fussel-Thank%20God%20for%20the%20Atom%20Bomb-August%201981.pdf The last lines of which are
The past, which as always did not know the future, acted in ways that ask to be imagined before they are condemned. Or even simplified.
J Cabaniss
2 years 3 months ago
Of all the statements in the article, I think this one is the most fanciful:
Historians and military experts have repeatedly disputed these numbers, making an estimate of a maximum of 46,000 deaths in the event of a full invasion.
The invasion of Okinawa resulted in 12-14 thousand US dead, over 70 thousand Japanese military dead, and well over 100 thousand civilian deaths, roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire civilian population. Given that there were still over 7 million men in the Japanese military, and 40-70 million civilians, the idea that a maximum of 46,000 people would have died in a full invasion is truly preposterous. That number might have been an estimate of US and Allied deaths (itself suspiciously low given the half million Purple Hearts ordered in preparation for the invasion), but it bears no relation to the overall number that would have died, which would have been truly staggering. Before we hyperventilate about having used nuclear weapons it may be worth noting that, even including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were twice as many civilian deaths in Germany as in Japan. If we are to apologize for the civilian deaths in those two cities, should we not also apologize for Tokyo and Osaka, to say nothing of Hamburg and Dresden? The selective outrage about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not persuasive.
ROBERT DEITERS
2 years 3 months ago
Thank you for your comments. For the number of U.S. military DEATHS, I could only rely on Gar Alperovitz who gives the figure derived as a maximum from three "experts." However that may be, the main point I wished to make is that there was an opportunity for the U.S. government to TRY to end the war before either A-Bomb or invasion of home islands. The government had already formulated the policies that would be imposed after surrender, but these policies, especially the policy of leaving the Emperor in position, were not communicated to the Japanese as they could have been. Would this have succeeded in ending the war earlier? We don't know, although some of Truman's top advisors thought that it might. It would be an attempt that required no military action, and if it succeded in ending the war even a few weeks earlier, the use of the A-Bomb could have been put on hold at least, and the Soviets would not have been able to declare war on Japan before the surrender. (Stalin's generals told him that they would be ready to attack by the latter part of August, but when he heard about Hiroshima (Aug. 6), he gave an urgent order to attack immediately, and Molotov gave a formal declaration of war to the Japanese ambassador. Soviet armies attacked on Aug. 8. As you point out well, during the whole war many more civilians died of conventional and incendiary bombs. In my short article I only ask why was the A-Bomb used? Although I did not include it in my article, The U.S., in being the first to actually use a nuclear weapon, bears a great responsibility to lead the world in abolishing these monsters. By comparison, the A-Bombs were firecrackers.
Lawrence Lyons
2 years 3 months ago
The casualty estimates of 50,000 was the estimate for the first day's action, only.
Lawrence Lyons
2 years 3 months ago
My father served in the Navy during WW II. The ships he served in were involved in more than fifty actions, including the battle for Iwo Jima and Okinawa. On 6 August, his ship was 200 miles south of Kobe, well within striking range of suicide planes, preparing to deliver harassment fire that night. My father, a 'boats 1' was supervising a work detail on the fantail of the ship, USS Vicksburg. At about 1000 hrs. the captain announced that that night's mission was cancelled, and why. My father turned to his good friend, George Ochs, who also had work party out on deck, and said: "George, for the first time, I think we actually have a chance to get out of this thing alive." Based on the casualties on Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the general staff came to the conclusion that the United States would sustain nearly 50,000 casualties in the first landing wave. Gen . MacArthur expected to have a force of 750,000 men, more than thee times the size of the force landed in Normandy. The Sixth US Army was expected to take as many casualties in Operation Coronet as they had already sustained for the entire war. Japan did not surrender after the destruction of Hiroshima. In fact it was not even on the agenda for that day's staff meeting. Even the second bomb, at Nagasaki, received barely any attention within the Imperial HQ. Only after the Emperor went to see the destruction for himself, did he decide to do HIS job; lead. Yes, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible things to do, but we must remember that Japan still had an army of more than a million men in the home islands, and another 2-million in China. The bombs did shorten the war, as the Japanese were planning to defend the islands to the very last person man, woman and child. We could have killed 100-million, in the need for invasion. Instead, my father and 10-million Americans got to come home to their wives and children and families. and only God knows hoe many Japanese got live and have families of their own.
Lawrence Lyons
2 years 3 months ago
What? We should apologize to the Japanese for winning a war they started? Balderdash!

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