Loading Little Boy into Enola Gay

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) remains among the most controversial events in modern history. On July 24, 1945 President Harry Truman made the order from Potsdam to send the bomb to the Pacific theater. On July 26, it was in Tinian and a day later the Japanese were given the Potsdam ultimatum: either "unconditional surrender" or "utter devastation." On July 31, Truman gave the order to drop the bomb on Hiroshima as soon as the weather cleared after August 2.

The decision was made by the White House with little input from the military. It seemed like a forgone conclusion it would be used. Discussions were more on the effect of its use rather than whether to use it or not. At the time the decision was made to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, the American public was tired of the war and disgusted with the Japanese for making them endure so much. About the only thing they wanted is for the war to be over as soon as possible. The possibility of a Japanese surrender seemed so unlikely it was not even seriously discussed.

During a speech before Congress in 1945, president Truman received his greatest ovation when he said he said he would settle for nothing less than unconditional surrender. In a poll taken shortly before the bomb was dropped, a third of all Americans asked said they thought Japanese emperor Hirohito should be executed and 90 percent said the U.S. should press for a decisive victory.

Fat Man test unit being raised into a B-29

The atomic bomb was primarily designed to defeat Hitler. When the news came of Hitler’s suicide in April 1945 many scientists felt they were too late and their effort was in vain. With Germany defeated the United States and its Allies were able to focus their attention on Japan. Forced previously tied down in Europe were sent to the Pacific.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In August 1945 American aircraft dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 100,000 people and injuring many more. Japan soon sued for peace and World War II ended. Ever since President Harry S. Truman made the fateful decision to unleash atomic weapons on Japan, contemporaries and historians have debated the morality, necessity, and consequences of the choice. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“Truman said he authorized the use of the atomic bombs on populated areas because that was the only way to shorten the war and save American lives. Until the 1960s most historians accepted that conclusion. But recent scholarship, although not denying the argument that American lives would have been spared, has suggested that other considerations also influenced American leaders: relations with Soviet Russia, emotional revenge, momentum, and perhaps racism. Scholars today are also debating why several alternatives to military use of the bomb were not

Before Hiroshima

Little Boy being raised into Enola Gay's bomb bay

After the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945 supplies and troops bound from Europe to Japan had to travel 16,000 miles through the Panama Canal. By July, 1945, Japan was cut for its sources of raw materials and oil in Southeast Asia by Allied blockades and capture of key territory.

Of Japan's remaining 4,000 aircraft only 800 were operation in mid 1945. In contrast the U.S. had 22,000 aircrafts and enough bombs and oil to keep them supplied for a long time. The U.S. military had attached mechanisms from Nazi V-1 guided missiles to American JB-2 jet-powered low altitude missiles. The Americans possessed 1,000 JB-2s by July 1945. They hoped to bombard Japan with 500 missiles a day during the planned invasion in November.

U.S. intelligence through the code-breaking operation known as Magic knew that the Japanese had begun to send out peace feelers through the Japanese ambassador in Moscow. Food supplies had run dangerously low in Japan. Families scoured the forests for wild vegetables to eat. There were worries about a devastating famine.

Planned Invasion of Japan

The invasion plan of Japan — code named Downfall — consisted of two phases: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet. The objective was to force Japan into an unconditional surrender. Each operation would have been larger than the Allied invasion of Normandy. If Operation Olympic had taken place it would have been the largest amphibious landing in the history of warfare. The amphibious landing of Operation Coronet would have been almost twice the size of Operation Olympic. Despite all the hardships it suffered Japan was ready for a U.S. invasion of the main islands in August 1945. There were more than 2 million seasoned regular army troops and 28 million civilians in the People Volunteer army who were prepared to fight to the death.

If there had been an invasion, the first phase of the offensive — Operation Olympic — was scheduled to begin on November 1, 1945. Under the joint command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Adm. Chester Nimitz, 13 divisions of the U.S. Sixth army — nearly 750,000 troops, 2,500 ships and 5,000 planes — were to attack the southern shores of Kyushu on three fronts. Their objective was to move northward and capture a third of the island and use the air and naval bases there for attacks on Honshu, Japan's largest island.

In anticipation of the invasion, the Japanese had 540,000 troops and 5,000 kamikaze pilots stationed in Kyushu, ready to put up enough of a fight to force Washington into accepting a negotiated settlement. Allied intelligence estimated that there were only 84,200 Japanese troops in southern Kyushu.

Japanese soldiers awaiting the invasion had been instructed to strap explosives to themselves and throw themselves at U.S. tanks and fight with sharpened pieces of bamboo and shovels. Japanese schoolgirls were told to carry a carpenter's awl with them and "aim at the abdomen." One girls said she was told, "If you don't kill at least one enemy soldier, you don't deserve to die." Japanese soldiers at prisoner of war camps were given orderes to behead, stab or shoot the 100,000 or so remaining prisoners of war the moment an invasion began.

The battle that followed the landing on Kyushu was expected to take 90 days. The U.S. command predicted that 20,000 American soldiers would die and 75,000 would be wounded in the engagement. According to University of Southern Mississippi historian John Ray Skates in his book "The Invasion of Japan," the U.S. was willing to do anything to secure a total victory even if it meant using poison gas.

Operation Downfall

If Operation Olympic was unsuccessful in a securing a Japanese surrender, the second phases of the offensive — Operation Coronet — was slated to begin on March 1, 1946. Under Gen. Hodges and Gen. Eichekberger, about one million men, including 25 division from the U.S. First and Second Armies would land at Kujukuri Beach and Sagami Bay near Tokyo and capture the Kanto Plain, a 120 mile area that included Tokyo and Japanese industrial heartland. Most scholars believe that Operation Coronet would probably have been unnecessary.

There is still a great debate about the number of people that would have died if their was an invasion. The figure most often thrown out is 500,000 (twice the total number of U.S. deaths in World War II). Notes from an important meeting about the invasion show that Gen. George C. Marshall believed there would be 63,000 American deaths, and some scholars estimate there would have been only 30,000 to 50,000 casualties after an invasion of Kyushu.

Hirohito Before Hiroshima

Hirohito refused request by the prime minster of Japan to end the war in January, 1945, seven months before atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From 1944 to 1945 he urged his generals and admirals to gain one last major military victory so that Japan could obtain an "exit strategy" that would preserve the "imperial way." During that time an additional 1.5 million Japanese were killed.

In the spring of 1945, the Truman administration decoded intercepted messages that read the Emperor himself was participating in the “struggle to surrender.” As the battle raged in Okinawa, Hirohito was foolishly obsessed with trying get the then neutral Soviet Union to support a plan to get Britain and the United States to accept a negotiated surrender on Japanese terms. This was offered by Hirohito biographer Theodore Bix as proof that Hirohito was more than a passive bystander in World War II and that he was willing to oppose his advisors and that his judgment was questionable.

Bix holds Hirohito responsible for the deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He wrote: Hirohito "misread the evidence because it conflicted with his goal of negotiating an end to the war that would guarantee an authoritarian imperial system with himself and the Emperor throne at the center."

Arguments For Using the Bomb

Gen. Grove, head of the Mnhattan Project, with advisors

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) remains among the most controversial events in modern history. Historians have actively debated whether the bombings were necessary, what effect they had on bringing the war in the Pacific to an expeditious end, and what other options were available to the United States. These very same questions were also contentious at the time, as American policymakers struggled with how to use a phenomenally powerful new technology and what the long-term impact of atomic weaponry might be, not just on the Japanese, but on domestic politics, America’s international relations, and the budding Cold War with the Soviet Union. In retrospect, it is clear that the reasons for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, just like the later impact of nuclear technology on world politics, were complex and intertwined with a variety of issues that went far beyond the simple goal of bringing World War II to a rapid close.” [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

Numerous factors played a part in the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, including war weariness, domestic politics, geo-strategic politics, morality, body counts, and fear. There was relatively little debate over the decision to deploy the atomic bomb. The most overriding factor was ending the war as quickly as possible with as few American casualties as possible.

High-ranking military and government personnel argued about whether or not to use the bomb. Secretary of War Stimson said that dropping the bomb would save 100,000 American lives and that detonating it by surprise on a "combined military and residential target would produce maximum psychological shock."

A discussion on "Was the atomic bomb really necessary?" in a Japanese textbook "Junior High Social Studies" says that "President Truman said that use of the atomic bomb saved the lives of tens of millions of American and allied troops. An English scientists claimed that the dropping of the atomic bomb sacrificed...the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as pawns in postwar strategy toward the Soviet Union. Another theory holds that the bomb was dropped in order to justify...the $2 billion spent on making the bomb."

Other military options included a blockade, firebombing, an invasion, Emperor guarantee and a Soviet declaration of war. A combination of these tactics would probably have forced a Japanese surrender, but there is no saying how long it would have taken or how many more would have died.

A ground invasion of the mainland was scheduled for November, 1945.There is still a great debate about the number of people that would have died if their was an invasion. The figure most often thrown out is 500,000 (twice the total number of U.S. deaths in World War II). Notes from an important meeting about the invasion show that Gen. George C. Marshall believed there would be 63,000 American deaths, and some scholars estimate there would have been only 30,000 to 50,000 casualties after an invasion of Kyushu.

One former Japanese soldier told the Washington Post in 1994, "If the Americans didn't drop the bomb, the Japanese people would never have surrendered. It's better that the Americans used the bomb, or the fighting would have gone on longer and more people would have died." One survivor at Okinawa told the Washington Post that "invasion was not just a hypothetical threat...It was genuinely in the train, as I know because I was to be in it." the bomb meant "we were going to live, we were going to grow up to adulthood after all."

Arguments That Using the Bomb was Unnecessary

Many think that the American should have at least given the Japanese a warning or a demonstration of the bomb’s power. Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote: “we could not give the Japanese any warning; that we could not concentrate on a civilian area; but that we should seek to make a profound psychological impression on as many of the inhabitants as possible.”

Some scholars insist that it was the United States’ desire for an “unconditional surrender” that prolonged the war not the refusal of the Japanese give up. The mayor of Hiroshima, Takashi Hiraoka told the New York Times: "your country sometimes says that hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were saved by the bombing but I think most of us believe the U.S. wanted to drop the bomb as quickly as possible," in part to establish it predominance in the postwar world.

Critics of the bombing of Hiroshima argue that Japan was on the verge of surrender before the atomic bomb was dropped. Tokyo had begun sending out peace feelers and the country was on the verge of a famine. A strategic bombing survey by the War Department concluded that Japan would have surrendered before November 1 if the bomb had not been used.

Some historians believe Truman could have ended the war without atomic bomb especially if he had waited for the Soviet Union to enter the fight. Some have even argued he "preferred" the atomic bomb because he was worried about Soviet expansion in Asia.

Some people argue that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, not to end the war with Japan but rather to give a warning to the Soviet Union and make them "more manageable" as one of Truman's aids put it. Other scholars ask "Would the bomb have been dropped on Germany, arguing Americans were more "reluctant to drop the bomb on 'white people' than Asians."

One writer called Hiroshima the "the world's largest guinea pig." The citizen of the city had no warning of what was going other than a half-million leaflets, dropped two days before the explosion, which read, "Your city will be obliterated unless your Government surrenders.” Physicist Arthur Compton favored the idea of a demonstration bombing to "warn" and "impress" the Japanese before actually using the bomb. Oppenheimer opposed the idea of a demonstration, arguing that for the weapon to have its desired effect it had to be dropped on a city.

“Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb" by Henry Lewis Stimson (February 1947)

Henry Stimson

Henry L. Stimson — Secretary of War 1911–13, Secretary of State 1929–33, Secretary of War 1940–45 — was the man who made the recommendation to the President Truman to use atomic bombs in Japan. His article “The Decision to Use the Bomb” appeared in Harper’s Magazine in February 1947. The piece was intended as a response to mounting public criticism of the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan, including from highly respected public figures such as Albert Einstein. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

A year and half after World War II ended, Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine: “There has been much comment about the decision to use atomic bombs in attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This decision was one of the gravest made by our government in recent years, and it is entirely proper that it should be widely discussed. I have therefore decided to record for all who may be interested my understanding of the events which led up to the attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, on Nagasaki on August 9, and the Japanese decision to surrender, on August 10. No single individual can hope to know exactly what took place in the minds of all of those who had a share in these events, but what follows is an exact description of our thoughts and actions as I find them in the records and in my clear recollection.” [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“Two great nations were approaching contact in a fight to a finish which would begin on November 1, 1945. Our enemy, Japan, commanded forces of somewhat over 5,000,000 men. Men of these armies had already inflicted upon us, in our breakthrough of the outer perimeter of their defenses, over 300,000 battle casualties. Enemy armies still unbeaten had the strength to cost us a million more. As long as the Japanese government refused to surrender, we should be forced to take and hold the ground, and smash the Japanese ground armies, by fighting of the same desperate and costly kind that we had faced in the Pacific islands for nearly four years.

“In the light of the formidable problem which thus confronted us, I felt that every possible step should be taken to compel a surrender of the homelands, and withdrawal of Japanese troops from the Asiatic mainland and from other positions, before we had commenced an invasion. We held two cards to assist us in such an effort. One was the traditional veneration in which the Japanese Emperor was held by his subjects and he power which was thus vested in him over his loyal troops. It was for this reason that I suggested in my memorandum of July 2 that his dynasty should be continued. The second card was the use of the atomic bomb in the manner best calculated to persuade that Emperor and the counselors about him to submit to our demand for what was essentially unconditional surrender, placing his immense power over his people and his troops subject to our orders.

“In order to end the war in the shortest possible time and to avoid the enormous losses of human life which otherwise confronted us, I felt that we must use the Emperor as our instrument to command and compel his people to cease fighting and subject themselves to our authority through him, and that to accomplish this we must give him and his controlling advisers a compelling reason to accede to our demands. This reason furthermore must be of such a nature that his people could understand his decision. The bomb seemed to me to furnish a unique instrument for that purpose.

“My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise. In the light of the alternatives which, on a fair estimate, were open to us I believe that no man in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities for accomplishing this purpose and saving those lives, could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face.

Discussions with Roosevelt on the Atomic Bomb in March 1945

Roosevelt and Truman

Henry Lewis Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine:“On March 15, 1945 I had my last talk with President Roosevelt. My diary record of this conversation gives a fairly clear picture of the state of our thinking at that time. I have removed the name of the distinguished public servant who was fearful lest the Manhattan (atomic) project be “a lemon”; it was an opinion common among those not fully informed. [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

Stimson’s diary reads: “The President . . . had suggested that I come over to lunch today . . . . First I took up with him a memorandum which he sent to me from –––– who had been alarmed at the rumors of extravagance in the Manhattan project. –––– suggested that it might become disastrous and he suggested that we get a body of “outside” scientists to pass upon the project because rumors are going around that Vannevar Bush and Jim Conant have sold the President a lemon on the subject and ought to be checked up on. It was rather a jittery and nervous memorandum and rather silly, and I was prepared for it and I gave the president a list of the scientists who were actually engaged on it to show the very high standing of them and it comprised four Nobel Prize men, and also how practically every physicist of standing was engaged with us in the project. Then I outlined to him the future of it and when it was likely to come off and told him how important it was to get ready. I went over with him the two schools of thought that exist in respect to the future control after the war of this project, in case it is successful, one of them being the secret attempted control of the project by those who control it now, and the other being the international control based upon freedom both of science and of access. I told him that those things must be settled before the first projectile is used and that he must be ready with a statement to come out to the people on it just as soon as that is done. He agreed to that.”

Stimson wrote in Harper’s: “This conversation covered the three aspects of the question which were then uppermost in our minds. First, it was always necessary to suppress a lingering doubt that any such titanic undertaking could be successful. Second, we must consider the implications of success in terms of its long.range postwar effect. Third, we must face the problem that would be presented at the time of our first use of the weapon, for with that first use there must be some public statement...I did not see Franklin Roosevelt again. “

Discussions with Truman on the Atomic Bomb in April 1945

Henry Lewis Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine: The next time I went to the White House to discuss atomic energy was April 25, 1945, and I went to explain the nature of the problem to a man whose only previous knowledge of our activities was that of a Senator who had loyally accepted our assurance that the matter must be kept a secret from him. Now he was President and Commander-in-Chief, and the final responsibility in this as in so many other matters must be his. President Truman accepted this responsibility with the same fine spirit that Senator Truman had shown before in accepting our refusal to inform him. [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“I discussed with him the whole history of the project. We had with us General Groves, who explained in detail the progress which had been made and the probable future course of the work. I also discussed with President Truman the broader aspects of the subject, and the memorandum which I used in this discussion is again a fair sample of the state of our thinking at the time.”

The Memorandum on the discussion on the atomic bomb between Stimson and President Truman on April 25, 1945 reads: “1) Within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city. 2) Although we have shared its development with the U.K., physically the U.S. is at present in the position of controlling the resources with which to construct and use it and no other nation could reach this position for some years.

2nd page of the Letter by Einstein to President Roosevelt in 1939 on the threat of nuclear weapons

“3) Nevertheless it is practically certain that we could not remain in this position indefinitely. a) Various segments of its discovery and production are widely known among many scientists in many countries, although few scientists are now acquainted with the whole process which we have developed. b) Although its construction under present methods requires great scientific and industrial effort and raw materials, which are temporarily mainly within the possession and knowledge of U.S. and U.K., it is extremely probable that much easier and cheaper methods of production will be discovered by scientists in the future, together with the use of the materials of much wider distribution. As a result, it is extremely probable that the future will make it possible for atomic bombs to be constructed by smaller nations or even groups, or at least by a larger nation in a much shorter time.

“4) As a result, it is indicated that the future may see a time when such a weapon may be constructed in secret and used suddenly and effectively with devastating power by a willful nation or group against an unsuspecting nation or group of much greater size and material power. With its aid even a very powerful unsuspecting nation might be conquered within a very few days by a very much smaller one. [“A brief reference to the estimated capabilities of other nations is here omitted; it in no way affects the course of the argument]

“5) The world in its present state of moral advancement compared with its technical development would be eventually at the mercy of such a weapon. In other words, modern civilization might be completely destroyed. “6. To approach any world peace organization of any pattern now likely to be considered, without an appreciation by the leaders of our country of the power of this new weapon, would seem to be unrealistic. No system of control heretofore considered would be adequate to control this menace. Both inside any particular country and between the nations of the world, the control of this weapon will undoubtedly be a matter of the greatest difficulty and would involve such thoroughgoing rights of inspection and internal controls as we have never theretofore contemplated.

“7) Furthermore, in the light of our present position with reference to this weapon, the question of sharing it with other nations and, if so shared, upon what terms, becomes a primary question of our foreign relations. Also our leadership in the war and in the development of this weapon has placed a certain moral responsibility upon us which we cannot shirk without very serious responsibility for any disaster to civilization which it would further.

“8) On the other hand, if the problem of the proper use of this weapon can be solved, we would have the opportunity to bring the world into a pattern in which the peace of the world and our civilization can be saved.

“9) As stated in General Groves’ report, steps are under way looking towards the establishment of a select committee of particular qualifications for recommending action to the executive and legislative branches of our government when secrecy is no longer in full effect. The committee would also recommend the actions to be taken by the War Department prior to that time in anticipation of the postwar problems. All recommendations would of course be first submitted to the President.”

Recommendation of the Interim Committee to Use the Atomic Bombs on Japan

Truman signing Atomic Energy Act of 1946

Henry Lewis Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine: “On June 1, after its discussions with the Scientific Panel, the Interim Committee unanimously adopted the following recommendations: 1) The bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible. 2) It should be used on a dual target plant surrounded by or adjacent to houses and other buildings most susceptible to damage, and 3) It should be used without prior warning [of the nature of the weapon]. One member of the committee, Mr. Bard, later changed his view and dissented from recommendation. [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs]

The principal political, social, and military objective of the United States in the summer of 1945 was the prompt and complete surrender of Japan. Only the complete destruction of her military power could open the way to lasting peace. Japan, in July 1945, had been seriously weakened by our increasingly violent attacks. It was known to us that she had gone so far as to make tentative proposals to the Soviet government, hoping to use the Russians as mediators in a negotiated peace. These vague proposals contemplated the retention by Japan of important conquered areas and were therefore not considered seriously. There was as yet no indication of any weakening in the Japanese determination to fight rather than accept unconditional surrender. If she should persist in her fight to the end, she had still a great military force.

“In the middle of July 1945, the intelligence section of the War Department General Staff estimated Japanese military strength as follows: in the home islands, slightly under 2,000,000; in Korea, Manchuria, China proper, and Formosa, slightly over 2,000,000; in French Indochina, Thailand, and Burma, over 200,000;in the East Indies area, including the Philippines, over 500,000; in the by.passed Pacific islands, over 100,000. The total strength of the Japanese Army was estimated at about 5,000,000 men. These estimates later proved to be in very close agreement with official Japanese figures.

“The Japanese Army was in much better condition than the Japanese Navy and Air Force. The Navy had practically ceased to exist except as a harrying force against an invasion fleet. The Air Force has been reduced mainly to reliance upon Kamikaze, or suicide, attacks. These latter, however, had already inflicted serious damage on our seagoing forces, and their possible effectiveness in a last ditch fight was a matter of real concern to our naval leaders.

“As we understood it in July, there was a very strong possibility that the Japanese government might determine resistance to the end, in all the areas of the Far East under its control. In such an event the Allies would be faced with the enormous task of destroying an armed force of five million men and five thousand suicide aircraft, belonging to a race which had already amply demonstrated its ability to fight literally to the death.

“The strategic plans of our armed forces for the defeat of Japan, as they stood in July, had been prepared without reliance upon the atomic bomb, which had not yet been tested in New Mexico. We were planning an intensified sea and air blockade, and greatly intensified strategic air bombing, through the summer and early fall, to be followed on November 1 by an invasion of the southern island of Kyushu. This would be followed in turn by an invasion of the main island of Honshu in the spring of 1946. The total U.S. military and naval force involved in this grand design was of the order of 5,000,000 men; if all those indirectly concerned are included, it was larger still.

“It was already clear in July that even before the invasion we should be able to inflict enormously severe damage on the Japanese homeland by the combined application of “conventional” sea and air power. The critical question was whether this kind of action would induce surrender. It therefore became necessary to consider very carefully the probable state of mind of the enemy, and to asses the accuracy the line of conduct which might end his will to resist.

Potsdam big three

Potsdam Declaration (July 26,1945)

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ The Potsdam Declaration was issued on July 26, 1945 by U.S. President Harry Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and President Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China, who were meeting in Potsdam, Germany to consider war strategy and post-war policy. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also attended the Potsdam Conference but did not sign the Declaration, since the Soviet Union did not enter the war against Japan until August 8, 1945. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

Excerpts of the The Potsdam Declaration (July 26, 1945) Proclamation: Defining the Terms for the Japanese Surrender, July 26, 1945 1) WE — THE PRESIDENT of the United States, the President of the National Government of the Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an opportunity to end this war. [Source: “Japan’s Decision to Surrender,” by Robert J.C. Butow (Stanford University Press, 1954) ]

2) The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.

3) The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry, and the method of life of the whole German people. The full application of our military power backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.

5) Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay.

6) There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world.

7) Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s war.making power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.

10) We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established.

12) The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.

13) We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.

Letter authorizing the use of the atomic bomb

Memorandum Recommending the Use of the Atomic Bombs

“Memorandum for the President. July 2, 1945: PROPOSED PROGRAM FOR JAPAN: 1) The plans of operation up to and including the first landing have been authorized and the preparations for the operation are now actually going on. This situation was accepted by all members of your conference on Monday, June 18. . [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs]

“2) There is reason to believe that the operation for the occupation of Japan following the landing may be a very long, costly, and arduous struggle on our part. The terrain, much of which I have visited several times, has left the impression on my memory of being one which would be susceptible to a last ditch defense such as has been made on Iwo Jima and Okinawa and which of course is very much larger than either of those two areas. According to my recollection it will be much more unfavorable with regard to tank maneuvering than either the Philippines or Germany.

3) If we once land on one of the main islands and begin a forceful occupation of Japan, we shall probably have cast the die of last ditch resistance. The Japanese are highly patriotic and certainly susceptible to calls for fanatical resistance to repel an invasion. Once started in actual invasion, we shall in my opinion have to go through with an even more bitter finish fight than in Germany. We shall incur the losses incident to such a war and we shall have to leave the Japanese islands even more thoroughly destroyed than was the case with Germany. This would be due both to the differences in the Japanese and German personal character and the differences in the size and character of the terrain through which the operations will take place.

“4) A question then comes: Is there any alternative to such a forceful occupation of Japan which will secure for us the equivalent of an unconditional surrender of her forces and a permanent destruction of her power again to strike an aggressive blow at the “peace of the Pacific”? I am inclined to think that there is enough such chance to make it well worthwhile our giving them a warning of what is to come and a definite opportunity to capitulate. As above suggested, it should be tried before the actual forceful occupation of the homeland islands is begun and furthermore the warning should be given in ample time to permit a national reaction to set in.

“We have the following enormously favorable factors on our side — factors much weightier than those we had against Germany: Japan has no allies. Her navy is nearly destroyed and she is vulnerable to a surface and underwater blockade which can deprive her of sufficient food and supplies for her population. She is terribly vulnerable to our concentrated attack on her crowded cities, industrial and food resources. She has against her not only the Anglo.American forces but the rising forces of China and the ominous threat of Russia. We have inexhaustible and untouched industrial resources to bring to bear against her diminishing potential. We have great moral superiority through being a victim of her first sneak attack.

Hiroshima Bombing Operations order

Decision on When to Use the Atom Bomb in Japan

Henry Lewis Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine: The adoption of the policy outlined in the memorandum of July 2 was a decision of high politics; once it was accepted by the President, the position of the atomic bomb in our planning became quite clear. I find that I stated in my diary, as early as June 19, that “the last chance warning . . . must be given before an actual landing of the ground forces in Japan, and fortunately the plans provide for enough time to bring in the sanctions to our warning in the shape of heavy ordinary bombing attack and an attack of S.1.” S.1 was a code name for the atomic bomb. [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs]

“There was much discussion in Washington about the timing of the warning to Japan. The controlling factor in the end was the date already set for the Potsdam meeting of the Big Three. It was President Truman’s decision that such a warning should be solemnly issued by the U.S. and the U.K. from this meeting, with the concurrence of the head of the Chinese government, so that it would be plain that all of Japan’s principal enemies were in entire unity. This was done, in the Potsdam ultimatum of July 26, which very closely followed the above memorandum of July 2, with the exception that it made no mention of the Japanese Emperor.

“On July 28 the Premier of Japan, Suzuki, rejected the Potsdam ultimatum by announcing that it was “unworthy of public notice.” In the face of this rejection we could only proceed to demonstrate that the ultimatum had meant exactly what it said when it stated that if the Japanese continued the war, “the full application of our military power, backed by our resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of these Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.”

Use the Atom Bomb in Japan

Henry Lewis Stimson wrote in Harper’s Magazine: ““Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, and Nagasaki on August 9. These two cities were active working parts of the Japanese war effort. One was an army center; the other was naval and industrial. Hiroshima was the headquarters of the Japanese Army defending southern Japan and was a major military storage and assembly point. Nagasaki was a major seaport and it contained several large industrial plants of great wartime importance. We believed that our attacks had struck cities which must certainly be important to the Japanese military leaders, both Army and Navy, and we waited for a result. We waited one day. [Source: Henry Lewis Stimson, Harper’s Magazine, February 1947; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs]

“Many accounts have been written about the Japanese surrender. After a prolonged Japanese cabinet session in which the deadlock was broken by the Emperor himself, the offer to surrender was made on August 10. It was based on the Potsdam terms, with a reservation concerning the sovereignty of the Emperor. While the Allied reply made no promises other than those already given, it implicitly recognized the Emperor’s position by prescribing that his power must be subject to the orders of the Allied Supreme Commander. These terms were accepted on August 14 by the Japanese, and the instrument of surrender was formally signed on September 2, in Tokyo Bay. Our great objective was thus achieved, and all the evidence I have seen indicates that the controlling factor in the final Japanese decision to accept our terms of surrender was the atomic bomb.

“The two atomic bombs which we had dropped were the only ones we had ready, and our rate of production at the time was very small. Had the war continued until the projected invasion on November 1, additional fire raids of B-20’s would have been more destructive of life and property than the very limited number of atomic raids which we could have executed in the same period. But the atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon. In March 1945 our Air Force had launched its first great incendiary raid on the Tokyo area. In this raid more damage was done and more casualties were inflicted than was the case at Hiroshima. Hundreds of bombers took part and hundreds of tons of incendiaries were dropped. Similar successive raids burned out a great part of the urban area of Japan, but the Japanese fought on. On August 6 one B-29 dropped a single atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the war was over. So far as the Japanese could know, our ability to execute atomic attacks, if necessary by many planes at a time, was unlimited. As Dr. Karl Compton has said, “it was not one atomic bomb, or two, which brought surrender; it was the experience of what an atomic bomb will actually do to a community, plus the dread of many more, that was effective.”

“The bomb thus served exactly the purpose we intended. The peace party was able to take the path of surrender, and the whole weight of the Emperor’s prestige was exerted in favor of peace. When the Emperor ordered surrender, and the small but dangerous group of fanatics who opposed him were brought under control, the Japanese became so subdued that the great undertaking of occupation and disarmament was completed with unprecedented ease.”

Unsent letter by Truman on the use of the A bomb

Was the Use of the Atomic Bomb Inhuman?

About five months after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Karl T. Compton wrote in Atlantic Monthly: “Was the use of the atomic bomb inhuman? All war is inhuman. Here are some comparisons of the atomic bombing with conventional bombing. At Hiroshima the atomic bomb killed about 80,000 people, pulverized about five square miles, and wrecked an additional ten square miles of the city, with decreasing damage out to seven or eight miles from the center. At Nagasaki the fatal casualties were 45,000 and the area wrecked was considerably smaller than at Hiroshima because of the configuration of the city. [Source: Karl T. Compton, Atlantic Monthly, December 1946 Issue. Dr. Karl T. Compton was Chief of the Office of Field Service in the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]

“Compare this with the results of two B-29 incendiary raids over Tokyo. One of these raids killed about 125,000 people, the other nearly 100,000. Of the 210 square miles of greater Tokyo, 85 square miles of the densest part was destroyed as completely, for all practical purposes, as were the centers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; about half the buildings were destroyed in the remaining 125 square miles; the number of people driven homeless out of Tokyo was considerably larger than the population of greater Chicago. These figures are based on information given us in Tokyo and on a detailed study of the air reconnaissance maps. They may be somewhat in error but are certainly of the right order of magnitude.” ^^

Was Japan Already Beaten Before the Atomic Bomb

Karl T. Compton wrote in Atlantic Monthly:“Was Japan already beaten before the atomic bomb? The answer is certainly "yes" in the sense that the fortunes of war had turned against her. The answer is "no" in the sense that she was still fighting desperately and there was every reason to believe that she would continue to do so; and this is the only answer that has any practical significance. [Source: Karl T. Compton, Atlantic Monthly, December 1946 Issue ^^]

“General MacArthur's staff anticipated about 50,000 American casualties and several times that number of Japanese casualties in the November 1 operation to establish the initial beachheads on Kyushu. After that they expected a far more costly struggle before the Japanese homeland was subdued. There was every reason to think that the Japanese would defend their homeland with even greater fanaticism than when they fought to the death on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. No American soldier who survived the bloody struggles on these islands has much sympathy with the view that battle with the Japanese was over as soon as it was clear that their ultimate situation was hopeless. No, there was every reason to expect a terrible struggle long after the point at which some people can now look back and say, "Japan was already beaten." ^^

“A month after our occupation I heard General MacArthur say that even then, if the Japanese government lost control over its people and the millions of former Japanese soldiers took to guerrilla warfare in the mountains, it could take a million American troops ten years to master the situation. That this was not an impossibility is shown by the following fact, which I have not seen reported. We recall the long period of nearly three weeks between the Japanese offer to surrender and the actual surrender on September 2. This was needed in order to arrange details: of the surrender and occupation and to permit the Japanese government to prepare its people to accept the capitulation. It is not generally realized that there was threat of a revolt against the government, led by an Army group supported by the peasants, to seize control and continue the war. For several days it was touch and go as to whether the people would follow their government in surrender. ^^

“The bulk of the Japanese people did not consider themselves beaten; in fact they believed they were winning in spite of the terrible punishment they had taken. They watched the paper balloons take off and float eastward in the wind, confident that these were carrying a terrible retribution to the United States in revenge for our air raids. We gained a vivid insight into the state of knowledge and morale of the ordinary Japanese soldier from a young private who had served through the war in the Japanese Army. He had lived since babyhood in America, and had graduated in 1940 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This lad, thoroughly American in outlook, had gone with his family to visit relatives shortly after his graduation. They were caught in the mobilization and he was drafted into the Army. ^^

“This young Japanese told us that all his fellow soldiers believed that Japan was winning the war. To them the losses of Iwo Jima and Okinawa were parts of a grand strategy to lure the American forces closer and closer to the homeland, until they could be pounced upon and utterly annihilated. He himself had come to have some doubts as a result of various inconsistencies in official reports. Also he had seen the Ford assembly line in operation and knew that Japan could not match America in war production. But none of the soldiers had any inkling of the true situation until one night, at ten-thirty, his regiment was called to hear the reading of the surrender proclamation.” ^^

Did the Atomic Bomb Bring about the End of the War?

Karl T. Compton wrote in Atlantic Monthly: “Did the atomic bomb bring about the end of the war? That it would do so was the calculated gamble and hope of Mr. Stimson, General Marshall, and their associates. The facts are these. On July 26, 1945, the Potsdam Ultimatum called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. On July 29 Premier Suzuki issued a statement, purportedly at a cabinet press conference, scorning as unworthy of official notice the surrender ultimatum, and emphasizing the increasing rate of Japanese aircraft production. Eight days later, on August 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; the second was dropped on August 9 on Nagasaki; on the following day, August 10, Japan declared its intention to surrender, and on August 14 accepted the Potsdam terms. On the basis of these facts, I cannot believe that, without the atomic bomb, the surrender would have come without a great deal more of costly struggle and bloodshed. [Source: Karl T. Compton, Atlantic Monthly, December 1946 Issue ^^]

“Exactly what role the atomic bomb played will always allow some scope for conjecture. A survey has shown that it did not have much immediate effect on the common people far from the two bombed cities; they knew little or nothing of it. The even more disastrous conventional bombing of Tokyo and other cities had not brought the people into the mood to surrender. The evidence points to a combination of factors. (1) Some of the more informed and intelligent elements in Japanese official circles realized that they were fighting a losing battle and that complete destruction lay ahead if the war continued. These elements, however, were not powerful enough to sway the situation against the dominating Army organization, backed by the profiteering industrialists, the peasants, and the ignorant masses. (2) The atomic bomb introduced a dramatic new element into the situation, which strengthened the hands of those who sought peace and provided a face-saving argument for those who had hitherto advocated continued war. (3) When the second atomic bomb was dropped, it became clear that this was not an isolated weapon, but that there were others to follow. With dread prospect of a deluge of these terrible bombs and no possibility of preventing them, the argument for surrender was made convincing. This I believe to be the true picture of the effect of the atomic bomb in bringing the war to a sudden end, with Japan's unconditional surrender. ^^

“If the atomic bomb had not been used, evidence like that I have cited points to the practical certainty that there would have been many more months of death and destruction on an enormous scale. Also the early timing of its use was fortunate for a reason which could not have been anticipated. If the invasion plans had proceeded as scheduled, October, 1945, would have seen Okinawa covered with airplanes and its harbors crowded with landing craft poised for the attack. The typhoon which struck Okinawa in that month would have wrecked the invasion plans with a military disaster comparable to Pearl Harbor. ^^

“These are some of the facts which lead those who know them, and especially those who had to base decisions on them, to feel that there is much delusion and wishful thinking among those after-the-event strategists who now deplore the use of the atomic bomb on the ground that its use was inhuman or that it was unnecessary because Japan was already beaten. And it was not one atomic bomb, or two, which brought surrender; it was the experience of what an atomic bomb will actually do to a community, plus the dread of many more, that was effective. ^^

“If 500 bombers could wreak such destruction on Tokyo, what will 500 bombers, each carrying an atomic bomb, do to the City of Tomorrow? It is this deadly prospect which now lends such force to the two basic policies of our nation on this subject: (1) We must strive generously and with all our ability to promote the United Nations' effort to assure future peace between nations; but we must not lightly surrender the atomic bomb as a means for our own defense. (2) We should surrender or share it only when there is adopted an international plan to enforce peace in which we can have great confidence.” ^^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Harper's magazine, Atlantic Monthly Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun, The New Yorker

Last updated November 2016

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