World Cultures III
26 November 2000
The Decision To Drop The Atomic Bomb Essay
On August 6th 1945, the world changed forever. The United States dropped the first Atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The surviving witness Miyoko Watanabe describes her experience:
I came out of the front dooran intense yellow, orange and white light overwhelmed me the light was thousands of times brighter than a magnesium flash gunI went inside to hideThere were strange sounds, crashing noises and jolts, and I kept no track of the timeI locked back to see how my mom was. She looked worse then a devilish witch. (47)
The heat was intolerable; everywhere Miyoko looked there were wounded and dying people, bleeding from all over their bodies like her mom.
Miyoko continues, Those who fled from one or one and a half kilometer from the hypocenter really did have to step over bodies and shake off hands grasping their legs for help. When someone caught hold of their shoes they just had to leave their precious shoes and flee otherwise they wouldnt survive(49). A friend of Miyoko told her that he had to leave his sister to die in the flames to save his life. That day, according to the Japan Times, 140,000 died as a direct result of the bombing. Later the total number of victims claimed in Hiroshima City came to 217,137.
There is one question that comes to my mind reading these terrible stories from the victims of Hiroshima; was this necessary?
Scholars have discussed the question for more than half a century.
However, they all agree that the answer to this question does not make the use of atomic weapons seem less awesome or less awful, but it merely throw different light on it.
The main argument defending the decision to drop the bomb is that it was necessary to end the war. Richard B. Frank in his book, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire defends the American decision. Relying on a host of original documentary sources, most notably the Japanese messages that were intercepted and decoded by the American forces, he presents a researched work that attempts to explain what might have happened if the bombs had not been dropped. The reader is left with the unshakable conclusion that the use of the bomb was a necessary evil–that the government of Japan was not ready to surrender, and even after the bombing of Hiroshima, the decision was to fight on.
However, the conclusion of his book is that the bombing of Nagasaki (though nowhere near as damaging as the bombing of Hiroshima) persuaded the Japanese cabinet that the bomb was not a one off event, and that they faced certain destruction if they didn’t sue for peace.
According to Frank, Most American strategists believed that the war with Japan would be a long drown out operation with Japans fanatical resistance extracting mounting casualties the closer the American forces drew to the Home Islands (21). To understand this position, it is necessary to take a closer look at the American experience with the Japanese, during the war.
The Japanese were known by their culture of no surrender; they would rather die than surrender. Particularly, in the Japanese military forces this tradition was prominent. Frank continues with a terrible example of this, The first intimations that the Japanese would literally choose death over surrenderand not merely an elite warrior caste but the rank and filecame in August 1942 at Guadalcanal.
Two small Imperial Navy island garrisons fought to virtual extinction. Major general Alexander Archer Vandegrift, the Marine commander wrote: I have never heard or read of this kind of fighting. These people refuse to surrender. The wounded wait until men come up to examine themand blow themselves and the other fellow to pieces with a hand grenade(28).
Another example, maybe as shocking, happened at the island of Saipan; nearly 30,000 Japanese soldiers fought to the death, only 921 (3 percent) were taken prisoner. On this Island there were 20,000 civilians.
Only 10,258 surrendered; the rest chose death. In a carnival of death that shocked even battle-hardened Marines, whole families waded into the sea to drown together or huddled .