The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 was a definite turning point in the Pacific War of World War II. Earlier that year, Germany had been defeated and the world then turned its attention to the Pacific war. Most history books state the argument that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was necessary to stop the war in order to save thousands of lives of American troops that were planning to invade Japan. “Had the bombs not been employed (so the “wisdom” goes), an enormous number of American troops would have perished in an inevitable amphibious operation against the Japanese mainland.”(McManus 1) This paper will demonstrate that Japan was willing to surrender before the bombs were used, and there were other hidden reasons for using the bombs.
If you ask a high school graduate what the result of the atomic bombs on Japan was, he or she would most certainly answer the immediate surrender of all Japanese forces. That should be satisfactory enough to not question the issue any further. If you ask the same student wether the Japanese would have surrendered without the bombs, he or she will hesitate and will probably not be able to give an answer. The reason for this is that the history text books at school teach students a black and white fact: the atomic bombs were the only way to make the Japanese surrender. According to Francis E. Kazemek: “most texts focus on abstract facts and figures, offering little discussion of the reality of the bombing.”(Kazemek 2)
The atomic bomb should not be considered as the only decisive factor for the Japanese surrender, but as the straw that broke the camel’s back. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese empire continued to expand rapidly during the first half of 1942. Its empire extended from Manchuria and the Aleutian Islands to the north, New Guinea to the south, Burma to the west and the Marshall Islands to the east. Nevertheless, the tide turned against Japan when Germany was defeated in May 1945 and the Americans took over the Marian Islands in 1944.(Long 1)
The Americans needed the Marian Islands as an air base to be able to bomb Japan directly. Winston Churchill wrote in his personal narrative of the Second World War, “The time at last had come to strike at the enemy’s homeland.”(Churchill 540) Before then, Japan had virtually been untouched by any allied bombings because there had been no air bases close enough or an aircraft that could withstand flying nonstop for miles. The B-29, an aircraft designed to fly long distances without refueling, began to systematically bomb Japan. It was the B-29 that flew the atomic bombs to Japan. This aircraft took “the war home to Japan.”(Garvey 45)
The B-29 firebombings on Tokyo and the effective blockade of supplies for Japan by the American submarines weakened the Japanese empire. Meanwhile, the Americans troops and back home were fed the idea that the Japanese would never surrender and the war would go on forever. “But in fact, the Japanese had sent peace feelers to the West as early as 1942, only six months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. More would come in a flood long before the fateful use of the atomic bombs.”(McManus 1)
Even before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese were divided into two groups. The “peace party” included the Emperor Hirohito and officers in the navy. The “war party”, headed by Army leader Tojo, included fanatical military members, believed that Japan’s empire should cover all the islands of the pacific and were responsible for the attack on the navy base in Pearl Harbor.(McManus)
On different ocassions, the Japanese hinted their interest in peace negotiations through different channels. They contacted the British after the the Battle of Midway with a message from the Japanese foreign minister Togo. The message said that the Japanese was “ready to be helpful” if the British Government was willing to talk.(McManus 2) In the United States, Army chief of Staff George Marshall wanted to continue fighting and did not want to hear of any peace or surrender talks. He believed in a full-scale invasion of Japan. President Roosevelt was greatly influenced by George Marshall.(McManus 3)
To talk about peace with Japan was a difficult matter. Because Japan was divided into two separate groups, it was important to come to a clear agreement to not give the “war party” any motives to overthrow the government and take the war farther than it should.(Howarth 216) In July 1945, after the Germans had been defeated, the Big Three, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and President Roosevelt got together in the Postdam Conference, they agreed with the decision of giving Japan “unconditional surrender.” The United States felt confident because, at that moment, they already had the atomic bomb.(Leckie 936)
When the Japanese gave a negative response, the United States took it as a sign that the Japanese were not interested in peace and “made plans its accordingly to cast one atomic bomb on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki.”(Churchill 556) The main reason for this misunderstanding was because the Americans failed to see the importance of several cultural and political aspects of the Japanese. General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces understood these aspects when he said:”Japan was at that moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face”…It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing(atomic bomb).”(Bloomfield 1) General MacArthur had already informed President Roosevelt in January of 1945 under what terms the Japanese were willing to surrender, but Roosevelt dismissed them because he had made up his mind to continue fighting.(McManus 5)
The ultimatum given to the Japanese in Postdam did not specify what the position of the Emperor would be in the case of a surrender. This was not acceptable to the Japanese, who considered “the Emperor as their god, the heart of the Japanese people and culture.(Long 2)
Without actually specifying it, the Postdam ultimatum did appear to be threatening to the Emperor:”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” and “stern justice shall be melted out to all war criminals.”(Postdam 2 pg. 1474-1476/Long 2) According to Henry Stimson, Secretary of War: “Only the imperial authority would induce the unconquered Japanese armies in Southeast Asia, China and Manchuria to lay down their arms.” (Leckie 94) U.S. official Robert Morris reported that after careful interrogation to Japanese prisoners that “the Japanese would yield most readily if they were assured that they could keep Emperor Hirohito.”(McManus 3)
The Japanese maintained their political and cultural structure even after the bombings. For those who believe that the bombings brought on the immediate surrender of Japan, they are mistaken. On August 14, 1945, five days after the bombings, the Japanese had still not surrendered. According the Japanese politics, only the Japanese Cabinet could rule for surrender. It was not the Emperor’s place to interfere in politics. In order to surrender, the voting had to be unanimous. There were some members of the Cabinet that opposed surrender and believed that the Japanese could still win the war, such as Minister Anami. The Cabinet finally voted unanimously when the Emperor asked the Cabinet to “accede to my wishes and forthwith accept the Allied reply.”(Long 3) Minister Anami said, “As a Japanese soldier, I must obey my soldier.”(Long 3)
The participation of the USSR in the war against Japan brought on serious implications and was a factor that pushed the United States to use the bombs. When President Roosevelt went to the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Germany was practically defeated. Roosevelt wanted to determine the USSR’s participation in the war against Japan. Roosevelt did not have the support of the atomic bombs and was not sure exactly when he would.
Stalin agreed to fight against the Japanese under certain conditions. Stalin said that he wanted the territories that the Japanese had taken from the USSR during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. Roosevelt and Churchill surprisingly agreed to give Stalin some rights over China without reporting this to China. Robert Sherwood said, “If China had refused to agree to any of the Soviet claims, presumably the U.S. and Britain would have been compelled to join in enforcing them.”(Leckie 847)
Once the bomb was completed, the German army had capitulated, therefore, it was decided to use the bomb on Japan. Roosevelt decided, first, to invite the Japanese to attend an explosion of the bomb to convince them to surrender. This never happened because President Roosevelt died and the new president, Harry Truman had different plans.(Pirenne 432)
President Truman had no clue the atomic bombs existed until he became president. He realized that with the bombs the Russian participation in the war against the Japanese was unnecessary. While Truman attended the Postdam Conference in July , 1945, he learned about the successful test of the first atomic bomb. When Truman told Churcill about the bomb, Churchill said, “The end of the Japanese War no longer depended upon the pouring in of their (the Russians’ armies)…We had no need to ask favours of them.”(Churchill 553) He then wrote to the British Foreign Secretary, “It is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian partcipation in the war against Japan.”(Howarth 217)
When Truman told Stalin about the bomb, he was very vague and he “casually mentioned to Stalin that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force.”(Truman 416) Did this mean that he wanted the atomic bomb to be as much as a surprise to the Russians as to the Japanese?
According to Blackett, the author of “Fear, War, and the Bomb”, President Truman wanted the bomb dropped before Stalin entered the war. Blackett states that US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes wrote in his diary that the Americans were “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.”(Yew Teng 2) Blackett also mentions the diary entry of Walter Brown, an assistant to Byrnes, that suggests that Truman and Byrne considered the bomb as “a way to reduce Soviet political influence in Asia.” Brown noted that Truman was hoping for a quick surrender of Japan in order to stop the Russians from “pressing any claims in China.”(Yew Teng 2)
A militarian historian, Basil Liddell Hart, wrote, “President Truman and most of his chief advisers…were now as intent on using the atomic bomb to accelerate Japan’s collapse as Stalin was on entering the war against Japan before it ended, in order to gain an advantegeous position in the Far East.”(Howarth 218) After Germany’s defeat, Stalin took as much as he could in Eastern Europe. Stalin wanted to take part in the war against Japan to take parts of China and “share in the occupation of Japan as the price of his participation”.(Howarth 216)
The decision to use the atomic bomb on the Japanese was simply spurred by the fact that the bombs were available. Initially, the bomb was built to use against the Germans. The Americans had reasons to fear that the Germans were building a bomb of their own. The bombs were completed after Germany was defeated. The attention of the Americans was focused on ending the war in Japan. The Manhattan Project, the project in charge of building the bombs, had already cost the United States over 1 billion dollars. “It is estimated to have cost as much as all the scientific research previously conducted by mankind from the beginning of recorded time.”(Howarth 204) People have asked themselves why the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Hiroshima bomb was a uranium bomb and the Nagasaki bomb was a plutonium bomb. Did this mean that it was a “scientific experiment”.(Yew Teng 3)
The decision to use the bomb on Japanese was easier than using it on Germans. First of all, Japan had directly attacked an American base, which created racist feelings in the Americans against the Japanese. According to journalist Coleman, few American soldiers that fought in Germany are sorry that they did not obliterate the Germans. On the other hand, most soldiers that fought against the Japanese “there is an underlying anit-Japanese hatred that is visceral and strong.” He also said “wether the United States would have used it on a Bavarian city full of blonde-haired children is hard to tell. But precious little soul-searching went into the decisions to incinerate whole cities of Japanese. President Truman expressed his racist feelings openly.
When Truman made the decision to use the bomb against Japan, ordered Secretary of War, Stimson, he said “use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children.”(Truman’s Diary) In his diary, Truman writes “even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.”(Truman’s diary) This was after they had discussed Tokyo as the target.
After the Japanese had refused to accept the “unconditional surrender”, Churchill asked Truman to change the conditions of the surrender to allow the Japanese “some show of saving their military honour and some assurance of their national exitence.”(Churchill 555) Truman responded that he did not think “the Japanese had any military honour after Pearl Harbour.”(Churchill 555)
After the bombings, it was evident that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not merely military bases, and many civilians were killed. In order to justify the use of bombs, Truman wrote a letter to the Federal Council of Churches which stated: “I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.”(McManus 7)
The United States had to deal with the war in Europe as well as with the war in the Pacific. The Japanese were not easy to fight and deal with. The fact that the Japanese wanted to have peace talks before the bombs were used makes it clear that there were different reasons for using the bombs. Ending the war with Japan as soon as possible was important to stop Stalin from claiming territories in the far east. The United States had seen what Stalin was doing in Europe, and did not want Stalin any stronger. The fact that the bomb had been successfully tested, and had cost the United States billions compelled the President to use it. The racist feelings towards the Japanese the decision to drop the bombs easier. Nevertheless, many people share what Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbet, pilot of the Enola Gay, had to say:”Those of us who gained that victory have nothing to be ashamed of neither do we offer any apology. Some suffered, some died. The million or so of us remaining will die believing that we made the world a better place as a result of our efforts to secure peace that has held for almost 50 years. Many of us believe peace will prevail through the strength and resolve of the United States of America.”(Airmen Memorial Museum)
I. The atomic bomb was not needed for Japan’s surrender
A. The loss of the Mariana Islands and blockade of
B. Japanese divided into “war party and “peace party”
C. Lack of understanding of Japanese culture
1. “unconditional surrender”
2. The Emperor is a god
3. The Japanese Cabinet
II. The Soviets participation in the war against Japan
A. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference
1. Agreement with Stalin
2. Roosevelt’s death
B. Truman at Postdam Conference
III. The U.S. held racist feelings towards the Japanese
A. Japanese are savages
B. The Japanese have no military honor
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND WORKS CITED
Boltik, Samuel, ed.A statement offered by Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, 1995. (Internet)
Bloomfield, Janet. Why the atom bomb wasn’t necessary to end
the war, Internet, 1995.
Churchill, Winston. The Second World War Vol VI, London, Casell
Co. Ltd., 1954
Coleman, Nick. US can’t face the truth on the bomb, Infotrac:
vers. Mac Computer Software. Information Access,Inc. 1995.
Dannen, Gene. Harry S. Truman, Diary, July 25, 1945, available
email: emailprotected 1995
Enola Gay (aircraft), Infotrac, vers. Mac Computer Software,
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Howarth, Tony. 20th Century History: The World since 1900,
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Kazamek, Francis. “Two handfuls of bone and ashes: teaching
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Long, Doug. Hiroshima:Was it absolutely necessary?, Internet.
McManus, John F.Why did the US unleash its terrible weapon?
Appleton, 1995. Internet
Pirenne, Jacques. Historia Universal VIII, Mexico, Cumbre,
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Yew Teng, Fan. Truman and his A-bombs, Penang, Third World Network, 1993. Netscape
RESEARCH PAPER THESIS AND OUTLINE
Thesis statement: The reasons why the United States government used dropped the bombs on Japan are contrary to the history books versions.
I. The atomic bomb was not used to make the Japanese surrender
a. The Japanese were weakened by late 1944
b. The Japanese had already tried to begin a peace talk
c. The United States gave them unconditional surrender
II. The Postdam Conference and the Soviets
a. Truman was afraid of the Soviets intervention
b. Truman kept the atomic bomb from Stalin but not from Churchill
III. The U.S. was tired and wanted to end the war once and for all
a. The Pacific war was particurlarly bloody
b. The U.S. held a racist feeling against the Japanese
Truman Tells Stalin, July 24, 1945. Original document from NetScape
Yew Teng, Fan. Truman and his A-Bombs. Third World Network. Malaysia
McManus, John. Dropping the Bomb American Opinion Publishing, Appleton, WI 1995.
Bloomfield, Janet. Why the atom bomb wasn’t necessary to end the war. Campaign for Nuclear Disarment London, England
Szilard Petition Letter. U.S. National Archives folder #76
A petition to the President of the United States. U.S. National Archives folder #76
Howarth, Tony 20th Century History-The world since 1900 Longman House. Essex, England