Was the US Right to Drop the Atomic Bombs Upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Updated on March 19, 2018
The atomic bombs explode over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The atomic bombs explode over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. | Source

Although the blast of atomic fire which brought man into the nuclear age may have been over in but a blink, leaving behind the destroyed city of Hiroshima (and several days later Nagasaki), the debates over its usage and the way in which it was used will doubtless still be questioned long thereafter. Was the US right to use the bomb? How was the way in which the information to use it presented in line with national needs? What were the alternatives?

In my opinion, the United States decision to utilize the atomic bomb was sad, yet necessary. The faster the war in the Pacific was won, the more reduced would be the suffering and pain of the war. Japan faced starvation conditions under American blockade as well as the agony of aerial bombardment from which single raids had inflicted more casualties than the atomic bomb. Further vast numbers were starving across Japanese occupied territories, suffering under Japanese occupation, or dying in military conflicts between Allied and Japanese forces. The war was more than simply Japan and the US, and across Eastern Asia the death toll from a continued war would be immense. The only certain way to end the war (although perhaps peace factions within the Japanese government might have led to a surrender otherwise - - of this however, we have no way of knowing for sure) was through either the atomic bomb or invasion. Any invasion would have entailed terrible loss of life. While military leaders might have initially thought that casualties would be limited in an invasion of Japan, I find the idea of such small US casualties implausible in the light of the heavy casualties sustained in previous Pacific island battles. The low death toll of 47,000 cited by revisionists in some sources furthermore come from figures which were obsolete by the time of a US invasion, with substantial increases in Japanese strength opposing any US attack. In addition, what about Japanese civilians who themselves would inevitably die from collateral damage by US forces, or indeed the Japanese soldiers who would die in battle? If US casualty numbers are proclaimed as small, nothing is said about their opponent’s fate.

Furthermore, while it has been proposed that the US nuclear bombardment of Japan resulted from an attempt to influence the Soviet Union concerning the extent of US power, surely considering the likely direction of US-Soviet relations with the combative President Truman and inevitable post-war disagreements, was not such an attempt to ensure Soviet awareness of US power logical? Under President Truman, the US seemed destined to engage in a stand-off with the Soviets, and if it was, then the usage of the atomic bomb made sense.

President Truman, who made the fateful decision to use the atomic bomb.
President Truman, who made the fateful decision to use the atomic bomb.

By far the most cogent of arguments against the atomic bomb is the proposition that the Empire of Japan was prepared to surrender on the relatively mild condition that the Imperial institution be retained, and that this proposal was rejected by the Americans. If this was so, neither an invasion, nor the bomb, were necessary. But while this is promoted by revisionist scholars, it is far from enjoying universal support. Conversely, the possibility that Japanese peace messages were simply attempts to secure a more unfavorable peace on terms unacceptable to the United States (at a time when fears over insufficiently final peace terms must have been prevalent within US leadership, given the catastrophic failure of the treaties following WW1 to constrain the malignant forces of Prussian militarism, and the desire to prevent another stabbed in the back myth from emerging) have been emphasized, as have the tenacious hopes for a more lenient peace that Japanese leadership harbored. Furthermore, given that the militarist clique in the Japanese government could have been easily encouraged (by the necessity of having to believe in it, given no other conceivable options for success) in their hopes of a breakdown in American will by relaxing of American peace terms, nor could a retreat from the policy of unconditional surrender have been costlessly made. If anything could have been chosen as an alternate American negotiating policy, the clear indication of Soviet aims to strike at Japan, denying the Japanese government their last desperate hope that the USSR would support their peace efforts, seems like a logical policy, as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa points out.

Doubtless, the bomb was dreadful, and inflicted ghastly radiation effects which were certainly not “a very pleasant way to die.” The comparison to chemical weapons in the level of horror from the effects of radiation is well founded, but dying of burns from American firebombs is also a very terrible way to perish. In a war which crossed so many boundaries, radiation was a terrible aftereffect, but hardly unprecedented. However, as horrifying as it was, the bomb presented a certain way to end the war in the most expedient fashion, and if it had not been used, it is entirely probable that even more would have died across the Pacific.


Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Ryan Thomas

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      • AshutoshJoshi06 profile image

        Ashutosh Joshi 

        11 months ago from New Delhi, India

        I don't think there can ever be a justification to such an inhuman and cowardly act. Let alone the casualties, the aftermath was horrifying.

        It certainly may have ended the war but the sufferings were to be borne by generations.

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