August 6th marks the dubious day in 1945 when America became the only power to use a nuclear bomb. This continues to spark
controversy. There was a great deal of racial animus during the war with both
sides holding disdainful views of the other.
Using an area effect weapon that didn’t distinguish between civilians and
military targets invites condemnation.
The lack of military targets in Hiroshima and the dubious effectiveness of the
bomb makes some people say this was terrorism.
After all, the Strategic Bombing survey revealing that the trains ran normally
a mere two days later and this was often considered a way to stun the Japanese
into surrendering and impress the Russians with the viability of the program.
Plus, there were supposedly peace feelers from the Japanese that made this
completely unnecessary. These are all extremely flawed arguments that don’t
accurately reflect the historical context, and seem like excuses to blame
instead of understand.
The strongest attacks seem to be the peace overtures. This
theory argues that the Japanese were ready for peace and only block headed
generals kept the war going. These were detailed
by a revisionist historian, Gar Alperowitz and thus come long after the fact
when it became more fashionable to search and promulgate these theories.
More importantly, they cherry pick some information and leave out much more
important events that shows these peace feelers were completely impotent and
the U.S. was correct when they disregarded them.
The best evidence against this theory comes after the
Japanese emperor’s decision to surrender. After the bombs dropped and the
emperor wanted peace the military challenged and almost reversed the decision
through a military coup. It’s incredibly unlikely that minor officials would have
produced peace when the atomically convinced emperor almost couldn’t. Let me
stress, even AFTER the atomic bomb dropped there were significant factions in
Japan that wanted to keep fighting. Peace was not possible before the bombs
were dropped. Plus, American willingness to negotiate before the bombs would
have emboldened the Japanese and aggressive army generals to think that more
fighting would have gotten them more concessions.
Other critics quote leaders who sound authoritative but
really aren’t. One example comes from Eisenhower who said: [I believe] that
Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely
But with all due respect to Eisenhower and other generals
cherry picked for opposing nuclear weapons, he was thousands of miles and away
and was not privy to the intelligence and decision-making councils that led to
it. It would be like Admiral Nimitz second guessing Eisenhower’s decision to
stop at the Elbe. Eisenhower is a particularly odd choice for opposing nuclear
weapons since his New
Look military relied so heavily on nukes and spooks.
Other critics were more vocal against nuclear weapons
because they were delivered by bombers and this helped Curtis LeMay argue for
the creation of an independent Airforce. In turn, this would take resources and
prestige away from the Navy and Army chiefs, who were incredibly territorial
and wanted the air corps assets divided between them.
Their opposition had little to do with the qualms of modern pacifists and
posting quotes from them ignores the historical context from which they were
The sad truth is that the Japanese would not surrender
without the atomic bomb dropping or millions (of Americans, Japanese, and
Chinese) dying from an invasion. An estimated two hundred thousand Chinese a
month were dying at this point in the war. The Japanese launched the Ichigo
offensive in late 1944 which was comparable in size and scope to the German
invasion of the Soviet Union.
An invasion by American forces on the Japanese homeland would have skyrocketed
There was the option not to fight which would have left
China and much of Asia in the hands of a regime as bad as Hitler’s. You also
have to wonder how long they would have felt comfortable with the U.S. in
Hawaii so they would probably have attacked America again anyway. The U.S. could
have continued to bomb them. The firebombing of Tokyo and conventional attacks
actually caused more deaths than the nuclear bombs so that couldn’t have been a
The U.S. could have blockaded the country. Scholars argue
that the U.S. had already destroyed much of Japanese shipping and merchant
marine by August 1945,
and this may have been what Eisenhower meant by already defeating Japan, but
then America would have to wait for the country to starve to death. That would
have caused more deaths and in a slow manner arguably worse than two nuclear
bombings. It also would have given the Japanese time to kill more Chinese
soldiers and civilians. So between deaths from famine and deaths from the
Greater East Asian War that option would have killed millions more. Even then,
any peace offering from the Emperor would have likely faced a coup just like
the surrender after the atomic bombings.
Dropping the atomic bomb quickly ended the war which
prevented the Soviets from invading as well. The first atomic bomb was dropped
literally the day after Stalin finalized plans to invade Japan and he invaded a
a day after the second bombing. We saw how well Eastern Europeans were treated
show trials, mass deportations to the gulags, the Soviet army’s refusal to help
the free Poles in the Battle of Warsaw etc., so that wasn’t a good option. You
can easily argue that the Japanese Constitution and rebuilding under MacArthur
was far preferable to Soviet occupation.
After looking at the other options and strategic context in
late 1945, the decision to drop the bomb was moral and justified. In fact,
ending the war at about 170,000 deaths compared to the abject blood bath
that awaited all sides is the reason why the allied leaders considered this
weapon a godsend. The same prominent ethicist that condemned the bomb also said
that ending the war swiftly with a minimum of causalities is the greatest kindness
a leader could offer.
Secretary of State Henry Stimson
exemplified this idea when he said: 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.
Thus, every other alternative was far worse, but you have
your pacifist, blame America, soldiers are barbaric Nazis storyline. THAT is
the made up history. Again, considering every option and the context of their
war the dropping of atomic weapons was justified and necessary. I hope you can
use this as a resource the next time someone attacks America for this eminently
I work as a freelance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or purchase one of my books using the link to your top left.
For a good overview, see John Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture,
(New York: Basic Books, 2009), chapter 7.
Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, (New York, Basic Books, 2015), 250-260.
Zinn, “Breaking the Silence.” ND. (https://web.archive.org/web/20071201172331/http://polymer.bu.edu/~amaral/Personal/zinn.html
Accessed August 6th, 2021.)
United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report: 24. Though it should be noted that Nagasaki was
home to one of the most important military garrisons and was a foremost
military shipping depot, and thus remained a valid military target. The
United States Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effect of the Atomic Bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 6. https://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=rwu_ebooks
Borger, “Hiroshima at 75: Bitter Row Persists Over US Decision to Drop the
Bomb, The Guardian, August 5th, 2020, (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/04/hiroshima-atomic-bomb-us-japan-history
(Accessed August 6th 2021.)
H. Change, He Di, “Eisenhower’s Reckless Nuclear Gamble over the Taiwan Strait,”
American Historical Review 98 (December 1993), 1502-1523.
McFarland, "The 1949 Revolt of the Admirals" Parameters: Journal
of the US Army War College Quarterly. XI (2): 53–63.
Deane, Decisive Battles in Chinese History, (Westholme Press, 2017), chapter
Bombing Survey: Summary Report, 11.
Walzer, Just Wars, quoting Moltke the Elder, 47.
L. Stimson, as quoted in The Great Decision: The Secret History of the
Atomic Bomb (1959) by Michael Amrine, p. 197