The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still one of the most controversial happenings in recent history. Historians have passionately debated whether the bombings were essential, the effect that they had in ending the war in the Pacific Region, and what other alternatives were on hand for the United States.
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These very same questions were also debatable during that time, as American decision makers deliberated on how to put to use powerful new technology and what the long-term impact of atomic weaponry would be on the Japanese (Hasegawa 96). This essay presents a debate on reasons why the U.S. was not justified in using the atomic bomb on Japan.
Most historians who have been taking part in the debate on how World War II ended have based much of their focus on why the U.S. decided to drop the atomic bomb. Despite the much emphasis placed on this matter, there has been little attention directed on the role played by the Japanese in ending the war.
Even less information is available on soviet-decision-making and their joining the war against Japan. One of the major obstacles, which were overcome only recently, was the absence of a historian who was fluent in English, Japanese and Russian to enable him to examine the major materials, which included government, military, and intelligence memos and reports in all the three languages. This explains in part why most of the available literature on the subject only touches on the American side of the story.
One of the reasons why bombing Japan was not justified is because America had other options, which they could have used to compel Japan to surrender. In his 2005 milestone study titled Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa critically examines the threefold wartime relationship between America, Japan, and the Soviet Union.
What comes out from this careful study is the fact that America had other options that they could have pursued instead of the bombings but which they chose to ignore. According to Hasegawa (100), the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had indicated to America that he would attack Japan on 15 August 1945.
This meant that America had up to 15th August to force Japan to surrender in order to prevent the Soviet union from joining the war something that would make Truman and his government to appear weak. Contrary to the claim that Americans used the bomb as a last resort, Hasegawa disagrees and claims that the early August date was chosen to counter the Soviets’ impeding attack in order to prevent them from joining the war.
In fact, the diligent research done by Hasegawa dispels the notion that the bombings weakened Japan’s position thus leading to their surrender.
According to the historian, the myth that the bombings weakened Japan’s will to fight and that they saved both Japanese and American soldiers is only meant to justify Truman’s decision and help in easing the conscience of the American people. According to Hasegawa, this myth lacks any historical backing since there is enough evidence to show that there were other alternatives besides the use of the bombs but Truman and his administration chose to ignore them.
Historians claim that Truman’s main worry was that allowing Stalin to enter the war would be an important strategic gain for him and this would pose a big threat to American interests in the region. With a deadline to beat, the only option that remained for Truman and his administration was to use the atomic bomb (Hasegawa 101).
Although Japan had not yet given a public indication that it intended to surrender, insiders knew that the country could not continue with the war and surrender was imminent.
This admission is contained in intelligence reports showing that Truman was privy to information that Japan had abandoned its goal of victory and was instead planning on how to harmonize its national pride with losing the war. With this kind of information, it is clear that America had no justification whatsoever to use the bombs since it was only a matter of time before the Japanese admitted defeat.
The second reason that makes the American bombing unjustified is the deeply flawed casualty claims. As it is, the exact number of Allied and Japanese lives that were likely to be lost during the intended invasion remains unknown. However, it is evident that those who supported the bombing have escalated the prediction of those who could have died from the earlier prediction of 45,000 given by the U.S. War Department.
Ten years after the bombings, Truman claimed that George Marshall feared losing close to a half million soldiers if the war was not brought to an abrupt close. This contradicted the claims by Stimson the Secretary of War who two years after the war had claimed that over a million people were dead, wounded, or missing.
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In a 1991 address to congress, George Bush claimed that Truman’s decision to drop the bomb ‘spared’ millions of American lives. Four years after the claims by Bush, a crewmember of Bock’s car, the plane that dropped one of the bombs stated that the bombing preserved the lives of over six million people.
Over the years, historians have provided evidence to show that the casualty figures offered by Truman and his bombing supporters were seriously flawed. One historian claimed that the people who supported the high casualty claims relied upon strained readings and omitted crucial material, which in effect limited their research and cast a shadow of doubt on their findings.
Hasegawa and other anti-bombing historians did not refute the claim that Truman was concerned at the possibility of America losing many lives during the invasion, but the projected numbers were way below the exaggerated figures provided after the war to rationalize the bombings.
Such inflated figures, along with Japan’s presumed rejection of surrendering is usually a part of the debate on why the atomic bombs were necessary but from the proffered evidence, these claims are highly questionable.
Another reason to prove that the bombing was not justified is derived from looking at the real reasons why Japan surrendered. According to political analysts, postwar interviews with numerous Japanese military and civilian leaders showed that Japan could have given in before November 1, which is the date that the U.S. had planned to invade the country.
This was not because Japan was afraid of atomic bombs or the impeding Soviet entry but because they had no reason to continue fighting in a war, which they were certain to lose. This conclusion definitely supports the view that the bombings were not in any way necessary to end the war and their use was therefore unjustified.
Historians project that given the huge impact that the Soviet entry into the war and the air-naval blockade imposed by the Allied forces, there is high possibility that Japan would have surrendered before any invasion since its resources to support the war had dwindled. Historians question why Truman was not willing to avoid the costly invasion of Japan by allowing the Soviet entry instead of dropping the bombs.
The question of Truman and his administration not knowing about Japan’s intention to surrender does not arise since historians have discovered records showing that Truman was in possession of intercepted and decoded Japanese intelligence communication, which showed their willingness to surrender.
As Hasegawa (110) rightly put it, if Truman and his ilk really wanted to desist from using the atomic bomb as it was claimed after the war, then why was the intelligence reports in the intercepted cables ignored? According to the historian, stressing the decisive role of the atomic bombs in ending the war was meant to weaken the importance of soviet entry into the war thus making inconsequential the Soviet role in ending the war. This was meant to display the super weapon that was only possessed by the United States.
The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) is still one of the most debated topics in modern history. According to most historians, the bombings were unjustified because there were other available options to end the war but they were ignored.
Contrary to the claim that Americans used the bomb as a last resort, most historians disagree and claim that the early August date was chosen to counter the Soviets’ impeding attack on August 15 1945. This ensured that America got the credit for ending the war.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Harvard University Press, 2005. 89-112. Print.