When it comes to discussing whether it was necessary to drop atomic bombs on Japan’s cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, it is important to take into account the specifics of geopolitical situation in the world, at the time.
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Nowadays, not many people aware of the fact that, prior to Germany’s attack on Soviet Union in 1941, the only purpose for Soviet state’s existence has been officially proclaimed spreading Communism all over the Earth. Right until USSR’s collapse in 1991, Soviet Constitution openly stated that it only the matter of time, before the rest of world’s countries would become Soviet republics.
Therefore, Truman’s decision to subject Japan to atomic bombing was not as much motivated by considerations of military necessity as it was motivated by President’s determination not to allow Soviet Union to qualify for having an occupation zone in this country, after the end of war.
According to Alperovitz (1996), throughout the summer of 1945, George Marshall never ceased stressing out namely the importance of intended bombing’s political implications: “[Marshall’s] insistence to me that whether we should drop an atomic bomb on Japan was a matter for the President to decide, not the Chief of Staff since it was not a military question…” (364).
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that there were no purely military considerations behind President’s final decision to proceed with subjecting Japan to an atomic bombing.
As the battles of Guadalcanal and Ivo Jima had shown, Japanese would very unlikely lay down their arms, even while facing the most impossible odds, associated with application of conventional warfare techniques. Therefore, occupying mainland Japan, in the manner that it was being done to Guadalcanal and Ivo Jima, would cost America dearly.
This became particularly clear to America’s officials, after they heard of Japan’s reaction to Potsdam proclamation: “Japan’s first reaction to the Potsdam Proclamation came from the Domei News Agency… ‘Japan will prosecute the war of Greater East Asia to the bitter end” (Hasegawa, 168).
Thus, at the time when Truman was making decision on whether to drop an atomic bomb on Japan, he was prompted to give the bombing go-ahead by consideration of preventing the spread of Communism into South Asia and by consideration of saving the lives of as many American soldiers as possible.
In the end, these considerations outweighed the consideration of sparing the lives of Japanese civilians, especially given the fact that, during the course of war in Pacific, Japanese had proven themselves as people who did not regard their personal lives as representing a particularly high value.
Therefore, given the qualitative essence of geopolitical realities at the time, Truman’s decision to proceed with the atomic bombing of Japan appears fully justified. If it was not up to this bombing, the war against Japan would have lasted for at least another year.
Soviet Union would have obtained a justification to partake in occupation of Japan, which would eventually lead to creation of ‘People’s Republic of Japan’ on Japanese territories, occupied by Soviets – just as it happened to Eastern European countries, in the aftermath of Germany’s capitulation. Moreover, many more Americans would have to die to bring about the victory over Japan.
It does not represent much of a challenge to criticize America’s atomic bombing of Japan because of its ‘barbarianism’. Yet, the fact that WW2 is being associated with high rate of casualties among civilians has very little to do with ‘bloodthirstiness’ of politicians and generals that played active part in it.
The explanation to this is rather banal – throughout the course of 19th and the first half of 20th century, Earth’s population tripled. And, the more people are being born, the more people will consequentially die – especially during the time of ‘total war’. Thus, let us conclude this paper by restating once again that America’s atomic bombing of Japan was indeed necessary.
Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. New York: Vintage, 1996.
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Chappell, John. Before the bomb: How America approached the end of the Pacific War. Louisville: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Harvard: Belknap Press, 2005.