As the Second World War was coming to an end, United States of America bombed two Japanese cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This came by way of an executive order by President Harry S. Truman. The U. S. Dropped ‘little boy’ (a 65 kg uranium 235 bomb) on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945 killing and maiming thousands of people immediately and thereafter, most of whom were civilians.(Dower 230)
Was the bombing justified? Many years after the bombing, this question has led to considerable debate. Much has been written both defending and attacking the decision to attack Japan. In consideration of issues surrounding the pacific war it is within the scope of this paper to present an argument that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was unjustified. Discussion of this issue focuses on the weak grounds on which the bombing was done. These shall be conceived from several perspectives: moral, political, personal and pragmatic.
On the moral front it can be argued that the idea of annihilating an entire population is wrong if not evil. Proponents of this view believe that even conventional bombing that had been practised before the atomic one was also wrong since it led to massive loss of human lives. Bill Gordon argued that less than half of the effort that was made to develop the weapon was required to end the war peacefully. Even if the bomb was necessary Weber wondered why it had to target civilians instead of an isolated military post or base. It appears therefore that it was not aimed at “impressing Japanese leaders with immense destructive powers of a new American weapon” (Weber). Instead the main reason was to wipe out a significant proportion of Japanese population.
Concerning how pragmatic it was to proceed with the bombing, evidence has indicated that America bombed a country which was almost surrendering. As the Pacific war progressed and the defeat of Japan seemed imminent there was an elaborate plan for surrender by the Japanese and therefore the callous bombing would have been suspended for a while or averted altogether to enable Japan to do so. It appears there was a definite hurry by the Americans to carry out the attack. Alperovitz in his review of the book Why Hiroshima Was Bombed: The ‘Utopians’ Duped a Nation wrote that on July 12, as Harry Truman was heading to Potsdam aboard The Augustana, the presidential yacht, emperor Hirohito of Japan was declaring in a meeting of the Supreme council for the Direction of War, that although planning had to go on, it was “necessary to have a plan to close the war at once” (Alperovitz). He further noted Japan had even approached Russia seeking its assistance in pulling out of the war.
Alperovitz added that on July 3 New York Times reported that senate minority leader, Wallace White declared that the Pacific war was about to end if President Truman would state specifically, what unconditional surrender meant for the Japanese and spell out the terms for such an undertaking. This would have been done by for instance spelling out the role of the emperor clearly in a post war dispensation, an emperor that the Japanese held dear. In short U.S.A. had largely defeated and destroyed much of Japan’s air force, navy and army.
Gordon noted that in the final weeks of Pacific war, U. S. showed little or no inclination to negotiate an end to the war with the Japanese in order to lessen the casualties on both sides. He also observed that Japan sought help from USSR to negotiate with Americans but they declined the request that the emperor remains as head of nation yet ironically after the bombing, Americans decided to retain the emperor as a symbol of continuity to maintain political stability. It can be argued here that had America granted Japan her wish to surrender, the whole mess could have been easily avoided.
Weber summed this up:
American officials, having long since broken Japan’s secret codes, knew from intercepted messages that the country’s leaders were seeking to end the war on terms as favourable as possible. This communication was discovered from decoded secret communications between foreign ministry in Tokyo and Japanese diplomats abroad. (Weber 27)
As far as politics was concerned, Gordon noted that President Harry Truman had in mind the political implications of his decision to drop the bomb. To begin with opinion polls indicated that many Americans supported unconditional surrender of Japan. Since there was a prevailing anti Japan sentiment among the people, Truman conceived no political risk if he authorized the bombing. In addition he must have considered his difficulty in explaining to voters why the government spent two billion dollars to develop a super weapon then fail to use it.
In as much as criticism of the bombing is based on facts, there have been attempts to justify it. The first counter argument to this debate was according to Weber, projected by President Truman when he said that ‘timely’ bombing of Hiroshima averted deaths of a million Americans “by bringing the war to a quick end” ( 34). Another justification for the bombing was a general feeling among Americans that an abrupt end to a war would send their sons and daughters safely home. The question is: did the soldiers have to return home at such a heavy human cost? In addition was it the only means at Truman’s disposal to bring an end to the entire war? The answer to both questions is negative. An effective naval blockade would have, as Weber noted, starved the Japanese into submission through lack of oil, food (rice), medicines and other essential supplies (34).
After a consideration of facts discussed above it can be concluded that the act of bombing Hiroshima was not justifiable at all; probably it was a case of killing a fly with a sledge hammer. Despite all indications that it was unnecessary, Harry Truman’s atomic machine progressed towards its ordained end. Considering the massive loss of lives, USA shall continue to be seen as a nation which went for brutal force and failed to initiate a greater peace effort. Whatever the justification, USA will have to contend with its status as the only power to ever use a nuclear weapon in combat.