Tainted Decision: The Atom Bomb and
America's Rush to End
World War II
Major Lee T. Wyatt, III (U.S. Army)
SUBJECT AREA History
TAINTED DECISION: THE ATOM BOMB AND AMERICA's RUSH TO END WORLD WAR II
By Major Lee T. Wyatt, III
United States Army
Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command Quantico, Virginia 22134
25 March 1986
Author: Wyatt, Lee T., III, Major, USA
Title: Tainted Decision: The Atom Bomb and America's
Rush to End World War II
Date: 25 March 1986
The United States' decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 has been the subject of controversy for the past four decades. The vast majority of Americans adhere to the premise that U.S. policy makers were justified to employ atomic weapons, given the dreaded alternative of a bloody invasion of Japan to end the war. On the other hand, critics of the American actions scoff at the rationale of these leaders, arguing that other factors influenced a decision which, at best, produced a pyrrhic victory. This paper explores the central issues of the debate and highlights those factors which affected the U.S. and its policy toward atomic weapons.
This study concentrates primarily on the tumultuous four months between the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the dropping of the atomic bombs. The paper is divided into an introduction, seven chapters, and a conclusion. The initial chapter describes the status of U.S atomic energy policy upon Harry S. Truman's assumption of the presidency. Chapters Two through Four analyze the historical arguments which formed the framework for the atomic bomb decision: U.S. unconditional surrender objectives, casualty estimates related to the proposed invasion of the Japanese homeland, and the impact of Russia on the decision and postwar diplomacy. Chapter Five discusses the growing voice of opposition which appeared in scientific circles during the last months of the war and the failure of this dissent to sway the decision makers. The sixth chapter briefly reviews the actual decision and employment of the bomb, emphasizing the forces which culminated to introduce the atomic age.
The final chapter reveals the opinion of several key participants in the atomic bomb effort from their perspective after the war in order to understand the impact of the bomb on America.
Abundant material is available on the subject.
Important memoranda and Joint Chiefs of Staff war planning documents housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., formed the basis of the research effort. Memoirs and postwar statements by significant personages involved with the atom bomb project were scrutinized for objectivity as these individuals naturally couched their role in the most favorable light possible. Secondary sources, journals, periodicals, and newspaper articles provided insight on specific issues within the scope of the paper.
In conclusion, this paper takes exception with those scholars who render a scathing indictment of U.S. political and military leaders who struggled to discharge their awesome responsibility by approving a nuclear strike against Japan. These critics, far removed from the times, cannot fully appreciate the pressures which mounted on America's leaders as the war dragged through its fourth year. However, U.S. officials did tarnish America's image by encouraging certain myths surrounding the decision and failing to develop a positive policy to control atomic energy in the postwar world.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Truman and the Roosevelt Legacy ...4
2 The Unconditional Surrender Dilemma .16
3 The Casualty Myth ..34
4 The Russian Connection 47
5 Scientific Dissent .. .56
6 Decision and Employment .. .. 63
7 Postwar Views ...76
Conclusion . .. 91
Appendix 1 Key People ....... .....97
Appendix 2 Important Dates ...... .... ...99
End Notes ... .1O2
Annotated Bibliography .... ..113
"The plane was flying so high that only a few people saw it. And when the bombs that it dropped struck, it was doubtful if anyone in the city heard the explosion. For that explosion was so tremendous and all-inclusive that in a fraction of a second the entire community had been wiped from the face of the earth."1
The 40th commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spurred anew the controversy between supporters and critics of the United States' actions in August 1945 to conclude hostilities with Japan. With the Reagan-Gorbachev summit serving as an historical backdrop, academia and the press debated the rationale (or lack thereof) shown by American leaders who introduced the atomic age. This flurry of activity 40 years after the first atomic weapon attempted to seize the moment and impress upon the U.S. and the Soviet Union the futility of the nuclear arms race. In June 1985, Professor Anatoly Gromyko of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, speaking to an international gathering on nuclear issues in Geneva, Switzerland, condemned President Truman's decision to use the bomb.2 In contrast, the American conservative journalist, James Kilpatrick, referring to the destruction at Hiroshima, offered a means to end the current arms race which he labeled as". . . absurd, grotesque, obscene, insane." Mr. Kilpatrick advocated a joint U.S.-Soviet agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons, except enough to level 20 of each adversary's cities.3 Yet, in spite of the East-West rhetoric in 1985, Paul Boyer, writing in the New York Times, struck a more ominous note when recalling the events of four decades ago: "For most Americans, however, the news (of Hiroshima) brought not joy but profound apprehension . . . . the fear that would come to haunt millions of people not yet born in 1945 had already found urgent expression."4
During the tumultuous four months between the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the dropping of the atomic bombs, complex, and at times conflicting, forces intertwined to coax the U.S decision to employ an atomic weapon. The personalities and perceptions of key policy makers influenced that decision. The appearance of a new, untested President, charged with the responsibility to end the war, added urgency to an already tense political situation. U.S. officials failed to cope with the diverging opinions on American war aims as they related to the doctrine of unconditional surrender and its impact on the use of the bomb. Grave concern and uncertainty existed about the human cost and depth of public support associated with a prolonged Pacific war. Lastly, the U.S. erred by deferring important decisions regarding the diplomatic mark of the bomb on postwar international relations. In toto, these factors proved greater than the sum of their parts. A vortex was spawned, creating a momentum of events which made the bomb inevitable.
Critics are quick to claim that American leaders did not take advantage of available opportunities to end the war without resorting to the bomb. These opponents believe that U.S. and allied leaders sought to justify the use of the bomb after the fact through the use of emotional rationale. The evidence does not support this conspiratorial view. Truman, Churchill, and Stimson acted in good faith by approving an atomic attack on Japan. However, these officials fostered later criticism by giving birth to certain misconceptions surrounding the decision which tarnished America's image and role in concluding six tragic years of war.
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Truman and the Roosevelt Legacy
The swirl of forces began churning in the spring of 1945. On April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died at Warm Springs, Georgia. Seen as Wilson-like in his approach to the war, Roosevelt, early in the conflict, established a personal link with the allied leaders and dominated the U.S. conduct of foreign affairs. The impact of his sudden passing from the scene at such a critical point in the war was immeasurable. Americans witnessed the loss of the paternalistic spirit which sustained them over three long years of war and who seemingly sat poised to guide them into the postwar world. Roosevelt's possible decision on how and when to use the bomb is lost to history. The weapon thus became transformed into a mystique, labeled the "badly needed equalizer" at the time by Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, who filled the void of knowledge and experience created by the death of Roosevelt. 1
Harry S. Truman's unexpected assumption of the presidency offered the potential for a shift in the American conduct of the war. In reality, Truman felt comfortable operating within the policy constraints established by his predecessor and rarely flexed his authority to test these parameters during the war. Thus, political and military planning regarding the fate of Europe and the war in the Pacific took on no added trappings with the new President.
The atomic bomb project offers ample proof that Truman needed time to absorb the magnitude of his responsibilities. Some scholars argue that the bomb was a fait accompli by the spring of 1945. This assumption is shallow. The truth remains that no successful test had been conducted and no Japanese targeting sites or dates had been set. The responsibility to continue or forestall the project, and ultimately to use the bomb, clearly lay with Truman. Despite the opportunity to chart new directions, the President chose the steady course. 2
Truman's memoirs record his entry into the atomic game plan. Immediately following his hastily called swearing-in ceremony and a short cabinet meeting, Secretary Stimson dallied to conduct a private conversation with the President about "a most urgent matter." Stimson briefly mentioned that the U.S. was developing a new explosive of incomprehensible power and urged the President to learn the details soon.3
Truman, at best, had a faint inkling of the full meaning of Stimson's words. During the early part of the war, the then Senator Truman chaired the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. The committee, as part of its duties, prepared to inspect certain war plants in the states of Washington and Tennessee. These facilities belonged to the Manhattan District, the top-level and highly classified research and development project for the atomic bomb. Truman later wrote that Stimson informed him that the plants in question were part of the "greatest project in the history of the world." The Secretary of War politely requested that the Senator call off his investigators. Senator Truman, trusting in Stimson's impeccable reputation as a loyal public servant, stymied the Committee's work.4
The day following his ascendancy to the presidency, Truman obtained more details about the project. The President conferred with James F. Byrnes, then Director of the Office of War Mobilization, later Secretary of State, and often referred to as Roosevelt's "Assistant President"; Dr. Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) and Chief Scientist-Administrator of the Manhattan Project; and Admiral William H. Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and presider over the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined Chiefs of Staff. These officials informed Truman about the basic scientific tenets of the project, astounding the President with the knowledge that the explosive in question was powerful enough to destroy the world. Thus, merely one day into office, Truman became the arbiter of knowledge of an import never before thrust upon a new chief executive. Greater details began to flow to the President within the next several weeks.5
The road to the U.S. atomic bomb project began in the late 1930's. The consolidation of fascist power in Italy and the Nazi regime in Germany, with the resulting persecutions, especially in the Third Reich, led to an exodus of leading scientists from Europe to England and the U.S. These exiles nervously reported that German scientists, building on decades of rapid advances in physics, produced nuclear fission in 1938. Many scientists panicked and believed that Germany stood on the brink of producing a nuclear bomb, although few people understood the Nazi high leadership's disdain of technology. In 1941, Dr. Leo Szilard, a top physicist, with the assistance of Albert Einstein, convinced President Roosevelt to pursue atomic research in the U.S. Roosevelt appointed a committee consisting of Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, Secretary Stimson, and Dr. James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee and President of Harvard University, to study the matter and serve as a presidential advisory body regarding nuclear fission. In reality, little activity of note occurred until the U.S. entered the war.6
Prior to Pearl Harbor, the Manhattan Project received paltry funding. That approach ended in 1942 as Congressional appropriations flowed from additional resources within the budget. In February 1944, Secretary Stimson, General of the Army George C. Marshall, and Dr. Vannevar Bush appealed to Speaker of the House Rayburn and other Congressional leaders for increased financial assistance. These men directed monetary sums through the House of Representatives without public debate. The Senate followed suit in June 1944. The Manhattan Project eventually spent $2 billion and moved the effort to produce an atomic bomb from theory to reality.7
The issue of the bomb spilled over into U.S.-British affairs. This relationship at times resembled a bumpy sibling rivalry. Churchill approached his cabinet as early as 1939 regarding the specter of German atomic research. The Prime Minister broached the subject with President Roosevelt at their first meeting in August 1941 in Newfoundland. Two months later, Roosevelt wrote to Churchill recommending that the two leaders correspond on each country's efforts in the area of atomic energy. In addition, a lower level exchange commenced between the British Maud Committee and the U.S. Office of scientific Research and Development. Each agency conducted uranium bomb studies. In 1941, an optimistic missive from the Maud Committee convinced Dr. Bush to press Roosevelt for a high-level policy group and more formal ties between the two governments on the uses of atomic-energy. Roosevelt, always leary of the British, dragged his feet on this proposed allied collaboration for more than a year. 8
The atomic bomb, on occasion, became one of several issues which strained the Roosevelt-Churchill relationship. Political and diplomatic goals often separated the two leaders more so than military plans. Thus, although the U.S. joined the fray in Europe and gave that theater priority early in 1942, the American and British governments never resolved certain issues, such as colonies, refugees, Nazi atrocities, and how to deal with postwar Russia.9
Churchill correctly remained fearful of what an atomic bomb in the hands of Hitler might portend for the United Kingdom. He urged Roosevelt to hasten the cooperative effort between the U.S. and Britain. The weapon, in Churchill's mind, became the ultimate bargaining chip for the British in Europe. Britain, as sole possessor of such power, could assert her primacy after the war over both France and the Soviet Union. Thus, from the early days of the war, Churchill begged Roosevelt not to divulge atomic secrets to either the French or the Russians. At the Second Washington Conference in June 1942, Churchill convinced Roosevelt to provide London with an unimpeded flow of atomic information. British interest in the matter was emphasized by the fact that the War Cabinet permitted Churchill to leave London during the heat of the desert battle in North Africa. Thus, "tube alloys," the British code name for the project, grudgingly became a joint endeavor.10
Roosevelt initially did not honor this promise to Churchill. The Army had tightened security around the project and the release of atomic information. Furtner, both Dr. Bush and Dr. Conant, despite their earlier support for Anglo-American cooperation, opposed presidential approval to release significant research developments to the British. These two scientists won Roosevelt's ear for a short time by convincing the president that such a policy, even toward a close ally, was fraught with danger.11
Churchill, however, possessed the knack of persuasion. In August 1943, at the Quebec Conference, Roosevelt finally relented and signed a formal agreement promising an exchange of atomic energy information related to postwar industrial use. In September 1944, the two leaders sealed their atomic covenant at a meeting at Roosevelt's home at Hyde Park, New York. This session has received limited attention by some scholars in comparison with the more widely publicized conferences that followed. In fact, the Hyde Park meeting produced, albeit in sketchy terms, short range and general future Anglo-American strategy for the bomb. The leaders recognized that the European war would likely end before the final production of an atomic bomb. Their agreement vowed joint efforts to designate the Japanese as a potential military target for it if the Pacific war had not ended. In addition, the leaders pledged full cooperation for peaceful and military uses of atomic energy following Japan's defeat. This latter stipulation, rather than moving the leaders toward international control of atomic weapons, set the tenor for an attempted western isolation and monopoly of atomic secrets after the war. Roosevelt and Churchill believed that atomic knowledge guaranteed military superiority and a path to world peace. Admiral Leahy, in attendance at the meetings between the two leaders, later recalled that he had little faith in the discussions at Hyde Park.12
Roosevelt maintained a consistent course after his Hyde Park session with Churchill. Other than Admiral Leahy, none of the President's advisors knew about the agreements. Some observers believe that Churchill mesmerized his American counterpart, and as a result, Roosevelt did not consult his team on the diplomatic aspects of atomic energy until after discussion with the British Prime Minister. The historian, Martin Sherwin, on the other hand, suspects that the answer is simply found in the realization that the American President felt comfortable with Churchill's grand concept that military prowess was the precursor of postwar diplomacy.13
Secretary Stimson made one final appeal on the issue of the use and control of atomic energy prior to Roosevelt's death. On March 15, 1945, Stimson reviewed a memorandum with the President criticizing the Chief Executive's faith in the Manhattan Project. This document, the author of which was purposely not identified by Stimson because of his high position in the government, specifically indicted the work of Bush and Conant. Stimson reassured the President that the project was in excellent hands, having four Nobel Prize winners on the staff. The Secretary took the opportunity to pose options for the future control of atomic weapons. Two schools of thought existed. First, the U.S. should maintain a monopoly; second, the U.S. should encourage international control based upon scientific interest and access. Stimson later claimed that the President agreed to settle this question prior to using the first bomb. Unfortunately, in less than a month, Roosevelt lay dead, the war in Europe wound to a close, the atomic bomb remained untested, and no final consensus existed in the minds of American policy makers on options for the use of the bomb or its future implications.14
Secretary Stimson wasted little time in seeking to
counsel President Truman. On
April 25, 1945, Stimson and Major General
Leslie R. Groves, Commanding General of the Manhattan District, conferred
with Truman. This formal meeting sought to
impress upon the President the gravity
of the pending decision on the bomb. Stimson
promised the President that a bomb would be ready within four months,
and perhaps sooner. The Secretary conceded
that the British had shared in the
effort but stressed that the U.S. would be the atomic kingpin for some
time to come. Stimson cautioned against
slipping into a lethargic state over the bomb because other nations would
learn atomic secrets in the future. Stimson
nudged the President toward a position
of unilateral control vice international
control of atomic weapons. He argued that
international control was unthinkable
until key U.S. Congressional leaders
grasped the total power of the weapon. In
Stimson's mind, the
had the moral responsibility to
serve as the atomic
policeman to "prevent disaster to
civilization."15 Within several months, the Secretary of War spoke a
At the April 1945 session with Truman, Stimson presented the President with a report by General Groves which reviewed the questions and problems posed when secrecy surrounding the project was lifted. To address that concern, Stimson and Groves informed Truman that a special Committee had been created. This body, known as the Interim Committee, also studied means to employ the bomb and planned to forward recommendations to the President by early June 1945. Stimson served as Chairman of the Committee; however, the onus of day-to-day operations fell to his lieutenant, George L. Harrison. Other members included James F. Byrnes; Ralph A. Bard, the Under Secretary of the Navy; William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State; Dr. Vannevar Bush; Dr. Karl Compton, Chief of the Office of Field Service in the OSRD and President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Dr. James B. Conant. The Committee relied on a small panel of outstanding scientists for technical advice and assistance. These men, collectively known as the Scientific Advisory Committee or the Scientific Panel, included Dr. A. H. Compton, Dr. Enrico Fermi, Dr. E. O. Laurence, and Dr. J. R. Oppenheimer. Each individual was a nuclear physicist of momentous reputation; each had served in critical positions since the inception of the Manhattan Project. The Interim Committee reported its findings five weeks following Stimson's April meeting with the President. The Committee's assessment of the role of the atomic bomb formed the heart of the final American policy decision and will be discussed in a subsequent chapter.l6
Upon assuming office, President Truman had a dearth of knowledge about the atomic energy potential of the United States. His advisors, other than Admiral Leahy, possessed little information regarding Anglo-American agreements forged between Roosevelt and Churchill. This situation hindered the new President's ability to grasp the enormity of the forces working to sweep Washington closer to a decision about the bomb. The frenetic pace of events continued unabated. Questions concerning U.S. policy on unconditional surrender and plans for the invasion of Japan clashed as the issue of the bomb loomed stealthily on the periphery. Major General Groves captured the spirit of the moment when he observed that Truman was like a young boy on a moving sled, set in motion prior to being ready to make a yes or no decision .l7
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The Unconditional Surrender Dilemma
In the spring of 1945, military planners struggled to integrate strategic plans with the political objectives of the war. In the Pacific, some American officials expressed reluctance to tamper with the long-stated U.S. policy of the unconditional surrender of Japan. The debate among policy makers on whether or not the U.S. should retreat even slightly from a hard-line position on this issue distracted Truman and other leaders at a time when long-range atomic energy policy hung in the balance. The inability of moderates to influence a codification of the unconditional surrender doctrine indicates that the American political leadership considered Japan to be a formidable opponent to be defeated at a possibly high cost.
The policy of unconditional surrender was an accepted American position from the Casablanca Conference. The doctrine aimed to strike awe in the enemy, demonstrate American resolve, encourage solidarity among the allies, and prevent a repeat of the World War I debacle wherein Germany surrendered based upon the 14 Points, yet was forced to sign an entirely different treaty at Versailles. The policy consisted of four elements. First, the enemy would receive no guarantees prior to acceptance of unconditional surrender. Second, the principles of the Geneva Convention would be honored. Third, no restrictions would be placed upon the victor. Fourth, the political philosophies of the axis powers must be destroyed.1
By 1945, some military leaders, such as General Marshall, viewed unconditional surrender with growing skepticism. From its vantage point, victorious military forces needed no justification to occupy the territory of the vanquished. Military officials also believed that the enemy's perception of unconditional surrender might vary from that of the U.S. Thus, American and allied forces might conceivably encounter desperate, last-ditch fighting. The picture of such a scenario became increasingly real as the final planning for the defeat of the Japanese Empire commenced, to include the looming possibility of an invasion of the home island. Finally, no military leader felt comfortable with the role to change a nation's political philosophy. General Marshall recalled that President Roosevelt once stated that it would take 40 years to root Nazism from Germany. A long-term military occupation threatened to create a weakened overall military posture if resources were siphoned from other critical areas of the world.2
Military planning with respect to the Pacific produced several divergent courses of action to achieve unconditional surrender with respect to Japan. These means were blockade, aerial bombardment, invasion, or a combination of the above. No planning documents mention the use of an atomic bomb because only a few members of the military establishment were privy to the secret. In April 1945, the Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC) in the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) explored the proposed options. The JWPC labeled the blockade approach as a "gamble" and the least likely method to achieve success. The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in the JCS supported this assessment, stating that a blockade might reduce Japanese capability and will but could not ensure surrender.3
The Navy leaders did not totally agree with the stated JCS position on a blockade. This parochialism existed throughout the war. General Marshall expressed frustration about parochialism when he noted in a postwar interview that the services constantly squabbled among themselves. Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, saw the Navy's role as paramount. In his War Report submitted to Congress, King stated "The defeat of Japan was directly due to our overwhelming power at sea." King cited the statistics of enemy aircraft and vessels destroyed by the U.S. Navy. He wrote "This impressive record speaks for itself and helps to explain the sudden collapse of Japan."4 In his memoirs, King lambasts the Army for failing to appreciate the impact of sea power, hinting that the strangulation of supply lines and the starvation of the Japanese people was the best approach to end the war.5
However, Admiral King had little to do with the atomic bomb project. In late 1943, General Marshall informed the admiral about the bomb and swore him to secrecy. Admiral King later expressed surprise that the JCS principals did not discuss the bomb, because the knowledge was present. In the spring of 1945, Admiral King complied with a request to provide a Naval ordnance officer, Captain W.S. Parsons, to work on the trigger mechanism for the bomb. General Marshall provided insight on his impression of Admiral King by stating that, in the tough JCS decision-making process, Admiral King usually took the opposite position from the majority.5
General H. H. Arnold, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces, also believed that his combat arm could end the war. In his War Report, Arnold stated "Air power's part may be fairly called decisive. . . no invasion was necessary."7 Arnold knew that the air forces inflicted horrendous losses on the Japanese. By 1943, the U.S. had won air superiority from Japan in the Pacific. The Strategic Bombing Survey conducted after the war concluded that the air forces made substantial contribution to the virtual elimination of the Japanese fleet and air power.8
The U.S. air offensive against Japan consisted of two phases. In November 1944, B-29 aircraft bombed enemy airplane factories, arsenals, power plants, oil refineries, etc. to weaken Japanese military strength and will. In March 1945, the Air Force launched a spectacular series of incendiary bombing raids on urban areas, railroads, and transportation centers. Between November 1944 and July 1945, U.S. planes attacked 60 cities, destroyed over two million homes, and inflicted nearly 800,000 casualties. Food supplies ran critically low. Daily caloric intake dipped to less than half of the U.S. war ration standard. Electric power output fell to 50% of the 1944 peak level. An estimated one-fourth of all city dwellers abandoned their homes. In near desperation. the Japanese government ordered each family to have a self-evacuation plan.9
General Arnold was the sole member of the Army Air Force with knowledge of the atomic bomb until the last days of the war. He learned about the weapon surreptitiously through a scientist friend and pieced the details together. Arnold later argued that he knew the U.S. controlled the air war because Japan defaulted tactical air battles over her homeland and the "Enola Gay" managed to proceed unmolested to Hiroshima. Arnold summarized his vision for the Air Forces in his report to Congress: "In any future war the air force, being unique among armed services in its ability to reach any possible enemy without. . . long delay.. . may remove the necessity for surface conflict."l0
Not everyone shared General Arnold's optimistic view of air power. In the summer of 1945, General Marshall grappled with the final invasion plans. The Chief of Staff believed that aerial bombardment was merely an adjunct to the final push for victory,". . . despite what generals with cigars in their mouths had to say about bombing the Japanese into submission."1 1 Even the Strategic Bombing Survey, which generally gave the Air Force high marks, admitted that . . . until the end, however, national traditions of obedience and conformity, reinforced by the police organization, remained effective in controlling the behavior of the population . . . . It is probable that most Japanese would have passively faced death . . . had the Emperor so ordered."12
Wrangling within JCS created confusion and
uncertainty about the best
approach to achieve unconditional surrender.
In April 1945, the JWPC argued that the idea of unconditional surrender
was foreign to the Japanese psyche, citing
that at no time in the war had organized Japanese units surrendered; however,
the JIC did not support this view. One
JIC report stated". . . on occasion in the past
Japan has indicated a
willingness to bow to a greater force and
compromise.. . ."13 The JIC prepared
a position which gained more advocates in the
weeks that followed. The heart of the JIC
proposal stressed a clarification of
allied intentions to allow Japan to
establish a constitutional monarchy backed by the Emperor. The JIC reasoned that
such a concession might obtain a rational, acceptable version of
unconditional surrender prior to the end of
1945, avert a costly invasion, and save lives.14
This report incorporated more than a year's worth of intelligence gathering efforts concerning the Japanese will to resist. As early as 1944, intelligence planners speculated that one of three forms of government might emerge in Japan following a successful U.S. invasion. The first form was a constitutional monarchy under the imperial throne. This government, according to analysts, would permit fanatics to return to their families. This estimate ran counter to other opinions of the Japanese will to resist. However, intelligence planners recognized that "In the minds of many Japanese the question of a generation is not particularly important in their concept of eventual progress to world domination." These planners also believed that "many will consider their return to Japan is necessary so that inevitably their imperial power can rise from the ashes of their defeat."1 5 The second case envisioned an emergency government without imperial sanction. This possibility meant continued resistance by the Kwantung Army. The third case outlined an emergency conservative government in Japan with a "die hard" government in Manchuria manned by the Kwantung Army. In each of the last two cases, the JIC expressed deep concern about the Kwantung Army's size and will to fight. Despite these intelligence summaries, the JWPC remained convinced that the best means to force a Japanese capitulation was by an invasion. As support for its position, the JWPC cited other intelligence reports which identified enemy positions, air and naval impotence, and slow replacement trains.16
Above the planners, military
leaders feared the potential pitfalls of the final campaign of the war.
Analysis of Japanese troop strength
projected more than 40 divisions, or approximately two million men, could
be mustered to repel an invasion by December 1945.
Fortifications began appearing on beach and
shore defense sites. The Japanese air
force retained thousands of combat
aircraft. The majority of these planes were
devoted to a Kamikaze defense of the
homeland. Aircraft production stood
slightly below 70% of peak levels despite the massive
The intangible within all the statistical summaries remained the Japanese will to resist. Intelligence officers believed that less than 10% of the Japanese people despaired in the spring of 1945. Army planners speculated that U.S. forces might face a "volksturm" or "people's army" once the mainland was invaded. The purpose of such a force would be to screen regular military units, replace rear area troops, and assist with war production. The intelligence estimates reported frightening numbers. Japan had 17 million males, ages 15-59, of which 14 million (82%) were fit for military service. Of this 14 million, approximately five million had received at leapt rudimentary military training. This force would be armed with 1,350,000 surplus rifles. Planners shuddered at the thought of the damage this people's army might inflict on advancing U.S. and allied forces. A further consideration involved the possibility of the mass dislocation of civilians from South Kyushu, the Kanto Plain, Nagoya, and other areas. Officials believed that the Japanese military would encourage a wide-scale exodus of the old, young, and infirmed to hamper the allied push after an invasion of the home island. As one intelligence summary stated, "The Japanese army may be expected to cruelly and ruthlessly disregard the sufferings of the civilian population."l8
The uncertainty of the Japanese will was joined by flagging British support and low U.S. troop morale as factors which troubled American planners. It had been long suspected that the British effort against Japan would consist of only a token force until at least nine months after the fall of Germany. According to this view, Churchill was biding his time, hoping the war with Japan would end early so America would not shift essential resources to the Pacific. It is true that the Prime Minister believed these resources were critical to the European recovery. However, what the planners did not and could not know was that Churchill based this hesitation on his feeling that the war would have a sudden, unexpected conclusion. 19
The attitude of American
soldiers worried the War Department. In
March 1945, Secretary Stimson visited soldiers at an Air Force
redistribution center in
These men, on their way to fight in the Pacific
after combat duty in Europe,
made an indelible impression on the Secretary. Stimson winced at the sight of
weary soldiers who said without emotion that
they would go to fight the Japanese. The Secretary recorded later that
his encounter with these American fighting
men quickened his resolve to end the war as soon as possible. Stimson
wrote that his failure to employ any means at hand to save these men "deserved
punishment." Additionally, the War
Department hastened to blunt a perceived "discharge itch" among the troops after
V-E Day. In May 1945, a propaganda brochure issued to Pacific-bound
soldiers attempted to bolster the
psychological attitude of American servicemen in anticipation of long,
bloody campaigns. The pamphlet addressed
Pacific duty, separated fact from fiction about
the Japanese soldier, and ordered
soldiers to get tough
in order to achieve victory in the last phase of the war.20
Thus, as spring of 1945 and
the glow of V-E Day ebbed in Washington, the policy of unconditional surrender,
so clear in the public perception, underwent
a dramatic review by America's political and military leaders. This
debate resulted in a de facto rift between the military
establishment and many officials in the
State Department. General Marshall
exhibited a somber demeanor. Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew was
the only State Department official sympathetic with the military
position. Grew was also the only member of
cabinet rank who knew the Japanese in
depth, having served a decade as ambassador in Tokyo before the war. Despite his
obvious experience and insight, Grew
faced united resistance within the
State Department to a loose interpretation of the unconditional surrender
terms. Grew championed retention of the Emperor and assurances to the Japanese
that the U.S.
did not intend national extinction.
Hard-line supporters of the
doctrine in the State Department resisted Grew's appeals. These
officials, particularly Assistant Secretaries of State
Acheson and Archibald MacLeish, based their position
only on public opinion, but on the belief that the
Japanese Emperor was a stooge of the military and the real
impediment to democracy in
Japan. Lower level State Department representatives sat as ex-officio members on
several JCS committees and stone-walled
military suggestions to soften the
unconditional surrender policy. Grew
and Marshall saw their formal organizational chains to the President
obstructed. Both men personally lobbied
behind the scenes to encourage Truman to change the official U.S. policy.
This effort resulted in the appointment of
an informal committee to review the issue. Stimson, Grew, and the
Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, met privately as individuals rather than
as representatives of their respective
organizations. Marshall, Arnold, King, and Assistant Secretary of War,
John J. McCloy, provided opinions to the
In early June 1945, Stimson solicited formal comments from General Marshall on a memorandum written by McCloy. Specifically, the Secretary asked the Chief of Staff if the military could accept the wording "complete defeat and war making power of Japan" vice "unconditional surrender." Marshall voiced JCS support of the phrase and recommended the addition of "at the earliest possible date." Marshall cautioned Stimson that unconditional surrender long had been the lexicon equivalent to U.S. war aims and that any change might raise questions in the public's mind. Marshall further suggested that, since the term had become imbedded in the political and psychological conscious of Americans, any future public statements must avoid use of the cryptic wording and spell out true U.S. objectives. Marshall believed that details could be hammered out among negotiators and placed in formal documents."22
The informal committee saw timing as the critical problem. The B-29 raids continued to cause havoc in Japan. At the same time, the Okinawa campaign grew in intensity and inflicted the largest number of U.S. casualties in the war. This situation led proponents of unconditional surrender to argue that any softening of the U.S. position at a time of travail such as the Okinawa campaign might be construed by the Japanese as a sign of American weakness and loss of resolve. Stimson and Forrestal received the new approach with interest but hesitated to follow through for reasons mysterious to Grew at the time. Stimson became increasingly preoccupied with the options for the bomb. The Secretary knew the bomb might be the lever to pry apart the enemy's will. Stimson, although sympathetic to Grew's and Marshall's opinions, was in no position to respond to changes in U.S. policy until a bomb was tested. The extreme secrecy of the project, code-named S-1 for ease of discussion in certain high-level circles, meant that Grew, unaware of the bomb, sat outside a small circle of officials who could breathe life or death into his proposals. Indeed, Assistant Secretary of State, William J. Clayton, a member of the Interim Committee and Grew's subordinate, was the lone State Department officer, prior to July 1945, with knowledge of the Manhattan Project.23
President Truman also sought advice on the unconditional surrender policy. In early June 1945, the President asked Stimson for his opinion on a memorandum which outlined an approach to end the war. The source of this memorandum is mysterious, merely identified as an unknown economist who passed his thoughts in writing to Truman via ex-President Herbert Hoover. This document is important because several of its considerations and recommendations found their way into final U.S. war aims and postwar statements made by officials directly linked to the atomic bomb decision.24
The author of the memorandum advocated six objectives to define allied policy to end the war: restore Manchuria to China, permit U.S. control of the Japanese Army and Navy, disarm the Japanese for a generation, try all Japanese who violated the rules of warfare, and cede certain islands to the allies. The paper further suggested that the Japanese be encouraged to lay down their arms by assurances that the allies harbored no intention to destroy the Japanese or their govern ment.25
The memorandum displayed an insight of the Japanese people and their nature not
understood by most key policy makers, save Under Secretary Grew. The author
that the Japanese might be amenable to overtures for
First, the appointment of Prime Minister
Suzuki in April 1945 meant that anti-militarists were
appearing in the government. Second, the
substantial middle-class, a product
of rapid Japanese industrialization, had a liberal political bent.
Third, the Japanese possessed a strong national will to survive.26
The memorandum also considered the American point of
view. If the Japanese accepted the proposed terms, the
U.S. would have
obtained every national objective, except for the purposeless revenge advocated
by a minority of Americans. The author also
made the dramatic claim that his
approach would save 500,000 to one million American lives. This latter
point is critical. Until this memorandum
appeared in early June 1945, NO FIXED NUMBERS
had been discussed formally regarding the
human cost of future operations
Japan. This estimate, cropping
up at this propitious moment, captured the fancy of Truman
and Stimson, and
will be addressed later in the paper.27
Secretary Stimson requested
evaluation of the memorandum. On June 14,
1945, Marshall replied that his staff
was in "substantial agreement." Marshall
perceived that the enemy knew he was licked
and sought a way out of the war. The Chief of Staff stressed that U.S.
military objectives must ensure that the
Japanese were not the focal point for a war for at least a generation. To
accomplish this end, Marshall proposed the
dissolution of the Japanese armed
forces and the intellectual reeducation
of the Japanese people through the
encouragement of liberal thought, free
press, democracy, human rights, etc.
The staff differed with the memorandum on the issues
of war trials, resources, cessation of
islands, and casualty figures. On this last point,
Stimson that the JCS strongly believed that
the cited figures were inflated.28 Secretary Stimson transmitted
the JCS comments to the President with the
notation that prolongation of the war
would "cost a large number of human lives."29
Time was running out. Despite the rhetoric, no revision of the unconditional surrender terms occurred prior to the allied gathering at Potsdam. Secretary Stimson, sympathetic to Grew's idea, did not press the issue higher. He had the President's confidence, counseling patience and promising an atomic bomb test prior to the conclusion of the allied meeting in Potsdam. Truman informed Grew in June 1945 that he liked the idea of reassuring the Japanese on the matter of the Emperor. However, Grew was disappointed to learn that the President had chosen the Potsdam Conference a month hence to push for an allied proclamation. Thus, the personal crusade trumpeted by Grew and Marshall to modify U.S. stated war aims spent itself by early summer 1945. Few opportunities lay ahead as the final planning commenced for the long-awaited assault on Japan. The cost of an invasion weighed heavily in the minds of political and military officials. And, ever so methodically, the atomic bomb moved closer to testing.
Back to Contents
The Casualty Myth
Military planning for the conquest of
earnest in the Spring of 1945. The concept involved a
two-phased campaign. Operation Olympic, a landing on the
southern island of Kyushu, was initially scheduled for the
month of December 1945, but was later moved to November 1,
second phase, Operation Coronet, entailed an assault on Honshu (the Tokyo Plain)
about March 1, 1946. Planning documents show
that the military expected success based upon surprise, mobility, and
superior mechanized power. The invasion also
incorporated a tightening of the naval stranglehold around Japan and
stepped up aerial bombardment. General Marshall estimated that a force of
766,700 Americans and allies would face
350,000 Japanese during the Olympic
campaign. The Chief of Staff believed
that, if the two operations proved
successful, the war would end by
November 1946. Other officials, such as King and Arnold, expressed more
optimism, believing that a smashing victory
in Kyushu might coerce an earlier Japanese surrender. 1
A crucial point in the planning process took place on
June 18, 1945,
at an important White House meeting. Admiral
Leahy had informed the JCS several days earlier
that the President desired to prepare for
the forthcoming Potsdam Conference.
Truman sought information on such matters as the numbers of men and ships
required for an invasion of Japan,
estimated casualties, U.S. intentions
for Russia, and contributions expected from America's
allies. Leahy's memorandum to the JCS
specified that the decision on the campaign must economize the loss of
American lives. Time and money in comparison
were not important.2
The June meeting provided a ripe opportunity for a
review of the cost to conclude the Pacific
war. Attendees included President Truman, Secretary of War Stimson,
Secretary of the Navy Forrestal, Assistant Secretary of
War McCloy, and the JCS (Leahy, Marshall,
Arnold, and King). Secretary Stimson, suffering from one of his frequent
attacks of migraine headaches and intestinal
ailments, nearly missed the gathering. General Marshall briefed the President on
his best estimate of the casualty expectations if the U.S. invaded Japan.
It must be remembered that, at a minimum,
Truman, Stimson, and Marshall were
aware of the early June anonymous memorandum
estimating a million casualties. The Chief
of Staff told Truman that "the first
30 days in Kyushu should not exceed
the price we have paid for Luzon." That price included
31,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or
missing-in-action. Several days later Admiral Nimitz raised the estimate in
official planning documents to 49,000, based upon revised
statistics from the
campaign. Rufus Miles, in the
fall 1985 edition of International Security, rightly
argues that this meeting only reviewed the plans for
Operation Olympic and that no detailed consideration of
viable alternatives to invasion, such as naval blockade,
aerial bombardment, etc., were discussed, despite Truman's
original tasking. Miles' contention is that
the Army had already persuaded the
other services to accept the invasion
route. Miles' charge, however, glosses over the
fact that Admiral King, in an unusual show of
unity, openly sided with Marshall
during the confabulation, showed no
reservation, and stated that Kyushu was "a
natural step" following Okinawa. Admiral King
previously reported to Marshall that
he did not support quoting comparative casualty figures for the European
and Pacific theaters. Marshall also read
statements submitted by Generals Eaker
(Army Air Force) and Eisenhower. These
general officers agreed that, based on the
German experience, air power alone
could not defeat Japan. In addition, General MacArthur cabled Marshall
shortly before the session and stated his
opinion that Operation Olympic posed
less possibility of loss than other alternatives.3
The casualty speculations at the White House gathering only amounted to an
educated guess. Later references by
President Truman and Secretary Stimson to
the meeting provided fodder for critics of
the ultimate decision to use the
atomic bomb. Recalling the
discussions, Truman stated "all of us realized the
fighting would be fierce and heavy."4
He also recorded
that "General Marshall informed me (at the meeting) that
it might cost half a million American lives to force the
enemy's surrender on his home grounds."5
statement, written nearly a decade later, is a blemish on
the record. No such exchange took place between the President and Marshall
unless conducted privately. The other
participants at the meeting make no mention of such a statement.
Marshall denied telling the President such a statistic.6
In 1947, Secretary Stimson wrote that he
remembered being told that the
operations "might be expected to cost over a
million casualties." Yet, even Stimson failed to identify
the source of his numbers. Is it possible that his only
sharp recollection is the early June memorandum which
provided this bloated estimate?7
Winston Churchill compounded the confusion in two
public statements issued 10 days apart following the August 1945 atomic
bombings. On August 6, 1945, Churchill, on
the eve of departing office and in response to the news of Hiroshima,
told reporters that the bomb saved 500,000 American lives. On
August 16, 1945,
Churchill's first speech as leader of the opposition in
the House of Commons raised the ante. The
former Prime Minister declared that the bomb spared one million
American and 250,000 British lives. These
latter statistics also appear in Churchill's memoirs.
The casualty figures cited by these officials later
became a crux of the atomic bomb decision. Authors Arjun
Makhijani and John Kelly believe the reference to the
large casualty statistics represented a desire to
rationalize the event after the fact and mask the truth
that the bomb was unnecessary. These writers argue that
the numbers were "exaggerated deliberately so in the face
of much better estimates and available evidence prior to the atomic bombings."
Rufus Miles states that American and British leaders needed to make no such
claim of enormous loss to justify the bomb because the vast
majority of Americans approved of the bomb
as a means to shorten the conflict.
Miles' analysis targets the number of casualties spared at no more than
20,000. He observes that it is ludicrous to
believe that General Marshall would
have proposed and President Truman would have approved a campaign that might
cost 500,000 casualties or more.9
No official at the meeting broached the subject of the atomic bomb during the
formal discussions. Prior to adjournment,
President Truman surveyed the attendees for any additional comments.
Assistant Secretary of War McCloy spoke candidly about his belief that a policy
decision should be forthcoming on the bomb.
Specifically, he urged the President
to send a conciliatory message to the
Japanese describing the bomb and threatening to use it unless a surrender
occurred. Those present seemed uncomfortable
with the subject and ignored the
conversation between McCloy and Truman. The President brushed aside the
suggestion by consoling McCloy that the matter would be given further
thought. If that occurred, there is no indication that Truman seriously
considered McCloy's argument.10
The uneasiness expressed in June 1945 about the high
casualty estimates continued in military circles in the
month following the atomic attacks. In
September 1945, the War Department
desired to negate Japanese propaganda statements aimed at discrediting
U.S. for bombing
and Nagasaki. Reports in Japanese diplomatic
cables and press releases gave grapnic descriptions of
large post-bomb suffering and death. On
August 24, 1945, General Groves sought an explanation from his scientists
involved in the Manhattan Project concerning the reports.
These scientists assured Groves that the
information related to thermal burns
was a hoax. Only later did officials
grasp the magnitude of radiation poisoning.
Earlier U.S. press releases quoted that the
bombs saved more than 200,000 lives.
A War Department cable prepared for
field commanders urged that the reference to 200,000 lives be amended to
say that the bomb spared "tens of thousands, possibly 200,000 lives."11
These arguments, however, fail to account for other
factors which troubled American military and political
leaders in the hectic months prior to the conclusion of
hostilities. Foremost was the perception of the cost of
an invasion. Despite the best estimates available, the
fact remained that no official could be certain what suffering the allied forces
would experience by invading Japan. The pulse of military activity in the
advance on Japan only heightened this concern. In 1944, the U.S.
sustained an average of 3,200 casualties per
month. This figure represented all
categories: killed-in-action (KIA), missing-in-action (MIA),
wounded-in-action (WIA), died-of-wounds
(DOW), seriously wounded-in-action (SWA),
seriously injured-in-action (SIA), lightly
wounded-inaction (LWA), and lightly
injured-in-action (LIA). During the first 7 months of 1945, the number
escalated to an average of 12,750 casualties
per month. In May 1945, the Bureau of Public Relations within the War
Department sought casualty data for a
pamphlet entitled "The Military Policy of the
statistics cited in the brochure are horrific, even
without the inclusion of the final count from the
The Okinawan casualties became the most significant for the planning of the
final assault on
suffered by American troops presaged the brutality and magnitude of fighting
that officials believed allied forces would face in the autumn. In
addition, the campaign had not ended when
Truman met with his advisors on
June 18, 1945.
The intensity of the
and the reports of Japanese recalcitrance added a sense of urgency to the
planning. In Okinawa, a garrison of 110,000 Japanese, led by
LTG Misuru Ushijami, held for more than 80
days against an American force of 183,000 troops supported by the most
extensive naval gunfire barrage in the history of amphibious operations. On June
22, 1945, American led forces finally secured Okinawa by sealing, digging up, or
using flame throwers against the entrenched
enemy. In the minds of American military leaders, the fanatical
resistance displayed by the Japanese at
further as the allies penetrated the defensive
Furthermore, the spectacle of
where thousands of Japanese soldiers committed suicide rather than surrender,
and allied officials.13
In September 1945, the War Department published the final casualty statistics for the Okinawa campaign. This report showed that, during the fighting conducted between March 26 - June 2l, 1945, U.S. forces sustained a casualty rate of 43%. One in five combat soldiers and a like number of non-combat troops became casualties.
Twenty-five percent of all battle casualties died.
Lastly, 87 of every 100 casualties were infantrymen. These grim statistics also
revealed that the final death count numbered more than 7,300 soldiers. The
suffering in the campaign heightened the fears of U.S.
officials who clearly understood that Okinawa was a
operation would begin the struggle for the Japanese homeland.14
the fall of
American officials expressed continued amazement at the ferocity of the Japanese
resistance. Suicide air attacks and banzai
charges by ground troops burned in the American image of the Pacific
struggle. These Kamikaze attacks inflicted serious damage. In 1944 and 1945,
these suicide raids destroyed 26 naval
vessels, damaged 164 others, and
inflicted 10,000 casualties on sailors. Intelligence estimates predicted
that as many as three times the attacks
might occur during Operation Olympic, as compared to Okinawa. Japan,
working at a frenzied pace, had fitted about 5,000 aircraft with 500-pound
explosives to use in Kamikaze attacks. An additional 4,000 planes awaited
bombs. Special attack naval units and
one-man torpedo submarines readied to guard Japan and harass the U.S.
troop morale sagged and no military official
dared to hazard a guess at the casualties for the final fighting during
Operation Coronet in the Spring of 1946.15
Planning conducted later in the summer of 1945 reflected the gravity of the
situation facing the allies.
mid-July 1945, General MacArthur estimated that he
needed four more divisions per month from the
strategic reserve to conduct additional operations during Operation Coronet.
Intelligence reports during the same month
recorded that economic measures were not sufficient
to end the war. Moreover, while some reports
surmised that the Japanese will was waning, the JCS learned in
early August 1945 that
was strengthening her defense
Kyushu through an expansion of ground forces,
conservation, and mining operations. The JCS requested that commanders reexamine
their plans for Operation Olympic and forward alternatives to Washington.
The bomb obviated this necessity. Secretary
Stimson recalled after the war that he was appalled at military
estimates of the serious costs that even a
poorly equipped defensive army could inflict on a landing party.16
Truman, Churchill, and Stimson quoted erroneous
casualty statistics after the war. The
evidence does not support inflated
estimates that up to one million lives
were spared by not conducting an invasion of
record clearly shows that General Marshall briefed the
president and Secretary of War on
June 18, 1945,
initial assault on
would result in no more than
31,000 casualties (all categories). Even later revisions
placed the number at no higher than about 50,000. Rufus
Miles believes the number of dead would have totaled
about 7,000, even in the most pessimistic scenario. His
figures represent the conservative number of estimated
casualties. This paper revealed earlier that
the source of the large estimate surfaced in early June 1945 in the
anonymous memorandum given to President
Truman by Herbert Hoover. The JCS
review of that memorandum rejected the
loss figures as too high, although Stimson
watered down the language in his reply to the President.17
The question lingers as to why these leaders perpetrated what Rufus Miles describes as the "myth of Hiroshima."18 The answer is not simple and goes beyond the impersonal recording of statistics. Some observers, such as Chalmers Roberts of the Manchester Guardian Weekly, have little difficulty in excusing "the passions, bitterness, hatred, the faulty intelligence, and sheer stupidities of the war."19 The truth lies in the fact that, no matter what the intelligence reports estimated, neither the politicians nor the military leadership knew the ultimate cost of the victory over Japan, particularly through the employment of an invasion of the enemy's homeland. Previously cited intelligence reports highlighted that the Japanese had substantial manpower and will to summon against an attack. The level of Japanese resistance in Okinawa was seen as a mere harbinger of what Operation Olympic might encounter. Therefore, a full measure of certainty never existed in the minds of those American leaders charged with the responsibility to send so many men to battle. Then too, all recorded estimates only related to the first 30 days of the campaign in Kyushu. No estimates materialized for the remainder of Operation Olympic or for a struggle that bogged down due to the enemy's stiff resistance. These estimates were not produced because the bomb abruptly ended the war, but they most assuredly would have reflected a more bloody result than critics envisioned. Nonetheless, Truman, Churchill, and Stimson collectively share the blame for failing to set the record straight after the war. There is no doubt that even the smaller losses recorded in official documents were enough to sway a decision to use the atomic bomb. These leaders were not insensitive to the suffering of their soldiers. However, their failure to revoke the symbol of extensive casualties as justification to use the atomic bomb provided opponents of that decision an opportunity to criticize America's true war aims.
Back to Contents
The Russian Connection
scholars contend that diplomatic relations with the
Union stirred as much concern among policy
makers as casualties. By the spring of 1945, the U.S.S.R.
replaced the Third Reich as the chief
security interest of the
Some American officials saw the atomic weapon as
a means to
influence postwar international relations,
particularly with respect to
leaders failed to establish a unity of purpose or
understand the diplomatic limitations of the
bomb so evident today.1
Secretary Stimson saw little hope for postwar
U.S.-Soviet cooperation. He based this opinion on the
very nature of each nation's political system and the
long-standing mistrust between the two countries. The
Secretary of War originally bought
presidential approval to tell Stalin about the bomb. Stimson reasoned
that the secret of the bomb might obtain a quid pro quo from the
Russian leader. Further, Stimson felt that
failure to inform Stalin would
aggravate the strain of postwar relations with the Soviets. By early
1945, Stimson reconsidered this assumption
and urged Roosevelt to issue a statement on the future of atomic weapons
concurrent with the first use of the bomb. By this time, Roosevelt
supported Churchill's long-held position that
only an Anglo-American atomic
monopoly would stifle the Russians. This view, interestingly enough,
contradicts the argument of some historians
that Roosevelt was soft on the Russians. Roosevelt refused to pursue
shared knowledge with the Soviets. His death
prior to a policy decision on
long-term atomic energy goals left Truman with an heirloom of war and a
paucity of knowledge upon which to forge future actions.2
authorities believe that the
sought to use atomic blackmail on the
to keep the Soviets
out of the war. Gar Alperovitz, author of a monograph on
subject, quotes General Marshall to support this
view. At the
June 18, 1945,
White House meeting,
said,".. . the impact of the Russian entry on the
already hopeless Japanese may well be the
decisive action levering them into capitulation at that time or shortly
thereafter if we land in
The implication is
needed to end the war prior to Soviet
entry. In addition, Alperovitz paints Truman and his new
of State, James F. Byrnes, as almost rabid in their desire to use the bomb to
also cites Japanese peace initiatives to the
Russians in the summer of 1945 as proof
beaten. Therefore, the bomb's target was not
but rather the Soviet Union.4 Alperovitz's
viewpoint is supported by columnist Drew Middleton, who recently wrote that "the
explosion of atom bombs on
would impress the
and make its leaders more
cooperative with the
and Middleton, the bomb had as its purpose to
the advantage over the Soviets in shaping
postwar world .6
These writers miss the mark on several accounts.
(NO THEY DONT! GJD)
quote out of context. A closer
of the minutes of the White House meeting indicates that General Marshall
referred to the Russian entry into the war
as making an impact only in conjunction with continued U.S. and allied
air bombardment, naval blockade, and the fall
landing on Japanese soil. In addition, the belief that the U.S. hastily
dropped two bombs after the Potsdam Conference to halt Soviet
intervention in the war is illogical. The
U.S. did not know the exact date that Russia would enter the Pacific
war. The estimated window of entry was August
8-22, 1945. Little margin for error existed for such an
enormous undertaking as the bomb. To
forestall Soviet participation in the war by bombing
U.S. actually would have had to move sooner
attack. The actual date for execution of the atomic
was left to the discretion of the air forces commander in the Pacific. Thus, no
political pressure emanated from the top to
rush a bomb into use as a mean to frighten the Russians. Finally, the
argument that Truman dropped the bombs to
fact that the President strongly believed that the atom
bomb was a combat weapon that could be legitimately used
Moral problems did not exist.
set the precedent for the mass allied bombings of civilians in
(naturally stimulated by the Nazi blitzkrieg) and continued the policy with
Recorded discussions leave little doubt that some policy makers saw the bomb as
a means to neutralize Russian
intentions in the Far East. To view this position as
by the majority of
officials, however, ignores the dictates of American wartime policy.7
The bomb had a less immediate impact on
relations with the
As has been shown,
Secretary Stimson's view on the subject wavered throughout
After Roosevelt's death, the Secretary of War believed that no world
organization, with a nation member whose
people lacked basic human freedoms, could be trusted with the new weapon.
Stimson felt that the Russians could show good faith by honoring the admirable
precepts in the 1936 Soviet constitution.8
Stimson changed his mind once again after the Potsdam Conference. Averell
Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, convinced the Secretary that
the bomb could not be used to bargain for peace. In
early September 1945, Stimson urged
President Truman to open immediate and
direct negotiations with the U.S.S.R. on the subject of future control of
Secretary Forrestal recorded that he shared Stimson's view
that the bomb could not be used to secure peace.
saw the bomb as an albatross to civilization, as each new weapon produced a
On September 2l, 1945, President Truman devoted an entire cabinet meeting to a discussion of the U.S. postwar atomic policy. The same lack of consensus which had characterized discussions during the war dominated this session. Henry Wallace, Secretary of Commerce, believed that science could not be cribbed. Therefore, the U.S. ought to give atomic secrets to Russia. Secretary Forrestal countered Wallace and suggested that, since the bomb and its secrets were the property of the U.S., the administration should withhold this information until it was positive how the benefactor would use the knowledge. Forrestal reminded all present that the Japanese had been U.S. allies during World War I. The Russians might be a declared enemy in the future. Forrestal proposed an approach which found little support in 1945, but later became a basic tenet of American policy. The Secretary suggested the idea of sole trusteeship under the United Nations. Truman did not commit his administration to a policy at that moment but promised to study the cabinet's views, draw conclusions, and report to the Congress.
Another blow to the advocacy of international cooperation
occurred with the resignation of Secretary Stimson after
the cabinet meeting.10
postwar atomic energy policy did not
materialize. On October 30, 1945, President Truman asked Congress for the
authority to create the Atomic Energy Commission. At the same time, Truman
informed Congress that he planned to pursue international control of atomic
weapons, but only after consultation with the British and
Chinese. However, these
allies were in no mood to
become an heir to atomic bomb technology.11
Between 1945-1947, efforts for a U.S.-Soviet
cooperative approach on the bomb failed. Lengthy debates
U.S. government soured the Russians on the
sincerity of any American proposals on the issue. Shrewdly, the Soviets
saw the open division within the American government as a means to buy time to
develop their own bomb. For example, in
April 1946, General Walter B. Smith, Ambassador to Russia and General
Eisenhower's former Chief of Staff, spoke to
Soviet leaders in a tough manner
about U.S.-Soviet relations. On the same day, Senator Claude Pepper of Florida
discussed in a public forum his disappointment that the U.S. and her
allies seemed intent on ganging up on the Soviet Union. Pepper urged all nations
to denounce atomic weapons, destroy all bombs, and disband all production
This inconsistency among government representatives bred suspicion and spilled over into discussions about conventional weapon disarmament. In October 1947, Forrestal, Ralph Bard (the U.S. representative to the U.N.), General Eisenhower, and several other U.S. representatives determined that the outlook for arms reduction was gloomy. Eisenhower opined that if the U.S. went forward with an agreement to limit conventional weapons without a workable, rigid inspection process, the Russians would have a precedent to reject such provisions on atomic weapons. This point, so obvious to even the casual observer in 1985, struck these men hard in 1947. By 1950, the issue of viable inspections was central to all disarmament talks and remains so today.13 The U.S. missed the opportunity to develop a consistent policy with regard to the bomb and its diplomatic impact on the Soviet Union. This failure grew from the inability of American leaders to form a workable consensus from which to advise the President. During the war, the rapidly changing military situation, anti-Soviet pressure from Churchill, and the uncertainty over the success of the bomb contributed to a short-sighted policy. There is no concrete evidence, contrary to the belief of critics of U.S. actions, that President Truman or other U.S. officials conspired to terrorize the Russians by dropping an atomic bomb on Japan, although no doubt the Soviets were expected to take notice. Indeed, the U.S. possessed few bombs with which to wage such a campaign. Moreover, the American military machine, true to its historical form, underwent a rapid demobilization. Thus, the U.S. in reality was not working from a position of strength. After the war, the U.S. lost key cabinet members, such as Stimson and Forrestal, whose long-term experience had crystallized on the theme of international control of nuclear weapons, perhaps under a U.N. trusteeship. Their disappearance from the debate, continued mistrust of Soviet intentions, and Russian perceptions of conflicting U.S. policies doomed any hope for immediate postwar disarmament. The Russians developed an atomic capability much more rapidly than American experts predicted. Cooperation and negotiation became increasingly difficult.14
Back to Contents
Two scientific forces clashed in the summer of 1945
with respect to the atomic bomb. The Interim Committee reported its
recommendations for the employment of the weapon against Japan. At the same
time, a sincere cry of
opposition to the use of the bomb emerged in the
scientific community, but this protest by scientists came
too late. The Interim Committee'S report became the seed
President Truman's ultimate decision.
On May 3l, 1945, the Interim Committee and the scientific Panel met to decide on recommendations pertaining to the use of the atomic bomb. Several members remarked later that it appeared to be almost a foregone conclusion that the bomb would be dropped. On June 1, 1945, with the concurrence of the scientific Panel, the Interim Committee issued the following recommendations:
The U.S. should drop the bomb on Japan at the earliest possible date.
A dual target should be bombed, consisting of both military and civilian facilities vulnerable to damage.
Japan should be given no prior warning of the attack.1
Interim Committee provided rationale for its recommendations. It believed that
the Japanese should not receive any advance
warning because there was no guarantee
that such an action would induce a
surrender. The committee reasoned
that even a successful test prior to
the actual attack should not deter a surprise U.S. bombing of Japan. The
committee stated that the scheduled test in
New Mexico and military deployment by air
drop were not the same. The committee also discounted a staged
demonstration for the Japanese, fearing a dud
would cost the U.S. loss of face and
spur the Japanese to resist further. Lastly, the U.S. had only several
bombs to use. Production rates promised
insufficient inventory for multiple attacks until late summer or fall of
the Interim Committee's distinguished
credentials, significant dissent against the bomb existed in scientific
circles. As early as 1944, Niels Bohr, the
famed Nobel Laureate in physics and a member of the atom
bomb project, strove to convince
and British leaders
of the futility of atomic weapons. Bohr believed that the
U.S.S.R. were destined for a postwar arms race unless America and Britain
established some form of international
control. He suggested that Roosevelt approach the Soviets on the subject while
they were still a U.S. ally. Bohr succeeded in convincing several British
officials, such as Ambassador Halifax in
Washington and Sir John Anderson, the
director of the British portion of the atom bomb project, that
international control was necessary. In
1944, Roosevelt dispatched Bohr to London
to discuss his views with Churchill. The
Prime Minister rudely dismissed Bohr,
who returned frustrated to the U.S. Bohr eventually thought he had
convinced Roosevelt to pursue a policy of
mutual trust and cooperation with the
Soviets. In reality, Roosevelt duped Bohr. In September 1944, Roosevelt
and Churchill chose to keep atomic
developments concealed from Stalin. Furthermore, these two leaders opted to spy
on Bohr to ensure that the physicist did not pass atomic information to
Dr. Vannevar Bush and Dr. James Conant attempted to
the administration's policy. Like Bohr, these
scientists sensed that the Anglo-American
monopoly would last a maximum of three to five years, believing that the
Soviets had some primitive atomic research underway.
Thus, a policy of secrecy offered only a
short-term value and might hamper future relations with
These scientists also understood that the atomic bomb was merely the first step
to more dramatic developments in nuclear
weapons. Bush and Conant faiied to persuade
found Truman unwilling to change his predecessor's
direction so late in the war. It is interesting to note
despite the sincere views held by Bush and Conant,
both scientists acquiesced in favor of tide
Interim Committee's report, which
omitted any reference to long-range
atomic energy policy.4
The Interim Committee report did not halt opposition
by other scientists. On June 12, 1945, James Franck, a
Prize winner, attempted to give Secretary Stimson a
report from the Committee on Social and
Political Implications. This committee
consisted of seven scientists involved with the preparation of plutonium
as a nuclear explosive. The committee
viewed the atomic weapon as
infinitely dangerous, potentially creating a Pearl
Harbor in a thousand cities. The report cited
the perceived German threat as the
original impetus to develop the
weapon, but that danger no longer existed. In addition, the report
claimed that the Russians knew basic atomic
information as early as 1940. The vast resources
of the Soviet Union made containment of
atomic secrets in the future impossible. Thus, the Franck Committee saw
an arms race as inevitable unless immediate
steps were taken to prevent such a tragedy. The committee recommended that
a demonstration of the bomb be given on a desert island.
Simultaneously, and in good faith, the U.S.
should renounce use of nuclear weapons and call for international
control. The report argued that U.S.
employment of the bomb against Japan
without a warning was inconsistent with
American stands for humanity, such as those
made with the anti-gas warfare
policy. The Franck Committee also
believed that a first use policy for the bomb might anger
our allies and find little support among the
American people. The report concluded that the initiative to delay the
arms race stood clearly with the U.S.5
The scientific Panel reviewed the Franck Report. On
June 16, 1945, the panel stated that the only alternative
to the bomb was an invasion of Japan. J. Robert
Oppenheimer later remarked that members of the panel saw
the bomb as a means to save lives and make an impact on
the stability of the postwar world. Truman recorded that
Scientific Panel informed him that no technical
demonstration could ensure the termination
of the war. The Japanese likely would interpret the failure of a
pre-announced test as a hoax or U.S. propaganda.6
During June and July 1945, additional scientific
protest actions surfaced. On June 27, 1945, Under
of the Navy, Ralph Bard, an original member of the Interim Committee, changed
his earlier support for the body's June 1, 1945, report. Bard recommended that
Japan be given a two or three-day warning
about the pending bomb. In Bard's opinion, failure to do so would damage
America's image as a humanitarian nation. Bard believed that Japan was searching
for a face-saving way out of the war. Therefore, the U.S. lost nothing by
informing the Japanese leaders about the
potential of the bomb. On
scientists in several laboratories in
conducted a poll which favored a warning
and demonstration of the bomb prior to military use.7
separate action, Dr. Leo Szilard, the scientist
who originally approached President
Roosevelt about atomic research,
forwarded two petitions with over 60 signatures to Truman urging
non-military use of the bomb. Szilard worried
that there was not enough contact between
scientists and Congress. Many of the young
scientists felt they were working in a vacuum, far removed from the
decision process, with little or no knowledge about
government policy or the military situation.
Neither Szilard petition reached the President. General Groves
intercepted the second document and passed
it to George Harrison for
safekeeping. Groves justified his actions on
the grounds that the Interim Committee's
recommendations had already been forwarded to President Truman. If one
peers closer, an additional factor existed.
The petition simply arrived too late to make a difference. The atomic
bomb test had proven successful the previous day.
President Truman received the positive news at
formulating the decision to use the bomb against
There is little reason to believe that the Szilard
stood any chance of changing Truman's mind.8
efforts by a small, dedicated group of scientists to convince the government not
to employ an atomic bomb against
failed in the summer of 1945. This body of
experts was intimately associated with various portions of
the Manhattan Project. The justification
presented by these scientists
centered on the issues of humanity and the fear of a rampant nuclear arms
race. Rather than becoming a weapon to stop
war, the atom bomb had emerged as a
new weapon of war. Therefore, these scientists
worked diligently to abolish, or at least
limit the new and horrible
technology.9 The administration did not alter its course. Key officials
prevented the scientific appeals from reaching the highest levels of the
government. In addition, the timing of the protest
weighed against its success. In the end, the
momentum for the decision to drop the
bomb found at least silent support
among the President's closest scientific advisors on the Interim
Back to Contents
Decision and Employment
The initial development of atomic energy did not commit the U.S. to use atomic weapons against an adversary. By the spring of 1945, the situation changed dramatically. The proposed military operations, production status of the bomb, continued political insistence on unconditional surrender, and the perception of American public opinion convinced U.S. leaders that the bomb should be used. The window of opportunity for the decision became mid-July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference.
meeting of allied leaders at
occurred between July 17 -
August 2, 1945.
On the day prior to the
official convening of the conference, Secretary Stimson,
in attendance as part of the American delegation, received
an urgent, top secret cable from his Assistant Secretary
George L. Harrison, in Washington, D.C. The
message informed Stimson that the Manhattan Project had
reached fruition on that date with the
successful detonation of an atomic bomb at the
Alamogordo, New Mexico, test site. Cable in hand, Stimson personally delivered
the information to President Truman. Stimson
recalled that the President appeared
pleased but opted to wait for a detailed report from General Groves in
person before discussing possible courses of action.1
July 17, 1945,
reviewed his military strategy in light of the new
development. The chief executive faced conflicting views
and personalities. He desired to use the
bomb in a manner prescribed by the
internationally accepted rules of war.
That is to say, Truman honestly believed
that the U.S. had the right to engage a military target with the bomb.
The President felt that, once an advantage
was gained over a foe, no respite
should be given to the enemy. Yet,
despite the knowledge
of the successful test, Truman gave neither
Marshall orders to stop the preliminary
planning underway for the
American leaders faced immense pressures at
On July 17, 1945, the morning following his meeting with
Truman, Stimson related the atom bomb test
results to both Secretary of State Byrnes and Prime Minister Churchill.
Stimson urged Byrnes and Churchill to take
the position that the U.S. should issue a warning to
the Japanese about the bomb and give
assurances that the Emperor could be
retained. In addition, Stimson lobbied
the position to tell Stalin about the weapon.
Both men denied Stimson's request.
Indeed, Byrnes' book, All in One
Lifetime, strangely omits any reference to the Stimson
suggestions. It is a well-known fact that
Byrnes and Churchill harbored deep suspicions about the Russians.
Byrnes seemed the most anxious of those
delegates in the American entourage at Potsdam to get the war finished
prior to Soviet participation. Byrnes viewed
Stimson's ideas as advocating a
softening of U.S. policy toward
Japan. He considered any relaxation of the unconditional surrender terms
Truman's dilemma was greater than that of his
The weight of the decision rested with him.
Conflicting ideas and opinions spun a web of confusion. Indeed, Potsdam was
Truman's initial meeting with Prime
Minister Churchill and Generalissimo Stalin. The President dared not give
the appearance of being the weakest link in
the alliance; therefore, what he lacked experience, he more than made up
in fortitude and statesmanship.4
President Truman understood the political
considerations at stake. The solution lay in balancing a
secure and control global peace without
compromising with the Japanese. The problem was in the actual Japanese
situation. Were the Japanese seeking a path
out of the war? If so, how could the
knowledge to conclude hostilities without appearing
evidence shows that some Japanese leaders
attempted to seek peace during the spring and summer of 1945. According
to an interview conducted in 1950 with
Hiroshi Shimomura, the former Minister of State and Chief of the Japanese
Cabinet Information Bureau, the cabinet which came to power in April 1945
signaled Japanese intentions to terminate the
fighting. In a postwar interview, the
Premier, Admiral Baron Suzuki (in marked
contrast to some
intelligence reports), claimed that
the Japanese people distrusted their government. As
evidence, he cited reports by the Kempei, or secret police, and increasing acts
of sabotage by civilians
against political symbols. Suzuki stated that he publicly advocated an increase
in the war effort (to save his life from fanatics), while privately he labored
to negotiate an
end to the
situation was a Gordian knot for the Japanese government. During May and June
1945, Suzuki sent an emissary to Russia to seek Soviet assistance in securing
peace terms. Suzuki felt that the Potsdam Conference
delayed his envoy from making any headway
in convincing the Soviets to serve as
intermediaries. In reality, the
Premier knew that Soviet help was not forthcoming. Stalin informed the
Japanese that the Soviets would not renew
their neutrality pact with Japan after April 1946.7
U.S. intelligence reports stated that the
Japanese hope rested on thin ice. The militarists in the Japanese
government clung to the belief that a tough resistance offered the best
opportunity to gain a more favorable
bargaining position. These Japanese leaders also felt that the U.S. was
experiencing war weariness.
assessment of the Japanese situation saw no
change in the last-ditch, bloody
conflict predicted for so many months.8
decision on the bomb was Truman's and his alone. Based upon the Quebec
Agreement, the President of the U.S., with
the concurrence of the British Prime Minister, took responsibility for directing
an atomic bombing of Japan. The
President knew that his entire staff and
advisors, except Admiral Leahy, favored use
of the bomb in some form or fashion. Thus, on July 23, 1945, Truman
chose to employ the bomb and informed his
key civilian and military advisors to
proceed with established plans. Truman minced no words in his memoirs as to his
intentions: "The final decision of
where and when to use the atomic bomb wad up to me. Let there be no
mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any
doubt that it should be used."9 Churchill supported
this position by stating". . . there never was
a moment's discussion as to whether or not
the atomic bomb should be used or not.
. . the historic fact remains, and must be judged in afterlife, that the
decision whether or not to use the
atomic bomb to compel the surrender of
Japan was never even an issue."10
General Marshall summed up his
impression of the decision made at
by President Truman: ".. . and it was decided to use
this weapon immediately in an effort to shorten the war
thousands of lives."11
question remained of what to tell Stalin.
Stimson's efforts to persuade Churchill and Byrnes on the
day of the session to inform the Russians concerning the atom bomb failed.
Secretary Stimson, always the obedient
public servant, pressed the issue no further. Truman, with the approval
of Churchill, informed Stalin in an indirect manner on July 24, 1945. Truman
casually mentioned to the Russian leader
that the U.S. had a new weapon of
unusual power. According to Byrnes and Truman, Stalin paid no special attention
to the remark and merely bade the
American President well in the endeavor.12
item resolved at
was the tripartite proclamation. On July
26, 1945, the U.S., Great Britain, and China issued the Potsdam
Declaration. Stimson provided President
Truman preliminary thoughts on a proposed proclamation in a detailed memorandum
dated July 2, 1945. In the document, Stimson recommended a carefully
timed warning to the Japanese to stress the following points:
(1) The overwhelming power of the allied armies.
(2) The inevitability of Japanese destruction.
(3) The determination of the allies to change the political authority in Japan.
(4) The goal to neutralize Japanese war-making potential.
(5) A disavowal of allied intentions to destroy the
Japanese people or nation.
memorandum is unique for three reasons. First, Stimson made reference to allied
acceptance of a constitutional monarchy
under the existing government, a clear sign that he now favored relaxed
surrender terms in a manner similar to Under
Secretary of State Grew. Second, in keeping with Stimson's changing view,
the Secretary omitted any reference to the unconditional
surrender doctrine. Last, Stimson avoided
mention of the atomic bomb. However,
in his transmittal memorandum to the President, the Secretary remarked that the
efficacy of such a weapon could be incorporated into any future
Declaration reflected most of
Stimson's early July 1945 proposals, except for the
important ones on the position of the
Emperor, unconditional surrender, and any mention of the atomic bomb.13
announcement froze in place the opposing
parties in the Japanese cabinet with respect to ending the
war. For the most part, the Japanese
announcement as no change in the
The government made no statement for two days. On
Premier Suzuki officially rejected the allied
statement. The Japanese people saw the government's inaction as ignoring the
situation. Militarists interpreted the 48-hour silence as acquiescence. Field
commanders flooded the Ministry with messages begging
public officials to denounce the communique
The chasm ran deep. Military officials and young public
leaders imbued with indoctrination argued
should stand and fight to the last man. Suzuki stated after the war that, during
the turmoil of the last month
of the war,".. . we could never get a complete agreement
anywhere in the government."14
On July 24, 1945, General Groves requested approval of target dates, sites, and other administrative details associated with the use of the bomb. The following day General Marshall, at the direction of Secretary Stimson, confirmed that the time-frame for using the bomb was August 3, 1945, or as soon thereafter as weather permitted. The dating of the order led some critics to argue that Truman knew the Japanese would reject the Potsdam Declaration. In reality, such a view ignores the timing of military planning requirements. The truth is that the order issued on July 25, 1945, stood unless the President reversed his decision. It is ludicrous to think that the President would have allowed an earlier dated order to stand had the Japanese accepted the allied peace terms. Ample opportunity existed to cancel the order, for Truman had the power to do so. Therefore, as the Japanese failed to provide an amenable response, military planning and execution continued unabated.15
Stimson previously reviewed the target list for the
bombs. Four cities were selected: Kokura, Hiroshima,
Nigata, and Nagasaki. Stimson designated those targets
considered important, such as centers of military
and supplies, troop concentrations, and headquarters.
Additionally, an aim of the bomb was to sap
the will of the Japanese people. Authors
Makhijani and Kelly speculate that
Stimson merely wanted a good show so
the bomb could demonstrate its strength. This
condemnation is far off the mark. Stimson
was not callous or without feeling in
the matter. To illustrate this,
Stimson personally struck the city of
original target list. He did so because of the city's
ancient heritage, importance as a cultural center, and
sheer beauty. In addition, he protected the
city from any incendiary bombing prior to the atomic attack.
for execution dictated that bombs be used as
they became available. General Marshall
originally thought that nine bombs
would be needed to subdue the
Japanese forces during the entire campaign into 1946.16
the anxious wait commenced. The President
paused in England prior to embarking to the U.S. He paid a courtesy call on King
George, VI. Admiral Leahy remarked that the King's knowledge of the
atomic bomb project astounded him.
In jest, the King and Leahy
wagered a bet on the success or
failure of the pending bomb drop. The King cast his lot in favor of the bomb;
and Admiral Leahy, to his
later embarrassment, took the
August 6, 1945,
party aboard the cruiser USS Augusta received word that
the atomic bomb had been dropped on
and that the
were more spectacular than imagined. Truman
issued an announcement on the bomb which had been prepared at Potsdam in
the event of a successful detonation. The
statement promised a "rain of ruin" from the air if
The political situation in
did not unravel after the first bomb. Following the
attack, military leaders mobilized propaganda statements denying that an atomic
bomb had ravaged the city. These
went so far as to say that a white shirt and concrete buildings afforded enough
protection from the powerful bombs, even if
they were atomic in nature. One
had a different view as he recorded
a strong flash of light startled me--and then
another.... I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became
brilliantly lit. . . . To my surprise I found
I was completely naked. How odds! Where were
my drawers and undershirt?"
After the second bomb fell on
August, 9, 1945,
the Japanese cabinet remained deadlocked on the question
continuing the war. In a dramatic overnight session on August 9-10, 1945, the
Emperor was forced to cast the deciding vote
on the issue. He ended the stormy meeting
and the war by choosing peace. Premier
Suzuki, saddened by this imperial invocation, stated that this
participation marked only the second time in
the war that the Emperor personally interfered in the governmental
process of the conflict. The first instance
occurred in 1941 with the decision to go to war. Suzuki also stated that
the Emperor's decision to terminate hostilities with
rested on his sincere wish to stop the suffering
The level of human suffering from the two atomic
bombs shocked the world. At
70,000 people died
and a like number suffered injuries. At
37,000 Japanese were killed and slightly under 30,000
became casualties. By late 1945, the
post-bomb total deaths doubled in both
cities. By 1950, the after-effects of the explosions claimed 200,000
Hiroshima and 140,000 in
These numbers do not include the
tens of thousands of people who suffered physical and
phychological wounds from disfigurement,
sterility, infertility, and other problems which surfaced as the years
A number of factors merged as President Truman made the fateful decision to use the atomic bomb. Stimson and Marshall failed in their efforts to convince Secretary of State Byrnes to lighten the unconditional surrender demands on Japan. Byrnes remained fixed in his belief that any approach other than unconditional surrender smacked of appeasement and ensured further entrenchment of the Japanese feudal caste. Confusion and uncertainty reigned in the Japanese government as hawks and doves sought a resolution to a political stalemate. Truman and Churchill, gambling that the limited bombs available would turn the tide of the war, chose not to inform Stalin about the details of the bomb. Thus, the seeds of East-West distrust were sown at Potsdam. Stalin, in a propaganda campaign, later charged that the allied leaders broke faith with the Soviets on this very point. The Soviet Leader labeled the bomb as merely a new phase in the external threat posed to Russian security by the West. Lastly, no long-term approach on the issue of atomic energy emerged. The bombs fell from the sky and the world soon questioned the reasoning behind the U.S. action.20
Back to Contents
The mushroom clouds which billowed majestically in dark plumes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 cast their shadow over an unsuspecting world. The immediate reaction to the atom bomb announcement ran the gamut of the human emotional expression. As time passed, the decision to drop the atomic bombs succumbed to detailed examination and retrospect, even by many of those persons intimately involved in the U.S. project.
Popular periodicals recorded the impressions of a
variety of people in the days following the
bombings. One journalist penned, "All thoughts and things were split. The
sudden achievement of victory was a mercy, to the Japanese no less than to the
United States; but a mercy born of a ruthless force beyond anything in
human chronicle."1 Hanson W. Baldwin, a
military analyst who wrote for Life magazine, predicted that,
despite the new technology, the bomb could
not hold ground militarily; according
to Baldwin, men remained essential to
war, perhaps as an "army of moles. .. . for men may
well burrow into the earth as the Japs have
done in this war. . . ." Baldwin
predicted many items intrinsic to today's military thinking: mass armies, big
bombers, giant warships, wide dispersion tactics, mobility, and
transportation by air.2 Time lamented that
the U.S., a Christian nation,
produced the seeds of man's demise.
Even Herman Goring provided one last quote for posterity. In reference to
the bomb, Goring said, "A mighty
accomplishment. I don't want anything to do with it. I
am leaving this world."3 Finally, a British
newspaper managed to find a measure
of comparison for the bomb when it stated that the general electorate
defeated conservatism in
the bomb did so worldwide.4
question of the correctness of the decision to
with atomic weapons grew after the war as some
participants in the
effort began to doubt the wisdom
decision. In military circles, various
interpretations abounded. Admiral King conceded
after the war that the atomic bomb
saved American lives but not Japanese lives. He clung firmly to the belief that
a naval blockade could have accomplished the
same end as the bomb and thus saved may lives and much misery on both
General Arnold agreed with his Navy counterpart that
the bombs were unnecessary.
Arnold believed that the Japanese situation
was hopeless in the summer of 1945. To support his view,
War Report to Congress quoted a
Japanese official, Nauhi ko Hagashi-Kuni. According to
Hagashi-Kuni, an advisor to Premier Suzuki,
the incendiary bombings had eliminated
Japan's ability to wage war by June 1945.
surmised that the bomb was the worst
choice to force a conclusion of the war. In his book,
Global Mission, Arnold writes,". . .atomic bomb, or no
atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on
the verge of collapse.
published recollections of former President
Eisenhower about the bomb indicated that military
opposition to the events at
Eisenhower was dining with Secretary Stimson at
Potsdam when the coded message arrived
confirming the successful test in New Mexico. Eisenhower recalled that
Stimson asked for his opinion of America's new military
Eisenhower informed Stimson that the bomb
"was a weapon whose employment
was, I thought, no longer mandatory to save American lives." Eisenhower viewed
the whole question as an "awful problem,"
although he fully understood the Secretary of
War's position. Eisenhower felt, as
did many others, that it was an unfortunate
to have been the first nation to use
such a weapon.7
General Douglas MacArthur believed that the bomb was
not a military necessity. He became indignant when
reminded that the allied leaders failed to
consult him prior to
and that the JCS did not inform him about
the bomb until late July 1945. MacArthur also felt
insulted that Eisenhower knew about the existence of the
bomb before he did.8
General Marshall, recalling MacArthur's ruffled feathers, said "We didn't want
the theater of commanders to get too
optimistic about the new weapon, so we
didn't tell them about it until the last
MacArthur insisted that he would have
promised the retention of the Emperor as a means to extract peace terms from the
The scientific community voiced its opposition to the birth of the atomic age. In a series of interviews conducted after the war and in light of more than a decade's experience with the failure of arms reduction, several key scientists presented their forum on the atomic bomb project. Dr. Leo Szilard, winner of the Einstein Medal for outstanding achievement in natural sciences, referred to the bomb in 1960 and said "I opposed it with all my power." Szilard claimed that his misgivings about the bomb which he helped to create increased as the incendiary bombings intensified and gave him a picture of the destruction that awaited Japan from an atomic attack.
Szilard attempted to counter the pro-bomb rationale
parlayed by supporters of the
decision. With respect
to the dud argument, Szilard stated that enough bombs were
scheduled for production to overcome this possibility.
The scientist gave Truman low marks for not weighing all available options more
carefully. Szilard believed that Truman's later reference to a $2 billion gamble
that won proves that the President did not
understand the ramifications of what
he had done.
In the end, Szilard
saw the U.S. postwar position weaken because of the use of
won. Therefore, the act of dropping
the bomb was not seen as a war crime like the Nazi
atrocities. Szilard's question remained: If the U.S. had ultimately lost the
war, how would the world then have viewed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?11
Dr. Edward Teller, a colleague of Dr. Szilard on the project and Director of the
University of California's radiation laboratory, also expressed grave doubts
about the bomb. Teller labeled the actions
in the closing days of the war as unfortunate. Teller preferred the
demonstration alternative. However, the
physicist also believed the experience gained at
though regrettable, would lead the
(and perhaps other nations) to use nuclear devices in the right
way in the future. Taller determined that the hydrogen
bomb was a certainty with or without the
bombings in 1945.12
Lewis L. Strauss, a Navy officer during the war and
later Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, did not support the manner in
which the bomb was used. Strauss advanced the argument that the
knew the Japanese
desired to keep the royal family. In addition, the
experience of World War I showed the world that the destruction of a central
government bred chaos. He described
approach as "a mistake." Strauss stated that
should have issued a warning to the
Japanese and detonated a device in an uninhabited or sparsely populated area for
Former members of the Truman administration opposed
actions spoke out publicly after the war.
Ralph A. Bard, former Under Secretary of the Navy and
member of the Interim Committee, supported
warning the Japanese because the U.S.,
by the very nature of its political
philosophy and historic goodwill, was a humanitarian nation. Bard did not
express disagreement with the development of the bomb per se, but felt that a
warning would have brought the Japanese to
the peace table. In Bard's opinion, the positive effect of the
bomb, or the sudden conclusion of the war,
was negated by the fear the action generated in the Soviets and their
subsequent rush to develop an atomic bomb device.14
Admiral Leahy's negative views about the bomb changed little following World War II. Truman's former advisor confessed that the President sincerely thought the bombs saved innumerable American lives. Leahy, however, held firm to the view that the Japanese were beaten prior to August 1945. Leahy supported King and Arnold in their assumptions that the dual impact of sea blockade and conventional bombing won the day. Leahy stated, "It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan." Leahy classified the atomic bomb in the same category as chemical and biological weapons. According to Leahy, the U.S. stood on soft ground in this regard. Not even the fanatical followers of Hitler or Hirohito dared to use such weapons for fear of allied retaliation. Thus, the U.S. took a more radical step which had far-reaching consequences for generations to come. Leahy cringed at the word "bomb." The former presidential advisor did not even feel comfortable calling the weapon an explosive. To Leahy, the device equated to a poisonous thing. The weapon killed indiscriminately, giving no quarter to women and children. America found itself equated to a barbarian nation of the dark ages. U.S. cruelty toward noncombatants reminded Leahy of Genghis Khan, merely another form of rape and pillage conducted impersonally by one state against another.15
end, Leahy witnessed a rising tide of atomic weaponry development. The Admiral
reluctantly accepted what he could not
change and worked as an advocate of U.S.
security through strength. According to
Leahy, "Until the United Nations, or some other world organization, can
guarantee--and have the power to enforce
that guarantee-- that the world will be spared the terrors of atomic
warfare, the United States must have more
and better atomic bombs than any potential enemy."16
officials prominent in the decision
displayed somber feelings as the full impact of the
became known. The day
Hiroshima, General Marshall found little
gratification because, undoubtedly, a large number of the Japanese people
suffered horrible injuries. Stimson remarked that, while the bomb ended a war
which the Japanese began, any satisfaction
paled in comparison with deeper emotions. President Truman, speaking to a radio
audience of 42 million people two
said "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic
The concern expressed by most American political, scientific, and military
leaders about what they had unleashed on the world was balanced by their
conviction that the right decision had been
made. General Marshall, interviewed 15
theory that a demonstration or warning might have
convinced the Japanese to surrender.
stated that, although more bombs existed in the production
pipeline, only two completed devices were ready in August
1945. Therefore, the possibility of a dud loomed large in
the minds of those associated with the project.
explained that". . . we had to use them in the best
possible way to save American lives."18
In his War Report to Congress,
justification. The Chief of Staff stressed that, although
the atomic bomb offered danger to man, the
weapon was not alone among other terrible developments in the war, such
as aircraft, rockets, and electronics.
America's long heritage as a peace-loving
country, a tradition that he felt would continue in future yea rs.19
James F. Byrnes, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Leslie R. Groves also saw no reason
to denigrate the
decision. Byrnes, who served as Governor of South Carolina following
the war, felt no regret for his role in the effort.
Byrnes admitted that he feared growing Russian influence
but that this factor did not drive his
position on the bomb. Byrnes knew that American technology far outstripped that
of the Soviets; therefore,
U.S. faced no immediate danger from the
in the field of atomic energy. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
remained steadfast until his death that he
had nothing to rue about his role in the Manhattan Project. In his mind,
abstinence from progress was a medieval approach to
science. Leslie R. Groves, the military
officer who sat at the heartbeat of the project, believed that an untold
number of lives were saved by the bomb.
The following is
recorded perception of President Truman's decision:
"An act of unsurpassed courage and wisdom--courage because for the first time in
the history of the United States, the
President personally determined the course of a major military
strategical and tactical operation for which he could be considered directly
responsible; and wisdom because history, if
any thought is given to the value of
American lives, has conclusively proven that his decision was correct."20
February 1947 edition of Harper's, former
Secretary of War Stimson
published his account of the
atomic bomb decision. This article, more than any other
single version, captured the attention of both the
supporters and opponents of the decision. Stimson
attempted to still the emerging din of questions about the reasoning of U.S.
leaders in employing the bomb. Critics charged that American leaders failed to
appreciate the Japanese will to surrender as
early as the spring of l945. In
addition, these same opponents remarked that a diplomatic course could
have achieved an acceptable surrender at an
earlier date. Stimson countered his detractors by explaining that they
misunderstood two key points. First, the
did not start the war. The
American goal in the spring and summer of 1945 was the
complete and immediate surrender of the
Japanese Empire. Despite intelligence
reports which showed gains by
moderates in the Japanese cabinet and peace feelers by the
government, not all Japanese leaders favored
the peace route. The information available to the
government showed a
which wanted to maintain certain territories
captured during the war even if she surrendered.
Nonetheless, no official peace offer emerged
perfected the bomb to end the war. Second, critics
misjudged the purpose of the American government during
the conflict. American policy aimed to avoid
use of the bomb, but events cancelled that option. By the late
summer of 1945, Stimson saw the bomb as a
means to secure a swift victory.
Thus, he treated the weapon, not as a
separate entity in the war, but rather as part of the
strategy. Stimson's one regret was that the
did not clarify its position on the Emperor as he suggested in his early July
1945 memorandum to the
president. However, Stimson reconciled that shortcoming
by reminding Americans that the bomb brought the Emperor
into the Japanese decision-making process and ended the
war. In this view, the first two bombs did not
necessarily turn the tide. The sight of the carnage at
and the threat of additional bombs
convinced the Japanese to sue for peace. Stimson believed
that the "deliberate, premeditated destruction was our
least abhorrent choice." Stimson held that his cabinet
position and responsibilities dictated using a weapon with the possibility for
saving lives and concluding hostilities. As
he stated in 1947, "My chief purpose was to end the war and with the
least possible cost in the lives of men in the armies which I helped to raise. .
. I believe that no man . . . could have
failed to use it (the bomb) and afterwards looked his countrymen in the
Recently, more radical views regarding the first
employment of the atomic bomb appeared from
persons who did not participate in the
events of 1945. Dr. Arjun Makhijani and John Kelly, in a manuscript
scheduled for publication in Japan, cited
several blights on the
record. The authors claimed that the secrecy of the
Project and the failure of the
the bomb into overall military strategy, even as a
contingency, prove that American officials lacked sound judgment. In addition to
criticisms such as exaggerated casualties, the Russian scare, and the
unconditional surrender issue, Makhijani and
Kelly advance the interesting
arguments that the targets themselves were not appropriate and that
American officials overlooked reports that
American prisoners of war and imported Korean workers were located near
the blast sites.22
The Makhijani and Kelly thesis, although
incorporating novel ideas, is weakly constructed.
There is no evidence that the targeting criteria stipulated anything other than
military and industrial sites for the
(HUH??? - GJD)
These designations aimed to damage and disrupt
military production, communications, and enemy resolve. General Groves wrote
after the war that the
U.S. had no evidence of American prisoners of war in the
officials suspected a
camp with about 100 American prisoners. However, air force officials stated
that, even if Americans were prisoners in
Nagasaki, the camp was not anywhere near the aiming point or expected danger
zone of the bomb and no prisoners were
expected to be in the camp at the time of the blast.
Robert Wilcox, in his work, Japan's Secret War,
advances perhaps the most
far-fetched theory of American
intentions with regard to the bomb. Wilcox contends that
U.S. government covered up evidence of Japanese efforts to construct an atomic
bomb for defense of the homeland.
Wilcox states that on August 12, 1945, six days
after Hiroshima and three days prior to surrender, Japan
exploded its own weapon or "genzai bakudan"
in the Sea of Japan.
The author speculates that Japanese scientists relocated an atomic bomb project
to Konan, Korea, after the November 1944,
B-29 raids commenced. Wilcox supports
his claim with intelligence reports which
recorded that American agents found l0
uranium ore mining sites in
after the war.
was the only place left in the
Japanese Empire with enough electric power to continue a
project of this magnitude. Wilcox believes
kept this information secret in order to lure the Japanese into
an alliance against the Soviets after the war.
argument is based upon conjecture. While the book
makes interesting reading, the author
provides little in the way of hard
proof for his thesis. No eyewitness accounts are presented.
Wilcox believes that the Russian
captured all the scientists involved in the
Japanese effort. As with the
Makhijani and Kelly manuscript, Wilcox's work falls on the periphery of
legitimate postwar historical criticism surrounding the atomic bomb.24
Proponents and critics of America's actions in August 1945 have sparred for 40 years. The immediate reactions of a shocked world soon gave way to an analysis of the rationale of American leaders in their approach to end the war. Many participants in the events of the tense weeks and months leading to the atomic bombings opened the book on their perceptions of the decision and its impact on the postwar world. Without a doubt, these perceptions, when interpreted as being in conflict with official claims by American leaders, lent support to these opponents who believed the U.S. acted unwisely by dropping the atomic bombs. As time passed, other critics, interpreting the events from the perspective of hindsight, claimed the actions of U.S. officials regarding the atomic bomb decision were suspicious.
Back to Contents
bomb seared an indelible mark in the
American conscious with the dramatic revelation of its
power 40 years ago. Americans received
continual images of the destruction
at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as reminders of the horrors inflicted upon the
Japanese people. Since 1945, criticism mounted against the
decision to employ the bomb as opponents
attacked erroneous casualty
insistence on the unconditional surrender doctrine, and American paranoia about
Russian influence in
Supporters attempted to refute these
claims, arguing that U.S. leaders were faced with the most momentous decision in
history. The ensuing debate marred
credibility on an issue which, to this day, holds the
the world in the balance.
By 1960, initial panic waned concerning increased
atomic bomb related casualties in
In 1957, the
U.S. established the A-Bomb Casualty Commission. This
registered a quarter of a million survivors in
Hiroshima. By l960, nearly 90,000 had been
examined. Surprisingly, only 3,700
required treatment. Of this number
about 700 subsequently died, but merely a small number of these deaths
were directly attributed to the bomb or its after effects. The commission also
reported that no genetic defects appeared in 70,000 Japanese
children born in 1956. The fears subsided
but the questions remained.1
policy in 1945 argue that ". . .
myths have been perpetuated. . . a recount is long overdue" and charge that
Americans must know their
history, "warts and all."2 These critics, writing after
stated that the
operated from a series of false pretenses. First, both the U.S. and Japan knew
she was a defeated power prior to the bomb.
However, the U.S. stubbornly maintained adherence to the antiquated
policy of unconditional surrender. Second,
U.S. officials allowed a casualty myth to permeate American lore by
stating that the bomb prevented a massive human wave
assault, perhaps saving up to one million
American soldiers from oozing their
blood on Japanese soil. Third, the U.S. sought to badger the Russians,
but the plot backfired as the Soviets invested money and spies into atomic
research to keep abreast of western technological advancements.
reality, in 1945, American and allied leaders concentrated on the short-term
goal to destroy the Japanese designs in the Pacific. Prior to the summer of
1945, the atomic bomb remained an
undefinable factor in American
political and military planning. Further,
sincere scientific opposition came too late
to affect the employment of the bomb. The necessary secrecy of the Manhattan
Project permitted little military comment on the
bomb until a successful test proved the
awesome potential of the new weapon. Thus, planning continued for the
expected invasion of
the fall of 1945.
unconditional surrender doctrine posed problems
decision-makers. The American public viewed the
one of righteous vindication against the
instigators of the war. Any revision of the doctrine at a
time when the Japanese still seemed capable
of resistance made the U.S. appear to be operating from a position of
weakness. The image of the desperate
led many officials to discount any peace signals from
including the initiatives with the Russians in the summer of 1945.
is little doubt that the official casualty
estimates for Operation Olympic were much lower than the
figures recorded by Truman, Churchill, and
Stimson after the war.
However, it must be remembered that, in the
frenetic pace of events, particularly in June and July
1945, American leaders perceived a large
loss of life and much suffering if the
war continued on a conventional
Truman publicly stated later that he considered
the bomb as a legitimate weapon of war against an
In addition, these officials saw the bomb as
the first stage in an explosion of technology which would
complicate the postwar world. The fault lies in the
failure of these leaders to clarify the estimates in their published memoirs and
accounts of the decision which appeared in
the postwar years.
The estimate that up to
one million American casualties might occur in an assault
Japan is simply wrong. No planning documents or official estimates supported
such a view. The large number which
appeared by happenstance in June 1945 became a symbol of the unknown that
awaited U.S. forces which sat poised to conclude the war in a bloody struggle.
American leaders valued the lives of their
soldiers; Japanese officials were
willing to sacrifice their fighting men in
a hopeless cause. The sin of omission hurt
the reputation of these leaders and
stature in the postwar era.
The Russian question is the least convincing criticism. The
U.S. knew that the Soviets planned to enter
the war in the Pacific by mid-August 1945. However,
to believe that
leaders orchestrated the decision,
order, deployment, and execution of the atomic bomb to
prevent Russian participation in the war ignores the complicated planning
required in a military operation, particularly of this political magnitude.
(WRONG GJD) The time was
too compressed between the final decision to
use the bomb and the subsequent first
drop to alter the Russian designs to join the conflict. The more valid
criticism of U.S. actions with respect to
the Soviets lies in the
short-sighted view of the impact of the atomic weapon.
The pressures of the war and the sheer momentum of events
leaders from developing a policy to
or at a minimum lessen, the dangers from atomic
energy in the postwar years. Allied mistrust
and Russian suspicions of the West proved the
Alliance was always shaky.
Between April-August 1945, a maelstrom of forces gained speed and exploded over
the skies of
Japan. At first, few dared to question the
soundness of the decision to use atomic weapons to defeat
The new American
President, Harry S. Truman, and his closest advisors
willingly accepted the responsibility for unleashing the
greatest destructive force known to man. No
other decision was possible given the tenor of events and the
personalities involved. However, the barbs
leveled at Truman, Stimson, and
others since 1945 prick their wartime
argument regarding the bomb. As a result,
standing in the eyes of the world suffered after the
initial euphoria about the bomb subsided. The world had changed forever.
Wars end, and men come back from them into another world not of their knowing,
And strangers they to their own blood and bone, Who remember them before their going.
That time they knew the place, the world; As children tricked by a conjurer's illusion,
Children with puzzled eyes, and oddly old, Confused at their own sad confusion.3
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General H. H. Arnold, Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces -- Advocate of aerial bombardment. Viewed atom bomb as unnecessary.
Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy -- Member of Interim Committee. Reversed original support for bomb prior to its employment.
Dr. Vannevar Bush, Director, Office of Scientific Research and Development and chief scientist-administrator of the Manhattan District -- Long-time advocate of atomic energy research. Realized the awesome power of the bomb but failed to persuade Truman to cooperate with the Russians in atomic energy.
James F. Byrnes, Director of the Office of War Mobilization and Secretary of State -- Pro unconditional surrender policy. His efforts prevented consideration of relaxed war aims against Japan.
Winston S. Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain -- Believed the bomb had the potential to check Soviet and French influence in Europe.
Dr. James B. Conant, Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee -- Colleague of Dr. Vannevar Bush. Expressed similar views.
James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy -- Sympathetic to lessened unconditional surrender terms but failed to press the President for consideration of a new approach to the Japanese. Believed bomb should be placed under a united Nations trusteeship.
Joseph Grew, under Secretary of State -- Most vocal proponent of providing the Japanese a face-saving way out of the war. Aired his views to the President but could not overcome Byrnes' influence.
Major General Leslie R. Groves, Commanding General, Manhattan District -- As the man in charge of the Manhattan Project, he saw the bomb as a justifiable means to conclude the war.
Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations -- Skeptical of the bomb. Sought a naval blockade to conclude hostilities with Japan.
Admiral William H. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the President and presider over the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Combined Chiefs of Staff -- Man closest to the President who abhorred the direction the U.S. took with the bomb. After Hiroshima, Leahy felt U.S. was in a no-win predicament.
General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army -- Counseled political leaders that the initial cost of an invasion was about 40,000 casualties. After the war, he inexplicably cited the highly inflated
statistic of 500,000 to one million casualties.
John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War--Advanced a sensible approach to concluding the war in summer of 1945, but failed to win superiors' support. Politely rebuffed by Truman at critical 18 June 1945 meeting when he advocated use of bomb only after all other courses of action explored.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States -- Seemed destined to use bomb. Policies uuntil death indicated nothing otherwise.
Joseph Stalin, Dictator of the Soviet Union -- Probably knew little about weapon. Used issue of bomb to launch anti-West propaganda campaign.
Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War -- Most vocal member of administration after the war regarding decision to use bomb. Compelling argument supporting decision except for exaggerated casualty citation.
Dr. Leo Szilard, leading physicist with the Manhattan District -- Leading physicist who tried unsuccessfully to stop employment of bomb. Postwar views criticized decision.
Harry S. Truman, President of the United States -- Took full responsibility for decision. Saw bomb as a legitimate weapon of war. Rationale blemished with high casualty statistics.
Back to Contents
1"Can the Nazis 'Blow up Half the Globe'?" unnamed author, Newsweek, Vol. 22, No. 24, December 13, 1943, p. 32. This article, although concerned with German technical boasts, tolled an ironic note for the demise of the Axis powers.
2Richard N. Perle, "Setting the Record Straight," Defense 85, November 1985, p. 8.
3 James Kilpatrick, "Nuclear War Will Never Be
Waged," Potomac News, October 24, 1985.
4 Paul Boyer, "The Day You First Heard the News," New York Times, August 4, 1985.
1John C. Campbell, The United States in World Affairs, 1945-47. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947), pp. 16-17; John L. Harper, "Henry Stimson and the Origin of America's Attachment to Atomic Weapons," SAIS Review, No. 1330, Summer-Fall 1985, p. 12.
2Barton J. Bernstein, "The Quest for Security: American Foreign Policy and International Control of Atomic Energy, 1942-1 946," The Journal of American History, Vol. 50, No. 4, March 1974, pp. 1003-1 004. Hereafter cited as Bernstein, "Quest," JAH.
3Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, 2 Vols., Vol I, Years of Decision. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1955), p. 10. Hereafter cited as Truman, Memoirs.
4Ibid., pp. 10-11.
5Truman, Memoirs, I, p.11; FleetAdmiral William H. Leahy, I Was There. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1950), pp. 2-3, 483. Hereafter cited as Leahy, I Was There. James F. Byrnes, All in One Lifetime. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 186. Hereafter cited as Byrnes, Lifetime.
6J.G. Crowther and R. Whiddington, Science at War. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948), pp. 121, 127, 130. Hereafter cited as Crowther and Whiddington, Science at War. Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), p. 619. Hereafter cited as Stimson, On Active Service. Henry L. Stimson, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Harpers, February 1947. Reprinted in SAIS Review, No. 1330, Summer-Fall 1985, pp. 1, 2. Hereafter cited as Stimson, "Decision."
7Stimson, "Decision," p. 2; Crowther and Whiddington, Science at War, p. 130.
8Winston S. Churchill, Memoirs of the Second World War. (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1959), p. 71. Hereafter cited as Churchill, Memoirs. Francis L. Lowenheim, Harold D. Langley, and Manfred Jonas, editors, Roosevelt and Churchill: Their Secret Wartime Correspondence. (New York: Saturday Review Press/E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1975), pp. 85, 161. Hereafter cited as Lowenheim, Langley, and Jonas, Secret Correspondence. For a discussion of the British atomic energy research, see C.P. Snow, The New Men in Strangers and Brothers, Vol. II, (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, reprinted 1972).
9Lowenheim, Langley, and Jonas, Secret Correspondence, p. 71.
10Arjun Makhijani and John Kelly, "Target Japan: The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki," unpublished manuscript, National Archives Record Service (hereafter cited as NARS), Washington, D.C., pp. 3, 100. Hereafter cited as Makhijani and Kelly, "Target Japan"; Churchill, Memoirs, p. 580; Lowenheim, Langley, and Jonas, Secret Correspondence, p. 221.
11Lowenheim, Langley, and Jonas, Secret Correspondence, pp. 32-33; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, pp. 1004-1 006.
12Martin Sherwin, "The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War: U.S. Atomic Energy Policy and Diplomacy, 1941-1945." American Historical Review, Vol. 78, No. 4, October 1973, p. 960. Hereafter cited Sherwin, "Atomic Bomb," AHR; Lowenheim, Langley, and Jonas, Secret Correspondence, p. 573; Leahy, I Was There, pp. 265-266.
13Stimson, "Decision," p. 3; Sherwin, "The Atomic Bomb," AHR, p. 953.
14Stimson, "Decision," p. 3.
15Ibid., p. 5.
16Ibid., pp. 6-7.
17Barton J. Bernstein and Allen J. Matusow, editors, The Truman Administration: A Documentary History. (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 2. Hereafter cited as Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration.
1Brian L. Villa, "The U.S. Army, Unconditional Surrender and the Potsdam Declaration," The Journal of American History, Vol. 63, No. 1, June 1976, pp. 69-70. Hereafter cited as Villa, "The U.S. Army," JAH.
2Ibid., pp. 70-71.
3NARS, Record Group (RG) 218, ABC File 384 (Japan) Memorandum, "Pacific Strategy," Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC) 332/2, 23 April 1945; RG 218, Memorandum, "Defeat of Japan by Blockade and Bombardment," Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) 266/1, 18 April 1945.
4Ernest J. King, Fleet Admiral King, A Naval Record. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1952), pp. 620-623. Hereafter cited as King, Fleet Admiral King.
5The War Reports of General of the Army George C. Marshall, General H.H. Arnold, and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1947), pp. 243, 265. Hereafter cited as War Reports.
6King, Fleet Admiral King, pp. 620-623.
7War Reports, p. 437.
8Summary Report (Pacific War), The United States Strategic Bombing Survey. (Washington: Chairman's Office, 1 July 1946), p. 11. Hereafter cited as Strategic Bombing Survey.
9Ibid., pp. 15-21.
10War Reports, p. 440; H.H. Arnold, Global Mission. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1949), p 598.
11John P. Sutherland, "The Story General Marshall Told Me," United States News and World Report, Vol. 47, No. 18, pp. 52-53, November 2, 1959. Hereafter cited as Sutherland, "Marshall," USNWR.
12Strategic Bombing Survey, pp. 20-21.
13RG 218, JWPC 332/2.
14RG 218, JIC 266/1.
15RG 218, Report, "Japanese Surrender-Post War Resistance," JIC 181,29 March 1944.
16RG 218, JIC 181; RG 218, JWPC 332/2.
17RG 319, ABC File 384, Operations Division, Memorandum for the Strategy Section, 30 April 1945; RG 319, ABC File 384, "Brief G-2 Report," 25 May 1945.
19RG 319, ABC File 384, Joint Planning Staff, Memorandum, "Joint Chiefs of Staff Combined Planning of the WarAgainst Japan," 7 May 1944.
20Stimson, On Active Service, p. 632; RG 165, ABC File 384, "Army Orientation Fact Sheet," War Department, No. 71, 12 May 1945.
21Rufus E. Miles, Jr., "Hiroshima, The Strange Myth of Half a Million American Lives Saved," International Security, Vol. 10, No. 2, Fall 1985, pp. 124-126. Hereafter cited as Miles, "Myth," International Security; Villa, "The U.S. Army," JAH , pp. 81-88.
22RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum, "Basic Objectives of the Pacific War," 25 May 1945; RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum, "Basic Objectives of the Pacific War," 9 June 1945.
23Miles, "Myth," International Security, p. 126.
24RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum, "On Ending the Japanese War," undated. The date of the document is late May or early June 1945, based upon the priority placed on the War Department for a response. This memorandum is the source for the myth of half a million U.S. casualties predicted for the invasion of Japan.
28RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum, "On Ending the Japanese War," undated.
29RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum, "On Ending the Japanese War," 16 June 1945.
1Dr. Marlene J. Mayo, "An Accounting," Diamondhead, The University of Maryland Student Newspaper, August 8, 1985. Hereafter cited as Mayo, "Accounting;" RG 319, Memorandum, "Details of the Campaign Against Japan," JWPC 369/1, 15 June 1945; Miles, "Myth," International Security, p. 133. See Campaign Analysis, Olympic-Coronet: The Planned Invasion of Japan," Conference Group 9, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 29 March 1983.
2RG 319, ABC File 384, "Memorandum for the JCS," 14 June 1945.
3RG 319, ABC File 384, "Extracts of Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House, 18 June 1945 at 1530;" RG 218, Memorandum, "Details of the Plan Against Japan," JCS 924/16, 16 June 1945; RG 218, Memorandum, "Proposed Changes to the Details of the Campaign Against Japan," JCS 1388/1,20 June 1945; Peter Weyden, "Sudden Dawn," Washingtonian, Vol. 20, No. 10, July 1985, p. 90. Hereafter cited as Weyden, "Sudden Dawn."
4Truman, Memoirs, II, pp. 416-41 7.
7Stimson, "Decision," p. 8.
8Charles Mead, editor, The War Speeches of RT Hon Winston S. Churchill, 3 Vols. (Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1953), Vol. III, pp. 508-514.
9Makhijani and Kelly, "Target Japan," pp. 1-2, 48; Miles, "Myth," International Security, pp. 121, 138.
10Mayo, "Accounting;" Weyden, "Sudden Dawn," p. 183.
11 RG 165; OPD 704. Draft Cable, "Propaganda Release Regarding Casualties in the Pacific," 14 September 1945; Weyden, "Sudden Dawn," p. 89.
12RG 165, OPD 704, Memorandum, "Bureau of Public Relations to OPD," 8 May 1945; Roy E. Applebaum, James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugelas, and John Stevens, "Okinawa, The Last Battle," The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific. (Washington: Historical Division, Department of the Army, 1948), p. 490.
13Frank Davis, "Operation Olympic, The Invasion of Japan, 1 November 1945," Strategy and Tactics, No. 45, July/August 1974, pp. 9, 14-15. Hereafter cited as Davis, "Olympic."
14RG 165, OPD 704, Casualty Report Number III, Including Okinawa Campaign, 17 September 1945.
15Davis, "Olympic," p. 9.
16Stimson, "Decision," p. 9; RG 218, Report, Joint Intelligence Staff (JIS) 193, 30 July 1945; RG 218, JCS 1388/4, 11 July 1945; RG 218, JWPC 397, 4 August 1945; Mayo, "Accounting."
17RG 319, Extracts of Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House, 18 June 1945 at 1530; RG 218, JCS 1388/1.
18Miles, "Myth," International Security, p. 121.
19Chalmers Reports, "The Right Choice to Shorten World War II," Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 11, 1985.
1Sherwin, "Atomic Bomb," pp. 946-947; Mayo, "Accounting."
2Stimson, On Active Service, pp. 637-638; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, pp. 1008-1 01 3; Sherwin, "Atomic Bomb," AHR, p. 948.
3RG 319, Extracts of Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House, 18 June 1945, at 1530; GarAlperovitz, "The U.S. Was Wrong," New York Times, August 4, 1985.
4Alperovitz, "The U.S. Was Wrong," New York Times, August 4, 1985.
5Drew Middleton, "Was it Necessary to Drop Atom Bomb?" Navy Times, August 19, 1985.
6Alperovitz, "The U.S. Was Wrong," New York Times, August 4, 1985; Middleton, "Was it Necessary to Drop Atom Bomb?" Navy Times, August 19, 1985.
7RG 319, Extracts of Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House, 18 June 1945 at 1530; Louis Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, in Command Decisions. Kent Roberts Greenfield, General Editor. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959), pp. 407-408. Hereafter cited as Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Command Decisions; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, pp. 1014-1015.
8Stimson, On Active Service, pp. 640-641.
9Walter Millis, editor, The Forrestal Diaries with the collaboration of E. S. Duffield. (New York, Viking Press, 1951), pp. 94-95. Hereafter cited as Millis, Forrestal Diaries.
10Ibid, pp. 95-96.
11Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, p. 1014.
12Millis, Forrestal Diaries, pp. 95-96; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, pp. 1014-1044.
14Milis, Forrestal Diaries, pp. 95-96.
1 Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration, pp. 9-10.
2Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration, pp. 9-10; Stimson, On Active Service, p. 617.
3Sherwin, "Atomic Bomb," AHR, pp. 961-962; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, p. 1006; James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, Inc., 1970) pp. 457-459.
4Sherwin, "Atomic Bomb," AHR, pp. 961-962; Bernstein, "Quest," JAH, pp. 1008-1 009.
5Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration, pp. 10-13.
6Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration, pp. 13-15; Truman, Memoirs, I, p. 419; John J. Weltman, "Trinity: The Weapons Scientists and the Nuclear Age," SAIS Review, No. 1330, Summer-Fall 1985, p. 30. Hereafter cited as Weltman, "Trinity," SAIS Review.
7Truman, Memoirs, I, p. 419.
8Bernstein and Matusow, Truman Administration, pp. 16-20; Byrnes, Lifetime, p. 284.
9Weltman, "Trinity," SAIS Review, p. 30.
1Charles L. Mee, Jr., Meeting at Potsdam. (New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1975), pp. 86-87, 107. Hereafter cited as Mee, Meeting at Potsdam. Truman, Memoirs, II, p. 415.
2Truman, Memoirs, II, p. 420; Leslie R. Groves, Now It Can Be Told, The Story of the Manhattan Project. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), pp. 264-265. Hereafter cited as Groves, Now It Can Be Told.
3Mee, Meeting at Potsdam, pp. 88-89; Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Command Decisions, pp. 398-399; Truman, Memoirs, II, p. 415; Byrnes, Lifetime, p. 305.
4Groves, Now It Can Be Told, p. 265.
6Office of the Center for Military History (OCMH) File, "Interrogation of Japanese Officials on World War II," Interview with Hiroshi Shimomura, 3 March 1950; OCMH File, Interview with Premier Admiral Baron Suzuki, 26 December 1945.
8Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Command Decisions, p. 343.
9Groves, Now It Can Be Told. p. 265; Truman, Memoirs, II, p. 419.
10Churchill, Memoirs, p. 918.
11Sutherland, "Marshall, USNWR, p. 53.
12Truman, Memoirs, II, p. 416.
13RG 107, Stimson Safe File, Memorandum for the President, "Proposed Program for Japan," 2 July 1945.
14OCMH File, Interview with Premier Admiral Baron Suzuki, 26 December 1945.
15Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Command Decisions, pp. 405-406; Stimson, On Active Service, p. 13.
16Makhijani and Kelly, "Target Japan," p. 95; Groves, Now It Can Be Told, pp. 267-268, 272, 309; Sutherland, "Marshall," USNWR, p. 53.
17Leahy, I Was There, pp. 430-432.
18Michihiko Hachija, Hiroshima Diary, The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6 - September 30, 1945, translated and edited by Warner Wells. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1955), p. 1; OCMH File, Interview with Premier Admiral Baron Suzuki, 26 December 1945.
20Villa, "The U.S. Army," JAH, pp. 89-91; Byrnes, Lifetime, p. 285.
1Time, Vol. 46, No. l8, August 20, 1945, p. 19.
2Hanson W. Baldwin, "The Atomic Bomb and Future War," Life, Vol. No. 46, No. 18, pp. 17-20.
3Time, August 20, 1945, p. 20.
4Ibid, p. 42.
5War Reports, pp. 243, 655.
6War Reports, p. 440; Arnold, Global Mission, pp. 491-493.
7"Ike on Ike," Newsweek, November 11, 1963, p. 108.
8D. Clayton James, The Years of MacArthur, 3 Vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985), II, p. 775. Hereafter cited as James, MacArthur.
9Sutherland, "Marshall," USNWR, p. 52.
10James, MacArthur, II, pp. 775-776.
11"Was the A-Bomb on Japan a Mistake?" United States News and World Report, Vol. 49, No. 7, August 15, 1960, pp. 68-71. Hereafter cited as "Mistake," USNWR. Almost 15 years to the day following the first atomic bomb, U.S. News and World Report interviewed five men who participated in the historic project (James F. Byrnes, Lewis L. Strauss, Dr. Leo Szilard, Dr. Edward Teller, and Ralph A. Bard). During the course of the interviews, it is apparent that each one of these men agreed on several key points in retrospect. First, the Japanese were most likely beaten before the bomb. Second, the bomb could not be kept a secret due to espionage by the Soviets. Third, an arms race was inevitable. Despite this agreement, however, the interviews reveal a division of opinion on whether or not the bomb should have been used against Japan.
12Ibid., p. 75.
13Ibid., p. 71.
14Ibid., pp. 73-75.
15Leahy, I Was There, pp. 440-442.
16Ibid., p. 442.
17Groves, Now It Can Be Told, p. 324; Stimson, On Active Service, p. 634; Time, August 20, 1945, p. 42.
18Sutherland, "Marshall," USNWR, p. 52.
19War Reports, p. 149; "Mistake," USNWR, p. 65.
20Groves, Now It Can Be Told, pp. 264, 266; Weyden, "Sudden Dawn," p. 189.
21Stimson, On Active Service, pp. 628-629; Stimson, "Decision." p. 15.
22Makhijani and Kelly, "Target Japan," pp. 1-2, 8-13, 97.
23Groves, Now It Can Be Told, pp. 312-31 3.
24Robert K. Wilcox, Japan's Secret War. (New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1985). p. 15.
1"Life in Hiroshima Today," United States News and World Report, Vol. 44, No. 7, August 5, 1960. p. 78.
3George Herbert Clarke, editor, The New Treasury of War Poetry, Poems of the Second World War. (Freeport, New York: Book for Libraries Press, 1943), p. 224.
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