Deciding to Save Lives with the Atomic Bomb

Deciding to Save Lives with the Atomic Bomb

uring the crucial days and weeks in the summer of 1945, American officials from President Harry S. Truman on down, sought out a strategy to save as many U.S. soldiers and sailors lives as possible.  As one may well imagine, these officials were willing to use almost any measure to end what had become a fight to the finish against the forces of Imperial Japan.  The Germans forced America into manufacturing an atomic bomb that would change the history of the art of war.  Many factors played a part in the decision making process to use this new form of mass destruction.  Empathy combined with foresight allows you to forecast how others are likely to react or behave in different situations.  From Americas standpoint, this crucial development helped save thousands of American lives.  Despite the fact that thousands of human beings still died.

In the later part of 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a persuasive letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about concerns that he had that would affect mankind for the rest of eternity.  Einstein, and several of his colleagues explained to President Roosevelt that the Nazis of Germany were trying to purify U-235, also known as the separation of Uranium.  If the Nazis succeeded, they would be able to produce a weapon of mass destruction. America wanted to make sure that they kept their world dominance by producing this type of weapon first. To ensure that this goal was carried out, the Americans and British rapidly underwent the top secret Manhattan Project, also known as Tube Alloys in Great Britain.  Simply put, the Manhattan Project or Tube Alloys was committed to expedient research and production that would produce a viable atomic bomb.  From the time of its conception, to the actual employment of the weapon, the total spent was well over two billion tax paying dollars.  The Project involved two different styles of atomic bombs.  One bomb was filled with Uranium and the other with Plutonium.

The majority of concern from physicists working on the Manhattan Project was that their involvement might slaughter thousands of Japanese, including many innocent civilians.  It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb.  It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.   The formulas for refining Uranium and putting together a working bomb were created and seen to their logical ends by some of the greatest minds of our time.  Among these people who unleashed the power of the atomic bomb was J. Robert Oppenheimer. (Truman Library)  Mr.Oppenheimer was the director of the top secret development, but after witnessing the explosion with their own eyes, reactions among the scientists and engineers were inclusive.  This was a shock since everyone was first excited to produce a bomb with such a great magnitude of destruction.  Isidor Rabi felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset — as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited.  J. Robert Oppenheimer, though ecstatic about the success of the project, quoted a remembered fragment from Bhagavad Gita.  I am become Death, he said, the destroyer of worlds.   Ken Bainbridge, the test director, told Oppenheimer, Now we’re all sons of bitches. (Truman Library)

By the beginning of September 1944, Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade.  The Japanese military was still not willing to surrender.  If the decision could have been made by Japan’s civilian leaders or even the Japanese people, the war probably would have come quickly to an end, but unfortunately the decision was not theirs.  It lay in the hands of the military, and particularly in the hands of army leaders.  By this time the Japanese Navy had virtually ceased to exist, almost all its ships having become either unserviceable or having been sunk.  Leaders of the Japanese army and the Emperor had decided to fight on, whatever the cost, and thereby honor the Japanese military code of bushido (Truman Library)  The Japanese believed that the Emperor was a god sent to them to bring wisdom and direction.  During the summer of 1945, Germany was falling to the Allied forces and President Truman supervised the troop transformation back to America.  The troops were exhausted at this point and tired of fighting.  President Truman was trying to wrap up the war so he also met with the leaders of the Soviet Union and the prime minister of Great Britain to discuss the war effort in Japan.  He proposed the idea of dropping a weapon of great power on Japan to force them to surrender.  The world leaders concurred that for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.  They decided that the targets would be strategic or military in nature.  As World War II dwindled down, the majority of Americans supported President Trumans decision to drop the atomic bomb.  Truman and leading officials of his administration looked upon nuclear warfare as a positive good rather than terrible savagery.

(Long) President Harry S. Truman and his administrations decision to drop the atomic bombs were based on Japans inhumane assault on Nanking, China.  During the Japanese assault, over 100,000 innocent civilians were murdered, raped, starved, or mutilated without any military justification.  The Japanese armys demeanor during World War II was brutal, horrific, and evil.  The Japanese forced over 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war on a 50-mile death march over a period of four days without food or water.  The Japanese soldiers slaughtered anyone that straggled behind.  Prison camps were actually torture camps considering all the violations of human rights that took place within these compounds.  The prisoners were beaten, shot and beheaded; all violations of the Geneva Convention.  The “sneak attack”-without a declaration of war-by Japanese carrier planes upon Pearl Harbor (Truman Library) was still in the back of the minds of every American.  Over 20,000 Americans had already been killed between the two invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The Japanese forced Japanese civilians to be driven ahead of Japanese lines to take the initial fire of the Americans and to detonate mines along the way. (Truman Library)  Those tactics were again, the Japanese army at its best when faced with adversity.  If America had offered the following alternatives instead of dropping the atomic bomb, the war against Japan probably could have ended sooner and with fewer deaths on all sides.  We could have offered retention of their Emperor for an expedient surrender, threatened them with a Soviet invasion and then used atomic destruction as the last resort.  None of these key incentives to surrender were used prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

The decision to drop the bomb was also based off of the administrations homework.  The two benchmarks for the possible cost of invading the home islands were the American invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the spring and early summer of 1945. (Barlett)  The president publicly announced to the American public that the alternative to dropping the bomb would be a U.S. invasion on Japan.  There were estimates that the number of Japanese soldiers in Kyushu reached over one million in strength.  That means the Americans would have been outnumbered from the beginning. A working group that consisted of the Army and the Navy came up with estimates that 25,000 U.S. soldiers would be killed in an invasion of Kyushu on two fronts; 40,000 might die if an invasion on a single front was followed by invasion of the island of Honshu, on which Tokyo was located; and 46,000 deaths were estimated as a result of a two-front invasion of Kyushu followed by an invasion of Honshu. (Truman Library) Many Americans thought the calculations of the death toll for the projected invasion into Japan was based on an outrageous theory that they did not understand.  Nonchalant observers believed the numbers were dramatically fluctuated and that making the decision to drop the bomb was based off of hideous emotions towards the Japanese and the contemplated invasion was largely theory rather than actuality. (Reuters)  Many fleet commanders believed that these estimates were extremely low and estimated that the loss of U.S. casualties could reach up to 250,000.  Their main concern was the death of American soldiers.

From November 1944 to the end of the war in 1945, Japan was the focus of B-29s non-nuclear bombing.  When Air Force chief General Hap Arnold asked in June 1945 when the war was going to end, the commander of the B-29 raids, General Curtis LeMay, told him September or October 1945, because by then they would have run out of industrial targets to bomb.  By comparing the power of the Hiroshima bomb to the bomb loads of 2,000 B-29s, the leaflets that were dropped over Japan said that a new bomb would equal over 20,000 tons of TNT.  This, however, was a rough measurement. American military authorities did not know the TNT equivalent of the Hiroshima bomb and guessed it to equal that of the plutonium test device at Alamogordo.  The leaflets were implicitly comparing the Hiroshima bomb to the napalm used over Tokyo and other Japanese cities, which created firestorms and the depletion of oxygen rather than a blast effect. Earlier in the war, on the night of March 9-10, 1945, 279 B-29s dropped 500-pound clusters of small napalm bombs over Tokyo, burning out 10 square miles of the city, killing 80,000 people, injuring 41,000, and leaving 1 million homeless. By early August, B-29s had destroyed 105 square miles in the six major Japanese urban areas comprising 257 square miles.  By that time 240,000 Japanese had been killed, and 300,000 injured. (Nada)
Little Boy, a Uranium atomic bomb, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945; it weighed over four and half tons.  The point of total vaporization from the blast measured one half of a mile in diameter.  Total destruction ranged at one mile in diameter.  Severe blast damage carried as far as two miles in diameter.  At two and a half miles, everything flammable in the area burned.

The remaining area of the blast zone was riddled with serious blazes that stretched out to the final edge at a little over three miles in diameter. (Nada)  An additional ten square miles was destroyed, 60,000 Japanese were slaughtered and over 69,000 were wounded.  The U.S. dropped thousands of leaflets on many Japanese cities after the bombing of Hiroshima.  President Truman had hoped that the Japanese would evacuate their cities and slow down war production in Japan.  This was obviously not the case because Fat Man, a Plutonium atomic bomb, was dropped three days later on the city of Nagasaki.  The bomb missed its target by over one mile but still destroyed over half of the city.  The destruction of the blast slaughtered over 39,000 and wounded over 25,000 Japanese.  Physicists believed that neither bomb came close to reaching their potential.

After the initial blast from the atomic bomb, the downpour of radioactive particles layered the surrounding towns.  Many survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts succumbed to radiation poisoning due to this occurrence.  The atomic detonation also has the hidden lethal surprise of affecting the future generations of those who live through it.  Leukemia is among the greatest of afflictions that are passed on to the offspring of survivors. (Mytholyoke)  Many survivors who did not get caught in the initial blasts were overwhelmed with second and third degree burns.  With one small atomic bomb, a massive area’s communications, travel and machinery will grind to a dead halt due to the EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) that is radiated from a high-altitude atomic detonation.  These high-level detonations are hardly lethal, yet they deliver a serious enough EMP to scramble any and all things electronic ranging from copper wires all the way up to a computer’s CPU within a 50 mile radius.  All of these outcomes filled the American people with mixed emotions and unbelief.

The Japanese were given plenty of chances to surrender and accept the terms offered by the Americans.  The Japanese Emperor was very proud and strongly believed that Japan was going to win the war.  After the bomb was dropped on Nagasiki and Hiroshima, Japans will to fight was crushed and they reconsidered their position and accepted the terms.  In 1945, President Truman started an atomic war and he believed that atomic weapons were in a moral category separate from so-called conventional weapons and perhaps separate from biological and chemical methods of warfare.  He believed that in doing so, the U.S. was not committing an immoral act.  Japan had relinquished many of its citizens by conventional bombings but Japan was willing to fight until the last Japanese was swallowed up alive. Many Japanese citizens did not believe or realize that their country could no longer sustain its war effort against the U.S.  The devastating destruction of Tokyo and other cities still did not end the Japaneses will to fight.  The Postdam Ultimatum was issued on July 26, 1945.  The Premier of Japan scoffed at the surrendering terms and increased production of aircraft three days later.  On August 6th and 9th, Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped on two cities of Japan.

The second bomb proved the U.S had many more bombs of mass destruction waiting to be employed if considered necessary.  Japanese intelligence knew it could not stop Americas new weapon of choice.  Apparently, the second atomic bomb set the foundation for the Emperor to call for surrender.  The entire Japanese cabinet, including the military, all concurred with the decision to surrender.  The terms were accepted on August 14 1945.   The use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds of thousands-perhaps several millions- of lives, both American and Japanese; that without its use the war would have continued for many months; that no one of good conscience knowing, as Secretary Stimson and the Chiefs of Staffs did, what was probably ahead and what the atomic bomb might accomplish could have made any different decision.  The moral is a weapon of war is a destructive weapon.  That’s the reason none of us want war and all of us are against war, but when you have the weapon that will win the war, you’d be foolish if you didn’t use it… (Truman Library).

 

Works Cited

Long, Doug.  Hiroshima:  Was it Necessary?  28 Jan. 2002  Doug-Long.  Online.  Earthlink.  17 Feb. 2002.

Barlett, E.  Flames over Tokyo. 1991 The Non-atomic bombings of Japan. Online.  Earthlink.  17 Feb. 2002.

Foreign Policy.  13 Jan. 01 Mtholyoke.  Online.  Earthlink.  17 Feb. 2002.

Boyer, Paul.  By the Bombs Early Light.   1985  Reuters. Online.  Earthlink.  17 Feb. 2002.

Manhattan Project.  nd.  Nada.  Online. Earthlink.  17 Feb.  2002.

Ferrell, Richard.  Truman and the Bomb.  nd.  Truman Library.  Online.  17 Feb. 2002.

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