The REAL Reason America Used
Nuclear Weapons Against Japan (It Was Not To End the War Or Save
Atomic Weapons Were Not Needed to End the War
or Save Lives
14, 2012 "Information
- Like all Americans, I was taught that the U.S. dropped
nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end WWII and
save both American and Japanese lives.
of the top American military officials at the time said
Strategic Bombing Survey group, assigned by President Truman to
study the air attacks on Japan, produced a report in July of
on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported
by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved,
it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31
December 1945 and in all probability prior to 1 November
1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the
atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia
had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been
planned or contemplated.
(and later president) Dwight Eisenhower – then
Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces, and the officer who
created most of America’s WWII military plans for Europe and
Japan – said:
The Japanese were ready to
surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that
Newsweek, 11/11/63, Ike on Ike
noted (pg. 380):
[July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my
headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was
preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of
those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to
question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon
giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New
Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction,
apparently expecting a vigorous assent.
his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious
of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my
grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan
was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was
completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that
our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use
of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer
mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my
belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way
to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The
Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude….
Admiral William Leahy –
the highest ranking member of the U.S. military from 1942 until
retiring in 1949, who was the first de facto Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, and who was at the center of all major
American military decisions in World War II –
wrote (pg. 441):
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. The Japanese
were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the
effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with
lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are
frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to
use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the
barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in
that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and
agreed (pg. 65, 70-71):
MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what
the general public supposed …. When I asked General
MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was
surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I
asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no
military justification for the dropping of the bomb.
The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the
United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the
retention of the institution of the emperor.
Moreover (pg. 512):
Potsdam declaration in July, demand[ed] that Japan surrender
unconditionally or face ‘prompt and utter destruction.’
MacArthur was appalled. He knew that the Japanese would
never renounce their emperor, and that without him an
orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow,
because his people would never submit to Allied occupation
unless he ordered it. Ironically, when the surrender did
come, it was conditional, and the condition was a
continuation of the imperial reign. Had the General’s advice
been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and
Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.
Assistant Secretary of War John McLoy
noted (pg. 500):
always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese
government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had
referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional
monarch and had made some reference to the reasonable
accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese
government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe
that even in the form it was delivered, there was some
disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable
consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this
conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials
who had been closely associated with the decision of the
then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was
presented. I believe we missed the opportunity of
effecting a Japanese surrender, completely satisfactory to
us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs.
Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bird said:
think that the Japanese were ready for peace, and they
already had approached the Russians and, I think, the Swiss.
And that suggestion of [giving] a warning [of the atomic
bomb] was a face-saving proposition for them, and one that
they could have readily accepted.
In my opinion, the Japanese war was really
won before we ever used the atom bomb.
Thus, it wouldn’t have been necessary for us to disclose our
nuclear position and stimulate the Russians to develop the
same thing much more rapidly than they would have if we had
not dropped the bomb.
War Was Really Won Before We Used A-Bomb,
U.S. News and World Report, 8/15/60, pg. 73-75.
noted (pg. 144-145, 324):
definitely seemed to me that the Japanese were becoming
weaker and weaker. They were surrounded by the Navy. They
couldn’t get any imports and they couldn’t export anything.
Naturally, as time went on and the war developed in our
favor it was quite logical to hope and expect that with the
proper kind of a warning the Japanese would then be in a
position to make peace, which would have made it
unnecessary for us to drop the bomb and have had to
bring Russia in.
Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,”
stated publicly shortly before the nuclear bombs were
dropped on Japan:
war would have been over in two weeks. . . . The atomic bomb
had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.
Chairman of the U.S. Bombing Survey Paul Nitze
wrote (pg. 36-37, 44-45):
concluded that even without the atomic bomb, Japan
was likely to surrender in a matter of months. My
own view was that Japan would capitulate by November 1945.
without the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seemed
highly unlikely, given what we found to have been the mood
of the Japanese government, that a U.S. invasion of the
islands [scheduled for November 1, 1945] would have been
Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence Ellis Zacharias
when the Japanese were ready to capitulate, we went ahead
and introduced to the world the most devastating weapon it
had ever seen and, in effect, gave the go-ahead to Russia to
swarm over Eastern Asia.
Washington decided that Japan had been given its chance and
now it was time to use the A-bomb.
submit that it was the wrong decision. It was wrong on
strategic grounds. And it was wrong on humanitarian grounds.
Zacharias, How We Bungled the Japanese Surrender, Look,
6/6/50, pg. 19-21.
General Carter Clarke – the military intelligence officer in
charge of preparing summaries of intercepted Japanese cables for
President Truman and his advisors –
said (pg. 359):
we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do
it, and they knew that we knew we didn’t need to do it, we
used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs.
high-level military officers concurred.
commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval
Operations, Ernest J. King, stated that the naval blockade
and prior bombing of Japan in March of 1945, had rendered
the Japanese helpless and that the use of the atomic bomb
was both unnecessary and immoral. Also, the opinion of Fleet
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was reported to have said in a
press conference on September 22, 1945, that “The Admiral
took the opportunity of adding his voice to those insisting
that Japan had been defeated before the atomic bombing and
Russia’s entry into the war.” In a subsequent speech at the
Washington Monument on October 5, 1945, Admiral Nimitz
stated “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace
before the atomic age was announced to the world with the
destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into
the war.” It was learned also that on or about July 20,
1945, General Eisenhower had urged Truman, in a personal
visit, not to use the atomic bomb. Eisenhower’s assessment
was “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing .
. . to use the atomic bomb, to kill and terrorize civilians,
without even attempting [negotiations], was a double crime.”
Eisenhower also stated that it wasn’t necessary for Truman
to “succumb” to [the tiny handful of people putting pressure
on the president to drop atom bombs on Japan.]
officers were of the same mind. For example, General Sir
Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of
said to Prime Minister Churchill that “when Russia came into
the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get
out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the
that the atomic test was successful, Ismay’s private reaction
was one of “revulsion.”
Why Were Bombs Dropped on Populated Cities
Without Military Value?
military officers who favored use of nuclear weapons mainly
favored using them on unpopulated areas or Japanese military
targets … not cities.
example, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy Lewis
Strauss proposed to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal that a
non-lethal demonstration of atomic weapons would be enough
to convince the Japanese to surrender … and the Navy Secretary
agreed (pg. 145, 325):
proposed to Secretary Forrestal that the weapon should be
demonstrated before it was used. Primarily it was because it
was clear to a number of people, myself among them, that the
war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to
capitulate… My proposal to the Secretary was that the weapon
should be demonstrated over some area accessible to Japanese
observers and where its effects would be dramatic. I
remember suggesting that a satisfactory place for such a
demonstration would be a large forest of cryptomeria trees
not far from Tokyo. The cryptomeria tree is the Japanese
version of our redwood… I anticipated that a bomb detonated
at a suitable height above such a forest… would lay the
trees out in windrows from the center of the explosion in
all directions as though they were matchsticks, and, of
course, set them afire in the center. It seemed to me that a
demonstration of this sort would prove to the Japanese that
we could destroy any of their cities at will…
Secretary Forrestal agreed wholeheartedly with the
seemed to me that such a weapon was not necessary to
bring the war to a successful conclusion, that once
used it would find its way into the armaments of the world…
Contemporary documents show that Marshall felt “these
weapons might first be used against straight military
objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no
complete result was derived from the effect of that, he
thought we ought to designate a number of large
manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to
leave–telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such
document concerning Marshall’s views suggests, the question
of whether the use of the atomic bomb was justified turns …
on whether the bombs had to be used against a largely
civilian target rather than a strictly military
target—which, in fact, was the explicit choice since
although there were Japanese troops in the cities, neither
Hiroshima nor Nagasaki was deemed militarily vital by U.S.
planners. (This is one of the reasons neither had been
heavily bombed up to this point in the war.) Moreover,
targeting [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki] was aimed explicitly
on non-military facilities surrounded by workers’ homes.
Historians Agree that the Bomb Wasn’t Needed
agree that nuclear weapons did not need to be used to stop the
war or save lives.
historian Doug Long
Nuclear Regulatory Commission historian J. Samuel Walker has
studied the history of research on the decision to use
nuclear weapons on Japan. In his conclusion he writes, “The
consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to
avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a
relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the
bomb existed and that Truman and his advisors knew it.”
(J. Samuel Walker, The Decision to Use the Bomb: A
Historiographical Update, Diplomatic History, Winter
1990, pg. 110).
high-level politicians agreed. For example, Herbert Hoover
said (pg. 142):
Japanese were prepared to negotiate all the way from
February 1945…up to and before the time the atomic bombs
were dropped; …if such leads had been followed up,
there would have been no occasion to drop the [atomic] bombs.
Secretary of State Joseph Grew
noted (pg. 29-32):
light of available evidence I myself and others felt that if
such a categorical statement about the [retention of the]
dynasty had been issued in May, 1945, the surrender-minded
elements in the [Japanese] Government might well have been
afforded by such a statement a valid reason and the
necessary strength to come to an early clearcut decision.
surrender could have been brought about in May, 1945, or
even in June or July, before the entrance of Soviet Russia
into the [Pacific] war and the use of the atomic bomb, the
world would have been the gainer.
Why Then Were Atom Bombs Dropped on Japan?
dropping nuclear bombs was unnecessary to end the war or to save
lives, why was the decision to drop them made? Especially over
the objections of so many top military and political figures?
is that scientists
like to play with their toys:
September 9, 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of
the Third Fleet, was publicly quoted extensively as stating
that the atomic bomb was used because the scientists had a
“toy and they wanted to try it out . . . .” He further
stated, “The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment
. . . . It was a mistake to ever drop it.”
most of the Manhattan Project scientists who developed the atom
bomb were opposed to using it on Japan.
Einstein – an important catalyst for the development of the atom
bomb (but not directly connected with the Manhattan Project) –
great majority of scientists were opposed to the sudden
employment of the atom bomb.” In Einstein’s judgment, the
dropping of the bomb was a political – diplomatic decision
rather than a military or scientific decision.
some of the Manhattan Project scientists
wrote directly to the secretary of defense in 1945 to try to
dissuade him from dropping the bomb:
believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear
bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan
inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to
release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon
mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the
world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the
possibility of reaching an international agreement on the
future control of such weapons.
Political and Social Problems,
Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy files,
folder # 76, National Archives (also contained in: Martin
Sherwin, A World Destroyed, 1987 edition, pg. 323-333).
scientists questioned the ability of destroying Japanese cities
with atomic bombs to bring surrender when destroying Japanese
cities with conventional bombs had not done so, and – like some
of the military officers quoted above – recommended a
demonstration of the atomic bomb for Japan in an unpopulated
The Real Explanation?
In the years since the two atomic bombs were dropped on
Japan, a number of historians have suggested that the
weapons had a two-pronged objective …. It has been suggested
that the second objective was to demonstrate the new
weapon of mass destruction to the Soviet Union. By
August 1945, relations between the Soviet Union and the
United States had deteriorated badly. The Potsdam Conference
between U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Russian leader
Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill (before being replaced
by Clement Attlee) ended just four days before the bombing
of Hiroshima. The meeting was marked by recriminations and
suspicion between the Americans and Soviets. Russian armies
were occupying most of Eastern Europe.
Truman and many of his advisers hoped that
the U.S. atomic monopoly might offer diplomatic leverage
with the Soviets. In this fashion, the dropping of the
atomic bomb on Japan can be seen as the first shot of the
reported in 2005:
decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in
1945 was meant to kick-start the Cold War
rather than end the Second World War, according to two
nuclear historians who say they have new evidence backing
the controversial theory.
Causing a fission reaction in several kilograms of uranium
and plutonium and killing over 200,000 people 60 years ago
was done more to impress the Soviet Union than to
cow Japan, they say. And the US President who took
the decision, Harry Truman, was culpable, they add.
knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the
species,” says Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear
Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC,
US. “It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against
conventional explanation of using the bombs to end the war
and save lives] is disputed by Kuznick and Mark Selden, a
historian from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US.
studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives
suggest that Truman’s main motive was to limit
Soviet expansion in Asia, Kuznick claims. Japan
surrendered because the Soviet Union began an invasion a few
days after the Hiroshima bombing, not because of the atomic
bombs themselves, he says.
According to an account by Walter Brown, assistant to
then-US secretary of state James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a
meeting three days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima
that Japan was “looking for peace”. Truman was told by his
army generals, Douglas Macarthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and
his naval chief of staff, William Leahy, that there was no
military need to use the bomb.
“Impressing Russia was
more important than ending the war in Japan,” says Selden.
secretary of war, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he
was “fearful” that the US air force would have Japan so
“bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show
its strength”. He later admitted that “no effort was made,
and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender
merely in order not to have to use the bomb”. His foreign
policy colleagues were eager “to browbeat the
Russians with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our
hip”. General Leslie Groves, director of
the Manhattan Project that made the bomb,
testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that
Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on
that basis.” The day after Hiroshima was
obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with
the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment”.
last word to University of Maryland professor of political
economy – and former Legislative Director in the U.S. House of
Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and Special Assistant in
the Department of State –
most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers
of historians now recognize the United States did not need
to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945.
Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast
majority of top American military leaders in all three
services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and
Army Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of “liberals,” as
is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives
were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as
unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years
following World War II.
Instead [of allowing other options to end the war, such as
letting the Soviets attack Japan with ground forces], the
United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost
exactly the time that an August 8 Soviet attack had
originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on August 6 and
Nagasaki on August 9. The timing itself has obviously raised
questions among many historians. The available evidence,
though not conclusive, strongly suggests that the atomic
bombs may well have been used in part because American
leaders “preferred”—as Pulitzer Prize–winning historian
Martin Sherwin has put it—to end the war with the bombs
rather than the Soviet attack. Impressing the Soviets during
the early diplomatic sparring that ultimately became the
Cold War also appears likely to have been a significant
most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World
War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom
that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread
that … most Americans haven’t paused to ponder something
rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the
issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the
bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally
offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary
destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially
noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite
openly and publicly.
Shortly before his death General George C. Marshall quietly
defended the decision, but for the most part he is on record
as repeatedly saying that it was not a military
decision, but rather a political one.
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