The Decision to Drop the Bomb

American soldiers and civilians were weary from four years of war, yet the Japanese military refused to give up their fight. American forces occupied Okinawa and Iwo Jima, but Japan still had 2 million troops in the home islands guarding against invasion.

For Truman, the choice whether or not to use the atomic bomb was the most difficult decision of his life. The bomb could end the war with Japan, but it would be the most terrible weapon ever known.

First, the Allies demanded an immediate unconditional surrender by the Japanese. The demand stated that refusal would result in total destruction, yet it did not mention any new weapons of mass destruction. The Japanese rejected the request for unconditional surrender, but hinted that a conditional surrender was possible.

On August 6, 1945, a U.S. plane dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Instantly, 70,000 Japanese citizens were killed. Another 100,000 died later from burns and radiation sickness.

Two days after the bombing, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 80,000 Japanese.

Five days later, Japan surrendered.

Not everyone believed that Truman made the right decision. Critics made the following claims:

  • The use of an atomic bomb was a barbaric act that had negative long-term consequences for the United States. The coming Cold War was marked by a dangerous arms race.
  • Japan was on the verge of surrender and therefore the bombings were unnecessary.
  • The bomb was a result of racism on behalf of the American government, which never would have used a nuclear device against white civilians.
  • American diplomats had ulterior motives. The Soviet Union had entered the war against Japan, and the atomic bomb was a message for the Soviets to tread lightly.

Truman stated that his decision to drop the bomb was purely military. He believed that the bombing saved both American and Japanese lives. He wanted to end the war quickly, since Japanese kamikaze raids had already brought great destruction and loss of American lives.

The ethical debate over the decision to drop the atomic bomb will never be resolved. The bombs did, however, bring an end to the most destructive war in history. The world is still dealing with the question of how to handle nuclear capabilities.

Source: The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Copyright ©2008-2022 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top