Central Hiroshima, September 1945. The building at the centre is now the
Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
Did ‘The Bomb’ save lives?
“There were those who considered that the atomic bomb should
never have been used at all. I cannot associate myself with such
ideas… I am surprised that very worthy people—but people who in
most cases had no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front
themselves—should adopt a position that rather than throw this
bomb we should have sacrificed a million American and a quarter
of a million British lives…”
– Winston Churchill, August 1945.
Liberated prisoners of war were told that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki saved their lives. Of the 140,000 Allied prisoners of war captured by
the Japanese, 36,000 were located on the mainland of Japan at the end of the war.121
The atomic bombs dropped killed between 90,000－166,000 in Hiroshima and
60,000－80,000 in Nagasaki.122 Did killing so many Japanese civilians save Allied
military personnel lives?
Those who argue that the atomic bomb saved Allied lives mostly base their
argument on the American losses in Okinawa, where 12,513 were killed and 38,916
wounded. Taking into account experiences in Okinawa – along with Japan’s
inadequate defences due to the Allied firebombing and sea campaigns – the Joint
War Plans Committee provided a study to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 15 June 1945
estimating an invasion of Japan would result in 40,000 U.S. dead and 150,000
POW Research Network Japan.
“Frequently Asked Questions #1.” Radiation Effects Research Foundation.
wounded.123 Taking into those factors, the figures were revised down from 380,000
killed and 1.6 million casualties in an April 1945 report.124
Although Generals George Marshall and Douglas MacArthur signed documents
agreeing with the Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC) June 1945 estimate,125 there
was still some disparity between military chiefs’ estimates before invasion and the
later claims by politicians after the atomic bombs were dropped.
Even after being presented with the JWPC June report, on 18 June U.S. President
Truman came up with a figure of “250,000 to one million” casualties. When hearing
that phrase, General Marshall responded, “One quarter of a million would be the
minimum.” The term “as much as a million” phrase was added to the final draft by
Truman’s staff, so as to not appear to contradict an earlier statement by Secretary
of War, Henry L. Stimson.126
Some argue that, by dropping the atomic bombs, Japanese lives were saved.
General MacArthur’s staff provided an estimated range of American deaths
depending on the duration of the invasion. Based on as estimated 22:1 ratio of
Japanese to American deaths, a short-term invasion of two weeks would kill
200,000 Japanese and almost 3 million Japanese deaths if the fighting lasted four
months.127 Should the Soviets invade the northern island of Hokkaido, another
400,000 Japanese deaths might have occurred.128
The June 1945, JWPC’s revised estimates are a good indication of Japan’s ability
to defend its shores. By Japan’s own estimates, the Allied air raids killed 323,495
citizens.129 One raid alone on Tokyo 10 March 1945 destroyed 25 percent of the
city and 100,000 people. Operation Starvation – the mining of Japanese ports and
sea-lanes – along with the U.S. submarine blockade of merchant shipping, would
have starved Japan, forcing an earlier end to the war.130
The prisoners of war in Japan certainly experienced the effects of the blockade.
Many also saw the effects it had on the Japanese. Many observed that, while the
local Japanese starved, Red Cross parcels continued to arrive at their camps.
It was well known to prisoners of war that, should the Allies invade, then prisoners
of war could be executed. Some even point to a 1 August 1944 Japanese War
Ministry order to Formosa forces to execute POWs “...when an uprising of large
numbers cannot be suppressed without the use of firearms” or when the POW-camp
was in the combat zone, so “escapees from the camp may turn into a hostile fighting
force.”131 These orders mean exactly what they say. Prison guards were ordered to
MacEachin, Douglas J. The Final Months of the War With Japan. CIA’s Center for the Study of
Intelligence, December 1998 (CSI-98-10001). Part III, note 24.
Frank, Richard B. Downfall. The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York City: Penguin
Books, 1999. p.135–7.
Carroll, James. House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. p.48.
MacEachin, op cit., Part V: Did the SIGINT Picture Affect the Discussions at Potsdam?
Skates, John Ray. The Invasion of Japan: Alternative to the Bomb. University of South Carolina
Press, 2000. p.79.
Kirkendall, Richard Stewart. Harry’s Farewell: Interpreting and Teaching the Truman
Presidency. University of Missouri Press, 2004. pp.133–134.
Frank, op cit., pp.334–335.
United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (Pacific War). July 1, 1946.
See Photo 32 on page 380. The translation can be found at:
kill prisoners who became hostile. These orders were no different to how Japanese
prisoners of war were treated at Featherston Camp in New Zealand132 or Cowra in
New South Wales,133 which were also consistent with the Rules of War.
Nonetheless, in accordance with orders he received, Kanose Camp Commander
Hiroshi Azuma made repeated efforts to communicate with Allied officers under
his care to ensure that there was no hostility towards guards and locals to ensure
Another reason why some argue that the atomic bombs saved lives is that the
Japanese refused to surrender. Some argue that the code of Bushidō was deeply
ingrained and that surrender was never an option.134
Japanese militarism was aggravated by the many assassinations of those seeking
to reform military power during the Great Depression and some argue that
opposition to war was a much riskier endeavor.135 These arguments, however, fall
flat when one considers that the Japanese did negotiate a ceasefire with the Soviets
on 16 September 1939 after being routed in a bitter 4-month border dispute at
The Khalkhin Gol does highlight Japan’s opinion of its enemies. Japan did
consider American morale as “brittle and could be shattered by heavy losses in the
initial invasion.” Frank suggested, “American politicians would then gladly
negotiate an end to the war far more generous than unconditional surrender.”136 The
U.S. Department of Energy’s history of the Manhattan Project reinforces this
What appears strange about the actions of the United States in the lead up to the
dropping of the atomic bombs was how irrelevant communication with Japan was.
The 26 July 1945 Potsdam Declaration by Britain, the United States, and China
stated that, unless Japan surrender unconditionally, “The alternative for Japan is
prompt and utter destruction.” Truman and Churchill made no mention of their new
weapon to Japan. Stalin, however, was aware of it.
Outrage after WW2 grave plaques stolen. The New Zealand Herald, 30 August 2008.
Outbreak of Japanese Prisoners of War at Cowra, August 1944. National Archives of Australia.
Correll, John T. The Smithsonian and the Enola Gay. U.S. Air Force Association, 15 March 1994.
Retrieved 9 July 2012.
The Pacific War Research Society. Japan’s Longest Day. Oxford University Press, 2005. p.352.
Frank, Richard B. Why Truman Dropped the Bomb. The Weekly Standard, Aug 8, 2005, Vol.10,
No.44. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
Rezelman, David; F.G. Gosling and Terrence R. Fehner. Japan Surrenders, August 10–15, 1945.
The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History. U.S. Department of Energy.
Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender
Issued, at Potsdam, July 26, 1945
We - the President of the United States, the President of the National Government of the
Republic of China, and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, representing the hundreds of
millions of our countrymen, have conferred and agree that Japan shall be given an
opportunity to end this war.
The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of
China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets from the west, are poised to
strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the
determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to
The result of the futile and senseless German resistance to the might of the aroused free
peoples of the world stands forth in awful clarity as an example to the people of Japan. The
might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied
to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry and the method of life
of the whole German people. The full application of our military power, backed by our
resolve, will mean the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and
just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.
The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those
self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of
Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.
Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall
brook no delay.
There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have
deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist
that a new order of peace, security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible
militarism is driven from the world.
Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan’s warmaking power is destroyed, points in Japanese territory to be designated by the Allies shall
be occupied to secure the achievement of the basic objectives we are here setting forth.
The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out and Japanese sovereignty shall be
limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we
The Japanese military forces, after being completely disarmed, shall be permitted to return
to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives.
We do not intend that the Japanese shall be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation, but
stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited
cruelties upon our prisoners. The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the
revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of
speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall
Japan shall be permitted to maintain such industries as will sustain her economy and permit
the exaction of just reparations in kind, but not those which would enable her to re-arm for
war. To this end, access to, as distinguished from control of, raw materials shall be
permitted. Eventual Japanese participation in world trade relations shall be permitted.
The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these
objectives have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the
freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible
We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all
Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in
such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.
But the Potsdam Declaration was conditional. In exchange for demilitarization,
occupation, and punishment of war crimes, it provided many protections to allow
Japan to be a modern nation.
The Allies gave Japan 10 days to respond before the first atomic bomb was
dropped on Hiroshima. Some argue that the Potsdam Declaration was ignored by
Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister was quoted as using the term Mokusatsu (“to
ignore” or “to treat with silent contempt”) but there is much evidence that the
Japanese were scrambling to figure out what to do.
On 25 July, the day before the Potsdam Declaration was issued, Japan asked for a
diplomatic envoy led by Konoe to go to Moscow hoping to mediate peace in the
Pacific.138 Kanoe was supposed to bring a letter from the Emperor stating:
“His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily
brings greater evil and sacrifice of the peoples of all the belligerent powers,
desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated. But as long as
England and the United States insist upon unconditional surrender the
Japanese Empire has no alternative to fight on with all its strength for the
honour and existence of the Motherland…It is the Emperor’s private
intention to send Prince Konoe to Moscow as a Special Envoy…”139
In early August 1945, the cabinet was equally split between those who advocated
an end to the war on one condition, the preservation of the Kokutai, and those who
insisted on three other conditions:140
Leave disarmament and demobilization to Imperial General
No occupation of the Japanese Home Islands, Korea, or Formosa; and
Delegation to the Japanese government of the punishment of war
The ‘hawks’ consisted of General Korechika Anami, General Yoshijirō Umezu,
and Admiral Soemu Toyoda – led by Anami. The ‘doves’ were Prime Minister
Kantarō Suzuki, Naval Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Shigenori Tōgō – led by Tōgō.141
Aware of the stalemate, The Emperor made no move to change the government
position while he awaited a Soviet reply to Japanese peace feelers.142 These
diplomatic messages, which sought Soviet mediation and the retention of the
Emperor as head of state, were intercepted by the Allies.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Cambridge,
MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005. p.162.
Bix, Herbert P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
The Pacific War Research Society, op cit.
Bix, Herbert P. Japan’s Delayed Surrender: A Reinterpretation. Cambridge University Press,
1996. cited in Hogan, Michael J. Hiroshima in History and Memory. Cambridge University Press,
A more obvious problem faced by the Japanese leadership was that, by accepting
the Potsdam Declaration, there was the risk of facing war crimes. The Japanese
didn’t want to fight the Soviets again but had experience with them negotiating
peace terms. The Soviets may have been more condoning of war conduct. As the
Allies listened to intercepts, the Japanese weren’t aware of Stalin’s plans.
“For my part,
I consider that it will be found much better
by all Parties to leave the past to history,
especially as I propose to write that history.”
– Winston Churchill,
23 January 1948.
As agreed with the Allies at the Tehran Conference (November 1943) and the
Yalta Conference (February 1945), the Soviet Union promised to enter the Pacific
Theater within three months of the end of the war in Europe. That deadline was 9
It is telling that Chiang Kai-shek
signed the Potsdam Declaration and
not Stalin. The Chinese Nationalist
had already defeated the Chinese
communists and sent them on their
Long March to escape annihilation. It
is unknown whether he was aware of
the deal for the Soviet Union to enter
the war by 9 August.
Churchill’s attitude towards the
Soviet Union changed from distaste,
to pragmatic, to hostile. Churchill
was a vehement anti-Communist but,
when Hitler invaded the Soviet Photo 45: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
and Winston Churchill on the
Union, he famously stated, “If Hitler
portico of the Russian Embassy
invaded Hell, I would at least make a
during the Tehran Conference,
favourable reference to the Devil in
November 1943. Churchill was a
the House of Commons,” regarding
spectator as American and Russian
carved up the world between them.
his policy toward Stalin.143 Soon,
British supplies and tanks were
flowing to help the Soviet Union.144 Later, Churchill would insist that Stalin open
a front against Japan.
Churchill was more than pragmatic. He was the ultimate Machiavellian. He
effectively wanted the Soviet Union to suffer losses and for the Allies to claim
victory and the spoils.
But even Churchill knew that he couldn’t play the same trick twice on Stalin,
especially after the delay to open a western front against Germany. Roosevelt, who
entered the war after years of supplying Britain with arms, also knew that the
The Churchill Papers: Biography. Chu.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of WWII. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
1980. p.159. ISBN 0-688-03587-6.
Britain Empire was vulnerable against Japan. Churchill wanted to get the United
States into the war, which he did.
Churchill was understandably a spectator as early as the Tehran Conference. The
positioning of the United States and the Soviet Union was obvious. Whilst
Churchill encouraged Stalin to open a front against Japan, Roosevelt was concerned
by communist influence in the Far East.
As the Soviet troops served their purpose to hasten the surrender of Nazi
Germany, Churchill was concerned with the possibility that the celebrations would
soon be brutally interrupted.145 He concluded that the United Kingdom and the
United States should anticipate the Red Army ignoring previously agreed frontiers
and agreements in Europe, and prepare to “impose upon Russia the will of the
United States and the British Empire.”146 According to the Operation Unthinkable
plan ordered by Churchill and developed by the British Armed Forces, the Third
World War could have started on 1 July 1945 with a sudden attack against the
Soviet troops. The British Chiefs of Staff Committee rejected the plan as militarily
When the war in Europe ended, Churchill saluted the Whitehall crowd. “This is
your victory!” he exclaimed. The crowd replied, “No, it is yours!”
On the same day as the Potsdam Declaration, the United Kingdom General
Election Results were declared. Churchill was voted out of office and he then took
a back seat at Potsdam, much like he did since Tehran.
The Japanese were concerned with fighting the Soviets. They had already suffered
severe losses in 1939 at Khalkhin Gol and knew that the Soviets were brutal fighters
willing to suffer heavy losses. Had the Potsdam Declaration included the Soviet
Union, then Japan’s response would have almost certainly been different.
Instead, the Soviets invaded Manchuria on 9 August 1945, the day that the atomic
bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Truman knew the Russians would invade that day.
Instead of waiting for the Japanese leadership to gather their thoughts after the
first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb was dropped
only three days later.
The most telling admissions for the motives behind the dropping of the atomic
bombs came from Churchill. Winston Churchill was holidaying on the
Mediterranean when he heard of the bombing of Hiroshima. He said that he saw
the atom bomb as a way to keep Stalin in check.147
Imagine if, after three and a half years of the United States and Britain fighting
the Japanese, Japan would turn around and surrender to Stalin. Imagine how Chiang
Kai-shek would feel if communists claimed victory in China.
The Allies wanted Japan to surrender to them rather that the Soviet Union.
Anything else would be a disaster.
Fenton, Bob. The secret strategy to launch attack on Red Army. Telegraph, Issue 1124. 1 October
Operation Unthinkable: ‘Russia: Threat to Western Civilization.’ British War Cabinet, Joint
Planning Staff, Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 002 (11 August 1945.)
Lord Moran (Sir Charles Watson.) Churchill at War 1940 to 1945: the memoirs of Churchill’s
doctor. Carroll & Graf, 2002.
The Soviet Union had some intentions of occupying Hokkaidō.148 When a Soviet
general confronted Douglas MacArthur with this suggestion, MacArthur threatened
to use the atomic bomb.
So, where did this notion originate that the atomic bombs ended the war?
It appears that only the Allies support this view. After the war, Admiral Soemu
Toyoda said, “I believe the Russian participation in the war against Japan rather
than the atom bombs did more to hasten the surrender.”149 Prime Minister Suzuki
also declared that the entry of the USSR into the war made “the continuance of the
war impossible.”150 Upon hearing news of the event from Foreign Minister Tōgō,
Suzuki immediately said, “Let us end the war,” and agreed to finally convene an
emergency meeting of the Supreme Council to end the war.
Historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa wrote that the atomic bombings themselves were
not the principal reason for Japan’s capitulation but, instead, he contends that it was
the Soviet declaration of war on 8 August, which was allowed by the Potsdam
Declaration signed by the other Allies.151 The fact that the Soviet Union did not
sign this declaration gave Japan reason to believe that the Soviets could be kept out
of the war.152 Hasegawa’s view is that when the Soviet Union declared war on 8
August, it crushed all hope in Japan’s leading circles that the Soviets could be kept
out of the war, and/or allow reinforcement from Asia to the Japanese islands for the
“On the basis of available evidence, however, it is clear that the two atomic
bombs… alone were not decisive in inducing Japan to surrender. Despite
their destructive power, the atomic bombs were not sufficient to change the
direction of Japanese diplomacy. The Soviet invasion was. Without the
Soviet entry in the war, the Japanese would have continued to fight until
numerous atomic bombs, a successful allied invasion of the home islands,
or continued aerial bombardments, combined with a naval blockade,
rendered them incapable of doing so.”154
The Soviet Declaration of War would have upset Japan’s Ambassador to the
USSR, Naotake Sato. It is understandable if he felt manipulated. The third clause
Taking into account the refusal of Japan to capitulate, the Allies
approached the Soviet Government with a proposal to join the war against
Japanese aggression and thus shorten the duration of the war, reduce the
number of casualties and contribute toward the most speedy restoration of
Hasegawa, op cit.
Toland, John. The Rising Sun. Modern Library, 2003. p.807.
Bunting, Edward. World War II Day by Day. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2001. p.652.
Hasegawa, op cit. p.298.
Hasegawa, op cit. p.178.
Hasegawa, op cit. Chapters 6-7.
Hasegawa, op cit. p.298.
Soviet Declaration of War on Japan, 8 August 1945.
The official British history, The War Against Japan, also states that the Soviet
declaration of war “brought home to all members of the Supreme Council the
realization that the last hope of a negotiated peace had gone and there was no
alternative but to accept the Allied terms sooner or later.”
“Sooner or later” is a moot point. The Allies could have waited.
It appears that Japan was willing to surrender to the Soviets before the Soviet
Union invaded Manchuria but preferred to surrender to the Allies instead of facing
a hostile Stalin. The Japanese leadership, including the “one condition” faction led
by Tōgō, seized on the atomic bombs as a decisive justification to accept the Allies’
Potsdam Declaration. Hisatsune Sakomizu, the chief Cabinet secretary in 1945,
called the bombing “a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the
MacArthur biographer William Manchester has described MacArthur’s reaction
to the issuance by the Allies of the Potsdam Proclamation to Japan:
“...the 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.”157
In an interview between Norman Cousins and MacArthur, he claims:
“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.” 158
Konoe said that Japanese resistance would have continued through November or
December 1945 if the atomic bombs were not dropped.159 This position
acknowledges the effect Operation Starvation had on Mainland Japan.
Many other U.S. military officers disagreed with the necessity to use the atomic
bombs. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy – the Chief of Staff to the President – said:
“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
Kristof, Nicholas D. Blood On Our Hands? New York Times, 5 August 2003.
Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964. Little, Brown, and
Company, 1978. p.512.
Cousins, Norman. The Pathology of Power. W. W. Norton and Company, 1988. pp.65, 70–71.
Gentile, Gian P. How Effective is Strategic Bombing?—Lessons Learned from World War II to
Kosovo. NYU Press, 1 December 2000. p.116.
effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional
“The 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
Brigadier General Carter Clarke – the military intelligence officer who prepared
intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials – was more forthright:
“...when 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.”161
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz – Commander of the Pacific Fleet (and commander
of the airbases that the atomic strikes were launched – was succinct:
“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.” 162
Nimitz would later say:
“The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of
view, in the defeat of Japan.”
Ultimately, the decision to drop the bomb was by a U.S. President who was only
aware of the Manhattan Project since 12 April 1945 – shortly after being sworn in
after the death of Roosevelt.
In a memorandum for Major General L.R. Groves, which recorded the minutes of
a 10-11 May 1945 Los Alamos meeting of the Target Committee, it states: 163
6. Status of Targets
A. Dr. Stearns described the work he had done on target selection. He has
surveyed possible targets possessing the following qualification: (1) they
be important targets in a large urban area of more than three miles in
diameter, (2) they be capable of being damaged effectively by a blast, and
(3) they are unlikely to be attacked by next August. Dr. Stearns had a list
of five targets which the Air Force would be willing to reserve for our use
unless unforeseen circumstances arise. These targets are:
(1) Kyoto – This target is an urban industrial area with a population of
1,000,000. It is the former capital of Japan and many people and
industries are now being moved there as other areas are being
destroyed. From the psychological point of view there is the advantage
Leahy, William. I Was There. Ayer Co Pub, 1979. p.441.
Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb. Vintage, 1996. p.359.
Speech given at the Washington Monument on October 5, 1945.
Source: U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Office of the Chief of
Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, TS Manhattan Project File 42-46, folder 5D Selection of
Targets, 2 Notes on Target Committee Meetings.
that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are
more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget.
(Classified as an AA Target)
(2) Hiroshima – This is an important army depot and port of embarkation
in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and
it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively
damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a
focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage.
Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target. (Classified as an AA
(3) Yokohama – This target is an important urban industrial area which
has so far been untouched. Industrial activities include aircraft
manufacture, machine tools, docks, electrical equipment and oil
refineries. As the damage to Tokyo has increased additional industries
have moved to Yokohama. It has the disadvantage of the most
important target areas being separated by a large body of water and of
being in the heaviest anti-aircraft concentration in Japan. For us it has
the advantage as an alternate target for use in case of bad weather of
being rather far removed from the other targets considered. (Classified
as an A Target)
(4) Kokura Arsenal – This is one of the largest arsenals in Japan and is
surrounded by urban industrial structures. The arsenal is important for
light ordnance, anti-aircraft and beach head defence materials. The
dimensions of the arsenal are 4100’ x 2000’. The dimensions are such
that if the bomb were properly placed full advantage could be taken of
the higher pressures immediately underneath the bomb for destroying
the more solid structures and at the same time considerable blast
damage could be done to more feeble structures further away.
(Classified as an A Target)
(5) Niigata – This is a port of embarkation on the N.W. coast of Honshu.
Its importance is increasing as other ports are damaged. Machine tool
industries are located there and it is a potential center for industrial
despersion. It has oil refineries and storage. (Classified as a B Target)
(6) The possibility of bombing the Emperor’s Palace was discussed. It was
agreed that we should not recommend it but that any action for this
bombing should come from authorities on military policy. It was
agreed that we should obtain information from which we could
determine the effectiveness of our weapon against this target.
7. Psychological Factors in Target Selection
A. It was agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great
importance. Two aspects of this are (1) obtaining the greatest
psychological effect against Japan and (2) making the initial use
sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be
internationally recognized when publicity on it is released.
B. In this respect Kyoto has the advantage of the people being more highly
intelligent and hence better able to appreciate the significance of the
weapon. Hiroshima has the advantage of being such a size and with
possible focussing from nearby mountains that a large fraction of the city
may be destroyed. The Emperor’s palace in Tokyo has a greater fame than
any other target but is of least strategic value.
Effectively, the rationale of the Target Committee of the Manhattan Project
advising Truman was to terrorize the Japanese by bombing an intellectual city. How
can an intellectual fully grasp whether something is “sufficiently spectacular” if
they are vaporized?
The report wanted a large urban area that had not previously been bombed so
“clean data” could be collected. More appallingly, the report wanted the targets to
have small military targets “in a much larger area subject to blast damage in order
to avoid undue risks of the weapon being lost due to bad placing of the bomb.”
Many scientists on the Manhattan Project provided their expertise due to the threat
of an Axis nation developing an atomic bomb first. The decision by Roosevelt to
initiate the Manhattan Project was in response to the 2 August 1939 Einstein–
Szilárd letter which warned of the potential development of “extremely powerful
bombs of a new type.”164
Leo Szilárd, who wrote most of the Einstein–Szilárd letter, later became
concerned by the eagerness of military leaders to test the new ‘gadget’ on a civilian
population. He was not alone. The Franck report of 11 June 1945165 urged that the
bomb be demonstrated “before the eyes of representatives of all United Nations, on
the desert or a barren island.”
On 16 June 1945, The Scientific Panel responded:
“The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these
weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely
technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to
induce surrender…[We] see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.”
The loaded language of this panel – which included A. H. Compton, E. O.
Lawrence, J. R. Oppenheimer, and E. Fermi – clearly favoured “military use,” even
“[As] scientific men, have no proprietary rights… [and] no claim to special
competence in solving the political, social, and military problems which are
presented by the advent of atomic power.”166
Leo Szilárd would go further and prepare a petition signed by 69 other Manhattan
Project scientists and present it to Truman. In the meantime, General Groves sought
ways to take action against him.167 Szilárd’s petition inspired a further 2 petitions
from 85 scientists at Oak Ridge, Tennessee calling for the power of the bomb to be
“adequately described and demonstrated” before use.168
Letter from Albert Einstein to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 2 August 1939. U.S.
Department of Energy, UChicago Argonne LLC. Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
(Franck Report) U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Manhattan Engineer District Records,
Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76.
Ibid. Decimal files, “201 (Szilard, Leo).”
Ibid. Oak Ridge petition, July 13, 1945. Oak Ridge petition, mid-July 1945.
Truman insisted that the effects of Japan witnessing a failed test would be too
great of a risk to arrange such a demonstration.169 Such a rationale does not take
into account the options of an unannounced demonstration off the coast of Japan or
the Japanese finding an undetonated atomic bomb in the centre of Hiroshima or
The quality of decision-making is troublesome. Harry S. Truman wrote in his
diary on 25 July 1945:
This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I
have told the Sec. of War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives
and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if
the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the
world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old
capital or the new.
He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will
issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m
sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. 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...170
But Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t military targets. Before the Japanese had the
opportunity to figure out what happened to Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb
was dropped on Nagasaki. The Target Committee chose those targets due to the
size and shape of the civilian area. Maybe Stimson and Truman were more
interested in putting on a show?
“I was a little fearful,” Stimson told Truman, “that before we could get
ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the
new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strength.”
To this the President laughed and said he understood.171
The irony in Truman’s diary entry was his perception of the Japanese as “savages,
ruthless, merciless and fanatic.” Truman stated two days after the Nagasaki bomb,
“The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to
bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a
beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.”172
Truman’s attitude towards the Japanese could be perceived as so extreme that it
contributed towards the ease that he allowed the use of the atomic bomb.
The Decision to Drop the Bomb. U.S. History Online Textbook. Independence Hall Association,
Ferrell, Robert H. Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman. New York: Harper and
Row, 1980. pp.55-56.
Kolko, Gabriel. The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945.
Random House, 1968. pp.539–40.
Weingartner, James J. Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead,
1941–1945. Pacific Historical Review, February 1992. University of California Press. Vol.61 (1).
Essential to the propaganda campaign against the Japanese, the United States used
images and vocabulary to dehumanize the enemy. Weingartner suggested, “The
widespread image of the Japanese as sub-human constituted an emotional context
which provided another justification for decisions which resulted in the death of
hundreds of thousands.”173
The U.S. propaganda campaign desensitized its military and civilians to Japanese
suffering. So disconnected to basic morality, American soldiers mutilated Japanese
corpses and collected skulls as trophies.
The benefit to Truman and Churchill of their electorates being apathetic to killing
“sub-humans” is that Stalin could see that the Allies weren’t worried about killing
so many people.
Undersecretary of the Navy Ralph A. Bard, in a 27 June 1945 memorandum to
Secretary of War Henry Stimson warned that use of the bomb without warning was
contrary to “the position of the United States as a great humanitarian nation,”
especially since Japan seemed close to surrender.174
Weingartner, op cit., p.67.
Franck Report, op cit., Interim Committee, International Control.
The United States strategy to use aerial bombing is a complete turnaround from
its earlier positions. Here is what President Roosevelt had to say at the beginning
of the war:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
on Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations,
September 1, 1939
The President of the United States
to the Governments of
France, Germany, Italy, Poland and His Britannic Majesty,
September 1, 1939
The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of
population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various
quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the
maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women, and
children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has
profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.
If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism during the period of the
tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted, hundreds of
thousands of innocent human beings who have no responsibility for, and
who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities which have now
broken out, will lose their lives. I am therefore addressing this urgent appeal
to every government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm
its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no
circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian
populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same
Rules of Warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents. I
request an immediate reply.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Before that diplomatic wire was sent, the Rules of War regarding aerial
bombardment were straightforward. It was illegal. On 14 March 1902 the United
States Senate ratified the Hague Convention 1899, which specifically forbid the use
of poisoned weapons, killing an undefended enemy, or employing material
calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.175 Furthermore, it prohibited the
bombarding of undefended towns, unless there is prior warning.176 The main effect
(Hague Convention) Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, The Hague,
July 29, 1899. Article XXIII a-d.
Ibid. Articles XXV & XXVI.
of the Convention was to ban the use of certain types of modern technology in war,
including bombing from the air, chemical warfare, and hollow point bullets.177
The second Hague Conference was called at the suggestion of U.S. President
Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, but postponed because of the war between Russia and
Japan. The U.S. Senate ratified the 1907 Convention on 10 March 1908. Here,
Declaration I extended Declaration II from the 1899 Conference to other types of
aircraft.178 This extension was signed, among the great powers, only by United
Kingdom, United States and Austria-Hungary.179
In 1938, the League of Nations declared for the “Protection of Civilian
Populations Against Bombing From the Air in Case of War.”180 The resolution
stipulated three principles:
The intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal;
Objectives aimed at from the air must be legitimate military objectives
and must be identifiable; and
Any attack on legitimate military objectives must be carried out in such
a way that civilian populations in the neighbourhood are not bombed
Although the United States never joined the League of Nations (and Japan left in
1933), the 1 September 1939 letter from Roosevelt mirrored the sentiment of the
The original two strategies considered by the senior U.S. brass for operations in
the Pacific were MacArthur’s ‘island-hopping’ campaign – a plan originally
devised by the U.S. Navy in 1897 (and Japan copied in 1941-42181) – and the
‘strategic bases’ campaign. What was eventually decided was a combination of the
The island-hopping campaign was the capture of lightly defended islands capable
of locating an airfield that, linked together with other similar islands, could bypass
and isolate enemy strongholds. The strategic bases plan would have simply
captured islands within bombing range of Japan and then bombed Japan into
submission. It was called ‘strategic bombing’, but by using incendiary bombing, it
is hard to argue that the Allies were targeting purely military targets. Most military
facilities were steel and concrete. Most Japanese civilian housing was wooden.
MacArthur’s plan tried to engage the enemy and recapture territory in accordance
with the Rules of War. The strategic bombing campaign was the sum of Roosevelt’s
By Potsdam, the Allies and the Soviets effectively ignored every moral high
ground they held, ignored every fundamental rule of war, yet insisted that Japanese
be held accountable for war crimes.
Ibid. Declarations I-III.
Declaration (XIV) Prohibiting the Discharge of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons. The
Hague, 18 October 1907. Source: International Committee of the Red Cross.
Austria-Hungary never ratified it, so this extension remained, practically, only a purpose.
Protection of Civilian Populations Against Bombing From the Air in Case of War, Unanimous
resolution of the League of Nations Assembly, 30 September 1938.
War in Aleutians. Life, 29 June 1942. pp.32.
The Allies proclaimed that Japan’s unprovoked attacks on 7 December 1941 were
undeclared acts of aggression. Yet the Allies did not quibble about the Soviet’s
declaration of war with Japan one hour before invading Manchuria.
The Allies proclaimed that Japan be held accountable for war crimes against
prisoners of war. The Allies, however, ignored Soviets in Manchuria raping,
looting, and massacring many Japanese while many others ended up in Siberian
prisons for up to 20 years.182, 183, 184, 185
What example does it set when the victors of war don’t abide by the same
standards that they applied to their defeated?
Effectively, the decision to drop the atomic bomb did not save Allied lives, nor
Japanese lives. The Allies blockaded Japan. The Allies could have simply sat back
and starved Japan into submission. Japan was willing and able to negotiate.
Negotiation, however, inconvenienced the Allied plans. By demonstrating the
power of their new gadget on a large population showed the Soviet Union the
lengths the United States were willing to take in the New World Order, even if it
was against everything the United States stood for, and at the expense of innocent
“I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not
so much because of any threat from without, but because of
the insidious forces working from within.”
– Douglas MacArthur
“In the councils of government,
we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence,
whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower,
17 January 1961
Kuramoto, K. Manchurian Legacy : Memoirs of a Japanese Colonist. East Lansing, Michigan
State University Press, 1990.
Jones, F. C. Manchuria since 1931. Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1949. p.221.
Shin’ichi, Y. Manchuria under Japanese Dominion. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania
Tamanoi, M A. Memory Maps : The State and Manchuria in Postwar Japan. Honolulu,
University of Hawai’i Press, 2009.