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The Atomic Bomb: Arguments in Support Of The Decision

reasons against dropping the atomic bomb

Note: This section is intended as an objective overview of the decision to use the atomic bomb for new students of the issue. For the other side of the issue, go here.

Argument #1: The Atomic Bomb Saved American Lives

The main argument in support of the decision to use the atomic bomb is that it saved American lives which would otherwise have been lost in two D-Day-style land invasions of the main islands of the Japanese homeland. The first, against the Southern island of Kyushu, had been scheduled for November 1 (Operation Torch). The second, against the main island of Honshu would take place in the spring of 1946 (Operation Coronet). The two operations combined were codenamed Operation Downfall. There is no doubt that a land invasion would have incurred extremely high casualties, for a variety of reasons. For one, Field Marshall Hisaichi Terauchi had ordered that all 100,000 Allied prisoners of war be executed if the Americans invaded. Second, it was apparent to the Japanese as much as to the Americans that there were few good landing sites, and that Japanese forces would be concentrated there. Third, there was real concern in Washington that the Japanese had made a determination to fight literally to the death. The Japanese saw suicide as an honorable alternative to surrender. The term they used was gyokusai, or, “shattering of the jewel.” It was the same rationale for their use of the so-called banzai charges employed early in the war. In his 1944 “emergency declaration,” Prime Minister Hideki Tojo had called for “100 million gyokusai,” and that the entire Japanese population be prepared to die.

For American military commanders, determining the strength of Japanese forces and anticipating the level of civilian resistance were the keys to preparing casualty projections.  Numerous studies were conducted, with widely varying results. Some of the studies estimated American casualties for just the first 30 days of Operation Torch. Such a study done by General MacArthur’s staff in June estimated 23,000 US casualties.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall thought the Americans would suffer 31,000 casualties in the first 30 days, while Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, put them between 31,000 and 41,000. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Chester Nimitz, whose staff conducted their own study, estimated 49,000 U.S casualties in the first 30 days, including 5,000 at sea from Kamikaze attacks.

Studies estimating total U.S. casualties were equally varied and no less grim.  One by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in April 1945 resulted in an estimate of 1,200,000 casualties, with 267,000 fatalities. Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, estimated 268,000 casualties (35%).  Former President Herbert Hoover sent a memorandum to President Truman and Secretary of War Stimson, with “conservative” estimates of 500,000 to 1,000,000 fatalities. A study done for Secretary of War Henry Stimson’s staff by William Shockley estimated the costs at 1.7 to 4 million American casualties, including 400,000-800,000 fatalities.

General Douglas MacArthur had been chosen to command US invasion forces for Operation Downfall, and his staff conducted their own study.  In June their prediction was American casualties of 105,000 after 120 days of combat.  Mid-July intelligence estimates placed the number of Japanese soldiers in the main islands at under 2,000,000, but that number increased sharply in the weeks that followed as more units were repatriated from Asia for the final homeland defense.   By late July, MacArthur’s Chief of Intelligence, General Charles Willoughby, revised the estimate and predicted American casualties on Kyushu alone (Operation Torch) would be 500,000, or ten times what they had been on Okinawa.

All of the military planners based their casualty estimates on the ongoing conduct of the war and the evolving tactics employed by the Japanese.   In the first major land combat at Guadalcanal, the Japanese had employed night-time banzai charges—direct frontal assaults against entrenched machine gun positions.  This tactic had worked well against enemy forces in their Asian campaigns, but against the Marines, the Japanese lost about 2,500 troops and killed only 80 Marines.

At Tarawa in May 1943, The Japanese modified their tactics and put up a fierce resistance to the Marine amphibious landings.  Once the battered Marines made it ashore, the 4,500 well-supplied and well-prepared Japanese defenders fought almost to the last man.  Only 17 Japanese soldiers were alive at the end of the battle.

On Saipan in July 1944, the Japanese again put up fanatical resistance, even though a decisive U.S. Navy victory over the Japanese fleet had ended any hope of their resupply.  U.S. forces had to burnthen out of holes, caves, and bunkers with flamethrowers. Japanese forces staged multiple banzai attacks. At the end of the battle the Japanese staged a final banzai that included wounded men, some of them on crutches.  Marines were forced to mow them down.  Meanwhile, on the north end of the island a thousand civilians threw committed suicide by jumping from the cliff to the rocks below after being promised an honorable afterlife by Emperor Hirohito, and after being threatened with death by the Japanese army. In the fall of 1944, Marines landed on the small island of Peleliu, just east of the Philippines, for what was supposed to be a four-day mission. The battle lasted two months. At Peleliu, the Japanese unveiled a new defense strategy. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, the Japanese commander, constructed a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions, and waited for the Marines to attack them, and they replaced the fruitless banzai attacks with coordinated counterattacks. Much of the island was solid volcanic rock, making the digging of foxholes with the standard-issue entrenching tool impossible. When the Marines sought cover and concealment, the terrain’s jagged, sharp edges cut up their uniforms, bodies, and equipment. The plan was to make Peleliu a bloody war of attrition, and it worked well. The fight for Umurbrogol Mountain is considered by many to be the most difficult fight that the U.S. military encountered in the entire Second World War. At Peleliu, U.S. forces suffered 50% casualties, including 1,794 killed. Japanese losses were 10,695 killed and only 202 captured. After securing the Philippines and delivering yet another shattering blow to the Japanese navy, the Americans landed next on Iwo Jima in February 1945, where the main mission was to secure three Japanese airfields. U.S. Marines again faced an enemy well entrenched in a vast network of bunkers, hidden artillery, and miles of underground tunnels. American casualties on Iwo Jima were 6,822 killed or missing and 19,217 wounded. Japanese casualties were about 18,000 killed or missing, and only 216 captured.  Meanwhile, another method of Japanese resistance was emerging.  With the Japanese navy neutralized, the Japanese resorted to suicide missions designed to turn piloted aircraft into guided bombs. A kamikaze air attack on ships anchored at sea on February 21 sunk an escort carrier and did severe damage to the fleet carrier Saratoga. It was a harbinger of things to come.

After Iwo Jima, only the island of Okinawa stood between U.S. forces and Japan. Once secured, Okinawa would be used as a staging area for Operation Torch. Situated less than 400 miles from Kyushu, the island had been Japanese territory since 1868, and it was home to several hundred thousand Japanese civilians. The Battle of Okinawa was fought from April 1 – June 22, 1945. Five U.S. Army divisions, three Marine divisions, and dozens of Navy vessels participated in the 82-day battle. The Japanese stepped up their use of kamikaze attacks, this time sending them at U.S. ships in waves. Seven major kamikaze attacks took place involving 1,500 planes. They took a devastating toll—both physically and psychologically. The U.S. Navy’s dead, at 4,907, exceeded its wounded, primarily because of the kamikaze.

On land, U.S. forces again faced heavily fortified and well-constructed defenses. The Japanese extracted heavy American casualties at one line of defense, and then as the Americans began to gain the upper hand, fell back to another series of fortifications. Japanese defenders and civilians fought to the death (even women with spears) or committed suicide rather than be captured. The civilians had been told the Americans would go on a rampage of killing and raping. About 95,000 Japanese soldiers were killed, and possibly as many as 150,000 civilians died, or 25% of the civilian population. And the fierce resistance took a heavy toll on the Americans; 12,513 were killed on Okinawa, and another 38,916 were wounded.

The increased level of Japanese resistance on Okinawa was of particular significance to military planners, especially the resistance of civilians. This was a concern for the American troops as well. In the Ken Burns documentary The War (2007), a veteran Marine pilot of the Okinawa campaign relates his thoughts at the time about invading the home islands:

By then, our sense of the strangeness of the Japanese opposition had become stronger. And I could imagine every farmer with his pitchfork coming at my guts; every pretty girl with a hand grenade strapped to her bottom, or something; that everyone would be an enemy.

Although the estimates of American casualties in Operation Downfall vary widely, no one doubts that they would have been significant.  A sobering indicator of the government’s expectations is that 500,000 Purple Heart medals (awarded for combat-related wounds) were manufactured in preparation for Operation Downfall.

Argument #1.1: The Atomic Bomb Saved Japanese Lives

A concurrent, though ironic argument supporting the use of the Atomic bomb is that because of the expected Japanese resistance to an invasion of the home island, its use actually saved Japanese lives. Military planners included Japanese casualties in their estimates.  The study done for Secretary of War Stimson predicted five to ten million Japanese fatalities.  There is support for the bomb even among some Japanese.  In 1983, at the annual observance of Hiroshima’s destruction, an aging Japanese professor recalled that at war’s end, due to the extreme food rationing, he had weighed less than 90 pounds and could scarcely climb a flight of stairs. “I couldn’t have survived another month,” he said.  “If the military had its way, we would have fought until all 80 million Japanese were dead.  Only the atomic bomb saved me.  Not me alone, but many Japanese, ironically speaking, were saved by the atomic bomb.”

Argument #1.2: It Was Necessary to Shorten the War

Another concurrent argument supporting the use of the Atomic bomb is that it achieved its primary objective of shortening the war. The bombs were dropped on August 6 and 9. The next day, the Japanese requested a halting of the war.  On August 14 Emperor Hirohito announced to the Japanese people that they would surrender, and the United States celebrated V-J Day (Victory over Japan).  Military planners had wanted the Pacific war finished no later than a year after the fall of Nazi Germany. The rationale was the belief that in a democracy, there is only so much that can reasonably be asked of its citizen soldiers (and of the voting public).

As Army Chief of Staff George Marshall later put it, “a democracy cannot fight a Seven Years’ war.” By the summer of 1945 the American military was exhausted, and the sheer number of troops needed for Operation Downfall meant that not only would the troops in the Pacific have to make one more landing, but even many of those troops whose valor and sacrifice had brought an end to the Nazi Third Reich were to be sent Pacific.  In his 2006 memoir, former 101st Airborne battalion commander Richard Winters reflected on the state of his men as they played baseball in the summer of 1945 in occupied Austria (Winters became something of a celebrity after his portrayal in the extremely popular 2001 HBO series Band of Brothers):

During the baseball games when the men were stripped to their waists, or wearing only shorts, the sight of all those battle scars made me conscious of the fact that other than a handful of men in the battalion who had survived all four campaigns, only a few were lucky enough to be without at least one scar.  Some men had two, three, even four scars on their chests, backs, arms, or legs. Keep in mind that…I was looking only at the men who were not seriously wounded.

Supporters of the bomb wonder if it was reasonable to ask even more sacrifice of these men. Since these veterans are the men whose lives (or wholeness) were, by this argument, saved by the bomb, it is relevant to survey their thoughts on the matter, as written in various war memoirs going back to the 1950s.  The record is mixed. For example, despite Winters’ observation above, he seemed to have reservations about the bomb: “Three days later, on August 14, Japan surrendered.  Apparently the atomic bomb carried as much punch as a regiment of paratroopers.  It seemed inhumane for our national leaders to employ either weapon on the human race.”

His opinion is not shared by other members of Easy Company, some of whom published their own memoirs after the interest generated by Band of Brothers.  William “Wild Bill” Guarnere expressed a very blunt opinion about the bomb in 2007:

We were on garrison duty in France for about a month, and in August, we got great news: we weren’t going to the Pacific.  The U.S. dropped a bomb on Hiroshima, the Japanese surrendered, and the war was over.  We were so relieved.  It was the greatest thing that could have happened. Somebody once said to me that the bomb was the worst thing that ever happened, that the U.S. could have found other ways.  I said, “Yeah, like what? Me and all my buddies jumping in Tokyo, and the Allied forces going in, and all of us getting killed?  Millions more Allied soldiers getting killed?”  When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor were they concerned about how many lives they took?  We should have dropped eighteen bombs as far as I’m concerned.  The Japanese should have stayed out of it if they didn’t want bombs dropped. The end of the war was good news to us.  We knew we were going home soon.

Those soldiers with extensive combat experience in the Pacific theater and with first-hand knowledge of Japanese resistance also express conflicting thoughts about the bomb. All of them write of the relief and joy they felt upon first hearing the news. William Manchester, in Goodbye, Darkness: a Memoir of the Pacific War, wrote, “You think of the lives which would have been lost in an invasion of Japan’s home islands—a staggering number of American lives but millions more of Japanese—and you thank God for the atomic bomb.”

But in preparation for writing his 1980 memoir, when Manchester visited Tinian, the small Pacific island from which the Hiroshima mission was launched, he reflected on the “global angst” that Tinian represents.  He writes that while the battle to take Tinian itself was relatively easy, “the aftermath was ominous.” It was also from Tinian that napalm was dropped on Japanese cities, which Manchester describes as “one of thecruelest instruments of war.”  Manchester continues:

This is where the nuclear shadow first appeared.  I feel forlorn, alienated, wholly without empathy for the men who did what they did.  This was not my war…Standing there, notebook in hand; you are shrouded in absolute, inexpressible loneliness.

Two other Pacific memoirs, both published decades ago, resurged in popularity in 2010, owing to their authors’ portrayal in another HBO mini-series, The Pacific (2010).  Eugene Sledge published his combat memoir in 1981.  He describes the moment when they first heard about the atom bomb, having just survived the Okinawa campaign:

We received the news with quiet disbelief coupled with an indescribable sense of relief.  We thought the Japanese would never surrender.  Many refused to believe it.  Sitting around in stunned silence, we remembered our dead.  So many dead.  So many maimed.  So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past.  So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us.  Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.

Robert Leckie, like Manchester, seems to have had conflicting feelings about the bomb in his 1957 memoir Helmet for my Pillow.  When the bomb was dropped, Leckie was recovering from wounds suffered on Peleliu:

Suddenly, secretly, covertly–I rejoiced. For as I lay there in that hospital, I had faced the bleak prospect of returning to the Pacific and the war and the law of averages. But now, I knew the Japanese would have to lay down their arms. The war was over. I had survived. Like a man wielding a submachine gun to defend himself against an unarmed boy, I had survived. So I rejoiced.

But just a paragraph later, Leckie reflects writes:

The suffering of those who lived, the immolation [death by burning] of those who died–that must now be placed in the scales of God’s justice that began to tip so awkwardly against us when the mushroom rose over the world…Dear Father, forgive us for that awful cloud.

 Argument #1.3: Only the Bomb Convinced the Emperor to Intervene

A third concurrent argument defending the bomb is the observation that even after the first two bombs were dropped, and the Russians had declared war, the Japanese still almost did not surrender. The Japanese cabinet convened in emergency session on August 7. Military authorities refused to concede that the Hiroshima bomb was atomic in nature and refused to consider surrender. The following day, Emperor Hirohito privately expressed to Prime Minister Togo his determination that the war should end and the cabinet was convened again on August 9. At this point Prime Minister Suzuki was in agreement, but a unanimous decision was required and three of the military chiefs still refused to admit defeat.

Some in the leadership argued that there was no way the Americans could have refined enough fissionable material to produce more than one bomb.  But then the bombing of Nagasaki had demonstrated otherwise, and a lie told by a downed American pilot convinced War Minister Korechika Anami that the Americans had as many as a hundred bombs. (The official scientific report confirming the bomb was atomic arrived at Imperial Headquarters on the 10th). Even so, hours of meetings and debates lasting well into the early morning hours of the 10th still resulted in a 3-3 deadlock.  Prime Minister Suzuki then took the unprecedented step of asking Emperor Hirohito, who never spoke at cabinet meetings, to break the deadlock. Hirohito responded:

I have given serious thought to the situation prevailing at home and abroad and have concluded that continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation and prolongation of bloodshed and cruelty in the world. I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer.

In his 1947 article published in Harper’s, former Secretary of War Stimson expressed his opinion that only the atomic bomb convinced the emperor to step in: “All the evidence I have seen indicates that the controlling factor in the final Japanese decision to accept our terms of surrender was the atomic bomb.”

Emperor Hirohito agreed that Japan should accept the Potsdam Declaration (the terms of surrender proposed by the Americans, discussed below), and then recorded a message on phonograph to the Japanese people.

Japanese hard-liners attempted to suppress this recording, and late on the evening of the 14th, attempted a coup against the Emperor, presumably to save him from himself. The coup failed, but the fanaticism required to make such an attempt is further evidence to bomb supporters that, without the bomb, Japan would never have surrendered. In the end, the military leaders accepted surrender partly because of the Emperor’s intervention, and partly because the atomic bomb helped them “save face” by rationalizing that they had not been defeated by because of a lack of spiritual power or strategic decisions, but by science. In other words, the Japanese military hadn’t lost the war, Japanese science did.

Atomic Bomb Argument 2: The Decision was made by a Committee of Shared Responsibility

Supporters of President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons point out that the President did not act unilaterally, but rather was supported by a committee of shared responsibility.  The Interim Committee, created in May 1945, was primarily tasked with providing advice to the President on all matters pertaining to nuclear energy.  Most of its work focused on the role of the bomb after the war.  But the committee did consider the question of its use against Japan.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson chaired the committee.  Truman’s personal representative was James F. Byrnes, former U.S. Senator and Truman’s pick to be Secretary of State.  The committee sought the advice of four physicists from the Manhattan Project, including Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer.  The scientific panel wrote, “We see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” The final recommendation to the President was arrived at on June 1 and is described in the committee meeting log:

Mr. Byrnes recommended, and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes; and that it be used without prior warning.

On June 21, the committee reaffirmed its recommendation with the following wording:

…that the weapon be used against Japan at the earliest opportunity, that it be used without warning, and that it be used on a dual target, namely, a military installation or war plant surrounded by or adjacent to homes or other buildings most susceptible to damage.

Supporters of Truman’s decision thus argue that the President, in dropping the bomb, was simply following the recommendation of the most experienced military, political, and scientific minds in the nation, and to do otherwise would have been grossly negligent.

Atomic Bomb Argument #3: The Japanese Were Given Fair Warning (Potsdam Declaration & Leaflets)

Supporters of Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb point out that Japan had been given ample opportunity to surrender. On July 26, with the knowledge that the Los Alamos test had been successful, President Truman and the Allies issued a final ultimatum to Japan, known as the Potsdam Declaration (Truman was in Potsdam, Germany at the time).  Although it had been decided by Prime Minster Churchill and President Roosevelt back at the Casablanca Conference that the Allies would accept only unconditional surrender from the Axis, the Potsdam Declaration does lay out some terms of surrender.  The government responsible for the war would be dismantled, there would be a military occupation of Japan, and the nation would be reduced in size to pre-war borders. The military, after being disarmed, would be permitted to return home to lead peaceful lives.  Assurance was given that the allies had no desire to enslave or destroy the Japanese people, but there would be war crimes trials.  Peaceful industries would be allowed to produce goods, and basic freedoms of speech, religion, and thought would be introduced.  The document concluded with an ultimatum: “We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces…the alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”  To bomb supporters, the Potsdam Declaration was m5ore than fair in its surrender terms and in its warning of what would happen should those terms be rejected.  The Japanese did not respond to the declaration. Additionally, bomb supporters argue that Japanese civilians were warned in advance through millions of leaflets dropped on Japanese cities by U.S. warplanes. In the months preceding the atomic bombings, some 63 million leaflets were dropped on 35 cities target for destruction by U.S. air forces. The Japanese people generally regarded the information on these leaflets as truthful, but anyone caught in possession of one was subject to arrest by the government. Some of the leaflets mentioned the terms of surrender offered in the Potsdam Declaration and urged the civilians to convince Japanese government to accept them—an unrealistic expectation to say the least.

Generally, the leaflets warned that the city was considered a target and urged the civilian populations to evacuate. However, no leaflets specifically warning about a new destructive weapon were dropped until after Hiroshima, and it’s also not clear where U.S. officials thought the entire urban population of 35 Japanese cities could viably relocate to even if they did read and heed the warnings.

Argument 4: The atom bomb was in retaliation for Japanese barbarism

Although it is perhaps not the most civilized of arguments, Americans with an “eye for an eye” philosophy of justice argue that the atomic bomb was payback for the undeniably brutal, barbaric, criminal conduct of the Japanese Army.  Pumped up with their own version of master race theories, the Japanese military committed atrocities throughout Asia and the Pacific. They raped women, forced others to become sexual slaves, murdered civilians, and tortured and executed prisoners. Most famously, in a six-week period following the Japanese capture of the Chinese city of Nanjing, Japanese soldiers (and some civilians) went on a rampage.  They murdered several hundred thousand unarmed civilians, and raped between 20,000-80,000 men, women and children.

With regards to Japanese conduct specific to Americans, there is the obvious “back-stabbing” aspect of the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. That the Japanese government was still engaged in good faith diplomatic negotiations with the State Department at the very moment the attack was underway is a singular instance of barbaric behavior that bomb supporters point to as just cause for using the atom bomb. President Truman said as much when he made his August 6 radio broadcast to the nation about Hiroshima: “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.”

The infamous “Bataan Death March” provides further rationale for supporters of this argument. Despite having a presence in the Philippines since 1898 and a long-standingstrategic plan for a theoretical war with Japan, the Americans were caught unprepared for the Japanese invasion of the main island of Luzon. After retreating to the rugged Bataan peninsula and holding out for months, it became evident that America had no recourse but to abandon them to their fate.   After General MacArthur removed his command to Australia under the cover of darkness, 78,000 American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese, the largest surrender in American history.

Despite promises from Japanese commanders, the American prisoners were treated inhumanely.  They were force-marched back up the peninsula toward trains and a POW camp beyond.  Along the way they were beaten, deprived of food & water, tortured, buried alive, and executed.  The episode became known at The Bataan Death March. Thousands perished along the way.  And when the survivors reached their destination, Camp O’Donnell, many thousands more died from disease, starvation, and forced labor.  Perhaps fueled by humiliation and a sense of helplessness, few events of WWII aroused such fury in Americans as did the Bataan Death March.  To what extent it may have been a factor in President Truman’s decision is unknown, but it is frequently cited, along with Pearl Harbor, as justification for the payback given out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to those who started the war. The remaining two arguments in support of the bomb are based on consideration of the unfortunate predicament facing President Truman as the man who inherited both the White House and years of war policy from the late President Roosevelt.

Argument 5: The Manhattan Project Expense Required Use of the Bomb

The Manhattan Project had been initiated by Roosevelt back in 1939, five years before Truman was asked to be on the Democratic ticket.  By the time Roosevelt died in April 1945, almost 2 billion dollars of taxpayer money had been spent on the project.  The Manhattan Project was the most expensive government project in history at that time.  The President’s Chief of Staff, Admiral Leahy, said, “I know FDR would have used it in a minute to prove that he had not wasted $2 billion.” Bomb supporters argue that the pressure to honor the legacy of FDR, who had been in office for so long that many Americans could hardly remember anyone else ever being president, was surely enormous. The political consequences of such a waste of expenditures, once the public found out, would have been disastrous for the Democrats for decades to come. (The counter-argument, of course, is that fear of losing an election is no justification for using such a weapon).

Argument 6: Truman Inherited the War Policy of Bombing Cities

Likewise, the decision to intentionally target civilians, however morally questionable and distasteful, had begun under President Roosevelt, and it was not something that President Truman could realistically be expected to roll back. Precedents for bombing civilians began as early as 1932, when Japanese planes bombed Chapei, the Chinese sector of Shanghai.  Italian forces bombed civilians as part of their conquest of Ethiopia in 1935-1936.  Germany had first bombed civilians as part of an incursion into the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, President Roosevelt was troubled by the prospect of what seemed likely to be Axis strategy, and on the day of the German invasion of Poland, he wrote to the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Great Britain.  Roosevelt said that these precedents for attacking civilians from the air, “has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.” He went on to describe such actions as “inhuman barbarism,” and appealed to the war-makers not to target civilian populations. But Germany bombed cities in Poland in 1939, destroyed the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 1940, and infamously “blitzed” London, Coventry, and other British cities in the summer and fall of the 1940. The British retaliated by bombing German cities.  Allied war leaders rationalized that to win the war, it was necessary to cripple the enemy’s capacity to make war. Since cities contained factories that produced war materials, and since civilians worked in factories, the population of cities (including the “workers’ dwellings” surrounding those factories) were legitimate military targets.

Despite Roosevelt’s “appeal” in 1939, he and the nation had long crossed that moral line by war’s end.  This fact perhaps reveals the psychological effects of killing on all of the war’s participants, and says something about the moral atmosphere in which President Truman found himself upon the President’s death. On February 13, 1945, 1,300 U.S. and British heavy bombers firebombed the German city of Dresden, the center of German art and culture, creating a firestorm that destroyed 15 square miles and killed 25,000 civilians.  Meanwhile, still five weeks before Truman took office; American bombers dropped 2,000 tons of napalm on Tokyo, creating a firestorm with hurricane-force winds.  Flight crews flying high over the 16 square miles of devastation reported smelling burning fleshbelow.  Approximately 125,000 Japanese civilians died in that raid.  By the time the atomic bomb was ready, similar attacks had been launched on the Japanese cities of Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe.  Quickly running out of targets, the B-29 bombers went back over Tokyo and killed another 80,000 civilians.  Atomic Bomb supporters argue that, although this destruction is distasteful by post-war sensibilities, it had become the norm long before President Truman took office, and the atomic bomb was just one more weapon in the arsenal to be employed under this policy.  To expect the new president, who had to make decisions under enormous pressure, to roll back this policy—to roll back the social norm—was simply not realistic.

 Sources Used and Recommended

This article is part of our larger educational resource on World War Two. For a comprehensive list of World War 2 facts, including the primary actors in the war, causes, a comprehensive timeline, and bibliography, click here.

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  • How Much Can One Individual Alter History? More and Less...
  • Why Did Hitler Hate Jews? We Have Some Answers
  • Reasons Against Dropping the Atomic Bomb
  • Is Russia Communist Today? Find Out Here!
  • Phonetic Alphabet: How Soldiers Communicated
  • How Many Americans Died in WW2? Here Is A Breakdown

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Course: US history   >   Unit 7

  • Beginning of World War II
  • 1940 - Axis gains momentum in World War II
  • 1941 Axis momentum accelerates in WW2
  • Pearl Harbor
  • FDR and World War II
  • Japanese internment
  • American women and World War II
  • 1942 Tide turning in World War II in Europe
  • World War II in the Pacific in 1942
  • 1943 Axis losing in Europe
  • American progress in the Pacific in 1944
  • 1944 - Allies advance further in Europe
  • 1945 - End of World War II

The Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb

  • The United Nations
  • The Second World War
  • Shaping American national identity from 1890 to 1945
  • The United States detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, killing 210,000 people—children, women, and men.
  • President Truman authorized the use of the atom bombs in an effort to bring about Japan’s surrender in the Second World War . In the days following the bombings Japan surrendered.
  • The Manhattan Project was the US government program during World War II that developed and built these first atomic bombs.
  • Detonation of these first nuclear bombs signaled arrival of a frightening new Atomic Age .

The Manhattan Project

Hiroshima and nagasaki, was the bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki necessary, what do you think.

  • David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 658-668.
  • See Kennedy, Freedom from Fear , 658-668.
  • See Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and The Origins of Our Time (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2013), 349.
  • See Katznelson, Fear Itself , 350.
  • Katznelson, Fear Itself , 614.

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The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II

atomic bomb

A Collection of Primary Sources

Updated National Security Archive Posting Marks 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings of Japan and the End of World War II

Extensive Compilation of Primary Source Documents Explores Manhattan Project, Eisenhower’s Early Misgivings about First Nuclear Use, Curtis LeMay and the Firebombing of Tokyo, Debates over Japanese Surrender Terms, Atomic Targeting Decisions, and Lagging Awareness of Radiation Effects

Washington, D.C., August 4, 2020 –  To mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the National Security Archive is updating and reposting one of its most popular e-books of the past 25 years. 

While U.S. leaders hailed the bombings at the time and for many years afterwards for bringing the Pacific war to an end and saving untold thousands of American lives, that interpretation has since been seriously challenged.  Moreover, ethical questions have shrouded the bombings which caused terrible human losses and in succeeding decades fed a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union and now Russia and others.

Three-quarters of a century on, Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain emblematic of the dangers and human costs of warfare, specifically the use of nuclear weapons.  Since these issues will be subjects of hot debate for many more years, the Archive has once again refreshed its compilation of declassified U.S. government documents and translated Japanese records that first appeared on these pages in 2005.

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Introduction

By William Burr

The 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 is an occasion for sober reflection. In Japan and elsewhere around the world, each anniversary is observed with great solemnity. The bombings were the first time that nuclear weapons had been detonated in combat operations.  They caused terrible human losses and destruction at the time and more deaths and sickness in the years ahead from the radiation effects. And the U.S. bombings hastened the Soviet Union’s atomic bomb project and have fed a big-power nuclear arms race to this day. Thankfully, nuclear weapons have not been exploded in war since 1945, perhaps owing to the taboo against their use shaped by the dropping of the bombs on Japan. 

Along with the ethical issues involved in the use of atomic and other mass casualty weapons, why the bombs were dropped in the first place has been the subject of sometimes heated debate. As with all events in human history, interpretations vary and readings of primary sources can lead to different conclusions.  Thus, the extent to which the bombings contributed to the end of World War II or the beginning of the Cold War remain live issues.  A significant contested question is whether, under the weight of a U.S. blockade and massive conventional bombing, the Japanese were ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped.  Also still debated is the impact of the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria, compared to the atomic bombings, on the Japanese decision to surrender. Counterfactual issues are also disputed, for example whether there were alternatives to the atomic bombings, or would the Japanese have surrendered had a demonstration of the bomb been used to produced shock and awe. Moreover, the role of an invasion of Japan in U.S. planning remains a matter of debate, with some arguing that the bombings spared many thousands of American lives that otherwise would have been lost in an invasion.

Those and other questions will be subjects of discussion well into the indefinite future. Interested readers will continue to absorb the fascinating historical literature on the subject.  Some will want to read declassified primary sources so they can further develop their own thinking about the issues. Toward that end, in 2005, at the time of the 60th anniversary of the bombings, staff at the National Security Archive compiled and scanned a significant number of declassified U.S. government documents to make them more widely available. The documents cover multiple aspects of the bombings and their context.  Also included, to give a wider perspective, were translations of Japanese documents not widely available before.  Since 2005, the collection has been updated. This latest iteration of the collection includes corrections, a few minor revisions, and updated footnotes to take into account recently published secondary literature.

2015 Update

August 4, 2015 – A few months after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, General Dwight D.  Eisenhower commented during a social occasion “how he had hoped that the war might have ended without our having to use the atomic bomb.” This virtually unknown evidence from the diary of Robert P. Meiklejohn, an assistant to Ambassador W. Averell Harriman, published for the first time today by the National Security Archive, confirms that the future President Eisenhower had early misgivings about the first use of atomic weapons by the United States. General George C. Marshall is the only high-level official whose contemporaneous (pre-Hiroshima) doubts about using the weapons against cities are on record.

On the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the National Security Archive updates its 2005 publication of the most comprehensive on-line collection of declassified U.S. government documents on the first use of the atomic bomb and the end of the war in the Pacific. This update presents previously unpublished material and translations of difficult-to-find records. Included are documents on the early stages of the U.S. atomic bomb project, Army Air Force General  Curtis LeMay’s report  on the firebombing of Tokyo (March 1945), Secretary of War Henry  Stimson’s requests  for modification of unconditional surrender terms,  Soviet documents  relating to the events, excerpts from the Robert P. Meiklejohn diaries mentioned above, and selections from the diaries of Walter J. Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State James Byrnes.

The original 2005 posting included a wide range of material, including formerly top secret "Magic" summaries of intercepted Japanese communications and the first-ever full translations from the Japanese of accounts of high level meetings and discussions in Tokyo leading to the Emperor’s decision to surrender. Also documented are U.S. decisions to target Japanese cities, pre-Hiroshima petitions by scientists questioning the military use of the A-bomb, proposals for demonstrating the effects of the bomb, debates over whether to modify unconditional surrender terms, reports from the bombing missions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and belated top-level awareness of the radiation effects of atomic weapons.

The documents can help readers to make up their own minds about long-standing controversies such as whether the first use of atomic weapons was justified, whether President Harry S. Truman had alternatives to atomic attacks for ending the war, and what the impact of the Soviet declaration of war on Japan was. Since the 1960s, when the declassification of important sources began, historians have engaged in vigorous debate over the bomb and the end of World War II. Drawing on sources at the National Archives and the Library of Congress as well as Japanese materials, this electronic briefing book includes key documents that historians of the events have relied upon to present their findings and advance their interpretations.

The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources

Seventy years ago this month, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and the Japanese government surrendered to the United States and its allies. The nuclear age had truly begun with the first military use of atomic weapons. With the material that follows, the National Security Archive publishes the most comprehensive on-line collection to date of declassified U.S. government documents on the atomic bomb and the end of the war in the Pacific. Besides material from the files of the Manhattan Project, this collection includes formerly “Top Secret Ultra” summaries and translations of Japanese diplomatic cable traffic intercepted under the “Magic” program. Moreover, the collection includes for the first time translations from Japanese sources of high level meetings and discussions in Tokyo, including the conferences when Emperor Hirohito authorized the final decision to surrender. [1]

Ever since the atomic bombs were exploded over Japanese cities, historians, social scientists, journalists, World War II veterans, and ordinary citizens have engaged in intense controversy about the events of August 1945. John Hersey’s  Hiroshima , first published in the New Yorker  in 1946 encouraged unsettled readers to question the bombings while church groups and some commentators, most prominently Norman Cousins, explicitly criticized them. Former Secretary of War Henry Stimson found the criticisms troubling and published an influential justification for the attacks in  Harper’s . [2] During the 1960s the availability of primary sources made historical research and writing possible and the debate became more vigorous. Historians Herbert Feis and Gar Alperovitz raised searching questions about the first use of nuclear weapons and their broader political and diplomatic implications. The controversy, especially the arguments made by Alperovitz and others about “atomic diplomacy” quickly became caught up in heated debates over Cold War “revisionism.” The controversy simmered over the years with major contributions by Martin Sherwin and Barton J. Bernstein but it became explosive during the mid-1990s when curators at the National Air and Space Museum met the wrath of the Air Force Association over a proposed historical exhibit on the Enola Gay. [3] The NASM exhibit was drastically scaled-down but historians and journalist continued to engage in the debate. Alperovitz, Bernstein, and Sherwin made new contributions as did other historians, social scientists, and journalists including Richard B. Frank, Herbert Bix, Sadao Asada, Kai Bird, Robert James Maddox, Sean Malloy, Robert P. Newman, Robert S. Norris, Tsuyoshi Hagesawa, and J. Samuel Walker. [4]

The continued controversy has revolved around the following, among other, questions:

  • were the atomic strikes necessary primarily to avert an invasion of Japan in November 1945?
  • Did Truman authorize the use of atomic bombs for diplomatic-political reasons-- to intimidate the Soviets--or was his major goal to force Japan to surrender and bring the war to an early end?
  • If ending the war quickly was the most important motivation of Truman and his advisers to what extent did they see an “atomic diplomacy” capability as a “bonus”?
  • To what extent did subsequent justification for the atomic bomb exaggerate or misuse wartime estimates for U.S. casualties stemming from an invasion of Japan?
  • Were there alternatives to the use of the weapons? If there were, what were they and how plausible are they in retrospect? Why were alternatives not pursued?
  • How did the U.S. government plan to use the bombs? What concepts did war planners use to select targets? To what extent were senior officials interested in looking at alternatives to urban targets? How familiar was President Truman with the concepts that led target planners chose major cities as targets?
  • What did senior officials know about the effects of atomic bombs before they were first used. How much did top officials know about the radiation effects of the weapons?
  • Did President Truman make a decision, in a robust sense, to use the bomb or did he inherit a decision that had already been made?
  • Were the Japanese ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped? To what extent had Emperor Hirohito prolonged the war unnecessarily by not seizing opportunities for surrender?
  • If the United States had been more flexible about the demand for “unconditional surrender” by explicitly or implicitly guaranteeing a constitutional monarchy would Japan have surrendered earlier than it did?
  • How decisive was the atomic bombings to the Japanese decision to surrender?
  • Was the bombing of Nagasaki unnecessary? To the extent that the atomic bombing was critically important to the Japanese decision to surrender would it have been enough to destroy one city?
  • Would the Soviet declaration of war have been enough to compel Tokyo to admit defeat?
  • Was the dropping of the atomic bombs morally justifiable?

This compilation will not attempt to answer these questions or use primary sources to stake out positions on any of them. Nor is it an attempt to substitute for the extraordinary rich literature on the atomic bombings and the end of World War II. Nor does it include any of the interviews, documents prepared after the events, and post-World War II correspondence, etc. that participants in the debate have brought to bear in framing their arguments. Originally this collection did not include documents on the origins and development of the Manhattan Project, although this updated posting includes some significant records for context. By providing access to a broad range of U.S. and Japanese documents, mainly from the spring and summer of 1945, interested readers can see for themselves the crucial source material that scholars have used to shape narrative accounts of the historical developments and to frame their arguments about the questions that have provoked controversy over the years. To help readers who are less familiar with the debates, commentary on some of the documents will point out, although far from comprehensively, some of the ways in which they have been interpreted. With direct access to the documents, readers may develop their own answers to the questions raised above. The documents may even provoke new questions.

Contributors to the historical controversy have deployed the documents selected here to support their arguments about the first use of nuclear weapons and the end of World War II. The editor has closely reviewed the footnotes and endnotes in a variety of articles and books and selected documents cited by participants on the various sides of the controversy. [5] While the editor has a point of view on the issues, to the greatest extent possible he has tried to not let that influence document selection, e.g., by selectively withholding or including documents that may buttress one point of view or the other. The task of compilation involved consultation of primary sources at the National Archives, mainly in Manhattan Project files held in the records of the Army Corps of Engineers, Record Group 77, but also in the archival records of the National Security Agency. Private collections were also important, such as the Henry L. Stimson Papers held at Yale University (although available on microfilm, for example, at the Library of Congress) and the papers of W. Averell Harriman at the Library of Congress. To a great extent the documents selected for this compilation have been declassified for years, even decades; the most recent declassifications were in the 1990s.

The U.S. documents cited here will be familiar to many knowledgeable readers on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki controversy and the history of the Manhattan Project. To provide a fuller picture of the transition from U.S.-Japanese antagonism to reconciliation, the editor has done what could be done within time and resource constraints to present information on the activities and points of view of Japanese policymakers and diplomats. This includes a number of formerly top secret summaries of intercepted Japanese diplomatic communications, which enable interested readers to form their own judgments about the direction of Japanese diplomacy in the weeks before the atomic bombings. Moreover, to shed light on the considerations that induced Japan’s surrender, this briefing book includes new translations of Japanese primary sources on crucial events, including accounts of the conferences on August 9 and 14, where Emperor Hirohito made decisions to accept Allied terms of surrender.

[ Editor’s Note: Originally prepared in July 2005 this posting has been updated, with new documents, changes in organization, and other editorial changes. As noted, some documents relating to the origins of the Manhattan Project have been included in addition to entries from the Robert P. Meiklejohn diaries and translations of a few Soviet documents, among other items. Moreover, recent significant contributions to the scholarly literature have been taken into account.]

I. Background on the U.S. Atomic Project

Documents 1A-C: Report of the Uranium Committee

1A . Arthur H. Compton, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Atomic Fission, to Frank Jewett, President, National Academy of Sciences, 17 May 1941, Secret

1B . Report to the President of the National Academy of Sciences by the Academy Committee on Uranium, 6 November 1941, Secret

1C . Vannevar Bush, Director, Office of Scientific Research and Development, to President Roosevelt, 27 November 1941, Secret

Source: National Archives, Records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Record Group 227 (hereinafter RG 227), Bush-Conant papers microfilm collection, Roll 1, Target 2, Folder 1, "S-1 Historical File, Section A (1940-1941)."

This set of documents concerns the work of the Uranium Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, an exploratory project that was the lead-up to the actual production effort undertaken by the Manhattan Project. The initial report, May 1941, showed how leading American scientists grappled with the potential of nuclear energy for military purposes. At the outset, three possibilities were envisioned: radiological warfare, a power source for submarines and ships, and explosives. To produce material for any of those purposes required a capability to separate uranium isotopes in order to produce fissionable U-235. Also necessary for those capabilities was the production of a nuclear chain reaction. At the time of the first report, various methods for producing a chain reaction were envisioned and money was being budgeted to try them out.

Later that year, the Uranium Committee completed its report and OSRD Chairman Vannevar Bush reported the findings to President Roosevelt: As Bush emphasized, the U.S. findings were more conservative than those in the British MAUD report: the bomb would be somewhat “less effective,” would take longer to produce, and at a higher cost. One of the report’s key findings was that a fission bomb of superlatively destructive power will result from bringing quickly together a sufficient mass of element U235.” That was a certainty, “as sure as any untried prediction based upon theory and experiment can be.” The critically important task was to develop ways and means to separate highly enriched uranium from uranium-238. To get production going, Bush wanted to establish a “carefully chosen engineering group to study plans for possible production.” This was the basis of the Top Policy Group, or the S-1 Committee, which Bush and James B. Conant quickly established. [6]

In its discussion of the effects of an atomic weapon, the committee considered both blast and radiological damage. With respect to the latter, “It is possible that the destructive effects on life caused by the intense radioactivity of the products of the explosion may be as important as those of the explosion itself.” This insight was overlooked when top officials of the Manhattan Project considered the targeting of Japan during 1945. [7]

Documents 2A-B: Going Ahead with the Bomb

2A : Vannevar Bush to President Roosevelt, 9 March 1942, with memo from Roosevelt attached, 11 March 1942, Secret

2B : Vannevar Bush to President Roosevelt, 16 December 1942, Secret (report not attached)

Sources: 2A: RG 227, Bush-Conant papers microfilm collection, Roll 1, Target 2, Folder 1, "S-1 Historical File, Section II (1941-1942): 2B: Bush-Conant papers, S-1 Historical File, Reports to and Conferences with the President (1942-1944)

The Manhattan Project never had an official charter establishing it and defining its mission, but these two documents are the functional equivalent of a charter, in terms of presidential approvals for the mission, not to mention for a huge budget. In a progress report, Bush told President Roosevelt that the bomb project was on a pilot plant basis, but not yet at the production stage. By the summer, once “production plants” would be at work, he proposed that the War Department take over the project. In reply, Roosevelt wrote a short memo endorsing Bush’s ideas as long as absolute secrecy could be maintained. According to Robert S. Norris, this was “the fateful decision” to turn over the atomic project to military control. [8]

Some months later, with the Manhattan Project already underway and under the direction of General Leslie Grove, Bush outlined to Roosevelt the effort necessary to produce six fission bombs. With the goal of having enough fissile material by the first half of 1945 to produce the bombs, Bush was worried that the Germans might get there first. Thus, he wanted Roosevelt’s instructions as to whether the project should be “vigorously pushed throughout.” Unlike the pilot plant proposal described above, Bush described a real production order for the bomb, at an estimated cost of a “serious figure”: $400 million, which was an optimistic projection given the eventual cost of $1.9 billion. To keep the secret, Bush wanted to avoid a “ruinous” appropriations request to Congress and asked Roosevelt to ask Congress for the necessary discretionary funds. Initialed by President Roosevelt (“VB OK FDR”), this may have been the closest that he came to a formal approval of the Manhattan Project.

Document 3 : Memorandum by Leslie R. Grove, “Policy Meeting, 5/5/43,” Top Secret

Source:  National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Army Corps of Engineers (hereinafter RG 77), Manhattan Engineering District (MED), Minutes of the Military Policy Meeting (5 May 1943), Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), Roll 3, Target 6, Folder 23, “Military Policy Committee, Minutes of Meetings”

Before the Manhattan Project had produced any weapons, senior U.S. government officials had Japanese targets in mind. Besides discussing programmatic matters (e.g., status of gaseous diffusion plants, heavy water production for reactors, and staffing at Las Alamos), the participants agreed that the first use could be Japanese naval forces concentrated at Truk Harbor, an atoll in the Caroline Islands. If there was a misfire the weapon would be difficult for the Japanese to recover, which would not be the case if Tokyo was targeted. Targeting Germany was rejected because the Germans were considered more likely to “secure knowledge” from a defective weapon than the Japanese. That is, the United States could possibly be in danger if the Nazis acquired more knowledge about how to build a bomb. [9]

Document 4 :   Memo from General Groves to the Chief of Staff [Marshall], “Atomic Fission Bombs – Present Status and Expected Progress,” 7 August 1944, Top Secret, excised copy

Source: RG 77, Correspondence ("Top Secret") of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, file 25M

This memorandum from General Groves to General Marshall captured how far the Manhattan Project had come in less than two years since Bush’s December 1942 report to President Roosevelt .  Groves did not mention this but around the time he wrote this the Manhattan Project had working at its far-flung installations over  125,000 people  ; taking into account high labor turnover some 485,000 people worked on the project (1 out of every 250 people in the country at that time). What these people were laboring to construct, directly or indirectly, were two types of weapons—a gun-type weapon using U-235 and an implosion weapon using plutonium (although the possibility of U-235 was also under consideration). As the scientists had learned, a gun-type weapon based on plutonium was “impossible” because that element had an “unexpected property”: spontaneous neutron emissions would cause the weapon to “fizzle.” [10]  For both the gun-type and the implosion weapons, a production schedule had been established and both would be available during 1945. The discussion of weapons effects centered on blast damage models; radiation and other effects were overlooked.

Document 5 : Memorandum from Vannevar Bush and James B. Conant, Office of Scientific Research and Development, to Secretary of War, September 30, 1944, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, Harrison-Bundy Files (H-B Files), folder 69 (copy from microfilm)

While Groves worried about the engineering and production problems, key War Department advisers were becoming troubled over the diplomatic and political implications of these enormously powerful weapons and the dangers of a global nuclear arms race. Concerned that President Roosevelt had an overly “cavalier” belief about the possibility of maintaining a post-war Anglo-American atomic monopoly, Bush and Conant recognized the limits of secrecy and wanted to disabuse senior officials of the notion that an atomic monopoly was possible. To suggest alternatives, they drafted this memorandum about the importance of the international exchange of information and international inspection to stem dangerous nuclear competition. [11]

Documents 6A-D: President Truman Learns the Secret:

6A : Memorandum for the Secretary of War from General L. R. Groves, “Atomic Fission Bombs,” April 23, 1945

6B : Memorandum discussed with the President, April 25, 1945

6C : [Untitled memorandum by General L.R. Groves, April 25, 1945

6D : Diary Entry, April 25, 1945

Sources: A: RG 77, Commanding General’s file no. 24, tab D; B: Henry Stimson Diary, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress); C: Source: Record Group 200, Papers of General Leslie R. Groves, Correspondence 1941-1970, box 3, “F”; D: Henry Stimson Diary, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress)

Soon after he was sworn in as president following President Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman learned about the top secret Manhattan Project from a briefing from Secretary of War Stimson and Manhattan Project chief General Groves, who went through the “back door” to escape the watchful press. Stimson, who later wrote up the meeting in his diary, also prepared a discussion paper, which raised broader policy issues associated with the imminent possession of “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history.” In a background report prepared for the meeting, Groves provided a detailed overview of the bomb project from the raw materials to processing nuclear fuel to assembling the weapons to plans for using them, which were starting to crystallize.

With respect to the point about assembling the weapons, the first gun-type weapon “should be ready about 1 August 1945” while an implosion weapon would also be available that month. “The target is and was always expected to be Japan.” The question whether Truman “inherited assumptions” from the Roosevelt administration that that the bomb would be used has been a controversial one. Alperovitz and Sherwin have argued that Truman made “a real decision” to use the bomb on Japan by choosing “between various forms of diplomacy and warfare.” In contrast, Bernstein found that Truman “never questioned [the] assumption” that the bomb would and should be used. Norris also noted that “Truman’s `decision’ was a decision not to override previous plans to use the bomb.” [12]

II. Targeting Japan

Document 7 : Commander F. L. Ashworth to Major General L.R. Groves, “The Base of Operations of the 509 th  Composite Group,” February 24, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5g

The force of B-29 nuclear delivery vehicles that was being readied for first nuclear use—the Army Air Force’s 509 th  Composite Group—required an operational base in the Western Pacific. In late February 1945, months before atomic bombs were ready for use, the high command selected Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas Islands, for that base.

Document 8 : Headquarters XXI Bomber Command, “Tactical Mission Report, Mission No. 40 Flown 10 March 1945,”n.d., Secret

Source: Library of Congress, Curtis LeMay Papers, Box B-36

As part of the war with Japan, the Army Air Force waged a campaign to destroy major industrial centers with incendiary bombs. This document is General Curtis LeMay’s report on the firebombing of Tokyo--“the most destructive air raid in history”--which burned down over 16 square miles of the city, killed up to 100,000 civilians (the official figure was 83,793), injured more than 40,000, and made over 1 million homeless.  [13]  According to the “Foreword,” the purpose of the raid, which dropped 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs, was to destroy industrial and strategic targets “ not  to bomb indiscriminately civilian populations.” Air Force planners, however, did not distinguish civilian workers from the industrial and strategic structures that they were trying to destroy.

The killing of workers in the urban-industrial sector was one of the explicit goals of the air campaign against Japanese cities. According to a Joint Chiefs of Staff report on Japanese target systems, expected results from the bombing campaign included: “The absorption of man-hours in repair and relief; the dislocation of labor by casualty; the interruption of public services necessary to production, and above all the destruction of factories engaged in war industry.” While Stimson would later raise questions about the bombing of Japanese cities, he was largely disengaged from the details (as he was with atomic targeting). [14]

Firebombing raids on other cities followed Tokyo, including Osaka, Kobe, Yokahama, and Nagoya, but with fewer casualties (many civilians had fled the cities). For some historians, the urban fire-bombing strategy facilitated atomic targeting by creating a “new moral context,” in which earlier proscriptions against intentional targeting of civilians had eroded. [15]

Document 9 : Notes on Initial Meeting of Target Committee, May 2, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5d (copy from microfilm)

On 27 April, military officers and nuclear scientists met to discuss bombing techniques, criteria for target selection, and overall mission requirements. The discussion of “available targets” included Hiroshima, the “largest untouched target not on the 21 st  Bomber Command priority list.” But other targets were under consideration, including Yawata (northern Kyushu), Yokohama, and Tokyo (even though it was practically “rubble.”) The problem was that the Air Force had a policy of “laying waste” to Japan’s cities which created tension with the objective of reserving some urban targets for nuclear destruction.  [16]

Document 10 : Memorandum from J. R. Oppenheimer to Brigadier General Farrell, May 11, 1945

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5g (copy from microfilm)

As director of Los Alamos Laboratory, Oppenheimer’s priority was producing a deliverable bomb, but not so much the effects of the weapon on the people at the target. In keeping with General Groves’ emphasis on compartmentalization, the Manhattan Project experts on the effects of radiation on human biology were at the MetLab and other offices and had no interaction with the production and targeting units. In this short memorandum to Groves’ deputy, General Farrell, Oppenheimer explained the need for precautions because of the radiological dangers of a nuclear detonation. The initial radiation from the detonation would be fatal within a radius of about 6/10ths of a mile and “injurious” within a radius of a mile. The point was to keep the bombing mission crew safe; concern about radiation effects had no impact on targeting decisions.  [17]

Document 11 : Memorandum from Major J. A. Derry and Dr. N.F. Ramsey to General L.R. Groves, “Summary of Target Committee Meetings on 10 and 11 May 1945,” May 12, 1945, Top Secret

Scientists and officers held further discussion of bombing mission requirements, including height of detonation, weather, radiation effects (Oppenheimer’s memo), plans for possible mission abort, and the various aspects of target selection, including priority cities (“a large urban area of more than three miles diameter”) and psychological dimension. As for target cities, the committee agreed that the following should be exempt from Army Air Force bombing so they would be available for nuclear targeting: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura Arsenal. Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, would not stay on the list. Pressure from Secretary of War Stimson had already taken Kyoto off the list of targets for incendiary bombings and he would successfully object to the atomic bombing of that city.  [18]

Document 12 : Stimson Diary Entries, May 14 and 15, 1945

Source: Henry Stimson Diary, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress)

On May 14 and 15, Stimson had several conversations involving S-1 (the atomic bomb); during a talk with Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, he estimated that possession of the bomb gave Washington a tremendous advantage—“held all the cards,” a “royal straight flush”-- in dealing with Moscow on post-war problems: “They can’t get along without our help and industries and we have coming into action a weapon which will be unique.” The next day a discussion of divergences with Moscow over the Far East made Stimson wonder whether the atomic bomb would be ready when Truman met with Stalin in July. If it was, he believed that the bomb would be the “master card” in U.S. diplomacy. This and other entries from the Stimson diary (as well as the entry from the Davies diary that follows) are important to arguments developed by Gar Alperovitz and Barton J. Bernstein, among others, although with significantly different emphases, that in light of controversies with the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe and other areas, top officials in the Truman administration believed that possessing the atomic bomb would provide them with significant leverage for inducing Moscow’s acquiescence in U.S. objectives. [19]

Document 13 : Davies Diary entry for May 21, 1945

Source: Joseph E. Davies Papers, Library of Congress, box 17, 21 May 1945

While officials at the Pentagon continued to look closely at the problem of atomic targets, President Truman, like Stimson, was thinking about the diplomatic implications of the bomb. During a conversation with Joseph E. Davies, a prominent Washington lawyer and former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Truman said that he wanted to delay talks with Stalin and Churchill until July when the first atomic device had been tested. Alperovitz treated this entry as evidence in support of the atomic diplomacy argument, but other historians, ranging from Robert Maddox to Gabriel Kolko, have denied that the timing of the Potsdam conference had anything to do with the goal of using the bomb to intimidate the Soviets. [20]

Document 14 : Letter, O. C. Brewster to President Truman, 24 May 1945, with note from Stimson to Marshall, 30 May 1945, attached, secret

Source: Harrison-Bundy Files relating to the Development of the Atomic Bomb, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1108 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), File 77: "Interim Committee - International Control."

In what Stimson called the “letter of an honest man,” Oswald C. Brewster sent President Truman a profound analysis of the danger and unfeasibility of a U.S. atomic monopoly.  [21]  An engineer for the Kellex Corporation, which was involved in the gas diffusion project to enrich uranium, Brewster recognized that the objective was fissile material for a weapon. That goal, he feared, raised terrifying prospects with implications for the “inevitable destruction of our present day civilization.” Once the U.S. had used the bomb in combat other great powers would not tolerate a monopoly by any nation and the sole possessor would be “be the most hated and feared nation on earth.” Even the U.S.’s closest allies would want the bomb because “how could they know where our friendship might be five, ten, or twenty years hence.” Nuclear proliferation and arms races would be certain unless the U.S. worked toward international supervision and inspection of nuclear plants.

Brewster suggested that Japan could be used as a “target” for a “demonstration” of the bomb, which he did not further define. His implicit preference, however, was for non-use; he wrote that it would be better to take U.S. casualties in “conquering Japan” than “to bring upon the world the tragedy of unrestrained competitive production of this material.”

Document 15 : Minutes of Third Target Committee Meeting – Washington, May 28, 1945, Top Secret

More updates on training missions, target selection, and conditions required for successful detonation over the target. The target would be a city--either Hiroshima, Kyoto (still on the list), or Niigata--but specific “aiming points” would not be specified at that time nor would industrial “pin point” targets because they were likely to be on the “fringes” a city. The bomb would be dropped in the city’s center. “Pumpkins” referred to bright orange, pumpkin-shaped high explosive bombs—shaped like the “Fat Man” implosion weapon--used for bombing run test missions.

Document 16 : General Lauris Norstad to Commanding General, XXI Bomber Command, “509 th  Composite Group; Special Functions,” May 29, 1945, Top Secret

The 509 th  Composite Group’s cover story for its secret mission was the preparation of “Pumpkins” for use in battle. In this memorandum, Norstad reviewed the complex requirements for preparing B-29s and their crew for successful nuclear strikes.

Document 17 : Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, “Memorandum of Conversation with General Marshal May 29, 1945 – 11:45 p.m.,” Top Secret

Source: Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson (“Safe File”), July 1940-September 1945, box 12, S-1

Tacitly dissenting from the Targeting Committee’s recommendations, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall argued for initial nuclear use against a clear-cut military target such as a “large naval installation.” If that did not work, manufacturing areas could be targeted, but only after warning their inhabitants. Marshall noted the “opprobrium which might follow from an ill considered employment of such force.” This document has played a role in arguments developed by Barton J. Bernstein that figures such as Marshall and Stimson were “caught between an older morality that opposed the intentional killing of non-combatants and a newer one that stressed virtually total war.” [22]  

Document 18 : “Notes of the Interim Committee Meeting Thursday, 31 May 1945, 10:00 A.M. to 1:15 P.M. – 2:15 P.M. to 4:15 P.M., ” n.d., Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, H-B files, folder no. 100 (copy from microfilm)

With Secretary of War Stimson presiding, members of the committee heard reports on a variety of Manhattan Project issues, including the stages of development of the atomic project, problems of secrecy, the possibility of informing the Soviet Union, cooperation with “like-minded” powers, the military impact of the bomb on Japan, and the problem of “undesirable scientists.” Interested in producing the “greatest psychological effect,” the Committee members agreed that the “most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.” Exactly how the mass deaths of civilians would persuade Japanese rulers to surrender was not discussed. Bernstein has argued that this target choice represented an uneasy endorsement of “terror bombing”--the target was not exclusively military or civilian; nevertheless, worker’s housing would include non-combatant men, women, and children. [23]  It is possible that Truman was informed of such discussions and their conclusions, although he clung to a belief that the prospective targets were strictly military.

Document 19 : General George A. Lincoln to General Hull, June 4, 1945, enclosing draft, Top Secret

Source: Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, American-British-Canadian Top Secret Correspondence, Box 504, “ABC 387 Japan (15 Feb. 45)

George A. Lincoln, chief of the Strategy and Policy Group at U.S. Army’s Operations Department, commented on a memorandum by former President Herbert Hoover that Stimson had passed on for analysis. Hoover proposed a compromise solution with Japan that would allow Tokyo to retain part of its empire in East Asia (including Korea and Japan) as a way to head off Soviet influence in the region. While Lincoln believed that the proposed peace teams were militarily acceptable he doubted that they were workable or that they could check Soviet “expansion” which he saw as an inescapable result of World War II. As to how the war with Japan would end, he saw it as “unpredictable,” but speculated that “it will take Russian entry into the war, combined with a landing, or imminent threat of a landing, on Japan proper by us, to convince them of the hopelessness of their situation.” Lincoln derided Hoover’s casualty estimate of 500,000. J. Samuel Walker has cited this document to make the point that “contrary to revisionist assertions, American policymakers in the summer of 1945 were far from certain that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria would be enough in itself to force a Japanese surrender.”  [24]

Document 20 : Memorandum from R. Gordon Arneson, Interim Committee Secretary, to Mr. Harrison, June 6, 1945, Top Secret

In a memorandum to George Harrison, Stimson’s special assistant on Manhattan Project matters, Arneson noted actions taken at the recent Interim Committee meetings, including target criterion and an attack “without prior warning.”

Document 21 : Memorandum of Conference with the President, June 6, 1945, Top Secret

Source: Henry Stimson Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress)

Stimson and Truman began this meeting by discussing how they should handle a conflict with French President DeGaulle over the movement by French forces into Italian territory. (Truman finally cut off military aid to France to compel the French to pull back).  [25]  As evident from the discussion, Stimson strongly disliked de Gaulle whom he regarded as “psychopathic.” The conversation soon turned to the atomic bomb, with some discussion about plans to inform the Soviets but only after a successful test. Both agreed that the possibility of a nuclear “partnership” with Moscow would depend on “quid pro quos”: “the settlement of the Polish, Rumanian, Yugoslavian, and Manchurian problems.”

At the end, Stimson shared his doubts about targeting cities and killing civilians through area bombing because of its impact on the U.S.’s reputation as well as on the problem of finding targets for the atomic bomb. Barton Bernstein has also pointed to this as additional evidence of the influence on Stimson of an “an older morality.” While concerned about the U.S.’s reputation, Stimson did not want the Air Force to bomb Japanese cities so thoroughly that the “new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strength,” a comment that made Truman laugh.  The discussion of “area bombing” may have reminded him that Japanese civilians remained at risk from U.S. bombing operations.

III. Debates on Alternatives to First Use and Unconditional Surrender

Document 22 : Memorandum from Arthur B. Compton to the Secretary of War, enclosing “Memorandum on `Political and Social Problems,’ from Members of the `Metallurgical Laboratory’ of the University of Chicago,” June 12, 1945, Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, H-B files, folder no. 76 (copy from microfilm)

Physicists Leo Szilard and James Franck, a Nobel Prize winner, were on the staff of the “Metallurgical Laboratory” at the University of Chicago, a cover for the Manhattan Project program to produce fuel for the bomb. The outspoken Szilard was not involved in operational work on the bomb and General Groves kept him under surveillance but Met Lab director Arthur Compton found Szilard useful to have around. Concerned with the long-run implications of the bomb, Franck chaired a committee, in which Szilard and Eugene Rabinowitch were major contributors, that produced a report rejecting a surprise attack on Japan and recommended instead a demonstration of the bomb on the “desert or a barren island.” Arguing that a nuclear arms race “will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons,” the committee saw international control as the alternative. That possibility would be difficult if the United States made first military use of the weapon. Compton raised doubts about the recommendations but urged Stimson to study the report. Martin Sherwin has argued that the Franck committee shared an important assumption with Truman et al.--that an “atomic attack against Japan would `shock’ the Russians”--but drew entirely different conclusions about the import of such a shock.  [26]

Document 23 : Memorandum from Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew to the President, “Analysis of Memorandum Presented by Mr. Hoover,” June 13, 1945

Source: Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson (“Safe File”), July 1940-September 1945, box 8, Japan (After December 7/41)

A former ambassador to Japan, Joseph Grew’s extensive knowledge of Japanese politics and culture informed his stance toward the concept of unconditional surrender. He believed it essential that the United States declare its intention to preserve the institution of the emperor. As he argued in this memorandum to President Truman, “failure on our part to clarify our intentions” on the status of the emperor “will insure prolongation of the war and cost a large number of human lives.” Documents like this have played a role in arguments developed by Alperovitz that Truman and his advisers had alternatives to using the bomb such as modifying unconditional surrender and that anti-Soviet considerations weighed most heavily in their thinking. By contrast, Herbert P. Bix has suggested that the Japanese leadership would “probably not” have surrendered if the Truman administration had spelled out the status of the emperor. [27]

Document 24 : Memorandum from Chief of Staff Marshall to the Secretary of War, 15 June 1945, enclosing “Memorandum of Comments on `Ending the Japanese War,’” prepared by George A. Lincoln, June 14, 1945, Top Secret

Commenting on another memorandum by Herbert Hoover, George A. Lincoln discussed war aims, face-saving proposals for Japan, and the nature of the proposed declaration to the Japanese government, including the problem of defining “unconditional surrender.” Lincoln argued against modifying the concept of unconditional surrender: if it is “phrased so as to invite negotiation” he saw risks of prolonging the war or a “compromise peace.” J. Samuel Walker has observed that those risks help explain why senior officials were unwilling to modify the demand for unconditional surrender. [28]

Document 25 : Memorandum by J. R. Oppenheimer, “Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons,” June 16, 1945, Top Secret

In a report to Stimson, Oppenheimer and colleagues on the scientific advisory panel--Arthur Compton, Ernest O. Lawrence, and Enrico Fermi—tacitly disagreed with the report of the “Met Lab” scientists. The panel argued for early military use but not before informing key allies about the atomic project to open a dialogue on “how we can cooperate in making this development contribute to improved international relations.”

Document 26 : “Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House on Monday, 18 June 1945 at 1530,” Top Secret

Source: Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Decimal Files, 1942-1945, box 198 334 JCS (2-2-45) Mtg 186 th -194 th

With the devastating battle for Okinawa winding up, Truman and the Joint Chiefs stepped back and considered what it would take to secure Japan’s surrender. The discussion depicted a Japan that, by 1 November, would be close to defeat, with great destruction and economic losses produced by aerial bombing and naval blockade, but not ready to capitulate. Marshall believed that the latter required Soviet entry and an invasion of Kyushu, even suggesting that Soviet entry might be the “decisive action levering them into capitulation.” Truman and the Chiefs reviewed plans to land troops on Kyushu on 1 November, which Marshall believed was essential because air power was not decisive. He believed that casualties would not be more than those produced by the battle for Luzon, some 31,000. This account hints at discussion of the atomic bomb (“certain other matters”), but no documents disclose that part of the meeting.

The record of this meeting has figured in the complex debate over the estimates of casualties stemming from a possible invasion of Japan. While post-war justifications for the bomb suggested that an invasion of Japan could have produced very high levels of casualties (dead, wounded, or missing), from hundreds of thousands to a million, historians have vigorously debated the extent to which the estimates were inflated.  [29]

According to accounts based on post-war recollections and interviews, during the meeting McCloy raised the possibility of winding up the war by guaranteeing the preservation of the emperor albeit as a constitutional monarch. If that failed to persuade Tokyo, he proposed that the United States disclose the secret of the atomic bomb to secure Japan’s unconditional surrender. While McCloy later recalled that Truman expressed interest, he said that Secretary of State Byrnes squashed the proposal because of his opposition to any “deals” with Japan. Yet, according to Forrest Pogue’s account, when Truman asked McCloy if he had any comments, the latter opened up a discussion of nuclear weapons use by asking “Why not use the bomb?” [30]

Document 27 : Memorandum from R. Gordon Arneson, Interim Committee Secretary, to Mr. Harrison, June 25, 1945, Top Secret

For Harrison’s convenience, Arneson summarized key decisions made at the 21 June meeting of the Interim Committee, including a recommendation that President Truman use the forthcoming conference of allied leaders to inform Stalin about the atomic project. The Committee also reaffirmed earlier recommendations about the use of the bomb at the “earliest opportunity” against “dual targets.” In addition, Arneson included the Committee’s recommendation for revoking part two of the 1944 Quebec agreement which stipulated that the neither the United States nor Great Britain would use the bomb “against third parties without each other’s consent.” Thus, an impulse for unilateral control of nuclear use decisions predated the first use of the bomb.

Document 28 : Memorandum from George L. Harrison to Secretary of War, June 26, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED, H-B files, folder no. 77 (copy from microfilm)

Reminding Stimson about the objections of some Manhattan project scientists to military use of the bomb, Harrison summarized the basic arguments of the Franck report. One recommendation shared by many of the scientists, whether they supported the report or not, was that the United States inform Stalin of the bomb before it was used. This proposal had been the subject of positive discussion by the Interim Committee on the grounds that Soviet confidence was necessary to make possible post-war cooperation on atomic energy.

Document 29 : Memorandum from George L. Harrison to Secretary of War, June 28, 1945, Top Secret, enclosing Ralph Bard’s “Memorandum on the Use of S-1 Bomb,” June 27, 1945

Under Secretary of the Navy Ralph Bard joined those scientists who sought to avoid military use of the bomb; he proposed a “preliminary warning” so that the United States would retain its position as a “great humanitarian nation.” Alperovitz cites evidence that Bard discussed his proposal with Truman who told him that he had already thoroughly examined the problem of advanced warning. This document has also figured in the argument framed by Barton Bernstein that Truman and his advisers took it for granted that the bomb was a legitimate weapon and that there was no reason to explore alternatives to military use. Bernstein, however, notes that Bard later denied that he had a meeting with Truman and that White House appointment logs support that claim. [31]

Document 30 : Memorandum for Mr. McCloy, “Comments re: Proposed Program for Japan,” June 28, 1945, Draft, Top Secret

Source: RG 107, Office of Assistant Secretary of War Formerly Classified Correspondence of John J. McCloy, 1941-1945, box 38, ASW 387 Japan

Despite the interest of some senior officials such as Joseph Grew, Henry Stimson, and John J. McCloy in modifying the concept of unconditional surrender so that the Japanese could be sure that the emperor would be preserved, it remained a highly contentious subject. For example, one of McCloy’s aides, Colonel Fahey, argued against modification of unconditional surrender (see “Appendix ‘C`”).

Document 31 : Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy to Colonel Stimson, June 29, 1945, Top Secret

McCloy was part of a drafting committee at work on the text of a proclamation to Japan to be signed by heads of state at the forthcoming Potsdam conference. As McCloy observed the most contentious issue was whether the proclamation should include language about the preservation of the emperor: “This may cause repercussions at home but without it those who seem to know the most about Japan feel there would be very little likelihood of acceptance.”

Document 32 : Memorandum, “Timing of Proposed Demand for Japanese Surrender,” June 29, 1945, Top Secret

Probably the work of General George A. Lincoln at Army Operations, this document was prepared a few weeks before the Potsdam conference when senior officials were starting to finalize the text of the declaration that Truman, Churchill, and Chiang would issue there. The author recommended issuing the declaration “just before the bombardment program [against Japan] reaches its peak.” Next to that suggestion, Stimson or someone in his immediate office, wrote “S1”, implying that the atomic bombing of Japanese cities was highly relevant to the timing issue. Also relevant to Japanese thinking about surrender, the author speculated, was the Soviet attack on their forces after a declaration of war.

Document 33 : Stimson memorandum to The President, “Proposed Program for Japan,” 2 July 1945, Top Secret

Source: Naval Aide to the President Files, box 4, Berlin Conference File, Volume XI - Miscellaneous papers: Japan, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

On 2 July Stimson presented to President Truman a proposal that he had worked up with colleagues in the War Department, including McCloy, Marshall, and Grew. The proposal has been characterized as “the most comprehensive attempt by any American policymaker to leverage diplomacy” in order to shorten the Pacific War. Stimson had in mind a “carefully timed warning” delivered before the invasion of Japan. Some of the key elements of Stimson’s argument were his assumption that “Japan is susceptible to reason” and that Japanese might be even more inclined to surrender if “we do not exclude a constitutional monarchy under her present dynasty.” The possibility of a Soviet attack would be part of the “threat.” As part of the threat message, Stimson alluded to the “inevitability and completeness of the destruction” which Japan could suffer, but he did not make it clear whether unconditional surrender terms should be clarified before using the atomic bomb. Truman read Stimson’s proposal, which he said was “powerful,” but made no commitments to the details, e.g., the position of the emperor.  [32]

Document 34 : Minutes, Secretary’s Staff Committee, Saturday Morning, July 7, 1945, 133d Meeting, Top Secret

Source: Record Group 353, Records of Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Committees, Secretary’s Staff Meetings Minutes, 1944-1947 (copy from microfilm)

The possibility of modifying the concept of unconditional surrender so that it guaranteed the continuation of the emperor remained hotly contested within the U.S. government. Here senior State Department officials, Under Secretary Joseph Grew on one side, and Assistant Secretary Dean Acheson and Archibald MacLeish on the other, engaged in hot debate.

Document 35 : Combined Chiefs of Staff, “Estimate of the Enemy Situation (as of 6 July 1945, C.C.S 643/3, July 8, 1945, Secret (Appendices Not Included)

Source: RG 218, Central Decimal Files, 1943-1945, CCS 381 (6-4-45), Sec. 2 Pt. 5

This review of Japanese capabilities and intentions portrays an economy and society under “tremendous strain”; nevertheless, “the ground component of the Japanese armed forces remains Japan’s greatest military asset.” Alperovitz sees statements in this estimate about the impact of Soviet entry into the war and the possibility of a conditional surrender involving survival of the emperor as an institution as more evidence that the policymakers saw alternatives to nuclear weapons use. By contrast, Richard Frank takes note of the estimate’s depiction of the Japanese army’s terms for peace: “for surrender to be acceptable to the Japanese army it would be necessary for the military leaders to believe that it would not entail discrediting the warrior tradition and that it would permit the ultimate resurgence of a military in Japan.” That, Frank argues, would have been “unacceptable to any Allied policy maker.” [33]

Document 36 : Cable to Secretary of State from Acting Secretary Joseph Grew, July 16, 1945, Top Secret

Source: Record Group 59, Decimal Files 1945-1949, 740.0011 PW (PE)/7-1645

On the eve of the Potsdam Conference, a State Department draft of the proclamation to Japan contained language which modified unconditional surrender by promising to retain the emperor. When former Secretary of State Cordell Hull learned about it he outlined his objections to Byrnes, arguing that it might be better to wait “the climax of allied bombing and Russia’s entry into the war.” Byrnes was already inclined to reject that part of the draft, but Hull’s argument may have reinforced his decision.

Document 37 : Letter from Stimson to Byrnes, enclosing memorandum to the President, “The Conduct of the War with Japan,” 16 July 1945, Top Secret

Source: Henry L. Stimson Papers (MS 465), Sterling Library, Yale University (reel 113) (microfilm at Library of Congress)

Still interested in trying to find ways to “warn Japan into surrender,” this represents an attempt by Stimson before the Potsdam conference, to persuade Truman and Byrnes to agree to issue warnings to Japan prior to the use of the bomb. The warning would draw on the draft State-War proclamation to Japan; presumably, the one criticized by Hull (above) which included language about the emperor .  Presumably the clarified warning would be issued prior to the use of the bomb; if the Japanese persisted in fighting then “the full force of our new weapons should be brought to bear” and a “heavier” warning would be issued backed by the “actual entrance of the Russians in the war.” Possibly, as Malloy has argued, Stimson was motivated by concerns about using the bomb against civilians and cities, but his latest proposal would meet resistance at Potsdam from Byrnes and other. [34]

Document 38 : R. E. Lapp, Leo Szilard et al., “A Petition to the President of the United States,” July 17, 1945

On the eve of the Potsdam conference, Leo Szilard circulated a petition as part of a final effort to discourage military use of the bomb. Signed by about 68 Manhattan Project scientists, mainly physicists and biologists (copies with the remaining signatures are in the archival file), the petition did not explicitly reject military use, but raised questions about an arms race that military use could instigate and requested Truman to publicize detailed terms for Japanese surrender. Truman, already on his way to Europe, never saw the petition. [35]

IV. The Japanese Search for Soviet Mediation

Documents 39A-B: Magic

39A : William F. Friedman, Consultant (Armed Forces Security Agency), “A Short History of U.S. COMINT Activities,” 19 February 1952, Top Secret

39B :“Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1204 – July 12, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Sources: A: National Security Agency Mandatory declassification review release; B: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18

Beginning in September 1940, U.S. military intelligence began to decrypt routinely, under the “Purple” code-name, the intercepted cable traffic of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Collectively the decoded messages were known as “Magic.” How this came about is explained in an internal history of pre-war and World War II Army and Navy code-breaking activities prepared by  William F. Friedman , a central figure in the development of U.S. government cryptology during the 20 th  century. The National Security Agency kept the ‘Magic” diplomatic and military summaries classified for many years and did not release the entire series for 1942 through August 1945 until the early 1990s. [36]

The 12 July 1945 “Magic” summary includes a report on a cable from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow concerning the Emperor’s decision to seek Soviet help in ending the war. Not knowing that the Soviets had already made a commitment to their Allies to declare war on Japan, Tokyo fruitlessly pursued this option for several weeks. The “Magic” intercepts from mid-July have figured in Gar Alperovitz’s argument that Truman and his advisers recognized that the Emperor was ready to capitulate if the Allies showed more flexibility on the demand for unconditional surrender. This point is central to Alperovitz’s thesis that top U.S. officials recognized a “two-step logic”: relaxing unconditional surrender and a Soviet declaration of war would have been enough to induce Japan’s surrender without the use of the bomb. [37]

Document 40 : John Weckerling, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, July 12, 1945, to Deputy Chief of Staff, “Japanese Peace Offer,” 13 July 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: RG 165, Army Operations OPD Executive File #17, Item 13 (copy courtesy of J. Samuel Walker)

The day after the Togo message was reported, Army intelligence chief Weckerling proposed several possible explanations of the Japanese diplomatic initiative. Robert J. Maddox has cited this document to support his argument that top U.S. officials recognized that Japan was not close to surrender because Japan was trying to “stave off defeat.” In a close analysis of this document, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, who is also skeptical of claims that the Japanese had decided to surrender, argues that each of the three possibilities proposed by Weckerling “contained an element of truth, but none was entirely correct”. For example, the “governing clique” that supported the peace moves was not trying to “stave off defeat” but was seeking Soviet help to end the war. [38]

Document 41 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1205 – July 13, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18

The day after he told Sato about the current thinking on Soviet mediation, Togo requested the Ambassador to see Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and tell him of the Emperor’s “private intention to send Prince Konoye as a Special Envoy” to Moscow. Before he received Togo’s message, Sato had already met with Molotov on another matter.

Document 42 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1210 – July 17, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Source: Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18.

Another intercept of a cable from Togo to Sato shows that the Foreign Minister rejected unconditional surrender and that the Emperor was not “asking the Russian’s mediation in anything like unconditional surrender.” Incidentally, this “`Magic’ Diplomatic Summary” indicates the broad scope and capabilities of the program; for example, it includes translations of intercepted French messages (see pages 8-9).

Document 43 : Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for July 20, 1945

Source: Takashi Itoh, ed.,  Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho  [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 916-917 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

In 1944 Navy minister Mitsumasa Yonai ordered rear admiral Sokichi Takagi to go on sick leave so that he could undertake a secret mission to find a way to end the war. Tagaki was soon at the center of a cabal of Japanese defense officials, civil servants, and academics, which concluded that, in the end, the emperor would have to “impose his decision on the military and the government.” Takagi kept a detailed account of his activities, part of which was in diary form, the other part of which he kept on index cards. The material reproduced here gives a sense of the state of play of Foreign Minister Togo’s attempt to secure Soviet mediation. Hasegawa cited it and other documents to make a larger point about the inability of the Japanese government to agree on “concrete” proposals to negotiate an end to the war. [39]

The last item discusses Japanese contacts with representatives of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Switzerland. The reference to “our contact” may refer to Bank of International Settlements economist Pers Jacobbson who was in touch with Japanese representatives to the Bank as well as Gero von Gävernitz, then on the staff, but with non-official cover, of OSS station chief Allen Dulles. The contacts never went far and Dulles never received encouragement to pursue them. [40]

V. The Trinity Test

Document 44 : Letter from Commissar of State Security First Rank, V. Merkulov, to People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs L. P. Beria, 10 July 1945, Number 4305/m, Top Secret (translation by Anna Melyaskova)

Source:  L.D. Riabev, ed.,  Atomnyi Proekt SSSR  (Moscow: izd MFTI, 2002), Volume 1, Part 2, 335-336

This 10 July 1945 letter from NKVD director V. N. Merkulov to Beria is an example of Soviet efforts to collect inside information on the Manhattan Project, although not all the detail was accurate. Merkulov reported that the United States had scheduled the test of a nuclear device for that same day, although the actual test took place 6 days later. According to Merkulov, two fissile materials were being produced: element-49 (plutonium), and U-235; the test device was fueled by plutonium. The Soviet source reported that the weight of the device was 3 tons (which was in the ball park) and forecast an explosive yield of 5 kilotons. That figure was based on underestimates by Manhattan Project scientists: the actual yield of the test device was 20 kilotons.

As indicated by the L.D. Riabev’s notes, it is possible that Beria’s copy of this letter ended up in Stalin’s papers. That the original copy is missing from Beria’s papers suggests that he may have passed it on to Stalin before the latter left for the Potsdam conference. [41]

Document 45 : Telegram War [Department] 33556, from Harrison to Secretary of War, July 17, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File 5e (copy from microfilm)

An elated message from Harrison to Stimson reported the success of the  Trinity Test  of a plutonium implosion weapon. The light from the explosion could been seen “from here [Washington, D.C.] to “high hold” [Stimson’s estate on Long Island—250 miles away]” and it was so loud that Harrison could have heard the “screams” from Washington, D.C. to “my farm” [in Upperville, VA, 50 miles away] [42]

Document 46 : Memorandum from General L. R. Groves to Secretary of War, “The Test,” July 18, 1945, Top Secret, Excised Copy

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 4 (copy from microfilm)

General Groves prepared for Stimson, then at Potsdam, a detailed account of the Trinity test. [43]

VI. The Potsdam Conference

Document 47 : Truman’s Potsdam Diary

Source: Barton J. Bernstein, “Truman at Potsdam: His Secret Diary,”  Foreign Service Journal , July/August 1980, excerpts, used with author’s permission. [44]

Some years after Truman’s death, a hand-written diary that he kept during the Potsdam conference surfaced in his personal papers. For convenience, Barton Bernstein’s rendition is provided here but linked here are the scanned versions of Truman’s handwriting on the National Archives’ website (for 15-30 July).

The diary entries cover July 16, 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, and 30 and include Truman’s thinking about a number of issues and developments, including his reactions to Churchill and Stalin, the atomic bomb and how it should be targeted, the possible impact of the bomb and a Soviet declaration of war on Japan, and his decision to tell Stalin about the bomb. Receptive to pressure from Stimson, Truman recorded his decision to take Japan’s “old capital” (Kyoto) off the atomic bomb target list. Barton Bernstein and Richard Frank, among others, have argued that Truman’s assertion that the atomic targets were “military objectives” suggested that either he did not understand the power of the new weapons or had simply deceived himself about the nature of the targets. Another statement—“Fini Japs when that [Soviet entry] comes about”—has also been the subject of controversy over whether it meant that Truman thought it possible that the war could end without an invasion of Japan. [45]

Document 48 : Stimson Diary entries for July 16 through 25, 1945

Stimson did not always have Truman’s ear, but historians have frequently cited his diary when he was at the Potsdam conference. There Stimson kept track of S-1 developments, including news of the successful first test (see entry for July 16) and the ongoing deployments for nuclear use against Japan. When Truman received a detailed account of the test, Stimson reported that the “President was tremendously pepped up by it” and that “it gave him an entirely new feeling of confidence” (see entry for July 21). Whether this meant that Truman was getting ready for a confrontation with Stalin over Eastern Europe and other matters has also been the subject of debate.

An important question that Stimson discussed with Marshall, at Truman’s request, was whether Soviet entry into the war remained necessary to secure Tokyo’s surrender. Marshall was not sure whether that was so although Stimson privately believed that the atomic bomb would provide enough to force surrender (see entry for July 23). This entry has been cited by all sides of the controversy over whether Truman was trying to keep the Soviets out of the war. [46]  During the meeting on August 24, discussed above, Stimson gave his reasons for taking Kyoto off the atomic target list: destroying that city would have caused such “bitterness” that it could have become impossible “to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians.” Stimson vainly tried to preserve language in the Potsdam Declaration designed to assure the Japanese about “the continuance of their dynasty” but received Truman’s assurance that such a consideration could be conveyed later through diplomatic channels (see entry for July 24). Hasegawa argues that Truman realized that the Japanese would refuse a demand for unconditional surrender without a proviso on a constitutional monarchy and that “he needed Japan’s refusal to justify the use of the atomic bomb.” [47]

Document 49 : Walter Brown Diaries, July 10-August 3, 1945

Source: Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter J. Brown Papers, box 10, folder 12, Byrnes, James F.: Potsdam, Minutes, July-August 1945

Walter Brown, who served as special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes, kept a diary which provided considerable detail on the Potsdam conference and the growing concerns about Soviet policy among top U.S. officials. This document is a typed-up version of the hand-written original (which Brown’s family has provided to Clemson University). That there may be a difference between the two sources becomes evident from some of the entries; for example, in the entry for July 18, 1945 Brown wrote: "Although I knew about the atomic bomb when I wrote these notes, I dared not place it in writing in my book.”

The degree to which the typed-up version reflects the original is worth investigating. In any event, historians have used information from the diary to support various interpretations. For example, Bernstein cites the entries for 20 and 24 July to argue that “American leaders did not view Soviet entry as a substitute for the bomb” but that the latter “would be so powerful, and the Soviet presence in Manchuria so militarily significant, that there was no need for actual Soviet intervention in the war.” For  Brown's diary entry of 3 August 9 1945 historians have developed conflicting interpretations (See discussion of document 57). [48]

Document 50 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1214 – July 22, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

This “Magic” summary includes messages from both Togo and Sato. In a long and impassioned message, the latter argued why Japan must accept defeat: “it is meaningless to prove one’s devotion [to the Emperor] by wrecking the State.” Togo rejected Sato’s advice that Japan could accept unconditional surrender with one qualification: the “preservation of the Imperial House.” Probably unable or unwilling to take a soft position in an official cable, Togo declared that “the whole country … will pit itself against the enemy in accordance with the Imperial Will as long as the enemy demands unconditional surrender.”

Document 51 : Forrestal Diary Entry, July 24, 1945, “Japanese Peace Feelers”

Source: Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives, James Forrestal Diaries

Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was a regular recipient of “Magic” intercept reports; this substantial entry reviews the dramatic Sato-Togo exchanges covered in the 22 July “Magic” summary (although Forrestal misdated Sato’s cable as “first of July” instead of the 21 st ). In contrast to Alperovitz’s argument that Forrestal tried to modify the terms of unconditional surrender to give the Japanese an out, Frank sees Forrestal’s account of the Sato-Togo exchange as additional evidence that senior U.S. officials understood that Tokyo was not on the “cusp of surrender.”  [49]

Document 52 : Davies Diary entry for July 29, 1945

S ource: Joseph E. Davies Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, box 19, 29 July 1945

Having been asked by Truman to join the delegation to the Potsdam conference, former-Ambassador Davies sat at the table with the Big Three throughout the discussions. This diary entry has figured in the argument that Byrnes believed that the atomic bomb gave the United States a significant advantage in negotiations with the Soviet Union. Plainly Davies thought otherwise. [50]

VII. Debates among the Japanese – Late July/Early August 1945

Document 53 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1221- July 29, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

In the  Potsdam Declaration  the governments of China, Great Britain, and the United States) demanded the “unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces. “The alternative is prompt and utter destruction.” The next day, in response to questions from journalists about the government’s reaction to the ultimatum, Prime Minister Suzuki apparently said that “We can only ignore [ mokusatsu ] it. We will do our utmost to complete the war to the bitter end.” That, Bix argues, represents a “missed opportunity” to end the war and spare the Japanese from continued U.S. aerial attacks. [51]  Togo’s private position was more nuanced than Suzuki’s; he told Sato that “we are adopting a policy of careful study.” That Stalin had not signed the declaration (Truman and Churchill did not ask him to) led to questions about the Soviet attitude. Togo asked Sato to try to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov as soon as possible to “sound out the Russian attitude” on the declaration as well as Japan’s end-the-war initiative. Sato cabled Togo earlier that he saw no point in approaching the Soviets on ending the war until Tokyo had “concrete proposals.” “Any aid from the Soviets has now become extremely doubtful.”

Document 54 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1222 – July 30, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

This report included an intercept of a message from Sato reporting that it was impossible to see Molotov and that unless the Togo had a “concrete and definite plan for terminating the war” he saw no point in attempting to meet with him.

Document 55 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1225 – August 2, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

An intercepted message from Togo to Sato showed that Tokyo remained interested in securing Moscow’s good office but that it “is difficult to decide on concrete peace conditions here at home all at once.” “[W]e are exerting ourselves to collect the views of all quarters on the matter of concrete terms.” Barton Bernstein, Richard Frank, and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, among others, have argued that the “Magic” intercepts from the end of July and early August show that the Japanese were far from ready to surrender. According to Herbert Bix, for months Hirohito had believed that the “outlook for a negotiated peace could be improved if Japan fought and won one last decisive battle,” thus, he delayed surrender, continuing to “procrastinate until the bomb was dropped and the Soviets attacked.” [52]

Document 56 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1226 - August 3, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

This summary included intercepts of Japanese diplomatic reporting on the Soviet buildup in the Far East as well as a naval intelligence report on Anglo-American discussions of U.S. plans for the invasion of Japan. Part II of the summary includes the rest of Togo’s 2 August cable which instructed Sato to do what he could to arrange an interview with Molotov.

Document 57 : Walter Brown Meeting Notes, August 3, 1945

Historians have used this item in the papers of Byrne’s aide, Walter Brown, to make a variety of points. Richard Frank sees this brief discussion of Japan’s interest in Soviet diplomatic assistance as crucial evidence that Admiral Leahy had been sharing “MAGIC” information with President Truman. He also points out that Truman and his colleagues had no idea what was behind Japanese peace moves, only that Suzuki had declared that he would “ignore” the Potsdam Declaration. Alperovitz, however, treats it as additional evidence that “strongly suggests” that Truman saw alternatives to using the bomb. [53]

Document 58 : “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 502, 4 August 1945

Source: RG 457, Summaries of Intercepted Japanese Messages (“Magic” Far East Summary, March 20, 1942 – October 2, 1945), box 7, SRS 491-547

This “Far East Summary” included reports on the Japanese Army’s plans to disperse fuel stocks to reduce vulnerability to bombing attacks, the text of a directive by the commander of naval forces on “Operation Homeland,” the preparations and planning to repel a U.S. invasion of Honshu, and the specific identification of army divisions located in, or moving into, Kyushu. Both Richard Frank and Barton Bernstein have used intelligence reporting and analysis of the major buildup of Japanese forces on southern Kyushu to argue that U.S. military planners were so concerned about this development that by early August 1945 they were reconsidering their invasion plans. [54]

Document 59 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1228 – August 5, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

This summary included several intercepted messages from Sato, who conveyed his despair and exasperation over what he saw as Tokyo’s inability to develop terms for ending the war: “[I]f the Government and the Military dilly-dally in bringing this resolution to fruition, then all Japan will be reduced to ashes.” Sato remained skeptical that the Soviets would have any interest in discussions with Tokyo: “it is absolutely unthinkable that Russia would ignore the Three Power Proclamation and then engage in conversations with our special envoy.”

VIII. The Execution Order

Documents 60a-d: Framing the Directive for Nuclear Strikes:

60A . Cable VICTORY 213 from Marshall to Handy, July 22, 1945, Top Secret

60B . Memorandum from Colonel John Stone to General Arnold, “Groves Project,” 24 July 1945, Top Secret

60C . Cable WAR 37683 from General Handy to General Marshal, enclosing directive to General Spatz, July 24, 1945, Top Secret

60D . Cable VICTORY 261 from Marshall to General Handy, July 25, 1945, 25 July 1945, Top Secret

60E . General Thomas T. Handy to General Carl Spaatz, July 26, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, Files no. 5b and 5e ((copies from microfilm)

Top Army Air Force commanders may not have wanted to take responsibility for the first use of nuclear weapons on urban targets and sought formal authorization from Chief of Staff Marshall who was then in Potsdam. [55]  On 22 July Marshall asked Deputy Chief of Staff Thomas Handy to prepare a draft; General Groves wrote one which went to Potsdam for Marshall’s approval. Colonel John Stone, an assistant to commanding General of the Army Air Forces Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, had just returned from Potsdam and updated his boss on the plans as they had developed. On 25 July Marshall informed Handy that Secretary of War Stimson had approved the text; that same day, Handy signed off on a directive which ordered the use of atomic weapons on Japan, with the first weapon assigned to one of four possible targets—Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, or Nagasaki. “Additional bombs will be delivery on the [targets] as soon as made ready by the project staff.”

Document 61 : Memorandum from Major General L. R. Groves to Chief of Staff, July 30, 1945, Top Secret, Sanitized Copy

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5

With more information on the Alamogordo test available, Groves provided Marshall with detail on the destructive power of atomic weapons. Barton J. Bernstein has observed that Groves’ recommendation that troops could move into the “immediate explosion area” within a half hour demonstrates the prevalent lack of top-level knowledge of the dangers of nuclear weapons effects. [56]  Groves also provided the schedule for the delivery of the weapons: the components of the gun-type bomb to be used on Hiroshima had arrived on Tinian, while the parts of the second weapon to be dropped were leaving San Francisco. By the end of November over ten weapons would be available, presumably in the event the war had continued.

Documents 62A-C: Weather delays

62A . CG 313 th  Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5112 to War Department, August 3, 1945, Top Secret

62B . CG 313 th  Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5130 to War Department, August 4, 1945, Top Secret

62C . CG 313 th  Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5155 to War Department, August 4, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 21 (copies courtesy of Barton Bernstein)

The Hiroshima “operation” was originally slated to begin in early August depending on local conditions. As these cables indicate, reports of unfavorable weather delayed the plan. The second cable on 4 August shows that the schedule advanced to late in the evening of 5 August. The handwritten transcriptions are on the original archival copies.

IX. The First Nuclear Strikes and their Impact

Document 63 : Memorandum from General L. R. Groves to the Chief of Staff, August 6, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5b (copy from microfilm)

Two days after the bombing of Hiroshima, Groves provided Chief of Staff Marshall with a report which included messages from Captain William S. Parsons and others about the impact of the detonation which, through prompt radiation effects, fire storms, and blast effects, immediately killed at least 70,000, with many dying later from radiation sickness and other causes. [57]

How influential the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and later Nagasaki compared to the impact of the Soviet declaration of war were to the Japanese decision to surrender has been the subject of controversy among historians. Sadao Asada emphasizes the shock of the atomic bombs, while Herbert Bix has suggested that Hiroshima and the Soviet declaration of war made Hirohito and his court believe that failure to end the war could lead to the destruction of the imperial house. Frank and Hasegawa divide over the impact of the Soviet declaration of war, with Frank declaring that the Soviet intervention was “significant but not decisive” and Hasegawa arguing that the two atomic bombs “were not sufficient to change the direction of Japanese diplomacy. The Soviet invasion was.” [58]

Document 64 : Walter Brown Diary Entry, 6 August 1945

Source:  Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter J. Brown Papers, box 68, folder 13, “Transcript/Draft B

Returning from the Potsdam Conference, sailing on the  U.S.S. Augusta , Truman learned about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and announced it twice, first to those in the wardroom (socializing/dining area for commissioned officers), and then to the sailors’ mess. Still unaware of radiation effects, Truman emphasized the explosive yield. Later, he met with Secretary of State Byrnes and they discussed the Manhattan Project’s secrecy and the huge expenditures. Truman, who had been chair of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, said that “only on the appeal of Secretary of War Stimson did he refrain and let the War Department continue with the experiment unmolested.”

Document 65 : Directive from the Supreme Command Headquarters to the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Forces in the Far East on the Start of Combat Operations, No. 11122, Signed by [Communist Party General Secretary Joseph] Stalin and [Chief of General Staff A.I.] Antonov, 7 August 1945 (translation by Anna Melyakova)

Source: V. A. Zolotarev, ed.,  Sovetsko-Iaponskaia Voina 1945 Goda: Istoriia Voenno-Politicheskogo Protivoborstva Dvukh Derzhav v 30–40e Gody ( Moscow: Terra, 1997 and 2000), Vol. 7 (1), 340-341.

To keep his pledge at Yalta to enter the war against Japan and to secure the territorial concessions promised at the conference (e.g., Soviet annexation of the Kuriles and southern Sakhalin and a Soviet naval base at Port Arthur, etc.) Stalin considered various dates to schedule an attack. By early August he decided that 9-10 August 1945 would be the best dates for striking Japanese forces in Manchuria. In light of Japan’s efforts to seek Soviet mediation, Stalin wanted to enter the war quickly lest Tokyo reach a compromise peace with the Americans and the British at Moscow’s expense. But on 7 August, Stalin changed the instructions: the attack was to begin the next day. According to David Holloway, “it seems likely that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima the day before that impelled [Stalin] to speed up Soviet entry into the war” and “secure the gains promised at Yalta.” [59]

Document 66 : Memorandum of Conversation, “Atomic Bomb,” August 7, 1945

Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 5-9, 1945.

The Soviets already knew about the U.S. atomic project from espionage sources in the United States and Britain so Molotov’s comment to Ambassador Harriman about the secrecy surrounding the U.S. atomic project can be taken with a grain of salt, although the Soviets were probably unaware of specific plans for nuclear use.

Documents 67A-B:  Early High-level Reactions to the Hiroshima Bombing

67A : Cabinet Meeting and Togo's Meeting with the Emperor, August 7-8, 1945 Source: Gaimusho (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) ed.  Shusen Shiroku  (The Historical Records of the End of the War), annotated by Jun Eto, volume 4, 57-60 [Excerpts] [Translation by Toshihiro Higuchi]

67B : Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for Wednesday, August 8 , 1945

Source: Takashi Itoh, ed.,  Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho  [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 923-924 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Excerpts from the Foreign Ministry's compilation about the end of the war show how news of the bombing reached Tokyo as well as how Foreign Minister's Togo initially reacted to reports about Hiroshima. When he learned of the atomic bombing from the Domei News Agency, Togo believed that it was time to give up and advised the cabinet that the atomic attack provided the occasion for Japan to surrender on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration. Togo could not persuade the cabinet, however, and the Army wanted to delay any decisions until it had learned what had happened to Hiroshima. When the Foreign Minister met with the Emperor, Hirohito agreed with him; he declared that the top priority was an early end to the war, although it would be acceptable to seek better surrender terms--probably U.S. acceptance of a figure-head emperor--if it did not interfere with that goal. In light of those instructions, Togo and Prime Minister Suzuki agreed that the Supreme War Council should meet the next day.  [59a]

An entry from Admiral Tagaki's diary for August 8 conveys more information on the mood in elite Japanese circles after Hiroshima, but before the Soviet declaration of war and the bombing of Nagasaki. Seeing the bombing of Hiroshima as a sign of a worsening situation at home, Tagaki worried about further deterioration. Nevertheless, his diary suggests that military hard-liners were very much in charge and that Prime Minister Suzuki was talking tough against surrender, by evoking last ditch moments in Japanese history and warning of the danger that subordinate commanders might not obey surrender orders. The last remark aggravated Navy Minister Yonai who saw it as irresponsible. That the Soviets had made no responses to Sato's request for a meeting was understood as a bad sign; Yonai realized that the government had to prepare for the possibility that Moscow might not help. One of the visitors mentioned at the beginning of the entry was Iwao Yamazaki who became Minister of the Interior in the next cabinet.

Document 68 : Navy Secretary James Forrestal to President Truman, August 8, 1945

General Douglas MacArthur had been slated as commander for military operations against Japan’s mainland, this letter to Truman from Forrestal shows that the latter believed that the matter was not settled. Richard Frank sees this as evidence of the uncertainty felt by senior officials about the situation in early August; Forrestal would not have been so “audacious” to take an action that could ignite a “political firestorm” if he “seriously thought the end of the war was near.”

Document 69 : Memorandum of Conversation, “Far Eastern War and General Situation,” August 8, 1945, Top Secret

Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 5-9, 1945

Shortly after the Soviets declared war on Japan, in line with commitments made at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, Ambassador Harriman met with Stalin, with George Kennan keeping the U.S. record of the meeting. After Stalin reviewed in considerable detail, Soviet military gains in the Far East, they discussed the possible impact of the atomic bombing on Japan’s position (Nagasaki had not yet been attacked) and the dangers and difficulty of an atomic weapons program. According to Hasegawa, this was an important, even “startling,” conversation: it showed that Stalin “took the atomic bomb seriously”; moreover, he disclosed that the Soviets were working on their own atomic program. [60]

Document 70 : Entries for 8-9 August, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

Source: W.A. Harriman Papers, Library of Congress, box 211 , Robert Pickens Meiklejohn World War II Diary At London and Moscow March 10, 1941-February 14, 1946 , Volume II (Privately printed, 1980 [Printed from hand-written originals]) (Reproduced with permission)

Robert P. Meiklejohn, who worked as Ambassador W. A. Harriman’s administrative assistant at the U.S. Embassies in Moscow and London during and after World War II, kept a detailed diary of his experiences and observations. The entries for 8 and 9 August, prepared in light of the bombing of Hiroshima, include discussion of the British contribution to the Manhattan Project, Harriman (“his nibs’”) report on his meeting with Molotov about the Soviet declaration of war, and speculation about the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima on the Soviet decision. According to Meiklejohn, “None of us doubt that the atomic bomb speeded up the Soviets’ declaration of war.”

Document 71 : Memorandum of Conference with the President, August 8, 1945 at 10:45 AM

At their first meeting after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, Stimson briefed Truman on the scale of the destruction, with Truman recognizing the “terrible responsibility” that was on his shoulders. Consistent with his earlier attempts, Stimson encouraged Truman to find ways to expedite Japan’s surrender by using “kindness and tact” and not treating them in the same way as the Germans. They also discussed postwar legislation on the atom and the pending Henry D. Smyth report on the scientific work underlying the Manhattan project and postwar domestic controls of the atom.

Documents 72A-C: The Attack on Nagasaki:

72A . Cable APCOM 5445 from General Farrell to O’Leary [Groves assistant], August 9, 1945, Top Secret

72B . COMGENAAF 8 cable CMDW 576 to COMGENUSASTAF, for General Farrell, August 9, 1945, Top secret

72C . COMGENAAF 20 Guam cable AIMCCR 5532 to COMGENUSASTAF Guam, August 10, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 20, Envelope G Tinian Files, Top Secret

The prime target for the second atomic attack was Kokura, which had a large army arsenal and ordnance works, but various problems ruled that city out; instead, the crew of the B-29 that carried “Fat Man” flew to an alternate target at Nagasaki. These cables are the earliest reports of the mission; the bombing of Nagasaki killed immediately at least 39,000 people, with more dying later. According to Frank, the “actual total of deaths due to the atomic bombs will never be known,” but the “huge number” ranges somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Barton J. Bernstein and Martin Sherwin have argued that if top Washington policymakers had kept tight control of the delivery of the bomb instead of delegating it to Groves the attack on Nagasaki could have been avoided. The combination of the first bomb and the Soviet declaration of war would have been enough to induce Tokyo’s surrender. By contrast, Maddox argues that Nagasaki was necessary so that Japanese “hardliners” could not “minimize the first explosion” or otherwise explain it away. [61]

Documents 73A-B: Ramsey Letter from Tinian Island

73A : Letter from Norman Ramsey to J. Robert Oppenheimer, undated [mid-August 1945], Secret, excerpts Source: Library of Congress, J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, box 60, Ramsey, Norman

73B : Transcript of the letter prepared by editor.

Ramsey, a physicist, served as deputy director of the bomb delivery group, Project Alberta. This personal account, written on Tinian, reports his fears about the danger of a nuclear accident, the confusion surrounding the Nagasaki attack, and early Air Force thinking about a nuclear strike force.

X. Toward Surrender

Document 74 : “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 507, August 9, 1945

Within days after the bombing of Hiroshima, U.S. military intelligence intercepted Japanese reports on the destruction of the city. According to an “Eyewitness Account (and Estimates Heard) … In Regard to the Bombing of Hiroshima”: “Casualties have been estimated at 100,000 persons.”

Document 75 : “Hoshina Memorandum” on the Emperor’s “Sacred Decision [ go-seidan] ,” 9-10 August, 1945

Source: Zenshiro Hoshina,  Daitoa Senso Hishi: Hoshina Zenshiro Kaiso-roku  [Secret History of the Greater East Asia War: Memoir of Zenshiro Hoshina] (Tokyo, Japan: Hara-Shobo, 1975), excerpts from Section 5, “The Emperor made  go-seidan  [= the sacred decision] – the decision to terminate the war,” 139-149 [translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Despite the bombing of Hiroshima, the Soviet declaration of war, and growing worry about domestic instability, the Japanese cabinet (whose decisions required unanimity) could not form a consensus to accept the Potsdam Declaration. Members of the Supreme War Council—“the Big Six” [62] —wanted the reply to Potsdam to include at least four conditions (e.g., no occupation, voluntary disarmament); they were willing to fight to the finish. The peace party, however, deftly maneuvered to break the stalemate by persuading a reluctant emperor to intervene. According to Hasegawa, Hirohito had become convinced that the preservation of the monarchy was at stake. Late in the evening of 9 August, the emperor and his advisers met in the bomb shelter of the Imperial Palace.

Zenshiro Hoshina, a senior naval official, attended the conference and prepared a detailed account. With Prime Minister Suzuki presiding, each of the ministers had a chance to state their views directly to Hirohito. While Army Minister Anami tacitly threatened a coup (“civil war”), the emperor accepted the majority view that the reply to the Potsdam declaration should include only one condition not the four urged by “Big Six.” Nevertheless, the condition that Hirohito accepted was not the one that foreign minister Togo had brought to the conference. What was at stake was the definition of the  kokutai  (national policy). Togo’s proposal would have been generally consistent with a constitutional monarchy because it defined the  kokutai  narrowly as the emperor and the imperial household. What Hirohito accepted, however, was a proposal by the extreme nationalist Kiichiro Hiranuma which drew upon prevailing understandings of the  kokutai : the “mythical notion” that the emperor was a living god. “This was the affirmation of the emperor’s theocratic powers, unencumbered by any law, based on Shinto gods in antiquity, and totally incompatible with a constitutional monarchy.” Thus, the Japanese response to the Potsdam declaration opposed “any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of his Majesty as a sovereign ruler.” This proved to be unacceptable to the Truman administration. [63]

Document 76 :“Magic’ – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 508, August 10, 1945

More intercepted messages on the bombing of Hiroshima.

Documents 77A-B: The First Japanese Offer Intercepted

77A . “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1233 – August 10, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

77B . Translation of intercepted Japanese messages, circa 10 August 10, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

The first Japanese surrender offer was intercepted shortly before Tokyo broadcast it. This issue of the diplomatic summary also includes Togo’s account of his notification of the Soviet declaration of war, reports of Soviet military operations in the Far East, and intercepts of French diplomatic traffic. A full translation of the surrender offer was circulated separately. The translations differ but they convey the sticking point that prevented U.S. acceptance: Tokyo’s condition that the allies not make any “demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler.”

Document 78 : Diary Entry, Friday, August 10, 1945, Henry Wallace Diary

Source: Papers of Henry A. Wallace, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa (copy courtesy of Special Collections Department)

Note: The second page of the diary entry includes a newspaper clipping of the Associated Press’s transmission of the Byrnes note. Unfortunately, AP would not authorize the Archive to reproduce this item without payment. Therefore, we are publishing an excised version of the entry, with a link to the  Byrnes note .

Secretary of Commerce (and former Vice President) Henry Wallace provided a detailed report on the cabinet meeting where Truman and his advisers discussed the Japanese surrender offer, Russian moves into Manchuria, and public opinion on “hard” surrender terms. With Japan close to capitulation, Truman asserted presidential control and ordered a halt to atomic bombings. Barton J. Bernstein has suggested that Truman’s comment about “all those kids” showed his belated recognition that the bomb caused mass casualties and that the target was not purely a military one. [64]

Document 79 : Entries for 10-11 August, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

In these entries, Meiklejohn discussed how he and others in the Moscow Embassy learned about the bombing of Nagasaki from the “OWI Bulletin.” Entries for 10 and 11 August cover discussion at the Embassy about the radio broadcast announcing that Japan would surrender as long the Emperor’s status was not affected. Harriman opined that “surrender is in the bag” because of the Potsdam Declaration’s provision that the Japanese could “choose their own form of government, which would probably include the Emperor.” Further, “the only alternative to the Emperor is Communism,” implying that an official role for the Emperor was necessary to preserve social stability and prevent social revolution.

Document 80 : Stimson Diary Entries, Friday and Saturday, August 10 and 11, 1945

Stimson’s account of the events of 10 August focused on the debate over the reply to the Japanese note, especially the question of the Emperor’s status.  The U.S. reply , drafted during the course of the day, did not explicitly reject the note but suggested that any notion about the “prerogatives” of the Emperor would be superceded by the concept that all Japanese would be “Subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” The language was ambiguous enough to enable Japanese readers, upon Hirohito’s urging, to believe that they could decide for themselves the Emperor’s future role. Stimson accepted the language believing that a speedy reply to the Japanese would allow the United States to “get the homeland into our hands before the Russians could put in any substantial claim to occupy and help rule it.” If the note had included specific provision for a constitutional monarchy, Hasegawa argues, it would have “taken the wind out of the sails” of the military faction and Japan might have surrendered several days earlier, on August 11 or 12 instead of August 14. [65]

Document 81 : Entries from Walter Brown Diary, 10-11 August 1945

Source:  Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter Brown Papers, box 68, folder 13, “Transcript/Draft B

Brown recounted Byrnes’ debriefing of the 10 August White House meeting on the Japanese peace offer, an account which differed somewhat from that in the Stimson diary .  According to what Byrnes told Brown, Truman, Stimson, and Leahy favored accepting the Japanese note, but Byrnes objected that the United States should “go [no] further than we were willing to go at Potsdam.” Stimson’s account of the meeting noted Byrnes’ concerns (“troubled and anxious”) about the Japanese note and implied that he (Stimson) favored accepting it, but did not picture the debate as starkly as Browns's did.

Document 82 : General L. R. Groves to Chief of Staff George C. Marshall,  August 10, 1945, Top Secret, with a hand-written note by General Marshall

Source: George C. Marshall Papers, George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA (copy courtesy of Barton J. Bernstein)

Groves informed General Marshall that he was making plans for the use of a third atomic weapon sometime after 17 August, depending on the weather. With Truman having ordered a halt to the atomic bombings [See document 78], Marshall wrote on Grove's memo that the bomb was “not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President.”

Document 83 : Memorandum of Conversation, “Japanese Surrender Negotiations,” August 10, 1945, Top Secret

Source: Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 10-12, 1945

Japan’s prospective surrender was the subject of detailed discussion between Harriman, British Ambassador Kerr, and Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov during the evening of August 10 (with a follow-up meeting occurring at 2 a.m.). In the course of the conversation, Harriman received a message from Washington that included the proposed U.S. reply and a request for Soviet support of the reply. After considerable pressure from Harriman, the Soviets signed off on the reply but not before tensions surfaced over the control of Japan--whether Moscow would have a Supreme Commander there as well. This marked the beginning of a U.S.-Soviet “tug of war” over occupation arrangements for Japan. [66]

Document 84 : Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for 12 August [1945] Source: Takashi Itoh, ed.,  Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho  [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 926-927 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

As various factions in the government maneuvered on how to respond to the Byrnes note, Navy Minister Yonai and Admiral Tagaki discussed the latest developments. Yonai was upset that Chief of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu and naval chief Suemu Toyada had sent the emperor a memorandum arguing that acceptance of the Brynes note would “desecrate the emperor’s dignity” and turn Japan into virtually a “slave nation.” The emperor chided Umezu and Toyoda for drawing hasty conclusions; in this he had the support of Yonai, who also dressed them down. As Yonai explained to Tagaki, he had also confronted naval vice Chief Takijiro Onishi to make sure that he obeyed any decision by the Emperor. Yonai made sure that Takagi understood his reasons for bringing the war to an end and why he believed that the atomic bomb and the Soviet declaration of war had made it easier for Japan to surrender. [67]

Document 85 : Memorandum from Major General Clayton Bissell, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, for the Chief of Staff, “Estimate of Japanese Situation for Next 30 Days,” August 12, 1945, Top Secret

Source: National Archives, RG 165, Army Operations OPD, Executive Files 1940-1945, box 12, Exec #2

Not altogether certain that surrender was imminent, Army intelligence did not rule out the possibility that Tokyo would try to “drag out the negotiations” or reject the Byrnes proposal and continue fighting. If the Japanese decided to keep fighting, G-2 opined that “Atomic bombs will not have a decisive effect in the next 30 days.” Richard Frank has pointed out that this and other documents indicate that high level military figures remained unsure as to how close Japan really was to surrender.

Document 86 : The Cabinet Meeting over the Reply to the Four Powers (August 13)

Source:  Gaimusho [Ministry of Foreign Affairs], ed., Shusen Shiroku [Historical Record of the End of the War] (Tokyo: Hokuyosha, 1977-1978), vol. 5, 27-35 [Translated by Toshihiro Higuchi]

The Byrnes Note did not break the stalemate at the cabinet level. An account of the cabinet debates on August 13 prepared by Information Minister Toshiro Shimamura showed the same divisions as before; Anami and a few other ministers continued to argue that the Allies threatened the  kokutai  and that setting the four conditions (no occupation, etc.) did not mean that the war would continue. Nevertheless, Anami argued, “We are still left with some power to fight.” Suzuki, who was working quietly with the peace party, declared that the Allied terms were acceptable because they gave a “dim hope in the dark” of preserving the emperor. At the end of the meeting, he announced that he would report to Hirohito and ask him to make another “Sacred Judgment”. Meanwhile, junior Army officers plotted a coup to thwart the plans for surrender. [68]

Document 87 : Telephone conversation transcript, General Hull and Colonel Seaman [sic] – 1325 – 13 Aug 45, Top Secret

Source: George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA, George C. Marshall Papers (copy courtesy of Barton J. Bernstein)

While Truman had rescinded the order to drop nuclear bombs, the war was not yet over and uncertainty about Japan’s next step motivated war planner General John E. Hull (assistant chief of staff for the War Department’s Operations Division), and one of Groves’ associates, Colonel L. E. Seeman, to continue thinking about further nuclear use and its relationship to a possible invasion of Japan. As Hull explained, “should we not concentrate on targets that will be of greatest assistance to an invasion rather than industry, morale, psychology, etc.” “Nearer the tactical use”, Seaman agreed and they discussed the tactics that could be used for beach landings. In 1991 articles, Barton Bernstein and Marc Gallicchio used this and other evidence to develop the argument that concepts of tactical nuclear weapons use first came to light at the close of World War II. [69]

Document 88 : “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 1236 – August 13, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

The dropping of two atomic bombs, the tremendous destruction caused by U.S. bombing, and the Soviet declaration of war notwithstanding, important elements of the Japanese Army were unwilling to yield, as was evident from intercepted messages dated 12 and 13 August. Willingness to accept even the “destruction of the Army and Navy” rather than surrender inspired the military coup that unfolded and failed during the night of 14 August.

Document 89 : “The Second  Sacred Judgment”, August 14, 1945

Source :   Hiroshi [Kaian) Shimomura, S husenki [Account of the End of the War]  (Tokyo, Kamakura Bunko, [1948], 148-152 [Translated by Toshihiro Higuchi]

Frightened by the rapid movement of Soviet forces into Manchuria and worried that the army might launch a coup, the peace party set in motion a plan to persuade Hirohito to meet with the cabinet and the “Big Six” to resolve the stalemate over the response to the Allies. Japan was already a day late in responding to the Byrnes Note and Hirohito agreed to move quickly. At 10:50 a.m., he met with the leadership at the bomb shelter in his palace. This account, prepared by Director of Information Shimomura, conveys the drama of the occasion (as well as his interest in shifting the blame for the debacle to the Army). After Suzuki gave the war party--Umeda, Toyoda, and Anami--an opportunity to present their arguments against accepting the Byrnes Note, he asked the emperor to speak. 

  Hirohito asked the leadership to accept the Note, which he believed was “well intentioned” on the matter of the “national polity” (by leaving open a possible role for the Emperor).  Arguing that continuing the war would reduce the nation “to ashes,” his words about “bearing the unbearable” and sadness over wartime losses and suffering prefigured the language that Hirohito would use in his public announcement the next day. According to Bix, “Hirohito's language helped to transform him from a war to a peace leader, from a cold, aloof monarch to a human being who cared for his people” but “what chiefly motivated him … was his desire to save a politically empowered throne with himself on it.” [70]

Hirohito said that he would make a recording of the surrender announcement so that the nation could hear it. That evening army officers tried to seize the palace and find Hirohito’s recording, but the coup failed. Early the next day, General Anami committed suicide. On the morning of August 15, Hirohito broadcast the message to the nation (although he never used the word “surrender”). A few weeks later, on September 2, 1945 Japanese representatives signed surrender documents on the USS  Missouri , in Tokyo harbor. [71]

Document 90 : “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 515, August 18, 1945

This summary includes an intercepted account of the destruction of Nagasaki.

Document 91 :Washington Embassy Telegram 5599 to Foreign Office, 14 August 1945, Top Secret [72]

Source: The British National Archives, Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,  FO 800/461

With the Japanese surrender announcement not yet in, President Truman believed that another atomic bombing might become necessary. After a White House meeting on 14 August, British Minister John Balfour reported that Truman had “remarked sadly that he now had no alternative but to order an atomic bomb to be dropped on Tokyo.” This was likely emotional thinking spurred by anxiety and uncertainty. Truman was apparently not considering the fact that Tokyo was already devastated by fire bombing and that an atomic bombing would have killed the Emperor, which would have greatly complicated the process of surrender. Moreover, he may not have known that the third bomb was still in the United States and would not be available for use for nearly another week. [73]  As it turned out, a few hours later, at 4:05 p.m., the White House received the Japanese surrender announcement.

XI. Confronting the Problem of Radiation Poisoning

Document 92 : P.L. Henshaw and R.R. Coveyou to H.J. Curtis and K. Z. Morgan, “Death from Radiation Burns,” 24 August 1945, Confidential

Source: Department of Energy Open-Net

Two scientists at Oak Ridge’s Health Division, Henshaw and Coveyou, saw a United Press report in the Knoxville  News Sentinel  about radiation sickness caused by the bombings. Victims who looked healthy weakened, “for unknown reasons” and many died. Lacking direct knowledge of conditions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Henshaw and Coveyou had their own data on the biological effects of radiation and could make educated guesses. After reviewing the impact of various atomic bomb effects--blast, heat, flash radiation (prompt effects from gamma waves), and radiation from radioactive substances--they concluded that “it seems highly plausible that a great many persons were subjected to lethal and sub-lethal dosages of radiation in areas where direct blast effects were possibly non-lethal.” It was “probable,” therefore, that radiation “would produce increments to the death rate and “even more probable” that a “great number of cases of sub-lethal exposures to radiation have been suffered.” [74]

Document 93 : Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between General Groves and Lt. Col. Rea, Oak Ridge Hospital, 9:00 a.m., August 28, 1945, Top Secret

Source: RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5b

Despite the reports pouring in from Japan about radiation sickness among the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, General Groves and Dr. Charles Rea, a surgeon who was head of the base hospital at Oak Ridge (and had no specialized knowledge about the biological effects of radiation) dismissed the reports as “propaganda”. Unaware of the findings of Health Division scientists, Groves and Rhea saw the injuries as nothing more than “good thermal burns.” [75]

Documents 94A-B: General Farrell Surveys the Destruction

94A . Cable CAX 51813 from  USS Teton  to Commander in Chief Army Forces Pacific Administration, From Farrell to Groves, September 10, 1945, Secret

94B . Cable CAX 51948 from Commander in Chief Army Forces Pacific Advance Yokohoma Japan to Commander in Chief Army Forces Pacific Administration, September 14, 1945, Secret

Source: RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 17, Envelope B

A month after the attacks Groves’ deputy, General Farrell, traveled to Japan to see for himself the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His vivid account shows that senior military officials in the Manhattan Project were no longer dismissive of reports of radiation poisoning. As Farrell observed in his discussion of Hiroshima, “Summaries of Japanese reports previously sent are essentially correct, as to clinical effects from single gamma radiation dose.” Such findings dismayed Groves, who worried that the bomb would fall into a taboo category like chemical weapons, with all the fear and horror surrounding them. Thus, Groves and others would try to suppress findings about radioactive effects, although that was a losing proposition. [76]

XII. Eisenhower and McCloy’s Views on the Bombings and Atomic Weapons

Document 95 : Entry for 4 October 1945, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

In this entry written several months later, Meiklejohn shed light on what much later became an element of the controversy over the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings: whether any high level civilian or military officials objected to nuclear use. Meiklejohn recounted Harriman’s visit in early October 1945 to the Frankfurt-area residence of General Dwight Eisenhower, who was finishing up his service as Commanding General, U.S. Army, European Theater. It was Meiklejohn’s birthday and during the dinner party, Eisenhower and McCloy had an interesting discussion of atomic weapons, which included comments alluding to scientists’ statements about what appears to be the H-bomb project (a 20 megaton weapon), recollection of the early fear that an atomic detonation could burn up the atmosphere, and the Navy’s reluctance to use its battleships to test atomic weapons. At the beginning of the discussion, Eisenhower made a significant statement: he “mentioned how he had hoped that the war might have ended without our having to use the atomic bomb.” The general implication was that prior to Hiroshima-Nagasaki, he had wanted to avoid using the bomb.

Some may associate this statement with one that Eisenhower later recalled making to Stimson. In his 1948 memoirs (further amplified in his 1963 memoirs), Eisenhower claimed that he had “expressed the hope [to Stimson] that we would never have to use such a thing against an enemy because I disliked seeing the United States take the lead in introducing into war something as horrible and destructive as this new weapon was described to be.” That language may reflect the underlying thinking behind Eisenhower’s statement during the dinner party, but whether Eisenhower used such language when speaking with Stimson has been a matter of controversy. In later years, those who knew both thought it unlikely that the general would have expressed misgivings about using the bomb to a civilian superior. Eisenhower’s son John cast doubts about the memoir statements, although he attested that when the general first learned about the bomb he was downcast.

Stimson’s diary mentions meetings with Eisenhower twice in the weeks before Hiroshima, but without any mention of a dissenting Eisenhower statement (and Stimson’s diaries are quite detailed on atomic matters). The entry from Meiklejohn’s diary does not prove or disprove Eisenhower’s recollection, but it does confirm that he had doubts which he expressed only a few months after the bombings. Whether Eisenhower expressed such reservations prior to Hiroshima will remain a matter of controversy. [77]

Document 96:  President Harry S. Truman, Handwritten Remarks for Gridiron Dinner, circa 15 December 1945 [78]

Source: Harry S. Truman Library,  President's Secretary's Files,  Speech Files, 1945-1953,  copy on U.S. National Archives Web Site

On 15 December, President Truman spoke about the atomic bombings in his speech at the annual dinner of the Gridiron Club, organized by bureau chiefs and other leading figures of print media organizations. Besides Truman, guests included New York Governor Thomas Dewey (Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948), foreign ambassadors, members of the cabinet and the Supreme Court, the military high command, and various senators and representatives. The U.S. Marine Band provided music for the dinner and for the variety show that was performed by members of the press.  [79]

In accordance with the dinner’s rules that “reporters are never present,” Truman’s remarks were off-the record. The president, however, wrote in long-hand a text that that might approximate what he said that evening. Pages 12 through 15 of those notes refer to the atomic bombing of Japan:

“You know the most terrible decision a man ever had to make was made by me at Potsdam. It had nothing to do with Russia or Britain or Germany. It was a decision to loose the most terrible of all destructive forces for the wholesale slaughter of human beings. The Secretary of War, Mr. Stimson, and I weighed that decision most prayerfully. But the President had to decide. It occurred to me that a quarter of a million of the flower of our young manhood was worth a couple of Japanese cities, and I still think that they were and are. But I couldn’t help but think of the necessity of blotting out women and children and non-combatants. We gave them fair warning and asked them to quit. We picked a couple of cities where war work was the principle industry, and dropped bombs. Russia hurried in and the war ended.”

Truman characterized the Potsdam Declaration as a “fair warning,” but it was an ultimatum. Plainly he was troubled by the devastation and suffering caused by the bombings, but he found it justifiable because it saved the lives of U.S. troops. His estimate of 250,000 U.S. soldiers spared far exceeded that made by General Marshall in June 1945, which was in the range of 31,000 (comparable to the Battle of Luzon) [See Document 26]. By citing an inflated casualty figure, the president was giving a trial run for the rationale that would become central to official and semi-official discourse about the bombings during the decades ahead. [80]  

Despite Truman’s claim that he made “the most terrible” decision at Potsdam, he assigned himself more responsibility than the historical record supports. On the basic decision, he had simply concurred with the judgments of Stimson, Groves, and others that the bomb would be used as soon as it was available for military use. As for targeting, however, he had a more significant role. At Potsdam, Stimson raised his objections to targeting Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, and Truman supported the secretary’s efforts to drop that city from the target list [See Documents 47 and 48].  [81]

Where he had taken significant responsibility was by making a decision to stop the atomic bombings just before the Japanese surrender, thereby asserting presidential control over nuclear weapons

The editor thanks Barton J. Bernstein, J. Samuel Walker, Gar Alperovitz, David Holloway, and Alex Wellerstein for their advice and assistance, and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa for kindly providing copies of some of the Japanese sources that were translated for this compilation. Hasegawa’s book,  Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan  (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005), includes invaluable information on Japanese sources. David Clark, an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Library, and James Cross, Manuscripts Archivist at Clemson University Library’s Special Collections, kindly provided material from their collections. The editor also thanks Kyle Hammond and Gregory Graves for research assistance and Toshihiro Higuchi and Hikaru Tajima (who then were graduate students in history at Georgetown University and the University of Tokyo respectively), for translating documents and answering questions on the Japanese sources. The editor thanks Anna Melyakova (National Security Archive) for translating Russian language material.

Read the documents

I. background on the u.s. atomic project   documents 1a-c: report of the uranium committee.

Document 1A Arthur H. Compton, National Academy of Sciences Committee on Atomic Fission, to Frank Jewett, Presid

Document 1A

National Archives, Records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Record Group 227 (hereinafter RG 227), Bush-Conant papers microfilm collection, Roll 1, Target 2, Folder 1, "S-1 Historical File, Section A (1940-1941)."

Document 1B Report to the President of the National Academy of Sciences by the Academy Committee on Uranium, 6 N

Document 1B

See description of document 1A.

Document 1C Vannevar Bush, Director, Office of Scientific Research and Development, to President Roosevelt, 27 N

Document 1C

Document 2A Vannevar Bush to President Roosevelt, 9 March 1942, with memo from Roosevelt attached, 11 March 1942

Document 2A

RG 227, Bush-Conant papers microfilm collection, Roll 1, Target 2, Folder 1, "S-1 Historical File, Section II (1941-1942)

Document 2B 1942-12-16

Document 2B

Bush-Conant papers, S-1 Historical File, Reports to and Conferences with the President (1942-1944)

See description of document 2A.

Document 3 Memorandum by Leslie R. Grove, “Policy Meeting, 5/5/43,” Top Secret

National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Army Corps of Engineers (hereinafter RG 77), Manhattan Engineering District (MED), Minutes of the Military Policy Meeting (5 May 1943), Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), Roll 3, Target 6, Folder 23, “Military Policy Committee, Minutes of Meetings”

Before the Manhattan Project had produced any weapons, senior U.S. government officials had Japanese targets in mind. Besides discussing programmatic matters (e.g., status of gaseous diffusion plants, heavy water production for reactors, and staffing at Las Alamos), the participants agreed that the first use could be Japanese naval forces concentrated at Truk Harbor, an atoll in the Caroline Islands. If there was a misfire the weapon would be difficult for the Japanese to recover, which would not be the case if Tokyo was targeted. Targeting Germany was rejected because the Germans were considered more likely to “secure knowledge” from a defective weapon than the Japanese. That is, the United States could possibly be in danger if the Nazis acquired more knowledge about how to build a bomb. [9]

Document 4 Memo from General Groves to the Chief of Staff [Marshall], “Atomic Fission Bombs – Present Statu

RG 77, Correspondence ("Top Secret") of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, file 25M

This memorandum from General Groves to General Marshall captured how far the Manhattan Project had come in less than two years since Bush’s December 1942 report to President Roosevelt. Groves did not mention this but around the time he wrote this the Manhattan Project had working at its far-flung installations over 125,000 people ; taking into account high labor turnover some 485,000 people worked on the project (1 out of every 250 people in the country at that time). What these people were laboring to construct, directly or indirectly, were two types of weapons—a gun-type weapon using U-235 and an implosion weapon using plutonium (although the possibility of U-235 was also under consideration). As the scientists had learned, a gun-type weapon based on plutonium was “impossible” because that element had an “unexpected property”: spontaneous neutron emissions would cause the weapon to “fizzle.” [10] For both the gun-type and the implosion weapons, a production schedule had been established and both would be available during 1945. The discussion of weapons effects centered on blast damage models; radiation and other effects were overlooked.

Document 5 Memorandum from Vannevar Bush and James B. Conant, Office of Scientific Research and Development, to

RG 77, Harrison-Bundy Files (H-B Files), folder 69 (copy from microfilm)

Documents 6A-D: President Truman Learns the Secret

Document 6A Memorandum for the Secretary of War from General L. R. Groves, “Atomic Fission Bombs,” April 23,

Document 6A

G 77, Commanding General’s file no. 24, tab D

Soon after he was sworn in as president following President Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman learned about the top secret Manhattan Project from briefings by  Secretary of War Stimson and Manhattan Project chief General Groves (who went through the “back door” to escape the watchful press). Stimson, who later wrote up the meeting in his diary, also prepared a discussion paper, which raised broader policy issues associated with the imminent possession of “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history.”

In a background report prepared for the meeting, Groves provided a detailed overview of the bomb project from the raw materials to processing nuclear fuel to assembling the weapons to plans for using them, which were starting to crystallize. With respect to the point about assembling the weapons, Groves and Stimson informed Truman that the first gun-type weapon “should be ready about 1 August 1945” while an implosion weapon would also be available that month. “The target is and was always expected to be Japan.”  

These documents have important implications for the perennial debate over whether Truman “inherited assumptions” from the Roosevelt administration that the bomb would be used when available or that he made  the  decision to do so.  Alperovitz and Sherwin have argued that Truman made “a real decision” to use the bomb on Japan by choosing “between various forms of diplomacy and warfare.” In contrast, Bernstein found that Truman “never questioned [the] assumption” that the bomb would and should be used. Norris also noted that “Truman’s ”decision” amounted to a decision not to override previous plans to use the bomb.” [12]

Document 6B Memorandum discussed with the President, April 25, 1945

Document 6B

Henry Stimson Diary, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress)

See description of document 6A.

Document 6C [Untitled memorandum by General L.R. Groves, April 25, 1945

Document 6C

Record Group 200, Papers of General Leslie R. Groves, Correspondence 1941-1970, box 3, “F”

Document 6D Diary Entry, April 25, 1945

Document 6D

Document 7 Commander F. L. Ashworth to Major General L.R. Groves, “The Base of Operations of the 509th Compos

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5g

The force of B-29 nuclear delivery vehicles that was being readied for first nuclear use—the Army Air Force’s 509 th Composite Group—required an operational base in the Western Pacific. In late February 1945, months before atomic bombs were ready for use, the high command selected Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas Islands, for that base.

Document 8 Headquarters XXI Bomber Command, “Tactical Mission Report, Mission No. 40 Flown 10 March 1945,”n

Library of Congress, Curtis LeMay Papers, Box B-36

As part of the war with Japan, the Army Air Force waged a campaign to destroy major industrial centers with incendiary bombs. This document is General Curtis LeMay’s report on the firebombing of Tokyo--“the most destructive air raid in history”--which burned down over 16 square miles of the city, killed up to 100,000 civilians (the official figure was 83,793), injured more than 40,000, and made over 1 million homeless. [13] According to the “Foreword,” the purpose of the raid, which dropped 1,665 tons of incendiary bombs, was to destroy industrial and strategic targets “ not to bomb indiscriminately civilian populations.” Air Force planners, however, did not distinguish civilian workers from the industrial and strategic structures that they were trying to destroy.

Document 9 Notes on Initial Meeting of Target Committee, May 2, 1945, Top Secret

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5d (copy from microfilm)

On 27 April, military officers and nuclear scientists met to discuss bombing techniques, criteria for target selection, and overall mission requirements. The discussion of “available targets” included Hiroshima, the “largest untouched target not on the 21 st Bomber Command priority list.” But other targets were under consideration, including Yawata (northern Kyushu), Yokohama, and Tokyo (even though it was practically “rubble.”) The problem was that the Air Force had a policy of “laying waste” to Japan’s cities which created tension with the objective of reserving some urban targets for nuclear destruction. [16]

Document 10 Memorandum from J. R. Oppenheimer to Brigadier General Farrell, May 11, 1945

Document 10

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5g (copy from microfilm)

As director of Los Alamos Laboratory, Oppenheimer’s priority was producing a deliverable bomb, but not so much the effects of the weapon on the people at the target. In keeping with General Groves’ emphasis on compartmentalization, the Manhattan Project experts on the effects of radiation on human biology were at the MetLab and other offices and had no interaction with the production and targeting units. In this short memorandum to Groves’ deputy, General Farrell, Oppenheimer explained the need for precautions because of the radiological dangers of a nuclear detonation. The initial radiation from the detonation would be fatal within a radius of about 6/10ths of a mile and “injurious” within a radius of a mile. The point was to keep the bombing mission crew safe; concern about radiation effects had no impact on targeting decisions. [17]

Document 11 Memorandum from Major J. A. Derry and Dr. N.F. Ramsey to General L.R. Groves, “Summary of Target C

Document 11

Scientists and officers held further discussion of bombing mission requirements, including height of detonation, weather, radiation effects (Oppenheimer’s memo), plans for possible mission abort, and the various aspects of target selection, including priority cities (“a large urban area of more than three miles diameter”) and psychological dimension. As for target cities, the committee agreed that the following should be exempt from Army Air Force bombing so they would be available for nuclear targeting: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura Arsenal. Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, would not stay on the list. Pressure from Secretary of War Stimson had already taken Kyoto off the list of targets for incendiary bombings and he would successfully object to the atomic bombing of that city. [18]

Document 12 Stimson Diary Entries, May 14 and 15, 1945

Document 12

Document 13 Davies Diary entry for May 21, 1945

Document 13

Joseph E. Davies Papers, Library of Congress, box 17, 21 May 1945

Document 14 Letter, O. C. Brewster to President Truman, 24 May 1945, with note from Stimson to Marshall, 30 May

Document 14

Harrison-Bundy Files relating to the Development of the Atomic Bomb, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1108 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), File 77: "Interim Committee - International Control."

In what Stimson called the “letter of an honest man,” Oswald C. Brewster sent President Truman a profound analysis of the danger and unfeasibility of a U.S. atomic monopoly. [21] An engineer for the Kellex Corporation, which was involved in the gas diffusion project to enrich uranium, Brewster recognized that the objective was fissile material for a weapon. That goal, he feared, raised terrifying prospects with implications for the “inevitable destruction of our present day civilization.” Once the U.S. had used the bomb in combat other great powers would not tolerate a monopoly by any nation and the sole possessor would be “be the most hated and feared nation on earth.” Even the U.S.’s closest allies would want the bomb because “how could they know where our friendship might be five, ten, or twenty years hence.” Nuclear proliferation and arms races would be certain unless the U.S. worked toward international supervision and inspection of nuclear plants.

Document 15 Minutes of Third Target Committee Meeting – Washington, May 28, 1945, Top Secret

Document 15

Document 16 General Lauris Norstad to Commanding General, XXI Bomber Command, “509th Composite Group; Special

Document 16

At the end of May General Groves forwarded to Army Chief of Staff Marshall a “Plan of Operations” for the atomic bombings. While that plan has not surfaced, apparently its major features were incorporated in this 29 May 1945 message on the “special functions” of the 509th Composite Group sent from Chief of Staff General Lauris Norstad to General Curtis LeMay, chief of the XXI Bomber Command, headquartered in the Marianas Islands. [21A] The Norstad message reviewed the complex requirements for preparing B-29s and their crew for delivering nuclear weapons.  He detailed the mission of the specially modified B-29s that comprised the  509th Composite Group, the “tactical factors” that applied,  training and rehearsal issues, and the functions of “special personnel” and the Operational Studies Group.  The targets listed—Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Niigato—were those that had been discussed at the Target Committee meeting on 28 May, but Kyoto would be dropped when Secretary Stimson objected (although that would remain a contested matter) and Kokura would eventually be substituted.   As part of the Composite Group’s training to drop “special bombs,” it would practice with facsimiles—the conventionally-armed “Pumpkins.” The 509th Composite Group’s cover story for its secret mission was the preparation for the use of “Pumpkins” in battle.

Document 17 Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, “Memorandum of Conversation with General Marshal May 29

Document 17

Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson (“Safe File”), July 1940-September 1945, box 12, S-1

Tacitly dissenting from the Targeting Committee’s recommendations, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall argued for initial nuclear use against a clear-cut military target such as a “large naval installation.” If that did not work, manufacturing areas could be targeted, but only after warning their inhabitants. Marshall noted the “opprobrium which might follow from an ill considered employment of such force.” This document has played a role in arguments developed by Barton J. Bernstein that figures such as Marshall and Stimson were “caught between an older morality that opposed the intentional killing of non-combatants and a newer one that stressed virtually total war.” [22]

Document 18 “Notes of the Interim Committee Meeting Thursday, 31 May 1945, 10:00 A.M. to 1:15 P.M. – 2:15 P.

Document 18

RG 77, MED Records, H-B files, folder no. 100 (copy from microfilm)

With Secretary of War Stimson presiding, members of the committee heard reports on a variety of Manhattan Project issues, including the stages of development of the atomic project,  problems of secrecy, the possibility of informing the Soviet Union, cooperation with “like-minded” powers, the military impact of the bomb on Japan, and the problem of “undesirable scientists.”  In his comments on a detonation over Japanese targets, Oppenheimer mentioned that the “neutron effect would be dangerous to life for a radius of at least two-thirds of a mile,” but did not mention that the radiation could cause prolonged sickness.

Interested in producing the “greatest psychological effect,” the Committee members agreed that the “most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.”  Bernstein argues that this target choice represented an uneasy endorsement of “terror bombing”-the target was not exclusively military or civilian; nevertheless, worker’s housing would include non-combatant men, women, and children. [23] It is possible that Truman was informed of such discussions and their conclusions, although he clung to a belief that the prospective targets were strictly military.

Document 19 General George A. Lincoln to General Hull, June 4, 1945, enclosing draft, Top Secret

Document 19

Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, American-British-Canadian Top Secret Correspondence, Box 504, “ABC 387 Japan (15 Feb. 45)

George A. Lincoln, chief of the Strategy and Policy Group at U.S. Army’s Operations Department, commented on a memorandum by former President Herbert Hoover that Stimson had passed on for analysis. Hoover proposed a compromise solution with Japan that would allow Tokyo to retain part of its empire in East Asia (including Korea and Japan) as a way to head off Soviet influence in the region. While Lincoln believed that the proposed peace teams were militarily acceptable he doubted that they were workable or that they could check Soviet “expansion” which he saw as an inescapable result of World War II. As to how the war with Japan would end, he saw it as “unpredictable,” but speculated that “it will take Russian entry into the war, combined with a landing, or imminent threat of a landing, on Japan proper by us, to convince them of the hopelessness of their situation.” Lincoln derided Hoover’s casualty estimate of 500,000. J. Samuel Walker has cited this document to make the point that “contrary to revisionist assertions, American policymakers in the summer of 1945 were far from certain that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria would be enough in itself to force a Japanese surrender.” [24]

Document 20 Memorandum from R. Gordon Arneson, Interim Committee Secretary, to Mr. Harrison, June 6, 1945, Top S

Document 20

Document 21 Memorandum of Conference with the President, June 6, 1945, Top Secret

Document 21

Henry Stimson Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University (microfilm at Library of Congress)

Stimson and Truman began this meeting by discussing how they should handle a conflict with French President DeGaulle over the movement by French forces into Italian territory. (Truman finally cut off military aid to France to compel the French to pull back). [25] As evident from the discussion, Stimson strongly disliked de Gaulle whom he regarded as “psychopathic.” The conversation soon turned to the atomic bomb, with some discussion about plans to inform the Soviets but only after a successful test. Both agreed that the possibility of a nuclear “partnership” with Moscow would depend on “quid pro quos”: “the settlement of the Polish, Rumanian, Yugoslavian, and Manchurian problems.”

At the end, Stimson shared his doubts about targeting cities and killing civilians through area bombing because of its impact on the U.S.’s reputation as well as on the problem of finding targets for the atomic bomb. Barton Bernstein has also pointed to this as additional evidence of the influence on Stimson of an “an older morality.” While concerned about the U.S.’s reputation, Stimson did not want the Air Force to bomb Japanese cities so thoroughly that the “new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strength,” a comment that made Truman laugh. The discussion of “area bombing” may have reminded him that Japanese civilians remained at risk from U.S. bombing operations.

Document 22 Memorandum from Arthur B. Compton to the Secretary of War, enclosing “Memorandum on `Political and

Document 22

RG 77, MED Records, H-B files, folder no. 76 (copy from microfilm)

Physicists Leo Szilard and James Franck, a Nobel Prize winner, were on the staff of the “Metallurgical Laboratory” at the University of Chicago, a cover for the Manhattan Project program to produce fuel for the bomb. The outspoken Szilard was not involved in operational work on the bomb and General Groves kept him under surveillance but Met Lab director Arthur Compton found Szilard useful to have around. Concerned with the long-run implications of the bomb, Franck chaired a committee, in which Szilard and Eugene Rabinowitch were major contributors, that produced a report rejecting a surprise attack on Japan and recommended instead a demonstration of the bomb on the “desert or a barren island.” Arguing that a nuclear arms race “will be on in earnest not later than the morning after our first demonstration of the existence of nuclear weapons,” the committee saw international control as the alternative. That possibility would be difficult if the United States made first military use of the weapon. Compton raised doubts about the recommendations but urged Stimson to study the report. Martin Sherwin has argued that the Franck committee shared an important assumption with Truman et al.--that an “atomic attack against Japan would `shock’ the Russians”--but drew entirely different conclusions about the import of such a shock. [26]

Document 23 Memorandum from Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew to the President, “Analysis of Memorandum Pr

Document 23

Record Group 107, Office of the Secretary of War, Formerly Top Secret Correspondence of Secretary of War Stimson (“Safe File”), July 1940-September 1945, box 8, Japan (After December 7/41)

Document 24 Memorandum from Chief of Staff Marshall to the Secretary of War, 15 June 1945, enclosing “Memorand

Document 24

Document 25 Memorandum by J. R. Oppenheimer, “Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons,” June

Document 25

Document 26 “Minutes of Meeting Held at the White House on Monday, 18 June 1945 at 1530,” Top Secret

Document 26

Record Group 218, Records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Decimal Files, 1942-1945, box 198 334 JCS (2-2-45) Mtg 186th-194th

The record of this meeting has figured in the complex debate over the estimates of casualties stemming from a possible invasion of Japan. While post-war justifications for the bomb suggested that an invasion of Japan could have produced very high levels of casualties (dead, wounded, or missing), from hundreds of thousands to a million, historians have vigorously debated the extent to which the estimates were inflated. [29]

Document 27 Memorandum from R. Gordon Arneson, Interim Committee Secretary, to Mr. Harrison, June 25, 1945, Top

Document 27

Document 28 Memorandum from George L. Harrison to Secretary of War, June 26, 1945, Top Secret

Document 28

RG 77, MED, H-B files, folder no. 77 (copy from microfilm)

Document 29 Memorandum from George L. Harrison to Secretary of War, June 28, 1945, Top Secret, enclosing Ralph B

Document 29

Document 30 Memorandum for Mr. McCloy, “Comments re: Proposed Program for Japan,” June 28, 1945, Draft, Top

Document 30

RG 107, Office of Assistant Secretary of War Formerly Classified Correspondence of John J. McCloy, 1941-1945, box 38, ASW 387 Japan

Document 31 Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy to Colonel Stimson, June 29, 1945, Top Secret

Document 31

Document 32 Memorandum, “Timing of Proposed Demand for Japanese Surrender,” June 29, 1945, Top Secret

Document 32

Document 33 Stimson memorandum to The President, “Proposed Program for Japan,” 2 July 1945, Top Secret

Document 33

Naval Aide to the President Files, box 4, Berlin Conference File, Volume XI - Miscellaneous papers: Japan, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

On 2 July Stimson presented to President Truman a proposal that he had worked up with colleagues in the War Department, including McCloy, Marshall, and Grew. The proposal has been characterized as “the most comprehensive attempt by any American policymaker to leverage diplomacy” in order to shorten the Pacific War. Stimson had in mind a “carefully timed warning” delivered before the invasion of Japan. Some of the key elements of Stimson’s argument were his assumption that “Japan is susceptible to reason” and that Japanese might be even more inclined to surrender if “we do not exclude a constitutional monarchy under her present dynasty.” The possibility of a Soviet attack would be part of the “threat.” As part of the threat message, Stimson alluded to the “inevitability and completeness of the destruction” which Japan could suffer, but he did not make it clear whether unconditional surrender terms should be clarified before using the atomic bomb. Truman read Stimson’s proposal, which he said was “powerful,” but made no commitments to the details, e.g., the position of the emperor. [32]

Document 34 Minutes, Secretary’s Staff Committee, Saturday Morning, July 7, 1945, 133d Meeting, Top Secret

Document 34

Record Group 353, Records of Interdepartmental and Intradepartmental Committees, Secretary’s Staff Meetings Minutes, 1944-1947 (copy from microfilm)

Document 35 Combined Chiefs of Staff, “Estimate of the Enemy Situation (as of 6 July 1945, C.C.S 643/3, July 8

Document 35

RG 218, Central Decimal Files, 1943-1945, CCS 381 (6-4-45), Sec. 2 Pt. 5

Document 36 Cable to Secretary of State from Acting Secretary Joseph Grew, July 16, 1945, Top Secret

Document 36

Record Group 59, Decimal Files 1945-1949, 740.0011 PW (PE)/7-1645

Document 37 Letter from Stimson to Byrnes, enclosing memorandum to the President, “The Conduct of the War with

Document 37

Henry L. Stimson Papers (MS 465), Sterling Library, Yale University (reel 113) (microfilm at Library of Congress)

Still interested in trying to find ways to “warn Japan into surrender,” this represents an attempt by Stimson before the Potsdam conference, to persuade Truman and Byrnes to agree to issue warnings to Japan prior to the use of the bomb. The warning would draw on the draft State-War proclamation to Japan; presumably, the one criticized by Hull (above) which included language about the emperor. Presumably the clarified warning would be issued prior to the use of the bomb; if the Japanese persisted in fighting then “the full force of our new weapons should be brought to bear” and a “heavier” warning would be issued backed by the “actual entrance of the Russians in the war.” Possibly, as Malloy has argued, Stimson was motivated by concerns about using the bomb against civilians and cities, but his latest proposal would meet resistance at Potsdam from Byrnes and other. [34]

Document 38 E. Lapp, Leo Szilard et al., “A Petition to the President of the United States,” July 17, 1945

Document 38

IV. The Japanese Search for Soviet Mediation   Documents 39A-B: Magic

Document 39A William F. Friedman, Consultant (Armed Forces Security Agency), “A Short History of U.S. COMINT Ac

Document 39A

National Security Agency Mandatory declassification review release.

Beginning in September 1940, U.S. military intelligence began to decrypt routinely, under the “Purple” code-name, the intercepted cable traffic of the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Collectively the decoded messages were known as “Magic.” How this came about is explained in an internal history of pre-war and World War II Army and Navy code-breaking activities prepared by William F. Friedman , a central figure in the development of U.S. government cryptology during the 20 th century. The National Security Agency kept the ‘Magic” diplomatic and military summaries classified for many years and did not release the entire series for 1942 through August 1945 until the early 1990s. [36]

Document 39B “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 120

Document 39B

Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18.

Document 40 John Weckerling, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, July 12, 1945, to Deputy Chief of Staff, “J

Document 40

RG 165, Army Operations OPD Executive File #17, Item 13 (copy courtesy of J. Samuel Walker)

Document 41 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 120

Document 41

Record Group 457, Records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries 1942-1945, box 18

Document 42 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 121

Document 42

Document 43 Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for July 20, 1945

Document 43

Takashi Itoh, ed., Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 916-917 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Document 44 Letter from Commissar of State Security First Rank, V. Merkulov, to People’s Commissar for Interna

Document 44

L.D. Riabev, ed., Atomnyi Proekt SSSR (Moscow: izd MFTI, 2002), Volume 1, Part 2, 335-336

This 10 July 1945 letter from NKVD director V. N. Merkulov to Beria is an example of Soviet efforts to collect inside information on the Manhattan Project, although not all the detail was accurate. Merkulov reported that the United States had scheduled the test of a nuclear device for that same day, although the actual test took place 6 days later. According to Merkulov, two fissile materials were being produced: element-49 (plutonium), and U-235; the test device was fueled by plutonium. The Soviet source reported that the weight of the device was 3 tons (which was in the ball park) and forecast an explosive yield of 5 kilotons. That figure was based on underestimates by Manhattan Project scientists: the actual yield of the test device was 20 kilotons.

Document 45 Telegram War [Department] 33556, from Harrison to Secretary of War, July 17, 1945, Top Secret

Document 45

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File 5e (copy from microfilm)

An elated message from Harrison to Stimson reported the success of the Trinity Test of a plutonium implosion weapon. The light from the explosion could been seen “from here [Washington, D.C.] to “high hold” [Stimson’s estate on Long Island—250 miles away]” and it was so loud that Harrison could have heard the “screams” from Washington, D.C. to “my farm” [in Upperville, VA, 50 miles away] [42]

Document 46 Memorandum from General L. R. Groves to Secretary of War, “The Test,” July 18, 1945, Top Secret,

Document 46

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 4 (copy from microfilm)

Document 47 Truman’s Potsdam Diary

Document 47

Barton J. Bernstein, “Truman at Potsdam: His Secret Diary,” Foreign Service Journal, July/August 1980, excerpts, used with author’s permission. [44]

Some years after Truman’s death, a hand-written diary that he kept during the Potsdam conference surfaced in his personal papers. For convenience, Barton Bernstein’s rendition is provided here but linked here are the scanned versions of Truman’s handwriting on the National Archives’ website (for 15-30 July).

Document 48 Stimson Diary entries for July 16 through 25, 1945

Document 48

An important question that Stimson discussed with Marshall, at Truman’s request, was whether Soviet entry into the war remained necessary to secure Tokyo’s surrender. Marshall was not sure whether that was so although Stimson privately believed that the atomic bomb would provide enough to force surrender (see entry for July 23). This entry has been cited by all sides of the controversy over whether Truman was trying to keep the Soviets out of the war. [46] During the meeting on August 24, discussed above, Stimson gave his reasons for taking Kyoto off the atomic target list: destroying that city would have caused such “bitterness” that it could have become impossible “to reconcile the Japanese to us in that area rather than to the Russians.” Stimson vainly tried to preserve language in the Potsdam Declaration designed to assure the Japanese about “the continuance of their dynasty” but received Truman’s assurance that such a consideration could be conveyed later through diplomatic channels (see entry for July 24). Hasegawa argues that Truman realized that the Japanese would refuse a demand for unconditional surrender without a proviso on a constitutional monarchy and that “he needed Japan’s refusal to justify the use of the atomic bomb.” [47]

Document 49 Walter Brown Diaries, July 10-August 3, 1945

Document 49

Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter J. Brown Papers, box 10, folder 12, Byrnes, James F.: Potsdam, Minutes, July-August 1945

The degree to which the typed-up version reflects the original is worth investigating. In any event, historians have used information from the diary to support various interpretations. For example, Bernstein cites the entries for 20 and 24 July to argue that “American leaders did not view Soviet entry as a substitute for the bomb” but that the latter “would be so powerful, and the Soviet presence in Manchuria so militarily significant, that there was no need for actual Soviet intervention in the war.” For Brown's diary entry of 3 August 9 1945 historians have developed conflicting interpretations (See discussion of document 57). [48]

Document 50 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 121

Document 50

Document 51 Forrestal Diary Entry, July 24, 1945, “Japanese Peace Feelers”

Document 51

Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives, James Forrestal Diaries

Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was a regular recipient of “Magic” intercept reports; this substantial entry reviews the dramatic Sato-Togo exchanges covered in the 22 July “Magic” summary (although Forrestal misdated Sato’s cable as “first of July” instead of the 21 st ). In contrast to Alperovitz’s argument that Forrestal tried to modify the terms of unconditional surrender to give the Japanese an out, Frank sees Forrestal’s account of the Sato-Togo exchange as additional evidence that senior U.S. officials understood that Tokyo was not on the “cusp of surrender.” [49]

Document 52 Davies Diary entry for July 29, 1945

Document 52

Joseph E. Davies Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, box 19, 29 July 1945

VII. Debates among the Japanese – Late July/Early August 1945

Document 53 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 122

Document 53

In the Potsdam Declaration the governments of China, Great Britain, and the United States) demanded the “unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces. “The alternative is prompt and utter destruction.” The next day, in response to questions from journalists about the government’s reaction to the ultimatum, Prime Minister Suzuki apparently said that “We can only ignore [ mokusatsu ] it. We will do our utmost to complete the war to the bitter end.” That, Bix argues, represents a “missed opportunity” to end the war and spare the Japanese from continued U.S. aerial attacks. [51] Togo’s private position was more nuanced than Suzuki’s; he told Sato that “we are adopting a policy of careful study.” That Stalin had not signed the declaration (Truman and Churchill did not ask him to) led to questions about the Soviet attitude. Togo asked Sato to try to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov as soon as possible to “sound out the Russian attitude” on the declaration as well as Japan’s end-the-war initiative. Sato cabled Togo earlier that he saw no point in approaching the Soviets on ending the war until Tokyo had “concrete proposals.” “Any aid from the Soviets has now become extremely doubtful.”

Document 54 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 122

Document 54

Document 55 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 122

Document 55

Document 56 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 122

Document 56

Document 57 Walter Brown Meeting Notes, August 3, 1945

Document 57

Document 58 “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 502,

Document 58

RG 457, Summaries of Intercepted Japanese Messages (“Magic” Far East Summary, March 20, 1942 – October 2, 1945), box 7, SRS 491-547

Document 59 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 122

Document 59

VIII. The Execution Order   Documents 60A-D: These messages convey the process of creating and transmitting the execution order to bomb Hiroshima. Possibly not wanting to take responsibility for the first use of nuclear weapons, Army Air Force commanders sought formal authorization from Chief of Staff Marshall who was then in Potsdam

Document 60A Cable VICTORY 213 from Marshall to Handy, July 22, 1945, Top Secret

Document 60A

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, Files no. 5b and 5e (copies from microfilm)

These messages convey the process of creating and transmitting the execution order to bomb Hiroshima.  Possibly not wanting to take responsibility for the first use of nuclear weapons, Army Air Force commanders sought formal authorization from Chief of Staff Marshall who was then in Potsdam. [55] On 22 July Marshall asked Deputy Chief of Staff Thomas Handy to prepare a draft; General Groves wrote one which went to Potsdam for Marshall’s approval. Colonel John Stone, an assistant to commanding General of the Army Air Forces Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, had just returned from Potsdam and updated his boss on the plans as they had developed. On 25 July Marshall informed Handy that Secretary of War Stimson had approved the text; that same day, Handy signed off on a directive which ordered the use of atomic weapons on Japan, with the first weapon assigned to one of four possible targets—Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, or Nagasaki. “Additional bombs will be delivery on the [targets] as soon as made ready by the project staff.”

Document 60B Memorandum from Colonel John Stone to General Arnold, “Groves Project,” 24 July 1945, Top Secret

Document 60B

See description of document 60A.

Document 60C Cable WAR 37683 from General Handy to General Marshal, enclosing directive to General Spatz, July 24

Document 60C

Document 60D Cable VICTORY 261 from Marshall to General Handy, July 25, 1945, 25 July 1945, Top Secret

Document 60D

Document 60E General Thomas T. Handy to General Carl Spaatz, July 26, 1945, Top Secret

Document 60E

Document 61 Memorandum from Major General L. R. Groves to Chief of Staff, July 30, 1945, Top Secret, Sanitized C

Document 61

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5

With more information on the Alamogordo test available, Groves provided Marshall with detail on the destructive power of atomic weapons. Barton J. Bernstein has observed that Groves’ recommendation that troops could move into the “immediate explosion area” within a half hour demonstrates the prevalent lack of top-level knowledge of the dangers of nuclear weapons effects. [56] Groves also provided the schedule for the delivery of the weapons: the components of the gun-type bomb to be used on Hiroshima had arrived on Tinian, while the parts of the second weapon to be dropped were leaving San Francisco. By the end of November over ten weapons would be available, presumably in the event the war had continued.

Document 62A CG 313th Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5112 to War Department, August 3, 1945, Top Secret

Document 62A

RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 21 (copies courtesy of Barton Bernstein)

Document 62B CG 313th Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5130 to War Department, August 4, 1945, Top Secret

Document 62B

See description of document 62A.

Document 62C CG 313th Bomb Wing, Tinian cable APCOM 5155 to War Department, August 4, 1945, Top Secret

Document 62C

Document 63 Memorandum from General L. R. Groves to the Chief of Staff, August 6, 1945, Top Secret

Document 63

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5b (copy from microfilm)

Document 64 Walter Brown Diary Entry, 6 August 1945

Document 64

Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter J. Brown Papers, box 68, folder 13, “Transcript/Draft B

Returning from the Potsdam Conference, sailing on the U.S.S. Augusta , Truman learned about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and announced it twice, first to those in the wardroom (socializing/dining area for commissioned officers), and then to the sailors’ mess. Still unaware of radiation effects, Truman emphasized the explosive yield. Later, he met with Secretary of State Byrnes and they discussed the Manhattan Project’s secrecy and the huge expenditures. Truman, who had been chair of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, said that “only on the appeal of Secretary of War Stimson did he refrain and let the War Department continue with the experiment unmolested.”

Document 65 Directive from the Supreme Command Headquarters to the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Forces in th

Document 65

A. Zolotarev, ed., Sovetsko-Iaponskaia Voina 1945 Goda: Istoriia Voenno-Politicheskogo Protivoborstva Dvukh Derzhav v 30–40e Gody (Moscow: Terra, 1997 and 2000), Vol. 7 (1), 340-341.

Document 66 Memorandum of Conversation, “Atomic Bomb,” August 7, 1945

Document 66

Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 5-9, 1945.

Documents 67A-B: Early High-level Reactions to the Hiroshima Bombing

Document 67A Cabinet Meeting and Togo's Meeting with the Emperor, August 7-8, 1945

Document 67A

Gaimusho (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) ed. Shusen Shiroku (The Historical Records of the End of the War), annotated by Jun Eto, volume 4, 57-60 [Excerpts] [Translation by Toshihiro Higuchi]

Excerpts from the Foreign Ministry's compilation about the end of the war show how news of the bombing reached Tokyo as well as how Foreign Minister's Togo initially reacted to reports about Hiroshima. When he learned of the atomic bombing from the Domei News Agency, Togo believed that it was time to give up and advised the cabinet that the atomic attack provided the occasion for Japan to surrender on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration. Togo could not persuade the cabinet, however, and the Army wanted to delay any decisions until it had learned what had happened to Hiroshima. When the Foreign Minister met with the Emperor, Hirohito agreed with him; he declared that the top priority was an early end to the war, although it would be acceptable to seek better surrender terms--probably U.S. acceptance of a figure-head emperor--if it did not interfere with that goal. In light of those instructions, Togo and Prime Minister Suzuki agreed that the Supreme War Council should meet the next day. [59a]

Document 67B Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for Wednesday, August 8 , 1945

Document 67B

Takashi Itoh, ed., Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 923-924 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Document 68 Navy Secretary James Forrestal to President Truman, August 8, 1945

Document 68

Document 69 Memorandum of Conversation, “Far Eastern War and General Situation,” August 8, 1945, Top Secret

Document 69

Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 5-9, 1945

Document 70 Entries for 8-9 August, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

Document 70

W.A. Harriman Papers, Library of Congress, box 211, Robert Pickens Meiklejohn World War II Diary At London and Moscow March 10, 1941-February 14, 1946, Volume II (Privately printed, 1980 [Printed from hand-written originals]) (Reproduced with permission)

Document 71 Memorandum of Conference with the President, August 8, 1945 at 10:45 AM

Document 71

Documents 72A-C: The Attack on Nagasaki

Document 72A Cable APCOM 5445 from General Farrell to O’Leary [Groves assistant], August 9, 1945, Top Secret

Document 72A

RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 20, Envelope G Tinian Files, Top Secret

Document 72B COMGENAAF 8 cable CMDW 576 to COMGENUSASTAF, for General Farrell, August 9, 1945, Top secret

Document 72B

See description of document 72A.

Document 72C COMGENAAF 20 Guam cable AIMCCR 5532 to COMGENUSASTAF Guam, August 10, 1945, Top Secret RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 20, Envelope G Tinian Files, Top Secret

Document 72C

Document 73A Letter from Norman Ramsey to J. Robert Oppenheimer, undated [mid-August 1945], Secret, excerpts

Document 73A

Library of Congress, J. Robert Oppenheimer Papers, box 60, Ramsey, Norman

Document 73B Transcript of the letter prepared by editor.

Document 73B

See description of document 73A.

Document 74 “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 507,

Document 74

Document 75 “Hoshina Memorandum” on the Emperor’s “Sacred Decision [go-seidan],” 9-10 August, 1945

Document 75

Zenshiro Hoshina, Daitoa Senso Hishi: Hoshina Zenshiro Kaiso-roku [Secret History of the Greater East Asia War: Memoir of Zenshiro Hoshina] (Tokyo, Japan: Hara-Shobo, 1975), excerpts from Section 5, “The Emperor made go-seidan [= the sacred decision] – the decision to terminate the war,” 139-149 [translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Zenshiro Hoshina, a senior naval official, attended the conference and prepared a detailed account. With Prime Minister Suzuki presiding, each of the ministers had a chance to state their views directly to Hirohito. While Army Minister Anami tacitly threatened a coup (“civil war”), the emperor accepted the majority view that the reply to the Potsdam declaration should include only one condition not the four urged by “Big Six.” Nevertheless, the condition that Hirohito accepted was not the one that foreign minister Togo had brought to the conference. What was at stake was the definition of the kokutai (national policy). Togo’s proposal would have been generally consistent with a constitutional monarchy because it defined the kokutai narrowly as the emperor and the imperial household. What Hirohito accepted, however, was a proposal by the extreme nationalist Kiichiro Hiranuma which drew upon prevailing understandings of the kokutai : the “mythical notion” that the emperor was a living god. “This was the affirmation of the emperor’s theocratic powers, unencumbered by any law, based on Shinto gods in antiquity, and totally incompatible with a constitutional monarchy.” Thus, the Japanese response to the Potsdam declaration opposed “any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of his Majesty as a sovereign ruler.” This proved to be unacceptable to the Truman administration. [63]

Document 76 “Magic’ – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 508,

Document 76

Document 77A “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 123

Document 77A

The first Japanese surrender offer was intercepted shortly before Tokyo broadcast it. This issue of the diplomatic summary also includes Togo’s account of his notification of the Soviet declaration of war, reports of Soviet military operations in the Far East, and intercepts of French diplomatic traffic.

Document 77B Translation of intercepted Japanese messages, circa 10 August 10, 1945, Top Secret Ultra

Document 77B

A full translation of the surrender offer was circulated separately. The translations differ but they convey the sticking point that prevented U.S. acceptance: Tokyo’s condition that the allies not make any “demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler.”

Document 78 Diary Entry, Friday, August 10, 1945, Henry Wallace Diary

Document 78

Papers of Henry A. Wallace, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa (copy courtesy of Special Collections Department)

Note: The second page of the diary entry includes a newspaper clipping of the Associated Press’s transmission of the Byrnes note. Unfortunately, AP would not authorize the Archive to reproduce this item without payment. Therefore, we are publishing an excised version of the entry, with a link to the Byrnes note .

Document 79 Entries for 10-11 August, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

Document 79

Document 80 Stimson Diary Entries, Friday and Saturday, August 10 and 11, 1945

Document 80

Stimson’s account of the events of 10 August focused on the debate over the reply to the Japanese note, especially the question of the Emperor’s status. The U.S. reply , drafted during the course of the day, did not explicitly reject the note but suggested that any notion about the “prerogatives” of the Emperor would be superceded by the concept that all Japanese would be “Subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.” The language was ambiguous enough to enable Japanese readers, upon Hirohito’s urging, to believe that they could decide for themselves the Emperor’s future role. Stimson accepted the language believing that a speedy reply to the Japanese would allow the United States to “get the homeland into our hands before the Russians could put in any substantial claim to occupy and help rule it.” If the note had included specific provision for a constitutional monarchy, Hasegawa argues, it would have “taken the wind out of the sails” of the military faction and Japan might have surrendered several days earlier, on August 11 or 12 instead of August 14. [65]

Document 81 Entries from Walter Brown Diary, 10-11 August 1945

Document 81

Clemson University Libraries, Special Collections, Clemson, SC; Mss 243, Walter Brown Papers, box 68, folder 13, “Transcript/Draft B

Brown recounted Byrnes’ debriefing of the 10 August White House meeting on the Japanese peace offer, an account which differed somewhat from that in the Stimson diary. According to what Byrnes told Brown, Truman, Stimson, and Leahy favored accepting the Japanese note, but Byrnes objected that the United States should “go [no] further than we were willing to go at Potsdam.” Stimson’s account of the meeting noted Byrnes’ concerns (“troubled and anxious”) about the Japanese note and implied that he (Stimson) favored accepting it, but did not picture the debate as starkly as Browns's did.

Document 82 General L. R. Groves to Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, August 10, 1945, Top Secret, with a hand-

Document 82

George C. Marshall Papers, George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA (copy courtesy of Barton J. Bernstein)

Groves informed General Marshall that he was making plans for the use of a third atomic weapon sometime after 17 August, depending on the weather. With Truman having ordered a halt to the atomic bombings [See document 78], Marshall wrote on Grove's memo that the bomb was “not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President.”

Document 83 Memorandum of Conversation, “Japanese Surrender Negotiations,” August 10, 1945, Top Secret

Document 83

Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Papers of W. Averell Harriman, box 181, Chron File Aug 10-12, 1945

Document 84 Admiral Tagaki Diary Entry for 12 August [1945]

Document 84

Takashi Itoh, ed., Sokichi Takagi: Nikki to Joho [Sokichi Takagi: Diary and Documents] (Tokyo, Japan: Misuzu-Shobo, 2000), 926-927 [Translation by Hikaru Tajima]

Document 85 Memorandum from Major General Clayton Bissell, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, for the Chief of Staff

Document 85

National Archives, RG 165, Army Operations OPD, Executive Files 1940-1945, box 12, Exec #2

Document 86 The Cabinet Meeting over the Reply to the Four Powers (August 13)

Document 86

Gaimusho [Ministry of Foreign Affairs], ed., Shusen Shiroku [Historical Record of the End of the War] (Tokyo: Hokuyosha, 1977-1978), vol. 5, 27-35 [Translated by Toshihiro Higuchi]

The Byrnes Note did not break the stalemate at the cabinet level. An account of the cabinet debates on August 13 prepared by Information Minister Toshiro Shimamura showed the same divisions as before; Anami and a few other ministers continued to argue that the Allies threatened the kokutai and that setting the four conditions (no occupation, etc.) did not mean that the war would continue. Nevertheless, Anami argued, “We are still left with some power to fight.” Suzuki, who was working quietly with the peace party, declared that the Allied terms were acceptable because they gave a “dim hope in the dark” of preserving the emperor. At the end of the meeting, he announced that he would report to Hirohito and ask him to make another “Sacred Judgment”. Meanwhile, junior Army officers plotted a coup to thwart the plans for surrender. [68]

Document 87 Telephone conversation transcript, General Hull and Colonel Seaman [sic] – 1325 – 13 Aug 45, Top

Document 87

George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA, George C. Marshall Papers (copy courtesy of Barton J. Bernstein)

Document 88 “Magic” – Diplomatic Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, No. 123

Document 88

Document 89 “The Second Sacred Judgment”, August 14, 1945

Document 89

Hiroshi [Kaian) Shimomura, Shusenki [Account of the End of the War] (Tokyo, Kamakura Bunko, [1948], 148-152 [Translated by Toshihiro Higuchi]

Frightened by the rapid movement of Soviet forces into Manchuria and worried that the army might launch a coup, the peace party set in motion a plan to persuade Hirohito to meet with the cabinet and the “Big Six” to resolve the stalemate over the response to the Allies. Japan was already a day late in responding to the Byrnes Note and Hirohito agreed to move quickly. At 10:50 a.m., he met with the leadership at the bomb shelter in his palace. This account, prepared by Director of Information Shimomura, conveys the drama of the occasion (as well as his interest in shifting the blame for the debacle to the Army). After Suzuki gave the war party--Umeda, Toyoda, and Anami--an opportunity to present their arguments against accepting the Byrnes Note, he asked the emperor to speak.

Hirohito asked the leadership to accept the Note, which he believed was “well intentioned” on the matter of the “national polity” (by leaving open a possible role for the Emperor). Arguing that continuing the war would reduce the nation “to ashes,” his words about “bearing the unbearable” and sadness over wartime losses and suffering prefigured the language that Hirohito would use in his public announcement the next day. According to Bix, “Hirohito's language helped to transform him from a war to a peace leader, from a cold, aloof monarch to a human being who cared for his people” but “what chiefly motivated him … was his desire to save a politically empowered throne with himself on it.” [70]

Hirohito said that he would make a recording of the surrender announcement so that the nation could hear it. That evening army officers tried to seize the palace and find Hirohito’s recording, but the coup failed. Early the next day, General Anami committed suicide. On the morning of August 15, Hirohito broadcast the message to the nation (although he never used the word “surrender”). A few weeks later, on September 2, 1945 Japanese representatives signed surrender documents on the USS Missouri , in Tokyo harbor. [71]

Document 90 “Magic” – Far East Summary, War Department, Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, no. 515,

Document 90

Document 91 Washington Embassy Telegram 5599 to Foreign Office, 14 August 1945, Top Secret[72]

Document 91

The British National Archives, Records of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FO 800/461

With the Japanese surrender announcement not yet in, President Truman believed that another atomic bombing might become necessary. After a White House meeting on 14 August, British Minister John Balfour reported that Truman had “remarked sadly that he now had no alternative but to order an atomic bomb to be dropped on Tokyo.” This was likely emotional thinking spurred by anxiety and uncertainty. Truman was apparently not considering the fact that Tokyo was already devastated by fire bombing and that an atomic bombing would have killed the Emperor, which would have greatly complicated the process of surrender. Moreover, he may not have known that the third bomb was still in the United States and would not be available for use for nearly another week. [73] As it turned out, a few hours later, at 4:05 p.m., the White House received the Japanese surrender announcement.

Document 92 P.L. Henshaw and R.R. Coveyou to H.J. Curtis and K. Z. Morgan, “Death from Radiation Burns,” 24

Document 92

Department of Energy Open-Net

Two scientists at Oak Ridge’s Health Division, Henshaw and Coveyou, saw a United Press report in the Knoxville News Sentinel about radiation sickness caused by the bombings. Victims who looked healthy weakened, “for unknown reasons” and many died. Lacking direct knowledge of conditions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Henshaw and Coveyou had their own data on the biological effects of radiation and could make educated guesses. After reviewing the impact of various atomic bomb effects--blast, heat, flash radiation (prompt effects from gamma and neutron radiation), and radiation from radioactive substances--they concluded that “it seems highly plausible that a great many persons were subjected to lethal and sub-lethal dosages of radiation in areas where direct blast effects were possibly non-lethal.” It was “probable,” therefore, that radiation “would produce increments to the death rate and “even more probable” that a “great number of cases of sub-lethal exposures to radiation have been suffered.” [74]

Document 93 Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between General Groves and Lt. Col. Rea, Oak Ridge Hospital, 9:

Document 93

RG 77, MED Records, Top Secret Documents, File no. 5b

Document 94A Cable CAX 51813 from USS Teton to Commander in Chief Army Forces Pacific Administration, From Farrel

Document 94A

RG 77, Tinian Files, April-December 1945, box 17, Envelope B

See description of document 94B

Document 94B Cable CAX 51948 from Commander in Chief Army Forces Pacific Advance Yokohoma Japan to Commander in C

Document 94B

XII. Eisenhower and McCloy’s Views on the Bombings and Atomic Weapons

Document 95 Entry for 4 October 1945, Robert P. Meiklejohn Diary

Document 95

Document 96 President Harry S. Truman, Handwritten Remarks for Gridiron Dinner, circa 15 December 1945[78]

Document 96

Harry S. Truman Library, President's Secretary's Files, Speech Files, 1945-1953, copy on U.S. National Archives Web Site

On 15 December, President Truman spoke about the atomic bombings in his speech at the annual dinner of the Gridiron Club, organized by bureau chiefs and other leading figures of print media organizations. Besides Truman, guests included New York Governor Thomas Dewey (Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948), foreign ambassadors, members of the cabinet and the Supreme Court, the military high command, and various senators and representatives. The U.S. Marine Band provided music for the dinner and for the variety show that was performed by members of the press. [79]

Truman characterized the Potsdam Declaration as a “fair warning,” but it was an ultimatum. Plainly he was troubled by the devastation and suffering caused by the bombings, but he found it justifiable because it saved the lives of U.S. troops. His estimate of 250,000 U.S. soldiers spared far exceeded that made by General Marshall in June 1945, which was in the range of 31,000 (comparable to the Battle of Luzon) [See Document 26]. By citing an inflated casualty figure, the president was giving a trial run for the rationale that would become central to official and semi-official discourse about the bombings during the decades ahead. [80]

Despite Truman’s claim that he made “the most terrible” decision at Potsdam, he assigned himself more responsibility than the historical record supports. On the basic decision, he had simply concurred with the judgments of Stimson, Groves, and others that the bomb would be used as soon as it was available for military use. As for targeting, however, he had a more significant role. At Potsdam, Stimson raised his objections to targeting Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, and Truman supported the secretary’s efforts to drop that city from the target list [See Documents 47 and 48]. [81]

[1] . The World Wide Web includes significant documentary resources on these events. The Truman Library has published a helpful collection of archival documents , some of which are included in the present collection. A collection of transcribed documents is Gene Dannen’s “ Atomic Bomb: Decision .” For a print collection of documents, see Dennis Merrill ed.,  Documentary History of the Truman Presidency: Volume I: The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb on Japan  (University Publications of America, 1995). A more recent collection of documents, along with a bibliography, narrative, and chronology, is Michael Kort’s  The Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb  (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). An important  on-line collection focuses on the air-raids of Japanese cities and bases, providing valuable context for the atomic attacks.

[2] . For the early criticisms and their impact on Stimson and other former officials, see Barton J. Bernstein, “Seizing the Contested Terrain of Early Nuclear History: Stimson, Conant, and Their Allies Explain the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,”  Diplomatic History  17 (1993): 35-72, and James Hershberg,  James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age  (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995), 291-301.

For Stimson’s article, see “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,”  Harper’s  194 (February 1947): 97-107. Social critic Dwight MacDonald published trenchant criticisms immediately after Hiroshima-Nagasaki; see  Politics Past: Essays in Political Criticism  (New York: Viking, 1972), 169-180.

[3] . The proposed script for the Smithsonian exhibition can be seen at Philipe Nobile,

Judgment at the Smithsonian  (New York: Matthews and Company, 1995), pp. 1-127. For reviews of the controversy, see Barton J. Bernstein, “The Struggle Over History: Defining the Hiroshima Narrative,” ibid., 128-256, and Charles T. O’Reilly and William A. Rooney,  The Enola Gay and The Smithsonian  (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2005).

[4] . For the extensive literature, see the references in J. Samuel Walker , Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan,  Third Edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016) at 131-136, as well as Walker’s, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground,”  Diplomatic History  29 (April 2005): 311-334. For more recent contributions, see Sean Malloy,  Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), Andrew Rotter,  Hiroshima: The World's Bomb  (New York: Oxford, 2008), Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko,  The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War  (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008), Wilson D. Miscamble,  The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Also important to take into account is John Dower’s extensive discussion of Hiroshima/Nagasaki in context of the U.S. fire-bombings of Japanese cities in  Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq  (New York, W. Norton, 2010), 163-285.

[5] . The editor particularly benefited from the source material cited in the following works: Robert S. Norris,  Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie S. Groves, The Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man  (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2002); Gar Alperovitz,  The Decision to Use the Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth  (New York: Alfred E. Knopf, 1995); Richard B. Frank , Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire  (New York: Random House, 1999), Martin Sherwin,  A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and the Origins of the Arm Race  (New York, Vintage Books, 1987), and as already mentioned, Hasegawa’s  Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan  (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005 ).  Barton J. Bernstein’s numerous articles in scholarly publications (many of them are listed in Walker’s assessment of the literature) constitute an invaluable guide to primary sources. An article that Bernstein published in 1995, “The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered,”  Foreign Affairs  74 (1995), 135-152, nicely summarizes his thinking on the key issues.   Noteworthy publications since 2015 include Michael D. Gordin and G. John Ikenberry, eds., The Age of Hiroshim a (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019); Sheldon Garon, “On the Transnational Destruction of Cities: What Japan and the United States Learned from the Bombing of Britain and Germany in the Second World War,” Past and Present 247 (2020): 235-271; Katherine E. McKinney, Scott Sagan, and Allen S. Weiner, “Why the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima Would Be Illegal Today,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist s 76 (2020); Gregg Mitchell, The Beginning or the End: How Hollywood and America Learned  to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (New York: The New Press, 2020); Steve Olson, The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020); Neil J. Sullivan, The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark  (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books, 2016); Alex Wellerstein; Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States,  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2020), a memoir by a Hiroshima survivor, Taniguchi Sumitero, The Atomic  Bomb on My Back: A Life Story of Survival and Activism (Montpelier, VT: Rootstock Publishing, 2020), and a collection of interviews, Cynthia C. Kelly, ed., The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians (Black Dog & Leventhal, 2020).

[6] . Malloy (2008), 49-50. For more on the Uranium Committee, the decision to establish the S-1 Committee, and the overall context, see James G. Hershberg , James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age  (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1995), 140-154.

[7] . Sean Malloy, “`A Very Pleasant Way to Die’: Radiation Effects and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb against Japan,”  Diplomatic History  36 (2012), especially 523. For an important study of how contemporary officials and scientists looked at the atomic bomb prior to first use in Japan, see Michael D. Gordin,  Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War  (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

[8] . Norris, 169.

[9] . Malloy (2008), 57-58.

[10] . See also Norris, 362.

[11] . For discussion of the importance of this memorandum, see Sherwin, 126-127, and Hershberg , James B. Conant , 203-207.

[12] . Alperovitz, 662; Bernstein (1995), 139; Norris, 377.

[13] . Quotation and statistics from Thomas R. Searle, “`It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers’: The Firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945,  The Journal of Military History  55 (2002):103. More statistics and a detailed account of the raid is in Ronald Schaffer,  Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 130-137.

[14] . Searle, “`It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers,’” 118. For detailed background on the Army Air Force’s incendiary bombing planning, see Schaffer (1985) 107-127. On Stimson, see Schaffer (1985), 179-180 and Malloy (2008), 54. For a useful discussion of the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings, see Alex Wellerstein, “Tokyo vs. Hiroshima,”  Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog ,  22 September 2014

[15] . See for example, Bernstein (1995), 140-141.

[16] . For useful discussion of this meeting and the other Target Committee meetings, see Norris, 382-386.

[17] . Malloy, “A Very Pleasant Way to Die,” 531-534.

[18] . Schaffer,  Wings of Judgment , 143-146.

[19] . Alperovitz argues that the possibility of atomic diplomacy was central to the thinking of Truman and his advisers, while Bernstein, who argues that Truman’s primary objective was to end the war quickly, suggests that the ability to “cow other nations, notably the Soviet Union” was a “bonus” effect. See Bernstein (1995), 142.

[20] . Alperovitz, 147; Robert James Maddox,  Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later  (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995), 52; Gabiel Kolko,  The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990), 421-422. As Alperovitz notes, the Davies papers include variant diary entries and it is difficult to know which are the most accurate.

[21] . Malloy (2008), 112

[21A] . Vincent Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1985), 529.

[22] . Bernstein (1995), 146. See also Barton J. Bernstein, “Looking Back: Gen. Marshall and the Atomic Bombing of Japanese Cities,” Arms Control Today , November 2015.

[23] . Bernstein (1995), 144. See also Malloy (2008), at 116-117, including the argument that 1) Stimson was deceiving himself by accepting the notion that a “vital war plant …surrounded by workers’ houses” was a legitimate military target, and 2) that Groves was misleading Stimson by withholding the Target Committee’s conclusions that the target would be a city center.

[24] . Walker (2005), 320.

[25] . Frank Costigliola,  France and the United States: The Cold Alliance Since World War II  (New York, Twayne, 1992), 38-39.

[26] . Barton J. Bernstein, Introduction to Helen S. Hawkins et al. editors,  Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard and the Crusade for Nuclear Arms Control  (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), xxx-xxv; Sherwin, 210-215.

[27] . Herbert P. Bix,  Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan  (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), 523.

[28] . Walker (2005), 319-320.

[29] . For a review of the debate on casualty estimates, see Walker (2005), 315, 317-318, 321, 323, and 324-325.

[30] . Hasegawa, 105; Alperovitz, 67-72; Forrest Pogue,  George C. Marshall: Statesman, 1945-1959  (New York: Viking, 1987), 18. Pogue only cites the JCS transcript of the meeting; presumably, an interview with a participant was the source of the McCloy quote.

[31] . Alperovitz, 226; Bernstein, “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender,”  Diplomatic History  19 (1995), 237, note 22.

[32] . Malloy (2008), 123-124.

[33] . Alperovitz, 242, 245; Frank, 219.

[34] . Malloy (2008), 125-127.

[35] . Bernstein, introduction,  Toward a Livable World , xxxvii-xxxviii.

[36] . “Magic” summaries for post-August 1945 remain classified at the National Security Agency. Information from the late John Taylor, National Archives. For background on Magic and the “Purple” code, see John Prados,  Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II (  New York: Random House, 1995), 161-172 and David Kahn,  The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing  (New York: Scribner, 1996), 1-67.

[37] . Alperovitz, 232-238.

[38] . Maddox, 83-84; Hasegawa, 126-128. See also Walker (2005), 316-317.

[39] . Hasegawa, 28, 121-122.

[40] . Peter Grose,  Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles  (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), 170-174, 248-249.

[41] . David Holloway, “Barbarossa and the Bomb: Two Cases of Soviet Intelligence in World War II,” in Jonathan Haslam and Karina Urbach, eds.,  Secret Intelligence in the European States System, 1918-1989  (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014), 63-64. For the inception of the Soviet nuclear program and the role of espionage in facilitating it, see Holloway,  Stalin and the Bomb  (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994).

[42] . For the distances, see Norris, 407.

[43] . For on-line resources on the first atomic test .

[44] . Bernstein’s detailed commentary on Truman’s diary has not been reproduced here except for the opening pages where he provides context and background.

[45] . Frank, 258; Bernstein (1995), 147; Walker (2005), 322. See also Alex Wellerstein’s “ The Kyoto Misconception ”

[46] . Maddox, 102; Alperovitz, 269-270; Hasegawa, 152-153.

[47] . Hasegawa, 292.

[48] . Bernstein, “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender,”  Diplomatic History  19 (1995), 146-147; Alperovitz, 415; Frank, 246.

[49] . Alperovitz, 392; Frank, 148.

[50] . Alperovitz, 281-282. For Davies at Potsdam, see Elizabeth Kimball MacLean,  Joseph E. Davies: Envoy to the Soviets  (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1992), 151-166

[51] . Hasegawa, 168; Bix, 518.

[52] . Bix, 490, 521.

[53] . Alperovitz, 415; Frank, 246.

[54] . Frank, 273-274; Bernstein, “The Alarming Japanese Buildup on Southern Kyushu, Growing U.S. Fears and Counterfactual Analysis: Would the Planned November 1945 Invasion of Southern Kyushu Have Occurred?”  Pacific Historical Review  68 (1999): 561-609.

[55] . Maddox, 105.

[56] . Barton J. Bernstein, "'Reconsidering the 'Atomic General': Leslie R. Groves,"  The Journal of Military History  67 (July 2003): 883-920. See also Malloy, “A Very Pleasant Way to Die,” 539-540.

[57] . For casualty figures and the experience of people on the ground, see Frank, 264-268 and 285-286, among many other sources. Drawing on contemporary documents and journals, Masuji Ibuse’s novel  Black Rain  (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1982) provides an unforgettable account of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath. For early U.S. planning to detonate the weapon at a height designed to maximize destruction from mass fires and other effects, see Alex Wellerstein, “ The Height of the Bomb .”

[58] . Sadao Asada, “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration,”  Pacific Historical Review  67 (1998): 101-148; Bix, 523; Frank, 348; Hasegawa, 298. Bix appears to have moved toward a position close to Hasegawa’s; see Bix, “Japan's Surrender Decision and the Monarchy: Staying the Course in an Unwinnable War,”  Japan Focus  . For emphasis on the “shock” of the atomic bomb, see also Lawrence Freedman and Saki Dockrill, “Hiroshima: A Strategy of Shock,” in Saki Dockrill, ed.,  From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima : the Second World War in Asia and the Pacific, 1941-1945  (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 191-214. For more on the debate over Japan’s surrender, see Hasegawa’s important edited book,  The End of the Pacific War: A Reappraisal  (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), with major contributions by Hasegawa, Holloway, Bernstein, and Hatano.

[59] . Melvyn P. Leffler, “Adherence to Agreements: Yalta and the Experiences of the Early Cold War,”  International Security  11 (1986): 107; Holloway, “Barbarossa and the Bomb,” 65.

[59a] . For more on these developments, see Asada, "The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration," 486-488.

[60] . Hasegawa, 191-192.

[61] . Frank, 286-287; Sherwin, 233-237; Bernstein (1995), 150; Maddox, 148.

[62] . The Supreme War Council comprised the prime minister, foreign minister, army and navy ministers, and army and navy chiefs of staff; see Hasegawa, 72 .

[63] . For the maneuverings on August 9 and the role of the  kokutai , see Hasegawa, 3-4, 205-214

[64] . For Truman’s recognition of mass civilian casualties, see also his  letter to Senator Richard Russell, 9 August 1945.

[65] . Hasegawa, 295.

[66] . For “tug of war,” see Hasegawa, 226-227.

[67] . Hasegawa, 228-229, 232.

[68] . Hasegawa, 235-238.

[69] . Barton J. Bernstein, “Eclipsed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Early Thinking about Tactical Nuclear Weapons,”  International Security  15 (Spring 1991): 149-173; Marc Gallicchio, “After Nagasaki: General Marshall’s Plans for Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Japan,”  Prologue  23 (Winter 1991): 396-404. Letters from Robert Messer and Gar Alperovitz, with Bernstein’s response, provide insight into some of the interpretative issues. “Correspondence,”  International Security  16 (Winter 1991/1992): 214-221.

[70] . Bix, “Japan's Surrender Decision and the Monarchy: Staying the Course in an Unwinnable War,”  Japan Focus .

[71] . For Hirohito' surrender speech--the actual broadcast and a translation--see  Japan Times , August 2015.

[72] . Cited by Barton J. Bernstein, “Eclipsed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Early Thinking About Tactical Nuclear Weapons,”  International Security  15 (1991) at page 167. Thanks to Alex Wellerstein for the suggestion and the archival link.

[73] . For further consideration of Tokyo and more likely targets at the time, see Alex Wellerstein, “Neglected Niigata,”  Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, 9 October 2015.

[74] . See Malloy, “A Very Pleasant Way to Die,” 541-542.

[75] . For Groves and the problem of radiation sickness, see Norris, 339-441, Bernstein, “Reconsidering the ‘Atomic General’: Leslie R. Groves,”  Journal of Military History  67 (2003), 907-908, and Malloy, “A Very Pleasant Way to Die,” 513-518 and 539-542

[76] . See Janet Farrell Brodie, “Radiation Secrecy and Censorship after Hiroshima and Nagasaki,”  The Journal of Social History  48 (2015): 842-864.

[77] . For Eisenhower’s statements, see  Crusade in Europe  (Garden City: Doubleday, 1948), 443, and  Mandate for Change  (Garden City: Doubleday, 1963), 312-313. Barton J. Bernstein’s 1987 article, “Ike and Hiroshima: Did He Oppose It?”  The Journal of Strategic Studies  10 (1987): 377-389, makes a case against relying on Eisenhower’s memoirs and points to relevant circumstantial evidence. For a slightly different perspective, see Malloy (2007), 138

[78] . Cited in Barton J. Bernstein, “Truman and the A-Bomb: Targeting Noncombatants, Using the Bomb, and His Defending the "Decision,”  The Journal of Military History  62 (1998), at page 559. Thanks to Alex Wellerstein for the suggestion and the archival link.

[79] . “Truman Plays Part of Himself in Skit at Gridiron Dinner,” and “List of Members and Guests at the Gridiron Show,”  The Washington Post , 16 December 1945.

[80] . For varied casualty figures cited by Truman and others after the war, see Walker,  Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan , 101-102.

[81] . See also ibid., 59.

Dropping the Bomb: A Historiographical Review of the Most Destructive Decision in Human History

Dropping the Bomb: A Historiographical Review of the Most Destructive Decision in Human History

By Derek Ide

The historiography of the atomic bomb can be roughly categorized into three camps: traditionalists, revisionists, and middle-ground "consensus" historians.  [1]  Traditionalists, also referred to as orthodox [2]  historians and post-revisionists, studying the atomic bomb generally accept the view posited by the Truman administration and articulated most clearly in Henry Stimson's 1947  Harper's Magazine  article. [3]  In short, this argument assumes that the use of the atomic bombs against Japan was justifiable on military grounds in order to prevent a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Often attached to such analysis is the notion that insofar as the atomic bombs ended the war prior to an invasion and saved hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, the use of the atomic bombs was also a morally sound decision. There tends to be a remarkable level of homogeneity amongst the traditionalist arguments. Whereas they may emphasize certain facts or aspects of the debate, they tend to present strikingly similar arguments, with a few exceptions.

The revisionists, in contrast, tend to be far more heterogeneous. Revisionist historians are unconvinced by the official narrative, and tend to emphasize the alternatives to the atomic bomb not pursued by the Truman administration. Furthermore, most revisionists accept, on some level, the "atomic diplomacy" thesis articulated first by Gar Alperovitz in 1965. To one degree or another revisionists argue that the Truman administration purposefully chose not to pursue alternatives to ending the war and that post-war diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were germane to, and in some historian's view dictated, the use of the atomic bombs.

The third camp, the consensus historians, are those who J. Samuel Walker refers to as having "reached a broad, though hardly unanimous, consensus on some key issues surrounding the use of the bomb." [4]  These include the fact that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war, that invasion would likely not have been necessary, and that the atomic bomb did not save hundreds of thousands or millions of lives. What distinguishes them from the traditionalists is the argument that the atomic bombs were not a military necessity. On the other hand, their rejection or hesitancy to incorporate atomic diplomacy into their analysis differentiates them from the revisionists.

Given the nature of the three camps, the organizational framework I have utilized includes three sections. The first section will deal with the debate between traditionalists and revisionists. It will focus on questions of atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, unconditional surrender, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and certain key figures in the Truman administration, the Soviet Union, and Japan. The second section will examine the points of disagreement within the revisionist camp. Although revisionists all challenge the orthodox position, they are significantly less homogenous than the latter. The third section of the essay will explore the consensus historians and their disagreements with both the traditionalists and the revisionists. Given the level of unanimity amongst the traditionalist historians, it is unnecessary to dedicate a section exploring differences between them because with rare exceptions, which will be noted when appropriate, there is remarkably little disagreement. The essay will conclude with a brief analysis of the authors, such as Robert Newman and Paul Boyer, who have extended their chronological framework significantly beyond the actual use of the atomic bombs.

The Traditionalists vs. the Revisionists

The five monographs within the traditionalist camp that will be analyzed here are Robert James Maddox's Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision  (2004) [5] , Robert P. Newman's Truman and the Hiroshima Cult  (1995), Richard B. Frank's  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire  (1999), Paul D. Walker's Truman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb  (2003), and Wilson D. Miscamble's  The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan  (2011). On the other side of the debate are four revisionist historians, including Gar Alperovitz's  The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth  (1995) [6] , Martin J. Sherwin's  A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies  (2003), [7]  Ronald Takaki's  Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb  (1995), and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's  Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan  (2005). The positions of the traditionalists and the revisionists regarding atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, Japanese surrender, the unconditional surrender policy, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and key individuals [8]  involved in the decision to use the bomb and Japanese surrender are fundamentally at odds.

The question of atomic diplomacy is what creates the fundamental divide between the two camps. Although there is great variation between revisionist and traditionalist positions on unconditional surrender, the role and race and racism, and other factors, most questions tend to be subsumed within and intricately bound up with atomic diplomacy. Since the revisionists first posited this thesis, it is appropriate to adumbrate their arguments. Objecting to the official narrative that "Truman simply had no choice except to use the atomic bomb," Alperovitz argues that Truman, significantly influenced by Byrnes, used the bomb as a form of "atomic diplomacy" to pursue post-war U.S. interests in both Europe and Asia. In essence, Alperovitz argues that the U.S. government "generally understood" that "Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the bomb was used."  [9]  According to Alperovitz there was a "quite general" notion amongst U.S. officials at Potsdam that the bomb would strengthen U.S. diplomacy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. It was during this time that "a conscious decision not to encourage Soviet participation in the war" was undertaken. Attempts "to delay the Red Army's attack to the extent feasible" were meant to "limit Soviet political influence in Asia." [10]  For Alperovitz atomic diplomacy is the crucial element in explaining the use of the bomb.

Martin Sherwin supplements Alperovitz's atomic diplomacy thesis by extending the importance of such diplomatic concerns backwards into the Roosevelt administration. Sherwin posits that the policies of the Roosevelt administration suggest "that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943." [11]  Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt's elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt "consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill's monopolistic, anti-Soviet views." [12]  Ronald Takaki, despite emphasizing the role of race and racism in the decision, also concedes that atomic diplomacy was indeed a factor. He notes the "incredible pressure" on Manhattan project scientists to complete the bombs prior to the Potsdam conference. Similarly, he explains how Truman purposefully postponed the conference to coincide with the bomb tests. Takaki maintains that two "schools of thought" dominated the thinking of U.S. officials, including the "quid-pro-quo" strategy, articulated by people like Henry Stimson, [13]  and the "monopoly" strategy a la James Byrnes.  [14]  In Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's view, the Potsdam Proclamation was not a warning to Japan, but an attempt to justify the use of the bomb.

Hasegawa's argument aligns with Alperovitz's as well. He maintains that a "race" began at Potsdam between the United States and the Soviet Union when the Soviets set August 15 as their projected state of entry into the war. This "gave American policymakers a definite deadline to work for."  [15]  Thus, the timing of the Potsdam Proclamation was "integrally connected with the schedule for deployment of the atomic bombs." [16]  The Truman administration desired to end the war via the atomic bombs in order to avoid Soviet entry and maintain hegemony in the Pacific in the post-war world. Therefore, the Truman-Byrnes commitment to unconditional surrender and the Potsdam declaration was simply a prelude to the use of the atomic bombs. Byrnes position was essentially: "if we insisted on unconditional surrender, we could justify dropping of the atomic bomb." [17]  Concerned about the post-war political consequences of Soviet participation in the war, U.S. planners sought to bring about Japan's surrender before the Soviets could join. At best, Soviet participation in the war was an "insurance policy" in case the atomic tests failed. [18]

Thus, the revisionist position is quite clear. Officials in the United States were deeply concerned about post-war hegemony, particularly in the Pacific but in Europe as well, and saw the use of the atomic bomb against Japan as a way to contain the Soviet Union. Subsequently, any and all alternatives that could have ended the war, albeit not in time to prevent Soviet entry, were disregarded and not pursued. This conclusion is often premised on the fact that Japan was already defeated and near surrender. Alperovitz argues that "Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the atomic bomb was used. Though the question of timing was in dispute, it is also certain that this was general understood in the U.S. government at the time."  [19]  Hasegawa contends that the "Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender" and, as such, the Japanese would have quickly surrender upon Soviet entry even without the use of the atomic bombs.

It is on these grounds that the traditionalists most vehemently challenge the revisionists. Robert James Maddox challenged what he saw as "blatant revisionist distortions" in order to construct his argument that the single-most decisive factor in forcing the Japanese to surrender and preventing a costly land invasion of Japan was the use of the atomic bombs. Whereas Alperovitz maintained that the casualty figures for a land invasion were inflated as post-war justifications by the Truman administration, Maddox suggests that the half-a-million figure "cited by Truman, and even higher ones, were circulated within the upper echelons of government." [20]  For Maddox bombs were utilized out of military necessity because the Japanese would not have surrendered without the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, according to Maddox the "very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition." [21]  Furthermore, ULTRA intercepts suggest surrender prior to an invasion was not even a serious option, let alone inevitable. Richard Frank goes even further, arguing that the conclusions the revisionist reach regarding the MAGIC are erroneous because they ignore the fact that Japanese peace feelers were completely "want of official sanction."  [22]  Thus, the "thesis that Japan was actively seeking to surrender in 1945, and that American policy makers knew this primarily from code breaking," is rejected by the traditionalists. [23]

Robert Newman concurs with this analysis, adding that most "Hiroshima cultists," [24]  including Gar Alperovitz, P. M. S. Blackett, Paul Boyer, the Smithsonian exhibit authors, and others who "swallow this conclusion of the [United States Strategic Bombing Survey] [25]  whole" are incorrect because the study itself was extremely flawed.  [26]  Information in the survey was purposefully distorted to support conclusions already arrived at a priori by Paul Nitze, and the testimony of most high-ranking Japanese officials "overwhelmingly indicated that Japan was not about to surrender before the bomb." [27]  Thus, the "Truman bashers" [28]  are incorrect to argue that the bomb changed no minds. In fact, according to Newman it "created a situation in which the peace party and the emperor could prevail."  [29]  Wilson Miscamble also views himself as "exploding permanently the myth of a Japan ready to surrender," a "myth" perpetuated by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946.  [30]

Richard Frank furthers this argument by explaining that Japan's "fundamental policy," based on the  Ketsu-Go  defense plan, was a national resistance program intended to bloody the invading enemy enough to force political negotiations and ipso facto avoid unconditional surrender. Frank relies heavily upon the document produced by the Big Six entitled "The Fundamental Policy to Be Followed Henceforth in the Conduct of the War," which argued Japan "must fight to the finish and choose extinction before surrender." [31]  In essence, Japan was "effectively locked on course for a fight to the last man, woman, and child." [32]  Furthermore, Frank continues this theme, arguing that the goal was to "severely bloody the invaders" to the point of achieving political goals. Ultra documents, according to Frank, did much to "unmask their carefully wrought plans." [33]  The forces on Kyushu far exceeded the 350,000 number given to Truman. Indeed, by November 1 Japanese strength would be 680,000, much closer to the 1:1 ration of American to Japanese soldiers that U.S. leaders desperately wanted to avoid. Paul Walker takes this argument to its logical extreme. He argues that due the 35 percent casualty rate of the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles, as well as the "fanaticism of the Japanese military and their updated code of Bushido," casualties would have ranged from around 250,000 in the invasion of Kyushu alone, to over one million with the invasion of both Kyushu and Honshu. [34]  Miscamble maintains that "retrospective castigations" like William D. Leahy's memoirs in 1950, which denounced the atomic bomb as a "modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man," can be dismissed since "no military officials counseled the president against using the weapons  prior  to Hiroshima." [35]  Maddox concurs, explaining that despite the retroactive denunciations of the atomic bomb by top-ranking military officials, no military officials seriously attempted to guide Truman away from using the bomb prior to its deployment. The fact that the bomb was utilized out of military necessity dismisses the "gravest charge against Truman," namely that the atomic bomb was deployed "primary as a diplomatic weapon to intimidate the Soviet Union." [36]

The question of Soviet entry into the war preoccupies an important space in the discourse as well. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa maintains that "Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender." [37]  Interestingly, Maddox claims the Soviets invaded Manchuria not to be "a good ally" but rather "to get in on the kill," [38]  an analysis Hasegawa would largely share. However, where the revisionists and the traditionalists differ, is that most traditionalists seriously downplay the role of Soviet entry into the war. In Frank's narrative, "Soviet intervention was a significant but not decisive reason for Japan's surrender… reinforcing but not fundamental." [39]  Miscamble maintains that revisionist historians who emphasize Soviet entry in the war "distort history by overemphasizing" its importance. [40]  According to Miscamble, Hasegawa's claim that Truman was disappointed at the Soviet entry into the war "are not substantiated by the historical evidence."  [41]  Paul Walker points out that when the emperor finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Russian invasion was not mentioned as a cause of surrender. Hasegawa counters this point by citing "another historic document" written by Sakomizu's  [42]  assistant and sanctioned by the emperor that was not issued until August 17. This rescript explained that if Japan continued fighting after the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war it would endanger "the very foundation of the empire's existence,"  [43]  reinforcing Hasegawa's claim that Soviet intervention was key.

Perhaps the most creative defense of the use of the atomic bomb from the traditionalist camp is the moral one. One of the primary objectives of Wilson Miscamble is to "confront the question regarding the morality of the atomic bomb." [44]  Miscamble suggests that for Byrnes and Truman "moral complexity or future diplomatic implications failed to complicate their straight forward thinking." If the atomic bomb "might save American lives" then it must be used, and this "remained, throughout, the essential motivation that guided the decision."  [45]  Whereas revisionists argue that Japan was defeated, he makes a stark distinction between defeat and surrender, explaining that the U.S. would have eventually won the war by "continued obliteration bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking blockade, the terrible invasions... [and these] would have meant significantly greater Allied casualties and much higher Japanese civilian and military casualties." [46]  Likewise, the abrupt end to the war also brought an end to Japanese brutality in other parts of Asia. Furthermore, "indiscriminate bombing had become the norm for the Anglo-American forces well before 1945," indicating that any "moral Rubicon" had already been crossed prior to Hiroshima. [47]  Thus, the bomb was the "lesser of the evils available," and subsequently Miscamble pleas that in "future anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bomb… one might hope for less moralizing condemnation of Truman's decision… Perhaps there might even be some empathy for the man who felt required to make the decision and who carried the burden of it." [48]

Robert Newman makes a slightly less sophisticated moral defense, proclaiming that neither "Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were  legitimate retribution  for the millions of deaths caused by Japan's fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific," [49]  an idea he apparently entertains. Newman suggests that the atomic bombs were moral actions taken in order to prevent greater evil. According to him the general arguments against Truman's choice to use the bomb come in four general varieties: first, atomic bombs are intrinsically evil and should not be used; second, their use violated the principle of noncombatant immunity; third, the bombs were used on invalid motives, including retribution, revenge, and reprisal; and fourth, no specific warning was given. To the first, Newman responds that "the case for immorality of today's overkill arsenals and war fighting doctrines is strong," but "to apply the same case retrospectively to 1945, however, is senseless." [50]  To the second, Newman quotes Bamba Nobuya to suggest that the "Marxist interpretation of imperialistic war," namely that "the 'people' should have been innocent," is incorrect. The Japanese population did not just passively support imperialism, "on the contrary, most people competed to get front seats on the fascist bandwagon."  [51]  Thus, they were not noncombatants and to attack them was legitimate. To the third point Newman maintains that because the Japanese were involved in developing atomic weapons as well, even though U.S. leaders were not aware of this at the time, it retroactively justifies the decision. Since "upwards of 250,000 people…  would have died each month the Japanese Empire struggled in its death throes beyond July 1945 ," and since the bomb had the ability to end the war early, it could not have been used for the wrong reasons. [52]  To the last point, he responds that the shock value of the bomb was decisive in ending the war, and thus it would have been ineffective and prolonged the war to issue the warning.

Finally, the issue of culture and its relationship to policies of surrender are intricately bound up in the traditionalist narrative. For Paul Walker, a key element of the war was the "barbarism, savageness, and race hatred" of "an oriental enemy with a brutal heritage."  [53]  According to Walker, the Japanese in World War II "believed they were fighting in the proud traditions of their samurai ancestors." [54]  This ideological reliance upon "a version of Bushido" meant that military schools taught "a perverted cult of death" which made "young Japanese men expendable numbers for the military's reckless and costly adventures."  [55]  Tracing Japanese history from the Forty Seven Ronin to the Meiji Restoration and beyond, Walker paints a picture of uniform brutality and aggression. This culminates in the period from 1894 to 1945, where "Japan was involved in almost constant warfare with her neighbors." [56]  Since being a prisoner of war was "completely unacceptable, considered dishonorable or shameful, and contrary to the samurai code," the Japanese were essentially automatons that fought to the death. In contrast with U.S. imperialism, where "Filipinos had a positive image of America" and U.S. intervention in Vietnam "sorted itself out," [57]  Japanese imperialism was infinitely more brutal, according to Walker. This notion that the Japanese were imbued with fanaticism and the ideology of Bushido, which permeated their consciousness for centuries, is an important part of Walker's thesis because it attempts to reinforce the notion that the toll of casualties would be great in a U.S. invasion of Japan. Miscamble suggests a similar theme, explaining that the "the twisted neo- samurai  … geared up with true  banzai  spirit to engage the whole population in a kind of national  kamikaze  campaign."  [58]  Maddox is slightly less crude, suggesting that that the "very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition." [59]

Thus, within the traditionalist camp one finds a remarkable degree of unanimity. While some authors, such as Miscamble and Newman, focus on the moral argument, others, such as Maddox, implore the military aspect. Others still emphasize the "savage" culture of the "Oriental enemy" a la Paul Walker. Yet, all of the traditionalists tend to converge in their main analysis. There is little disagreement among them on any vital issues. In one way this greatly distinguishes them from the revisionist camp, which presents a quite heterogeneous and diverse array of analyses.

The Revisionist Camp

The traditionalists and revisionists part ways on the fundamental divide of atomic diplomacy. Within the traditionalist camp arguments are largely convergent, whereas within the revisionists camp the nuances are far more pronounced. All tend to agree that some level of atomic diplomacy was in play. Most, however, disagree on a variety of other issues. Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin heavily emphasize the role of atomic diplomacy. In contrast, Takaki suggests race and racism as primary variables. Hasegawa maintains that an "international" perspective is vital, and criticizes past revisionists for heavily focusing on leaders in Washington. As Gar Alperovitz is the first and quintessential revisionist, much of the internal discussion amongst revisionists is characterized by correcting, expanding, or challenging certain assumptions Alperovitz has made.

The first distinction of analysis can be seen in the characterization of the Roosevelt and the Truman administration. Alperovitz imbues individual political actors, particularly Harry Truman and his adviser James Byrnes, with immense agency over the use of the bomb. He warns against "analyses which assert that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, and financial-produced the decision." [60]  He also makes the case against "momentum theories," which may have "an odd feeling of seeming plausibility about them," but which go against the evidence that top U.S. military officials were against the bombing. [61]  Throughout his work it is stressed that individual political actors were absolutely fundamental in the decision, and that no sort of "momentum theory" is capable of capturing the dynamics of the top-level discussions that led to the final decision. Alperovitz emphasizes the importance of the Truman-Byrnes relationship, implicitly suggesting that the outcome may have been different with Roosevelt in office.

Martin Sherwin articulates a somewhat distinct argument that draws a strong line of continuity between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. For Sherwin, an "analysis of the policies [Roosevelt] chose…suggests that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943." [62]  Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt's elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt "consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill's monopolistic, anti-Soviet views." [63]  He concludes that Roosevelt's commitment to amicable postwar relations with the Soviets has "often been exaggerated," and that "his prescriptions for the diplomatic role of the atomic bomb… reveal a carefully guarded skepticism regarding the Grand Alliance's prospects for surviving the war intact." [64]  Thus, Sherwin argues that Truman did not "inherit the question" of whether to employ the bomb as a means of atomic diplomacy, but he "inherited the answer" since by 1943 the diplomatic value of the bomb had already begun to shape atomic energy policies. The decision to use the bomb, and its diplomatic implications, were prescribed by Roosevelt. Truman's decisions were more or less technical, revolving around how specifically to use the bomb. Where Alperovitz has attempted to present a break or disconnect between what he perceives as Roosevelt's uncertain and wavering atomic policies, Sherwin presents a forceful analysis suggesting strong continuity between the two administrations.

A second point of contention amongst revisionists is the role of race and racism in the decision to use the bomb. Here Alperovitz argues that while "it is certainly possible" that racism amongst U.S. officials played a role in the decision to drop the bomb, "it is all but impossible to find specific evidence that racism was an important factor." [65]  In contrast, while Takaki adopts Alperovitz's notion of atomic diplomacy, he drastically parts with him on the issue of race. Takaki's primary focus is understanding the decision within the trajectory of US racism.  [66]  In this regard, it seems his argument is best encapsulated when he declares, borrowing from John Dower, that "in this 'war without mercy,' Truman made the deadly mushroom cloud of 'Manhattan' appear over Japan in order to destroy an enemy he regarded as 'a beast'." [67]  Takaki explicates upon the "racialization of the Pacific War," positioning it within the historic context of racism and US expansionism. After briefly addressing Japanese notions of racial superiority, Takaki attempts to place Truman's decision to use the atomic bombs within the "sociological imagination" of anti-Japanese racism in US society. In doing so, he links the war in the Pacific to earlier periods of conquest. His analysis focuses on the complex processes by which the US idea of democracy was intricately bound up with westward expansion and slavery, all institutions saturated with racialized notions of superiority. Citing the Chinese Exclusion Act, "Yellow Peril" hysteria, the American Federation of Labor anti-Japanese agitation, and the Asiatic Exclusion League, Takaki draws a long line of continuity culminating in the internment of Japanese Americans and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Takaki, notions of racial superiority and anti-Asian racism were key variables in the "sociological imagination" which facilitated the bombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is in this context of a society deeply permeated with both institutional and individual racism that Truman's actions must be analyzed. Takaki analyzes Truman's biography, emphasizing the implicit notions of racial superiority deeply embedded in him and his family of ex-slave owners. Takaki outlines Truman's broadly anti-Asian sentiments, such as in 1911 when he explained that he "does hate Chinese and Japs" and that the "yellow men [ought to be] in Asia."  [68]  By 1945, Truman referred to the "Japs" as "savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic." Thus, the "sociological imagination" was a highly racialized one that helped rationalize the slaughter of innocent Japanese civilians in the minds of men like Truman.

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa also takes Alperovitz to task on more than one occasion. Throughout  Racing the Enemy  he points out that he views his work as a corrective to the mistakes of revisionist historians. As he explains, the "sharp division between revisionist and orthodox historians in the Unites States" has failed to address the crucial international dimension because "the main point of contention is over American perceptions of Soviet intentions" that "depict Soviet actions as a sideshow and assign to Moscow a secondary role at best." [69]  Furthermore, although Hasegawa is certainly not an orthodox historian, he is mildly critical of the revisionists who have preceded him: "Although much of what revisionist historians argue is faulty and based on tendentious use of sources, they nonetheless deserve credit for raising an important moral issue that challenges the standard American narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." [70]  Thus, Hasegawa strengthens the revisionist narrative by correcting some of the errors and increasing the attention to the international dynamic at work.

Alperovitz in large part bases his argument on the conclusions of the 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey which argued that Japan "would likely have surrender in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion."  [71]  In contrast with Alperovitz and most other revisionist historians who uncritically accept the United States Strategic Bombing Survey's conclusion, Hasegawa maintains that "defeat and surrender are not synonymous," and Paul Nitze's "conclusion was repeatedly contradicted by the evidence in the Survey itself." [72]  He largely accepts the critique of the USSBS findings put forward by Barton Bernstein. Instead, he argues that "even without the atomic bombs, the war most likely would have ended shortly after Soviet entry into the war-before November 1." [73]  Strangely, Hasegawa tends to overemphasize his departure from Alperovitz on this point, or he must have simply overlooked Alperovitz contention that, even had the atomic bomb not been used, it is "almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war." [74]

On a number of other points Hasegawa and Alperovitz certainly do disagree, however. Whereas Alperovitz characterizes the Sino-Soviet negotiations between Stalin and the Nationalists as a U.S. ploy to prolong Russian entry in the war, Hasegawa responds that in the Sino-Soviet negotiations, the "interests of Truman, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek all converged: the successful conclusion of a Sino-Soviet treaty could make everyone happy."  [75]  Hasegawa does not view the difficult negotiating by the Chinese as a concocted plot by the U.S. to keep the Soviets out of the war. "Revisionist historians are wrong," Hasegawa explains, "in asserting that Harriman's actions were meant to pressure Soong to resist Stalin's demand in order to prevent Soviet entry into the war against Japan." [76]  Likewise, throughout his work Hasegawa repeatedly attempts to re-characterize Byrnes are someone not nearly as bent on geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union as other revisionist historians have made him out to be. For instance, in response to the Soviet Kurils Operation as part of August Storm, Hasegawa argues that Byrnes, "though often regarded by revisionist historians as an ardent advocate for a tough stance against the Soviet Union… favored a conciliatory position on this issue." [77]  Thus, the internecine differences amongst the revisionists exist. They are not nearly as pronounced or as heated as the differences between the traditionalists and the revisionists, but significantly more obvious than any real disagreement amongst traditionalist scholars.

Consensus Historians vs. The Traditionalists and the Revisionists

Between the traditionalist and revisionist historians lay a murky "middle ground" that encompasses a group of scholars who posit quite different arguments regarding the atomic bomb but tend to share in common a notion that alternatives existed. These "consensus" historians, as J. Samuel Walker refers to them,  [78]  in some way suggest that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war. The "consensus" historians reject the traditionalist argument that the atomic bombs were a military necessity and at the same time greatly distance themselves from the atomic diplomacy thesis. Samuel Walker's Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan  (1997), Dennis Wainstock's The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki  (1996), and Sean L. Malloy's  Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan  (2008) form the core of this "consensus" or middle ground camp.

Dennis Wainstock argues that the policy of unconditional surrender was a "policy of revenge, and it hurt America's national self-interest."  [79]  He continues, suggesting that had the United States given Japan conditional surrender terms, including retention of the emperor, Japan would have surrendered significantly earlier than it did. This means that neither the atomic bombs nor Soviet intervention would have been required. By prolonging the war in Europe and East Asia the policy of unconditional surrender expanded Soviet power in both areas, thereby harming U.S. interests. The dropping of the atomic bomb only "hastened the surrender of an already defeated enemy."  [80]  Wainstock does not neatly align with either the traditionalist or revisionist camp. First, he aligns his critique of unconditional surrender within "U.S. national interests." His emphasis is that unconditional surrender unnecessarily prolonged the war, and Truman's commitment to it subsequently harmed U.S. interests since the prolonged war eventually allowed the Soviet Union to enter the arena and exercise increased influence in East Asia. This "policy of revenge [unconditional surrender]… hurt America's national self-interest" because it "prolonged the war… and helped to expand Soviet power." [81]

It is in this way that Wainstock differs sharply from all of the traditionalists who, in one way or another defend the policy of unconditional surrender. Whereas Paul Walker, Richard Frank, and Wilson Miscamble tend to be generally supportive of the unconditional surrender policy, James Maddox, in a rather reserved way, argues that "there is no way of telling whether the doctrine prolonged the war in any way."  [82]  Robert Newman is Wainstock's primary adversary in this regard, however. Newman argues two main points: first, Truman "had no good reason" to believe that permitting retention of the emperor would have led to early capitulation and, second, the "Potsdam Declaration defined surrender in a fashion acceptable to the Japanese peace forces." [83]  To "those who insist that unconditional surrender was a purely punitive stance," he proclaims that the "leaders of the Japanese peace party… saw in the Potsdam terms an acceptable alternative to the destruction Japan would otherwise sustain." [84]  The reason that Truman eventually accepted the condition that the emperor be retained was, according to Newman, because "peace was too tantalizing to resist."  [85]  In the end, however, Newman is sure that retaining the emperor, "what Hiroshima cultists insist was a viable alternative for Truman to end the war early… was really no alternative at all." [86]  Furthermore, the conditions outlined at Potsdam were not unconditional surrender, and the Japanese knew it. Thus, for Newman the entire thesis constructed by Wainstock rests on dubious grounds.

Regarding his differences with the revisionists, Wainstock concedes that "perhaps Truman's decision to drop the bombs was an attempt to both impress the Soviets… and to end the war before the Soviets entered and seize the Far Eastern territories." [87]  Even if this were true, however, it was totally counterproductive since in the end it prolonged the war and allowed Soviet entry, something that could have been prevented by altering the policy. This brief commentary is all the space that Wainstock provides for the atomic diplomacy thesis. In other words, despite accepting that atomic diplomacy may have played some minor role, Wainstock contends that a blind policy of unconditional surrender was of prime importance in the decision. This is where his greatest disagreement comes to the fore with the revisionists, and in particular Hasegawa. Hasegawa contends that even if Truman had "accepted a provision in the Potsdam declaration allowing the Japanese to retain a constitutional monarchy," it would "not have immediately led to Japan's surrender." [88]  It is doubtful, Hasegawa maintains, "that Japan would have capitulated before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the Soviet Union entered the war." [89]  Thus, whereas the policy of unconditional surrender is the fundamental variable for Wainstock, it is significantly less so for Hasegawa. Wainstock significantly minimizes the significance of atomic diplomacy and inflates the importance of the unconditional surrender policy.

Sean Malloy, like Takaki, attempts to analyze the decision to use the atomic bomb through the "lens of biography."  [90]  Malloy attempts to approach "the use of the bomb through a conceptual framework he calls the "context of use," positioning the use of the bomb as a "compound product of a series of choices" rather than "the result of single decision."  [91]  Malloy makes the argument that Stimson, as secretary of war, unintentionally "presided over a set of policies that accelerated the budding nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union," [92]  despite his "deep concern with limiting the effects of war on civilians and fostering trust between nations as the foundation of the peace that followed."  [93]  In essence,  realpolitik  dominated Stimson's approach to the atomic bomb and undermined his moral commitments.

One example of this is Stimson's oversight of the 1945 Stassfurt operation intended to secure Anglo-American hegemony over uranium supplies. By the time of Strassfurt, when the U.S. moved in to seize the largest known stock of uranium in Europe, they "did as so as part of a one-sided nuclear arms race" in which, "by 1945, the Soviet Union was already America's primary nuclear rival." [94]  Thus, while Stimson is the tragic hero with a fatal flaw, James Byrnes is his foil, presented as the bad apple in the administration who desires conflict with the Soviet Union. Malloy's key argument, then, is that "by his own actions during World War II, the secretary of war had helped to set in motion exactly the kind of destructive international competition in armaments that he had spent much of his long public career attempting to avoid."  [95]  The almost capricious nature of his rapidly changing positions, and the tenuous justifications which frequently accompanied them, indicates that Stimson's moral convictions were more often than not drown out for the sake of political expediency. Malloy's conception of the atomic bomb as a "tragedy" is the principle departure from the traditionalists who tend to glorify the use of the bomb and celebrate it for ending the war and saving lives.

Malloy's differences with the revisionist camp are rather nuanced, but significant. Once again, his conception of the bombs as a "tragedy," rather than a calculated diplomatic initiative, separates him from the revisionists. Second, he makes the argument that the secretary of war "was in a unique position to shape many of the decisions about the use of the bomb." [96]  This is in direct contradistinction to other historians, such as Alperovitz, who emphasize the agency of actors such as James Byrnes at Stimson's expense. Second, Malloy attempts to put forward a sort of "momentum theory" that Alperovitz considers "seemingly plausible" but in reality historically bankrupt. During the various decisions that led to the atomic bombing, the morals and convictions of officials were often sublimated for political expediency. For Malloy, this was particularly true of Stimson. In this way, a sort of "momentum theory" is employed by Malloy to mitigate the pernicious intent of certain actors and explain away the "failures" of their decisions. Thus, the atomic bombs were not intentionally used as diplomatic tools by most of the Truman administration, but policy "failures" as individuals were swept up in events. Further modifying the arguments of Alperovitz and Hasegawa, Malloy argues that "American domestic politics" were a primary reason that Truman "failed at Potsdam" to use the "two potentially useful, if imperfect, diplomatic levers… in an effort to end the war."  [97]  Furthermore, whereas Hasegawa presents Soviet entry as vital, Mallow suggests that "neither the public threat of Soviet entry nor the lure of allowing the Japanese to retain the emperor after the war were diplomatic panaceas."  [98]  Thus, Malloy's differences with the revisionists are perceptible.

A slightly different approach is apparent in J. Samuel Walker's book. He sets out to answer two interrelated questions: was the bomb "necessary at all" and, "if so, what exactly did it accomplish?" [99]  By the conclusion of the book, Walker asserts that the answer to the first question "seems to be yes and no. Yes, it was necessary to end the war as quickly as possible. No, it was not necessary to prevent an invasion of Japan." [100]  Addressing the second question, he maintains that the bomb "shortened the war and saved the lives of a relatively small but far from inconsequential number of Americans." [101]  By situating his thesis within these parameters, S. Walker avoids having to take a position regarding the morality of the atomic bombings and instead focuses on rather narrow notions of "military necessity." He presents a variegated list of reasons Truman dropped the bomb: "(1) the commitment to ending the war successfully at the earliest possible moment; (2) the need to justify the effort and expense of building the atomic bombs; (3) the hope of achieving diplomatic gains in the growing rivalry with the Soviet Union; (4) the lack of incentives not to use atomic weapons; and (5) hatred of the Japanese and a desire for vengeance." [102]

Walker's differences with the traditionalists are quite clear: Walker suggests three rectifications to the popular narrative, a narrative the traditionalists largely accept: first, "there were other options available for ending the war… without the bomb and without an invasion"; second, due to Japan's enervated capacity for war, Truman and his advisers did not regard invasion as inevitable; last, even if invasion was necessary to end the war, military planners "projected the number of American lives lost at far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that Truman and his advisers claimed after the war." [103]  Furthermore, Walker relies on the USSBS, a point of divergence between himself and both the traditionalists and Hasegawa, to conclude "the war would probably have ended before an American invasion of Kyushu became necessary."  [104]  Walker essentially dismisses the entire traditionalist approach, with the caveat that Truman was indeed concerned with saving as many American lives as possible.

It is important to note that he is rather critical of the revisionist approach as well. First and foremost, Walker specifically outlines what Alperovitz disparages as an analysis asserting "that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, financial-produced the decision." Alperovitz's criticism of such an approach is that it "is easy to assemble fragments of evidence" that suggest such an analysis, but jumping from these "fragments to an explanatory conclusion about decision-making at the very top of the U.S. government is suspect." [105]  Thus, Walker's "five fundamental considerations" are a significant departure from Alperovitz. More significantly, Walker actually considers the entire atomic diplomacy thesis as a sideshow. For instance, he maintains that "Truman did not drop the bomb primarily to intimidate the Soviets." It was at best an ancillary consideration, a "bonus." [106]

Thus, the "consensus" historians, largely agree that potential alternatives existed, that invasion may not have been necessary, and that the atomic bombs were probably not responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. In other words, they were not a military necessity. At the same time, the atomic bombs were not deployed primarily as diplomatic mechanisms. Even if they eventually came to fulfill this role, it was either the unintentional result of "momentum" or a tertiary variable barely perceptible vis-à-vis other considerations.

Conclusion: The Myth, the Cult, Nuclearism, and Nuclear Consciousness

In the post-war era, the debate and discussion over the bomb has been of tremendous importance. Both the traditionalist and revisionist camps have plotted the trajectory of the discourse surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki in different ways. Gar Alperovitz has suggested that officials promulgated propaganda in a top-down manner in order to manufacture an "American myth" surrounding the use of the atomic bombs. Robert J. Lifton's preface to Martin Sherwin's  A World Destroyed  laments the emergence of "nuclearism," the ideology that the atomic bomb is a "deity" capable of both "destroying the world" and "capable of ruling and protecting the world, even of keeping the world going." [107]  In contrast, Robert Newman denounces Alperovitz and other revisionists as "Hiroshima cultists," "Truman bashers," and a host of other pejoratives for creating a "cult" that worships at the altar of Hiroshima. Lastly, Paul Boyer, in his book  By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age  (1994), suggests that a sort of "nuclear consciousness" has infused itself in the perceptions and ideology of Americans in the post-war era. [108]  In fact, "nuclear reality" so deeply pervades our "consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it."  [109]  In these various ways authors have interpreted the post-war world after the atomic bomb.

In the second part of his book, Alperovitz explores the creation of the mythology surrounding the ostensibly "inevitable" use of the bomb. He maintains that three decisions, including the rejection to provide enough time for Japan to surrender, the choice to not offer the Japanese emperor assurances, and the explicit decision not to test a Russian entry into the war, "set the terms of reference for the bomb's subsequent seemingly 'inevitable' use… [and] so tightly framed the remaining issues as to make it all but impossible thereafter to oppose the bombings."  [110]  This "framing of the bomb," alongside the top-down campaign of disinformation immediately after the war, were key factors that facilitated the permeation of American consciousness with the "inevitability" narrative.

Stimson, Truman, Byrnes, and Groves were key figures in this top-down propaganda campaign. Despite what Alperovitz argues was an ancillary role in the actual decision to drop the bomb, Stimson did play a vital role in propagating the official discourse, citing Stimson's 1947  Harper's  article which was presented as "a mere recital of the facts." Stimson posited a rigid dichotomy later picked up by traditionalist historians: either a costly invasion or use of the bomb was required to end the war. As Alperovitz explains, the article was an "extraordinary success," with the  New York Times , the  Washington Post ,  Reader's Digest , the  Bulletin of Atomic Scientists , and an indeterminate number of other media outlets "decidedly uncritical and, indeed, often effusive in praise." [111]  Truman's argument that "the dropping of the bombs stopped the war" and "saved millions of lives" was the main line of thought he propagated continuously after the war. He maintains that the "over a million" figure "became the essential source for a myth which has been repeated with only occasional challenge for much of the last half century" despite modern scholarship demonstrating "the estimate to be without any serious foundation in the documents of that period."  [112]  Byrnes systematically distorted and revised the past by shrouding himself in secrecy and meticulously managing his personal writings. Groves' role as "an expert public relations artist and news 'spin' master" also comes to light when he devised a strategy whereby U.S. officials would "saturate" the "huge market hungry for information with officially approved material from the only authoritative source available." [113]  In Japan itself a Civil Censorship Division of the Occupation had some 8,700 staffers engaged in examining thousands of newspapers, magazines, textbooks, motion pictures, and even private mail to ensure they did not stray too far from the official discourse. [114]  The most pernicious form of censorship was also the most ubiquitous; namely, government classification. Thus, as Alperovitz argues, "the 'normal' functioning of government… is even more effective than the occasional excesses which make the headlines." [115]  In these ways the historical narrative from beginning to end was "managed" by U.S. officials.

Part of Martin Sherwin's work is intended to combat the legacy of nuclearism. In a world where humans have "infused [the atomic bomb] with a constellation of awe and mystery. That constellation has included tendencies to embrace the bomb, to become fiercely dependent upon it, indeed, to render it something close to a deity." [116]  The "willful embrace of the cruelest weapon ever created is the essence" of nuclearism. [117]  Suggesting a line of continuity with Paul Boyer,  A World Destroyed  suggests that an "idealistic aura of peacemaking was inseparable from the bomb's lure of ultimate technology and ultimate power-all of which became part of the transcendent technology of nuclearism." [118]  Hence, "the bizarre emphasis on the bomb's ostensible function of 'saving lives' rather than destroying them, of rendering the world peaceful rather than bringing to it a specter of annihilation."  [119]  This "bizarre emphasis" has been the plaything of traditionalist scholars for decades.

In sharp contrast with Alperovitz and Sherwin, Robert P. Newman's thesis in  Truman and the Hiroshima Cult  is the paradigmatic post-revisionist account of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. In it he argues that a "cult," with attendant cultists, has arisen around Truman and the Hiroshima decision. These "Hiroshima cultists" argue, in a variety of forms, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, that the "unconditional surrender" formula unnecessarily prolonged the war, and that Truman's decision to drop the bomb was driven either by racism towards the Japanese or diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviets, or some combination thereof. Newman vehemently rejects what he refers to as the "Japanese-as-victim cult," suggesting that any and all of the above suggestions are fundamentally incorrect. Newman proclaims that neither "Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan's fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific." [120]

Newman traces the development and growth of what he maliciously and interchangeably refers to as the "Japan-as-Victim myth" or "Hiroshima cult." He begins by explaining how in the immediate aftermath of the war "the whole world viewed Japan as villainous."  [121]  After 1948, however, things began to change, in both Japan and the United States. In 1949 John Hersey's  Hiroshima  was published, which Newman credits with having the opposite but equally powerful impact that Anne Frank's diary had on Germany. Where Anne Frank's diary forced Germany to come to terms with its atrocities,  Hiroshima  shielded Japan from having to do so, and helped begin the "Japan-as-Victim" myth. Furthermore, in 1951 P. M. S. Blackett published  Fear, War, and the Bomb , which argued that the bomb was not the last act of the Second World War but the first act of the Cold War. Finally, in 1954 when the U.S. tested the new H-bomb and the crew of a tuna trawler were affected by radioactive fallout, the "five most important Japanese newspapers took a common position: this was the third atomic bombing."  [122]

Despite all this, however, in 1964 a public opinion poll suggested that 49 percent of the Japanese public viewed the United States as their "favorite foreign country." By 1973, after the U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and use of Japan to accomplish them, this "popularity" had dropped to 18 percent.  [123]  By the late sixties people were questioning earlier U.S. military endeavors, notably the dropping of the atomic bombs, as a reflection of the changing political tide and anti-Vietnam war sentiment. By 1989, the "majority opinion even among Japanese scholars" was accepting of both the Blackett thesis and racism as primary factors in the dropping of the atomic bomb. In the United States, the gradual buildup of anti-nuclear activism, starting with  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  in the late 1940s to the "Scientists' Declaration on Nuclear Power" in 1975, had a major impact on retroactive views of the bombings. Thus, "accurate charges" of postwar "overkill… seemed to legitimate chargers of overkill levied at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs." [124]  Furthermore, many "who became disillusioned with the American terror bombing in Vietnam became converts to the Hiroshima guilt trip." [125]  Newman also cites Ian Buruma's  The Wages of Guilt , which explores the myriad of factors for why a "Japan-as-Victim" cult developed but no comparably "cult" developed around Germany. The key factor as Newman sees it, however, was Vietnam. Without it, "the Japanese-as-victims cult in the United States would still be puny." [126]  Newman's work is a vicious attack on the legacy of revisionists like Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin.

Paul Boyer's study,  By the   Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age , addresses the "unsettling new cultural factor" of the atomic bomb that had been introduced in immediate post-war period from 1945 to 1950.  [127]  His contention is that the bomb "had transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness" in the United States. [128]  These five formative years shaped how Americans first "confronted the bomb, struggled against it, and absorbed it into the fabric of the culture."  [129]  In short, Boyer maintains that the 1945 to 1946 period was a time of "obsessive post-Hiroshima awareness of the horror of the atomic bomb," while in the period from 1947 to 1950 and after there was a "diminished cultural attention and uneasy acquiescence" as the "dread destroyer of 1945 had become the shield of the Republic by 1950." [130]  In essence, Sherwin's "transcendent technology of nuclearism" permeated what Boyer calls America's "nuclear consciousness." This "nuclear consciousness" was infused into the very core of American ideology in the post-war era and so deeply pervades American "consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it." [131]  Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Boyer argues, "stand as signposts marking both a gash in the living flesh of our historical consciousness and a turning point in our ethical history."  [132]

From 1945 to 1946 an "intense discourse" had surrounded the atomic bomb, where after 1947 this "diminished to scattered murmurs and faint echoes" and by 1950 "America's nuclear culture… would appear as a gray and largely deserted landscape." [133]  Around this time the Atomic Energy Commission began a full throttle propaganda campaign to associate atomic energy with health, happiness, and prosperity. This campaign drew in scientists, educators, radio personalities, health workers, and others, directly reaching some four million Americans and indirectly affecting many more. A "policy of deep secrecy about atomic-bomb research and stockpiling," alongside the "pervasive official practice… of playing down the bomb's dangers" continued to condition the American public. [134]  In this context, and with the ensuing Cold War schism that dominated international relations, the "civil defense" paradigm displaced the "international control" slogan dominant during 1945-6. This multifaceted propaganda campaign was so successful that by 1950 Americans had overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, embraced the atomic bomb. The mid-1950s saw a resurgence of debate over the atomic bomb and then a re-decline after 1963. He argues that the illusion of diminished risk, the loss of immediacy, the promise of a world transformed by atomic energy, the complexity and comfort of deterrence theory, and the importance of the Vietnam War led to the decline of atomic prominence. Interestingly, whereas Newman positions the Vietnam as the central feature in establishing the "Hiroshima cult," Boyer contends that the Vietnam War actually lessened discussion and debate over the atomic bomb.

Although Boyer aligns neatly with revisionist historians, he does refocus the chronological lens. Where other historians have drawn a line of continuity between the development of the bomb and its use, or between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Boyer furthers that line of continuity by exploring the state's role in managing post-Hiroshima public discourse. In this way Boyer's work partially overlaps and agrees with but significantly transcends Alperovitz "architecture of an American myth." By focusing on the state's institution of a broad, far-reaching propaganda campaign that helped shape popular opinion, Boyer repositions the role of the state not just as user of the atomic bomb, but also as manager of the dominant discourse after its use. In this way, Boyer provides a unique historiographical contribution by arguing that atomic policies "transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness" in the United States.

Thus, not only is the discourse surrounding the actual use of the atomic bomb split into competing camps, the post-war discourse itself is a topic of debate. In this regard, Paul Boyer's work is the most thorough, sophisticated, and systematic cultural analysis of the post-war discourse. For those of us interested in challenging not only the excesses of war, but the inter-imperial rivalries that ultimately lead to the use of the bomb, understanding the nuances of the historiographical debate is vital. More importantly, in the wake of the 1995 Smithsonian controversy and the ever-expanding list of countries with access to nuclear armaments, those of us on the left must continue to wage war on the post-war discourse justifying and rationalizing the atomic bomb.

Bibliography

Alperovitz, Gar.  The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Boyer, Paul.  By the   Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Frank, Richard B.  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire.  New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi.  Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan.  Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

Maddox, Robert James.  Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision . Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

Malloy, Sean L.  Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan . Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.

Miscamble, Wilson D.  The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Newman, Robert P.  Truman and the Hiroshima Cult.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.

Walker, J. Samuel.  Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan . Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Walker, Paul D.  Truman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb . Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003.

Stimson, Henry L. "The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb."  Harper's Magazine  (1947).

Sherwin, Martin J.  A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Takaki, Ronald.  Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb . Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.

Wainstock, Dennis.  The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb.  New York: Enigma Books, 2011.

[1]  I borrow the term "consensus" from J. Samuel Walker.

[2]  Tsuyoshi Hasegawa utilizes "orthodox" to describe this position.

[3]  Henry L. Stimson, "The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb,"  Harper's Magazine  (1947). See full article: http://classrooms.tacoma.k12.wa.us/stadium/mberggren-2/us-history/download/Stimson%2B-%2BHarper%2BFeb%2B1947%2B-%2BDecision%2Bto%2BUse%2Bthe%2BAtomic%2BBomb.pdf?id=230795

[4]  J. Samuel Walker,  Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan  (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 105.

[5]  Originally published in 1995.

[6]  A reiteration and strengthening of his 1965 work  Atomic Diplomacy .

[7]  Originally published in 1973.

[8]  Truman, Stimson, Byrnes, Stalin, Hirohito, and the Big Six in Japan are examples where disagreement is most pronounced.

[9]  Gar Alperovitz,  The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 19.

[10]  Alperovitz,  The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,  225.

[11]  Martin J. Sherwin,  A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies  (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6.

[12]  Sherwin,  A World Destroyed , 7.

[13]  This argument maintained that the US should share atomic technology with the Soviet Union in exchange for political cooperation.

[14]  This position stated that the US should maintain a monopoly over atomic technology as long as possible and advance its diplomatic aims through harsh bargaining from its position of atomic power.

[15]  Tsuyoshi Hasegawa,  Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan  (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 140.

[16]  Hasegawa,  Racing the Enemy , 154.

[17]  Ibid., 135.

[18]  Ibid., 139.

[19]  Alperovitz, 19.

[20]  Robert James Maddox,  Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision  (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), xv.

[21]  Maddox,  Weapons for Victory , 146.

[22]  Ibid., 113.

[23]  Richard B. Frank,  Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire  (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 104.

[24]  This is Newman's term for revisionist historians.

[25]  The USSBS maintained that in all likelihood Japan would surrender prior to November 1, 1945 without the atomic bombing or the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war. It further states that had Japan not surrendered by November 1, it would definitely have surrendered prior to the end of 1945.

[26]  Robert P. Newman,  Truman and the Hiroshima Cult  (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995), 36.

[27]  Newman,  Truman and the Hiroshima Cult , 47.

[28]  This is one of Newman's other terms for revisionists.

[29]  Ibid., 49.

[30]  Wilson D Miscamble,  The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 91.

[31]  Frank, 95.

[32]  Ibid., 96.

[33]  Ibid., 197.

[34]  Paul D. Walker,  Truman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb  (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003), 171.

[35]  Miscamble, 115. Original emphasis.

[36]  Maddox, 153.

[37]  Hasegawa, 5.

[38]  Maddox, 131.

[39]  Frank, 348.

[40]  Miscamble, 89.

[41]  Ibid., 91.

[42]  Sakomizu was chief secretary to the cabinet of Japan during World War II.

[43]  Hasegawa, 250.

[44]  Miscamble, 3.

[45]  Ibid., 44.

[46]  Ibid., 113.

[47]  Ibid., 119.

[48]  Ibid., 124.

[49]  Newman, xiii. Emphasis added.

[50]  Ibid., 120.

[51]  Ibid., 130.

[52]  Ibid., 138. Emphasis original.

[53]  Paul Walker, 15.

[54]  Ibid., 17.

[55]  Ibid., 18-19.

[56]  Ibid., 27.

[57]  Ibid., 43-44.

[58]  Miscamble, 120-1.

[59]  Maddox, xv.

[60]  Alperovitz, 656.

[61]  Ibid., 657.

[62]  Sherwin, 6.

[63]  Ibid., 7.

[64]  Ibid., 8.

[65]  Alperovitz, 655.

[66]  Ronald Takaki,  Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb  (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 8.

[67]  Takaki,  Hiroshima , 100.

[68]  Ibid., 94.

[69]  Hasegawa, 2.

[70]  Hasegawa, 300.

[71]  Alperovitz, 4

[72]  Hasegawa, 295.

[73]  Ibid., 296.

[74]  Alperovitz, 85.

[75]  Hasegawa., 129.

[76]  Ibid., 188

[77]  Ibid., 275

[78]  Samuel Walker cites Barton Bernstein as one of the pioneering "consensus" historians of Hiroshima.

[79]  Dennis Wainstock,  The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb  (New York: Enigma Books, 2011), 178.

[80]  Wainstock,  The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb , 178.

[81]  Ibid., 178.

[82]  Maddox, 8.

[83]  Newman, 57.

[84]  Ibid., 71.

[85]  Ibid., 73.

[86]  Ibid., 77.

[87]  Wainstock, 171

[88]  Hasegawa, 290

[89]  Ibid., 291

[90]  Sean L. Malloy,  Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan  (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 7.

[91]  Malloy,  Atomic Tragedy , 8.

[92]  Ibid., 81.

[93]  Ibid., 11.

[94]  Ibid., 67.

[95]  Ibid., 70.

[96]  Ibid., 9.

[97]  Ibid., 129. Here he is referring to retention of the emperor (modifying unconditional surrender) and the public threat of Soviet entry into the war.

[98]  Malloy, 129

[99]  Samuel Walker, 6.

[100]  Ibid., 109.

[101]  Ibid., 109.

[102]  Ibid., 92.

[103]  Ibid., 5-6.

[104]  Ibid., 89.

[105]  Alperovitz, 656.

[106]  Walker, 95.

[107]  Sherwin, xi.

[108]  Paul Boyer,  By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age  (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), xix.

[109]  Boyer,  By the Bomb's Early Light , xx.

[110]  Alperovitz, 631.

[111]  Ibid., 455.

[112]  Ibid., 466.

[113]  Ibid., 598.

[114]  Ibid., 610.

[115]  Ibid., 613.

[116]  Sherwin, xi.

[117]  Ibid., xi.

[118]  Ibid., xii.

[119]  Ibid., xi.

[120]  Newman, xiii.

[121]  Ibid., 153.

[122]  Ibid., 161.

[123]  Ibid., 164.

[124]  Ibid., 177.

[125]  Ibid., 183.

[126]  Ibid., 184.

[127]  Boyer, xxi.

[128]  Ibid., xxi.

[129]  Ibid., xx.

[130]  Ibid., 352 and 349.

[131]  Boyer, xx

[132]  Ibid., 182.

[133]  Ibid., 291.

[134]  Ibid., 303.

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President Harry Truman gave an executive order in 1945 to drop to atomic bombs in popular downtown cities in Japan. With the guidance of many scientists and political leaders President Truman made the extremely tough decision to drop the bombs. After listening to arguments from both sides President Truman came to the conclusion that dropping bombs would be the best thing to do for this war. It would also show that the United States had an extreme military power. Many American politicians were for the idea of dropping the bomb, because they believed that it was the only way to end the war and get Japan to surrender.

Cultural Differences Between Pearl Harbor And 9/11

Abstract Imagine not being able to walk outside at night or having to sell your possessions and abandon your home to spend years behind barbed wire—even though you’d done nothing wrong. For Japanese Americans during World War II, this scenario was reality. The freedom they once had is now gone, as they are put into concentration camps no longer in their home. Now having to line up for meals and to do laundry, thing you did before on a normal basis, while being hovered over. The internment of Japanese Americans in the U.S. was the act of forcing those of Japanese decent to relocation and incarcerating them during World War II.

Stereotypes And Racism In Agatha Christie's 'Murder On The Orient Express'

As a result, all Japanese were discriminated in the U.S.A. as biased perceptions were already set in their minds. They were judging the Japanese as the whole, just because the attack of a small part of the

Dropping Of The Atomic Bomb Justified Essay

The U.S. government did the right thing when they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. The dropping of the bomb was necessary and justified because the Japanese first bomb Pearl Harbor. The Japanese military was killing thousands of Americans and showed no sign of surrender. During World War II the American bombed two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese military was growing stronger and showed no sign of surrendering. Just a few weeks before the dropping of the atomic bombs 123,000 Japanese and Americans killed each other in Okinawa.

More about Thesis Statement On The Atomic Bomb

87 Hiroshima Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

🏆 best hiroshima topic ideas & essay examples, 📌 simple & easy hiroshima essay titles, 👍 good essay topics on hiroshima, ❓ hiroshima essay questions.

  • “Hiroshima” by John Hersey The book Hiroshima traces some of the survivors of the war and lists two women, two religious people, and two doctors who narrate the events from a few hours before the bomb was dropped up […]
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombing In addition, the refusal of Japanese troops to surrender and Japan’s “all-out war” have also been put forward as arguments in favor of the bombing that stopped the atrocities of the “all-out war” of Japanese […]
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Long-Term Health Effects Nevertheless, exposure to neutrons from the incidence of A-bomb in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is currently thought to have been the sources of just 1-2% of the entire dose of ionizing radiation.
  • Hiroshima and Its Importance in US History Hiroshima is the capital city of Hiroshima district, which is situated in the south west of the province Honshu in Japan.
  • The Atomic Bomb of Hiroshima The effects of the bombing were devastating; the explosion had a blast equivalent to approximately 13 kilotons of TNT. Sasaki says that hospitals were teaming with the wounded people, those who managed to survive the […]
  • Hiroshima Bombing in Berger’s, Hardy’s, Hersey’s Works Berger used excerpts of the actual witnesses of the bombing to illustrate the scope of the tragedy and made generalizations concerning the horrors of Hiroshima in the historical and global context.
  • Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Theory of Just War The theory of Just War is meant to provide a philosophical framework, upon which the use of military force is justified. Was the use of the bomb a last resort?
  • Hiroshima Bombing Occurrence and Impacts Additionally, all the other disasters follow a path that is off firebombing as compared to the Hiroshima that saw the only use of nuclear weapons. However, research that is more empirical should to establish the […]
  • Did the USA need to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? However, the war continued along the Pacific Ocean due to the resistance of the Japanese Emperor to sign the instrument of surrender.
  • Hiroshima: Rising from the Ashes of Nuclear Destruction After a few years, the city of han was abolished and Hiroshima became the capital city of the whole Hiroshima region.
  • Memory by Analogy: Hiroshima Mon Amour It is quite painful to recall the events that took place in Japan during the Second World War in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
  • The Atomic Weapons Attacks On Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • Lifton and Mitchell’s Hiroshima in America
  • The War Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki Ended The World War II
  • Hiroshima And The Inheritance Of Trauma
  • Was Bombing Hiroshima And Nagasaki Necessary To End World War 2
  • US Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Cannot be Justified
  • Truman ‘s Announcement On Bombing Of Hiroshima
  • Speculations about the Cause and Effect of the Atomic Bomb and Its Consequences on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • US Government Justifies Dropping of Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima
  • Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe And Hiroshima
  • Was the U.S. Right or Wrong Using the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima
  • Swallowing the Poison Mushroom – America After Hiroshima
  • The Atomic Explosion Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • The Events Before and After the Explosion in John Hersey’s Hiroshima
  • The Alternatives to Dropping the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • To What Extent Were The Bombings Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb the Japanese City of Hiroshima
  • John Hersey’s Interviews of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Victims
  • Weapons Of Mass Destruction Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • The Bombing Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki During World War II
  • The Devastation in the City of Hiroshima After the Atomic Bombing in 1945
  • Hiroshima And The American Naval Base At Pearl Harbor
  • Horrors Caused by the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • The Aftermath When the Bomb Went off in the Book Hiroshima by John Hershey
  • Why President Truman Decided To Drop Atomic Bombs On Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • Saving Lives by Dropping Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • The Background Information of the Hiroshima Bombing and Its Place in U.S. History
  • The Events in 1945 During the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Japan by the U.S
  • Was the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified
  • The Background of the Atomic Bomb Little Boy Dropped on Hiroshima in 1945
  • The Consequences of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States
  • The Unnecessary Nuclear Attacks On Nagasaki And Hiroshima
  • The Controversy and Justification Around the Use of Nuclear Weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Imperil Global Disarmament Efforts After Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
  • The Ethical Analysis of the Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Literary Documentation of the Cold War in John Hersey’s Hiroshima
  • The Attack On Hiroshima And Nagasaki
  • Was America Justified in Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings as the Events that Ended World War II
  • The Bombing of Hiroshima Changed Six Individuals
  • The Debate Over the Ethics of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Why Did The Americans Drop The Atomic Bomb On Hiroshima
  • Was the US Justified in Dropping Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • The US Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima
  • Hiroshima Nagasaki: Entering Into The Atomic Age
  • Why the United States Should Have Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima
  • Why America Bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Was The Atomic Bombing Of Hiroshima And Hiroshima Justified
  • Hiroshima Almost Wiped off From the Face of the Earth
  • The Bombing of Hiroshima and the Attack on Pearl Harbor During the WWII
  • Were Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki Necessary to End World War 2?
  • Was the Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima Justified?
  • Was the U.S. Right or Wrong Using the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima?
  • Why Did the US Pick Hiroshima To Bomb?
  • What Did the Hiroshima Bomb Do to Humans?
  • How Many Were Killed in Hiroshima?
  • Were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings the Acts of Genocide?
  • How Do the Japanese Feel About Hiroshima Many Years Later?
  • How Many Years Does It Take for Hiroshima To Fully Recover?
  • How Long After Hiroshima Did Japan Surrender?
  • Why Was the Bombing of Hiroshima Immoral?
  • Was Hiroshima a Human Rights Violation?
  • Was Hiroshima Bombing a Secret Message to Soviets?
  • What Were the International Politics Before and After Hiroshima?
  • What Is the Hiroshima Exhibit Controversy?
  • What Is the Incidence of Leukemia in Survivors of the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima?
  • Does Tourism Illuminate the Darkness of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
  • What Is the Effect of Bombing on Pregnancy Termination in Hiroshima?
  • Why Did the US Drop the Second Atomic Bomb After Hiroshima?
  • Is There Still Radioactivity in Hiroshima?
  • How Long Until Hiroshima Was Habitable and Why It Takes Time?
  • How Did Hiroshima Recover So Quickly?
  • Did the US Help Japan After the Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
  • How Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Have Transformed Our Mindset?
  • What Were the Genetic Effects of Radiation in Hiroshima Survivors?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

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The Big Bang Radiation Map

The other sources of renewable energy, openmind books, scientific anniversaries, charles darwin and evolution, featured author, latest book, three benefits that came from the atomic bomb.

On July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico , the explosion of the first atomic bomb in history took place. The Trinity test began the era of nuclear weapons that would have its world premiere in Hiroshima, Japan, less than a month later. Those artifacts of death and destruction were the culmination of the Manhattan Project, the first major plan of applied science in history, designed to convert into pure power the knowledge obtained on the subject during the previous decades. The atomic bomb was, possibly, the worst publicity that has ever been given to science, but not all the practical fruits of the work of the physicists have been used for evil, far from it. The atomic age has had significant benefits for humanity . Here are some of them.

1. Radiation that cures cancer

Many people have in their heads that radioactivity causes cancer, but perhaps not as many know that it also cures it. Since the late 60s, what are known as gamma knives have been used all over the world. These machines use the ability of these rays, made of ultra energetic photons, to destroy living tissue. Just as people exposed to radiation may get cancer because these rays damage their cells, the application of this device focused on the harmful tissues end up destroying them in a selective way.

The origin of these gamma rays is cobalt 60, a radioactive element that continuously emits photons. This feature means that it must always remain isolated and that handling it is hazardous. This is why the source of radiation is being replaced by particle accelerators that can emit radioactivity only when needed.

Nuclear technology, as well as serving to treat disease, has become a valuable diagnostic tool. One example is positron emission tomography (PET). This system allows for the reconstruction of images of what is happening inside the body. To achieve this, the patient ingests a radioactive drug with a very short life in order to avoid radiation damage. The system then detects the gamma rays emitted by the patient.

2. Trips to the edge of the Solar System

In the vicinity of the Earth, where we use orbiting satellites for communications or to predict the weather, solar panels are the primary source of energy. The Rosetta probe, now studying the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is capable of operating at 800 million kilometers from the Sun, but requires two giant solar panels of 14 meters each, with which to squeeze out every last photon of the low solar energy available.

Beyond this, to explore the gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn or to try to reach the edge of the solar system, nuclear energy is necessary. The atomic propulsion produced with radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) is the most effective way to reach those places where the sun is too weak for a solar panel system.

This technology, which converts the heat energy produced by the disintegration of plutonium-238, kept the pioneer Viking probes exploring Mars for years. The Galileo probe, with a similar power system, revolutionized our knowledge of Jupiter and its moons, and Cassini has already spent ten years rediscovering Saturn and its moons, photographing the geysers of Enceladus or analyzing the subsurface ocean that lies beneath the surface of the satellite Europa.

The most extreme case of the potential of nuclear power for space exploration is the Voyager probes. Launched in 1977, they have now reached the edge of the solar system and continue to send signals as the most distant human emissaries from Earth.

3. An unknown application in energy production

The fundamental civil use of nuclear technology came almost a decade after its use as a weapon. In 1954, the Soviet Union launched the first nuclear reactor fueling the electric grid. Today, although only 31 countries have nuclear power plants, more than 12% of the world’s electricity is produced in such facilities.

But power is not the only contribution of radioactivity to energy production. As in medicine, the ability to cross the field of ionizing radiation has found wide uses in industry. Among these is the exploration of oil wells to check if they will be commercially profitable.

To reduce the risks of the investment required to drill an oil well, a source of neutrons or gamma rays is introduced inside the well in order to understand its geological features. In addition, a radiation detector is used to collect the information emitted by the source and its interactions with the environment. The neutron activation analysis, for example, is able to analyze the presence of more than 40 elements, providing essential information to assess the value of a well.

Ventana al conocimiento (Knowledge window)

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what is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb

Truman Statement on Hiroshima

President Harry Truman issued this statement after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima . His statement unveiled the top secret Manhattan Project and portrays it as an immense success in the history of science and warfare. President Truman envisions the production and use of atomic energy for power within the United States and as a force for maintaining world peace.

  • Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Manhattan Project History
  • Manhattan Project Scientists & Leaders

Truman announces Japanese surrender.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Washington, D.C.

IMMEDIATE RELEASE —August 6, 1945

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Before 1939, it was the accepted belief of scientists that it was theoretically possible to release atomic energy. But no one knew any practical method of doing it. By 1942, however, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world. But they failed. We may be grateful to Providence that the Germans got the V-1’s and the V-2’s late and in limited quantities and even more grateful that they did not get the atomic bomb at all.

The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air, land, and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the other battles.

Beginning in 1940, before Pearl Harbor, scientific knowledge useful in war was pooled between the United States and Great Britain, and many priceless helps to our victories have come from that arrangement. Under that general policy the research on the atomic bomb was begun. With American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans.

The United States had available the large number of scientists of distinction in the many needed areas of knowledge. It had the tremendous industrial and financial resources necessary for the project and they could be devoted to it without undue impairment of other vital war work. In the United States the laboratory work and the production plants, on which a substantial start had already been made, would be out of reach of enemy bombing, while at that time Britain was exposed to constant air attack and was still threatened with the possibility of invasion. For these reasons Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt agreed that it was wise to carry on the project here. We now have two great plants and many lesser works devoted to the production of atomic power. Employment during peak construction numbered 125,000 and over 65,000 individuals are even now engaged in operating the plants. Many have worked there for two and a half years. Few know what they have been producing. They see great quantities of material going in and they see nothing coming out of those plants, for the physical size of the explosive charge is exceedingly small. We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history—and won.

But the greatest marvel is not the size of the enterprise, its secrecy, nor its cost, but the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men in different fields of science into a workable plan. And hardly less marvelous has been the capacity of industry to design, and of labor to operate, the machines and methods to do things never done before so that the brain child of many minds came forth in physical shape and performed as it was supposed to do. Both science and industry worked under the direction of the United States Army, which achieved a unique success in managing so diverse a problem in the advancement of knowledge in an amazingly short time. It is doubtful if such another combination could be got together in the world. What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure.

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.          

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.

The Secretary of War, who has kept in personal touch with all phases of the project, will immediately make public a statement giving further details.

His statement will give facts concerning the sites at Oak Ridge near Knoxville, Tennessee, and at Richland near Pasco, Washington, and an installation near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although the workers at the sites have been making materials to be used in producing the greatest destructive forces in history they have not themselves been in danger beyond that of many other occupations, for the utmost care has been taken of their safety.

The fact that we can release atomic energy ushers in a new era in man’s understanding of nature’s forces. Atomic energy may in the future supplement the power that now comes from coal, oil, and falling water, but at present it cannot be produced on a basis to compete with them commercially. Before that comes there must be a long period of intensive research.

It has never been the habit of the scientists of this country or the policy of this Government to withhold from the world scientific knowledge. Normally, therefore, everything about the work with atomic energy would be made public.

But under present circumstances it is not intended to divulge the technical processes of production or all the military applications, pending further examination of possible methods of protecting us and the rest of the world from the danger of sudden destruction.

I shall recommend that the Congress of the United States consider promptly the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. I shall give further consideration and make further recommendations to the Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace.

President Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President Harry Truman

Harry S. Truman. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Stalin and Truman.

Sage-Answers

Quick solution to any problem

What is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb?

Thesis: Despite the immorality surrounding the event, America’s decision to drop the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the latter years of World War II was justified, because it put a quick end to the war and saved thousands of American lives in the process.

Can a thesis statement be 2 sentences?

Your thesis should be stated somewhere in the opening paragraphs of your paper, most often as the last sentence of the introduction. Often, a thesis will be one sentence, but for complex subjects, you may find it more effective to break the thesis statement into two sentences.

Where is thesis statement located?

The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper. 4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

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Exploring Atomic Bomb History Beyond Los Alamos

The Atomic Museum in Las Vegas explains to visitors that Nevada and other states also played a role — for better or worse — in the creation of nuclear energy.

A man sits in darkness as he watches a film of an atomic explosion.

By Michael Janofsky

Reporting from Las Vegas

This article is part of our Museums special section about how institutions are striving to offer their visitors more to see, do and feel.

The blockbuster movie about J. Robert Oppenheimer might have left the impression that only New Mexico was involved in developing America’s atomic bomb.

Hardly. Neighboring Nevada played a vital role, too. And the Atomic Museum in this glittery town known for gambling and big-name entertainment will tell you all about it — and more.

Here, just beyond the major hotels and casinos is a museum dedicated to the history and science of nuclear weapons as a critical part of America’s national security for more than 85 years. It’s one of 200 museums around the country affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and a thematic partner to nearly a dozen others that highlight various aspects of the nation’s nuclear programs.

The Atomic Museum makes clear the genius and necessity of developing awesome nuclear power while not ignoring the lethal impact it had on ordinary people — the moral conflict at the core of “Oppenheimer,” winner of seven Academy Awards for 2023, including best picture and best actor for Cillian Murphy in the title role.

Among a wealth of actual and facsimile objects used in development and testing are an identical shell casing of the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and a replica of the actual bomb that it would have encased. Elsewhere is a display meant to honor the Japanese people killed and injured by Fat Man and L ittle Boy, a smaller bomb dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier. T ogether, they killed more than 200,000 people by some estimates, effectively ending World War II.

“We understand the topic is complicated,” Joseph Kent, the deputy director and curator of the museum, said of exhibits that move visitors along a detailed chronology of the nation’s atomic program with an emphasis on Nevada’s role as a former site for atmospheric and underground testing. “We try to inform the public without getting into whether it’s all good or bad. That’s not really for us to decide.”

The starting point of the museum is a gallery dedicated to the Manhattan Project and the Trinity test overseen by Oppenheimer in July 1945, the world’s first nuclear detonation, set off in a remote area of New Mexico. At the time, Oppenheimer was the first director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

While the Trinity exhibit was opened in 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the test, it helped spur attendance at the museum once the Covid pandemic subsided. Kent said the film and recent nuclear saber-rattling toward Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin helped the museum draw more than 50,000 visitors in 2023, the most in five years.

“After people watched ‘Oppenheimer’ and they hear about what’s going on in the world, they realize they don’t know as much about this topic as they probably should,” he said. “Atomic bombs, nuclear weapons, Oppenheimer, the Soviet Union, the Cold War — they want to find a place where they can learn about them in an addressable form.”

Beyond weapons, the museum offers a window into the science that produced them, but also the everyday life they influenced. In one diorama of a 1950s family, the parents look away in fear from a boxy television set showing a nuclear explosion. Another display shows how the word “atom” became a cultural touchstone — a Kix cereal box promoting an “Atomic Bomb Ring” inside, an “Atoman” comic book and a canister once filled with “Atomic Fireballs” candy. Nearby is a scale model of a blazing red Ford Nucleon, a proposed nuclear-powered car from 1957 that the company never produced.

The visceral center of the museum is the Ground Zero Theater, which uses a 15-minute black-and-white film of an actual nuclear test to approximate what it was like to work on it. Watching from benches, visitors see the explosion, then experience what happens next — utter silence, followed by a deafening roar filling the room and the benches shaking to simulate waves of the aftershock.

Later, Troy Wade, who served as a test site controller, appears on the screen.

“When you see it here you recognize that it’s a very, very terrible weapon of war and when you see one, you understand what it can do and why it must never be used,” he says. “But you understand the value of having it and having your enemies know that you’re not afraid to use it if you want.”

Other areas have more artifacts of the early days of development. One showcase displays two dozen types of Geiger counters. Another has an authentic Fizeau instrumentation package , a huge cubic device of instruments, recorders and cameras that was positioned 500 feet above a test explosion to capture temperature, pressure and levels of radiation.

The museum pays tribute to other sites that contributed important elements of the nuclear program, including the vast expanse of rugged federal land 65 miles north of here, known in its early days as the Nevada Test Site. About 100 atmospheric tests were conducted there from 1951 through 1962 and more than 800 underground tests from 1963 through 1992. Renamed the Nevada National Security Sites, it’s now where scientists maintain warheads. Free public tours are held monthly.

There are also nods to those among America’s 18 national laboratories that continue to conduct research and development in energy, technology and related fields, including Los Alamos and the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

While the subject matter of the Atomic Museum may be more cerebral than other Las Vegas attractions, like the Burlesque Hall of Fame or the Mob Museum, it does serve to remind people of a nervous period of American history following World War II, when fear was pervasive, schoolchildren practiced hiding under their desks, families built fallout shelters and America kept developing ever more powerful weapons, just in case.

“One of our guiding principles is we are not here to try to change people’s minds,” Kent said of nuclear development. “Our goal is to provide an informed opinion. Whether you are for or against nuclear weapons testing, ultimately we can all agree that the history needs to be remembered.”

History | July 18, 2023

The Real History Behind Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’

The “father of the atomic bomb” has long been misunderstood. Will the new film finally get J. Robert Oppenheimer right?

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan's new film

Since the end of World War II, historians and artists alike have been fascinated by the brilliant, enigmatic J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who led the Manhattan Project laboratory that developed the atomic bomb. Beginning as early as 1946, d ocumentaries , television miniseries , plays , books , graphic novels , f eature f ilms and even an opera have explored the scientist’s life, work and legacy. In recent years, however, much of that complexity has been reduced to a single popular image: the broken genius, haunted by his own invention, reciting a line from the Bhagavad Gita in a 1965 NBC News documentary . “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” Oppenheimer intones.

But Oppenheimer’s life was about far more than regret. “[He] was interesting as the father of the bomb,” says Kai Bird , co-author of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer . “But the real arc in the story is the tragedy.”

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Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer , which opens in theaters on July 21, will be the first feature-length film to tackle the scientist’s life in its entirety, and it promises to be spectacular . Starring Cillian Murphy of “ Peaky Blinders ” fame in the title role alongside an ensemble A-list cast, the film (which uses American Prometheus as its main source material ) will reintroduce the scientist and the top-secret bomb project he helmed to a new generation of Americans. Oppenheimer provides an opportunity to revisit this charismatic, contradictory man and reconsider how previous attempts to tell his story have succeeded—and failed—at fathoming one of the 20th century’s most fascinating public figures.

Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project

Born into a secular Jewish family in New York City in 1904 and educated at Manhattan’s Ethical Culture School, Oppenheimer graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in just three years. If Harvard was easy, growing out of his awkward adolescence was harder. He struggled with mental health issues while pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Cambridge—“I was on the point of bumping myself off,” he later recalled —and ended up on probation after lacing an apple with chemicals and leaving it on his tutor’s desk. But by the time World War II broke out in 1939, Oppenheimer had transformed himself into a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. “He was sort of a caricature of the eccentric professor,” Bird says, an intellectual omnivore who read Sanskrit, loved Elizabethan poetry , rode horses and made a great martini.

He had also fallen in love with Jean Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh in Nolan’s film), a dues-paying member of the Communist Party who awakened his interest in politics. Oppenheimer was “likely sympathetic to … communist goals,” according to the nonprofit Atomic Heritage Foundation , but he never officially joined the party. (“Any attempt to label Robert Oppenheimer a party member is a futile exercise—as the FBI learned to its frustration over many years,” wrote Bird and co-author Martin J. Sherwin , who died in October 2021 at age 84, in American Prometheus .) But many of his closest friends and family were party members at one point or another: his brother, Frank Oppenheimer ; his friend Haakon Chevalier ; and his future wife, Kitty Oppenheimer . These associations would cast suspicion on the physicist himself later in his life.

A circa 1950 photograph of Albert Einstein (left) and Oppenheimer (right)

Oppenheimer’s political leanings didn’t prevent him from being recruited, in early 1942, for a secret project authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that was drawing scientists from all over the country. Three years earlier, Albert Einstein had written a letter to Roosevelt warning that breakthroughs in nuclear fission promised “extremely powerful bombs of a new type.” Now, the race was on to figure out how to build one of these bombs before Germany did.

In the summer of 1942, Oppenheimer organized a series of secret seminars at Berkeley, where the United States’ top physicists roughed out the outlines of a possible bomb. As it turned out, Oppenheimer was a natural manager. “I don’t know how he had acquired this facility for handling people,” said Edward Teller , a colleague who would later testify against him. “Those who knew him well were really surprised.”

That September, General Leslie Groves (played by Matt Damon in the new film), an Army engineer who’d previously overseen construction of the Pentagon, took over as head of what was by then called the Manhattan Project, after its inaugural offices in lower Manhattan. Groves knew construction but not physics, so the charming Berkeley physicist caught his eye. “Oppenheimer was the first scientist Groves had met on his tour who grasped that building an atomic bomb required finding practical solutions to a variety of cross-disciplinary problems,” wrote Bird and Sherwin. He wasn’t an obvious choice—“He couldn’t run a hamburger stand,” said a Berkeley colleague—but in October 1942, Groves named Oppenheimer the project’s scientific director.

Oppenheimer (left) and General Leslie Groves (right) at ground zero of the nuclear bomb test site

The government operation brought hundreds, and eventually thousands, of scientists, civilians and Army personnel to a mesa in Los Alamos, New Mexico . Their ranks eventually included Teller, Hans Bethe , Richard Feynman , Seth Neddermeyer , Robert Serber , Kenneth Bainbridge , Enrico Fermi and many others. (Nolan’s film portrays each of these figures and, judging by the full cast list , more or less recreates the entire field of theoretical physics in the 1930s and ’40s, including Kenneth Branagh as Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr .) The scientists reported directly to Oppenheimer, who, at 38, was learning on the job how to run a lab.

Oppenheimer’s lab was only one part of the Manhattan Project. Built on the site of a former boys’ school, Los Alamos was one of three “ secret cities ” seized and transformed by the U.S. government in late 1942 and early 1943. The other two— Oak Ridge, Tennessee , and Hanford, Washington —accounted for the vast majority of the manpower, expense and industrial scale of the project, which employed an estimated half a million people between 1942 and 1945. At Oak Ridge, uranium was refined at the largest factory in the world , newly built for that purpose. In Hanford, an area half the size of Rhode Island was cleared of residents , their houses bulldozed to make way for reactors to produce plutonium . “I told you it couldn’t be done without turning the whole country into a factory,” Bohr said to Teller in 1944. “You have done just that.”

At Los Alamos, Oppenheimer came into his own as a gifted leader. “[He] had a very distinctive voice that was very soft,” says Bird. “You had to listen very carefully, but he was magnetic.” That magnetism kept the lab productive even after an initial design for the bomb, known as Thin Man , had to be scrapped in July 1944. Ultimately, the scientists settled on two workable designs for a bomb, which they called Fat Man and Little Boy. At 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, almost three years of work culminated in the first nuclear detonation in history. Known as the Trinity test, it lit the hills of the New Mexico desert.

A group of physicists at a 1946 Los Alamos colloquium

Oppenheimer, already famously thin, had lost weight during the project, and during the countdown, he reportedly barely breathed. Later dramatizations had the scientist reciting the line from the Bhagavad Gita during the moment of detonation (Oppenheimer himself later claimed the line had come to him then), but he reportedly said something closer to “It worked.”

After the test, Oppenheimer was transformed by relief. “I’ll never forget the way he stepped out of the car,” fellow Manhattan Project scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi later said. “His walk was like High Noon … this kind of strut. He had done it.”

On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, Bockscar dropped Fat Man on Nagasaki. Estimates of deaths from the two bombings vary widely , from a contemporary figure of around 110,000 to a later estimate of closer to 210,000. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender.

The battle over the bomb

In the years immediately following the war, public opinion about the use of the atomic bomb hadn’t yet solidified. The first time Oppenheimer appeared on the big screen was in August 1946, when he starred in the 18-minute documentary “Atomic Power,” which was part of Time ’s “ The March of Time ” series. Onscreen, Oppenheimer (one of several figures who participated in the film, including Einstein, Groves and Rabi) re-enacts waiting anxiously for the detonation at Trinity with Rabi, who gives a stilted performance as he reassures his boss, “It’s going to work all right, Robert. And I’m sure we’ll never be sorry for it.”

what is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb

In fact, Oppenheimer was already sorry. In October 1945, he told President Harry S. Truman (played by Gary Oldman in Nolan’s film), “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.” The tide of public opinion was also beginning to turn. Three weeks after “Atomic Power” was released, John Hersey’s searing, book-length article “ Hiroshima ” appeared in the New Yorker , awakening many Americans for the first time to the horrors of the bomb .

Fearing they were losing the battle for the history books, Truman and other officials sprang into action, compelling former Secretary of War Henry Stimson to defend the use of the bomb in a Harper’s magazine article published in February 1947. The story, which reads as a simple recitation of the facts, portrays the decision to use the bomb as one made with sagacious care. It introduced the argument—repeated often since —that the bomb prevented an Allied land invasion of Japan that would have cost “over a million casualties, to American forces alone.”

“That article really set the history for most Americans for the next generation,” Bird says. “And the narrative was, ‘Oh, it was a difficult decision. It was terrible. But it was necessary, and it saved perhaps a million American lives.’”

The first major Hollywood film about the bomb, The Beginning or the End , debuted the month after Stimson’s article. Initially conceived by atomic scientists as a way to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear warfare, the movie went through script approvals and retakes ordered by Groves and Truman that turned it into a “pro-bomb celebration—dictated by the Pentagon and White House,” wrote Greg Mitchell in his 2020 book, The Beginning or the End : How Hollywood—and America—Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb .

Poster for the 1947 film The Beginning or the End

Directed by Norman Taurog, the film “is so instructive because it is the earliest, and one of the most complete, reassertions of the pro-bomb narrative just when doubts were being raised,” Mitchell tells Smithsonian magazine. “Even Truman got involved, to the extent of ordering a costly retake and getting the actor playing him fired. The studio voluntarily handed over control of the film to the Pentagon, via Groves, and the White House. Oppenheimer himself caved to pressure.”

The Beginning or the End claimed the American military dropped warning leaflets about the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and that the Enola Gay came under attack from Japanese antiaircraft missile fire on its bombing run. Like Stimson’s article, it depicted Truman carefully working through the decision to drop the bomb before arriving at a pivotal moment.

In fact, the U.S. did not drop leaflets warning of the atomic bomb specifically, though pilots may have dropped more general notices of impending attacks on Hiroshima, and the Enola Gay did not come under antiaircraft fire . Many historians disagree that there was a single moment of “ decision ” on Truman’s part . In an essay included in the 2020 anthology The Age of Hiroshima , Alex Wellerstein , a nuclear historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, wrote that Truman “was actually quite peripheral to most of the decisions that led to the use of the weapons.” Wellerstein argued that Truman may have even mistakenly believed that Hiroshima was a military target rather than a city made up largely of civilians. As for that figure of one million projected American casualties , Bird later asked Stimson’s ghostwriter, Mac Bundy , where he got it. “He looked at me,” Bird recalls, “and he says, ‘Oh, we pulled it out of thin air.’”

Oppenheimer described the script of The Beginning or the End as “without purpose or insight.” Another physicist, Leo Szilard , put it even more bluntly: “If our sin as scientists was to make and use the atomic bomb, then our punishment was to watch The Beginning or the End .”

Cillian Murphy, as J. Robert Oppenheimer, walks through a crowd of photographers

The Oppenheimer security hearing

Almost immediately, Oppenheimer began speaking out publicly about the dangers of atomic warfare, even as he continued to act as a nuclear weapons consultant for the U.S. government. In November 1945, he told an audience in Philadelphia that the bomb was “by all the standards of the world we grew up in … an evil thing.” He gave television interviews starkly elucidating the risk of nuclear war. In 1949, as the head of an advisory committee for the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), he delivered a report warning against developing a hydrogen bomb—a fusion weapon more powerful than the Trinity, Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs—that had been conceived by fellow Manhattan Project scientist Teller. “A super bomb might become a weapon of genocide,” Oppenheimer wrote . “A super bomb should never be produced.” In 1953, he gave a speech likening the nuclear-capable United States and Soviet Union to “two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.”

Oppenheimer’s outspoken warnings made him a target, and in December 1953, amid McCarthy-era paranoia about Soviet spies in the highest levels of government, AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss (played by Robert Downey Jr. in Nolan’s film), who harbored a dislike for Oppenheimer, called the scientist into his office and told him his top-secret security clearance had been revoked. Oppenheimer insisted on defending himself, leading the AEC to call what became a highly publicized security hearing to resolve the matter.

The monthlong hearing, which began on April 12, 1954, amounted to an X-ray of Oppenheimer’s adult life. Transgressions large and small were dragged into the open and held up to exacting scrutiny. Key pieces of the case against Oppenheimer included his close friendship with Chevalier , a scholar of French literature at Berkeley and a card-carrying Communist whom the physicist had once protected from incrimination, as well as Oppenheimer’s opposition to Teller’s hydrogen bomb. The usually persuasive scientist panicked under questioning by AEC lawyer Roger Robb; at one point, caught in a contradiction, Oppenheimer accounted for his defense of Chevalier by admitting bluntly , “I was an idiot.” But he also had to defend personal matters, such as his decision to spend a night with his communist ex-fiancée, Tatlock, in the summer of 1943, while he was working at Los Alamos, six months before she died by suicide in 1944. Why did he have to see her? The committee asked. “Because she was still in love with me,” Oppenheimer responded.

A 1946 photo of Oppenheimer

On May 27, the board overseeing the hearings voted 2 to 1 not to reinstate Oppenheimer’s security clearance. “I personally think that our failure to clear Dr. Oppenheimer will be a black mark on the escutcheon of our country,” wrote lone dissenter Ward V. Evans. Either way, Oppenheimer’s relationship with the U.S. government was now officially over. He returned to Princeton, New Jersey, where he’d been the director of the Institute for Advanced Study since 1947. The hearings “destroyed him,” Rabi later said. Another friend, diplomat George Kennan, remembered trying to comfort Oppenheimer by telling him he’d surely be welcome abroad. “His answer, given to me with tears in his eyes: ‘Damn it, I happen to love this country.’”

Oppenheimer tried to minimize the importance of the hearings. “I think of this as a major accident, much like a train wreck or the collapse of a building,” he told a reporter. “It has no relation or connection to my life. I just happened to be there.” As much as he might have wished that to be true, Oppenheimer’s downfall during the hearings came to define him in the public eye. In 1964, the German playwright Heinar Kipphardt drew directly on the published transcripts of the security hearings for his In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer . Discussing the play with the Washington Post , perhaps still trying to prevent his downfall from defining him, Oppenheimer said, “The whole damn thing was a farce, and these people are trying to make a tragedy out of it.”

In an attempt at public rehabilitation, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award, the AEC’s highest honor, in 1963. Nonetheless, the physicist never fully recovered from the blow to his reputation. He lived out the rest of his days in Princeton, where he kept his job at the Institute for Advanced Study until 1966, and died of cancer there in February 1967. As the New York Times wrote in his obituary, “This bafflingly complex man nonetheless never fully succeeded in dispelling doubts about his conduct.”

Florence Pugh (left) as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy (right) as J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer’s security clearance remained revoked until December 2022, when the Department of Energy vacated the commission’s 1954 decision. “Oppenheimer occupies a central role in our history for leading the nation’s atomic efforts during World War II and planting the seeds for the Department of Energy’s national laboratories,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in a statement . “As time has passed, more evidence has come to light of the bias and unfairness of the process that Dr. Oppenheimer was subjected to, while the evidence of his loyalty and love of country [has] only been further affirmed.”

The myth of Oppenheimer

In the more than 50 years since Oppenheimer’s death, popular culture has taken varied approaches to exploring his life. The Peabody Award-winning 1981 documentary The Day After Trinity focused on his regret over his role in building the bomb. The 1980 BBC TV miniseries “ Oppenheimer ,” by contrast, starred a thin, quietly charismatic Sam Waterston and was more interested in the question of Oppenheimer’s communist ties and his downfall.

Later fictional depictions of Oppenheimer grew less interested in complex readings of his psychology and often flattened him into a character who sometimes bordered on the ridiculous. In 1989, director Roland Joffé made a big-budget bet on the story of the Manhattan Project in Fat Man and Little Boy . Despite an A-list cast —Paul Newman as Groves, John Cusack as a fictional Manhattan Project scientist, Laura Dern as that scientist’s girlfriend—the film flopped. The script was simplistic, the dialogue groan-inducing (“Naked. Isn’t that a beautiful word?” Dern says to Cusack when propositioning him) and veracity an afterthought. But the film suffered most from the performance of Dwight Schultz , best known to viewers from “The A-Team” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” as Oppenheimer. Schultz brought a blankness to his portrayal of a man who famously had charisma to spare. “Schultz is stiff and actorly,” wrote the Washington Post . “Like an irredeemably tone-deaf singer, he hits only false notes.”

what is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb

In the otherwise excellent TV show “ Manhattan ,” which ran for two seasons in 2014 and 2015, Daniel London played Oppenheimer as an already broken man, as though the actor’s only reference for the character was the famous “I am become death” interview. His Oppenheimer was more interested in self-preservation than the success of the project, whereas the real Oppenheimer of the Los Alamos years was a nimble ball of energy, guiding the complex endeavor toward completion thanks to his keen feeling for the challenges his fellow scientists faced.

No list would be complete without one other fictional depiction of Oppenheimer: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams’ 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic . If Oppenheimer objected to Kipphardt’s play, he surely would have found Doctor Atomic ’s elevation of his life into an operatic Faustian tragedy ridiculous. But the opera, which centers around the days leading up to the Trinity test and culminates in the detonation of the first atomic bomb, was rapturously received by critics and has been restaged several times since its debut. In the New York Times , science writer Dennis Overbye wrote that the opera had disabused him of his preconceptions about the bomb: “I long ago concluded that there was not much new to say about the atomic bomb. But I was wrong. As I was watching … I began to wonder if anything had yet been said that counted.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson presents Oppenheimer (left) with the Enrico Fermi Award in 1963.

Nolan’s Oppenheimer

Before Sherwin’s death in 2021, he and Bird read several scripts based on American Prometheus . One, Bird says, was boring. Another was just weird: “It had dream sequences, a ghost speaking Oppenheimer’s poetry. It had a scene in which [Oppenheimer] is at a cocktail party in Berkeley and imagines himself dropping a cyanide pill into Edward Teller’s drink and watching him collapse on the floor and die in agony.” Bird and Sherwin sent back a long memo detailing the script’s many historical errors.

So Bird was relieved when, in fall 2021, he became one of a handful of people outside the film’s production to read Nolan’s take on Oppenheimer. “I think it’s a fabulous script,” Bird says. Unlike other recent depictions, it covers scenes from Oppenheimer’s entire life and doesn’t shy away from the moral questions of the bomb. “Nolan covers in a very deft way the argument among the physicists over whether the bomb was necessary or not and has Oppenheimer after Hiroshima saying the bomb was used on a virtually already defeated enemy,” Bird adds. “People who know nothing about Oppenheimer will go thinking they’re going to see a movie about the father of the atomic bomb.” Instead, “they’re going to see this mysterious figure and a deeply mysterious biographical story.”

Regardless of whether subject matter experts believe there is nothing new to say, the general public’s understanding of Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project hasn’t changed significantly since Stimson’s 1947 Harper’s article. After all, most people’s sense of history doesn’t come by way of the academy or densely researched biographies. Visiting Los Alamos myself a few years ago, I asked a docent what they thought might renew public interest in the history of the Manhattan Project.

The answer? “A movie.”

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer

“Oppenheimer himself couldn’t make up his mind how he felt about making and helping to use the bomb, right to the end of his life,” says Mitchell. Until now, “filmmakers also couldn’t seem to get a handle on his conflicting emotions and statements. In that sense, he is a valuable audience surrogate, severely divided or conflicted on these questions.”

Nolan’s film arrives at a precarious moment in which optimism about nuclear disarmament is giving way to talk of a new nuclear age . F ew world leaders today have direct experience with the horrors of nuclear bombs, and some younger people are ignorant of even basic facts about World War II. But perhaps our distance from Oppenheimer’s era also presents an opportunity.

“Today, almost 80 years have passed since the end of World War II,” says Cynthia C. Kelly , president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation . Now, she adds, “the public can more openly consider different interpretations of atomic history.”

Why did it take so long for a director of Nolan’s caliber to take on Oppenheimer’s story? Perhaps it’s because we’re only now far enough away from those world-changing events to be open to seeing them—and him—with fresh eyes.

That’s no easy task. As Oppenheimer himself told an interviewer in 1948, “If you’ve lived a life that isn’t free and open with people, it’s almost impossible to unsnarl it, to unravel the ball of twine.”

what is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb

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    Thesis Statement On The Atomic Bomb. Thesis statement: Though many speculate that the act of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) while not doing so on Europe (Germany and Italy) was racially motivated, racism played little to no role in these bombings. The United States of America and her allies were willing to end World ...

  13. Moral Implications of Creating the Bomb

    During the lesson, students will learn about the events leading up to the development of the atomic bomb and debate whether it was a positive or negative scientific endeavor, taking into account its historical context. Divide students into two teams. Have one team take the position that the development of the atomic bomb was a worthwhile pursuit.

  14. Reflections on the Atomic Bomb's effect on America since its dropping

    The most useful primary documents found for this thesis included declassified documents during the Cold War, diaries and correspondences between leaders, and articles from those who ... bomb was a good thing rather than a bad thing. 3 From these people polled, ... "Thank God for the atomic bomb," was the statement released by a servicemen

  15. What is the thesis statement in John Berger's essay "Hiroshima"?

    John Berger 's thesis, in the essay "Hiroshima," is that the reality of the use of nuclear weapons is being forgotten in the haste to retain vast destructive capabilities for people's own military ...

  16. 87 Hiroshima Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    Hiroshima and Its Importance in US History. Hiroshima is the capital city of Hiroshima district, which is situated in the south west of the province Honshu in Japan. The Atomic Bomb of Hiroshima. The effects of the bombing were devastating; the explosion had a blast equivalent to approximately 13 kilotons of TNT.

  17. Three Benefits that Came from the Atomic Bomb

    The atomic bomb was, possibly, the worst publicity that has ever been given to science, but not all the practical fruits of the work of the physicists have been used for evil, far from it. The atomic age has had significant benefits for humanity. Here are some of them. 1. Radiation that cures cancer.

  18. Truman Statement on Hiroshima

    Truman Statement on Hiroshima. President Harry Truman issued this statement after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. His statement unveiled the top secret Manhattan Project and portrays it as an immense success in the history of science and warfare. President Truman envisions the production and use of atomic energy for power within ...

  19. PDF Nuclear Proliferation: Why States Pursued the Bomb and How U.s. Foreign

    domestic/political model. This research tests the thesis that regardless of the type of government, economy, location, conventional milit ary strength, as well as the depth of foreign relations with the United States, states are more likely to pursue a path to nuclearization to counter perceived geopolitical threats of an existential nature, if

  20. What is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb?

    What is a good thesis statement for atomic bomb? Thesis: Despite the immorality surrounding the event, America's decision to drop the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the latter years of World War II was justified, because it put a quick end to the war and saved thousands of American lives in the process.

  21. Writing Workshop: Creating an Argumentative Essay Quiz

    a sentence establishing the position on the topic. a sentence establishing the position on the topic. Read a partial outline for an argumentative essay. 1. Introduction: Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan. A. Claim: Truman's choice to use the atomic bomb against Japan was the right one because it brought the war to an end ...

  22. HIS121 Module 1: Thesis Quiz Flashcards

    Study with Quizlet and memorize flashcards containing terms like Choose the best thesis from the three examples. The US confrontation with the Soviets was the key factor in Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. The purpose of this paper is to delve into the mindset behind Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. Many factors influenced Truman's decision to use the atomic ...

  23. World War II Atomic Bomb: Thesis Statement

    Thesis Statement. Although there have been many contradictions, President Truman's reasonings for the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified due to the casualties of Pearl Harbor, to maintain the safety of the nation, and to stop the Japanese empire from growing stronger. President Truman will forever be known as the President that ...

  24. Writing Workshop: Creating an Argumentative Essay Quiz

    Read a partial outline for an argumentative essay. 1. Introduction: Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan A. Claim: Truman's choice to use the atomic bomb against Japan was the right one because it brought the war to an end, saved lives, and established a lasting peace. 4. Body paragraph: Using the bomb established a lasting peace.

  25. Exploring Atomic Bomb History Beyond Los Alamos

    "Atomic bombs, nuclear weapons, Oppenheimer, the Soviet Union, the Cold War — they want to find a place where they can learn about them in an addressable form."

  26. The Real History Behind Christopher Nolan's 'Oppenheimer'

    The Beginning or the End claimed the American military dropped warning leaflets about the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and that the Enola Gay came under attack from Japanese antiaircraft missile fire ...

  27. The science of 3 Body Problem: what's fact and what's fiction?

    An alien civilization spying on humans using quantum entanglement. A planet chaotically orbiting three stars. Nanofibres capable of slicing through Earth's hardest substance, diamond. Despite ...