In August 1945, at the end of World War II, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. On August 9, President Truman made a radio address from the White House announcing that an atomic bomb had been dropped onto a military base in Hiroshima. He did not mention in his address that a second bomb had already been dropped on Nagasaki. The United States had many reasons for when they released these bombs, why they dropped them, and the significance of the drop locations. I do not believe that this action was necessary, and I think the after effects of the bombs were too severe to even begin to justify.
In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stinson warned Truman that there might not be a location in Japan where the atomic bomb could show its strength to its full extent. Many cities in Japan had already been firebombed and essentially cleared out by American air power. These cities did not make suitable targets, since the damage had already been done. From Stinson’s diary account, Truman laughed and said he understood. For the most part, Americans did not care whether bombs were dropped on civilian cites or military bases. Much of the American wartime coverage and propaganda was inherently racist – yellow Japanese citizens were portrayed not just as inhuman, but as subhuman (Appy). They were referred to as insects, vermin, monkeys. From this point of view, both military and civilian casualties were the same; necessary losses of life.
When the bombings are looked at from this point of view, it is difficult to see them as anything but negative, horrific choices that were not worth the consequences. Racism in any form is inexcusable. News coverage should have instead chosen to focus on Japan’s wartime crimes, their treatment of American prisoners of war, and other war-specific issues. Because the media did not take an unbiased point of view, their coverage and depictions were tainted and became propaganda. This propaganda aided in Truman’s goal of making the bombs seem absolutely necessary to ending the war.
Truman believed that an invasion of Japan would have led to a higher loss of life for American soldiers, and many had already been lost throughout the course of war. Japanese lives were inconsequential to him, and the bombs were the strongest message that he could possibly send – end the war, sign the documents, or else the consequences would continue to be severe. The war had gone on for far too long, and he felt as if he had no other choice. If he did not drop the bombs, Japan may never surrender. Even as the war was ending, Japan continued to fight on Iwo Jima.
Truman was not wrong in his view that dropping the bombs would end the war. The surrender of Japan was announced on August 15, just six days after the bomb had entirely obliterated cities. Truman’s point was proven in less than a week.
His point was proven at a severe, life-altering cost. The after effects were gruesome and continued for years to come. Thousands of Japanese citizens died during the explosions, while others took longer to succumb to radiation-induced cancer. Pregnant women who were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of the bombings delivered babies with birth defects, and some lost their pregnancies due to injuries and other causes directly related to the bombings. Innocent people, who had not personally contributed to war crimes against America and American soldiers, were the ones who took the brunt of the US’s military strength.
Truman’s executive decision, while supported by the general United States public and the media, was not a universally praised one. Many of the top war commanders did not believe they were necessary and opposed the droppings. Six of the seven five-star generals of that era did not believe that there was any reason to use the atomic weapons, and also believed that the Japanese had already been defeated and would have surrendered before any major American action was taken. Admiral William Leahy personally considered dropping an atomic bomb to be barbaric, and a violation of all of the known laws of war. (Appy) Men who specialized in war did not believe in the action, and yet the bombings still occurred.
Were the bombings worth it? No. Did the bombings prevent further loss of American lives? They more than likely did, as on-land attacks would have occurred had Truman not dropped the bombs. However, through my research and reading, I believe that the loss of Japanese lives was greater than it needed to be, and too many of those lives were innocent bystanders who did not commit crimes of war.
There are many facets to this issue that I have yet to explore, and I do not know what America could have done to end the war while preventing a greater loss of life. It is very easy to make blanket statements such as these when I was not personally affected by the bombs, or the war in general.
Though I did not feel the effects of the war first hand, I think it is important for Americans to continue to reflect on the past, in order to prevent the future from repeating itself.
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