This paper defends President Truman's decision to use the A-Bomb on the Japanese in WWII.
A Defense of the Atomic Bomb Use in WWII
A) Plan of Investigation
One of the most controversial events in United States military and diplomatic history is President Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb on Japanese civilian targets at the end of World War II. Many books and articles have been written arguing whether or not the bombing was ethical. Of course, like many historical debates, this is a complicated issue. Both sides have valid points that are all well-founded. However, there are many factors that make proving one’s arguments complicated. Because of the increase in patriotism during World War II, most documents we have are very biased and are not presented in a professional manner. The 1940s were also a much different time than today. It is near impossible to understand the decisions made by an individual living in such different times. The best we can do is to examine some of the things influencing President Truman at the time of his decision. What we need to ask is this: How did the fear of heavy casualties resulting from an invasion of Japan influence Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb?
The biggest influence on President Truman’s decision was the fear of heavy casualties involved in an invasion of Japan. Therefore, the most important method to use in this investigation is to evaluate the casualty estimates obtained by the United States military. It is crucial to understand the meaning and value of this information. Another method that will be used is to hypothetically put ourselves in the soldiers’ places to see their point of view on the invasion of Japan. By doing so, we have the viewpoints of the military commanders as well as the ordinary soldiers. In a case like this, it is vital to use as many points of view as possible while making an argument.
B) Summary of Evidence
The first thing to do is to set the scene of the events leading up to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II had engulfed Europe and he Pacific since 1939. The United States had been involved in the conflict since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Pacific territories in late 1941. It was now early August of 1945. The war was finally coming to an end. The fighting in Europe was over as the Germans had surrendered to the Russians in May after the Battle of Berlin. Mussolini’s fascist Italy had long since fallen, leaving Japan as the only remaining major Axis power. However, even the once mighty Japanese empire was weak, with its navy decimated, its major cities smoldering after relentless bombing and much of its territory in the Pacific in the hands of the United States and its allies. The situation for the Land of the Rising Sun was bleak; an invasion and defeat was imminent. However, the Japanese still possessed one huge advantage over the Allied forces, one with a power both sides knew well.
Japanese soldiers weren’t the only enemy that the Allied forces had to contend with. If Allied forces were to invade the Japanese mainland, they would have to fight their way through hundreds of thousands or possibly even millions of Japanese civilians. Every Japanese citizen who was capable of holding a weapon would be armed and instructed to attack any enemy soldiers who came near them. Most citizens would do this willingly as the Japanese still held on to their ancient “Victory or Death” tradition. While this would not stop the Allies from achieving victory, it would result in an enormous amount of casualties on both sides. President Truman was not willing to sacrifice any more American lives than he had to. He felt that the country had lost enough “flowers of their young manhood” (Walker 5) since the beginning of the war. However, he knew that there was still a war to be finished and he had one more option for doing so.
Truman was informed of the atomic bomb’s existence just two weeks after being sworn in as the President of the United States (Hillman, and Truman 247). He was briefed by several top military personnel on the power of the bomb, one greater than any ever witnessed. He agreed with his commanders that the bomb should be used against Japan if the Japanese government refused to surrender (Hillman, and Truman 247). However, as Truman and every military personnel had learned throughout the Pacific campaigns, Japan would not surrender until every one of its defenders was dead. The United States military had the power to launch a successful invasion, with over 2 million troops ready to be deployed; however the projected casualties obtained by a casualty-estimate system known as the “Okinawa Formula” were very steep. (Hillman, and Truman 248)
Admiral William Leahy, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, devised this formula from the casualties taken by American forces during the Battle of Okinawa. Okinawa was a bloody battle where the American forces lost 29 percent of the 120,000 troops sent in (Loebs). By increasing the number of American forces represented in the formula from 120,000 to the 2 million who would be taking part in the invasion, it was found that the American casualties would be about 725,000 with about 200,000 dead; more than twice the amount of American deaths in the entire Pacific theatre of the war. (Loebs) The Japanese civilian casualties were even more staggering. Thirty-one percent of the Japanese population had been killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Again, by adjusting the numbers to the population of the Japanese mainland, the United States military found that almost 28 million Japanese civilians would be killed in the invasion (Walker 4). Based on these numbers, Truman found using the bomb necessary to spare "the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers," and "the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese boys and millions more of [the] Japanese people."(Walker 4)
Truman’s top military advisors weren’t the only ones arguing against the proposed invasion of Japan. Ordinary soldiers, the ones who had been fighting their country’s war from the beginning, felt that they had done their jobs and were tired. They wanted to be sent home to be with their families. Many units such as the Ninety-Fifth Infantry Division had fought in the European theatre for ten months and had been promised that their tour of duty was over after V-E Day. Now they were being told that they were going to be redeployed in an invasion of Japan (Newman 1). General Omar Bradley later wrote, “When the men were told emphatically that this was not true, there was widespread rebellion...” (Newman 1). The soldiers openly protested the invasion. Morale began to fall fast and no American soldier was making the trip to Japan happily. Even the soldiers weren’t the only ones protesting. On the home front, families of the soldiers were also very vocal in their desire for the end of the war. For example, in a small Tennessee town, a billboard was erected that read, “Whose son will die in the last minute of the war?” (Allen, Polmar, and Bernstein) Other billboards like this one turned the public against the idea of the invasion. (Allen, Polmar, and Bernstein) Truman couldn’t bear to prolong the war any linger and made his infamous decision. (Newman 2).
If examined properly, this decision is obviously the lesser of two evils. If the numbers obtained by the Okinawa formula are even remotely correct, many times more lives would have been lost in an invasion than were in the atomic bombings on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since obtaining victory with the fewest possible casualties was Truman’s goal, the atomic bomb was a logical choice to make, as it actually saved a vast amount of human life.
The use of the atomic bomb on Japan is just one example in an age-old argument: Is it right to cause destruction and take human life in order to save a greater amount of life? It is not an easy question to answer. Even to this day, political debates are being made over this issue. As evidenced by the supporters on both sides of the debate, there will never be a clear-cut answer. The right thing to do depends on the opinion of the man in charge, which in this case was President Truman.
When viewed in this manner, Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb was a much less violent and more humane choice for the end of the war then a full-scale invasion. As the President of the United States, he had the power to do whatever he felt was best in order to accomplish his nation’s goals. In the end, he chose the option that may have been more horrible, but actually saved life. This decision shows intelligence and long-term thought. Of course, his decision was not popular and to this day he receives criticism for the choice. People have even accused him of racism towards the Japanese. This is a ridiculous charge. The Japanese were the enemies and needed to be stopped in order to end the war. These critics also cannot put themselves in the shoes of the American troops who had fought hard for several years in both theaters and were now told that they had to fight even more for an unknown amount of time.
This decision also brought out a sensitive and caring side of President Truman. It shows that he truly cared not only about the lives of American soldiers, but the lives of everyone threatened by the war. He cared for all human life and was tired of seeing it being thrown away in a senseless war. His diaries and other first-person accounts show that Truman would not have used the bomb if it was not utterly necessary. His caring for human life influenced him into making the best possible decision in a difficult circumstance. Therefore, the atomic bomb was the right decision to make at that time.
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