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The USA’s Use of Nuclear Weapons During World War Two

Updated on January 8, 2014

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When the USA used nuclear weapons on the Japanese nation a huge can of worms was opened up. Questions of ethics, morality and justification have been put forth. The scrutiny of millions has been placed upon President Truman and the US military of the time. Controversial as this decision was I hold that it was a correct one. While I may not agree with all aspects of it, the justifications for the use of nuclear weapons on Japan were good. It is easy to question the actions of others after the fact but hard to determine one should do in similar situations.

The Enola Gay and her crew. The plane that dropped the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare.
The Enola Gay and her crew. The plane that dropped the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare.
"Little Boy", the first atomic bomb to be dropped.
"Little Boy", the first atomic bomb to be dropped.
The plane Boxcar dropped the second bomb code named "Fat Man."
The plane Boxcar dropped the second bomb code named "Fat Man."

The allied forces had been fighting for years. Between both theaters of war the US alone had lost 416,000 by the end of the war. With Germany’s surrender to the allies on May 7th 1945 it seemed as if the endless bloodshed was over, but there was still the Pacific theater. When the battle of Iwo Jima was fought on February 19th to March 26th there were 6,822 total deaths and 19,217 wounded. The fight for this 8 mile island was brutal and vicious. Out of an estimated strength of 18,500 Japanese soldiers only 216 were captured alive. The patriotism of the Japanese was so great that to most death was the only honorable option. The hindsight of history shows us that cultural attitudes defined this behavior but to the US and Allies this seemed like irrational and psychotic behavior. The cost of gaining such a small island was horrendous and this was just a taste of what the allies would have to pay if they wanted to defeat the nation of Japan. Sickened by the greatest loss of life in known history is it a wonder that President Truman wanted to try any option before throwing hundreds of thousands more American soldier’s lives into the hellish meat grinder of the Pacific theater?

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.
The ruins of Hiroshima.
The ruins of Hiroshima.
The ruins of Nagasaki.
The ruins of Nagasaki.

US analysts estimated that to take the Japanese islands by invasion would be at least twice as costly in dead and wounded as what had previously been lost in the war and that was optimistic at best. Evidence from the Japanese government indicates that this may very well have been true. Indications are that citizens of Japan were encouraged to fight to the last. Women and children were encouraged to throw themselves in the path of invaders. One Japanese general is even on record at looking forward to Japan going down in flaming glory. Had the US been forced to invade Japan the loss to civilian life would have rivaled that of Hitler’s and Stalin’s death camps combined. Considering that a pessimistic estimate of the deaths cause by both bombs including deaths by radiation poisoning was around 242,000. This number is not mentioned to trivialize the deaths of so many, but the death toll could have been so much higher if the US had been forced to invade Japan. I do not agree with the targeting of a civilian population center as in the case of Hiroshima. There was a naval base nearby but it was not selected for solely that reason. Furthermore, a mistake was made in not giving more time to Japan before dropping the second bomb on Nagasaki. It was not fully understood how much damage the bomb did and Tokyo didn’t know about the destruction of Hiroshima until 24 hours later because of the side effect of the electromagnetic pulse which fried most communications.

While I believe that the US should have given Japan a little longer to respond it should be remembered that millions of lives had been lost on all side in this conflict and we just wanted it to end. The failing of the military leaders was a desire for peace at last.

The horror of nuclear war is awful.
The horror of nuclear war is awful.
The effects of nuclear blasts and radiation exposure has had a huge influence on the modern zombie genre.
The effects of nuclear blasts and radiation exposure has had a huge influence on the modern zombie genre.
The sad truth is that while these deaths and burns are awful, the first bomb at least saved millions of live on both sides of the war. War is hell. There is no disguising it or making it look pretty.
The sad truth is that while these deaths and burns are awful, the first bomb at least saved millions of live on both sides of the war. War is hell. There is no disguising it or making it look pretty.

When President Truman made the decision to use the bomb he said he went to bed that night and slept soundly and did so till his dying day. The idea of using the bomb was to scare the Japanese government into submission. This plan worked as hoped. The Japanese emperor, Hirohito, concerned for the plight of his people who would have fought to the death to preserve him, his family and honor, intervened with the Japanese government to call for surrender to Allied forces. Normally the Japanese emperor would remain out of government and let others handle it. Emperor Hirohito could not stand idly by and so called for the end of the war. The first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6th, 1945. On August 28th the occupation of Japan began and on September 2nd the Japanese government officially surrendered aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri. This officially ended the Second World War which was the bloodiest conflict known to man. Later Winston Churchill estimated that the early end of the war saved a million American lives as well as an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand British lives not to mention all the Japanese civilians and military personnel who were spared.

As controversial as the use of atomic weapons was at the end of the Second World War, the fact of the matter is that without them many more people would be dead and the shape of things would have been very different. As paradoxical as it sounds, the evidence of history points towards the atomic bomb as saving millions of lives. Furthermore, because we have seen the effects of nuclear weapons I believe that this was an important lesson which helped to restrain both sides in the Cold War. History has been shaped by the use of this weapon and it is my opinion it was shaped for the better in the long run.

What a nuclear explosion does.


Submit a Comment
  • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

    Brian Middleton 

    6 years ago from Southern Utah

    Carpet bombing and incendiary bombing accounted for more civilian lives on both sides. Whether you agree with it or not, the cost in civilian and military lives would have cost significantly more than what resulted from the dropping of both bombs. And I do not intend to make the lives of the Japanese people, civilian or military, any less than they are. War is hell. The loss of any life is something I oppose except when there is no other choice. It is my firm prayer that such a price will never be paid again.

  • conradofontanilla profile image


    6 years ago from Philippines

    If Gen. Douglas MacArthur,commander of the army of the Southwest Pacific theater, were consulted, he would have objected to the dropping of the bombs. His army was already in Luzon, Philippines, the nearest jumping board to Japan. Admiral Nimitz had already secured the island of Okinawa, Japan. Those bombs were indiscriminate, dropped over civilian habitat. How could killing civilians be justified without facing a tribunal of war crimes? Yamashita was hanged for atrocities to civilians. If the United States lost the war, Truman should have been hanged. The arithmetic of soldiers who could have died in the assault on homeland Japan could be correct, but is such bombing moral? Filipino civilians suffered from Japanese atrocities but I am horrified of atrocities on civilians whether Filipino, or Japanese or Liliputans.

  • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

    Brian Middleton 

    7 years ago from Southern Utah

    Thanks phdast7. I appreciate your comments. After reading a few of your articles I take it as an honor that you compliment me on my writing.

    War is hell, but to quote George S. Patton, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." Crude but true.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 

    7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Excellent Hub. You write quite well and make good arguments to support your conclusions. It was a terrible time and a terrible option to have to consider, but to end the war swiftly and save who knows how many more thousands of American lives, it was the right decision. Thanks for writing this Hub.

  • docbruin profile image


    7 years ago from USA

    Very interesting hub ibbarkingmad. I agree, as horrible as these weapons are the alternative options for ending the war would have cost many, many more lives.

  • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

    Brian Middleton 

    7 years ago from Southern Utah

    You make a good point Shea, but still, I think if it were just Pearl Harbor then there would have been no justification. Killing is a measure of last resort. Japan was the aggressor and the nations behavior leading up to Pearl Harbor was a perfect example of an aggressor. The US tried to use trade embargoes to prevent Japan's military expansion. That is one of the reasons Japan attacked. Skipping back to near the end of the war. The Battle for Iwo Jima was a horror that made the Allies realize that there had to be another way. Progress was measured in feet. The Japanese soldiers fought to the bitter end and the casualties were horrific. That is the reason why when the bomb became an option they jumped at it in hopes it would save lives. I believe the evidence points to the bomb doing just that on both sides.

  • shea duane profile image

    shea duane 

    7 years ago from new jersey

    I've read many research papers on this topic; it does seem that the leadership in Japan was unwilling to turn. Although I am anti-war, Pearl Harbor was bombed... and America had to react...tragic as that reaction was.

  • ibbarkingmad profile imageAUTHOR

    Brian Middleton 

    7 years ago from Southern Utah

    I hear what you are saying, but consider the choice the leaders of the Allied Forces had to make. They were looking at the potential loss of life for just the allies at somewhere around 1.25 million! That is not counting the deaths of Japanese soldiers and civilians. The reality is carpet bombing killed more people than both bombs. If I were in the hot seat of the Allied leaders, I am not sure I wouldn't make the same choice as they did. A very sad truth is that they did not understand the full implications of nuclear weapons even after the bombs dropped. Hind sight is 20/20. It is easy to second guess the decisions of the leaders of that time. The hard thing is to try and put ourselves in their shoes to understand why they made that choice. I think the greatest horror is not nuclear bombs, but what man can do to each other up close and personal.

  • PETER LUMETTA profile image


    7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

    I am not sure of the right or wrong of the use of these weapons but I am sure they are the most horrific weapons man has ever invented. The ones we have now are even more horrific. Life during and even after the Cold War was at best a kind of resignation that it would be a quick end to life on the planet. Now it seems we are in a crap game with terrorism to see who goes first.

    It is sure we were better off not opening this Pandoras Box. In the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still" The wisdom of Klatu is what was needed, the robot Gort was left to protect the rest of the universe from us...... earthlings. How prophetic this movie was and is today. We are a bunch of crazy sumbitches, I hope we don't exterminate ourselves. Peter


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