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