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Why was an Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima?
It was one of the iconic moments of the twentieth century, but why did it happen? There is an official set of reasons for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and an unofficial set; these are sometimes referred to as the contemporary and revisionist views. Despite the wealth of information about the development and use of the world's first atomic bomb, debate still rages about the real motives.
The official explanation for why the atomic bomb was used against Japan is based on the differences between the conflict in Europe and conflict in the Pacific. Despite the fears to the contrary, the Nazis did not continue a guerilla war after the capture of Berlin. A few fanatical units fought on,and there were some isolated incidents of political violence, but Germany as a whole capitulated. The war in the Pacific, on the other hand, showed every sign of being the reverse. The slow subjugation of the Pacific Islands was achieved at an ever-increasing human cost. The closer the Allies came to the Japanese home islands, the more determined became the resistance that they encountered
A Swift End
The infamous invasion of Iwo Jima caused the deaths of 6,200 American servicemen. At Okinawa, another 13,000 lost their lives. This led the U.S. military to propose appalling estimates if the Japanese home islands had to be invaded. The use of the Kamikaze attacks on Allied shipping and the willingness of Japanese soldiers and civilians to die rather than be captured convinced many in the military that American casualties could be as high as 150,000 before Japan was vanquished. President Truman, therefore, took the decision to use the atomic bombs as a swift and decisive method for achieving the unconditional surrender of the Japanese.
The decision was popular at that time. The end of the war in Europe had created an intense desire to bring the war in the pacific to a swift conclusion. The sacrifice has been too high already , and the prospect of war dragging on for years seemed unbearable. There was also an inclination among some people - recalling the sudden attack on Pearl Harbor - to punish Japan in a manner that would have been less acceptable against the European nation.
A Show of Power
The unofficial explanation for the bomb's use at Hiroshima explores motivation and political intent. With the war in Europe coming to a close, the USSR began to take a more active interest in the Pacific conflict. Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman were acutely aware of Joseph Stalin's aspirations for a dominant communist bloc. By employing the atomic bomb against the Japanese, the United States was able to secure victory on its own terms and without Russian intervention. This incentive was strong enough to override any alternative proposals, for example, to demonstrate the power of this new weapon by unleashing it on a deserted island. It might also explain why two cities were targeted in quick succession, because this demonstrated that the United States had the capacity to deliver more than a single attack and that the government had the will to employ such a terrible weapon.
Whether or not this was the real motive, the influence of the USSR in Asia and the Pacific was curtailed. In Europe, the numerical advantage of the Red Army suddenly appeared less influential. The atomic bomb appeared to create a line that was to become permanent in the form of the iron curtain. The shape of the post-war world was established.
The reasons for the dropping of an atomic weapon on Hiroshima in 1945 will never be settled because so much depends on the reading of the intentions and motivations. It can be interpreted as an unnecessary act of inhumanity based on a cold political calculation. It can equally be interpreted as a brave act of leadership that swiftly concluded World War II and prevented the immediate outbreak of new hostilities between the victorious allies.
Did you know that...
- The Allied Program to develop an atomic bomb is called the Manhattan Project. Initially, it was believed that Nazi Germany was actively working in the creation of a similar weapon
- Albert Einstein was one of the initial proponents of an Allied Atomic Bomb project, but he warned other scientists: " You realize one the military have this, they will use it, no matter what you say".
- Although Albert Einstein's discoveries were central to its development, Einstein was deeply troubled with the implications of the Atomic Bomb.
- The Hiroshima bombing killed 66,000 people and the Nagasaki bombing, three days later, killed another 39,000. Conventional bombing raids on Japan's six largest cities killed up to 250,000 people in total.
- " From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent" - Winston Churchhill in 1946