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Why was an Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima?

Updated on July 18, 2012

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

The invasion of Iwo Jima continued to March 26, 1945.
The invasion of Iwo Jima continued to March 26, 1945. | Source
Kamikaze attacks are a menace to the U.S. Fleet
Kamikaze attacks are a menace to the U.S. Fleet

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.

Hiroshima: the aftermath
Hiroshima: the aftermath

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.


Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
66,000 killed in Hiroshima
66,000 killed in Hiroshima

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

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  • jolinabetts profile image
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    Sunshine Diaz 5 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

    Hi Peter! Thank you for your time to read my hub my good friend.

  • Peter Geekie profile image

    Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

    Dear Jolinabetts

    It was a decision that saved hundreds of thousands of lives both allied and Japanese and demonstrated to the world the future futility of world war.

    Thank you for an informative article.

    Kind regards Peter

  • cascoly profile image

    cascoly 5 years ago from seattle

    One of the problems the Allies created for themselves was the demand for unconditional surrender [this demand is itself a violation of the Geneva conventions]. In July of 1945, the Japanese government sent a diplomatic mission to then neutral USSR in which they agreed to surrender, if they could keep their emperor. The Allies refused to consider thism, and continued the demand for unconditional surrender. After the A bombs were dropped, the Allies accepted the Japanese surrender, but granted their request to keep the emperor!

    Also, the claims for invasion casualties were highly disputed at the time by such people as Gen Eisenhower. in fact, there was little need to ivade Japan - the Japanese merchant marine had been eliminated, along with their navy and most of their air force. Most of the Japanese army was stranded in China. A blockade was already in effect, and there was little need for further offensive action

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    Larry Wall 5 years ago

    When the bomb was dropped on Japan, there was little change of U.S. allies being harmed. If the bomb had been dropped in Europe the risk to American servicemen and the allies was tremendous.

    If an atomic bomb was going to be dropped, it would have to be a dropped that would have the least collateral damage for the allies.

    The second bomb was needed to show that the first was not a one-time opportunity.

    Unfortunately, it was the Japanese people who suffered. It was the Japanese leadership, just like the German leadership, that caused the pain and suffering for its people.

    Also, history shows that Hitler was going to lose the war. History also shows that Japan was never going to surrender as long as we fought a conventional war.

    Like it or not, the Atomic bomb saved many American lives. It also sent a message--a message so powerful, that no one has used that weapon again. With the atomic community so large now, any rogue nation would have to realize that it would be destroyed in a matter of minutes if it launched an unprovoked atomic attack.

  • jolinabetts profile image
    Author

    Sunshine Diaz 5 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

    Thanks for putting insights on my article, I'm pleased to know about your comment. The books i've read had strong emphasis about what Europe has done or what not but most of them have nothing nice to say about Japan.

  • aethelthryth profile image

    aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

    One thing often forgotten in this whole discussion is that the scientists who developed the bomb were led by European refugees, like Einstein, who were proposing this bomb be developed to potentially drop on their own homelands.

    Also, the idea of demonstrating the bomb sounds good, but seeing as how an actual bomb dropped on one of their cities did not inspire the Japanese to surrender, I don't think a demonstration would have made any impression at all. (And in fact it wasn't only the second atomic bomb that brought about surrender, but the second bomb plus a Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria, plus a resumption of the firebombing, all within about three days, and even then they still wanted the condition that the emperor not be considered a war criminal).

    Remember, Iwo Jima was a lost cause for the Japanese before it started, yet almost every single Japanese on the island fought to the death and/or suicide for it. This was a level of determination not seen in Europe.

  • jolinabetts profile image
    Author

    Sunshine Diaz 5 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

    thank you very much :)

  • ChristinS profile image

    Christin Sander 5 years ago from Midwest

    An interesting look at the mindset behind this terrible act. Voted up.