|Thesis - The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not a necessity to end the Pacific war because of Japan’s willingness to negotiate surrender prior to the use of the atomic bombs, other viable steps in negotiation could have taken place, and because other military routes instead of bombing were possible.
Counter Argument 1: The use of the atomic bomb appears to be a useful tool to a small extent, instilling fear in the Japanese in order to compel their surrender. Japan was stubborn and bent on fighting to the bitter end, thinking their brutal attacks would drive their allies to a peace treaty.
“Tokyo’s aim was to inflict such damage and casualties on the attackers that the Allies would be convinced of the futility of further fighting and of the wisdom of negotiated peace.”1
Analysis: Thus, the bombs were necessary because an invasion would be deadly. However, Japan was willing to surrender.
Argument 1: There were many advocates for this surrender from Japanese government officials to civilian peace feelers, but the USA did not respond so willingly.
The Japanese Government from the Emperor Hirohito to the Moscow Ambassador Sato tried to negotiate surrender “it is His Majesty’s heart’s desire to see the swift termination of the war”2.
Supposedly the Japanese people, as a consummate of over 100 million, were going to commit national suicide in the name of their Emperor.3
Analysis: The Japanese were entrenched on preserving their government, Emperor, and way of life. The only way for the Japanese to commit severe damage against the Allied forces was to effectuate personal sacrifice in a desperate last defence of mainland Japan.
Counter Argument 2: The Joint Chiefs of the USA did not believe Japan would surrender by any ordinary means, and so moved to take the extraordinary measures of dropping two atomic bombs.
“The Joint Chiefs ‘saw no prospect of surrender until the army leaders acknowledged defeat’ either actual or through the realization that the military’s survival was at stake.”4
The events that unfolded on August 6th provided a significant shock of military power and presence however other alternatives such as conventional bombings or a land invasion were not seriously considered.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson: To extract a genuine surrender from the Emperor and his military advisers, they must be administered a tremendous shock which would carry convincing proof of our power to destroy the empire. Such an effective shock would save many times the number of lives, both American and Japanese, than it would cost.5
“It was thought that the effects of the bomb on such a target would make the maximum impression on the military and civilian rulers of Japan. Any more sparing course was deemed by Stimson and his associates on the Interim Committee to involve a ‘…serious danger to the major objective of obtaining a prompt surrender from the Japanese.”6
With this recommendation given to President Truman the atomic bombs seemed to be the strongest solution to creating surrender from the Japanese without causing menacing consequences.
Hundreds of thousand of Japanese lives would have been lost whether the atomic bomb was dropped, or by any other alternative in the effort against the war. The battle of Britain is an example, in which over 146,777 civilians were killed or seriously injured.7 Also the air raids in Germany cost approximately 300,000 civilian lives, and injured almost 780,000 more.8 These examples all show the costly effects of conventional bombings. With a suppressing amount of causalities that would have come from conventional bombings the atomic bomb was necessary in order to prevent a longer war that costs more in money and possibly more in lives. However, it is not for certain that conventional bombings would have resulted in a higher death toll.
Argument # 2: The conventional bombings, the Allied blockade, or defeat in the Pacific, would not have persuaded the Japanese military and government to submit to the United States. Therefore the destructive power of the atomic bomb would have been a glimpse of death for the Japanese in which surrender would be inevitable.
“The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey published its conclusion that Japan would have likely surrendered in 1945 without atomic bombing… and without American invasion.”9
If Japan was going to surrender within the next four months, according to the Strategic Bombing Survey, than the U.S. could have continued to blockade staving Japan and giving the Japanese no hope but to surrender. Moreover, the use of this particular bomb created new meaning to the term total war.
William D. Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated: “My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”10
The ethics of war have been in consistent change since the beginning of the human race. The droppings of the atomic bombs mark a new change in the ethical standard of war. What this leaves for future war is unprecedented, a new way to fight battles from underground bunkers to outer space civilization.
Thus if one makes the broad assumption that the atomic bomb was the capital approach to ending the war, one must consider the impact and consequences the atomic bomb used in the 1940’s created for the next 40 years.
On Aug. 8, 1945 Admiral William D. Leahy wrote in his diary: "there is a certainty that it [the a-bomb] will in the future be developed by potential enemies and that it will probably be used against us."11
The Soviet Union’s August 9th entry into the war would prompt the Japanese to surrender. With Germany surrendering, and the Soviet Union being Japan’s only neutrality, the entry of the U.S.S.R. into the war against Japan may have been the final push needed for Japan to succumb
"The increasing effects of air-sea blockade, the progressive cumulative deevastation wroght by strategic bombing, and the collapase of Germany (with is implications regarding redeployment)… The entry of the U.S.S.R. into the war would together with the foregoing factors, convince most Japanese at once of the inevitability of complete defeat" 12
This would have starved the Japanese from their livelihood, such as businesses, and eventually from food in which to eat. The Japanese would have been left with the option to surrender or face complete annihilation.
“My conclusion, with which the naval representatives agreed, was that America’s least expensive course of actions was to continue to intensify the air and sea blockade and at the same time continue to occupy the Philippines. I believed that a completly blockaded Japan would then fall by its own weight."13
U.S. Admiral William Leahy was Chief of Staff to President Franklin Roosevelt and President Harry Truman, and was the unofficial coordinator to the Joint Chief of Staff. The air and sea blockade was sufficient enough in bringing about Japanese surrender. According to the Joint Intelligence Committee, Japan would have surrendered by the end of 1945; only four months after the atomic bombs were dropped.14
Counter Argument 3: The atomic bomb was a military necessity because it saved “half a million American lives”.
During the Okinawa battle there was about one American casualty for every four Japanese casualties which would be translated to over 528 000 Japanese casualties for an invasion of Kyushu.
Truman, at that time, “hoped there was a possibility of preventing an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.”15
If another Okinawa happened that resulted in about one American death for every 4 Japanese, then the estimate of 500 000 casualties is accurate.
Analysis: If over two thirds of a million casualties would have been the result of an invasion of Japan, then the atomic bombs, which only killed just over 300 000 by the 1950’s were a more reasonable option.
Argument 3: The Japanese were on the verge of military and social destruction before the atomic bombs were dropped, thereby rendering the use of the atomic bomb not a military necessity to end the war.
“…a Naval blockade was strangling Japan’s ability to import oil and other vital materials and its ability to produce war materials…by the beginning of September , Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade.” 16
“His sea power is so badly depleted that it is no match for any one of the several task forces we could put into action. His air power is in a bad way. He has a lot of airplanes-probably more than he had a year ago- but he has lost his element of flight, squadron and group leaders and his hastily trained replacements haven’t the skill or ability or combat knowledge to compete with us… “17
Admiral William Leahy and General George Marshall state the “horrible” state the Japanese were in. If Japan was close to defeat before the atomic bombs were dropped, then the question of whether the bombs were a military necessity is indeed appropriate.
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