Much of what I will say here is opinion based. Many may share this opinion while others will balk at it. This is an extremely controversial subject, but one I believe many need to be educated on rather than speaking in ignorance: the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945, and whether it was justifiable. Some believe that it was wrong of us to resort to this destructive bomb to bring about the end of the war, but let me explain the beliefs and indoctrination of the Japanese in the 1940’s. Had we not dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war could have lasted another two to three years with the deaths of millions and the annihilation of the Japanese race. Their beliefs were as such that they would never surrender. Surrender was seen as dishonorable and they are an extremely honor based and honor conscious society. Honor versus shame where as in a Western mindset it is right versus wrong. This belief came from the histories of their Samurai and they were so strongly held, that Japanese soldiers would rather die than be taken prisoner and would rather commit suicide if they had been taken prisoner, believing that their families would prefer them to be dead than to bring dishonor on the family name. Had we not dropped the bombs, we would have had to invade the Japanese homeland and the lives lost, both soldier and civilian, would have been in the millions. As awful as the bombs were, in comparison, they killed approximately 200,000 people. It was the lesser of two evils and, to be honest, saved millions of lives in the long run and brought an already long, destructive, and expensive war, in both lives and material, to an end. Yes, the loss of civilian life is tragic, but the Japanese government had forced our hand. Their race would have been wiped out. Each man, woman, and child, from old to young, were trained to fight to defend their homeland should we be forced to invade. (POWs would witness civilians being trained with sharpened sticks to impale the enemy should they run out of all other weapons.) The government turned a blind eye to the suffering of their people and had ultimately been backed into a corner. We had to resort to extreme measures to gain their surrender. They had visited atrocities upon the world and specifically the Asian continent and Polynesian islands in the name of reclaiming the lands from the “Anglo-Saxon colonial rulers” to give them back to Asians, over which they would reign supreme. They claimed to come to save them, instead they had slaughtered, raped, and pillaged the continent and the islands resulting in the blackest of stains in their history. Even with the atomic bombs, dropped on August 6th and 9th, we wouldn’t receive the official surrender for another week.
Early on the morning of July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Project held its first successful test of an atomic device-a plutonium bomb- at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. By the time of that test, the Allied powers had already defeated Germany in Europe. Japan, however, vowed to fight to the bitter end in the Pacific, despite clear indications (as early as 1944) that they had little chance of winning. In fact, between mid-April 1945, when President Harry Truman took office, and mid-July, Japanese forces inflicted Allied casualties totaling nearly half those suffered in three full years of war in the Pacific, proving that Japan had become even more deadly when faced with defeat. In late July, Japan’s militarist government rejected the Allied demand for surrender put forth in the Potsdam Declaration, which threatened the Japanese with “prompt and utter destruction” if they refused. Bombers even dropped pamphlets onto Japanese villages, warning of future bombings and advising the inhabitants to evacuate. The Japanese government ordered civilians to turn the leaflets in to authorities, forbade them from sharing the warnings with others, and arrested anyone with leaflets in their possession. General Douglas MacArthur and other top military commanders favored continuing the conventional bombing of Japan already in effect and following up with a massive invasion, code-named “Operation Downfall.” They advised Truman that such an invasion would result in U.S. casualties of up to one million. There was also the risk of provoking the “Kill All” order that had already been issued to annihilate all POWs in Japanese camps should an invasion occur. In order to avoid such a high casualty rate, Truman decided, over the moral reservations of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General Dwight Eisenhower, and a number of the Manhattan Project scientists, to use the atomic bomb in the hopes of bringing the war to a quick end. Proponents of the A-bomb, such as James Byrnes, Truman’s Secretary of State, believed that its devastating power would not only end the war, but also put the U.S. in a dominant position to determine the course of the postwar world.
At 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb tumbled through the bomb-bay doors of the Enola Gay. 43 seconds later, 6 miles below, but still high above the city of Hiroshima, it detonated, changing the world forever. With a single bomb, 40,000 men, women, and children were obliterated in an instant. 100,000 more would die within days of burns and radiation. Another 100,000 would succumb to radiation poisoning over the next five years. More than half a century later, citizens of Hiroshima would still be dying from the bombs long delayed side effects. Despite the devastation, the Japanese would still not accept the Allied surrender terms.
Then, on August 8th, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The islands now faced invasion on two fronts. At 11:02 the following morning, an American plane dropped a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Some 40,000 more civilians died instantly. The Americans had no more such bombs and would be unable to produce another for several months, but the Japanese had no way of knowing that.
As destructive as the atomic bombs were, most people forget, or never learned, that there was a firebombing raid in Tokyo on March 9, 1945 that was the single deadliest air raid of World War II, including the dropping of the A-bomb.
In Tokyo, the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War remained split between those still determined to fight on and those willing, finally, to give up. That evening, all six members of the council called upon the Emperor, who broke the deadlock. Japan would surrender.
Everything was set for the landings in Japan. When the atomic bomb was dropped and it ended it so quickly, the world was stunned, but rejoiced. Their boys were coming home…there wouldn’t be any more of them killed.
“You could never convince anyone of my generation that the atomic bomb was not the greatest thing that they ever came up with, because we will defy you. It was just finally the end of that horrible war.” Katharine Phillips whose brother fought in the Pacific.
“I had very mixed feelings about it. That the atom bomb could be blasted on fellow humans, whose blood is as red as mine, whose skin blisters as readily as mine does, was something I had hoped could be avoided. Of course, there is the mathematical odds that by killing some quarter million Japanese, we may have saved half a million American lives and, mathematically, that’s a good thing. But it’s hard to give up someone else’s life.” Ray Leopold soldier in Europe.
“We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.” Eugene Sledge, marine in the Pacific.
The USS Indianapolis
On July 15, 1945, the USS Indianapolis received orders to pick up special cargo at Hunters Point, California. They had no idea what the cargo was, but rumors spread as to what it could be. One that circulated the crew was very outlandish: they were delivering scented toilet paper to General MacArthur. On July 26, the Indianapolis delivered its mysterious cargo to the B-29 base on Tinian. Then she set out for the Philippines. Four days later, in the middle of the night, disaster struck. A few minutes after midnight, there was a loud explosion that knocked some men out of the bunks. They thought perhaps a boiler had blown up. In reality, a Japanese submarine had sent two torpedoes hissing into the hull of the battleship. They cut it nearly in half. 1,196 men were aboard. Within the first few minutes, some 300 of them were blown apart or burned to death. The captain ordered the rest, nearly 900 men, to abandon ship. Within 12 minutes, the Indianapolis sank from sight. The men were alone, scattered across miles of dark, empty sea. Many men were badly wounded, some had broken limbs. The able bodied survivors did what they could in the dark to fashion floats for them, tying together life rafts as floating beds. Morning brought worse horrors. When daylight came, the men looked around them. Some were in groups of around a hundred to start with, others in groups of fifty. Shortly after daylight, somebody yelled out, “Sharks!” The sharks would swim around them and suddenly dive in and attack. They’d grab one man and drag them down. Above them, the water turned red and they would never see that man again. They attacked every day, several times a day.
No one came to rescue them. Distress signals from the sinking ship had been dismissed as Japanese trickery. The men stayed in the water for four days and five nights, a little over one hundred hours altogether, with nothing to eat and no fresh water. Many men went insane and would even dive down to drink the cold water down below thinking they were on the ship and had descended to the galley. When the Navy finally did come upon them on August 2nd, only 321 men remained alive. Some 880 crewmen died, most eaten by sharks. The survivors look back at that ordeal and marvel at how they came through it alive. On August 5th, three days after the rescue of the Indianapolis survivors, the unknown object they had delivered to Tinian was placed aboard a B-29 named for the mother of its pilot: The Enola Gay. It was an atomic bomb.