President Harry Truman did not need to drop the atomic bomb to end World War II.
The first test explosion of an atomic bomb, called Trinity, was conducted by the U.S. Army July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project on what is now part of White Sands Missile Range.
The day after Trinity, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson flew to Potsdam, Germany where President Truman was meeting with Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and Joseph Stalin to determine the fate of Germany which had surrendered unconditionally on May 8.
Truman wrote about this meeting with Stimson in his memoir:
We were not ready to make use of this weapon against the Japanese, although we did not know as yet what effect the new weapon might have, physically or psychologically, when used against the enemy. For that reason the military advised that we go ahead with the existing military plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
A committee had been established to evaluate use of the atomic bomb once testing was successful. On June 1, 1945 the committee of government officials and scientists made their recommendation, which Truman recounts:
It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.
Ultimately Truman made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and on Aug. 6 the U.S. Air Force delivered it. On Aug. 9 the Air Force bombed Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered Aug. 10.
Historian Gar Alperovitz, in his book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, asked two well-known questions about Truman’s decision.
To what degree did (the president) understand that a clarification of the officially stated demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ specifying that Japan could keep its Emperor would be likely to end the war?
To what degree did (the president) understand that the force of a Russian declaration of war might itself bring about an early end to the fighting?
The book based on his research is 847 pages.
The idea that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved tens of thousands of allied forces lives by ending the war early is a myth perpetuated by those who would absolve our country from a decision to kill tens of thousands of Japanese children and as many or more other non-combatants. Historian Howard Zinn asked, “Would we have sacrificed as many U.S. children to end the war early?” Obviously we wouldn’t.
A friend, the late Samuel Becker, was in Guam in August 1945 preparing for the invasion of Japan. I recently asked him about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reaction in Guam was positive he said. U.S. military personnel were in favor of it because they felt it would bring a quick end to what could have been a prolonged, bloody conclusion to World War II. Before he died, Becker changed his mind. With time and reflection he found the notion that the atomic bombings saved many lives was a myth. The Japanese were already in a position to surrender.
Alperovitz said in a recent webinar that, to a person, contemporary military leaders went on the record to say there was no need to use the atomic bombs to end the war early. The war had already been won.
Truth matters and one truth is the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary. Their effects would fuel the Cold War and the idea of mutually assured destruction should they be used. This is crazy talk. Nuclear weapons must be eliminated and the only way to do that, to pierce the wall of our federal government, is citizen action demanding it.
On the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima it’s past time we took action.
~ Written for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and published Aug. 9, 2020. Used with permission of the author.