It wasn’t necessary to bomb the Japanese to end World War II
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on August 4, 1994 in The Diamondback, the daily newspaper of the University of Maryland, College Park. The opinions, dated political references and poor grammar expressed here do not necessarily reflect the writer’s current opinions, knowledge and journalistic skill.
“My God, what have we done?”
-Captain Robert Lewis, in the log book of the Enola Gay.
This summer marked the 50th anniversary of the invasion on Normandy Beach, France. The D-Day anniversary marks a bloody event that was only the beginning of the end of World War II. This Aug. 6th and 9th we should remember another anniversary of that war, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. This is the 49th anniversary of America’s most destructive and immoral hour.
The revisionist historians have spoken, and the conclusion is that the A-Bomb was not necessary for the surrender of Japan and thus the end of the Second Great War. (Although I can think of nothing that is “great” about war.)
On July 16, 1945 the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in Alamogordo, N.M. People actually watched the explosion from open concrete bunkers with only welder’s goggles to protect themselves. It must have been an incredible sight. You could ask those people about it, except none of them are still alive.
What we learned about Hiroshima in high school history class was this: After Germans had surrendered May 7, 1945 (V-E Day) the next and final task was the defeat of Japan. President Harry Truman had only two options for ending the war in Japan: invade or use the A-Bomb.
Maybe you feel sorry for Truman. After all, this whole mess was Franklin Roosevelt’s doing. Roosevelt got the U.S. into the war. Roosevelt created the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bombs. Roosevelt put General Douglas MacArthur in charge of planning the invasion of Japan. Truman was transplanted in the hot seat after Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12. But it was also Roosevelt who left Truman a third option. During the historic Yalta Conference on February of 1945, the third option was born after a long labor.
At Yalta, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Roosevelt met and decided the Allied strategy for ending the war. The chief concern for Roosevelt was getting Stalin to agree to declare war against Japan. This was so important to the president that he agreed to give the Soviets all of Manchuria and Mongolia, half of the Japanese Islands of Sakhalin and Kurile, the right to occupy Korea, and veto power within the United Nations. Stalin finally agreed.
Thus, Truman’s third option was to wait for the Soviet Union to declare war against Japan and allow that pressure to lead to a surrender. The Soviet declaration of war was scheduled for Aug. 8, 1945, two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Soviets officially declared on the 9th and invaded Manchuria on the same day that Nagasaki was leveled.
The evidence that Japan was on the verge of surrendering with or without the added Soviet pressure is staggering. There is evidence to support the argument that they would have surrendered without the threat, but with it, there was no doubt it would have ended the war without an additional life lost.
William J. Donovan, director of the Office of Strategic Services (renamed the Central Intelligence Agency in 1959) said he personally advised Truman as early as May of Japanese peace initiatives being taken through Swiss, Portuguese and Soviet channels. In Truman’s own secret diaries, available to the public at the Harry S. Truman library, he writes of an intercepted message to Moscow that he calls, “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
In mid-June, General George C. Marshall told Truman that “the impact of Russian entry on the already hopeless Japanese may well be the decisive action levering them into capitulation at that time.”
Probably the most outstanding evidence that neither the atomic bomb nor the invasion was necessary to end the war comes from the 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey that investigated the bombings and concluded that they were nonessential for Japanese surrender.
“Based on detailed investigation of all the facts,” says the survey, “and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
So why, then, did Truman use the bombs if they were not necessary? It is important to understand that the A-bombings were not strategic maneuvers at all, but rather politically motivated. That is why the targets were not military installations but populous cities with most of the 200,000 victims being civilians.
The A-Bomb was a very well kept secret from the American public until the day after Hiroshima. But if the people had known they would probably have been opposed to such a horror show of technological muscle as General Dwight D. Eisenhower had been. As the leader of the European front in the war, he urged Truman not to go ahead with his plan.
“It wasn’t necessary,” Eisenhower said in a later interview, “to hit them with that awful thing.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, Admiral D. Leahy concurred.
“The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,” Leahy said.
Truman’s insistence to still use the A-Bomb closes the book on World War II but writes a more telling opening chapter of a new era, the Cold War. The need to demonstrate the weapon had more to do with the U.S.S.R. than with Japan. Truman wanted to show the Soviets the power he held and his willingness to use it. Don’t forget, it was Truman who officially started the Cold War when he drew a line in the sand beyond Greece and Turkey with the Truman Doctrine.
Bombing Hiroshima two days before the Soviet Union was to enter the war was no coincidence. It was meant to keep the communists from expanding their sphere of influence. Trumping Stalin would have angered him if it were not for scientist spy Klaus Fuchs who was passing atomic secrets to Moscow at the time.
This is why war is never the answer. Violence only begets violence. World War II policy created the Cold War. World War I policy caused a depression in Germany that begat Hitler and World War II. And of all the players, America has always inflicted the most death and destruction.
Gandhi was once asked by a reporter, “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of Western Civilization?” He responded, “I think it would be a good idea.”
David G. Allan is a senior journalism major.