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The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

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  • The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

    As an undergrad, I was given an assignment to write a paper either supporting or rejecting the strategy of using the Atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, to end World War 2.

    I struggled with that issue for a long time before finally researching and, then, writing of my support for the military use.

    This morning, I saw this photo taken on February 2, 1948, at 5:48 AM. Between October of 1951 and September, 1992, we tested almost 1,000 nuclear bombs in the Nevada desert. The glow in this photo is one such test as seen from the roof of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner (a now-defunct newspaper). It got me to thinking of the awesome power of a nuclear bomb and prompts me to now ask you that same question:
    February219520548AMnevadanuclearbomb_zps7a345906.jpg

    Was the use of the atomic bomb on Japan justified?

  • #2
    Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

    It's certainly a tough choice as invading Japan would not be easy and cost a horrendous amount of lives. If you look at is as the best of two awful options then I think they may have made the right choice.

    מה מכילות החדשות?


    • #3
      Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

      I have often wondered, why Japan and not Germany. I think it might have a lot to do with Pearl Harbor. I think the first bomb was a good idea but I would have waited a while for the effects of that to set in on the Emperor before the second.

      מה מכילות החדשות?


      • #4
        Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

        That whole pesky context thing I keep going on about...

        I took an honors high school history class my senior year, US History WWII to present. My first essay in that class was on this very subject.

        I do not remember everything I wrote in that essay but I do recall a significant portion of the document was all about US position at that point in the war. The alternative plan to using Atomics was Operation Downfall, the US invasion of mainland Japan using ground forces. It involved something like 24 to 25 (some estimates of even more, like closer to 30) separate divisions in multiple entry points making for a very complex and calculated risk. Right off, we did not have enough resources at the time organized, supplied, fit and ready at that point that Operation Downfall would have had to happen. Almost a gamble of all forces available with little backup is the point.

        To put this in context, D-Day was roughly 12 separate Divisions of force in a very concentrated area of amphibious assault, paratroopers, infantry and support. Roughly double or more was what was determined to take all of mainland Japan in a similar manner. D-Day losses are still up for debate but on the high side are in the 12K range for allied forces. With double or more forces needed for Operation Downfall and in consideration for the way Japan fought it is easy to conclude attacking mainland Japan would have seen 50K or more US soldiers dead on day one. Operation Downfall included Operation Olympic (X-Day) and Operation Coronet (Y-Day.) We almost had two additional D-Day type attack plans in the works. Imagine the losses those battles would have yielded, for everyone involved.

        At the time these decisions were being made casualties were already mounting, for everyone involved in the pacific theater of conflict. In just thinking about Taking Japan we had just finished the Battle of Okinawa losing 12K+, injuring almost 40K. The Battle of Iwo Jima was significant as well losing some 7K lives and 20K injured. The closer we were getting to mainland Japan, the more lives we were losing. Even though we were technically winning the conflict, advancing island to island, there was an increasing cost to keep up that momentum. It put the US in position where if Operation Downfall failed for whatever reason we would have had a tough time organizing enough forces to mount a defense (assuming Japan was able to advance their position from such a US loss, which would have been a significant shift in war momentum as well.) A new round of intense naval battles would have surely occurred let alone wherever the next ground war conflict location could have been.

        So, Atomic warfare was the decision. Tactically it was the right call even though morally it will be a question mark for centuries of debate.

        We knew at the time that the threat of ground warfare was going to be significant to Japan anyway, but we also knew that systematic destruction of every major city they had would inflict a level of fear never seen in the entire human history of warfare. Two atomic bombs later just 3 days apart this was realized, Japan gave up under intense fear. Yes, these were civilian targets and no one denies that. But that was the idea, to put all of Japan in a state of shock. The US wanted the people of Japan wondering which city was next to be destroyed with so many lives lost in just moments. That was a real level of fear given that 2 large targets were unrecognizable. Pressure from within to quit was the idea, put Japan's leaders in a position of having to stomach those types of losses to continue war. Again, morally in today's terms we are talking about a war crime type decision. But back then, in that context, and in that war with Japan dropping those two bombs probably saved potential losses for US forces that would have made D-Day look like a minor incident in comparison.

        מה מכילות החדשות?


        • #5
          Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

          Originally posted by OldmanDan View Post
          I have often wondered, why Japan and not Germany. I think it might have a lot to do with Pearl Harbor. I think the first bomb was a good idea but I would have waited a while for the effects of that to set in on the Emperor before the second.
          That is exactly what we did not want, we wanted Japan to fear what we were capable of. We wanted them thinking in terms of days on the next city reduced to nothing in a matter of minutes. We wanted a type of fear never seen before in all of human history, and it worked with amazing speed.

          מה מכילות החדשות?


          • #6
            Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

            I remember those numbers from the paper I wrote, Sluggo.

            I also remember that struggle to focus ONLY on the strategic use of the bombs and stay away from the morality of using them.

            One item I caught in my research was that Japan was already arming pretty much anyone, of either gender and of any age, who could walk in preparation to fight to the death (according to the Bushido) in defense of the emperor (and the homeland). Certainly, 50,000 dead Americans would have been a conservative estimate of the cost.

            I agree, it was the right strategy.

            (̅_̅_̅(̅(̅_̅_̅_̅_̅_̅̅()ڪ

            Originally posted by Sluggo View Post
            That is exactly what we did not want, we wanted Japan to fear what we were capable of. We wanted them thinking in terms of days on the next city reduced to nothing in a matter of minutes. We wanted a type of fear never seen before in all of human history, and it worked with amazing speed.
            I recall this part, too: Hiroshima showed the Emperor what we were capable of ... Nagasaki showed him we had more than one.

            מה מכילות החדשות?


            • #7
              Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

              Originally posted by OldmanDan View Post
              I have often wondered, why Japan and not Germany.

              I have heard several explanations for that. Like

              1. the Germans were considered to be technologically more advanced. An undetonated bomb due to some error f.e. could ( at least there was the concern) have given them valuable clues for their own nuclear program. That was suffereing from mostly two "problems", the lack of appropriate uranium and the lack of Nazi 100 % ers among its staff and crew. Its head, Werner Heisenberg, even took credit for sabotaging the Nazis nuclear effort after the war. That means things could also have turned out differently.

              2. Germany wasn´t an island. There were concerns about the bombs effect on advancing allied troops and allied nations. Since invasion in Germanys case wasn´t an option, it was the plan.

              3. When the bomb would have been ready for deployment, the Allies were running out of targets in Germany anyway, after years of carpet bombing. And the end was foreseeable.

              4. And then there is also the racist explanation : It was considered to be more "appropriate" to first test the bomb on an asian and not a european people.

              Probably it was a mixture of all that and more. The OP at least is a moral question, that noone can answer objectively. Effective in ending the war it was however.

              מה מכילות החדשות?


              • #8
                Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                I recall this part, too: Hiroshima showed the Emperor what we were capable of ... Nagasaki showed him we had more than one.
                If you think about the timing of all that. August 6, 1945 Hiroshima was hit. August 9, 1945 the Russians took Manchuria and later that same night we bombed Nagasaki. The very next day Emperor Hirohito decided to intervene and order the start of terms to end the war. Russian actions aside for a moment, someone at some point had to have advised Hirohito that it would not be long before the US hit a 3rd city. Japan's War Council, "the big six," were forced to deal with conditions they did not see coming. I suspect they saw an Operation Downfall type confrontation coming, and were probably organizing for defense of the mainland. Which both explains why both cities we did hit had relatively low military troops in them and that most forces were in a condition like we found on the multiple island conflicts to date.

                All of a sudden Japan's War Council and Hirohito had a decision to make far more impacting than the Germans did in dealing with a two front war. Now they had Atomic Warfare to deal with and the Russians.

                By August 15, 1945 Hirohito's recorded message was played by radio throughout Japan announcing plans to surrender. As morally reprehensible it was to bomb women, kids, elderly, an entire city with real indiscrimination of who is killed... the tactical decision worked and prevented a likely very bloody war for the Japan mainland. It is why I disagreed with OldmanDan, the speed in which we could level a city then move on was instrumental in telling Japan to worry about "who's next?!" Especially in a manner never seen before in human history. Today we know what this stuff is, at the time Japan had no idea what the hell happened but knew we could do it again.

                מה מכילות החדשות?


                • #9
                  Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                  We didn't use it on Germany because it wasn't ready until July of 1945. And everybody could tell that it was just a matter of time in Europe anyway.

                  A conclusive end of the war in the Pacific was far from a done deal at that point. As documented, Operation Olympic would have been a nasty affair.

                  But the most compelling reason to do everything possible to bring the war to a swift and decisive end was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, which was a colossal defeat for the Japanese army, that was was completely out matched by a Soviet Army fresh off a hard fought victory over the Nazis. Had the war over the mainland islands dragged on into 1946, its quite likely that the Soviets would have run out of Japanese to kill on mainland Asia, and have attempted a landing on the Japanese home islands, and we would have had yet another Soviet occupied territory and potential starting point for a 3rd world war.

                  מה מכילות החדשות?


                  • #10
                    Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                    Originally posted by Voland View Post
                    I have heard several explanations for that. Like

                    1. the Germans were considered to be technologically more advanced. An undetonated bomb due to some error f.e. could ( at least there was the concern) have given them valuable clues for their own nuclear program. That was suffereing from mostly two "problems", the lack of appropriate uranium and the lack of Nazi 100 % ers among its staff and crew. Its head, Werner Heisenberg, even took credit for sabotaging the Nazis nuclear effort after the war. That means things could also have turned out differently.

                    2. Germany wasn´t an island. There were concerns about the bombs effect on advancing allied troops and allied nations. Since invasion in Germanys case wasn´t an option, it was the plan.


                    3. When the bomb would have been ready for deployment, the Allies were running out of targets in Germany anyway, after years of carpet bombing. And the end was foreseeable.

                    4. And then there is also the racist explanation : It was considered to be more "appropriate" to first test the bomb on an asian and not a european people.

                    Probably it was a mixture of all that and more. The OP at least is a moral question, that noone can answer objectively. Effective in ending the war it was however.
                    This is probably the biggest reason. By the time we were ready to use such a weapon the war with Germany was headed to conclusion, and the war with Japan was approaching a point of the last island fighting and moving to take their homeland away. Operation Downfall would have gone forward if the bomb was not made ready in time. Germany was already partially occupied, as you say plenty of targets were already hit by allied forces, and it appeared Russians were handling their end of the war with Germany as well. I read somewhere that by the time we had an Atomic Bomb ready to go we had already dropped something like 500,000 tons of bombs (some estimates put this much higher) on German targets and surrender was inevitable.

                    מה מכילות החדשות?


                    • #11
                      Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                      I distilled it down to this point: We murdered more Japanese civilians with conventional bombing in the year (2 years?) leading up to the atomic bombing, than the 2 A-bombs took out.

                      Those who make moral complaints about the atomic bombing, while ignoring the conventional bombing, miss half the argument. Those who acknowledge both but still complain, are whining about the speed of a murderous action, rather than the murder itself.

                      Under the circumstances, the atomic bombing was no more and no less moral than other military operations involving civilians during that war. Not to support the Japanese in this, either. This is an exercise on the morality of certain military actions (and their targets) in modern warfare.

                      The A-bomb had a marvelous effect on modern warfare, as an aside. It clearly prevented WW III. For that, I will be eternally grateful for the sacrifice made by those civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who proved a weapon could be made that scared the holy shit out of the toughest military hawks that walked the planet.

                      מה מכילות החדשות?


                      • #12
                        Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                        Originally posted by radcentr View Post
                        I distilled it down to this point: We murdered more Japanese civilians with conventional bombing in the year (2 years?) leading up to the atomic bombing, than the 2 A-bombs took out.

                        Those who make moral complaints about the atomic bombing, while ignoring the conventional bombing, miss half the argument. Those who acknowledge both but still complain, are whining about the speed of a murderous action, rather than the murder itself.

                        Under the circumstances, the atomic bombing was no more and no less moral than other military operations involving civilians during that war. Not to support the Japanese in this, either. This is an exercise on the morality of certain military actions (and their targets) in modern warfare.

                        The A-bomb had a marvelous effect on modern warfare, as an aside. It clearly prevented WW III. For that, I will be eternally grateful for the sacrifice made by those civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who proved a weapon could be made that scared the holy shit out of the toughest military hawks that walked the planet.
                        Very good point, civilian targets were the norm during WWII. Germany reported losses of 1.1 million civilians from military operations, Japan reported 500,000, France reported 350,000, Poland said their numbers were in the 5 million range, Russia (Soviet Union) said their numbers were well above 7 million. I read somewhere that we decreased the world population by over 3% with WWII making it the bloodiest large scale war in history. To compare and contrast use of Atomic Warfare in Japan vs. Conventional Warfare in say Germany (or France, or Poland) and in that context you are right. Japanese expansion during WWII was not peaceful by any means, no one was really off limits. If you really want to push the conversation in terms of targeted civilian losses, Germany taught us a lesson that will be in history books for all time.

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                        • #13
                          Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                          I have in fact been to the Hiroshima memorial so I have been shown both perspectives. I found the coverage there factual, though there was a lot of material on the damage and victims and less emphasis on politics. Plus you get to meet the descendants of victims. So it is a different perspective than what you would typically be exposed to in a US school.

                          Let me say first that I am for reducing the nuclear arsenal in the world and I believe the western European nations should set this as a condition to allow the US to continue stationing nukes here.

                          Secondly, these were in fact warcrimes (as were a lot of bombings in WW2): attacking civilian targets to accomplish military goals. Not to mention the long-term poisoning.

                          However we can see this in perspective of warfare at the time: Stalingrad and Berlin, where millions were sent to their death with a coat and a clip of ammo. These bombings may not have reduced the amount of casualties but it certainly made the losses a lot more one-sided than a ground campaign. Therefor I think the US was justified in applying this tactic.

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                          • #14
                            Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                            When I turned in that paper back during my undergrad years, the Professor made us defend our position against the whole class (part of the reason I enjoy arguing today).

                            The perspective of most of the students (at that Christian university somewhere near Los Angeles) was quite different from what most of you guys (from all sides of the political ideology, I might add) are expressing here.

                            Most of the students in the class (the professor, wisely, remained silent and it is my guess, he actually read my paper) kept trying to move the goalposts over to the "morals" argument. I think I put them off when I absolutely agreed with them on THAT plane: But the issue on which I wrote was whether or not the use of the atom bomb against Japan was militarily justified... and they were miffed when I kept dragging them back to the question I actually answered.

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                            • #15
                              Re: The Use of the Atom Bomb against Japan

                              Justified? I think you're looking at it from a right vs wrong perspective which is kinda not applicable to war. War is hell. War is waste. There is nothing "right" about it.
                              We goaded the japs into attacking us, and they bit down on the bait real fucking hard. Both of us are wrong at that point. Then it just becomes a prison rules fight, survival being the only rule. Invading mainland japan would have wasted our troops lives. I guess from a moral perspective it would also have killed more Japanese civilians than the bombs did. Dropping the bombs ended the war decisively. One didn't do it. Two, one right after the other, did. You have the capability and it MIGHT waste less. Do it.
                              Then hate yourself for it after. Such is war.

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