Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Two explosions.
It never changes
Icon war2.svg
A view to kill
I made one great mistake in my life.
Albert Einstein[1]
In battle, in the forest, at the precipice in the mountains,
On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,
In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,
The good deeds a man has done before defend him.
Robert Oppenheimer[2]

The atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, quickly followed by the bombing of Nagasaki (on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively) established that the Greek myth of "opening Pandora's box" had real-life consequences.[3]

With a combined death toll of at least 200,000,[4] the attacks marked the end of World War II with the total surrender of Imperial Japan, the culmination of the Manhattan Project, and doomed human civilization to over 40 70 years of threatening apocalypse for strategic gain.

But why?[edit]

The Military Necessity Argument[edit]

The ethical justifications of nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in considerable debate. Proponents, including former President Harry Truman (who never recanted his decision to drop the bombs), maintain that it was a necessary measure to prevent a costly invasion of Japan, with casualties expected to rise into the millions.[5] However, opponents consider it state terrorism (or genocidal) and question its military necessity as Soviet forces were already cornering Manchuria from the north and the war in Europe was over.

The idea of the fanatical Japanese warrior-state that would fight to the bitter end, with images of school children and housewives using bamboo spears to defend the God-Emperor was often invoked and did have some basis in reality. American, Australian and other allied forces had seen that Japanese troops would often die in futile charges or commit ritual suicide rather than surrender. At the Battle of OkinawaWikipedia, Japan used child soldiers, forced the civilian population into makeshift military units, and instructed them to kill themselves rather than surrender. Of the five Japanese commanders at Okinawa, only one was captured alive. A war memorial on Okinawa shows that almost 80,000 Japanese soldiers died there, along with almost 150,000 civilians.[6] Only 7,000 Japanese soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. , and on the night of August 14th, 1945 (eight days after the bombing of Hiroshima and 5 days after the bombing of Nagasaki) a cabal of Japanese military officers attempted to overthrow the emperor and prevent the surrender in what is known as the Kyujo IncidentWikipedia. A study performed by physicist William Shockley for the staff of Secretary of War Henry Stimson estimated that the invasion of Japan would have cost 1.7-4 million American casualties, including 400,000-800,000 fatalities, and 5-10 million Japanese deaths. The estimates are twice the number of American deaths in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific theater.[7] The U.S. planned to drop another bomb a few days after the second, followed by a total of 12 additional atomic bombs.[8]

Mitsuo FuchidaWikipedia, leader of the Japanese Attack on Pearl harborWikipedia, agreed with the atomic bombings as a military necessity. During a conversation with Air Force general Paul TibbetsWikipedia, (the man who piloted the Enola Gay during the actual bombing), he said:

You did the right thing. You know the Japanese attitude at that time, how fanatic they were, they'd die for the Emperor ... Every man, woman, and child would have resisted that invasion with sticks and stones if necessary ... Can you imagine what a slaughter it would be to invade Japan? It would have been terrible. The Japanese people know more about that than the American public will ever know.[9]

Of course, this only applies if you were actually going to launch a ground invasion. But more on that later.

On the other hand...[edit]

University of Chicago political scientist Robert PapeWikipedia has suggested that if the U.S. was willing to budge just a little on some issues (not demanding total surrender from the Japanese, letting the Emperor go on pretending to be a living god), a settlement could have been reached before the bombings.

This opinion is strongly supported by internal Japanese government messages intercepted by the allies at the time. Archived copies of a lengthy and highly detailed telegram correspondence between Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Shigenori TōgōWikipediaand Japanese Ambassador to the Soviet Union Naotake SatōWikipediademonstrate this. In telegram #994 dispatched from Tōgō to Satō on July 25th, 1945 Tōgō states:

"As for Japan, it is impossible to accept unconditional surrender under any circumstances, but we should like to communicate to the other party through appropriate channels that we have no objection to a peace based on the Atlantic Charter. The difficult point is the attitude of the enemy, who continues to insist on the formality of unconditional surrender. Should the United States and Great Britain remain insistent on formality, there is no solution to this situation other than for us to hold out until complete collapse because of this one point alone."[10]

The situation was this: Japan refused to surrender unconditionally, but the allies wouldn't accept anything less. Thus the United States had a choice; They could either launch a ground invasion (codenamed Operation DownfallWikipedia), which would have caused even more casualties on both sides, or continue the existing naval blockade and bombing raids until the surrender finally happened. Truman confirms this state of affairs with the following entry in his diary:

"I have to decide Japanese strategy, --shall we invade Japan proper or shall we bomb and blockade." [11]

Furthermore, according to the Summary Report of The United States Strategic Bombing SurveyWikipedia

"Certain of the United States commanders and the representatives of the Survey who were called back from their investigations in Germany in early June 1945 for consultation stated their belief that, by the coordinated impact of blockade and direct air attack, Japan could be forced to surrender without invasion."[12], pg. 83

Note that the summary report specifies that this consultation was in June 1945 and the Trinity test didn't take place until the middle of July 1945. So when they said this, they didn't know atomic bombs would become available.

So dropping the atomic bomb was NOT the only alternative to a ground invasion. Consequently, any narrative to the effect that the atomic bombs were necessary to save American lives is false. The Japanese did have a plan to resist this possible invasion called Operation Ketsugo[13]. It called for the "Glorious Death of One Hundred Million" Japanese citizens in defense of the Emperor. However, since the US had already enacted a massive sea blockade[14] a ground invasion was unnecessary, and therefore definitely not guaranteed to happen.

Even some the highest ranking members of the American military were firmly against it. [15] Dwight D. Eisenhower himself said the following:

In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.[16]

Fleet Admiral William D. LeahyWikipedia, America's most senior military officer during WWII, didn't mince words wither.

It is my opinion that 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 because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.[17]

And just to put this point firmly to bed, later on in the Summary Report, the US Government admits that not only was a ground invasion completely unnecessary, so was the atomic bomb.

"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 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."[18], pg. 107

But that's not to say the bombs accomplished nothing at all. They gave us a Nuclear arms raceWikipedia that lasted 45 years.


Some view the bombing of Japan rather than Germany as racist. One look at anti-Japanese WWII propaganda posters confirms this is a reasonable theoryWikipedia. Bomb apologists often point out that Germany surrendered in early May 1945, before the bomb was ready. But Manhattan Project director General Leslie R. Groves asserted that Japan was always supposed to have been the target of the bombs, even long before Germany's surrender.[19]. In a hypothetical scenario where Germany got Nuked and Japan didn't, one could argue that the decision of where to drop the bomb was not strongly influenced by racism. In another scenario where both countries get nuked, the lack of racism involved in nuking Germany does not mean that nuking Japan wasn't racist. Racism could have been, and likely was, just one of many contributing factors in the decision.

And Truman himself had some less than egalitarian views on the enemy, as expressed in a written response to a telegram from Senator Richard Russell Jr.Wikipedia. Note that the letter is dated August 9th, the same day Nagasaki was bombed, and three days after Hiroshima was bombed.

"Dear Dick:

I read your telegrams of August seventh with a lot of interest.

I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare, but I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner.

For myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the "pigheadedness" of the leaders of a nation and, for your information, I am not going to do it unless it is absolutely necessary. It is my opinion that after the Russians enter into war the Japanese will very shortly fold up.[20]

The telegram the letter refers to is quite a doozy[21]. In it, Sen. Russell outright insists on nuking Japan until they beg for unconditional surrender. Truman's response, racisms and all, is downright reasonable by comparison.

Because, Russia[edit]

In February, 1945 US president Franklin D. Roosevelt represented the United States at the The Yalta ConferenceWikipedia, where the Soviet Union agreed to declare war on Japan. Also present as a member of the US delegation was then Secretary of StateWikipedia Edward Stettinius Jr.Wikipedia But Russia didn't agree to help for free. The concessions given to Russia for their cooperation can be found in the text of the "PROTOCOL OF PROCEEDINGS OF CRIMEA CONFERENCE".

The leaders of the three great powers - the Soviet Union, the United States of America and Great Britain - have agreed that in two or three months after Germany has surrendered and the war in Europe is terminated, the Soviet Union shall enter into war against Japan on the side of the Allies on condition that:

1. The status quo in Outer Mongolia (the Mongolian People's Republic) shall be preserved. 2. The former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904 shall be restored, viz.: (a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union; (b) The commercial port of Dairen shall be internationalized, the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union in this port being safeguarded, and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the U.S.S.R. restored; (c) The Chinese-Eastern Railroad and the South Manchurian Railroad, which provide an outlet to Dairen, shall be jointly operated by the establishment of a joint Soviet-Chinese company, it being understood that the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union shall be safeguarded and that China shall retain sovereignty in Manchuria; 3. The Kurile Islands shall be handed over to the Soviet Union.[22]

However, Roosevelt died just two months later on April 12th leaving Harry Truman in office. Truman replaced Stettinius with James F. ByrnesWikipedia on July 3rd, because he felt Stettinius was soft on communism, and that too many concessions were made to the Soviet Union at Yalta. Truman wanted to limit or prevent Russian involvement in post-war Japan, unlike the situation they now had in Germany.

From The Unites States Office of the HistorianWikipedia article on Atomic Diplomacy:

By mid-1945, it was clear the Soviet Union would enter into the war in the Pacific and thereby be in a position to influence the postwar balance of power in the region. U.S. officials recognized there was little chance of preventing this, although they preferred a U.S.-led occupation of Japan rather than a co-occupation as had been arranged for Germany. Some U.S. policymakers hoped that the U.S. monopoly on nuclear technology and the demonstration of its destructive power in Japan might influence the Soviets to make concessions, either in Asia or in Europe. Truman did not threaten Stalin with the bomb, recognizing instead that its existence alone would limit Soviet options and be considered a threat to Soviet security.[23]

To sum up: Roosevelt thought cooperating with the Russians to end the war was fine, and made a deal to that effect. Then he unexpectedly died and was replaced by Truman. Truman didn't like the deal with Russia, so he used the bomb in an attempt to force Japan to surrender quickly before Russia could get their foot in the door.

What finally got the job done?[edit]

So what finally did convince Japan to surrender? The U.S. told them they could keep the emperor. The following is an extract from a diplomatic note written by Byrnes, dated August 11th, 1945, clarifying the terms of surrender offered to the government of Japan. Archived (yet again) by the United States Office of the Historian.

‘The Emperor will be required to authorize and ensure the signature by the Government of Japan and Japanese Imperial General Headquarters of the surrender terms necessary to carry out the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration, and shall issue his commands to all the Japanese military, naval and air authorities and to all the forces under their control wherever located to cease active operations and to surrender their arms, and to issue such other orders as the Supreme Commander may require to give effect to the surrender terms. [24]

Japan accepted this offer and announced it to the Japanese publicWikipedia four days later on August 15th.

That's right. We nuked them twice and they still didn't tap out. We told them the could keep their monarch as a figurehead, and they folded right up. Go figure.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise to anybody for one fairly obvious reason: Fascist dictatorships do not give a fuck how many of their people you kill.

Case in point, the Bombing of Tokyo (10 March 1945)Wikipedia killed more people than either of the atomic bombs and that didn't make Japan surrender. As far as the Japanese supreme council was concerned Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just two more cities that got burned. They (the council) didn't get nuked, that happened to a bunch of peasants they didn't give a shit about. So why should they care?

But it's likely that none of this mattered very much (at the time) to those who suffered under Japanese colonialism and imperialism, like the people of China and Korea, who merely wanted to be free from the oppression of a fascist, murderous Imperial invader.

In fact, some have asked the inevitable question: if Nazi Germany were the ones to have done this, whether they would have been tried for crimes against humanity because of it, even using the same justifications as the ones the U.S. did? It's probable they would've been, and this goes to show that history is written by the victors indeed.[25]

The perspective of thinking about this event in post-war Japan[edit]

Japan's right-wingers want the U.S. to apologize for this.

Japan's ultra-rightists claim that Japan was a victim of World War II. On the other hand, they also deny the killings, biopsies and brutal sex crimes they committed in other countries. In particular, far-right groups, including Nippon Kaigi, support the distorted view of history as a "victim of World War II" because Japan was damaged by the atomic bomb and promote it globally, to erase that they were allies with Nazis and fascists at the time and that they were serious war crimes perpetrators.[26] This historical revisionism of Japanese nationalists has made Koreans and Chinese, the biggest victims of Japanese war crimesWikipedia, positively aware of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japanese liberals and leftists tend to oppose nuclear power, which is also the impact of the trauma of radiation damage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Korean atomic bombing victims[edit]

Except for the Japanese, the ethnic groups most affected in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are Koreans. Many of them were brought in by Imperial Japan and forced laborWikipedia. The Japanese government denies that Koreans were subjected to "forced labor" by Imperial Japan.[27][note 1] As many as 100,000 Koreans were exposed to radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 50,000 of whom died.[28]

Complicating this issue is the nationalist sentiment-based conflict between Japanese conservatives and South Korean liberals. South Korean liberals and anti-colonial Korean nationalists tend to defend the United States rather than Korean victims, as they see sympathy for Hiroshima and Nagasaki as part of right-wing Japanese nationalists' historical revisionist and denial of Japanese war crimes agenda. This puts anti-colonial anti-Japanese nationalism ahead of sympathy for Korean victims. In particular, many Korean nationalitsts think that Japanese nationalists sympathy for Hiroshima is no different from Neo-Nazi's sympathy for the Bombing of Dresden, because Japanese ultra-nationalists actually use Hiroshima to deny Japanese war crimes during World War II. In 2023, there was considerable controversy in South Korea when South Korean President Yoon Suk YeolWikipedia visited the memorial stone for Korean victims in Hiroshima and paid tribute with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio KishidaWikipedia. All previous South Korean governments before Yoon Suk Yeol have turned a blind eye to Korean victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to oppose Japanese nationalism and to defend U.S. action against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[29] Ironically, Yoon Suk Yeol is a far-right ultra-conservative politician who supports anti-Chinese racism and anti-feminism.[30]

Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea is more pronounced among liberals and leftists, and the conservatives are relatively pro-Japanese. This is related to the anti-colonialist/anti-imperialist ideology of the SK political left against Japan. The relative pro-Japanese of the right wing of South Korea is a foreign policy taken to maintain friendly relations with the United States. The U.S. government is not very interested in South Korea's 'anti-colonial' or 'maintaining an anti-Japanese American/Korean nationalist attitude toward Hiroshima' political agenda, and wants South Korea and Japan to cooperate with each other to keep China in check.[31]

Possible positive impact[edit]

Could've sworn there used to be a city here.

Some contend that a positive side effect of the bombing was that it showed the world the true horrors of a nuclear attack, and that the Cold War didn't go nuclear because leaders on both sides saw that nuclear weapons did more than cause massive explosions.

Lingering horror[edit]

Japan's diagnoses of leukemia increased significantly in the wake of the bombings.[32] This link between radiation and cancer gave birth to modern radiophobia.

Incredibly, one manWikipedia managed to survive both explosions. He lived to the age of 93 before dying of (what else?) cancer, which affected multiple parts of his body.

There are still roughly 250,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but despite their noticeably higher rates of cancer, the Japanese government only officially recognizes less than one percent as having A-bomb Disease. Many professionals allege that the real difficulty in meeting the legal criteria is that the Japanese government doesn't want to pay everyone the monthly 140,000 yen special medical allowance required for any citizen diagnosed with A-bomb disease.[33]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Therefore, the Japanese government refused to compensate and fought a trade warWikipedia in 2018 when a Korean court demanded compensation. Many Koreans are angry that, unlike Germany's treatment of the Holocaust victims and its sufficient apology and compensation to the victims in Israel, Japan does not take such an attitude toward Korea. (Japan is notorious for its historical revisionism of past fascist war crimes.)


  1. Letters of Note: Einstein to FDR
  2. Bird, K., Sherwin, M.J. and Rigden, J.S., 2005. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Physics Today, 58(11), p. 305. Quote is originally from the Bhagavad Gita
  3. "...and the genie can't be stuffed back in the bottle." - Lawrence Johnston, "Little Man" developer
  4. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Total Casualties, Yale
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Operation Downfall. (Double the landing force of Normandy and 42 aircraft carriers. Yes, you heard that correctly.)
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Cornerstone of Peace.
  7. "The Nuking of Japan was a Tactical and Moral Imparative", Forbes
  8. TheDailyBeast
  9. Davis, Raymond; Winn, Dan (15 July 1999). Bottorff, Todd (ed.). Clear Conscience: The Atom Bomb Vs.-- the Super Holocaust (1st ed.). Paducah, Kentucky, United States of America: Turner Publishing Company. p. 87.
  11. Truman's Diary on the Atomic Bomb" [1] University of Houston
  12. "United States Strategic Bombing Survey - Summary Report" (1945)
  13. Operation Ketsugō
  14. "Japans Nightmare - Mine Blockade"
  15. Who disagreed with the atomic bombing?, University of Colorado
  16. The White House Years: Mandate for Change (1963), p. 312-313
  17. William D. Leahy, I Was There (1949), p. 441
  18. United States Strategic Bombing Survey - Summary Report" (1945)
  19. “Always” the target?: While U.S. bomb scientists were racing against Germany, military planners were looking toward the Pacific, Arjun Makhijani, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, v. 51, no. 3 (May/June 1995): pp. 23-27.
  25. "Truman Did Not Understand" - an interview with Leo SzilardWikipedia, Truman's nuclear advisor
  26. The Economist of Britain on 5 January 2013. Cited in: William L. Brooks (2013), Will history again trip up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe? The Asahi Shimbun, 7 May 2013
  27. "S. Korea and Japan debate comments about being "forced to work"". The Hankyoreh. July 7, 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  28. 원폭 피해자(原爆 被害者, Korean atomic bombing victims) - 한국민족문화대백과사전 (Encyclopedia of Korean Culture).
  29. Yoon apologizes to Korean atomic bombing victims in Japan - JoongAng Dally (May 19, 2023). "President Yoon Suk Yeol met with a group of Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and apologized that Korea was not with them through their suffering during a visit to Japan on Friday for the Group of Seven (G7) summit."
  30. "Is Yoon Suk-yeol the South Korean Trump?". The Korea Herald (2 March 2022).
  31. The Foreign Policy Outlook of South Korean Progressives: Part II KEI (2012-02-22). "This worldview, in turn, informed South Korean liberals’ foreign policy instincts. Because they understand Korean history as a century of suffering under external imposition – first by Imperial Japan, then by the Cold War hegemons who sponsored Korea’s dictators – the liberals would aspire for independence, autonomy, and self-determination. This aspiration often takes the form of nationalism, anti-colonialism and skepticism toward international entanglement, which makes South Korean liberals distinctive from most of the center-left in post-industrial societies. Roughly speaking, in most countries with high standards of living (which usually are former colonizers), the right-wing tends to subscribe more to the nationalistic ideology while the left is more internationalist. In South Korea, a former colony, this dynamic is often reversed.
  32. Leukaemia in Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors from 1945 through 1959, WHO