Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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Never again. (So far.)
A major part of history
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A view to kill
I made one great mistake in my life.
Albert Einstein[1]

The atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, quickly followed by the bombing of Nagasaki (on August 6 and August 9, 1945 respectively) established that the Greek myth of "opening Pandora's box" had real-life consequences.[2]

With a combined death toll of at least 200,000,[3] 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 ethical justifications of nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in considerable debate. Proponents, including Harry Truman, who never recanted his decision to drop the bombs, maintain it was a necessary measure to prevent a costly invasion of Japan, with casualties expected to go into the millions,[4] while 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.

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.[5] The US planned to drop another bomb a few days after the second followed by a total of 12 additional atomic bombs. [6]

Some view the bombing of Japan rather than Germany as racist, but Germany surrendered in early May, 1945, before the bomb was ready. Had the war in Europe continued, Berlin may have been nuked as well,[7] especially since the Nazis were trying to develop an atomic bomb of their own.[8] Furthermore, Japan itself had a atomic program during the war (even if it was nowhere near as developed as the US).[9]

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 often being invoked, not unjustifiably. This was indeed an accurate reflection of reality, despite claims to the contrary. The Kyujo IncidentWikipedia's W.svg comes to mind, when a group of super-fanatical Japanese soldiers tried to arrest the Emperor to prevent him from announcing Japan's surrender, not even a week after Nagasaki!

There is some indication[10] that the Japanese realized there was no way they could win, even if Hirohito himself did not, and were willing to negotiate a surrender before the US dropped the two bombs. The problem with this was, they were going to make Downfall bloody enough for the Allies that such negotiations would have Soviet mediation. After the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, though, that was kind of no longer an option.

Robert Pape has suggested that if the US 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, though his assessment is not universally supported.

Compounding the issue is the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hardly the first times the Allies had dropped bombs on a city with the express intent of burning the place to the ground. The firebombing of Hamburg had left hardly a building standing, and the firebombing of Tokyo (earlier the same year as the atomic bomb attacks) carried a death toll of nearly 140,000, most of whom were civilians. The doctrine at work in those two earlier cases was strategic bombing, the notion that you could win a war of attrition by taking away the enemy's factories and population.

Regardless, the bombing did amount to an enormous strategic advantage for the US; by detonating not one, but two nukes, the US showed other would-be superpowers that Uncle Sam had the ability and the will to use such devastating weapons in conflicts.[11]

Still arguing about the morality/necessity of the bombings probably isn't juvenile, as there was no consensus even amongst the top generals themselves.[12]

Possible Positive Impact[edit]

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 just cause massive explosions.

Lingering horror[edit]

Japan's diagnoses of leukemia increased significantly in the wake of the bombings.[13] This link between radiation and cancer gave birth to modern radiophobia.

Incredibly, one manWikipedia's W.svg 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, yet 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 the real difficulty in meeting the legal criteria is that the Japanese government doesn't want to pay everyone the 140'000 yen a month special medical allowance required for any citizen diagnosed with A-bomb disease.[14]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Letters of Note: Einstein to FDR
  2. "...and the genie can't be stuffed back in the bottle." - Lawrence Johnston, "Little Man" developer
  3. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Total Casualties, Yale
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Operation Downfall. (Double the landing force of Normandy and 42 aircraft carriers. Yes, you heard that correctly.)
  5. "The Nuking of Japan was a Tactical and Moral Imparative", Forbes
  6. TheDailyBeast
  7. Studs Terkel 2002 interview with Enola Gay pilot
  8. See the Wikipedia article on German nuclear weapon project.
  9. Hoyt, Edwin P. (2001). Japan's War: The Great Pacific Conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  10. Frank, Richard B. (2005-08-08). "Why Truman Dropped the Bomb." The Weekly Standard 010 (44)
  11. Alperovitz, Gar (1965). Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam. New York: Simon and Schuster
  12. Who disagreed with the atomic bombing?, University of Colorado
  13. Leukaemia in Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors from 1945 through 1959, WHO