Was the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified? – Part 3

3. Reasons Why the Atomic Bomb May Have Been Used
  1.  To Justify Its Cost
  2.  As A Warning to the Soviet Union
  3.  Anti-Japanese Racism
1. To Justify Its Cost
The Manhattan Project cost approximately 2.2 billion dollars. In terms of 2009 dollars, the equivalent cost would be 24 billion dollars. Had the bomb not been used it is possible (although not provable) that President Truman would have faced a congressional inquiry and asked to explain the misappropriation of 2 billion dollars. He might then have had to explain to the American people why a weapon that could have conceivably shortened the war was put on a shelf and not used. Facing an upcoming election, his chances would have been nil had he been known to waste American dollars and risked additional American lives. Truman was asked by his Secretary of  War what he would say in his impeachment hearing if he shelved a weapon that could bring the war to a rapid conclusion. It is a matter of speculation, but some historians believe that Truman made his decision to use the bomb upon hearing that question from his War Secretary.
It must be pointed out that the Manhattan Project was authorized not by President Truman, but by President Roosevelt. By the time Truman took office,  the Trinty test only loomed a few months in the future.
2. As A Warning to the Soviet Union
At the Yalta conference, Joseph Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Imperial Japan 90 days after the allies had defeated Germany.  The Allies defeated Germany in May of 1945 which would have put a Soviet entry into the war to begin in August. Truman knowing that the Soviet Union had installed communist governments in Eastern Europe following the German surrender, had incentive to bring the war to a swift conclusion before the Soviet Union could figure too prominently into the war settlement.
Using the atomic bomb was a clear demonstration of American military superiority and would thus make the Soviet Union more manageable in the post World War II political climate.

At Potsdam, Truman told Stalin that the United States had developed a new weapon of immense destructive capabilities.  This was not news to Stalin. Due to successful spying efforts, he had known that the United States was attempting to build a bomb since 1943.

The Soviet Union declared war on the Empire of Japan on August 9, 1945, the same day that Nagasaki was bombed. Soviet troops stormed into Manchuria, easily besting war weary Imperial Japanese troops. While the bombs were undeniably destructive, firebombing campaigns had left similar destruction, albeit without the legacy of radiation sickness. It has been postulated that the Japanese were more encouraged to surrender due to the Soviet entry into the war than by the bombings. Recall that the Japanese and Soviets had signed a non-aggression pact  in 1941 and had only a few weeks previous had hoped to enlist the Soviets in an effort to bring the war to an end.
3. Anti-Japanese Racism
Anti-Japanese sentiment began to accelerate with the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, American sentiment against the Japanese immediately spiked. The United States fueled that brand of racism by publishing numerous propaganda posters which depicted the Japanese in exagerated stereotypes.

News of Japanese atrocities during the war exacerbated the situation, leading to even more virulent racism. While not as widely publicized as Nazi Germany war crimes, Imperial Japanese was equally guilty of crimes, including mass killing, rape, forced labor, medical experimentation, chemical and biological warfare, and cannibalism.

Pictures below are some examples of anti-Japanese propaganda posters, published by the United States government and select corporations. They are shocking and disturbing, especially by today’s standards.


The United States government even sponsored a propaganda film My Japan, which depicts the Japanese population as hard working and industrious in contrast to a hedonistic America. It was a form of reverse propaganda. That film can be viewed today at the Internet Archive, within the Content Advisory of “Explicit Racism and Extreme Violence.”

An opinion poll  conducted in 1944 showed that an astonishing 14% of the American public was in the favor of the complete extermination of the Japanese race.

Even President Truman was not immune to making racist remarks. Writing with incredulous language, he  made this comment in his dairy the very same day that the Trinity test took place.

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

On the second day after the Nagasaki bomb, Truman stated:

“The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It is most regrettable but nevertheless true.”

Conclusion: this three part blog post has taken many hours to research and write. During this effort, I have realized how complex and involved this subject is and feel I have barely did a credible job including everything that was essential. I have not intended to portray Imperial Japan as a victim. While I believe that the deliberate targeting of civilian populations is without excuse and justification, the defeat and dismantlement of such a morally reprehensible regime was essential to world peace.

If you have stayed with me and read it all, and found information you have not seen before I ask that you examine it with an open mind.  History is not always what it seems to be and I believe there is little advantage in clinging to myths and misperceptions.

Of course the years since World War II have been much kinder to the Japanese. The occupation was benevolent for the most part. Two laws were immediately enacted. No occupation force was to assualt any Japanese national. No occupation force was to eat any of the scarce food supply. General Douglas  MacArthur ruled Japan as the defacto national leader and left Japan as a well loved figure. Japan regained her sovereignty in 1952 with the signing of the San Francisco Treaty. The occupation ended and Japan forged an economic powerhouse second only to the United States economy.

As we should all know, despite thousands of nuclear weapons being built in the years since 1945, no atomic weapon has ever been exploded in anger since Nagasaki was attacked. My prayer is that those two horrible bombings taught the world a lesson that cannot be ignored.


10 Responses to “Was the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified? – Part 3”

  1. You are a talented writer Moe, and a nerd! I have enjoined reading your trilogy. On part three I would dismiss your first reason by pointing out that dropping the bomb on Japan in advance of their surrender was not necessary to justify the cost of its development. The Manhattan Project laid the foundation for civil use of nuclear technology and several other important technologies. Furthermore it was an inevitable investment that had to be made as other countries were working to develop the same weapon, we were simply a little ahead of the curve (you touched on this in the first part when referencing Einstein’s letters to the President). Truman did not need to drop the bomb to justify its costs. Also, if Truman did indeed sense a “risk” from blow back if he did not use the bomb then your argument that America knew that Japanese surrender was but a breath away (from Part II) is dissolved.

    I would agree with your second point and would further add that this was not a bad strategy as the West was leery of Stalin even before the end of the war. Deterring their inevitable push into Japan was likely good for the Japanese in that it may have spared them what the Soviet people endured under the rule of this depot. The genocidal gulag was indeed a horrible fate for millions.

    As for the cause of racism I would offer that much of what you reference as evidence can be observed in kind among the colonies during the period of the Revolution. Cartoons, posters, heated pamphlets all decrying the injustices of the crown and castigating the men who afforded him reach across the waves; soldiers and sailors of the British military. Was this racism? I believe we would have to say no as they were of the same race; it would be rightly defined as nationalism or better yet a form of patriotism. How about the public loathing of the Hessians during that same period, racism or justifiable patriotism? The treatment of the Japanese was really no different than what you would expect to observe by any nation toward an enemy with whom she was engaged in war. War time propaganda dates back as far as the Roman Empire and I am not convinced we can broadly classify it as racism. Lets not forgot that if racism is the motive we were equal opportunity racists as we had the same sort of posters and sentiments for the Nazi’s in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. I am not certain we can argue that stereotypical characterizations of your enemy for motivational purposes during a time of war makes a solid case for a motive of racism. We were at war with an empire that vowed our destruction and their defeat was an national imperative.

    I am not saying that Americans did not harbor racist sentiments towards Japanese during this period nor am I arguing that such racism is justifiable; clearly it is not. I simply do not think we can argue that racism was a principle cause for dropping the bomb no more than we could say racism would be the cause for an Aubie cuttin Nick Saban’s tires if given the chance.

    I have enjoyed the read and the spark for a little debate; I would be interested in hearing more of what you learned through your research.

  2. debeyepps Says:

    Wow!!! I’m surrounded by nerds! I bow to both of your superior knowledge in all things historical and will leave no comment at this time.

  3. […] Was the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified? – Part 3 […]

  4. 2 bombs were unjust, 1 would have sufficed. if we didn’t use any, i believe that the war would have just escalated causing the possible downfall of the us/aus/brit/etc… because unlike the middle-east, japan had planes and a very dangerous ally (nazi germany)… and japan was bombing china, then they bombed the us… normally, you don’t hit someone assuming they won’t hit you back… anyways, the usa has a good relationship with japan now… that’s all that matters… however there are still idiot extremists on both sides saying that “japan deserved all of what they got”, or “they deserved none of it” …both are wrong…

  5. Thanks! A great help for History coursework 😉

  6. You know, I have read, studied and have a fairly good knowledge of WWII. Dropping those bombs where to bring an end to the war and save American lives. Did you know that more people died when we dropped incendiary bombs on Tokyo and started a fire storm than died because of the Atomic bombs we dropped?
    Also by dropping those bombs, we saved more Japanese lives that it would of costs had we invaded Japan plus the American lives that would have been lost too. Another thought, as soon as we had a foot hole in Japan, China would have invaded also. If anyone hated the Japanese at that time more than the U.S. it would be China. Japan brought it upon theirselves the contempt that other countries had for them. Their military was and acted barbaric when it came to prisioners and the land they invaded. I have read a lot about that war, read a lot about the aircraft, the Navy, Marines, & the Army. Politics in all countries involved and Military personal, but one thing, until now have I ever heard of American “racism” against the Japanese. There was plenty of “racism” by the Americans, it was “racism” against the Black Americans, also the American Japanese that we put in interment camps that lived in the U.S. and not doing the same to German Americans or Italian Americans. The biggest “racism” to this day where the Germans against the Jews. I don’t think that one will ever be topped. You bet there where American atrocities, we captured and got what ever intel we could and killed many Japanese soldiers during a battle when what could you do with them? You couldnt just leave them there so they could join back up with his Army, you couldnt spare the man power for some one or a group of men to stay with the prisioneer and you sure wasnt going to reduce your troops by releiving some of your infantry and bring a prisoner to the rear lines. War is a ugly thing, I dont think the word “racism” can even be used, you have to hate someone for their to be “racism” and if your at war with them where your sending lead at each other, you hate them.

    • theworldofmojo Says:

      Randy, thank you for reading my blog and making an intelligent comment. I actually did know that the firebombing of Tokyo produced more casualties than the bombs did. My argument against the bombs are that we basically accepted the same terms of surrender that Japan had offered prior to the bombings and that we were well aware that Japan was trying to find a way to end the war. Still I always appreciate an intelligent, thoughtful, and respectful discourse.

      • I hate to argue this with you since this post is so old. And because I’m an amateur when it comes to history, while you certainly seem to have done your homework but I believe you are incorrect when you say, “..we basically accepted the same terms of surrender that Japan had offered prior to the bombing..”

        As I understand it, after the bombing of Nagasaki a joint council made up of Japanese cabinet members and military staff were still at an impasse regarding surrender. At that point Hirohito became involved and accepted the terms the U.S. had extended during the Potsdam Conference before the bombing, terms they, the Japanese, had previously rejected.

  7. thanks, really helped with history homework.

  8. You have summarized the information well…thank you. Very well done, and I agree with your conclusion. I have posted some related material on my blog http://blog.peacefulways.com (serach contents).

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