The United States dropped atomic bombs on Japanese cities; Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, and August 9, 1945, respectively. It is estimated that the death toll from these two bombing was between 90,000 to 166,000 and between 60,000 to 80,000 people respectively. As a result of these two acts, there has been a lot of argument as to the appropriateness of the bombing. Looking at this issue retroactively, some people are convinced that the bombings were uncalled for. At the same time, there is a perception that had the bombing not taken place; the war may not have ended the way it did in American favor. It is therefore important to look at both sides of this debate.
Arguments for Bombing
One of the compelling arguments some proponents of the bombings have made was the fact that the bombings were made to limit the American causalities. It has to be noted that the bombing was made at the time when the United States forces were preparing to make land invasions into Japan. In particular, Operation Torch and Operation Coronet were scheduled for November of 1945 and the spring of 1946 respectively. This land invasion was being made at a time when the Japanese army had proved itself to be dynamic and was determined to fight off the American forces. Therefore, the generals on the ground had to make difficult decisions on how best to go in, with their projections showing that they were likely to suffer huge casualties. The causalities figures would even be worse because the Japanese lacked good landing sites, hence supplying troops on the ground would be complicated leading to heavy losses. What is more, the Japanese were holding about 100,000 Allied prisoners of war, and Field Marshall Hisaichi Terauchi had given instructions for the soldiers to be executed in the event American forces invaded the country. The bombing brought the war to an abrupt end, helping to save many lives that could have been lost on both sides. In fact, it is estimated that the lives saved were more than those who were killed in the bombings. While this point makes a lot of sense, it does not look at the long-term losses such as the slow painfully slow deaths for those injured, psychological trauma and birth defects that have continued to be felt to this day.
The second argument for the bombing is that it convinced the Japanese Emperor Hirohito that Japan could not win the war. The bombing, therefore, shortened the war, because three days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan made an unconditional surrender. This may not mean much, but one has to look at its significance from the American point of view. Given the almost fanatical engagement of the Japanese forces on the battle field, it was almost obvious that U.S forces that had defeated Hitler would be called upon to go to the Pacific and help in the invasion of Japan. This was just too much to ask for people who had already given so much on the battlefield. For these men who have brought about the fall of Hitler, the bombing was a great sense of relief to them. This argument seems persuasive because it is only by redeploying its forces to Japan, that the United States would have increased its fighting power. At the same time, the question as to whether it was correct for the United States to deploy such an instrument of war on humanity is one that cannot be ignored. If weighed upon the valor of this men, then it definitely falls short.
There is also the argument that the bombings were payback time for Japan which had behaved in a brutal, barbaric and criminal manner in many instances. For instance, when it captured Nanjing, one of the Chinese cities, the Japanese soldiers left a wave of destruction, killing and maiming hundreds and thousands of unarmed civilians, as well as raping approximately between 20,000 and 80,000 women and children. It is also instructive to note that the December 7, 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor were done at a time when the Japanese government was locked in negotiations with the United States Department. This showed that Japan was a barbaric nation which needed to be stopped at all costs. This notion is further buttressed by the 1898 'Bataan Death March' in which 78,000 Americans and Filipino soldiers were overwhelmed and surrendered in the Bataan Peninsula. The captured soldiers were treated inhumanely, including being tortured, deprived food and water, buried alive and even executed by the Japanese soldiers. It is an incident that arouses so much hate against the Japanese that there was no holding back in ensuring they received maximum punishment. Therefore, the bombing was more or less of an eye for an eye situation and putting Japan in check. Looking at this argument, it is persuasive because there was no way Japan could have been second-guessed. They were made up of strong men and women, who were ready to fight to the bitter end, and in the process inflict maximum damage to the United States. Even though they were in a precarious position at this stage, they were still a force to reckon with.
Lastly, there is also the arguments that the use of the atomic bombs convinced the world of their horrific impact, and made world leaders start thinking about how to reduce the stockpiles of such weapons. If ever the world leaders want to see how nuclear weapons can impact the society, then they have the Japanese experience right before their eyes. Therefore, much as this was a terrible experience to humanity and should have never happened in the first place, it has served a unique purpose. This argument is persuasive because had the bombing not happened, the effort we see today against ownership and movements of nuclear weapons may not be have happened.
Arguments Against the Bombing
One argument against bombing Japan was the fact that instead of bombing the country, the United States would have done a demonstration. Those holding this view point out that through such a demonstration, the Japanese may have seen what they were coming up against, and backed down. Already, a test in New Mexico has been successful, and such a demonstration would have convinced the Japanese that there was no way they were going to win the war, and the best bet was for them to surrender. While this argument makes a lot of sense, there are risks that such a demonstration ran, and therefore would not have scared the Japanese. It is important to point out that, this was fairly a new technology, and the Japanese could not have appreciated its full impact. In fact, they may have dismissed it. Secondly, there is a possibility that such a demonstration could have failed. If that is the case, then there would have been nothing to stop the Japanese.
The second argument made against the war is that the United States could have won the war anyway, hence no need to resort to such extreme measures. Firstly, even though it had no channel with the Japanese, it was eavesdropping on communication between the Japans officials with their Moscow ambassador. From those communications, it was clear that the Japanese bureaucracy was convinced that there was no way they were going to win the war. To make their position more precarious, Russia was also thinking of joining the war against Japan. The Red Army had won a couple of wars against the Germans, and their spirits were high, besides having superior weapons. Hence, on the one hand, the United States could have gone ahead by employing conventional bombings and win, while on the other hand, they could still have waited for the support of Russia to further weaken Japan and easily win. This argument is persuasive. It shows that there were options to win this war without resorting to Atomic bomb, but the Americans did haste.
There is also the fear that the bomb was dropped on Japan as a strong warning to Russia, especially concerning the upcoming post-war negotiations over the sharing of Europe. The United States had prior knowledge that the Russians would declare war against Japan in a week's time, and its own planned ground invasion was weeks away. Hence, there was every reason for the United States to wait for matters to clear up, especially with regards to its relationship with Russia. However, it appears that the United States was more concerned with post-war negotiations with Russians, in particular with redrawing the map of Europe. It wanted to put itself in a stronger bargaining position with respect to Russia, and therefore dictate how the post-war world would look like. It is therefore purely for this reason that the United States was determined to precisely block the Russians from joining the war, and maybe steal its thunder. This argument is persuasive especially having in mind that immediately after the war, there was a fallout between Russia and United States. In fact, the cold war started almost immediately, and the relationship between the two sides have been bedeviled by the need to checkmate each other.
I strongly support American actions of dropping the bombs during that period in time based on various factors as posted above. First, the Japanese were acting roguery, inflicting maximum and severe ruthlessness, causing mass deaths and committing other criminal acts like rape and torture to all its neighbors. They did this without any retreat even upon warnings from other powers. Secondly, in an effort to maintain their power, pride, and respect of defeating the Hitler regime which had crippled the entire Europe region, the United States had to show its mighty capability. This also served well to scare other rising powers like Russia. Lastly, due to the severe effects and massive damages caused by the bombing, efforts towards denuclearization strongly emerged. Treaties like the non-proliferation treaty were developed which have significantly deterred nuclear weapons use.
Davis, Lynn Etheridge. The Cold War Begins: Soviet-American Conflict Over East Europe. Cambridge: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Feis, Herbert. The atomic bomb and the end of World War II. San Francisco: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Herken, Gregg. The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950. Chicago: Princeton University Press, 2014.
Horowitz, Michael C., and Neil Narang. "Poor Man's Atomic Bomb? Exploring the Relationship between "Weapons Of Mass Destruction"." Journal of Conflict Resolution 58, no. 3 (2014): 509-535.
Ronald, H. Spector. Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.
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