The Bomb That Rocked the World On the tiny island of Tinian, the morning silence of August 6, 1945, was broken by the colossal roar of the engines of the B-29 Super fortress, the Enola Gay preparing for takeoff. Colonel Paul W. Tibbets prepared himself and his crew for the most historic flight of their lives. Neither Colonial Tibbets nor the rest of the men on board knew exactly to where they would be flying. What they did know was that the bomb they were about to deliver would change the world forever and quite possibly end World War II. As Tinian began to fade out of sight as the plane gained altitude, a radio transmission was made informing the crew of the designated target. They were to fly to Hiroshima, Japan, and drop the most devastating device the world had ever seen.
As the plane leveled off above Hiroshima, the bomb bay doors opened and the bombardier released the first ever atomic bomb to be dropped for the purpose of total destruction. Minutes later thousands of Japanese were dead and Hiroshima, Japan, was nothing more than a pile of rubble. The bombing of Hiroshima was essential to show the world the supremacy of the United States armed forces; it was as justified as any other bombing throughout the war; and it saved the lives of both American and Japanese soldiers and helped end World War II. Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima showed the world the superiority of the American military. By developing and using the atomic bomb first, the United States was able to set a standard for itself as the greatest military power in the world. Donald Kagan explains that the bomb was dropped primarily for its effect not only on Japan but also the Soviet Union.
One, to force a Japanese surrender before the USSR came into the Far Eastern war, and two, to show under war conditions the power of the bomb. Only this way could a policy of intimidation of the Soviet Union be successful (17). A the Potsdam conference, Truman resentfully felt that Stalin was pushing him around. The next day Truman learned about the first atomic explosion in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
Truman was ecstatic after hearing the terrific news. If it worked, he could take a tougher line in Eastern Europe and, perhaps, end the war before the Soviets were able to make gains in East Asia (17). Armed with the new weapon and new confidence, Truman began to run the whole Potsdam conference. Truman was determined to be tough on Stalin. Truman saw the bomb as a way to bully the Russian leader. Some historians believe the act of dropping the bomb was only to intimidate Russia, and that it was not needed to end the war.
Gar Alperovitz said, Their aim was political, not military; their target was not Japan but the Soviet Union (qtd. in Kagan 17). Although Alperovitz is correct in saying that it was political, it was still just as militarily important. In short, the confidence provided by the American monopoly on atomic weapons allowed Truman to launch, at Japans expense, a diplomatic offensive against the Soviet Union, one which would play a role of great importance in engendering the subsequent cold war (17). Dropping the bomb accomplished the United States political objectives with Russia; furthermore, the bombing of Hiroshima was the correct decision made by Truman and was as justified as any other bombing throughout the war. Bombing Hiroshima with the atomic bomb was as legitimate as any other bombing made during the war. Still, the moral question must be addressed.
Arguments have been made that the nuclear bomb is a weapon like no other, so terrible that nothing can justify its use, and that its use in 1945 made its future use more likely. This has ceased to be true. In the years since Hiroshima and the second bombing in Nagasaki, nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare, and it is impossible that their first use helped deter a recurrence. In fact, the atomic bombings, awful as they were, were among the more easily justified attacks of 1945.
There is also little doubt that had the bomb been available before V-E Day, it would have been used against Germany. By 1945, bombing Axis cities into the stone age was a daily routine. Nearly 900,000 enemy noncombatants (600,000-plus Germans and 260, 00 Japanese) died in terror bombing of cities with conventional bombs. That is about three times the total deaths from the atom bombs (Tice 32-43).
The most morally indefensible Allied air assault of the war was launched against Germany on February 13, 1945. That night, 650,000 incendiary bombs fell on the city of Dresden, kindling a firestorm that consumed 8 square miles and killed 135,000. Virtually all were noncombatants, as Dresden had little military function or industry. However, bombing to demoralize was a long-established Anglo-American strategy by then (Tice 44-52). One source explains that on a single raid on Tokyo on March 9th and 10th, 1945, incendiary bombs from American planes killed 80,000-100,000 Japanese (as many as Hiroshima on August 6), wounded a similar number, and destroyed more than 250,000 buildings, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless (Butow 3). It is hard to see how the continuation of such bombing until there were no more targets would have been moral improvement over Hiroshima.
Distinguishing nuclear weapons from all others would seem, in fact, to give greater moral sanction to the use of weapons and tactics no less horrible (3). The atomic bomb is no more inhumane than any other air attack made during the war. In fact, not only did the atomic bomb save American lives by keeping the Untied States from having to invade Japan, but it also saved the lives of the Japanese who would have died fighting to stop the invading U.S. troops. The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of United States and Japanese soldiers and helped end World War II.
The Asian air war, climaxing with the atomic attacks, prevented an invasion of the main island that would have been inconceivably hellish. Peter Maslow ski, a professor at the University of Nebraska says, Considering the horrific fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the prospect of invading Japan itself seemed nightmarish (qtd. in Kifner C 6). On Okinawa months before the dropping of the atomic bomb, 185,000 Japanese fought to their death rather than surrender. As the Pacific war neared Japan, American casualties were heavy. The magazine National Review states that the soldiers scheduled to invade Japan, and the allied prisoners facing starvation or execution in Japanese camps, owed their lives to the bomb (Celebrating 13). The invasion of Japan was scheduled to begin on the southernmost island of Kyushu on November 1, 1945.
Many arguments have been made over just how large the number of casualties would have been. Truman later in life said that he used the atomic bomb to save the lives of half a million or even a million American boys who might have died in an island-by-island battle to the end for the conquest of Japan. Japanese casualties would have been much greater. Intercepted Japanese Military messages revealed that the Japanese had about 10,000 planes, half of them kamikazes, to defend the home islands. In addition, the Japanese counted on flying bombs, human torpedoes, suicide-attack boats, midget suicide submarines, motorboat bombs, and navy swimmers to be used as human mines (Maddox 1). The Japanese were prepared to defend their homeland at all costs.
Even civilians had been given sharpened bamboo poles to be used as spears. Fighting to their death was the belief of the Japanese. The atom bomb kept them from having to do so. In turn, the bomb saved many more Japanese lives than it took away.
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, had summarized the prevailing rationale, which was shared by President Harry Truman, who made the decision on dropping the bomb. Churchill wrote, To avert a vast, indefinite butchery, to bring the war to an end, to give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples by manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance (qtd. in Ruane 33-42). Truman had a weapon more destructive than any other weapon the world had seen. He also had a chance to end something that had been taking the lives of American boys for the last four years. Robert Cowley says, If you were in Trumans shoes and had this weapon and had a chance to end the war then and there, theres no question you would use the bomb. The problems of continuing the war were enormous (qtd. in Kifner C 6).
Gar Alperovitz states that the chief villain was Harry Truman (Kagan 17). He is wrong. Truman made the most difficult decision of any man this century. Some say it was the wrong decision. Those people are mistaken. Truman, who should be commended for his decision, ended the war and saved the lives of thousands who would have died trying to take over Japan.
It has been over fifty years since the day Hiroshima, Japan, turned upside down. The atomic bomb was created to serve one purpose. On August 6, 1945, that purpose was shown in an instant that will never be forgotten. Harry Truman was responsible for saving the lives of the Americans who would have had to invade. He was also conscious of the Japanese who would have died in battle for their homeland. The atomic bomb was Harry Trumans weapon, and he did what he thought was right.
The war ended, and the killing stopped. In the time that has followed, this kind of killing has never been repeated. The bombing may have been cruel, but it ended a greater, longer cruelty. 6 af Butow, Robert J.C. Japans Decision to Surrender. Stanford University Press 1954: 1-3. Celebrating V-J Day.
National Review 28 Aug. 1995: 12-14. Kagan, Donald. Why America Dropped the Bomb. Military History 1 Sep. 1995: 17.
Kifner, John. Atom Bomb Debate Refuses to Die. New York Times 5 Feb. 1995: C 6. Maddox, Robert James. Weapons For Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years After. University of Missouri Press 1995: 1.
Ruane, Michael E. Enola Gay Controversy Typifies Split Between Pre atomic Ages. Knight-Ridder / Tribune News Service 3 Feb. 1995: CD Searchbank. Tice, D.J. Smithsonian's Enola Gay Controversy Showed Difficulty of Facing Wars Harsh Lessons. Knight-Ridder / Tribune News Service 2 Feb. 1995: CD Searchbank..