Sunday, September 23, 2012

Truman's Decision to use Atomic Bombs on Japan

Harry S. Truman, 1884 - 1972

Only a few months after the death of FDR in August of 1945 President Harry Truman made one of the most fateful decisions in world history -- he decided to use atomic bombs against Imperial Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  On August 6, 1945 the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress opened its bomb doors at 08:15 and "less than a minute later most of the city of Hiroshima disintegrated in a blinding light.  Around 100,000 people were killed instantly, and many thousands more died later from radiation poisoning, burns and shock.  President Truman's staff in Washington issued a warning to the Japanese that if they failed to surrender immediately, 'they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth'". The Second World War, Antony Beevor, 2012 (  A second bomb, dropped on Nagasaki, killed over 35,000 people.

Enola Gay, B-29 Superfortress
Truman knew that the recent invasion of the island of Okinawa in the Ryuku chain had been extremely costly.  US Marine and army formations suffered 7,613 killed, 31,807 wounded and 26,211 'other injureis', most of which consisted of psychological breakdown.  Nearly the entire Japanese force 107,539 was killed in the battle with General Ushijima committing ritual suicide.  The suicide of 1,465 kamikaze pilots sank twenty-nine ships, damaged 120, killed 3,048 sailors and wounded another 6,035.   Source: The Second World War, Antony Beevor, 2012 (  The 'no surrender' policy of the Japanese meant that an invasion of the home islands would be incredibly costly in terms of both allied and Japanese lives.

Japanese Zero, Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA
Andrew Roberts writes, "Estimates of expected casualty rates differed from planning Staff to planning Staff, but over the coming months -- perhaps years -- of fighting anything in the region of 250,000 American casualties were thought to be possible.  'If the conflict had continued for even a few weeks longer,' believes Max Hastings, 'more people of all nations--especially Japan -- would have lost their lives than perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.'"  The Storm of War, Andrew Roberts, 2009 (http:/

Truman also knew that the fire bombings of Tokyo had been even more destructive than the atomic bombs. during the summer of 1945 Boeing built "B-29s dropped tons of Henry Kaiser's magnesium goop and burned out the heart of industrial Japan.  Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe, Osaka, Yokoham, Kawasaki, Toyama: all vanished in a blistering cloud of fire."  Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, Arthur Herman, 2012 (http:/

Modern Tokyo

When you visit Tokyo today you see a modern city of skyscrapers and neon because almost everything was destroyed by the firebombing.  Even the Emperor's palace, built in 1888, was destroyed in the war.  The Emperor's palace that can be seen today in Tokyo was completed in 1968.

Japanese Mystery sign, Tokyo, Japan
Truman also knew that the USA had made an enormous investment in building the atomic bomb.  The Manhattan project is estimated to have cost over $2 billion and employed thousands of people over many years. The Plutonium that was used in the "Fat Boy" (named for Winston Churchill) bomb dropped on Nagasaki was produced at the Hanford site ( in my home state of Washington.

"Fat Boy", National Museum of the Pacifc War
Fredericksburg, TX


President Truman was a failed Haberdasher from Kansas City.  His only travel to Europe prior to becoming President had been his service in battery B during the First World War.  He had virtually no foreign policy experience when he made the decision to drop the atomic bombs.

Truman did not, however, know some critical things that we know today.  He did not know, for example, that...

1) His use of atomic weapons would be the first, second and last occasion in world history (at least up to now).  The involuntary sacrifice of thousand of Japanese civilians in the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would help to prevent any future leaders, whether American, Soviet or others to ever employ nuclear weapons.  The use of Hydrogen weapons during the cold war (e.g. Cuban missile crisis) would have been exponentially worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  It was the horror of Hiroshima that helped to deter cold war leaders on all sides from utilizing nuclear weapons during the many twists and turns of the cold war.  Truman's use of the atomic bombs was, therefore, a major reason for the West's ultimate and peaceful victory in the cold war.

I-401 Japanese Aircraft Carrier Submarine model
2) The Japanese had developed the I-401 aircraft carrier submarine which had the capability of hitting the west coast of the United States.  (  It is also critical to also bear in mind that the Japanese had already used biological weapons against the Chinese during the war ( killing about 50,000.  The Japanese sent a submarine with biological weapons for the defence of Saipan but it was sunk by a US navy submarine -- thanks again to the Silent Service in World War II, 8/14/12.  For more on the Japanese plot to attack the US West coast with biological weapons (code-named "Cherry Blossoms at Night" check out this article from the NY Times...  The endgame of the Second World War could have been even worse than it actually proved to be.
Samurai Spirit, Japan
3)  There is strong evidence that the Japanese WERE developing an atomic weapons program of their own (

4) At Potsdam, after V/E day but prior to V/J day, there was an infamous exchange between Stalin and the American diplomat Averell Harriman.  According to Antony Beevor, the American said, ""It must be very pleasant for you to be in Berlin after all your country has suffered.'  The Soviet leader eyed him.  'Tsar Aleksandr went all the way to Paris', he replied.  This was not entirely a a joke...a meeting of the Politburo in 1944 had decided to order the Satavka to plan for an invasion of France and Italy, as General Shtemenko later told Bero's son  The Red Army offensive was to be combined with a seizure of power by the local Communist Parties.  In addition, Shtemenko explained, 'a landing in Norway was provided for, as well as the seizure of the straits (with Denmark),  A substantial budget was allocated for the realisation of these plans.  It was expected that the Americans would abandon a Europe fallen into chaos, while Britain and France would be paralysed by their colonial problems.  The Soviet Union possessed 400 experienced divisions, ready to bound forward like tigers.  It was calculated that the whole operation would take no more than a month...All these plans were aborted when Stalin learned from (Beria) that the Americans had the atom bomb and were putting it into mass production.  Stalin apparently told Beria 'that if Roosevelt had still been alive, we would have succeeded'.  This, it seems, was the main reason why Stalin suspected that Roosevelt had been assassinated."  The Second World War, Antony Beevor, 2012 (


After the wars' conclusion, Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot who led the first wave of Japanese planes in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, met Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  He said, “You did the right thing.  You know the Japanese attitude of that time, how fanatic they were.  They’d die for the Emperor.  Every man woman and child would resist the invasion with sticks and stones if necessary.”

George MacDonald Fraser, 1925 - 2008
I had the good fortune to meet George MacDonald Fraser at a book signing at Hatchards bookstore in London on the publication of his last book, The Reavers, in 2007.  Fraser was the author of the highly entertaining Flashman series of novels and a veteran of the Burma campaign.  He also wrote the screenplay for the Bond movie Octopussy.  Fraser wrote this about the decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan:

"We were of a generation to whom Coventry and the London blitz and Clydebank and Liverpool and Plymouth were more than just names; our country had been hammered mercilessly from the sky, and so had Germany; we had seen the pictures of Belsen and of the frozen horror of the Russian front; part of our higher education had been dedicated to techniques of killing and destruction; we were not going to lose sleep because the Japanese homeland had taken its turn.  If anything, at the time, remembering the kind of war it had been, and the kind of people, we, personally, had been up against, we probably felt that justice had been done.  But it was of small importance when weighed against the glorious fact that the war was over at last." Source: Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II, George MacDonald Fraser,


Commander Kelly says, "President Truman had a constitutional duty as commander in chief of the United States of America to protect the lives of Americans and our allies.  By deciding the drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President Truman discharged his duty faithfully and saved countless lives".

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