Why Did President Truman Drop The Atomic Bomb?

Why did President Truman decide to drop the atomic bomb? Many think President Truman could have used some other means to compel the Japanese to surrender than atomic bombs. Is this the case?

Towards the conclusion of World War II, there was minimal dissent concerning Truman’s verdict to utilize atomic weaponry on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The majority of Americans subscribed to the apparent rationale that the deployment of atomic bombs facilitated a more expeditious conclusion to the war. There was little opposition to the substantial loss of life of over one hundred thousand enemy combatants, as it was viewed as retaliation for Japan’s initial attack on America.

In later years, however, many have begun to question the conventional wisdom of “Truman was saving lives,” putting forth theories of their own. However, when one examines the issue with great attention to the results of the atomic bombings and compares these results with possible alternatives to using said bombs, the line between truth and fiction begins to clear. Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan was for the purpose of saving lives and ending the war quickly in order to prevent a disastrous land invasion.

The questioning of Truman’s motives regarding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a topic that has gained the attention of a group of historians known as Revisionists. These scholars are so-called because they challenge conventional interpretations of historical events and propose alternate theories and motives. They first began to voice their new ideas as early as 1946, but it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that their views gained mainstream acceptance. The Revisionists argue that Truman had hidden motives for dropping the bombs or that he used them for reasons entirely different from those commonly believed.

The traditional belief held by most Americans who were alive during the time of the bombings, especially veterans, is that Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs was purely military. The objective was to bring about a swift end to the war and thereby avoid a land invasion of Japan. This invasion would have been exceptionally costly in terms of both American and Japanese lives. By bringing the war to a more timely conclusion, soldiers would be able to return home and begin to rebuild their lives. This interpretation is commonly viewed as an accurate and reasonable explanation for Truman’s actions.

However, the Revisionists challenge this interpretation by suggesting that Truman had ulterior motives. They argue that the real reason behind the bombings was to demonstrate America’s newfound military power to the Soviet Union. According to this interpretation, Truman used the bombs as a way to assert American dominance and intimidate the Soviets, who were quickly emerging as a global superpower. This interpretation implies that Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs was not driven solely by military considerations but also by political ones.

The debate surrounding Truman’s motives for dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains a contentious topic among historians. The traditional interpretation argues that Truman’s decision was driven purely by military considerations, while the Revisionist interpretation contends that Truman had ulterior motives. Regardless of which interpretation is deemed accurate, it is undeniable that the bombings had a profound impact on the course of history, shaping the post-war world and influencing the development of nuclear weapons.

The Revisionists, however, believe that Truman had either partially or entirely different reasons for bombing Japan. They believe that the destruction of two Japanese cities would accomplish several things. Most obviously, it would punish the Japanese for the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atrocious treatment of American prisoners of war. Also, an atomic bombing of Japan is also the only thing that would justify the expense of the Manhattan Project. If this expense was not justified, Truman would have faced a Congressional inquiry into the misappropriation of $2 billion. Not only did he want to avoid Congressional hearings, but he also wanted another term of office. His chances of reelection would have been nil if it were learned by the general public that he wasted money and American lives by shelving a weapon that could have ended the war more quickly. The final Revisionist claim is that Truman wanted to give the U.S. an edge in the coming Cold War by showing that he was not afraid to use these weapons of mass destruction.

They also say that Truman should have chosen one of the several available ways to compel a Japanese surrender without an atomic bombing of two cities. The most obvious alternative is an American invasion of Japan. Olympic was the code name given to the planned American invasion of Kyushu, one of the four Japanese home islands, if an atomic bomb were not available by late October. Two separate estimates exist to rate the number of American casualties that would result from such an invasion. A joint war plans committee comprised of the army and navy came to the conclusion that 46,000 Americans would die in an invasion of Kyushu and later Honshu. The number of American wounded averaged three to one during the later years of the war, so according to this estimate, 175,000 American casualties were not out of the question. However, these figures were based on such tentative intelligence that George Marshall, the army’s chief of staff, bluntly rejected them.

A second estimate proposed by Admiral Leahy was much higher. The invasion of Iwo Jima caused 6,200 American deaths, and the U. S. outnumbered the Japanese by four to one. Okinawa cost 13,000 U. S. servicemen, and they outnumbered the Japanese by two and one-half to one. These 13,000 men made up more than 35% of the U. S. landing force. Consequently, Admiral Leahy came to the conclusion that it was absurd to think that any less than 35% of the American force that invaded Japan would be killed. Based on the estimate of 560,000 Japanese soldiers in Kyushu as of early August, Leahy predicted that, at the very minimum, over 250,000 American soldiers would lie dead as a result of an invasion of the Japanese islands.

It was later found that the troop strength in Kyushu was greatly underestimated and that by August 6, the Japanese had over 900,000 men stationed in Kyushu, nearly twice as many as thought. Leahy estimates that the Americans would have a preponderance when in fact, the 767,000 American soldiers who would comprise the landing force were already greatly outnumbered three months before Operation Olympic was actually to begin. By November, Japanese troop strength could easily double or triple, making between 500,000 and 1,000,000 American deaths conceivable.

These numbers do not even begin to account for the Japanese dead. In Okinawa, twice as many Japanese were killed as Americans. It is, therefore, plausible that between 100,000 (according to the earliest estimate) and two million soldiers would die in an invasion. This number does not include Japanese civilians dead, which could conceivably have been even higher than the number of dead soldiers.

The Japanese army was already training its civilians to fight with sharpened bamboo poles. According to samurai tradition, there was no more honorable way to die than to do so for Japan and the emperor, and the civilians were quite prepared to take this philosophy to heart. Using sharpened pikes, the Japanese could easily prevent a military government from being effective in those towns which the U. S. captured. Further, and even more brutal, was the training of young children to be “Sherman carpets.” Japanese children were to be strapped with TNT and throw themselves under American tanks, thereby dying in the most honorable way possible–by killing the enemy. It can be assumed that at least as many civilians would have died as soldiers, bringing the total somewhere around 200,000 to four million Japanese dead, along with the 50,000 to one million American dead, totaling 250,000 to five million total dead.

It was hoped that the Japanese military would capitulate once American forces occupied the Tokyo Plain, but it is possible that they would fight to the last man. On Saipan, nearly 900 Japanese killed themselves rather than be taken prisoner by Americans. Such was the Japanese philosophy to fight to the last man. If an entire nation was compelled to launch suicide attacks against the occupying army, it is conceivable that many, many millions of Japanese civilians would die.

In order to make an accurate comparison between the dropping of the atomic bombs and Operation Olympic, one must be adequately knowledgeable of the destruction that took place in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Hiroshima bombing killed about 66,000 people and devastated 4. 4 square miles, over two-thirds of the city. The Nagasaki bombing killed about 39,000 people and destroyed half the city, bringing the total to 105,000 Japanese dead.

Of the Revisionist theories, the most common one is that Truman simply wanted to impress Stalin by dropping the atomic bomb. This is simply not the case. The most imperative thing on Truman’s mind, as he let the bombings go forward was that they would prevent a land invasion of Kyushu and the massive loss of life, both American and Japanese, that would accompany such an invasion. Ironically, atomic bombs were to be used to clear the beachheads for Operation Olympic if an invasion had been necessary. Scientists had assured Truman, erroneously, that sufficient radiation would have cleared from the beaches to allow American soldiers to land in safety. Even if Truman had chosen to invade instead of using the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they would still have been used, just in a different capacity. Furthermore, if Truman had wanted to impress Stalin, he would not have told Stalin that the United States had “produced a bomb of extraordinary power.” Instead, he would have let the shock have its effect on both the Soviet Union and Japan.

To assess Truman’s motives for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, one must consider the outcomes of his decision. It is impossible to know his exact reasons, even by studying his personal diary. It is likely that Truman’s decision was influenced by a combination of factors, including punishment, justification of cost, saving lives, and ending the war quickly. However, in the larger scheme of things, the use of atomic bombs ultimately saved lives. While approximately 105,000 Japanese lost their lives in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the number who died in American bombing raids on the six largest Japanese cities is far greater, at around 250,000.

It is important to note that such a high number of deaths is not unprecedented in wartime. An invasion of Japan would likely have resulted in between 250,000 and three million Japanese and American deaths and would have ended the war at the earliest, four months later. Therefore, it can be concluded that the number of deaths resulting from the atomic bombings was not greater than those that would have occurred during an invasion of Kyushu and that the bombings had the effect of hastening the end of the war. In light of these results, Truman’s motives for his decision cannot be called into question. In this case, the end justifies the means.

However, it is worth noting that Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs had profound consequences that extended beyond the end of World War II. The bombings had a significant impact on international relations and played a crucial role in the development of the Cold War. Furthermore, the use of atomic weapons set a precedent that has had long-lasting effects on global security and arms control. Thus, while Truman’s motives for using the atomic bombs may have been justified by the outcome, the broader implications of his decision are still a subject of debate among scholars.

Assessing Truman’s motives for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan requires careful consideration of the outcomes of his decision. While it is impossible to know his exact reasons, it is clear that the use of atomic bombs ultimately saved lives and brought a quicker end to the war. However, the broader implications of Truman’s decision are significant and continue to be the subject of intense scrutiny and debate among historians and policymakers.

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About the author
Growing up in Detroit, Lindsey is a Michigan State University alumnus. She feels incredibly lucky to live in Detroit, and much more, to spend her days promoting the Detroit area as a travel destination.