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ibstubro's avatar

Why do you think Truman dropped "The Bombs" on Japan at the close of WWII?

Asked by ibstubro (18765points) December 20th, 2014

I’m reading Gore Vidal’s novel about the War years, and it’s been enlightening to me about some of the events of the time.

I was taught in [1970’s] history class that the Japanese were reluctant about surrendering. Since – and in this book – I’ve heard that the Japanese had been trying to surrender for a time prior to the atom bomb.

It strikes me that it was a science project – big then bigger – meant to put the fear of the US into the rest of the world?

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23 Answers

Mimishu1995's avatar

I always thought the US misinterpret the Japanese’s letter of surrender and dropped the bomb because they thought the Japanese wanted to fight more…

Buttonstc's avatar

Well, the official party line as typically taught in history classes is that the bombs saved countless lives because it shaved 2–3 yrs. off the ending of the war.

The recalcitrance of Japan to surrender and their willingness to follow their God-Emperor till the death was heavily emphasized, of course, citing kamikaze suicide bombers as proof.

Obviously the accuracy of the official version has been heavily criticized and debated through the years. As to how we (as ordinary citizens) can determine the truth of the matter at this point in time, is not too clear.

But, knowing how power hungry governments typically are, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me greatly if Vidal’s assertions are pretty accurate.

gondwanalon's avatar

The key here is you read a novel which has little to do with reality.

filmfann's avatar

1) Japan was hesitant to surrender because they believed their emperor was God.
2) Any invasion of the many islands, and the main island of Japan would have been costly in American lives.
3) Japanese overtures of surrender were vague.
4) Russia was about to attack Japan from the North, and it would have been difficult to have them withdraw from any gains.
5) Detonation of the bomb would be an effective display of American might, that would be feared by any enemies.
6) Americans were thirsty for blood, following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

flutherother's avatar

1. As a warning to Russia
2. To bring an end to the war with Japan.

jaytkay's avatar

Okinawa, the southernmost part of Japan, had an estimated population of 300,000 civilians.

The battle for Okinawa cost over 200,000 lives.

The Japanese mainland had a population of 70,000,000.

That math had to be a big part of the calculation.

ragingloli's avatar

To demonstrate the weapon to the Soviet Union.
Japan had already offered their surrender prior.
And the western powers considered the Japanese to be subhumans at the time, so the claim that it was to “save lives” is a clear lie.

kritiper's avatar

To save American soldier’s lives by attacking in a overwhelmingly decisive way thus avoiding a full scale invasion that would have cost more lives, military and civilian. Impressing the Russians was a plus.

DWW25921's avatar

I think it got to the point where we knew we had an enemy that would never give up. You can’t really beat an enemy like that so we opted for something drastic. If we tried to invade Japan the death toll would have been much worse, on both sides.

ibstubro's avatar

Interesting international perspective @Mimishu1995, in that it coincides with the popular American line.

Pretty much sums up my view as well, @Buttonstc.

So you contend that history and fiction are mutually incompatible, @gondwanalon? Odd that I learned of the Bonus Brigade from a fiction work that I couldn’t credit, but turned out to be an accurate depiction.

GA @filmfann. Insightful and inclusive.

Yes, @flutherother & @ragingloli, it might have been a message aimed at Russia as much as at Japan.

But surely the Japanese were greatly weakened by the time of ‘The Bomb’, @jaytkay?

The surely the subtext was that it saved human [American] lives at the cost of subhuman [Japanese] lives, @ragingloli?

Party line @kritiper. Not that I am saying it is necessarily wrong.

Very possibly, @DWW25921, and that was certainly the argument.

Zaku's avatar

I don’t know for sure. People thought differently about things in 1945. I don’t know how much was Truman’s decision – nowadays, the POTS seems to have very little actual freedom to make decisions, but I’m not sure how much more Truman specifically had.

As for the overall US strategic decision, I think the US wanted to end the war ASAP, partly for domestic political/economic reasons, but the theory I have heard that rings truest for me, is that they wanted to force Japanese surrender before the Soviet Union might deploy to invade Japan.

jaytkay's avatar


Yes, Japan was weak. The battle for little Okinawa killed more people than the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lives saved by ending the war were mostly Japanese.

Over 90% of the casualties on Okinawa were Japanese. Most were civilians. The Japanese military was determined to die fighting and take the locals with them.

Okinawans have fought to preserve that history, while the conservatives in the government have tried to whitewash the story (along with the stories of the “comfort” women throughout Asia and Army atrocities in China and Manchuria.)

“A Japanese court rejected a defamation lawsuit on Friday against Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 Nobel laureate in literature, agreeing with his depiction of involvement by the Japanese military in the mass suicides of civilians in Okinawa toward the end of World War II.” Link

reijinni's avatar

Revenge for Pearl Harbor/ Nanjing.

gorillapaws's avatar

Because Truman was a terrorist. Those bombs killed something like 90% elderly people, women and children. Take the twin towers of 9/11, fill them with women, children, and old people, multiply it by a thousand and then do it again a couple days later.

We could have dropped the bombs in the ocean with observers from the Japanese government to demonstrate our power. Instead we vaporized 2 cities full of women and children, and radiated the area for decades.

stanleybmanly's avatar

If you stop to think about it, Truman really had very little choice about dropping the bomb. The development of the atomic bomb involved the most extraordinary lavishing of manpower and treasure on a single project since the erection of the great wall of China. Upon completion of the project, ANY excuse to utilize the thing would be seized upon by the military, if only to justify the horrendous expense around its development. In fact, though it isn’t much discussed, there was great concern among those advocating development and deployment of the weapon that the war might end before the the project concluded. The radiation effects, and particularly the lingering effects were little understood or appreciated at the time, and it helps to remember that well before the bomb was dropped the 13th and 15th air forces were systematically incinerating Japanese civilians by the hundreds of thousands. The embarrassing failure of the billion dollar (in 1942 money!!) B-29 bomber as a high altitude strategic weapon resulted in thousands of expensive but useless technological wonders rolling off assembly lines with nothing to do. It was only the stroke of genius on the part of Curtis LeMay that found employment for the problem laden planes as low level firebombers over undefended paper built Japanese cities. So the wholesale extermination of Japanese civilians was already an established and routine fact when Truman was handed the decision about the bomb. From a military standpoint, what idiot would choose to send hundreds of planes notorious for technical failures to realize a goal achievable through risk of a single aircraft?

gondwanalon's avatar

I didn’t say that you can’t write a fictitious story around historical fact.

Any surrender offers by the Japanese government were inadequate prior to being nuked. The U.S. required unconditional surrender which would not accept any surrender conditions which left Japan with any conquered territory, or with any viable military strength. Japan didn’t know that the U.S. only had 2 viable atomic bombs at the time. It was likely the grim reality that more cities and even the entire country could be wiped off the face of the map by more nukes that cause Japan to surrender unconditionally.

The rest of the world can thank the U.S. from stopping the tyranny of Japan and Germany during WWII.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

It strikes me that it was a science project – big then bigger – meant to put the fear of the US into the rest of the world?
Isn’t is conspicuous that Nagasaki and Hiroshima was never firebombed or carpet bombed like the rest of Japan; they were intact pristine cities perfect to record the before and after devastation Uncle Sam’s new toy could do.

Jaxk's avatar

It’s easy to look back with today’s mindset and find fault. If you are going to evaluate the actions of that time, you really should try to understand what was going on in total. WWII cost about 70 million lives. Of that about 50 million were civilian. Japan lost about 2 million and the loss from the atomic bombs came to about 400,000. Hell the Chinese lost 18 million civilians and another 4 million military. Compared to all this the loss of life from nuclear weapons was trivial. We had reason to distrust the Japanese. Don’t for get we had fought a war with Germany only 20 years before WWII broke out and it was Germany again. We wanted unconditional surrender while Japan wanted to insure the Emperor was left in place. Although we eventually kept Hirohito in place it was on our terms not his. If we had accepted a conditional surrender, would we have to fight these guys again in 20 years? Lastly let’s not forget how brutal the Japanese were. Those 22 million dead Chinese were at the hands of a very brutal Japanese invader. A conditional surrender would be risky at best.

Maybe they made good decisions and maybe bad. Given the stakes at the time, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t agree with the indiscriminate killing of civilians in any circumstances. If we accept this there is really no hope for us. The Japanese did commit terrible atrocities in Nanjing in 1937/38 for which unlike the Germans they have never accepted responsibility. You don’t have to look any further to see why Chinese Japanese relations are bad even today.

Peter_Metzler's avatar

President Truman had two very important issues to consider as the war with Japan was winding down. First was the problem of a land based attack and the many lives that would have been lost, on both sides. The second issue was the fact that the Soviet Union wanted to be a part of the final attack and there was a great deal of concern that the Russians would try and occupy Japan for as long as they were going to occupy East Germany. Therefore, Truman decided we needed to get the war over immediately.

ibstubro's avatar

Well put @Peter_Metzler. I’d not heard the concern about Russia occupying Japan before.

Zaku's avatar

@ibstubro So I guess you didn’t read my answer above… (sob) ... jk

ibstubro's avatar

Actually, @Zaku, I recognize “Japanese surrender before the Soviet Union might deploy to invade Japan.”

Didn’t have context. Reasons for concern.

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