Debate Over The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - Opposition - Militarily Unnecessary

Militarily Unnecessary

The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey, written by Paul Nitze, concluded the atomic bombs had been unnecessary to win the war. After reviewing numerous documents, and interviewing hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, Nitze reported:

"There is little point in attempting precisely to impute Japan's unconditional surrender to any one of the numerous causes which jointly and cumulatively were responsible for Japan's disaster. The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, it seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.

Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."

This conclusion assumed conventional fire bombing would have continued, with ever-increasing numbers of B-29s, and a greater level of destruction to Japan's cities and population. One of Nitze's most influential sources was Prince Fumimaro Konoe, who responded to a question asking whether Japan would have surrendered if the atomic bombs had not been dropped by saying resistance would have continued through November or December, 1945.

Historians such as Bernstein, Hasegawa, and Newman have criticized Nitze for drawing a conclusion they say went far beyond what the available evidence warranted, in order to promote the reputation of the Air Force at the expense of the Army and Navy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his memoir The White House Years:

"In 1945 Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives."

Other U.S. military officers who disagreed with the necessity of the bombings include General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (the Chief of Staff to the President), Brigadier General Carter Clarke (the military intelligence officer who prepared intercepted Japanese cables for U.S. officials), and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

"The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan." Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
"The use of at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons... The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children." Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Truman.

Historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa wrote the atomic bombings themselves were not the principal reason for Japan's capitulation. Instead, he contends, it was the Soviet entry in the war on 8 August, allowed by the Potsdam Declaration signed by the other Allies. The fact the Soviet Union did not sign this declaration gave Japan reason to believe the Soviets could be kept out of the war. As late as 25 July, the day before the declaration was issued, Japan had asked for a diplomatic envoy led by Konoe to come to Moscow hoping to mediate peace in the Pacific. Konoe was supposed to bring a letter from the Emperor stating:

"His Majesty the Emperor, mindful of the fact that the present war daily brings greater evil and sacrifice of the peoples of all the belligerent powers, desires from his heart that it may be quickly terminated. But as long as England and the United States insist upon unconditional surrender the Japanese Empire has no alternative to fight on with all its strength for the honour and existence of the Motherland…It is the Emperor’s private intention to send Prince Konoe to Moscow as a Special Envoy…"

Hasegawa's view is, when the Soviet Union declared war on 8 August, it crushed all hope in Japan's leading circles the Soviets could be kept out of the war, and/or allow reinforcement from Asia to the Japanese islands for the expected invasion. Hasegawa wrote:

"On the basis of available evidence, however, it is clear that the two atomic bombs… alone were not decisive in inducing Japan to surrender. Despite their destructive power, the atomic bombs were not sufficient to change the direction of Japanese diplomacy. The Soviet invasion was. Without the Soviet entry in the war, the Japanese would have continued to fight until numerous atomic bombs, a successful allied invasion of the home islands, or continued aerial bombardments, combined with a naval blockade, rendered them incapable of doing so."

Despite Truman's insistence the effects of Japan witnessing a failed test would be too great of a risk to arrange such a demonstration, some have argued a show of the destructive power of the atomic bomb in an unpopulated (or less-populated) area could have sufficed to demonstrate the unquestionable capacity of the Allies to deliver on the "prompt and utter destruction" promised at the Potsdam conference—without the large loss of life.

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