President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August of 1945 proved to be one of the most controversial decisions in United States history. Many people today do not mourn those dead, but instead take the time to think about whether the bombings were justified, or if the United States unnecessarily killed tens of thousands of civilians in the summer of 1945. Those who do analyze the dropping of the bombs rarely perform a deep analysis of morality and war and do not take into account the facts, zeitgeist, or alternatives at President Truman’s disposal. In essence, the debate always comes down to the morality of the United States.
As time goes on, more and more people have condemned his decision when they study or learn about the dropping of the bomb. Many historians, especially those from the Atomic Diplomacy School, have incorrectly analyzed Truman’s decision. The historians at this institution claim that Truman dropped two atomic bombs on Japan which he knew were going to soon surrender in order to frighten the Soviet Union in the impending Cold War. Their analysis contains many flaws, as Truman’s philosophy and decision-making process were much more thought out, moral, and focused on ending the war with as few total deaths as possible.
According to military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, the key to war was to attack the center of gravity of the enemy’s capacity to wage war. At the time, the center of gravity in wartime was no longer on the battlefield, but at the factories that produced war-related equipment. The difference between the soldiers on the battlefield and factories full of civilians mass producing war materials was quickly shrinking. The notion that war could not continue without the factories arose in the 20th century and has been used in many wars since. The only issue, however, was the moral issue that the factories are located in cities and surrounded by many civilians, including women and children.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two of Japan’s largest military and industrial cities. Truman decided to bomb these two cities because he knew bombing them would cripple the Japanese hopes of continuing their efforts, as well as preventing an American invasion into the Japanese home islands. Killing one solder eliminated one rifle, however, destroying a factory eliminated the combat power of thousands of soldiers.
By July 1945, Japan had been subjected to months of extensive, effective, and damaging attacks by American B-29 heavy bomber aircraft. As a result of the attacks, the Japanese lost the lives of nearly 3 million soldiers and civilians. American naval ships, additionally, created a blockade around the home islands to restrict the distribution of food, fuel, and other essentials. Even with millions of lives lost and infrastructure in shambles, the Japanese military and government persisted as American officials saw no end in sight.
Despite all the damage to the home islands, Japanese military officials remained committed to war efforts. With a majority of Japan’s army overseas and its production suffering at home due to American aerial attacks, Japanese military officials had to decide how they wanted to respond.
In an operation called “Ketsu-Go,” or decisive battle, Japanese military officials organized the remaining Imperial Army that was not already at sea, mainly special attack forces, to attack American forces that approached the homeland. If any American ship neared the homeland islands, the entire combat strength was directed to fight day and night until it was destroyed. The emphasis, however, was placed on disrupting any American aircraft that attempted to land and deploy troops and equipment. The most integral aspect of Ketsu-Go was the coordination, communication, and unity of head military personnel. Additionally, the Japanese government mobilized a major part of the population into a national militia to defend the home islands if all else failed as the Japanese were prepared to live with the extraordinary casualties.
The Japanese, at the time, had a code known as “bushido,” or the “way of the warrior,” and it was ingrained into each soldier and military official. Each soldier had a mindset that they should never be captured, never back down, and never surrender as it was dishonorable. Soldiers were expected to fight to the death and die before submitting to their opponent. Those who surrendered were not considered worthy of respect.
Intelligence interceptions of the Japanese Imperial Army and navy show clearly that Japan’s armed forces were insistent to fight a final battle in the homeland against an Allied invasion. The strategy of Ketsu-Go was founded on the premise that American morale was fragile and that it could be broken by severe losses in their first homeland invasion of Japan. They believed that executing Operation Ketsu-Go would cause American politicians to negotiate an end to the war and that history would not see Japan as surrendering.
Despite the use of the bombs, high profile military personnel continued to pursue military options as their mindset kept close the ideals of bushido, however, Emperor Hirohito stepped in and provided insight that the defense of the home islands was futile. Never before in Japanese history has an emperor, or the figurehead of the Japanese people, stepped in to order the Japanese government to surrender and negotiate an end to the war.
In Truman’s defense of the bomb, all viable alternatives to assure American victory would have caused significantly greater American and Allied casualties, but especially higher Japanese civilian and military casualties. According to estimates, over one million more people could have died if the bombs were not used during the war.
In essence, Truman’s use of the bomb was the most moral option and least dreadful of the options available. Even President Truman’s closest critics in 1945, in retrospect, could not offer any other viable persuasive alternatives that would be less costly in terms of lives or dollars spent. Ultimately, the use of the bombs prevented a need to invade Japan, abbreviated the length of the war, and saved countless lives on both sides of the war. Given the situation and alternatives, what would any moral person have done in Truman’s position?