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Did the US have to drop the A-bombs on Japan?

  1. Feb 14, 2012 #1
    [Mentor's note: these posts were split off from jduster's "best/worst US presidents" thread to keep that thread from being derailed completely from its original topic.]


    How could anyone praise Truman the destroyer of Hiroshima and Nagaski to impress the Soviets with American Might.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 18, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 16, 2012 #2
    Re: Best/Worst U.S. Presidents

    Most historians do rate Truman among the top 10 US presidents. The use of atomic bombs against Japan remains controversial to this day. The standard argument in favor is that the Japanese refused to accept unconditional surrender and were prepared to defend to the homeland whatever the cost. The US had drawn up plans to invade and estimated 1 million US causalities with several times that for Japan. The counter-argument is that Japan was ready to surrender although they refused a formal "unconditional" surrender. The main reason, the supporters of this argument say, was to retain the Emperor. After the fact, the US decided the occupation of Japan would be easier if they did retain the Emperor.

    Much has been written about this, and I think further discussion should be done in another thread which you are free to start. This thread is about rating US presidents. You've made it clear that you disagree with Truman's high rating.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
  4. Apr 18, 2012 #3
    Re: Best/Worst U.S. Presidents

    Why couldn't the US just demonstrate the use of such weapons to Japan without actually using them on the civilian populations in Japan? Was it really needed to kill thousands of innocent civilians in an instant to demonstrate that the US had developed nuclear weapons? Couldn't the demonstration take place on something other than cities?
     
  5. Apr 18, 2012 #4
    Re: Best/Worst U.S. Presidents

    The Americans had of course a very limited supply of bombs but wanted to give the impression to the USSR that they had plenty by using their only two in quick succesion.
    This in no way affects the morality of using them at all the supposed saving of 1000,000 American casualties is a load of hogwash.
     
  6. Apr 18, 2012 #5

    russ_watters

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    It could have and that was considered. But given the limited supply, Truman wanted to maximize the impact of the "demonstration."
     
  7. Apr 18, 2012 #6

    HallsofIvy

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    Re: Best/Worst U.S. Presidents

    Since you consider 1,000,000 American casualties "a load of hogwash", would you consider several million Japanese casualties hogwash?

    It is a fact that fewer Japanese died as a result of the bombs than would have died in an invasion of the main land. And, peripherally, I have often wondered if both the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons and there had never been an actual use of a nuclear bomb. Frankly, I think it is the shock of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that prevented the use of large numbers of nuclear bombs in Korea if not actually on mainland Russia and/or the U.S.

    Finally, is there a specific reason why you would consider the death of several thousands (or tens of thousands) of people as a result of nuclear weapons worse than the death of the same number of people as a result of conventional weapons?
     
  8. Apr 18, 2012 #7

    russ_watters

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    Re: Best/Worst U.S. Presidents

    Expansion:
    Not that I disagree with anything you said, but there is a factual disconnect that is used to forward the 'it wasn't necessary' argument that is important to grasping the argument: The Japanese were looking to start negotiating a surrender prior to the dropping of the bomb. Simple conclusion: the US could have accepted a surrender without dropping the bomb or invading Japan.

    As I worded that, the first sentence is factually accurate and the second a reasonable conclusion. But that argument vague and misleading to the point of being being an intentional obfuscation. The internet is littered with such arguments. I found one that quoted a couple of prominent generals/admirals saying the Japanese could no longer mount an effective fight and that the war was basically won, then twisted that into Truman getting unanamous advice that it wasn't necessary. That's just not factually accurate and more importantly, Truman was correct that there was a camp in Japan favoring fighting to the death rather than surrendering at all:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrender_of_Japan#Attempts_to_deal_with_the_Soviet_Union

    So what we know for fact:

    1. The Americans knew Japan could no longer win.
    2. The Japanese knew Japan could no longer win.
    3. The Japanese put out feelers for negotiating surrender conditions but never stated explicitly what conditions they were willing to accept.
    4. Some Japanese leadership advocated fighting to the death -- including the entire civilian population.
    5. Japanese fighters had a history of fighting to the death.
    6. The nuclear bomb attacks were spectacular, but were not the worst bombing raids of the war. The worst was the March 9-10 "firebombing" of Tokyo. With that in mind, those two nuclear bombs were tough to consider much different than just an unusually efficient conventional bomb.

    Given all these facts, it is difficult to see Truman's decision as being "wrong" insofar as whether it was logical or illogical. Moral? That's a matter of opinion and in since in war there are a lot of immoral acts, that seems a difficult and potentially unreasonable question depending on the criteria.

    Bringing us back to the topic of the thread: I consider making the "right" decision despite extreme difficulty or distastefulness of the decision to be a hallmark of good leadership, so I consider that decision to be a sign that Truman was a great President.
     
  9. Apr 19, 2012 #8
    That was a very stupid and irresponsible decision from his part. And the rationalizations for defending such irresponsible (as always) US foreign policy acts are very fun to see. "If they wouldn't drop the bomb, millions would die because of war." - Yeah, that might be true. But how hard is it to realize that one could demonstrate nuclear capacity without killing thousands of innocent people? The choice isn't: Either drop the bomb on cities, or millions will die. It's: Either drop the bomb on cities and let thousands die, saving millions, OR drop it on a wasteland AND openly show such a test to the Japanese government, saving millions OR millions will die.

    And even here I'm assuming that Japan wouldn't surrender unless it would see how powerful nuclear bombs are, even though this wasn't completely true.
     
  10. Apr 19, 2012 #9

    BWV

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    why were the A-bombs any worse than the conventional bombing raids on Axis cities? Maybe one could argue that the whole war should have been fought without any bombing of cities, but why single out Hiroshima and Nagasaki over Tokyo where far more people died? It ended the war, that is worth something. Ultimately the Japanese are responsible for starting the war and what happened to them as a result of it. Lets not forget that Japanese fascism was every bit as nasty as the German variety
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2012
  11. Apr 19, 2012 #10

    russ_watters

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    That seems a very odd thing to say considering that basically everything he wanted to result from it happened.
    Again, the logic is very simple. Since we are dealing with "coulds", the way to maximize the chance of success is to to eliminate as many "coulds" as possible. Truman's choice eliminated the second "could": that just demonstrating the bomb "could" achieve the desired result as effectively as actually using it.
    You dropped all the "coulds", making the choices appear equivalent when they are not.
    What is completely true is that they never actually offered surrender of any kind until after the bombs were dropped. They did little more than suggest they might without even discussing the parameters for what they might accept.

    So what is completely true is that dropping the bombs ended the war faster than not dropping them would have. What you have speculated is that demonstrating instead of dropping them also "could" have been as effective. Maybe, maybe not. Again, given the limited supply, Truman went with the option more likely to succeed.
     
  12. Apr 19, 2012 #11

    russ_watters

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    For clarity, the only single raid (as opposed to long-term campaign) that was worse than the atom bombings was a particular raid on Tokyo. In any case.....

    I wish I knew the answer as well. Perhaps it is revisionism based on cold war nuclear hysteria? That's the best possibility I can think of.
     
  13. Apr 19, 2012 #12

    BWV

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    yes, for some reason I remembered Dresden as being worse, but that is not the case.

    and lets not forget that there were something like 20,000 civilian deaths during the Normandy invasion and, according to Wikipedia, somewhere between 50K and 150K civilian deaths during the invasion of Okinawa
     
  14. Apr 19, 2012 #13

    mheslep

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    A demonstration detonation was considered and would have been problematic. To be both effective and harmless to humans, the detonation would have had to be i) remote and therefore ii) announced so that observation by the Japanese was assured. An announced demonstration i) runs the risk of a failure (dud) thus encouraging the enemy, and ii) wastes a weapon with a manufacturing time of months (at the time) should a real attack still be required, allowing the enemy to gamble that perhaps it requires five years to make one.
     
  15. Apr 19, 2012 #14

    Astronuc

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    Mar 9, 1945:
    Firebombing of Tokyo
    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/firebombing-of-tokyo

    During the period of 1939-1945, nations bombed the cities of other nations. The Germans had bombed many European cities, including London, and ultimately started launching V1 and V2 rockets at English cities.

    With respect to the behavior of the Japanese military toward civilians, one can look at Nanjing between Dec 13, 1937 and February 1, 1938.

    By 1945, the US had instituted a strategic bombing campaign against Japan.
    http://military.discovery.com/videos/worlds-deadliest-aircraft-shorts-b-29-superfortress.html
    http://military.discovery.com/videos/worlds-deadliest-aircraft-shorts-b-29-superfortress-p.html [Broken]

    Considering that the Japanese had attacked the US on Dec 7, 1941, and that the US had fought a lengthy war of 3 years, 9 months, it is understandable that the US government was impatient and not so charitable regarding the end of the war.

    The end of the war was 66+ years ago.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  16. Apr 20, 2012 #15
    He did not have to drop the bombs. He had other options. He evaluated all this in light of what he knew and did not know, balanced the risks, and made the best choice he could at that moment in time.
     
  17. Apr 20, 2012 #16

    turbo

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    I agree with this assessment. There were options. Still, dropping two of these bombs in a short time-frame would serve notice that the US had the capability to do more (even if it were possibly years away due to time constraints of enrichment, refining, etc) and the secrecy of the program would preclude other powers from knowing how many parallel programs were operating and where.

    Escalation through the development of ICBMs that could carry warheads (sometimes with multiple charges) made things quite scary for a while. Does anybody today think that a student desk with tubular steel legs and a thin steel top with a plywood lid could protect a student from an atomic/nuclear bomb? Didn't think so. Those drills scared students unnecessarily and did nothing for public safety. My school was less than 1/10 mile directly downstream from the largest hydro-dam/impoundment in the northeast. A prime target.
     
  18. Apr 20, 2012 #17

    Curious3141

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    It's almost impossible to predict "what if...?"s when it comes to the course of human history. True, the A-bombs killed a lot of people. True, there are indications that it might not have been a strict military necessity to defeat Japan. One thing is almost for certain - Japan prior to, and during WW2 had a very aggressive streak of militaristic nationalism running through it. The utter devastation (and attendant humiliation) caused by the detonation of the nuclear bombs was likely to have had a shattering effect on the National psyche. It is fairly likely that this very psychological "gelding" was what led to the demilitarisation of the country and the start of real progress, with the economic and technological boom that followed in the ensuing decades.

    Can anyone say with certainty that if Japan had NOT been beaten into submission by the power of those horrific weapons, they would not have continued their imperialistic ways, at least in the immediate region? Look at the way they treated civilians of their occupied territories, including those in my own country (Singapore). I wouldn't want to be living under the shadow of a Japanese military flag today.

    It's very easy to pontificate with the benefit of hindsight. But the ramifications of a big change to history are very difficult to predict. I can't honestly say that things would've turned out better for many innocent people in the world (and that includes the Japanese) without the use of the A-bombs.
     
  19. Apr 20, 2012 #18
    Turbo: modern ballistic missle re-entry bodies contain a very small charge. The depend on a direct hit to be effective. They are also much cleaner than they used to be with far less radioactive fallout. If you were hiding under that desk, you may very well survive the initial blast.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2012
  20. Apr 20, 2012 #19

    russ_watters

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    iii) risks a Japanese attack on the test.
     
  21. Apr 20, 2012 #20

    turbo

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    When I entered elementary school, it was in the 1950s. Nobody knew where atomic bomb research was heading, but we were told to be "very afraid", amped up greatly after Sputnik. And no, I would not have survived the initial blast, since the fattest target around was a large hydro-dam with a 15-mile long empoundment upstream. Our little town and probably half of the towns downstream would have been wiped clean by the resultant flood.
     
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