This summer the world will pause to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most Americans are still supportive of Truman’s decision despite overwhelming historical evidence the bomb had “nothing to do with the end of the war,” in the words of Major General Curtis E. LeMay.
Americans suffer from a misinformation campaign initially perpetrated by the Truman administration and carried on to this day by high school textbooks that continue to tell the story as if Hiroshima and Nagasaki were indispensible in ending the war and saving countless American lives. The historical record is clear, however. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
There is no hint of controversy regarding the decision to drop the bomb in the majority of texts in use in American classrooms and many textbooks contain blatant historical inaccuracies…
Thanks to policymakers and military leaders of the era who have subsequently told their stories, we know today what transpired. We can also thank Professor Gar Alperovitz of the University of Maryland for a stellar academic career dedicated to analyzing American policy in this regard. Quite simply, President Truman dropped those bombs on a defeated Japan to tell the Russians and the world to back off. We had two bombs and we were going to use them. In a typically cavalier fashion, Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, U.S. Third Fleet remarked, “It was a mistake to ever drop [the bomb]. . .they had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. .”
Today we know:
· The bombs weren’t needed to win the war. Every top U.S. military leader of the era has since stated that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily insignificant.
· The idea that dropping the bombs saved a million American lives is completely fabricated. The war against Japan could have been “won” without additional loss of life.
· The Japanese had been trying to surrender for months. They simply wanted to guarantee their emperor’s safety, a desire the Americans eventually allowed.
· The Japanese would have unconditionally given up without the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the Soviet Union entered the war.
· The bombing was not so much the last military chapter of the Second World War as it was the first Chapter of the Cold War.
Every top American military leader was revolted by Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. They couldn’t see its military necessity. It is incomprehensible that the today’s Army feels compelled to contradict its greatest leaders who understood the role of the military in relation to its political superiors. Commander of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Force, General Carl Spaatz understood the separation.He said,”The dropping of the atomic bomb was done by a military man under military orders. We’re supposed to carry out orders and not question them. “That was purely a political decision. [It] wasn’t a military decision..”
Top Naval officers joined in the chorus. Admiral William D. Leahy, the President’s Chief of Staff said, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace… The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”
“Truman appointed a committee to evaluate using the atomic bomb. The committee examined many options, including a demonstration in Tokyo Bay, but Los Alamos was uncertain the device would detonate. Rather than lose a valuable war asset, and to emphasize its destructive power, the committee recommended dropping the atomic bomb on a city.”
Secretary of State James Byrnes, Truman’s personal representative on the Interim Committee, was the most influential member of the committee and steered policy in the direction of using the new weapon without warning on a Japanese city. It was Byrnes who saw the bomb as a promising way to keep the Soviets in line in the post-war era.