The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb

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Wainstock, Dennis D. The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.

Summary

One of the major questions regarding the study of the Second World War is whether or not the United States was justified in dropping the Atomic Bomb on Imperial Japan at the end of the War. After analyzing the situation from both the American and Japanese points of view, the author, Dennis Wainstock, argues that dropping the Atomic Bomb on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki was, despite Truman’s claims to the contrary, unnecessary in that it only hastened an unavoidable Japanese surrender.

Wainstock begins the book by giving the reader an overview of the situations and problem facing both the Americans and Japanese in 1945, near the end of the war. By this time American naval and air power had isolated Japan, with American bombers constantly bombing Japanese cities at will with little or no resistance. At the same time, because of the American naval blockade, most of the Japanese Army was isolated in mainland Asian, unable to defend the island. Because of this situation, most of the Japanese leaders knew they must seek peace. However, this was difficult for the Japanese seek out because they knew that the Allies had called for an unconditional surrender, and they realized that this meant they may have to give up the Imperial Dynasty, and that Emperor Hirohito could removed from the throne and possibly imprisoned or executed. As a result, the Japanese attempted to seek peace through neutral nations and/or the Soviet Union, attempts that were unsuccessful.

At the same time the Americans were looking to force Japan into surrendering without having to invade the main Japanese islands. Although the numbers varied, American leaders such as Truman, Marshall, and Macarthur all felt that the cost would be high. In addition, the Americans wanted to enlist Soviet help against the Japanese forces still in China, as they felt this would help bring about an end to the war. Soviet help, however, was a double-edge sword as the Soviets expected to regain lost territory from the Japanese as a benefit for their involvement, and when the atomic bomb looked to be a strong possibility, getting Soviet help was not as desirable.

With this backdrop, President Truman and his advisors had to decide whether or not to drop the bomb. Although many commanders, such as Gen. Arnold and Adm. Leahy, felt it was not necessary, as they felt Japan could be starved into surrendering by the end of the year, Truman, along with Gen. Marshall decided to approve use of the weapon. After dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki two days later. When the Japanese leaders met to decide the fate of their country, some still wanted to fight on, believing they could withstand an American invasion long enough to receive favorable peace terms. However, Emperor Hirohito decided to support surrender, despite the possible consequences to his throne. Despite the worries of the Japanese, Hirohito was allowed to stay as Emperor.

At the end of his book, Wainstock argues that dropping the atomic bomb was unnecessary. He argues that if the Americans had given up on their terms of unconditional surrender, or if they had been willing to continue the present course, dropping the atomic bomb would not have been needed. Thus, according to Wainstock, dropping the atomic bomb only hastened the inevitable defeat of Japan


Commentary

Jim Sweeney, Fall 2006

Although I have always heard the pros and cons of whether or not the United States should have dropped the atomic bomb, I feel that this book brings new information to the subject. Instead of just looking at the issues though an American perspective, as to whether or not the bomb should have been dropped, Wainstock gives the reader a great amount of information about how the end of the war was being handled in Japan, and how they were desperate to find a way to end the war without having to give up their Emperor and their honor. I was also interested in the role that the Soviet Union played during this time period, and how the Allies handled the remaining Japanese troops in mainland Asia.

As for the question of whether or not the United States needed to drop the bomb, I think that they did, given American insistence on unconditional surrender. However, if Truman had decided early on about allowing the Emperor to remain on the throne, then maybe dropping the bomb would not have been necessary. At the same time, however, there were other reasons why dropping the bomb benefited the United States. For example from a political standpoint, the American public wanted to see Japan punished for the war and Congress wanted a justification for the massive spending of the Manhattan Project. Also, using the atomic bomb was a way of showing the world, especially the Soviet Union, the power of the United States military. In addition, we must remember that a great deal of civilians were killed, and infrastructure destroyed, during the massive bombing raids that occurred prior to dropping the atomic bombs. The main difference is that the atomic bomb was able to accomplish the same objective with one weapon at one time.

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