final paper - ESL 100

The U.S. Nuclear Attack on Japan
Wenlong Ji
Teddy Chocos
English 100 D/E
The 20th century witnessed two world wars and the only use of nuclear weapons for
warfare on earth so far. In the summer of 1945, in order to end the Second World War, the
United States dropped two atomic bombs in two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands
people. Although it has been a decision of controversy ever since as the majority of the victims
were civilians, it on the other hand successfully fulfilled the Allies’ strategic goal, which was to
stop the fruitless and stupid defense of the Japanese armies once and for all. Otherwise, it could
have cost even more soldiers’ lives on both sides and leave more Japanese cities destructed as the
Pacific War dragged on.
Many of the criticisms fell on not only President Truman’s decision to drop the bombs,
but also on the development of the weapon itself to start with. However, as we shall see, it was
the result of a great scientific discovery that happened to be made during a time when military
defense was key to many nations’ survival. In the last month of 1938, a German scientist
discovered nuclear fission, and in a month later, its theoretical explanation was also provided,
making it ready for mankind to deliberately produce nuclear reaction. This scientific advance
came at such an important moment when national defense was so crucial to most of the countries
in the West that in order to gain the final victory they were willing to pay any price. As Churchill
claimed in his first address as Prime Minister, “You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to
wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us...
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory - victory at all costs, victory in
spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no
survival.” The Second World War, at that time, was a life-or-death problem facing many of these
European countries. It was not only a race on the combating field between the Axis powers and
the Allied, but also a race between the research labs on both sides in terms of weapon
development. Under this circumstance, any technology that could help in warfare inevitably
became the top priority. In particular, the development of nuclear power and its use in actual
warfare accelerated when the United States, one of the most scientifically advanced countries,
got involved in the war by Japan's attack on the Pearl Harbor.
Indeed, the major powers at the time all recognized the importance of nuclear power and
were acting fast. A few months after its discovery, the United States initiated a research and
development project, later called “the Manhattan Project,” to produce nuclear weapons, even
before it had anything to do with the war that was going on. At the same time, unsurprisingly
Germany started their nuclear weapon project as well. Luckily, it was the U.S. who succeeded in
their efforts first, when a nuclear device was detonated in New Mexico in July, 1945. People
today sometimes reproach the scientists for working in these laboratories and helping develop
such a destructive weapon, but as J. Robert Oppenheimer—the scientific director of the Los
Alamos National Laboratory that actually designed the bombs—argued in a speech at Los
“The reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a
scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to
find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is
good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world
and to deal with it according to its lights and values.”
Therefore, the development of nuclear power was a necessity in terms of scientific progression,
and its development into a military weapon was a necessity in terms of national defense strategy
at the time.
With such a strong weapon in hand, the question then becomes whether the U.S. was justified to
use it towards the end of the World War II when it was almost sure that the Allies would win.
One thing to notice is that in fact, Truman, the U.S. president at the time, had tried very hard to
avoid its use from the beginning. It was Japan who surprisingly attacked the U.S. naval base at
Pearl Harbor first, which led to America’s participation in the war, causing tens of thousands of
deaths of American soldiers in the years to come. Towards the end of the war, while Nazi
Germany surrendered in May 1945, Japan, seeing no signs of a potential victory, still refused to
offer to surrender unconditionally. The U.S. even warned Japan in the Potsdam Proclamation that
it would take actions of “prompt and utter destruction” of the country if the Japanese emperor
continued to fight at the cost of its own people. However, the stubbornness of the emperor and
his refusal to surrender left no choice for Truman but commanding the drop of two bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Truman’s letter to Senator Richard Russell, who wished for even
more atomic and conventional bombing of Japan to follow, he confessed his own intention that
"for myself, I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the
'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation and, for your information, I am not going to do it until
it is absolutely necessary...” Indeed, during the discussions among him and the other military
leaders of the U.S. on what targets to select for the bombing, they intentionally crossed Kyoto
out, an old center of Japanese civilization, in order to preserve the cultural heritage there. Still,
they felt it was the necessary move not only because of Japan’s refusal to surrender but also
because of the realization that the original plan with an invasion into the Japanese mainland
proved to be too costly for Americans. The battle at Iwo Jima was a lot more brutal than
expected, and too many American soldiers sacrificed their lives there, to the extent that the Navy
Secretary James Forrestal believed at the time that they could not “go from Iwo to Iwo” and they
“must find a formula to gain peace without this frightful bloodshed.” Thus, Truman went for the
atomic bombs as a last resort “in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of
thousands and thousands of young Americans” “against those who attacked us without warning
at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of
war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare.” It
destroyed two cities and killed many people, but it could probably have cost more lives if more
combats like Iwo Jima took place.
Strategically, the drop of the bombs was successful. First it succeeded in its intention to
draw an end to the Pacific War. On the day next to the second bombing, Japan made an offer to
surrender to the Allies finally, after witnessing the intimidating power of the explosion. Second,
America became the winner of the Second World War, owning the most powerful weapon in the
world and possessing the strongest economy at the time. The dramatic effect of this new weapon
also empowered the American people with a confidence of the supremacy of their mother
country that remained unshattered for half century until the 911 incident. Last but not least, the
emergency of the nuclear weapons turned out to be an effective last card on negotiation tables,
which in a way prevented wars from happening. It did not necessarily bring about the doomsday
as many people worried after the bomb drop in Japan—in fact, it was the first but also the last
use since then. General Leslie Groves put it well in his lecture, saying that “It provides an
overwhelming inducement for the avoidance of war. It emphasizes the crisis we face in
international matters and strengthens the conviction that adequate safeguards for peace must be
In conclusion, the nuclear attack on Japan in August 1945 ended the war of the largest
scale ever in human history in a way that changed dramatically world politics. To the United
States, it was a move that effectively protected its people from sacrificing in the fight with the
Japanese enemies, and by showing the security this country was both able and determined to
provide to its own people, marked its emergence to the center of the world power. Security is
important towards the safety of American from Japanese Enemies attack.
Work citation
"Dissociative Entanglement: US–Japan Atomic Bomb Discourses by John Hersey and Nagai
Takashi." UMB. Healey, 21 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 July 2014.
"Harry S. Truman Library and Museum." Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. N.p., n.d. Web.
13 Dec. 2014.
"The Politics of Forgetting: Otto Hahn and the German Nuclear-Fission Project in World War
II." UMB. Healey, 5 Feb. 2002. Web. 7 Aug. 2014.