Was the U.S. right to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

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lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my personal opinion, the answer to this is an emphatic no. While it can be argued that dropping the bomb ended the war more quickly thus preventing the loss of American lives, that cannot be prov en. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that Japan was ready to end the war before the bomb was dropped.

Among thos Americans who felt that dropping the bomb was, essentially, overkill was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower initially supported the idea, but then revised his opinion stating:

I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. ...the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent. "During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude...

Herbert Hoover, too, was revolted by the use of a weapon that killed so many innocent people in a war that was ready to be ended through diplomacy:

I am convinced that if you, as President, will make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan - tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists - you'll get a peace in Japan - you'll have both wars over

There are many other well-respected Americans, military and political figures who were well versed in the situation, who echoed these sentiments. Military attacks that are directed at civilian targets should be a last resort, if and only if all efforts at diplomacy have failed and show o signs of doing anything more than continuing to fail in the future. This was clearly not the case in this situation. Could the war have ended diplomatically and without the bomb - it is my belief that it could have, but we will never know because the choice was made and the rest is history.

usbummer eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Again, this is a very difficult question to answer as it involves a question of ethics, not military necessity.

We knew that the Japanese government was sending inquiries to the Soviet government asking them to relay those inquires to the United States (since, as far as Japan knew, Russia was still neutral with Japan - see secret agreements during the Yalta Conference) inquiring about what surrender terms the United States might demand. We knew this because we had broken the Japanese code earlier in the war and understood their coded messages. Let me repeat - we knew of these Japanese inquires BEFORE we dropped either bomb. I believe personally that if we had promised to Japan that they could keep their emperor as a figurehead, (which we eventually allowed), Japan might have agreed to a surrender without the atom bomb. Whether the Japanese military would have staged a coup and continued the war effort is another (and so far unanswerable) question.

If the only alternative to ending the war was an invasion of the Japanese mainland, scheduled for the summer of 1946, then it could be logically argued that the atom-bomb did end the war early and saved, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of lives. Even hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives.

It has been argued that the real reason we dropped the atom-bomb was to intimidate the Soviet Union in the post-war years. We showed them that we had a nuclear bomb as well as the ability to deliver it. (Of course, through their own spy network, they already knew that.) This is a highly controversial theory but one that I, personally, feel holds some validity.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The debate on this question seems to be endless.  There are many conditions that help to determine an individual's answer.  Given the blurred lens of the time period in terms of what was justified and needed, as well as how groundbreaking it was to use the atomic bomb, it becomes more difficult to determine what was right and what was not.  There is evidence to indicate that the Japanese were already losing, yet there is equal evidence to indicate the Japanese were not going to abandon the fight.  There is evidence to indicate that a trial could have been held that would have convinced the Japanese to desist military operations, while there is as much evidence to indicate that the loss of critical uranium needed to build the bomb might have been a reality with excessive test trials.  There is analysis to suggest that the bomb's dropping helped to save American military personnel, yet the results of dropping it cannot be denied and explained away.  Both sides of the argument are equally compelling and perhaps the only way out of this is that one fully concede the authenticity of the other side in their own belief system.

epollock | Student

That answer probably depends primarily on what nationality one is. As an American citizen, I feel that it was more than justified to use whatever means necessary to win a battle or war and if it is in the arsenal of weapons, then by all means use it. Since it was a time of war, and the outcome was not certain, it was the right of the United States to use any and all means of protection, regardless of the consequences. It is better to live free with a vanquished enemy than to live in bondage and chains. I am not sure who said something similar, but it is more than appropriate for this question.

moustacio | Student

Controversies have arose over the moral nature of using atomic bombs to end the war against Japan, thus killing millions of innocent civilians. Such actions seemed to represent an attempt by the US to impose total control over Japan. Others have also claimed that there were other morally preferable ways to end the war in the Pacific. However, these claims are more than unjustified since it suggests that the morally better way to end the war was to continue relying on the Allied blockade, which would have starved the Japanese masses to death. Similarly, a bombing offensive was impossible as most of the infrastructure in Japan was already gone - in fact, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been chosen as the targets as they were the only cities that were relatively intact in Japan. Any attempt to invade Japan would have only resulted in an Asia-wide bloodbath and a staggering number of casualties, prolonging the war. Therefore, there seemed to be no other viable alternatives to turn to, which could provide a quick end.

In evaluating whether the decision made by the US was the right one, one had to consider the fact that the circumstances or context in which the decision was made then were different from those of today. The world itself had been brutalized by prolonged fighting and had grown to accept a set of norms in warfare. They were thus able to agree with the notion that one final strike with a stronger weapon was not unreasonable. Submerged in so many years of total war, the atomic weapons appeared to be a viable option to end the war quickly, and in the eyes of the Allies, the fear of Japanese casualties was, unfortunately, not a significant concern of theirs. Perhaps it is the decision to use the second atomic bomb that was more problematic and morally ambiguous in nature since the first bomb had already clearly displayed the prowess that the Americans had at their disposal.

thello | Student

In a way, the dropping of atomic bombs was probably inevitable, but when I think about the damage that has extended even to the second and third generations, and the many people who are still suffering, there's no way I can say, "yes".