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-1 World War II has been a defining moment in United States history.

Great powers

around the world became embroiled in a conflict to end all conflicts, total warfare. Some

historians argue that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the act that

led to the defeat and surrender of Japan. Others argue that there were indeed other

options, some discussed, but remained untried. This paper seeks to resolve the historical

debate in question; was it necessary to drop the atomic bomb to end world war II?

Robert James Maddox argues that it was necessary to drop the atomic bombs on

Japan to break the will of the interminable Japanese military, and to ensure that the terms

for unconditional surrender were accepted by Japan, and makes a compelling case for it.

Maddox supports his case first by painting a dire picture of the condition of Japan in the

summer of 1945, and then discusses what strategies Japan followed. "Conventional

bombing had reduced many of its cities to rubble, blockade has strangled its importation

of vitally needed materials,"(Maddox 236) and Japan suffered defeat at Okinawa,

although the Japanese military managed to inflict severe casualties on the invading army,

numbering almost 50,000, due in part to the induction of kamikaze pilots flying suicide

missions. That Japan would resort to suicide attacks illuminates the fervor with which the

Japanese fought, and the determination and will of their military.

Another piece of evidence Maddox highlights to support the idea that Japan was

ferocious and would fight to the end, was the result of an imperial conference which

"pledged to prosecute the war to the bitter end in order to uphold the national polity,

protect the imperial land, and accomplish the objectives for which we went to

war"(Maddox 237). With Japan's stated policy of fighting to the 'bitter end', it reduced the

options available to president Truman.


Maddox dismantles several claims that would seem to indicate that other policy

options were viable besides dropping the bombs. After the battle for Okinawa, Truman

ordered the military to draw up plans to invade Kyushu, and a report prepared by the

Joint War Plans Committee discussed possible consequences and rough casualty

estimates, and the chiefs that prepared the reports found that the "invasion of Kyushu,

followed by that of Honushu, as the chiefs proposed, would cost approximately 40,000

dead, 150,000 wounded, and 3,500 missing in action for a total of 193,500

casualties"(Maddox 238). This evidence is sometimes utilized by newspapers and op-eds

to undermine the idea that the atomic bombs were dropped to avoid heavy losses(Maddox

239), however, Maddox shows that these claims are faulty through omission: "the report

itself is studded with qualifications that casualties are not subject to accurate estimate",

and "second, the figures never were conveyed to Truman"(Maddox 239). Japanese troops

sent to fortify Kyushu later rendered these estimates invalid, because Japan had predicted

this would be the sight of the next land invasion by the United States, and U.S. military

estimated on July 24th that there were "approximately 500,000 troops in Kyushu and that

more were on the way"(Maddox 242).

Another claim made by opponents of the belief that dropping the atomic bombs

was necessary, was that dropping only one bomb was required to break the will of Japan,

and that the second bomb dropped "constituted a needless barbarism"(Maddox 243).

Maddox shows this claim to be false by noting that "American officials believed more

than one bomb would be necessary because they assumed Japanese hard-liners would

minimize the first explosion or attempt to explain it away as some sort of natural

catastrophe, precisely what they did" (Maddox 243).


While Maddox takes the side that dropping the bombs was indeed necessary,

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa attempts to disprove this notion through examining possible policy

changes that could have occurred, and possibly have diminished the necessity of

dropping atomic bombs on Japan to end the war.

Hasegawa first raises the issue of the Potsdam ultimatum, and what could have

occurred had the United States/Truman offered and allowed the Japanese to retain a

constitutional monarchy. Hasegawa claims that "a promise to retain the monarchy would

have strengthened the peace party's receptivity of the Potsdam ultimatum"(Hasegawa

245). However, he acknowledges that this action alone would not have led to an

immediate surrender of Japan.

Another piece of evidence used by Hasegawa to show that dropping the atomic

bombs might not have been necessary, comes from the historian Barton Bernstein, who

stated "in view of the great impact of Soviet entry...in a situation of heavy conventional

bombing and a strangling blockade, it does seem quite probably-indeed, far more likely

than not-that Japan would have surrendered before November without the use of the A-

bomb but after soviet intervention"(Hasegawa 249). This claim is supported by the fact

that Japan "relied on Soviet neutrality both militarily and diplomatically"(Hasegawa

249). Japan's Ketsu-go strategy was dependent upon the Soviets remaining neutral, but

"despite the bravado that the war must continue, the Soviet invasion undermined the

confidence of the army, punching a fatal hole in its strategic plan"(Hasegawa 249).

Hasegawa raised some interesting and valid points, but his own examination of

each issue and its outcome; the Potsdam ultimatum, soviet entry into the war, and options

that Truman could have taken, are all riddled with his own qualifications and stipulations.
“Nevertheless, the inclusion of this provision would not have immediately led to Japan’s

surrender, since those who adhered to the mythical notion of the kokutai would have

strenuously opposed the acceptance of the Potsdam terms, even if it meant the

preservation of the monarchy”(Hasegawa 245). Modifying the Potsdam terms to allow

Japan to retain its constitutional monarchy, although it may have bolstered more peaceful

factions in the Japanese government, both authors agree that this stipulation/option alone

would not have led to surrender by Japan.

Another interesting admission by Hasegawa is his acknowledgement that “the

inclusion of this provision would have hastened Japan’s surrender, though it is doubtful

that Japan would have capitulated before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima

and the Soviet Union had entered the war”(Hasegawa 245). This pretty much nullifies

Hasegawa’s claims that the war could have ended sooner without Soviet intervention and

at least one bomb being dropped.

Hasegawa does raise one point in particular that is persuasive regarding Truman‘s non-

inclusion of a provision in the Potsdam ultimatum for Japan to keep a constitutional

monarchy. Fearing that Truman would be accused of appeasement, he did not want to

include this provision and had to demand unconditional surrender, however Truman had a

few options available to deflect this assertion, “first, he could have argued that ending the

war earlier would save the lives of American soldiers”(Hasegawa 246). “Second, he

could have explained that this decision was necessary to prevent Soviet expansion in

Asia”(Hasegawa 246), however, Hasegawa qualifies this answer with the admission that

this would have been provocative against the Soviet Union, and when viewed from the

perspective that Soviet intervention in the war was a lynchpin of getting Japan to
surrender, Soviet support was crucial to the war effort, rendering Truman’s possible

explanations to avoid ’appeasement’ moot.

Although in hindsight, some of Hasegawa’s claims, notions and options for

ending the war before dropping the atomic bombs seem plausible now, Maddox shows

that some information utilized by historians today to support these claims simply wasn’t

available to even Truman himself, with regard to casualty projections for the invasion of

Kyushu, which “were never conveyed to Truman”(Maddox 239). Maddox also proves

claims that “top military advisors later informed him [Truman] him that using atomic

bombs against Japan would be militarily unnecessary or immoral, or both” is simply

untrue and unfounded in real evidence.

A third piece of evidence that truly underlines the desperation of the situation, was

that Truman and his military advisors planned a ground invasion after the damaging

invasion of Okinawa, in addition to using atomic bombs, with the attitude that both

options were necessary and just to win the war. If the top military advisors and President

Truman had any inkling that dropping two atomic bombs and mounting a deadly ground

invasion was unnecessary, then there would seem no reason to plan for the invasion and

order it to continue. Truman’s own words also support the notion that he took the strategy

of dropping atomic bombs very seriously, describing that “That is my hardest decision to

date. But I’ll make it when I have all the facts” Maddox 237). This shows that Truman

understood the magnitude of utilizing these weapons, and seems to negate claims that

Truman “needed Japan’s refusal to justify the use of the atomic bomb”(Hasegawa 246).

Most of the evidence discussed shows that Truman was enacting policies that were

deemed necessary and most effective to win the war, in the face of a zealous and
determined enemy in which no end of fighting was in sight.