Why Dropping a Bomb on Hiroshima Was the Right Thing To Do
August 6th marked the 71st anniversary of the atom bombing of Hiroshima. Nagasaki would follow on August 9th. Pardon the pun, but once the bombs were dropped, BOOM, World War II was done – and it was about damn time.
Inevitably, bleeding hearts began to decry the deployment of those weapons because they were supposedly not aimed at military targets. The two bombs accounted for approximately 200,000 casualties, of which about 105,000 were killed.
It sounds harsh – hell, it was harsh – but those bleeding hearts don’t tell the whole story.
The fact is, those atomic bombs saved untold numbers of lives, both American and Japanese. “Bullshit,” you might say. It’s easy to think that, but you’d be wrong.
Here are some facts that tend to get swept under the rug when the very real horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are talked about:
1. Because Japan refused to surrender, Allied armies, meaning mostly US forces, planned to launch a two-stage invasion of the Japanese Home Islands beginning on November 1, 1945. The campaign was expected to last well into 1946, with the second landing near Tokyo not scheduled until March 1st.
2. The Japanese still had over five million troops in the field capable of fighting. Half of those were in the Home Islands, including the veteran Kwantung Army which had been brought in from Manchuria. The Kwantung Army was also more heavily equipped for anti-tank warfare, having been staring at the Russians for the last several years.
3. The Japanese civilian population was being trained in defensive techniques to force US troops to fight for every foot of territory, killing civilians all along the way. The Japanese High Command estimated that twenty million dead would suffice to defeat the Allies.
Let that sink in. The Japanese Army was prepared to sacrifice twenty million of its own people fighting seasoned combat troops.
4. The troops slated to hit Japan weren’t very seasoned. After the defeat of Germany in May 1945, Congress directed the military to release one million combat vets from service prior to the invasion of Japan. Far be it from me to say those guys hadn’t earned it, but the upcoming operation in the Home Islands promised to be the roughest, bloodiest outing yet. And that’s after more than 67,000 US casualties on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The infantry divisions redeploying from Europe, by General Eisenhower’s estimate, would need a minimum of six months to regain their fighting strength. Even then, once-veteran units would be mostly green, with the majority of the veteran NCOs and long service troops gone home.
An example of this would be the artillery of the 45th Infantry Division. The 45th was a quality unit which had fought its way across Sicily, up the Italian boot, invaded southern France, and pushed into Germany. The Thunderbirds were also slated to invade Japan. But thanks to the Congressional directive, the 45th lost every veteran artillery officer but one.
Seasoned formations in the Pacific underwent similar changes, even beyond the five Marine and four Army divisions that were pretty much wrecked on Iwo and Okinawa due to the high casualty rates. Ultimately, 450,000 veterans were discharged before the atomic bombs ended the war.
5. Many of you have probably been to Japan. Japan’s many rice paddies terraced with stone walls connected by raised roadways make natural funnels for armor and vehicles. Rough terrain lies just inland from the coastal plain where artillery could operate with preregistered fires. There were plans to position anti-tank weapons in the paddies to hit the underside of any tanks that tried to cross the dikes.
Now combine that with suicide teams armed with hollow charge explosives and booby-trapped fields. It would have been like the Mekong Delta on crack since the planned armored campaign across the Kanto Plain south of Tokyo would have run into rainy weather, flooded fields, and depthless mud.
6. The popular vision of Japanese tactics during WWII is the wild Banzai charge tearing into the teeth of US defenses. Banzai charges did happen during the first two years of the war, but they were hideously expensive in terms of manpower, and they almost inevitably failed in the face of US Soldiers and Marines putting prodigious amounts of lead and high explosive downrange.
By 1944, the Japanese had learned wild charges weren’t going to stop a US amphibious assault on the beach. So they shifted tactics to defense-in-depth, built around caves, bunkers, and pillboxes situated to provide mutual support. Combined with a fanatical refusal to surrender and the favorable defensive terrain of islands like Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the Japanese lines became a very tough nut to crack, requiring infantry to clean out one position at a time. Now envision the entire length and breadth of the Japanese Home Islands set up like that. It’s what the Japanese planned, and there would have been little opportunity for a mobile campaign.
Finally, the Kamikaze had come of age during the Okinawa Campaign, costing the lives of over 5,000 sailors, 34 ships sunk and 368 damaged. The Japanese had 12,000 aircraft earmarked for kamikaze missions in the event of an invasion of the Home Islands. It’s questionable whether they could find enough pilots for them, but by Okinawa kamikaze pilots received only enough training to fly the planes into US ships. It didn’t take an expert to do that. In such numbers, they would have been very bad news.
7. What would all this have cost? Some revisionists say “not much.” I say BS. Conservative estimates among US planners put the total US casualty figure in excess of one million, roughly the same it cost to defeat Germany. Those million casualties would have been on top of all the losses that had been suffered up to that point in the war against Japan. President Truman said he feared “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other” and predicted 500,000 US KIA.
Who knows how many Japanese casualties would have resulted? Certainly millions, most of them civilians. The Japanese had lost about 110,000 killed on Okinawa alone. Ominously, those 110,000 were out of a total force of 130,000. US forces had to actually kill about 85 percent of the defending Japanese force and destroy 90 percent of the buildings on the island. Now project those percentages onto an invasion of the Home Islands. I think catastrophic is too mild a description.
Faced with all that, Truman decided to go with the bombs. Yeah, they were targeted at cities and civilians caught the brunt of it, but they were going to catch the worst part either way. Far from coldly ordering the death of civilians, as some say, Truman saved Japan from an apocalypse. He also saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops and spared hundreds of thousands more from being wounded or maimed.
Bottom line: Truman made a tough call on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it was the right call. So the next time you hear someone complaining about how the US nuked civilians, go ahead and tell them they’re full of shit.
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About the Author: William “Bucky” Lawson has had a thing for military history since the sixth grade when he picked up a book about WorldWar I fighter aces. Since then he has studied warriors from Ancient Greece to the modern day, with a special emphasis on World War II. He’s a member of the Saber & Scroll Historical Society, the Historical Studies Honor Society, the Society for Military History, and Pi Gamma Mu (that’s not an Asian stripper- it’s the International Honor Society in Social Sciences). He has an unabashed love of the USA, military surplus bolt action rifles, AK-47s, and Walther handguns. He despises incabination and likes hamburgers, dogs, and cigars, but really who doesn’t? Sissies and vegans, that’s who. Bucky contributes to Strategy & Tactics Press, has a Masters Degree in Military History, and will probably proclaim himself an academic and wear one of those jackets with the patches on the elbows soon. Could be he’ll run down a PhD, maybe he’ll go hunting instead — Bucky likes the charred flesh of something that once had a parent, especially if he killed it himself. He is currently trying to figure out a way to export Texas politics to his native Virginia. Breach-Bang-Clear readers who talk to Bucky will be happy to know he’s only half the redneck he sounds and really isn’t inbred at all. Or not too much anyway, which is why he gets along so well with our other polrumptions. You can find historical bibliognost on Linked In here.
[Grunts: bibliognost; oh, and polrumption…oh hell, and incabination too.
We look through a lens with 20/20 hindsight. If you can get a copy of ‘Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb’, by George Feifer, you will understand the decision to use the atomic bombs. As the article points out, the Marines had to absolutely kill every Japanese soldier in order to subdue the island. An invasion of Japan would have cost a million Americans, and would all but annihilate the Japanese population. It was terrible, total war.
This is a documentary about the US atomic bombing of Japan.
It postulates (and I agree) that the real reason Japan Surrendered was because of the imminent invasion of Japan by the Soviet Union.
Think about from the Japanese perspective. They had had a huge number of their cities firebombed (20 roughly) and their capital firebombed (which killed more than Nagasaki bombing) and they still didn’t surrender so why would 2 more cities make a difference? What is the difference between your city being destroyed by 100s of small bombs or 1 big bomb? As a comparison Germany didn’t surrender because of bombing campaigns, the Blitz didn’t make London surrender. Strategic bombing and destroying civilian cities isn’t militarily effective, it actually resolves civillians to fight harder. Leaflets were even dropped telling citizens ‘America was in possession of the greatest weapon’ and the Japanese didn’t surrender they’d become normalised to large scale bombing.
If it’s to be argued that the bombing of was a demonstration of the power of Nuclear power then I would still argue. Nuclear Bombing isn’t that useful to defeat ships (unless a direct strike obviously). it isnt that good at defeating land armies considering its 1 Bomb (radius couple of miles) and and war fronts are in some cases 100s and 1000s of miles long with a low troop equipment density. Also consider how long it takes to make a Nuclear Bomb and the resources it needs and the fact that the bomb is in 1 plane (you are literally putting all your eggs in one basket) with conventional bombs this would be spread over 100s of planes with a higher success rate that some bombs will reach the target unlike 1 plane which is a binary either it does or it doesn’t and all the resources are wasted. It simply isn’t a cost effective war weapon. if it was to demonstrate military power then why couldn’t it be dropped offshore and shown the Japanese High command.
On the other hand an imminent invasion from the largest land army in the world (Soviet Union)as well as witnessing the defeat of their army decisively in China would be more likely to make Japan surrender. It wasn’t fear of a US invasion as it was said in the article a US led invasion was 6 months away. The reason the the Japanese surrendered to the US and not the Soviet Union was the same reason the German units tried surrendered to the US instead of the the Soviet Union, because the US was nice and not brutal.
IMO the nuclear bombing (as well as the civilian strategic bombing) of Japan was pointless and wrong.
No argument that both the firebombing campaigns and the nuclear attacks were horrify, that is with-out question. And Japan saw their Manchuria holding being rolled over by the Soviets with American and then Soviet forces on Japanese home islands in both the north and the south. Yet, I think what you are missing is that, even with all those losses, the Emperor and the Japanese Foreign Ministry did not have the political power to surrender. Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave them the political power and cover to effect the surrender, and even then there was a failed coup attempt between the decision to surrender and it’s announcement. Best to take the Emperor’s own words in this matter.
In the speech, Emperor Hirohito famously referred to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that occurred just days before, saying, “The enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking a toll of many innocent lives.”
As long as your talking about revisionist history, consider that without the bombing campaigns, without the early forced surrender, it is very likely all of Korea would be something like North Korea and Japan would be split between the North and South similar to how did Korea end up. The Italians didn’t surrender until they were mostly overrun, and the Germans didn’t surrender until they were completely overrun. Why would the Japanese have behaved any differently.
You make some interesting points.
Firstly I’ll admit that the nuclear bombings gave them an excuse to surrender but if there wasn’t a nuclear bomb then they would’ve surrendered on grounds of too much conventional bombing by the US. Any excuse to surrender to the Americans.
Two things about the emperors speech. It would make perfect sense to say the reason you surrender is because it would legitimise the surrender to Americans to avoid getting brutalised by the Russians. Secondly just because the emperor says something you agree with doesn’t mean its true, He did and said lots of other things that you don’t agree with and and don’t believe to be right or true but the one thing you do agree with him on is definitely 100% true.
If we take WW2 Japan as the mainland islands, Iwo Jima, Saipan, their Empire in China, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Burma much in the same way as we take WW2 Italy as being Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, and their empire in Libya and Ethiopia then they were both Mostly run over before they surrendered (only about 40% of the Mainland Italy was Controlled by the Allies when the Kingdom of Italy surrendered, the Nazi puppet state carried on afterwards). I’ll admit that none of mainland Japan was controlled but considering their larger empire to begin with and the air dominance of the allies over japan and having their sea supply routes cut I would say that a similar proportion of Japan was controlled before they surrender and thusly behaved similarly
Lastly I’ll freely admit that the SE Asia is better off for Japan having surrendered early but two wrongs don’t make a right. I don’t agree with the USAs bombing and I also don’t agree with the Soviet Unions behaviour in North Korea or Europe. The Soviet Union did lots of bad things that I don’t agree with and would change, The USA did lots of bad things that I don’t agree with and would change. I can criticise one side without necessarily praising the other.
Not to mention the fire bombing campaign that was ongoing on Tokyo before the 2 bombs came.
I’ve had this exact conversation several times, more often with Japanese people than with Americans. In all cases, the people asking were unaware of Peleliu, only the name Iwo Jima, sparse knowledge of Okinawa and completely unaware of the US and Japanese battle plans. The Americans a least and most of the Japanese were also unaware of the LeMay’s firebombing campaigns.