Did the U.S. have other viable options for
ending the war with Japan in 1945? Why was the decision made to
drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?
With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945,
the Allies (United Sates, China, Great Britain, and Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics) focused their efforts on the defeat of Japan. When
President Franklin Roosevelt died suddenly in April 1945,
Vice-President Harry Truman took over the White House and quickly
felt pressure to find an end to the long war. The Potsdam
Proclamation, drawn up by the allies at the Potsdam conference, demanded the
immediate and unconditional surrender of, but Japan rejected the Proclamation.
There were efforts by the British
and American forces to close-in on Japan. Nevertheless, the
Allies dreaded invasion of Japan expecting suicidal resistance of
the sort displayed by the kamikaze pilots, who deliberately
crashed their planes into American warships. The Soviets had
meantime declared war on Japan, even though Japan had sought the USSR's help to
end the war in July 1945. The U.S. was aware of this at the time
through intercepted Japanese cables, but the U.S. did not pursue
this change in Japan's diplomatic position. The U.S. chose military
methods of ending the war rather than diplomatic methods. The
U.S. elected to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and
In the United States, scientists had
first begun exploring the possibilities of atomic weaponry in the
late 1930s. As World War II progressed, the urgency to develop an
atomic bomb--especially before the Germans did--intensified. The
military did not want any more "Pearl Harbor" mishaps to
happen. Considering the gloomy estimates of American casualties if the U.S. had to
invade Japan, Truman ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima
based on his belief that it would quickly end the war and save
the lives of thousands of American troops.
On August 6, 1945, at 2:45 A.M.
local time, the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber loaded with an atomic
bomb, took off from the U.S. air base on Tinian Island in the
western Pacific. Six and a half hours later, at 8:15 A.M. Japan
time, the bomb was dropped and it exploded a minute later at an
estimated altitude of 580 +/- 20 meters over central Hiroshima,
Japan. United States military forces had just dropped the first
atomic bomb used in combat on Hiroshima. The bomb, nicknamed
"Little Boy", destroyed extensive areas of the city. Immediate
estimates were that at least 100,000 to 140,000 people were
killed, injured, or missing, and 90% of the city was leveled.
Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the U.S. military dropped
another atomic bomb, "Fat Man," on Nagasaki, Japan. The world had
officially, and brutally, entered the "Atomic Age".
Japan protested the atomic bombing
saying that the new type of weapon used was a
violation of international law. However, it soon thereafter
accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered unconditionally
to the Allied Forces. This brought an end to World War II, the
ultimate goal of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Some Historians have argued that the American decision reflected
a desire to end the war with Japan before the Soviets could claim
a share in the victory. Some even suggested, not necessarily
convincingly, that the bombs were dropped more to scare Russia,
than to defeat Japan.
The atomic bomb offered one quick,
yet complicated, solution. This ending left a scar on those who
survived the "blast". They went through a lot of health problems
even several years after the bombing. Symptoms appearing in the
first four months after the bombing were called acute. Besides
burns and wounds, they included: general malaise, fatigue,
headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever,
abnormally low white blood cell count, bloody discharge, anemia,
loss of hair. Prolonged injuries were associated with
aftereffects. The most serious in this category were: keloids
(massive scar tissue on burned areas), cataracts, leukemia and
other cancers. Personal accounts of several eyewitnesses
outlined, in excruciating details, the pains and sufferings of
Much of the city has been
reconstructed since then. But a gutted section has been set aside
as a "Peace City" to illustrate the effect of an atomic bomb.
Since 1955 an annual world conference against nuclear weapons has
met in Hiroshima. Hiroshima prefecture (1990 pop. 2,849,822),
3,258 sq. mi (8,438 sq. km), is generally mountainous, with fertile
valleys. Rice and oranges are grown extensively, cattle are
raised, textiles are manufactured, and shipyards are
Top of Page
July 16,1945 - First nuclear
test in history conducted by the United States (Alamogordo, New
Mexico). USS Indianapolis leaves San Francisco for Tinian Island
in the Marianas (via Hawaii). Cargo: Portions of uranium 235 and
atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima. Scheduled to arrive on
July 26. (Other portions of uranium 235 and bomb parts were
transported in separate shipments.)
July 17-August 2,1945 -
President Truman attended conference at Potsdam, to discuss
post-war treatment of Germany with Premier Joseph Stalin of
Russia and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great
July 24, 1945 - At the
Potsdam Conference, President Truman told Stalin only that the
U.S. "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force." This is
often considered the start of "atomic diplomacy."
July 26,1945 - Potsdam
Declaration announced in United States, United Kingdom and China,
asking for unconditional surrender of Japanese.
July 28,1945 - Japan
announces it will ignore the Potsdam Declaration.
August 6,1945 - A Uranium
bomb is dropped and explodes on Hiroshima.
August 9,1945 - A Plutonium
bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
August 10,1945 - Japan
protests new type of weapon as violation of international
August 15,1945 - Japan
accepts the Potsdam Declaration (Surrenders unconditionally to
the Allied Forces).
Top of Page
Here are some of the most notable
Websites on Hiroshima:
Hiroshima-Nagasaki includes links to declassified documents
relating to the decision to drop the bomb.
Directory - bibliography and links to historical, artistic,
literary, and other sites that focus on the bombing of
Caused by Atomic Bombs outlines the immediate effects of the
The Voice of Hibakusha
Eyewitness accounts, by survivors, of the bombing of
Record of Hiroshima A-Bomb Survivor, by Takeharu
Photos offering three panoramic photographs of the A-bomb
destroyed city of Hiroshima.
WWW Museum includes a
description of the first atomic bomb, photos from the Peace
Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, and interviews with A-bomb
Site (English version) an appeal for a lasting world peace and the
nuclear weapons. From the City of Hiroshima.
documents on topics such as the discovery of nuclear power, the
Manhattan Project, the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the
hydrogen bomb, and more.
City of Hiroshima
(English version) includes
information on the atomic bomb and peace, and introduction to
city industry and tourism, and links.
Hiroshima Peace Park
contains map and sections on the A-bomb Dome, the Children's
Peace Monument, the Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and the
Peace Memorial Museum.
Top of Page
There is an immense reading list
available on Hiroshima and its various aspects, including:
to Top of
- Gar Alperovitz: The
Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb
- Kai Bird: Lawrence
Lifschultz editors, Hiroshima's Shadow: Writings on the Denial of
History and the Smithsonian Controversy [excellent collection of
articles on the a-bombings, including documents from WWII.
Although most of the articles weigh against the atomic bombings,
it also contains the most famous article to defend the atomic
bombings: Sec. of War Henry Stimson's 1947 article, The Decision
To Use the Atomic Bomb]
- Lester Brooks: Behind Japan's
- Robert Butow: Japan's
Decision to Surrender [tells what was going on in the Japanese
government in 1945]
- Robert Ferrell, editor, Off the
Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman [President
Toland: The Rising Sun [history of Japan in war from 1931
- Harry Truman: Memoirs of Harry S.
Truman, 1945, Year of Decisions, Vol.
- The Pacific War
Research Society: The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945
[mostly about what was happening in Japan from 1941 thru 1945;
written by Japanese
- Richard Rhodes: The Making of the Atomic
Wyden: Day One: Before Hiroshima and After [for the beginner,
this is the best book on the making and use of the atomic
- Findley/Rothney: Twentieth-Century World
History: This book seeks to help students understand how global
interrelatedness has evolved, primarily since World War
Return to Top of