IBDP IAs and EEs on the Atomic Bombing of Japan

Atomic Bombing of Japan

Extended Essay: History

The decisions effecting the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings:
To what extent were the short-term decisions made by the United States, affecting the outcoming events of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing between 6th and 9th August of 1945, based on ulterior motifs than that of military priority?

The decision-making process of America in the months leading up to Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings was crucial in determining the Allies military priority on defeating Japan in WWII. As a highly significant and relevant topic in modern history, results have had major influences on the consequences of WWII. Japan’s devastation at the time led to their unconditional surrender bringing an end to the war. The bombs immediately devasted their targets and over the next two to four months the acute effects of the bombings still killed between 90, 000and 150,00 people in Hiroshima and 40,000 to 80,000 in Nagasaki, roughly half of the deaths would have occurred on the first day . Although the radiation today is on par with the extremely low levels of background radiation, the long-term effect of radiation exposure increased further devastating casualties such as an increase in cancer rates in the survivors. To this day it is therefore necessary to commemorate innocent civilians that have suffered long after the attacks. Many historical debates further suggest Americas decisions were questionable regarding their necessity as a military priority to ensure the defeat of Japan.
Furthermore, these crucial events of the past have allowed experts to determine the importance of refraining from similar attacks of atomic bombs in the future, due to the uncontrollable nature of the events. A primary focus has been the U.S.'s justification for them based upon the premise that the bombings precipitated the surrender. In 2005, in an overview of historiography about the matter, J. Samuel Walker wrote, "The fundamental issue that has divided scholars over a period of nearly four decades is whether the use of the bomb was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States."   It was thought Japan would not surrender unless there was an overwhelming demonstration of destructive capability. Those who oppose the bombings argue it was militarily unnecessary, inherently immoral, a war crime, or a form of state terrorism that must be condemned. Critics believe a naval blockade and conventional bombings would have forced Japan to surrender unconditionally. Some critics believe Japan was more motivated to surrender by the Soviet Union's invasion of Manchuria and other Japanese-held areas.
Due to these reasons it is to everyone’s best interest to enhance education and understanding of nuclear warfare at the time to ultimately refrain from a catastrophic event that could have greater effects on the future. It is essential to recognize the significance of these events in the past to develop better strategies regarding our future that will be more beneficial in military, ethical and social ways.


On August 6th 2015, ordinary citizens and politicians alike gathered in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park to mark the 70th Anniversary of the 1945 Hiroshima bombing, which was one of the most horrendous and impactful moments of modern history, a nuclear attack that was part of the first atomic campaign ever used in warfare . From this point on atomic bombs especially are regarded as tools for senseless killing, and as long as they exist there’s no guarantee that there won’t be a repeat of the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the future. Currently there are still 9 countries in possession of a nuclear arsenal, and it is important to understand in modern context what could happen in the future if these past events in Japan would be repeated.
Personally, this topic is highly interesting allowing me to understand we are still dealing with the effects of their tragic outcomes today. Overall, as a globe we are still inclined to curtail development of the technology to ensure it is never used again. I will be analysing the decisions made by the government prior to the bombing, focusing on the factors affecting the determination process in the detonation.
This investigation will be conducted from a neutral and objective standpoint that will allow me to enhance my insight on the rational factors that made the events prior to the bombings a legitimate and fair reason. It can then be determined whether to justify or condemn the validity behind the reasons, based on the actions of many influential people during this time period.

    To carry out this investigation I will particularly require primary information of the time period between June and August of 1945 until days before the first bombing. It is vital to discover detailed and exact information on the reasons and decisions that sparked initial interest and growing confidence in the detonation of the bombs. Evaluating and analyzing these decisions can be followed through from memorandums of the office of scientific research and development and diary entries or letters from military officers. Discussions with the president taken directly from manuscripts and archives have been publicly published by the Japanese government more recently, allowing for insight of the background to the atomic project. Records of notes and initial meetings of the Target committee in the upcoming months of August were also essential in defining the targets. Furthermore, the translation of the Notes on Initial Meeting of Target Committee, May 2, 1945 in which military officers and nuclear scientists met to discuss bombing techniques, target selection, and overall mission requirements are highly relevant to the militaristic position of both Japan and the US at the time.  This is also evident within the discussion of "available targets" including Hiroshima, on the "largest untouched targets not on the 21st Bomber Command priority list." Finally, there are a wide range of current debates on alternatives to release of the first bomb, including the George Evans-Hulme and Roy Ceustermans debate. More sources may also stem from the Japanese search for soviet mediation, the trinity test, the Potsdam conference and the Execution order. The main sources from historians will also stem from The decision to use the Atomic Bomb by Henry Lewis Stimson, The Accidental President by A.J. Jaime and 5 days in august: How World War II became a nuclear war by Michael D. Gordin.
Through this variety, I will be able to analyse sources from the time period and simultaneously achieve hindsight of the post bomb aftermath that historians at the time could not witness. The intended information can be presented in timelines leading up to the events of the bombings and between the bombings. However, issues that may be encountered could be language issues in translation from Japanese primary recourses.

It is crucial to the investigation to consider the importance on the approach of regarding the change of perspective of both Japanese and U.S events, resulting in a hasty rather than determined decision. Highlighting whether it was a short term or long-term causes that initiated or contributed to the decision made by the U.S is determined by the external and internal influences. As perspective is defined by the particular attitude towards the way of regarding the situation, individual perspectives from great influencers of the decision will be evaluated and viewpoints of the entire government or country, from social, economic, political and militaristic stand points, to determine the core of the decision and the corresponding influences.

Historical Context
In recent history the debate over the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings on August 6th and August 9th 1945, has sparked many ethical, political and military controversies over the justification of the bomb and if it was necessary for Japans surrender at the closing of World War II in 1945. It is debated whether these bombs were detonated as a military priority in order to force Japans surrender or if there were truly further motifs behind the rash decisions, influenced by their exterior conflicts with the Soviet Union and foreign intervention with manchuria, made by the U.S Respectively with the consent of the United Kingdome, as required by the Quebec agreement, in the final year of the war leading up to the events of detonation the Allies prepared for a very costly invasion of Japanese mainland and Manchuria. After the war had come to an end in Europe, through The German Instrument of Surrender on May 8th 1945, the Allies had turned their full attention towards the Pacific Theatre. In the Potsdam Declaration , which was issued by United States President Harry S. Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Secretary of the communist Party, Stalin, on July 6th 1945 the Allies requested upon the unconditional surrender  of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces , and alternatively threatened otherwise with “prompt and utter destruction” , to which Japan had ignored and the war had continued. In order to answer this question to its full extent context to time period must be considered, including the origin of the Manhattan Project , President Truman’s official Military reasons for using atomic weapons, why it was ultimately decided to launch the bombs instead of an invasion and Nagasaki and Hiroshima were considered targets. It must therefore also be considered evaluating Japans capability to continue the war, its policies prior to and following the nuclear attacks. Perspectives of supporters and opposers to the bombings will be evaluated in order to determine the extent to which the short-term decisions leading to the days at which the Soviet Union officially declares war by invading Manchuria minutes after midnight on August 9th leading to Japans ultimate surrender, after the attacks, on August 15th 1945.

Ulterior Motifs
It can be argued that the bombings were militarily unnecessary , inherently immoral and involve many war crimes that prove to a certain extent these were conducted for other reasons than to force Japans surrender . In popular debate it is believed that a naval blockade  in addition to multiple other conventional bombings, and the Soviets threats to invade Manchuria and other Japanese-held areas , would have forced Japan to surrender unconditionally. However, this may be the reason as to why the Allies would have had ulterior motifs in dropping the atomic bombs. Specifically, in the final year of the war, 1945, the Allies had prepared for a somewhat costly invasion of the Japanese mainland during Operation Downfall . During the battles of Iwo Jima and further Pacific islands, the US American leaders gained perspective on the casualties that would come with a mainland invasion . According to the official Navy Department Library website, "The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead"  with 19,217 wounded.  Furthermore, the prior 82-day Battle of Okinawa  lasted from early April until mid-June 1945 and U.S casualties (out of five Army and two Marine divisions) were above 62,000, of which more than 12,000 were killed or missing . Additionally, six months prior to Nagasaki, the United States Army Air Forces under a general Curtis LeMay's command undertook a strategic bombing campaign against Japanese cities through the use of incendiary bombs, destroying 67 cities  and killing an estimated 350,000 civilians. For example, in The Operation Meetinghouse  raid on Tokyo on the night of the 9th of March 1945    is known as the deadliest air raid in human history, killing 100,000  civilians and destroying 16 square miles (41 km2) of the city . This caused more civilian deaths and damage to urbanized land than any other single air attack, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. These short-term events provided the allies with the possibility to predict the casualties on the behalf of both American, Russian and Japanese side and allowed them to predict a worsening condition if battles such as these would have continued. Therefore, the bombs were a means to abruptly stop the worsening conditions on either side. This is furthermore supported by the claims that it had previously been predicted by the War committee that around 400,000 additional Japanese deaths might have occurred during the expected Soviet invasion of Hokkaido , in the northernmost of Japanese main islands , although the Soviets were regarded by the Americans as lacking Naval capability to invade the islands . Due to the lacking trust between the allies at the time, especially after the German surrender on May 7th 1945, the Allies had lacked a common enemy and their mutual understanding would be fading. This suggests that Truman, at the time had felt too unsteady about the attempts of a Naval blockade deciding on another strategy to end the war. The atomic bomb in particular was also kept secretive as when brought up in conversations with Stalin, president of Russia, Truman would only simply refer to the bomb as a, “weapon with unimaginable and great power”. This suggests the lack of communication and issues of trust within the allied system that pushed America into proving their power or status amongst the global politics at the time. Other US military executives of war, such as General of the Army Douglas MacArthur  and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy , the Chief of Staff to the President, state that the Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace and the atomic bombs had played no decisive part from a purely military point of view in order to accelerate the defeat of Japan. Additionally, Gar Alperovitz, in his revisionist  work Atomic diplomacy, claims that Truman hard-line attitude towards the Soviet Union was the direct consequence of the dropping of the bomb. Further arguing detonation was performed mainly as a demonstration  of Americas military power and only subsequently was able to use it as a diplomatic level to wring concessions from the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe in the outbreak of the Cold War. This hostility can be confirmed in hindsight as later in autumn of 1945 Truman began to take a harder line against the Soviet Union due to growing Republican pressure in Congress. Later Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S Pacific Fleet states, “The use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons ... The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening.” , suggesting that American military may have been driven by ulterior motifs that lead to decisions to detonate the bomb.  

Military Priority

On the other hand, it can be argued that the detonation of the bomb was a necessary militaristic priority that drove Japan to surrender in the most direct manner possible, concluding that the Allies saw the bombing as a vital part in their decisiveness in strategy to overcome the nation. In the past the Allies have justified their use of the bombs by generally asserting that they caused Japanese surrender. In order to evaluate the military priority behind the detonation of the bombs it is crucial to understand why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as the final target cities. In April of 1945, George Marshall Chief of Staff  under president Truman, asked the Target Committee to nominate specific targets further discussed for the bombing that were to be approved of United States Secretary of War, Henry Stimson. Five Targets, including Kokura the site of one of Japans largest munitions plants, Hiroshima which was an industrial center and site of major military headquarters, Yokohama center for aircraft manufacture, Niigata a major site for aluminum and extraction and oil refineries and finally Kyoto , were nominated. A specific criterion was selected in order to select the final targets. These consisted of a target of 4.8 km in diameter or above, geography of the area  would create effective damage and finally it was predicted the target was unlikely to be attacked before August of 1945.  Post target discussions Hiroshima was described as “an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area, it is a good radar target and it’s such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged.” It was also further evaluated that there were adjacent hills  which could produce a focusing effect causing considerable increase in the blast damage and due to nearby rivers, it would not have been a promising incendiary target. This suggests that the locations we discussed to great precision proving caution on behalf of the American government prior in making the decision drop the bombs. Additionally, previous to undergoing attack military advancements were made by the Allies, which have suggested their sincerity behind the attack being a military priority. For example, the United States Air Forces mining Operation Starvation , had been successful in cutting off Japans international imports. A complementary operation against Japans railways had also been initiated, isolating the cities of southern Honshū from the food grown throughout the mainland’s. Historian Daikichi Irokawa noted that “immediately after the defeat, some estimated that 10 million people were likely to starve to death” . It can also be argued that the Japanese government had been leaning closer to waging total war rather than to surrender. Due to their promulgation of a National Mobilization Law, many civilians, including woman and children working in the factories and other infrastructure attached war effort in order to sustain the fight against any invading force. It was discovered that over 90% of the Japanese war production was done in unmarked workshops which were widely dispersed within residential areas of cities across the country.  Due to this reason the Allies found the mainland cities more extensively difficult to find and attack, pressuring them further into investigating military attacks to force Japans surrender. It was also noted by Colonel Harry Cunningham, an intelligence officer of the Fifth United States Air Force, that the Japanese government created a large civilian militia organization  in order to train millions of civilians to be armed in order to resist invasion. On July 21st 1945 he declared in an official intelligence review, “The entire population of Japan is a proper military target… there are no civilians in Japan… We intend to seek out and destroy the enemy wherever they may be, in greatest possible numbers and in the shortest possible time”.  Under the interpretation of the Allies it also seemed clear to them that they would never surrender out of free will as it was believed that ancient Japanese warrior traditions, code of Bushido (way of the warrior) where a primary factor in the resistance of the Japanese military. According to the Air Force account these strict values that soldiers had on being trained to fight to death, expected to die before suffering dishonor , were deeply engrained in the Japanese military idea of surrender. In the end it was decided by the US that direct aggression was the most appropriate manner in order to cut a clear end to the war. This is evident in leaflet droppings of many Arial bombing campaigns. For several months the US had made it their responsibility to warn civilians of potential air raids dropping more than 63 million leaflets across the country. However, in preparation for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Oppenheimer-led Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee decided against the idea of a ‘demonstration bomb’ and against the leaflet warning  to maximize the shock in political and military leadership in the Japanese government . The decisions were also implemented due to the uncertainty of a successful detonation in the first place. The initial possibility of a demonstration was first inspired by the Franck  Report, issued on June 11th however was rejected by the Scientific Advisory Panel stating, “we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use” . The report was further evaluated in Washington during and Interim Committee meeting on June 21st. many US army officials and scientists argued that a demonstration would sacrifice the shock value of the atomic attack, and the Japanese could deny the atomic bomb was lethal, making the mission less likely to initiate surrender. Overall the Allies had used the atomic bombs prioritizing militarily in order to guarantee the end of the war with Japans surrender.

Source evaluation
Evaluating the origin and purpose of the documents is crucial in order to further understand the relationship between the Allies with Japan and the extent of their aggression towards each other. At the time Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Ralph Bard, also a member of the Interim Committee on atomic matters , claimed that while meeting with Truman in the summer of 1945 , as short-term decisions on behalf of dropping the atomic bombs were made, they discussed the bombs use in the context of massive combatant and non-combatant casualties from invasion. At the time they raised the possibility of up to 1 million Allied Combatants being killed at Hiroshima alone . Bard was found to have opposed the use of the bomb and even negotiated with Truman on the implications of refraining from warning Japan first. Therefore, Truman could not be accused of exaggerating casualty expectations to justify the bomb’s use. This can be interpreted as evidence on behalf of Truman’s awareness of the possibility of the casualties that would come from the bomb, as it was also regularly discussed with further government officials. Bard is also significant to the memorandum he wrote to Secretary of War, Stimson, urging about the warning . Stimson being significant in approving the Target location of the detonation who prior on May 30th would ask the Target Committee to remove Kyoto from the official location list , due to its historical, religious and cultural significance. Although it was argued that Kyoto is particularly relevant due to its military and industrial significance to Japan, he also approached Truman on the matter. Truman at the time agreed with Stimson and Kyoto was temporarily removed from the Target list and so on July 25th Nagasaki replaced this . During the small two-month time period between May and July Truman’s empathetic approach on the society and culture changes and shifts to primarily military one. This can be used to argue that even during this time Japanese aggression would have spiked as a result to Russia’s interests in an invasion as of May 1945. As the bomb had always been scheduled since the May this was still a timer period in which Truman was able to consider ulterior methods and locations of dropping the bomb respecting Japan as a Nation and suggesting Truman’s true interest on intimidating Russia. However, the sudden shift of Japanese aggression proves Truman’s shift in attitude of trusting the necessity of detonating the first bomb, although he was fully aware of the consequences that can be associated. Following this summer Truman would also write in his diary, “This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers are the target and not woman and children… The target will be a purely military one” . However due to the bias of status and presenting himself to others in a certain manner, even in his own writing the truth of his motifs may be concealed. In a more modern response, Ward Wilson, director of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project at the British American Security Information Council, argues that the Japanese Supreme Council did not bother to convene after the atomic bombings because they initially seemed barely more destructive than previous aerial raids. Instead the Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria and South Sakhalin removed Japans final diplomatic and military options for negotiations conditional surrender, prompting their ultimate surrender. Also arguing that attributing Japans surrender to a “miracle weapon” , instead of the start of the Soviet invasion positioned Japan in a military and politically better position while simultaneously enhancing the US world political standing and international status. Overall therefore insight on the situation relevant to the time period as well as additional hindsight of different perspectives allows to understand Truman’s true standing towards the bombings, other generals and officials and the Target Committee, in order to choose acceptance of the first detonation of the bomb.


In order to conclude the extent of which the victory of the Allies, stemming from Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attack was based on ulterior motifs other than forcing Japans surrender, it was found that the Allies overall motif was initiating the end of the War through militaristic priorities that hindered many casualties for both the Allies and Japan, if the war would have continued onward 1945.
    The Allies issued orders for the atomic bombs to be detonated on four major Japanese industrial cities on July 25th. Later on, the 6th of August “Little Boy” was detonated over Hiroshima and a mere three days later “Fat Man” on Nagasaki. Prior in early July 1945 in Potsdam, Truman had re-examined his decision of using the bomb. His stated intention in ordering the bombs in his speech after surrender on August 15th concluded his aims to successfully save American lives, to bring a quick resolution of the war by instilling fear and further destruction which was sufficient enough to cause Japanese surrender. The Emperor to which responded to the atomic bombs specifically was, “an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization”  when continued into the future.

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Nagasaki before and after the bomb

IBDP Internal Assessment:
Was the 1945 nuclear attack on Nagasaki a military priority?

 Section A - Plan of Investigation (224 words)

    In order to investigate the question "Was the 1945 nuclear attack on Nagasaki a military priority?" one must consider the origin of the Manhattan project, President Truman's official military reasons for using atomic weapons, why it was decided to launch the bomb instead of an invasion and why Nagasaki was chosen as a target. In addition, it is important to observe Japan's capability to continue the war, its policies prior to and following the nuclear attacks and whether weapon impacted capitulation. Alternate reasons for accepting defeat will also be discussed in order to conclude if the Nagasaki bomb facilitated defeat and was therefore a military priority; the moral implications of the attack will not be considered.

    Evidence has been extracted from a variety of primary sources including Truman's diaries, telegrams and other military documents relating to the bombing. In particular, Stimson's justification of the attacks was crucial to this investigation because his strong personal control over the Manhattan project suggests understanding of both U.S. reasons for the bombing as well as the facts the USA wanted to propagate. Secondary material such as books and websites were selected as to how they supported or contradicted Stimson's view: Gordin's 2005 analysis was a useful source as his revisionist perspective presented alternative factors for Japanese surrender, arguing that the nuclear weapons were not necessary to induce defeat.

Section B - Summary of Evidence (647 words)

    The development of the atomic bomb under the U.S. Manhattan Project began in 1942 in case it would be of use against Germany. Following Germany's defeat in May 1945,  the weapon came into consideration for ending the Pacific War against Japan.

    Japan already perceived itself as a defeated nation: beginning in early 1945, the U.S. naval blockade imposed on Japan had diminished its industry, food supply and ability to continue fighting. Between July 11-26, the U.S. intercepted Japanese telegraphs expressing a hope to "terminate the war" with Russia helping to negotiate an favourable peace. However, the Potsdam Proclamation, issued on July 26, called for unconditional surrender including the removal of the emperor system. This was rejected because Japan wished to maintain its sovereignty, subsequently adopting the policy of fighting aggressively in the hope of discouraging the U.S. from invading until peace was declared.
    As a result, the U.S. anticipated a costly victory  and did not want to commit to a lengthy  invasion. Truman estimated a potential loss of  500,000 lives,  writing in his diary that he aimed for the bombs to "completely destroy Japan's power to make war... [shortening] the agony of war".  The Hiroshima attack on August 6 did not prove to be decisive: Japan did not surrender nor seem pressured by the nuclear attack.
    The choice to target Nagasaki was dictated by weather conditions preventing the planned attack on Kokura. Nagasaki was considered important as it was a major harbour, a densely populated area and home to heavy industry such as Mitsubishi factories, maximising the bomb's destructive potential. As an ancient city and religious centre with high literacy levels, it was anticipated that its residents would be "better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon", indicating that Nagasaki was chosen as a secondary target in order to exploit the psychological terror of the bombing. 
    On August 9, Nagasaki was bombed, killing 35,000 to 40,000 people. Following Hiroshima's death toll of 70,000, the Nagasaki bomb is said to have confirmed surrender: Emperor Hirohito believed that the emergence of "such a new weapon" made it "less possible" for Japan to continue the war  and the chief cabinet secretary later stated that the war could have ended in a similar way even if the Soviets had remained neutral .  American statesman Henry L. Stimson wrote in 1947 that the bomb had succeeded as a psychological weapon in bringing about Japanese surrender.
    The Japanese government, led by the war party, claimed that it would "never surrender as a result of air raids” even after the events of Nagasaki. As Hiroshima had not provoked surrender, U.S. decision-makers doubted that a second attack would be able to end the war immediately and anticipated that at least a third would be necessary before launching the scheduled invasion on November 1. At most, it was hoped that the war would be shortened by several months. While the bomb's scientific success was praised immediately, the role of the weapon in ending the war was emphasised only after Japan had surrendered. Prior to his, the U.S war cabinet similarly equated the bomb to previous firebombing campaigns.
    The Soviet declaration of war on Japan exerted pressure the bomb had not, causing the Emperor to urge the government to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender.  Its involvement meant that Japan could be fighting a two-front war as Soviets, already situated in Japanese-held Manchuria, were ordered to attack Japan's northern and southern isles. This influenced Japan's unconditional surrender as no strategy remained and it could no longer hope for the Soviet Union to mediate for an acceptable peace.
    On August 15, Japan accepted surrender based on Potsdam terms.

Section C - Evaluation of Sources (391 words)

Source A -  Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War by Michael D. Gordin
Written by a professor of history at Princeton University in 2005, the source is a revisionist interpretation sixty years after the bomb was dropped: its purpose is to challenge the notion that nuclear weapons ended the Pacific War, suggesting that the bombs were never expected to end the conflict and that official statements claiming that the bombs had always been capable of doing so were generated after the war had ended. The source is valuable because it centres on alternative reasons for Japanese capitulation including the threat of Soviet entry to the war, an angle that the other Western sources used in this investigation did not suggest. Furthermore, Gordin's book is useful because it challenges the definition of whether or not the bomb "worked", writing that in the initial stages of war planning the bomb would be considered a success if it managed to detonate. The source mentions plans for further nuclear weapons, indicating that the Nagasaki attack was not anticipated to be decisive and therefore not militarily necessary.  However, it is limited in that it does not originate from Japan, which undermines the ability to take into consideration its political effect as well as that on morale in general.

Source B: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb by Henry Lewis Stimson
Written by Stimson in 1947, who was secretary of war at the time of the dropping of the bomb, this article was released in response to "[comment
s] about 
decision" to use atomic weapons in order to justify them. As a source released only two years after the end of the war, it is valuable because it is indicative of the mindframe of the U.S. government during this time: Stimson's account is crucial when considering the nuclear attacks because he led the project and his analysis details why the atomic bombs were used and how the project developed, providing insightful information on how the U.S. government wanted the bombing to be perceived as well as the psychological impact of the bomb on surrender. However, the source is limited in that it fails to acknowledge details pertaining to the Japanese perspective: although Stimson acknowledges intercepting telegrams, he emphasises the "Japanese
" over Japan's desire for a mediated peace. Furthermore, the article was published at the beginning of the Cold War and may have been influenced by the implementation of propaganda; Stimson's purpose to defend the bombing would be unlikely to outline any governmental mistakes.

Section D - Analysis (582)
    This investigation is important within its historic context because the nuclear attack on Nagasaki was part of first atomic campaign ever used in warfare. As the final bomb used prior to Japan's surrender, Nagasaki generated much controversy as to whether or not the use of nuclear weapons concluded the Pacific War. Due to his personal control over the project, Stimson's explanation of factors prompting the USA to detonate the bomb is crucial when judging its military necessity. Furthermore, his 1947 justification of the attacks would influence memoirs later published by Truman and subsequently affect how the bomb was perceived by the U.S. public. Gordin deromanticizes the bomb's legacy and describes how Nagasaki was never anticipated to end the war, undermining its necessity the as the USA readied itself for a "November invasion" of Kyushu.
    Stimson claims that Nagasaki was militarily necessary because it achieved the
intended" purpose of "[devastating] the Japanese homeland". Stimson cites the bomb's psychological impact as a means of achieving this: already crippled by blockades and military recession, "the 
 would shatter the obstinacy of the Japanese War Party. Furthermore, Stimson writes that an invasion could "cost
 casualties" and suggested that the bomb would conclude the war.
This estimate was echoed by Truman in his official memoirs - yet "military planners before Hiroshima had placed the number [between 20,000 and 46,000] American lives" . With each draft of Truman's book, these figures were progressively increased - "[the first draft estimating] a million... casualties with at least 300,000 dead..."- until set at 500,000 deaths upon its publication in 1955 . These discrepancies imply that the justification of the attacks was adapted to convincing the  West of their necessity.
    Nagasaki was not a military priority because Japan had long anticipated defeat. In February 1945, Prince Konoe declared this was "inevitable" and by July, Japan sought an opportunity to mediate for peace while maintaining sovereignty.  Despite intercepting telegrams detailing this wish, the U.S. did not initiate further negotiations, instead proceeding to plan nuclear attacks. Gordin stresses that atomic weapons were never considered to be decisive:  "after Hiroshima, 'work' meant shortening the war by a few months... only after 14 August did 'work' mean 'end the war'". While planning a third bomb, "the sudden surrender... caught Washington... off-guard" because the bombs were perceived as preparation for the scheduled invasion.
    Psychological warfare, although suggested by Stimson as an effective means to induce Japanese surrender, did not have a momentous impact: leaders found it "hard to differentiate" between firebombing and nuclear bombs, claiming Japan would "never surrender as a result of air raids". On the other hand, the Soviet declaration of war left Japan without a prospect of attaining favourable terms: it had lost a mediator and gained an enemy threatening to revive a multi-front war Japan could impossibly uphold. Emperor Hirohito urged the government to surrender as a result.
    The atomic bomb's "epochal" status can be attributed to the coincidence that it occurred parallel to the decisive Soviet entry. However, the Nagasaki attack did not impact any factors that would cause Japan to surrender and was instead regarded as a conventional bombing. Hiroshima had not induced surrender; there was no reason to believe Nagasaki - a target second to Kokura - would achieve this.

Section E - Conclusion (122 words)
    The 1945 attack on Nagasaki cannot be described as a military priority: while the use of a second nuclear weapon may have had a confirmatory impact on Japan's decision to accept unconditional surrender, it had long considered itself defeated. The U.S. decision to use the weapon was based on weakening Japan prior to an invasion rather than ending the war immediately. Despite its great destructive power, the Japanese response to the atomic bomb was similar to their regard of previous firebombing whereas the Soviet entry to the war brought about its strategic bankruptcy and eventual surrender. To conclude, neither the context nor the impact of the Nagasaki bomb justified its necessity and the idea that it was decisive is a post-war creation.

Section F - List of Sources

Asada, Sadao. "The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender: A     Reconsideration." The Pacific Historical Review 67.4 (1998): 477-512. University of     California Press, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 12 Sept. 2012.     "Atomic Bomb Records & Newspapers." Atomic Bomb Records. Archives.com, n.d. Web. 25 Mar.     2013. .
Bernstein, Barton J. "A Postwar Myth: 500,000 U.S. Lives Saved." Bulletin of the Atomic     Scientists June-July 1986: 38-39. Print.
Dionisi, David J. American Hiroshima : The Reasons Why and a Call to Strengthen America's     Democracy. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2005. Print.
Gordin, Michael D. Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War. Princeton, NJ:     Princeton UP, 2007. Print.
"The Manhattan Project -- Its Long-term Influences." DOE Research and Development (R&D)     Accomplishments. DOE Research and Development (R&D) Accomplishments, 15 Oct.     2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2012. .
Marshall Cavendish Corporation. World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia. New York:     Marshall Cavendish, 2008. 1075. Print.
Mearsheimer, John J. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton, 2001. Print.
Morris, Peter W. G. "The Manhattan Project." The Management of Projects. London: T. Telford,     1994. Print.
"Nagasaki." Institute for Structure and Nuclear Astrophysics, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.     .
"Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender." Potsdam Declaration / Birth of the     Constitution in Japan. National Diet Library, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2012.     .
Stimson, Henry L. "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb." Harper’s Magazine Feb. 1947.      Columbia University. Web. 20 Sept. 2012.     .
Truman, Harry S., and Robert H. Ferrell. Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman.     New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Print.
Derry, J. A, and Ramsey, N. F. ."Memorandum for: Major General L.R. Groves. Subject: Summary     of Target Committee Meetings on 10 and 11 May 1945" The National Security Archive - The     George Washington University. The George Washington University. 12 May 1945. Web. 19     Sept. 2012.
Wilson, Ward. "The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of     Hiroshima."     International Security 31.4 (2007): 162-79. Print.
Yagami, Kazuo. "War and Its Aftermath." Konoe Fumimaro and the Failure of Peace in Japan:     1937-1941 : A Critical Appraisal of the Three-time Prime Minister. Jefferson, N.C. [u.a.:     McFarland, 2006. 141. Print.

Was the 1945 nuclear attack on Nagasaki a military priority?

Plan of Investigation:

During a press release by the Japanese government, Prime Minister Suzuki made a statement regarding the Potsdam Declaration, the United States terms for Japanese surrender, saying that with regards to the document the government of Japan would “mokusatsu-suru” it. This was translated to mean that the Japanese would ignore the ultimatum, unsurprising to some who had come to expect the suicidal “no-surrender” attitude from the Japanese. However, upon further reflection on the actual meaning of the word from a Japanese perspective and the actions taken by the Japanese to pursue peace since the beginning of 1945 this raises a question as to what had actually been meant by the word.  Did the Japanese intend to snub the Allies’ Potsdam Declaration by using the word “mokusatsu”?

I will examine what the meaning of the word mokusatsu actually means from a Japanese perspective as well as the context that the press conference was held in.  This will allow me to see if the statement was ever even meant to cross through diplomatic channels or whether it was only meant for the Japanese people. I will also examine the real reasons behind the Truman administration’s decision to deploy atomic weapons to see if the word actually had any influence on the decision or whether it was decided on from the start.
I will be using two primary sources: Alperovitz’s The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb and Torikai’s Voices of the Invisible Presence: Diplomatic Interpreters in Post-World War. Alperovits, has a special understanding of the intricacies of United States foreign policy and its history on account of his work in the State Department and US House of Representatives.  His book, which has been cited by over 70 similar books, details the rationales of the Truman administration to drop the bomb.  Being a veteran Japanese diplomatic interpreter, Torikai provides a crucial cultural knowledge of the word and it’s meaning within Japanese society and also on the difficulties and pitfalls of diplomatic interpretation she has knowledge of due to her experience. 

Summary of Evidence:

Before the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Japan was effectively defeated and ready to capitulate . As early as January of that year, Japanese intermediaries were expressing an interest in agreeing on the Atlantic Charter’s terms of surrender, as it would allow them to keep the Imperial system intact .  Alperovitz writes that “there could no longer be any real doubt as to the Japanese intentions; the manoeuvres were overt and explicit and, most of all, official acts1.”  Following the bombings, the Lord Privy Seal Koichi Kido, a close advisor to the Emperor, stated, “Our decision to seek a way out of this war, was made in early June before any atomic bomb had been dropped and Russia had not entered the war. It was already our decision .” 

    Formal diplomatic channels between the United States and Japan had been closely maintained by Foreign Minister Togo. However, on July 27, Japanese officials heard Captain EM Zacharias, acting official spokesman for the United States Army, issue a broadcast statement threatening Japan with virtual destruction unless there was “unconditional surrender with its attendant benefit as laid down by the Atlantic Charter”.    In addition, the broadcast contained a veiled threat that the Soviet Union would enter the war if Japan did not surrender quickly.  On one hand, the broadcast served as a way to give the war-weary Japanese people hope that the costly war would be coming to an end and despite their defeat, the Imperial dynasty would be preserved under the Atlantic Charter.  However, President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State James Byrnes had altered the language of the Potsdam Treaty to read, “… eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan in embarking on world conquest”, which could be broadly interpreted as not only fingering the military as being responsible for the war but also the “God-Emperor who’s authority and influence had been used at every stage to lead the Japanese people into conquest .” 

    The change came as a shock to Japanese diplomats and was seen as a “counter blast” to their initiatives to find peace with the United States. In addition, the sudden change put a tremendous burden on Foreign Minister Togo who now needed more time to clarify what the change would mean for Japan and to investigate the possibility of a Soviet invasion.   Additionally, he had to satisfy the conflicting goals of the Emperor to find peace at all costs and the Japanese military heads who demanded an honorable surrender that retained the Imperial system, or at least the Emperor.   In an effort to buy time for the cabinet to clarify their position on the new treaty, Prime Minister Suzuki responded to an eager press with the word “mokusatsu” in a rushed press conference.  The foreign press translated the word to mean that the Japanese government was “ignoring” the declaration and were determined to fight to the end.  Truman, fearful of the growing Soviet threat and wary of an invasion to take over the country, authorized the use of atomic weapons. 

Evaluation of Sources:

    The book Voices of the Invisible Presence: Diplomatic Interpreters in Post-World War II Japan was published in 2009 and written by Kumiko Torikai.  The book analyzes the training and function of diplomatic interpreters in post-war Japan and their importance in translating the social, political, and economic aspects of the post-war years.  Pages 33 and 35, focusing on the Potsdam Declaration were of particular interest to this investigation as they focused specifically on how the word “mokusatsu” was interpreted and on how it was seen from a Japanese perspective verses a Western one. The author, Japanese women, is the Director of the English Language Program at Rikkyo University and has been a professor since 1997.  Torikai has over 30 years of experience as an interpreter and interviewer. However, Torikai is not a historian and does not have access to the archive. That being said, her expertise as a diplomatic interpreter who is Japanese fills a niche that is vital to this investigation.

   The author of The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, Gar Alperovitz, is a political economist and president of the National Center for Economic Alternatives.  He also served as Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. As a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and the Institute of Politics at Harvard, he has served as Legislative Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives, legislative Director in the U.S. Senate, and Special Assistant in the Department of State. 

    Having been published in 2010, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb offers a modern perspective of the events leading up to the decision to drop the bomb on Japan and takes a controversial stance asserting that the United States did not need to deploy atomic weapons to force Japan to surrender.  For the purposes of this investigation I found that the book contributed detailed accounts and insights of the events that led up to the Potsdam Conference and augmented my understanding of the sequence of events that led towards the two atomic bombings of Japan.  I decided to use this book because other historians often use Alperovitz as a reference. 

    However, in condemning the bombings the book fails to acknowledge key relevant topics such as the casualties sustained by Americans during the Pacific Campaign and the fighting resolve that the Japanese have demonstrated time and again, often willing to take their own lives than surrender.  The damage inflicted by the atomic bombs also lacks context by not including the damage inflicted in other areas of conflict such as Russia and Germany.  The book also treats the decision as a black and white affair and fails to take into account the fact that it was a complex decision contributed to by multiple people in a stressful and “fog of war” atmosphere. 


    It is difficult to determine whether Truman’s decision to drop the bomb stemmed from his uncertainty over Japanese surrender or from his fear of an aggressive Soviet Union. Torikai thinks that the perceived meaning of the word “mokusatsu” was instrumental in the decision and that Truman was led to believe that the Japanese were unwilling to surrender based on the language of their reply. 
The Allies were under “real pressure” at Potsdam to neutralize or marginalize the growing threat of the Soviet Union as well as end the war quickly.   This in turn put pressure on Japan to respond quickly and decisively to the Potsdam Declaration. Unfortunately, it was radically different than the Atlantic Charter that allowed the “right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live”.  This new declaration included language that called for “eliminating for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest”.13 Alperovitz writes that even those who had supported the Administrations position regarding the changes, like The New York Times, pointed out that the language of the changes was broad enough to include not just the military caste but also the Emperor of Japan as culprits in starting the war.  Kumiko Torikai argues that under pressure to buy time to adjust to sudden changes in the terms of surrender, the Prime Minister, 77-year-old Suzuki Kantaro, held a press conference and said:

My thinking is that the joint declaration is virtually the same as the Cairo Declaration. The government of Japan does not consider it having any crucial value. We simply mokusatsu-suru. The only alternative for us is to be determined to continue our fight till the end . 

The only semi-official Domei Press translated Suzuki’s comment into English as “the Japanese government ignores this, and we are determined to continue our fight in the war till the end”.15 U.S. and U.K. press then reported this statement as “Japan rejects Potsdam Declaration” and “Japan Officially Turns Down Allied Surrender Ultimatum”.   Consequently, Truman took this as another case of Japanese “death before dishonor” fanaticism and as evidence that the only way to end the war was to make the Japanese people face the threat of total annihilation.  However, it was clear that this was not the outcome that the Japanese government intended.  As early as January 1945 the Japanese had been sending out intermediaries to the Allies expressing their willingness to surrender under the terms of the Atlantic Charter.  

The statement issued by Suzuki was not meant to be interpreted as the Japanese government ignoring the peace treaty. The problem came from the translation of the word ‘mokusatsu” from Japanese to English.  Torikai takes from Ohno Susumu, professor emeritus of Gakushuin University to describe the word “mokusatsu” as a delicate phrase reflecting the mentality of the Japanese people in interpersonal communication.  The word is meant to mean pretending not to notice a mistake made by others so as to avoid downgrading yourself.19  In this case, the Japanese Prime minister meant to buy time for the cabinet to react to the likelihood of a Soviet invasion if they did not surrender and whether or not the new Potsdam Declaration edited by Truman and Byrnes could accuse the Emperor along with top generals of being prime instigators of the war by failing to mention the post war status of the Emperor in the Potsdam Declaration.   Interestingly, Hasegwa Saji of the Domei Press, who was allegedly responsible for translating the Prime Minister’s statement admitted unofficially in 1970 that he should have translated “mokusatsu” as “no comment” instead of “ignore” but admitted that he was not aware of the expression at the time.

It was never the intention of the Japanese government to spurn the Allies. They had exhaustedly tried to signal to them that they were willing to agree to the terms of the Atlantic Charter only to be taken completely by surprise when the new Potsdam Declaration was announced to the public, which called into doubt the immunity of the Emperor from being tried as a war criminal.  The shocked Japanese government was then forced to make a public announcement regarding the Declaration for the people as well as to by time in order for the government to figure out how to deal with the situation, resulting in the Prime Minster issuing a statement that was mistranslated and interpreted as yet another refusal of peace.  Alperovitz contends that the mistranslation did not effect Truman’s decision.  Torikai believes it played a role.  In hindsight, it seems as though the atomic bomb solution for Japan was not necessary for ending the war, especially since the Emperor system remained.

Alperovitz, G. (1995). The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. In G. Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (p. Chapter 32). New York, NY: Random House.
Black, D. J. (2007). The Second World War, V.3: The Japanese War, 1941-1945. Ashgate.
Chappell, J. D. (1997). Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War. University Press of Kentucky.
Gar Alperovitz. (n.d.). About Gar. Retrieved July 2013, from Gar Alperovitz: http://www.garalperovitz.com/about-gar/
Ham, P. (2012). Hiroshima Nagasaki . Random House.
Hellegers, D. M. (2002). We, the Japanese People: Washington. Stanford University Press.
Hoffmann, S.-L. (2011). Human Rights in the Twentieth Century . Cambridge University Press.
Institute for Historical Review. (1997, May-June). Was Hiroshima Necessary? Retrieved July 2013, from Institute for Historical Review: http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v16/v16n3p-4_Weber.html
Iriye, A. (2009). Power and Culture: The Japanese-American War, 1841-1945. Harvard University Press.
Nimmo, W. F. (2001). Stars and Stripes Across the Pacific: The United States, Japan, and Asia/Pacific Region, 1895-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Torikai, K. (2009). Voices of the Invisible Presence: Diplomatic Interpreters in Post-World War. In K. Torikai, Voices of the Invisible Presence: Diplomatic Interpreters in Post-World War (pp. 33-38). John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Torikai, K. (2009). Voices of the Invisible Presence: Diplomatic Interpreters in Post-World War. Retrieved July 2013, from Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=I1nu69nmlxgC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

The Historiography of the Debate Over the Atomic Bombing of Japan, 1946-2007

            For generations, historians have debated the necessity, motives, and implications of the United States’ decision to use nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the plethora of literature, debates, and controversies created throughout the discussion reveals the depth and lasting impact that can be exacted by a single moment in history. Through decades of scrupulous research, these historians have provided important insights into American diplomacy, foreign relations, and the origins of the Cold War, while dividing themselves loosely into two opposing schools of thought.
Dominant throughout the 1940s and 1950s, orthodox historians generally viewed the nuclear bombing of Japan as a necessary and justifiable act that saved the lives of millions of American soldiers and brought about the end of World War II by forcing the Japanese to surrender. While lamenting the death and destruction they caused, these historians argued that the decision to use the bombs was the lesser of two evils at the time. Rising with the New Left in the 1960s and maintaining a significant presence well into the 1990s, revisionist historians believed the bombs were not necessary to bring about the end of the war. Instead, these historians argued that the use of nuclear weapons was an attempt by American leaders to prevent Russian intervention and a statement asserting American military superiority over the Soviet Union. While both express deep regret at the tragedies and atrocities caused by the bombs, each camp interpreted differently the events leading up to their use and the motives behind the decision to use them on the Japanese.
In this essay I delineate the arguments formed by each of these schools of thought, from the earliest orthodox arguments in the 1940s to the continuing battle with revisionists in the 1990s, using examples from historians engaged in the debate and their published works on the subject. While the development and prevalence of each group can be traced only loosely by each decade since 1945, I plan to approach the historiography from a chronological perspective to illustrate the rough timeline of their writings and show how each argument affected the others over time.
Almost immediately after the bombs fell on Japan, the first revisionist rumblings were heard among a select few historians, such as Norman Cousins and Thomas K. Finletter, who questioned the reasoning behind the use of the bombs and heavily criticized Harry S. Truman and his advisors for making such a deadly decision.[1] These sentiments would not be extensively published or supported, however, until the beginning of the early 1960s. Prior to that time period, the orthodox school of thought arose to dominate the debate. In 1946, a government report officially stated for the first time that a Japanese surrender would have been forthcoming even without the use of the bombs, which prompted a response from those in the orthodox school who disagreed with this conclusion. When it was published on July 1, 1946, The United States Strategic Bombing Survey reported that “Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” This report directly challenged the argument that the bombs were necessary to induce unconditional surrender from the Japanese and appeared to lay to rest any ideas that the atomic bombs forced the Japanese to surrender, as the government had previously suggested.
Just a few months later, several denunciations of the report’s conclusion appeared in print from men who had participated directly in the decision-making process, or who participated in peripheral activities that led to the bombs’ discovery. Dr. Karl T. Compton, who served as member of the Interim Committee that advised the president on the use of the atomic bombs, responded to the government report in an article published in The Atlantic Monthly in December 1946. He argued that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was completely justifiable at the time and achieved its goal of bringing about a quick end to the war. Based on his own experiences in the decision-making process, he stated his belief “with complete conviction, that the use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds of thousands of lives… that without its use the war would have continued for many months; that no one of good conscience… could have made ay different decisions.”[2]
In February 1947, former secretary of war Henry L. Stimson reinforced these views in an article published by Harper’s Magazine. In the essay, he argued that “the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the Japanese war. It stopped the fire raids, and the strangling blockade; it ended the ghastly specter of a clash of great land armies.”[3] Rather than a weapon that decimated the Japanese military capabilities and production lines, however, Stimson suggested that the bombs decimated the Japanese spirit and “strengthened the position of those who wished peace” within the Japanese government.[4] Without such a weapon, the Japanese would continue to refuse surrender despite the fact that they had already admitted military defeat. Similarly, Albert Einstein published an essay in The Atlantic in November 1947 that supported the arguments expressed by Kompton and Stimson. Though the article focused mainly on the American responsibility to work toward world peace now that the bombs had been introduced, he went one step further than his predecessors and defended the bombings on moral grounds. Arguing that the German and Japanese introduced a new level of brutality to warfare, Einstein wrote that “to it the Allies responded in kind – as it turned out, with greater effectiveness – and they were morally justified in doing so.” In short, Einstein suggested that not only did the bombs effectively serve their purpose, but the Japanese invited the destruction they wrought through their own brutality toward the Americans.
In the1950s, the argument in favor of the bomb’s use to end the war began to be challenged by historians who questioned the real reasoning behind the American bombing of Japan. In Japan’s Decision to Surrender, Robert Butow argued that the Japanese surrender would have been “possible, even probable” even without the atomic bombing or Soviet entry into the war.[5] Through a detailed analysis of the Japanese political structure, Butow points to the bold entry of the emperor into the military decision-making process in Japan as the pivotal moment that brought about the end of the war. It was through his influence, rather than the use of atomic weapons on his nation, that finally allowed the Japanese to accept unconditional surrender.
A scathing article written in 1958 by Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, a prominent historian from Columbia University, attacked Roosevelt and Truman for denying early “Japanese peace feelers” that he suggests were sent to the United States well in advance of the decision to use the bombs. Citing evidence from an article published by Walter Trohan in the Chicaco Tribune in 1945, he argued “that the bombing of these Japanese cities was not needed to bring the war to a speedy end and make it unnecessary to launch an assault against the Japanese mainland, which, if actually carried out, would certainly have led to enormous bloodshed on both sides.”[6] In their respective publications, Butow and Barnes presented compelling questions that challenged the orthodox version of events and piqued the interest of historians who would later ask more questions of the decision to use the bomb.
During this time period, however, revisionists such as these still constituted the minority. In 1957, Louis Morton wrote a well-thought out and carefully researched essay in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1957 that reinforced the orthodox argument and illustrated the continued dominance of this school of thought among academia and the general public. He challenged those who would question the decision to present more evidence to discredit the orthodox view. Besides the Bombing Survey, he argued, all official reports and personal accounts clearly illustrated the necessity of using the bombs against Japan to prevent further warfare from claiming more American and Japanese lives.  Pointing to the U.S. objective of obtaining total and unconditional surrender, Morton suggested that Japan had accepted defeat by 1945, “but it was not willing, even at this late date, to surrender unconditionally, and would accept no terms that did not include the preservation of the imperial system.”[7] Faced with a clear rejection of the terms presented at Potsdam and no evidence that the Japanese were willing to change their minds any time soon, the American diplomats were left with little choice but to use the bombs to force the Japanese to unconditionally surrender.
With the publication of Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam in 1967, historian Gar Alperovitz introduced the first widely recognized and accepted revisionist work denouncing the government and orthodox claims that the atomic bombs were needed and intended to end the war. In the book, Alperovitz theorizes that Truman opted to use the nuclear weapons on Japan as a way to subdue the Russians and limit their influence in Eastern Europe. Even without the bombs, he believes the Japanese would have surrendered unconditionally and were willing to do so well before August 1945.
In addition work already conducted by early revisionists, Alperovitz’s thesis also benefited from the influence of the New Left during the 1960s. As the Cold War progressed during this period, the debate over Soviet-American diplomacy inevitably carried historians back to the origins of the conflict and the decision to use the atomic bombs in 1945. In an article about the New Left movement and its effects on historiography, Willard L. Hogeboom attributed the increased friction between “consensus” and “revisionist” historians to the rise in the New Left. During this time period, events such as the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam brought new questions to the forefront about government motives and forced historians to look back at many subjects, such as the atomic bombings, in a new light. Perhaps it was these developments, along with twenty years of hindsight, that opened the door for revisionism to become more accepted as  a legitimate academic school of thought on the atomic bombings. Hogeboom exhibited great foresight when he suggested that “the New Left history is not only likely to endure; it may even prevail and so become the orthodoxy against which a future generation of historians will rebel.”[8]
With revisionism on the rise, however, the orthodox argument remained strong as many historians sought to refute revisionist claims and dismiss the New Left interpretation as shoddy history. In 1961, Herbert Feis, who was an outspoken critic of Alperovitz in later years, published Japan Subdued: The Atomic Bomb and the End of the War, in which he argued that the bombs did bring a quick end to the war and were decisive in bringing about the Japanese surrender. Several years later, after the release of Atomic Diplomacy, he published an updated version of the book that included new evidence about American desires to intimidate Russia through use of the bombs. Yet his overall thesis remained the same. Similarly, Walter Schoenburger reinforced the orthodox interpretation in Decision of Destiny, in which he argued that the bombs’ use was necessary yet “symbolized… the bankruptcy of the nation-state system which justifies with national morality the moral abomination of total war.”[9]  Both Feis and Schoenberger continued to play a large role in promoting and maintaining the legitimacy of the orthodox argument through their multiple publications on the subject over the years.
            With the debate in full swing, historians during the 1970s continued to analyze the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan with a vigor established by their predecessors. During this time period, however, the revisionist argument gained wider credibility and acceptance as the continuance of the Cold War raised new questions about the use of the bombs and their lasting impact on Soviet-American diplomacy. With these thoughts in mind, historians such as William A. Williams and Barton J. Bernstein raised the idea that the use of atomic weapons in 1945 was not only unnecessary to end WWII, but also served as the catalyst for a new conflict – the Cold War.  In an essay published in the Pacific Historical Review in 1977, Bernstein theorized that the American decision to attack Japan with nuclear weapons illustrated that “for American leaders, the politics of ending the war in the Pacific were tied closely to the problems of postwar Soviet-American relations.” To illustrate this point, he argued that “Truman had even savored the advantages of using the A-bomb to ‘impress’ the Soviets and to retaliate against the Japanese” for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.[10] Rather than  solely a means to end the war, Bernstein suggests, the use of the atomic bomb also represented a way for American statesmen to make a statement and exact revenge on the Japanese at the same time.
            In an article published in 1975, Robert Griffith reinforced the ideas put forth by Bernstein and others as he traced the rise of the revisionists and credited them with raising the important questions about the atomic bombs and the Cold War. Citing the arguments of Alperovitz and other revisionists, he argued that “much of the revisionist critique remains valid,” and supported the theory that Truman’s decision to drop the bombs precipitated the Cold War rather than ended World War II.[11] In effect, by the 1970s the revisionist argument had finally found its place in the historiography as an academically accepted interpretation.
            By the following decade, however, the playing field began to level again between the two schools of thought. During the 1980s, older practitioners published new refutations of revisionism while younger historians began a second wave of evaluation that took more of a moderate view on the decision to use the bombs. With the Vietnam and Korean Wars concluded and the end of the Cold War in sight, many historians softened their views toward Truman and his decision to use the bombs and dismissed revisionist critics as overzealous and misguided. In The Winning Weapon, published in1980, Gregg Herken claimed the middle ground in the debate by arguing that American diplomats made a mistake not when they chose to use the bombs, but when they mistakenly believed that doing so would give them a monopoly in nuclear weapons for a significant period of time. While the bombs served their purpose effectively in ending World War II, they could not be expected to do so in future conflicts as the U.S. leaders believed they would.
Similarly, Thomas T Hammond produced a collection of accounts in 1982 from those who experienced the Cold War in different regions and capacities to prove his thesis that the atomic bomb played no role in Soviet-American relations, but was intended only as a weapon to end the war in the Pacific. In the book, Witnesses to the Origin of the Cold War, Hammond uses information provided from Soviet, American and Eastern European diplomats to discredit Alperovitz’s thesis about American ulterior motives in the use of the bombs and support the orthodox interpretation of events.
            Undoubtedly feeling the need to defend their interpretation against two decades of revisionists attacks, those who experienced the event first-hand continued to publish their interpretation of events just as Stimson and Kompton had in the late 1940s. Paul Fussel, a historian, English professor, and veteran of World War II, published “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” in 1981 to support the orthodox view through statistical evidence as well as his own experiences during the war. While singling out historians he disagrees with, Fussell argues that revisionism arose as a result of “remoteness from experience” from men operating from “a historian’s tidy hindsight.”[12] Admitting that the bombs ushered in the dangers and fears of the nuclear age, he contends that unleashing atomic weapons against Japan was the only way to save millions of American and Japanese lives by preventing an invasion and forcing Japan to surrender.
            Perhaps the most influential event sparking the debate between orthodox and revisionist historians, besides the actual use of the bombs themselves, occurred at the National Air and Space Museum in 1995. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombings, the decision to erect an exhibit around the Enola Gay at the museum led to several years of argument between historians of each camp, politicians, and war veterans on the subject of how the bomb’s use should be interpreted, how the plane should be exhibited, and which version of the story should be told. This event gave new life to the debate and led to the publication of a plethora of articles in support of both interpretations from old and new historians alike.
            Prompted by the battle over the exhibit, Edward T. Linenthal wrote an article in 1995 that described the controversy as a war between censorship and historians – “remember what we did and what it cost” versus “never again.”[13] Without giving his personal stance on the subject, he portrayed how “all groups involved believed their history had been ‘stolen,’ resulting either in a ‘revisionist’ exhibit or one showing a callous disregard for historical integrity.”[14] For historians in both the orthodox and revisionist camp, the Enola Gay exhibit served as a spark to the debate over the bombs use, resulting in a resurgence of literature on the subject and reevaluations of the topic among historians.
            Revisionists especially found in the Enola Gay exhibit proof that the traditionalist view served only to gloss over the reality of events and ignore the dirtier aspects of the decision to drop the bombs. In 1997, Mark Weber argued in “Was Hiroshima Necessary: Why the Atomic Bombings Could Have Been Avoided” that the neither the atomic bombs nor the Soviet entry into the war led to the Japanese surrender. Following closely the argument set forth by Alperowitz and Barnes in the 1950s and 1960s, he suggested that the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan could not be justified “by any rational yardstick” since “Japan had already been militarily defeated by June 1945.”[15]
            Just two years later, however, Sadao Asada presented compelling evidence to refute Weber’s thesis from a careful analysis of the bombings and subsequent surrender from the Japanese perspective. In his article, “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration,” Asada presented his research into the political and military organization in Japan to show that “in the end, Japan needed ‘external pressure’ in the form of the atomic bombs for its government to decide to surrender.”[16] In direct contradiction to Weber’s thesis and a reinterpretation of Barnes’ thesis, Asada argued that although the Japanese were defeated military before the atomic bombings, “because it’s governmental machinery was, to a large extent, controlled by the military and hampered by a cumbersome system… Japanese leaders had failed to translate defeat into surrender.” Though defeated in the military sense, the Japanese refused to equate defeat with surrender until the shock administered by the atomic bombs forced them to do so.
In 1996, even Alperovitz, who was largely credited as the father of revisionism by this time period, continued to espouse his ideas with the publication “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” in 1996. Thus, by the end of the 20th century, historians of both World War II and the Cold War had begun to recycle old insights and arguments to create new interpretations or reinforce old interpretations of the decision to drop the bombs. Though post-revisionists tended to lean toward the orthodox view, the revisionists remained a prominent and legitimate force into the 21st century and continued to promote their argument in the academic and public spheres.
            The new millennium brought no clear end in sight to the debate, for better or worse, with historians on both sides picking up where there predecessors had left off. One new aspect, however, was a separation of the military and moral implications of the bombs’ use. Introduced by Asada in 1998, some historians in the early 2000s found justification for the decision to use nuclear warfare against the Japanese by separating their military use from their moral implications. While the bombs’ destruction could never be deemed acceptable, the destruction they prevented justified their use. In an article in The Weekly Standard in 2005, Richard B. Frank argued that both traditionalist and revisionist arguments carried flaws that future historians must work hard to fix. While the bombs may not have been militarily necessary, he argues, historians must analyze these past events with “a richer appreciation for the realities of 1945” in order to adequately understand and interpret their meanings.[17] Yet revisionists refused to give up in light of the post-revisionists’ arguments, maintaining their stance that all evidence supports their argument that the bombs’ use can never be justified. In 2007, Peter Kuznick defended the revisionist stance in “Defending the Indefensible: A Meditation on the Life of Hiroshima Pilot Paul Tibbets, Jr.” Through his analysis of a specific figure in the narrative of events, Kuznick argued that orthodox and post-revisionist claims are simply the result of “the detritus of decades of mythology about casualty figures, prospects for an invasion, motives for dropping the bombs, and effectiveness of deterrence.”[18]
With half a century of historiography behind them, historians in the 21st century benefited from the foundation set by their predecessors, as well as the plethora of new information that had been classified or otherwise unavailable in previous decades. Yet the various conclusions and interpretations continue to differ just as sharply as in the years immediately following the atomic bombings of Japan. No matter what new evidence surfaces or what arguments dominate the debate, the value of the argument lies not in who is right, but in the importance of evaluating the past and attempting to interpret the meanings, motives, and implications behind events such as the atomic bombing of the Japanese in 1945.

[1] Michael Kort. “The Historiography of Hiroshima: The Rise and Fall of Revisionism.” The New England Journal of History, 64, no. 1 (Fall, 2007), 31-48.
[2] Karl T. Compton. “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used.” The Atlantic, 178, no. 6 (Dec., 1946), 54.
[3] Henry L. Stimson. “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.” Harper’s Magazine, (Feb., 1947)
[4] Stimson, 9.
[5] Robert Butow. Japan’s Decision to Surrender. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1954), 132.
[6] Harry Elmer Barnes. “Hiroshima: Assault On a Beaten Foe?” National Review, (May, 1958), 1.
[7] Louis Morton. “The Decision to Use the Bomb.” Foreign Affairs, 35, no. 2 (Jan., 1957), 344.
[8] Willard L. Hogeboom. “The New Left and the Revision of American History.” The History Teacher, 2, no. 1 (Nov., 1968), 55.
[9] Walter S. Schoenberger. Decision of Destiny. (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1969).
[10] Barton J. Bernstein. “The Perils and Politics of Surrender: Ending the War with Japan and Avoiding the Third Atomic Bomb.” Pacific Historical Review, 46, no. 1 (Feb., 1977), 9-10.
[11] Robert Griffith. “Truman and the Historians: The Reconstruction of Postwar American History.” The Wisconsin Magazine of History, 59, no. 1 (Autumn, 1975), 23.
[12] Robert Fussell. “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” in Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (New York: Summit Books, 1988), 4, 5.
[13] Edward T. Linenthal. “Struggling with History and Memory,” The Journal of American History, 82, no. 3 (Dec., 1995), 1097.
[14] Ibid, 1099.
[15] Mark Weber. “Was Hiroshima Necessary: Why the Atomic Bombings Could Have Been Avoided,” The Journal of Historical Review, 16, no. 3 (Summer 1997), 4.
[16] Sadao Asada. “The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan’s Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration.” Pacific Historical Review, 67, no. 4 (Nov., 1998), 512.
[17] Richard B. Frank. “Why Truman Dropped the Bomb: Sixty Years After Hiroshima, We Now Have the Secret Intercepts that Shaped His Decision,” The Weekly Standard, 10, no. 44 (August 2005), 7.
[18] Peter J. Kuznick. “Defending the Indefensible: A Meditation on the Life of  Hiroshima Pilot Paul Tibbets, Jr.,” Japan Focus (July 2007), 24.