The use of atomic weapons to end World War II and the tragic events associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki are famous episodes in history. While the successful development of the US nuclear bomb probably escalated the Cold War, it also helped to avoid massive casualties. On the one hand, under the conditions of the end of World War II, the US atomic bomb was the first, and there were no protocols or procedures for its use, which could lead to unexpected consequences. On the other hand, an alternative plan to invade Japan would have brought enormous losses on the part of both countries. Thus, Truman’s decisions were justified by military needs, but it was reckless from a political point of view.
Nuclear weapons, which were developed by the United States by the summer of 1945, were a response to the possible losses which Japan could inflict on the country. From April to July 1945, “Japanese forces inflicted Allied casualties totaling nearly half those suffered in three full years of war in the Pacific” (Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Although Japan’s chances of winning the war were extremely low, they could cause significant damage to the US. Moreover, the Japanese government abandoned the terms of surrender, which put the US in an unpleasant position. Thus, despite the imminent US victory in the war, Japan in mid-1945 posed a threat to the country.
Truman’s advisers, in particular Douglas McCarthur, suggested that the US continue bombing Japan and make a subsequent invasion. However, they expected that such actions could lead to losses of up to 1 million people from the US (Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Despite the objections of a number of Manhattan Project scientists, as well as Henry Simons and Dwight Eisenhower, it was decided to use the atomic bomb to resolve the conflict quickly. Truman’s advisers assumed that such a decisive step would not only allow a quick end to the war but also give the US a dominant position in the world in the future.
In July 1945, the Americans successfully tested the world’s first nuclear bomb, which Truman reported to Stalin at the Potsdam Conference. The leader of the USSR, which was a member of the Big Three along with the US, responded with a rather restrained response to the announcement. However, nuclear weapons allowed Truman to count on severing relations with the more hostile USSR in the war against Japan. It gave the US autonomy from the allies in the form of “the world’s first weapon of mass destruction” (The Hiroshima Bombing). It is noteworthy that Soviet intelligence knew about the development of weapons back in 1941, which Truman did not suspect. The drop of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima motivated the USSR to invade Manchuria, which accelerated the surrender of Japan. Moreover, knowing about US weapons and seeing their destructive power, the USSR was in a hurry to create their own atomic bomb. The Yalta conference further strengthened the ideological confrontation between the two super countries. Thus, the decision to drop the bomb may have been a political desire to intimidate a competitor, not a military necessity.
The military campaign “Downfall,” which could be an alternative to dropping a nuclear bomb, could be the bloodiest in the history of World War II. A massive invasion of Japan could bring “10 million additional dead (both civilian and military) to the war’s already mind-boggling final body count of 50 million” (Operation Downfall). In this case, both sides expected massive losses of up to 800,000 casualties from the US (Operation Downfall). The dropping of two nuclear bombs led to the deaths of more than 250 thousand Japanese, which is ten times less than would have been expected during the operation (Operation Downfall). Thus, this decision led not only to an accelerated end of the war but also to a significant reduction in losses.
“Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” History, 2009, Web.
“Operation Downfall — The Campaign to Conquer Japan Would Have Dwarfed the D-Day Landings.” Military History Now, 2013. Web.
“The Hiroshima Bombing Didn’t Just End WWII—It Kick-Started the Cold War.” History, 2018. Web.