For more, see World History II.27

Reasons for dropping the atomic bomb

Government issued reasoning
The reasoning provided by the United States government as to why they bombed Japan is that it would save a sizable number of American lives by convincing the Japanese to surrender prior to the Allied forces' planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. Such an operation was expected to be extremely difficult and to result in massive Allied casualties due in part to the nationalistic fanaticism of Japanese fighters. President Truman's projection of American deaths and the projections of other top officials varied significantly, from 250,000 to over a million. Following this logic, bombing Japan was expected to cause them to surrender due both to the demoralizing effect of the superior weaponry and in order to prevent the death of more of their civilian population and the destruction of urban areas and infrastructure, thus ending the war more quickly and preventing American deaths. This is the dominant theory taught in schools and believed by most Americans. The details of this theory are laid out in the Harper's Magazine article "The decision to use the atomic bomb" by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson

primary_sources.PNGThis paper from the Center for Strategic and International Studies provides a tactical understanding behind the decision to use the atomic bomb:

Atomic Diplomacy
There are a number of historians and theorists who believe that the bombing of Japan was unecessary to win the war and was intended to intimidate the Soviet Union, whom the US predicted would be its main adversary on the global stage following the war. A deconstruction of Stimson's article is available in Gar Alperovitz' revisionist history The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. Alperovitz argued that the Japanese had been planning to surrender prior to the use of the atomic bombs. However, while they had been prepared to offer a conditional surrender wherein the Emperor of Japan - held by die hard nationalists to be a divine being - would remain untouched, Truman and his administration refused to accept anything but an unconditional surrender. Critics have accused the Truman administration of having been fully aware of the Japanese offers of surrender being intentionally unreasonable in order to make the use of the atomic bombs appear necessary. This would have been useful as a means of intimidating the Soviet Union with this revolutionary weaponry while also winning the war in the Pacific Theater prior to the USSR's planned involvement, hence denying them any influence in the rebuilding of Japan. This would make the new Japanese government the product of Western influence exclusively and avoid a situation such as that in Europe, which was being divided between the capitalist Western powers and communist Soviets after the war. In short, the use of atomic weapons in Japan was a major development in the beginning of the Cold War because it established a significant foothold for Western - and particularly American - economic and ideological influences in the East.

primary_sources.PNGAn online version of the debate is located here. (note: a combination of these two sources is an excellent lesson in primary sources, master narratives and revisionist history, and how they work together). For further expostulation on this theory, read an excerpt of modern scholar Roland Takaki's article here, which notes that even General Douglas MacArthur considered the operations "completely unnecessary" and President Harry Truman struggled mightily with the decision in private and among his closest cabinet advisors.

Multimedia.pngClick here for a U. S. War Department film on the bombing on Japanese cities .

primary_sources.PNG
primary_sources.PNG
For documents related to President Truman's decision made available from the Truman Presidential Library.

Rotating_globe-small.gifThis link provides a greater overview of the events leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb

Racism

Most political theories about the dropping of the atom bomb neglect to include the fierce anti-Japanese sentiment that was present in the United States during the war. Much of the language used by Truman and other government officials at the time dehumanized the Japanese based on their race and their tenacious, seemingly animalistic, fighting style. The fear of Japanese and racism toward them is exemplified by the United States' internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII.

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngFor more on western racism toward Asians, see Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. Ronald Takaki, 1996.

primary_sources.PNGIn Dr. Seuss Goes to War, historian Richard Minear explains how some of Dr. Seuss' wartime political cartoons demonstrate the extreme racism toward the Japanese during the war. See this online catalog of these cartoons.

Ultimately, no one has provided a definitive answer as to why exactly the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.

A number of documents on both sides of the debate over the atomic bomb are located here.