As we analyze whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was indeed a good thing as many historians argue, it is important to have some context about one of the tensest periods arguably in world history.
May 7, 1945 witnessed the surrender of Germany and marked a major victory in world war 2 for the allied powers which included the three big countries – USA, Britain and The Soviet Union. However, this did not end the world war 2 as Japan hadn’t surrendered yet and the United States hadn’t forgotten about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japan had occupied pretty much all of east Asia including the territories of Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Manchuria etc. The Potsdam Conference was held from July 17, 1945 to August 2, 1945 where the big three (USA, Britain and The Soviet Union) met to discuss the political climate of Germany, war reparations, controversy surrounding the Soviets and Poland. This was the second meeting of the leaders first one being at Yalta a few months earlier just before the surrender of Germany. It is a no-brainer that Stalin was unhappy with the outcomes of the Potsdam conference and this was a major reason for the eruption of a cold war between US and The Soviet Union. Just after the conference, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively. It is estimated that there were close to 230,000 deaths with many more to follow as a result of the aftermath.
What proponents of the bombings say:
There are several historians who believe that Truman’s decision to bomb the two cities were completely justified and in fact was a good thing for both countries in the long run. The US had deployed B-29 aircrafts to fight the war against Japan. The US navy had created a blockade around Japan to cut off food supplies in order to force Japan to surrender. These B-29’s had caused a considerable amount of damage to Japan who were enraged by this. Historians claim that at this point Japan had begun to recruit their citizens into the army in order to create a large-standing army against the US. They had a philosophy of Ketsu-Go or decisive battle which by no means meant surrender. As Japan began to mobilize it is also important to note that as agreed at the Yalta conference The Soviet Union did not back the US with troops. As Korechika Anami, the war minister was unwilling to back down and he began to pursue even more aggressive tactics against the United States. This is where it gets interesting: historians believe that the atomic bombs on the military and industrial bases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese emperor Hirohito to surrender and this also ended up saving way more lives than if there had been land battles. Historians say that Truman chose the “least worst of all the options”. They claim that land battles would have taken the death toll to over a million, but the bombs limited the number of death to under 250,000 people. Six days after the bombs were dropped Japan finally surrendered unconditionally which was accepted by US general Douglas MacArthur on September 2, 1945 formally marking the end of the devastating second world war.
When it comes to deciding whether the atomic bombings were good or bad it is hard to accept the fact that this decision saved many more lives, yet it is also hard to refute it. Japan had a standing army of over 2 million with an intention of driving away the United States and defending the home islands. This clearly meant way more deaths for both Japan and America and an eventual surrender for Japan. However, when we examine the more intricate implications of the atomic bombings we can see that this decision was not all that good either. Merely saving more lives and ending the war does not mean it was a good decision. One important piece to this story is the Soviet Union. Let us pause and ask ourselves the important question – If I was Joseph Stalin and I am upset over the conclusions of the Potsdam Conference with Britain and the US, what will I feel if US drops atomic bombs in Japan and end the world war 2. Until this point the concept of ‘nuclear warfare’ was almost non-existent. Even though through the Manhattan project, US had already begun to develop nuclear weapons, nearly all other countries were pretty unfamiliar with nuclear warfare. When historians pass a judgement that the atomic bombs were a blessing in disguise, they do not consider the unintended consequences just like Truman failed to consider them. Although tensions were brewing between US and the Soviet Union already it can be said that the dropping of the bombs was a catalyst for the cold-war and this began the arms race. Even the Soviet Union began to nuclearize and soon many countries followed. Since then there have been several potential threats of a nuclear war which if happens could mean the wiping out of most of the world’s population. Examples include the Cuban Missile Crisis, Iran and DPRK’s nuclear proliferation etc. If not for the bombs, the cold war might have been stopped even before its inception and potentially the Korean war, Vietnam war etc., could have all been stopped. With about 2 million Japanese people plus less than a million US soldiers the casualties are still substantially less than about 7 million casualties as a result of US actions during the cold war and their efforts against communism.
The droppings of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a great short-term fix for the world war 2, but the long-term effects of these bombs continue to threaten, worry, and continue to be propaganda for fascist policies in democratic countries.