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The Atomic Bomb in World War II
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end to the world's largest armed conflict. Many debates have surfaced over the ethics of such an attack. The bomb itself caused massive amounts of casualties while the unknown effects of radiation caused many more deaths amongst the survivors of the blast. Despite the ghastly effects of such a weapon, it offered the best choice for a quick and easy defeat of Japan. President Truman, who authorized the use of the atomic bomb, made a wise decision under the circumstances of the war. The Japanese refusal to surrender, the massive amount of allied casualties involved in invading the Japanese mainland and the ineffectuality of a military blockade in forcing Japan to surrender made the bomb a necessary last resort.
There were several conventional methods that were suggested to bring Japan to its knees. These included a naval blockade, an extensive aerial bombardment or an invasion of the island of Japan.
Japan posed little or no offensive threat to American forces. Despite this fact the Japanese were the most tenacious and driven of Americas foes throughout the war. The battles for Okinawa, Wake and Guam all were ample testament to the Japanese willingness to die in the face of overwhelming odds. The kamikaze was a perfect example of the Japanese battle attitude. Japanese pilots would strap themselves into planes laden with explosives and fly them into American ships. By the war's conclusion the Japanese kamikaze attacks had sunk 3 aircraft carriers damaged 285 craft and sunk a total of 34. The Japanese also did well in increasing support for the war effort. "Both scientist and publicists were in fact powerful instruments inflaming popular hatred against the democratic countries and in regimenting the people into blindly supporting the war of aggrandizement." (p.100) This resolve would only have been strengthened had American and Russian forces tried to invade Japan. This almost suicidal type of fighting would have resulted in a tremendous amount of casualties for both sides. American casualties alone were projected at 500,000. The amount of deaths caused by an invasion would have easily dwarfed those of the atomic bombings.
Air power offered American forces a method of remaining relatively unscathed against the fanatical Japanese military while laying waste to entire cities. This was possible because while Japanese ground forces remained strong, air defenses had been severely weakened. This gave American bombers free reign over the skies of Japan. American bombing raids over Japan were inflicting massive amounts of casualties and causing tremendous damage to Japanese cities. In fact the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki was not as devastating as conventional bombing raids over Tokyo or to previous bombing raids over European cities, most notably Dresden. "In March, 1945, our Air Force had launched the first incendiary raid on the Tokyo area. In this raid more damage was done and more casualties were inflicted than was the case at Hiroshima." (p.99) Therefore it is very plausible that had the atomic weapons not been dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki the number of conventional bombings casualties of the continued air raids would have been much greater than those of the atomic bombings.
The last credible strategy that would force Japan to surrender would be a naval blockade. This would involve the Navy patrolling the waters around Japan and stopping any supplies from getting through. Japan had sufficient military supplies to fight off an American invasion despite a blockade. This meant that if the blockade were to be successful the Japanese would have to be starved into surrendering. The Japanese mainland could not produce enough food to sustain its massive population for very long. Had a blockade been attempted, any remaining food supplies would have been allocated to the military forces leaving the civilian population to starve. This would have lead to a massive amount of deaths due to starvation amongst the civilian population. This strategy would have lead only to the death of civilians and not weakened the Japanese military or brought Japan closer to surrender.
The side effects of atomic weaponry had not been discovered at the time that Truman gave the order to drop the bomb over Hiroshima. Scientist and military personnel who knew about the atomic bomb were not aware of its radiation side effects. Therefore President Truman was also unaware of these effects when he made the decision to drop the bombs. This is very important because the atomic bomb was seen just as a really, really big conventional bomb. With the information that Truman had been given, dropping an atomic bomb was much like a conventional bombing raid. The atomic bomb provided tactical advantages in addition to its awesome political power. "But the atomic bomb was more than a weapon of terrible destruction; it was a psychological weapon." (p.99) Only one plane needed to be fuelled, crewed and maintained. The risk of being shot down was drastically lower that of a squadron of planes needed to wreak the same amount of havoc. We now know of the deadly lasting effects of atomic weaponry, but these side effects were unheard of during the war. To Truman in the military aspect the atomic bomb was no different than ordering a squadron of bombers to level Hiroshima with firebombs. It must be stressed that to Truman the bomb did not fall into the military taboo of chemical weapons or poising wells, but instead appeared to be a very powerful conventional bomb.
Before the bombs had been dropped the Japanese government was at a standstill over matters of peace. The roughly equal civilian and military parties were lo
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