Was the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs Justified?
Why did they drop the bombs?
When Harry Truman, the American President, heard of the bombing, he said, 'This is the
greatest thing in history.' Yet over 40 years later people are still dying from the effects.
The results of the atomic bomb explosions were so terrible that we have to ask why the
bombs were dropped when the War was almost won.
The Americans had gradually pushed the Japanese out of nearly all the land they had
occupied in the Pacific region. In Europe Hitler was defeated. So why did the Americans want
to drop the bomb? Several reasons have been suggested:
The Americans believed that the Japanese would never been killed in an invasion of Japan.
The bomb had cost a lot of money to develop and the Americans therefore wanted to use
The bomb was used to show USA's military superiority to the USSR.
The Japanese had been particularly cruel to prisoners of war. Some Americans thought
that the Japanese deserved to be taught a lesson.
Task 1. Copy the reasons above down in the order of MOST justified to LEAST
Task 2: British and Americans on trial…
You must prepare evidence for trial accusing Britain and America of murder.
You have been given sources 8-20 below
1. What evidence do they provide for or against the view that:
American casualties would be heavy if the USA did not drop the bomb.
USA wanted to test its expensive new weapon.
USA wanted the USSR to see how powerful it was.
USA wanted to teach the Japanese a lesson?
2. Looking at the evidence you have compiled, which now seems to be the main reason why
the Americans used the bomb?
3. Have you changed your mind about which reasons, if any, justified the dropping of the
SOURCE 1 An American report about the defences of Kyushu, a part of Japan which the
Americans were planning to invade.
"Top priority has been given to defence. There is considerable activity in the construction of
heavy artillery positions. It is probably minefields have been laid along the beaches. At the
back of the beaches are hills which are heavily fortified."
SOURCE 2 From the memoirs of Harry Truman, who became American President in 1945,
published in 1958:
"All of us realised that the fighting would be fierce and the losses heavy. General Marshall
told me it might cost half a million American lives."
SOURCE 3 Extracts from a document sent to the military chiefs of the USA to the
"We should attack Kyushu on 1 November. By that time
air action will have smashed every industrial target, as well as destroying huge areas in
the Japanese navy will be completely powerless.
Casualties: These should not exceed the price we have paid for Luzon - see below.
Source 4: Battle casualties
Battle US casualties Japanese casualties:
Leyte 17,000 78,000
Luzon 31,000 156,000
Iwo Jima 20,000 22,000
SOURCE 5 From an interview with the Secretary to the Japanese War Minister in 1963:
"We thought we would be able to defeat the Americans on their first landing attack. But if
the Americans launched a second or third attack, first our food supply would run out, then
our weapons. The Americans could have won without using atomic bombs."
SOURCE 6 From the memoirs of Admiral: O'Leahy, President Truman's adviser, published in
"The use of this barbarous weapon was of no assistance to our war against Japan. The
Japanese were already defeated."
SOURCE 7 From a speech by Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki:
"I expect the 100 million people of the Empire [Japan] to join themselves in a shield to
protect the Emperor and the Imperial land from the invader."
SOURCE 8 From an article written by Henry Stimson, the American Secretary for War, in
"There was no weakening in the Japanese determination to fight. The total strength of the
Japanese army was about five million men. The Allies would be faced with the enormous task
of destroying a force of five million men and 5000 suicide aircraft, belonging to a race which
would fight to the death."
SOURCE 9 Written by Henry Stimson in 1946
"A demonstration in an uninhabited area was not regarded as likely to make Japan surrender.
There was the danger of the test being a dud Also, we had no bombs to waste."
SOURCE 10 From a booklet published by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1985
"General Groves, the engineer director of the Manhattan Project, was desperate to see the
fruits of his labours before the end of the War. The bomb had been developed at a cost of
$2000 million. It would have been difficult to justify not using it after such a vast financial
investment. Two types of bomb had been developed. Nagasaki was simply an experiment to
try out the second type."
SOURCE 11 Robert Oppenheimer, director of the project which developed the atomic bomb,
being questioned by the American Senate in 1954:
Question: "Wasn't there a particular effort to produce a bomb before the Potsdam
Conference [a meeting of the Allies in July 1945]?
Answer: "It was the intention of the President to say something about this to the
Russians. The President said no more than that we had a new weapon which we planned to use
in Japan, and it was very powerful. We were under incredible pressure to get it done before
SOURCE 12 A note from American nuclear scientists to the government in June 1945:
"A demonstration of the bomb might best be made on the desert or on a barren island. Japan
could then be asked to surrender."
SOURCE 13 From an interview with James Byrnes, American Secretary of State, twenty
"We were talking about the people who hadn't hesitated at Pearl Harbor to make a sneak
attack destroying not only ships but the lives of many American sailors."
SOURCE 14: A British Cartoon published in 1945: