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On August 14, 1945, after the atomic bombing, Japan surrendered to the Allied states in World War II. To this day, there are arguments as to whether the usage of the atomic bombs was necessary to end the war. We intend to analyze whether the atomic bombing of Japan was an effective usage of strategic bombing in order to force Japan to surrender. Strategic bombing says that to ensure a quick victory there must be attacks on enemy vital centers and civilian moral targets to weaken their morale as proposed by General Giulio Douhet. First, we will discuss the unlikelihood of Japan surrendering prior to the atomic bombing. Then, we’ll consider the options the United States had in forcing Japan to surrender. Thus, we will look into the ground invasion of Japan Home Islands, Operation Downfall, the use of the atomic bomb on an unpopulated area and the direct military application that was eventually implemented.
In July 1945, the Allied forces demanded an immediate unconditional surrender from the leaders of Japan. The Japanese military rejected the unconditional surrender but there were signs that a conditional surrender was possible. (“The Decision to Drop the Bomb,” Heads of Governments) Given that the United States had been bombing Japan for three years prior to the demand of surrender, Japan was already a beaten nation. However, even after severe losses, around 806,000 casualties, in Okinawa and Tokyo the Japanese refused to surrender. Therefore, the United States considered a ground invasion, Operation Downfall. We will discuss why this was not executed later. A year after the dropping of the atomic bomb, Karl T. Compton, a member of Truman’s Interim Committee — “a committee to advise the president about matters pertaining to the use of nuclear energy and weapons” (Harry S Truman National Historic Site) —interviewed a Japanese Army officer asking him if they could have repelled Operation Downfall to which the officer responded “…I do not think we could have stopped you.” When asked what the Japanese would have done, the officer responded “We would have kept on fighting until all Japanese were killed, but we would not have been defeated,” in which defeat means the disgrace of surrendering (Compton). Though there may have been implications of the Japanese surrendering, it was unlikely that they would indeed surrender.
But if Japan wasn’t going to surrender after years of bombing, what else could the United States do? As mentioned earlier, the United States considered a traditional ground invasion, Operation Downfall. However, based on how stubborn Japan had been, U.S. military commanders knew that Japan would fervently defend its homeland. There were few places Allied nations would be able to land and the Japanese had prepared accordingly. In fact, there were even arguments to use poisonous gas against the Japanese; however, the issue with Operation Downfall was the likelihood of a significant casualty rate. The Joint Chiefs of Staff assessed that the United States would experience 1.2 million casualties for the entire operation, while personnel in the Navy Department estimated 1.7-4 million casualties (Trueman).
Another option was to drop the atomic bomb in an unpopulated area to show the sheer strength of the nuclear weapon in order to frighten Japan into surrendering. However, if the new “deadly” weapon was proven to be ineffective, it could cause the Japanese to doubt the power of the United States. In turn, the weapon that was meant to lower morale may instigate Japan to fight even fiercer and thereby leading to more casualties. And if the atomic bomb proved as powerful as scientists had intended, the United States wouldn’t want to use one of the two atomic bombs that they had at the time as simply a demonstration? In May 1945, President Harry S. Truman created the Interim Committee, which concluded that they could not “propose [a] technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war. We can see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.” Therefore, only using the atomic bomb on a city could be enough to force Japan to surrender. The targeted city was carefully chosen as a city centered around military production and not an already damaged city as it would defeat the purpose of demonstrating the sheer strength of the weapon. Thus, the atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945 on the city of Hiroshima leading to an underestimate of 150,000 casualties. (“Hiroshima and Nagasaki Death Toll”)
In conclusion, there was little chance the Japanese would ever surrender after they weathered three years of bombing that caused heavy casualties in Okinawa and Tokyo. The United States was forced to intensify their efforts beyond just conventional bombing. Looking at their options the U.S. could launch a ground invasion; however, from what they had already experienced in their battles with the Allied nations would suffer severe casualties. We must also note that these approximations did not take into account the loss for the Japanese. Later documents found that the Japanese would have suffered roughly one-quarter million losses. To minimize casualties, the United States had to utilize their newly developed atomic bomb. Thus, the decision then was whether to use it on a populated or unpopulated area. If the atomic weapon was dropped on an unpopulated area the power demonstrated might not have proved significant enough to scare the Japanese into surrendering. Truman’s Interim committee decided that if the United States wanted Japan to surrender they would have to drop the atomic bomb on a populated area. In the end, the casualty from the atomic bomb was significantly less than the losses estimated from Operation downfall for both sides. As the result of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings show, the atomic bombing of Japan was an effective implementation of strategic bombing, as Japan surrendered a mere eight days later.
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