What do you think?

Should the atomic bomb have been dropped?

High angle view of an atomic bomb explosion, Hiroshima, Japan
Atomic bomb explosion, Hiroshima, Japan

At the time, many Americans were unhappy with the atomic bomb. American scientists asked Truman to let the Japanese see it and surrender first. Admiral William Leahy (1945) thought it reduced Americans to the level of 'barbarians'.

After the war, however, the atomic bomb was portrayed as a war-winning weapon, which had saved many American soldiers' lives. This is the traditional interpretation of Hiroshima, which many historians still believe.

Is the evidence conclusive?

Much of the reasoning given for dropping the atomic bomb came down to Truman’s own beliefs and claims about the threat posed. Is this evidence reliable?

Truman said:

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.Harry Truman, US President

He also said:

Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.Harry Truman, US President

Should the atomic bomb NOT have been dropped?

In 1965, American historian Gar Alperovitz suggested that the atomic bomb had been unnecessary. The revisionists claimed that:

  • Japan was ruined and starving – it could not have resisted much longer, and had been trying to negotiate a surrender for at least a year.
  • Truman used the atomic bomb to frighten the Soviet Union, not to win the war.
  • The atomic bomb was racist – dropped as revenge on a Japanese people the Americans felt were treacherous and sub-human.

This stimulated a furious debate that still goes on.

Where next?

You may wish to compare the atomic bomb's impact to other military developments in Conflict and cooperation through time:

  • the mounted knight in the Norman Conquest
  • the longbow and the arquebus in the Hundred Years War
  • the tank in World War One
Move on to Test