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Truman was right to drop the atom bomb

One of the most controversial issues of the twentieth century is the decision by President Truman to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In doing so he may have saved millions of lives but he ushered in the start of the nuclear age that still casts its shadow. Even today we are still unable to agree to nuclear disarmament. The decision was mostly political; about the reaction of the Japanese and the Russians. However today the ethical aspect needs to be looked at as well; was it right to kill 190,000 to possibly save many more?

All the Yes points:

  1. Communism
  2. Fanatic Japan
  3. Cost

All the No points:


Yes because…

Yes, it was the right decision to drop the bomb. It not only saved lives but also stopped the growth of communism. It’s estimated that 1 million US soldiers would have been casualties trying to take Japan and many more millions of Japanese would have died. Also Russia had invaded Manchuria and was moving through Korea, the war had to therefore end quickly to stop the communist expansion.

No because…

Under the international laws of war as manifest in the Hague Convention of 1907, it was not permissible to target civilians in warfare although it is accepted that it may be difficult to avoid civilian loss of life as collateral damage against military targets. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were against the Hague Convention as well as the historic international (customary) laws of wars, known collectively as jus cogens. While the atomic bombing may have made the end of the war against Japan shorter and overall reduced the number of lives lost, deliberating targeting civilians en masse to obtain a military objective through intimidation is not acceptable. The Germans did it and so did the Japanese and that is why the international community today overall sympathises with the Allied rather than the Axis cause. If we agree that Truman was right, we may also have to agree to sympathise with Hitler or Stalin who used any methods to achieve their objectives regardless of the international laws of war. By his action, Truman showed that he was no more civilised than Hitler or Stalin, just as Churchill did with his bombing of Dresden. While it is difficult to sympathise with a brutal enemy, and the Japanese military were undoubtedly brutal (or rather, the samurai officer class were and the rank and file had to do as they were told or get shot), two wrongs do not make a right and if you cross the line between military and civilian targets you have defied the basic laws of war, that’s it and you cannot justify it. While this action may have been strategically convenient to Truman and those who thought like him for various reasons (including making a political point to the Soviets in the anticipated Cold War) it was not morally acceptable to do it. We need to also look more closely at how Truman actually made some of his military and foreign policy decisions – and remember that the decision to drop the bomb was very much one man’s decision – Truman’s. While some experts argued in favour of the use of the bomb, Admiral William Leahy, a highly experienced and eminent US military leader, advised Truman strongly against it on moral grounds. But Truman was known to be narrow, inexperienced, self-righteous and arrogant. Brought up on a farm and then running a provincial business, he had little knowledge of national, let alone international affairs, and the opposite of the sophisticated and highly educated Roosevelt. When Truman assumed office as President he had no knowledge of foreign policy at all but he made it clear that he despised the generals and admirals as “dumb sons of bitches” – all of whom had in fact a great deal of experience more than he did. He fired top advisers at will and did so liberally. His Presidential methods were While his sacking of General MacArthur during the Korean War might be considered sensible by some people (although it damaged his approval ratings) his sacking of George C Marshall is a lot more dubious. Overall there is a great deal of evidence that Truman was simplistic and decided important issues according to his prejudices rather than looking at all aspects of an issue and coming to a judicious decision taking into account all the experience and expertise at hand from his advisers. For instance on Palestine, it is not disputed that when Harry Truman decided to support the Zionists and back the new state of Israel, he did not take the Arab view into account at all, only the position of the Jews. He also did not consult seriously with his experts, many of whom warned him to consider Arab issues including Marshall, but rather, his old business partner Jacobsen who was Jewish. This is not enough to make a proper decision about something as complex as Jewish-.Arab relations, especially as Zionism was so aggressive and one-sided in its outlook but Truman was bored with the complications of Middle Eastern politics, he just wanted to be instrumental in creating a homeland for the Jews. It is important to see a decision in context, not only outcomes and general principles on which such a decision may be based, but specifically who is taking the decision and on what grounds. This analysis is not encouraging. There is no evidence that Truman ever considered NOT using The Bomb. Truman’s mentality was to find a clear line of action based on his personal preferences and stick to it, however, one-sided the basis of it might be, and with dictatorial disregard for the viewpoints of his expert advisers. We are no obliged, as students of history, to adopt Truman’s one-sided and ruthless viewpoints uncritically.

Fanatic Japan

Yes because…

The Japanese had demonstrated near-fanatical resistance, fighting to almost the last man on Pacific islands, committing mass suicide on Saipan and unleashing kamikaze attacks at Okinawa. Fire bombing had killed 100,000 in Tokyo with no discernible political effect. Only the atomic bomb could jolt Japan’s leadership to surrender.

No because…

That seems to be much more of a reason to not use the bomb than to use it. If Japan is fanatic then it won’t make any difference. Why should a fanatic be more affected by ‘we can now destroy your country with less bombs than ever before’? Whether it is Atom bombs or normal bombs Japan was being destroyed.


Yes because…

With only two bombs ready (and a third on the way by late August 1945) it was too risky to “waste” one in a demonstration over an unpopulated area. This would have been making an assumption that anyone in authority would have noticed the bomb going off or that a simple demonstration would influence them given that raising of cities with firebombing had not.

No because…

This does not have much to do with whether Truman was right to drop the atom bomb. Who is the demonstration for? If the Japanese then no demonstration was going to help, but then the firebombing caused much more damage than the A bomb so the Japanese did not consider the bomb much different (at least not until sometime later when the problems of radiation became better known and understood). The Russians? well a demonstration would have had as much impact upon them as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they were not the target.

How would it be a waste to try a demonstration? If they surrender then you have saved lives, if they dont then you use the other. Remember there were two bombs, if it is going to have an impact one should be as good as two. The second is therefore redundant anyway unless it is to show that you have many of them, if that is the case then the one that is ready by the end of August would do that.

they didnt surrender after the first bombing so thats why they dropped two bombs

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