There were many Allied military leaders who changed their public opinion about the dropping of the atomic bomb post war.
The death of President Roosevelt on 23 April 1945 created serious problems in the US-Russia relations. At Yalta, earlier in February 1945, Stalin and the American President Roosevelt had hit it off much to the consternation of Winston Churchill. Churchill out of power, continued to poison relations of America with Russia by his iron curtain speech in 1956 with the Missourian President looking on. President Truman who took over from President Roosevelt never honoured the pledges made over Europe at Yalta and expected that Stalin would be frightened by the new might of the atomic bomb, they now possessed. He hastened the dropping of the atomic bomb for this purpose. Churchill took part in the Potsdam Conference but later the Conservative Government was toppled in Britain and the remainder of the issues were for the new prime minister, Clement Attlee-S.M.Husain.
Winston Churchill in the last volume of his war memoirs relates how on 14 July 1945 – when he was at the Potsdam Conference with President Truman and Stalin – he was handed a sheet of paper with the cryptic message: “Babies satisfactorily born.” Mr. Stimson, the US Secretary of War, explained its meaning- that the experimental test of the atomic bomb on the previous day had proved successful. “The President invited me to confer with him forthwith. He had with him General Marshall and Admiral Leahy.”
Churchill’s account of the sequel is of such far-reaching significance that the main passage deserves to be quoted at length:
We seemed suddenly to have become possessed of a merciful abridgement of the slaughter in the East and of a far happier prospect in Europe. I have no doubt that these thoughts were present in the minds of my American friends. At any rate, there never was a moment’s discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not. To avert a vast indefinite butchery, to bring the war to an end, to give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples by a manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after, all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance.
British consent in principle to the use of the weapon had been given on 4 July, before the test had taken place. The final decision now lay in the main with President Truman, who had the weapon; but I never doubted what it would be, nor have I ever doubted since that he was right. The historic fact remains, and must be judged in the after- time, that the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around our table; nor did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise.*
*Churchill: The Second World War, vol VI, page 553
But later, Churchill himself raises doubts about the case for using the atomic bomb, when he says:
It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell, and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power. This alone had made it possible to seize the ocean bases from which to launch the final attack and force her metropolitan Army to capitulate without striking a blow. Her shipping had been destroyed.*
*Churchill: The Second World War, vol VI, page 559
Churchill also mentions that at Potsdam, three weeks before the bomb was dropped, he was told privately by Stalin of a message from the Japanese ambassador in Moscow expressing Japan’s desire for peace-and adds that in passing on this news to President Truman he suggested that the Allies’ demand for “unconditional surrender” might be somewhat modified to ease the way for the Japanese to surrender.
But these Japanese peace-seeking approaches had started much earlier, and were already better known to the American authorities than Churchill indicated or was perhaps aware. Just before Christmas 1944, the American intelligence in Washington received a report from a well-informed diplomatic agent in Japan that a peace party was emerging, and gaining ground there.
Long before the end of the struggle in Okinawa, the issue was certain. It was also evident that once the island was captured, the Americans would soon be able to intensify their air bombardment of Japan itself, as the airfields there were within less than 400 miles of Japan – barely a quarter of the distance from the Marianas.
The hopelessness of the situation was plain to any strategical mind, and particularly to a naval mind such as Suzuki’s whose anti-war views had led to his life being threatened by the military extremists as far back as 1936. But he and his peace-seeking Cabinet were entangled in a knotty problem. Eager as they were for peace, the acceptance of the Allies’ demand for “unconditional surrender” would appear like a betrayal of the forces in the field, so willing to fight to the death; these forces, who still held the lives of thousands of near-starved Allied civilian and military prisoners in pawn, might refuse to obey a ‘cease fire” order if the terms were abjectly humiliating – above all, if there was any demand for removal of the Emperor, who in their eyes was not only their sovereign but also divine.
It was the Emperor himself who moved to cut the knot. On 20 June he summoned to a conference the six members of the inner Cabinet, the Supreme War Direction Council, and there told them: “You will considerer the question of ending the war as soon as possible.” All six members of the Council were in agreement on this score, but while the prime minister, the foreign minister and the navy minister were prepared to make unconditional surrender, the other three – the army minister and army and navy chiefs of staff – argued for continued resistance until some mitigating conditions were obtained. Eventually it was decided that Prince Konoye should be sent on a mission to Moscow to negotiate for peace – and the Emperor privately gave him instructions to secure peace at any price. As a preliminary, the Japanese Foreign Office officially notified Moscow on 13 July that “the Emperor is desirous of peace.”
The message reached Stalin just as he was setting off for Potsdam Conference. He sent a chilly reply that the proposal was not definite enough for him to take action, or agree to receive the mission. This time, however, he told Churchill of the approach, and it was this that Churchill told Truman, adding his own tentative suggestion that it might be wise to modify the rigid demand for “unconditional surrender.”
A fortnight later the Japanese Government sent a further message to Stalin, trying to make still clearer the purpose of the mission but received a similar negative reply. Meantime Churchill’s Government had been defeated at the General Election in Britain, so that Attlee and Bevin had replaced Churchill and Eden at Potsdam when, on 28 July, Stalin told the Conference of this further approach.
The Americans, however, were aware of Japan’s desire to end the war, for their intelligence service had intercepted the cipher messages from the Japanese Foreign Minister to the Japanese ambassador in Moscow.
But President Truman and most of his chief advisers- particularly Mr. Stimson and General Marshall, the US Army’s Chief of Staff – were now as intent on using the atomic bomb to accelerate Japan’s collapse as Stalin was on entering the war again Japan before it ended, in order to gain an advantageous position in the Far East.
There were some who felt more doubts than Churchill records. Among them was Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and President Truman successively who recoiled from the idea of employing such a weapon against the civilian population: “My own feeling was that, in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Age. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.” The year before, he had protested to Roosevelt against a proposal to use bacteriological weapons.
The atomic scientists themselves were divided in their views. Dr. Vannevar Bush had played a leading part in gaining Roosevelt’s and Stimson’s support for the atomic weapon, while Lord Cherwell (formerly Professor Lindemann), Churchill’s personal adviser on scientific matters was also a leading advocate of it. It was thus not surprising that when Stimson appointed a committee under Bush in the Spring of 1945 to consider the question of using the weapon against Japan, it strongly recommended that the bomb should be used as soon as possible and, without any advance warning of its nature – for fear that the bomb might prove “a dud,” as Stimson later explained.
In contrast, another group of atomic scientists headed by Professor James Franck presented a report to Stimson soon afterwards, in the later part of June, expressing different conclusions: “The military advantages and the saving of American lives achieved by the sudden use of atomic bombs against japan may be outweighed by a wave of horror and repulsion spreading over the rest of the world . . . If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction on mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments and, prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons . . . We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early attack against Japan inadvisable.”
But the scientists who were closest to the statesmen’s ears had a better chance of gaining attention and their eager arguments prevailed in the decision – aided by the enthusiasm which they had already excited in statesmen about the atomic bomb, as a quick and easy way of finishing the war. Five possible targets were suggested by the military advisers for the two bombs that had been produced and, of these the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen, after consideration of the list by President Truman and Mr. Stimson, as combining military installations with “houses and other holdings most susceptible to damage.”
So on 6 August the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, destroying most of the city and killing some 80,000 people – a quarter of its inhabitants. Three days later the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The news of the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb reached President Truman as he was returning by sea from the Potsdam Conference. According to those present he exultantly exclaimed: “This is the greatest thing in history.”
The effect on the Japanese Government, however, was much less than what was imagined on the Western side at the time. It did not shake the three members of the Council of six who had been opposed to surrendering unconditionally, and they still insisted that some assurance about the future must first be obtained, particularly on the maintenance of the “Emperor’s sovereign position”. As for the people of Japan, they did not know until after the war what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Russia’s declaration of war on 8 August, and immediate drive into Manchuria next day, seems to have been almost as effective in hastening the issue, and the Emperor’s influence still more so. For at a meeting of the inner Cabinet in his presence, on the 9th, he pointed out the hopelessness of the situation so clearly, and declared himself so strongly in favour of immediate peace, that the three opponents of it became more inclined to yield and agreed to holding a Gozenkaigi-a meeting of “elder statesmen,” at which the Emperor himself could make the final decision. Meantime the government announced by radio its willingness to surrender provided that the Emperor’s sovereignty was respected -a point about which the Allies’ Potsdam Declaration of 26 July had been ominously silent. After some discussion President Truman agreed to this proviso, a notable modification of “unconditional surrender.”
Even then there was much division of opinion at the Gozenkajgi on 14 August, but the Emperor resolved the issue, saying decisively: “If nobody else has any opinion to express, we would express our own. We demand that you will agree to it. We see only one way left for Japan to save herself. That is the reason we have made this determination to endure the unendurable and suffer the insufferable.” Japan’s surrender was then announced by radio.
The use of the atomic bomb was not really needed to produce this result. With nine-tenths of Japan’s shipping sunk or disabled, her air and sea forces crippled, her industries wrecked, and her peoples’ food supplies shrinking fast, her collapse was already certain-as Churchill said.
The US Strategic Bombing Survey report emphasised this point, while adding: “The time lapse between military impotence and political acceptance of the inevitable might have been shorter had the political structure of Japan permitted a more rapid and decisive determination of national policies. Nevertheless, It seems clear that, even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion.” Admiral King, the US Naval Commander-in-Chief, states that the naval blockade alone would have “starved the Japanese into submission” – through lack of oil, rice, and other essential materials – “had we been willing to wait.”
Admiral Leahy’s judgement is even more emphatic about the needlessness of the atomic bomb: “The use of this barbaric weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.”
Why, then, was the bomb used? Were there any impelling motives beyond the instinctive desire to cut short the loss of American and British lives at the earliest possible moment? Two reasons have emerged. One is revealed by Churchill himself in the account of his conference with President Truman on July 18, following the news of the successful trial of the atomic bomb, and the thoughts that immediately came into their minds, among these being:
. . . we should not need the Russians. The end of the Japanese war no longer depended upon the pouring of their armies . . . We had no need to ask favours of them. A few days later he minuted to Mr. Eden: “It is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against Japan.”*
• Churchill: The Second World War, vol. VI, page 553.
Stalin’s demand at Potsdam to share in the occupation of Japan was very embarrassing, and the US Government was anxious to avoid such a contingency. The atomic bomb might help to solve the problem. The Russians were due to enter the war on 6 August-two days later.
The second reason for its precipitate use, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was revealed by Admiral Leahy: “the scientists and others wanted to make this test because of the vast sums that had been spent on the project” – two billion dollars. One of the higher officers concerned in the atomic operation, the code name of which was the ‘Manhattan District Project,” put the point still more clearly:
The bomb simply had to be a success – so much money had been expended on it. Had it failed, how would we have explained the huge expenditure? Think of the public outcry there would have been . . . As time grew shorter, certain people in Washington, tried to persuade General Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, to get out before it was too late, for he knew he would be left holding the bag if we failed. The relief to everyone concerned when the bomb was finished and dropped was enormous.
A generation later, however, it is all too clear that the hasty dropping of the atomic bomb has not been a relief to the rest of mankind,
On 2 September 1945, the representatives of Japan signed the “instrument of surrender” on board the United States’ battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Second World War was thus ended six years and one day after it had been started by Hitler’s attack on Poland-and four months after Germany’s surrender. It was a formal ending, a ceremony to seal the victors’ satisfaction. For the real ending had come on 14 August, when the Emperor had announced Japan’s surrender on the terms laid down by the Allies, and fighting had ceased-a week after the dropping of the first atomic bomb. But even that frightful stroke, wiping out the city of Hiroshima to demonstrate the overwhelming power of the new weapon, had done no more than hasten the moment of surrender. The surrender was already sure, and there was no real need to use such a weapon-u dear whose dark shadow the world has lived ever since.
December 1938: Fritz Strassmann and Ottoman Hahn, two German physicists succeeded in splitting the uranium atom.
1939: Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein
September 1942: Manhattan project was turned over to the military.
• Project’s military commander was Brigadier General Leslie Groves.
• Robert Oppenheimer, a leftist and communist chosen by Groves as Manhattan Project Coordinator; He created and coordinated the most destructive weapon. Assembled were Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard.
• First nuclear chain reaction achieved in an atomic pile.
9 March 1945 March: LeMay’s masterpiece, 300 planes sent over Tokyo. Incendiary and napalm used to kill 100,000 and 1,000,000 homeless. Stench caused vomiting in planes. American military bombed 100 cities, some with no military value taking more than an estimated 1/2 million lives; the atomic bomb can be viewed as a chilling and logical next step.
Leo Szilard and others understood that this bomb they were building was a primitive prototype of what was to follow, Szilard, Harold Urey (Nobel prize winner, chemistry), Astronomer Walter Bartky attempted to see Truman to caution him against the use of the bomb, but were re-routed to South Carolina to speak with Brynes, whose response appalled Szilard. Mr. Brynes knew at the time as the rest of the government, Japan was essentially defeated. He was much concerned about the spreading Russian influence in Europe and that possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more amenable to.
Leslie Groves also admitted that in his mind Russia was always the enemy and the project was conducted on that basis. A petition was signed by 155 project scientists for Truman, but Oppenheimer barred it and alerted Groves. Groves had recommended Szilard to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war.
In May 1945 General Marshall supported Oppenheimer suggestion to share information with Soviet scientists but Brynes vetoed the idea. The Japanese war council decided to feel out the Soviets for peace terms to keep the USSR out of their war and to seek better surrender terms from the Americans. This was a delicate negotiation; the US intelligence had been intercepting Japanese cables since the start of the war. On 18 July, a cable was sent from Tokyo to Japanese ambassador in Moscow seeking surrender terms said: unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace.
- Truman unambiguously categorized this: “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”
- Forestall noted an evident desire of the Japanese to get out of the war
- Stimson describes this as Japanese manoeuvrings foe peace.
- Brynes pointed to Japanese peace feelers
They all knew that the end was near, the Japanese were finished. Several of Truman’s close advisers urged him to modify the unconditional surrender to signal that Japan could keep its emperor and speed the end.
General Douglas MacArthur: the hanging of the emperor would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. Jimmy Brynes told Truman that he would be crucified politically if the imperial system was retained. Once again, his advice prevailed.
Truman and Byrnes believed that they had a way to speed the Japanese surrender on American terms without Soviet help, thereby denying the USSR the territorial and economic concessions promised by Roosevelt.
MacArthur: considered the bomb completely unnecessary from the military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the US had told them that they could keep the emperor.
Opposition was sufficiently known that Groves posted a requirement that US commanders in the field . . . clear all statements on the bomb with the War Department. “After three years of the highest tension we didn’t want MacArthur and others saying the war could’ve been won without the bomb.”
16 July 1945: At 0529:45 seconds: Alamogordo, New Mexico, the bomb turned the refuge of the founding fathers into a militarized state. War in Europe ended May 8. First atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6.
- Iwo Jima: 7000 US Marines and sailors were killed, 18,000 wounded.
- Okinawa: 12,000 Americans killed or missing and 36,000 wounded. 100,000 Japanese and 100,000 Okinawans were killed. Many of them committed suicide.
- 1900 kamikaze attacks which sank 30 and damaged 360 naval vessels
- Marshall told Truman that he expected no more than 31,000 casualties.
- Estimated 1/2 million German, Italian and French civilians were killed because of British and US bombing.
- 79,000 US and equal number of British aircrew members were killed
- July 1945 Potsdam: Big three discussing the post war world. Truman had said that his primary reason for going to Potsdam was to ensure Soviet entry into the war, an assurance that Stalin was ready to give again. Truman in his diary: He will be in the Jap war on August 15.
Allied intelligence concurred: an entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Yet it was clear to most that the Japs were already finished. By the end of 1944, the Japanese navy had been decimated, the air force was badly weakened, railroad system was in tatters, food supply shrunk, public morale plummeting.
Truman had delayed the start of Potsdam for two weeks giving the scientists the time to ready the bomb test. It worked. Stimson gave him the news. The conference began the very next day. He later read the full report. The test was terrifying, almost beyond comprehension. Truman’s demeanour changed immediately, Churchill was stunned by the transformation.
24 July 1945 : Truman informs Stalin that the US possesses a new weapon of unusual destructive force.
Klaus E.J. Fuchs a man of ideological conviction, part of the British scientific mission at Alamogordo had delivered technical information relating to the bomb to his Soviet handlers. Stalin already knew that the test had succeeded. On return, Stalin remarked to Gromyko on return to his villa that the Americans would use the atomic monopoly now to dictate terms in Europe. But that he wouldn’t give in to that blackmail. Stalin concluded from Truman’s behaviour at Potsdam that the US wanted to end the war quickly and renege on its promised concessions in the Pacific.
25 July 1945: Truman approves directive signed by Marshall and Stimson ordering the use of the atomic bomb against Japan after August 3 asap weather permitting. He expected the Japanese government to reject the Potsdam declaration which failed to give any assurances about the Emperor.
The US even vetoed Stalin’s wish to sign the declaration adding that Stalin’s signature would have signaled Soviet entry in the Pacific war. It was an incredibly underhanded behaviour by the US both toward the Japanese and USSR.
Truman accepted responsibility for the decision, it was Groves who drafted the final order to drop the bomb. He contended Truman didn’t really decide: “As far as I was concerned his decision was one of non-interference. Basically, a decision not to upset existing plans. Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.’ He described Truman scornfully as ‘a little boy on a toboggan.’
Six of America’s seven five-star officers who received their final star in WWII declared the bomb morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both.
- General Douglas MacArthur
- General Dwight Eisenhower
- General Henry Arnold
- Admiral William Leahy
- Admiral Earnest King
- Admiral Chester Nimitz
Eisenhower: the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.
After the war was over, General Curtis LeMay said, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks. The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.
6 August 1945: At 0245, three B-29s took off from the island of Tinian for Japan. Six and a half hours later the Enola Gay came into sight of its target (300,00 civilians, 45,000 Korean slave labourers). From 31,000 feet at 330 mph, the uranium bomb fell miles to two thousand feet and then detonated. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, 200,000 by 1950. Officially the US reported 3243 Japanese troops killed. Japanese did not surrender
9 August 1945: Stalin honouring his pledge to Churchill now moved I 1/2 million men to the eastern front and attacked Japan on three fronts in Manchuria. 700,000 Japanese killed, wounded or captured. Also attacked in Korea, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island. Later that morning on 9 August before Japan had time to react to the Soviet invasion, the US dropped a second atomic bomb (Plutonium) on Nagasaki. 40,000 died immediately.
General Masakazu Kawabe: in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock. Because we had been in constant fear of it with a vivid imagination that the vast Red Army forces in Europe were now being turned against us.
Suzuki: Japan must surrender immediately. “There was little mention in the Japanese cabinet of the use of the atomic bomb by the US.”
- The dropping of the bomb was the pretext seized upon . . . As a reason for ending the war. But it is almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”
- On 14 August five days after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki and with desperate fighting still raging against the Soviets, Emperor Hirohito exerted his personal power. Hirohito speaking to the Japanese people directly ordered surrender over the radio.
- Truman’s estimate of the anticipated American casualties kept climbing as the years went by. In 1991 President George H. Bush praised Truman’s tough calculating decision which spared millions of American lives.
- Attributing victory to the bomb insults the memory of the many men and women who gave their lives to defeat the Japanese year by year.
October 1945: Truman met Oppenheimer to inquire when the Soviets would have the bomb. Oppenheimer replied he didn’t know. Truman responded that he knew the answer never giving Oppenheimer an insight into his ignorance. He told Dean Acheson, “I don’t want that SOB in this office ever again”.
Later Oppenheimer was attacked by right wing conservatives as an agent of the Soviet Union and subjected to numerous interrogation by the FBI. Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked in 1954. His crime was opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb which he considered a weapon of genocide. The dropping of the atomic bombs did not make the Soviet forces any pliable. They occupied the Northern portion of Korea Peninsula face to face with US forces in the south.
- The Japanese could keep the emperor for stability of Japan.
- Condoleezza Rice named Truman her man of the century to Time Magazine.
- It was a warning to the Soviet Union.
Henry Wallace: “it is obvious that the attitude of Truman, Brynes and both the war and navy department will make for war eventually.”
Robert Oppenheimer met Henry Wallace shortly after the war: he proposed international control of atomic technology to assuage Soviet fears over US intentions. In September, Stimson sent a memo to Truman saying that the Soviets should be treated as allies, saying that they should be trusted. He proposed that America should dismantle its bomb if the Soviets accepted a ban on atomic research and thus submit to an international system of control. Wallace allied himself to Stimson indicating the absurdity of trying to keep an atomic monopoly. ” I then went in some length into the scientific background describing how foreign Jewish scientists had in the first place sold the President in the fall of 1939. I indicated the degree to which the whole approach had originated in Europe and that it was impossible to bottle the thing up no matter how much we tried.” Navy Secretary Forestall argued that the Soviets could not be trusted, the Russians like the Japanese are essentially oriental in their thinking. Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes/ Forestall hardline faction.
“Some have spoken of the American century, I say that the century on which we are entering, century which will come out of this war can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people peace, all the rest becomes easy. “–Henry Wallace
In 1946 ran for president. Accused of being a Soviet sympathizer, he compromised himself during the pressures of the Korean War and the McCarthy period loudly condemning the Soviets but decried support for Vietnam. He died in 1965. He remains the unsung hero of the Second World War showing the world a kinder vision of America. Though his vision was opposed at every step it did not die.
Roosevelt: No man was more of the American soil than Wallace. In July 1944 Roosevelt acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman committed his greatest blunder. He could have resisted and had Wallace at his back as his VP, but he was tired of defending his vision for world peace, near death. His sad moment point most clearly to the fallibility of all human history.
To fail is not tragic, to be human is.
What might this country be if Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman.
Courtesy: YouTube video