Debate: Should atomic bombs have been used on Japan?





  1. Read each of the following opposing viewpoints.Summarize the main point of each quotation.What reason is given for or against using the bomb?
  2. Determine the value and bias of the source of each quotation.
    1. Is the source primary (from the time period) or secondary (written afterwards)?
    2. Is the speaker an expert or was he or she directly involved with the decision?
  3. Create at least two arguments that support or reject the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Choose reliable details from class and from these sources.


YES:Victor Davis Hanson. "Considering Hiroshima." National Review. August 05, 2005

"These are the debates that matured in the relative peace of the postwar era. But in August 1945 most Americans had a much different take on Hiroshima, a decision that cannot be fathomed without appreciation of the recently concluded Okinawa campaign (April 1-July 2) that had cost 50,000 American casualties and 200,000 Japanese and Okinawa dead. Okinawa saw the worst losses in the history of the U.S. Navy. Over 300 ships were damaged, more than 30 sunk, as about 5,000 sailors perished under a barrage of some 2,000 Kamikaze attacks.

And it was believed at least 10,000 more suicide planes were waiting on Kyushu and Honshu. Those who were asked to continue such fighting on the Japanese mainland ó as we learn from the memoirs of Paul Fussell, William Manchester, and E. B. Sledge ó were relieved at the idea of encountering a shell-shocked defeated enemy rather than a defiant Japanese nation in arms."



NO: The 2005 United States Strategic Bombing Survey.


After interviewing hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, it reported: "Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."



YES: Summary from Gar Alperovitz and Ronald Takaki, noted Hiroshima and Nagasaki historians.


The Americans anticipated losing many soldiers in the planned invasion of Japan, although the actual number of expected fatalities and wounded is subject to some debate. Truman after the war stated that he had been advised that American casualties could range from 250,000 to one million men. Millions of Japanese military and civilian casualties were expected.[4] Millions of women, old men, and boys and girls had been trained to resist by such means as attacking with bamboo spears and strapping explosives to their bodies and throwing themselves under advancing tanks. The Japanese cabinet had approved a measure extending the draft to include men from ages fifteen to sixty and women from seventeen to forty-five (an additional 28 million people). Supporters also point to an order given by the Japanese War Ministry on August 1, 1944, ordering the disposal and execution of all Allied prisoners of war, numbering over 100,000, if an invasion of the Japanese mainland took place.



NO: Rob Edwards. "Hiroshima bomb may have carried hidden agenda". 21 July 2005


"According to an account by Walter Brown, assistant to then-US secretary of state James Byrnes, Truman agreed at a meeting three days before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima that Japan was "looking for peace". Truman was told by his army generals, Douglas Macarthur and Dwight Eisenhower, and his naval chief of staff, William Leahy, that there was no military need to use the bomb."



YES: Father John A. Siemes, professor of modern philosophy at Tokyo's Catholic University, and an eyewitness to the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima wrote:


"We have discussed among ourselves the ethics of the use of the bomb. Some consider it in the same category as poison gas and were against its use on a civil population. Others were of the view that in total war, as carried on in Japan, there was no difference between civilians and soldiers, and that the bomb itself was an effective force tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction. It seems logical to me that he who supports total war in principle cannot complain of war against civilians."



NO: Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington DC


"[Truman] knew he was beginning the process of annihilation of the species. It was not just a war crime; it was a crime against humanity."



YES: Roper Poll conducted in the fall of 1945:


  1. We should have used the two bombs on cities just as we did. (53.5%)
  2. We should have quickly used many more of the bombs before Japan had the chance to surrender. (27.2%)
  3. We should have dropped one on some unpopulated region, to show the Japanese its power, and dropped the second one on a city only if they hadnít surrendered after the first one. (13.8)
  4. We should not have used any atomic bombs at all. (4.5%)
  5. Donít know. (5.5%)



NO: Bill Dietrich. "Pro and Con on Dropping the Bomb." Seattle Times. 1995


"The two cities were of limited military value. Civilians outnumbered troops in Hiroshima five or six to one."




Tokyo after being fire bombed by conventional weapons

Hiroshima after being atomic bombed.


Compare the destruction of Tokyo (conventional bombing) and Hiroshima (nuclear bombing).






US POW during the Bataan Death March.


USS Bunker Hill after two kamikaze attacks within 30 seconds at the Battle of Okinawa.More than 350 died as a result of these attacks.





Should atomic weapons have been used on Japan?


What are your two main arguments?


Which documents best support your response?


Choose at least one quote or detail from images to support each argument.