Yes it was correct, given that, as you say, every alternative action would have resulted in greater deaths and suffering for the Japanese people.
There’s nothing special about the weapons dropped on those two cities. I don’t see how it is ethically any different than the bombing raids on Tokyo, Hmaburg, Cologne & Dresden. Well, apart from the desire to show the Russkies what the US had in the tank, that is. That side of it bothers me a little, but seeing as how I find the act militarily and morally justifiable, having an extra motive I am not a big fan of doesn’t tip the balance for me.
I’ve wrestled with this question on several occasions. On the one hand, it was a horrific and devastating weapon that caused extensive civilian casualties.
On the other hand, the US using it before other countries likely kept it from being used more, and the invasion of the home islands would have been extraordinarily bloody for both combatants.
Full disclosure: My father was a US Marine, wounded on Guadalcanal, still on active service at war’s end. If we had invaded Japan, the odds of him surviving to create me and my siblings would have been much, much lower. It is possible that the A-bomb saved his life, and therefore mine.
It was certainly the correct decision from a policy standpoint.
To review the other options usually brought up:
Invasion would have disastrous for the invading forces since Japanese defenses had grown far beyond US military expectations. I’m not saying it couldn’t have been done, but I think there would have been a lot of hard questions for Truman after the war about whether it had actually been necessary (especially once it became known that we had had the bomb).
Blockade and continued bombardment would have achieved Japanese surrender in time. However, I’m not sure if it would have prevented the planned USSR invasion of Hokkaido. Even if the Japanese surrendered as soon as Soviet boots hit the ground, they may have reached into Tohoku by the time US troops arrived in Japan. That would not have been very good politically for the US.
Modification of the Potsdam Declaration to guarantee the life of the Emperor as is sometimes suggested wouldn’t have achieved Japanese surrender. The demands being made by the military up until the bombing were far greater and involved not just securing the Emperor’s life but also the system of government he represented.
This is something I’ve been thinking about lately since my dissertation involves atomic weapons and radiation and I’ve been reading Japanese sources on the subjects. Needless to say, they take a negative view on the use of the bombs.
They generally point to radiation poisoning as a difference between the atomic bombings and some of the other infamous raids during the war. In particular, they like to emphasize the affects the radiation had on fetuses, where some children born months after the war were malformed. More controversially they claim that residual radiation from the bombings lasted for days and affected rescue personnel who entered the city. They also argue that this radiation was “analogous” to a gas, meaning that the atomic bombs violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol.
I don’t necessarily agree that these differences add up to enough to put the atomic bombings on an entirely different ethical level, but they probably do make the bombings a bit “special”.
That’s fair, though I have no idea if conventional munitions used in extremely high quantities leave residuals that can poison future generations. It would not surprise me if they do.
Residual radiation lasting for days and affecting rescue crews? Conventional bombing attacks lasted for days and included actions designed to affect rescue crews, such as delayed fuse bombs. And I find it interesting to see the Japanese complaining about violations of the rules of war.
What always confuses me abotu the argument that the Japanese were ready to surrender because of the conventional bombing and blockade is why didn’t they. Either before the first bomb, or, more relevantly, between the two bombs? When was the surrender going to be?
And, as a bitchy aside, the fact that site claims MacArthur was opposed to the dropping of the bomb makes me much more supportive of it.
Most of those quotes come from after the bombings. A number of them also come from unreliable sources.
It probably sounds conceited but I, as a historian in 2009, know more than they did in 1945. Specifically, I know more about the inner workings of the Japanese government at the time than they had any way to. Many of the quotes state that the Japanese were ready to surrender before the bombings and/or that sparing the emperor would have been enough to cause surrender. I believe both of those things to be false.
Particularly since after the second bomb and the Emperor wanted to surrender the military attempted a coup to stop the surrender (and came close to succeeding). I see nothing in the Japanese character of the time (e.g. where they’d fight to the death of every last man on many islands…or do their level best to do that) that would suggest they were anywhere close to surrender.
They were clearly “defeated” in all but name weeks or months before. Air force almost non-existant, navy smashed, US bombers roaming at will over their country, industry hobbled, effective blockade, starvation of their citizens…yet still they continued on.
I see no other way to assess this than they brought it upon themselves.
As an aside, and not something I am sure could have been part of the decision at the time, I think using the bombs actually helped prevent a much worse nuclear war in the future. Because we knew, first hand, just how devastating these bombs were I think the Soviets and the US were marginally more reluctant to use them. On the times we have come close to blows (e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis) that margin may have been the difference. I suspect had they never been used on Japan someone would have found a reason to use them somewhere down the road which would be far worse when the bombs were numerous and bigger.
Yeah, but having demonstrated the effectiveness of the A-bomb, and now with many of the secrecy requirements lifted, it wouldn’t have taken long for the U.S. to ramp up the enrichment process. Perhaps the third bomb gets dropped four or five months later, and then steadily after that.