If no atom bombs dropped on Japan in WW2?

Let say for some reason or other, the US never drops the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The response to the American ultimatum may have been mistranslated? The USSR invading may have changed minds, or just sanity. Whatever. For some reason or other, they are not dropped.

I know, many would consider this to be a GREAT thing, and I can see that.

But! We saw the horrors of the bombings, and soon after the whole world turned against the idea of such weapons ever being used again… but there’s that word- "again".

If they were not used, no one would know of the horrors. If so, maybe then the first use would involve a lot more bombs, bringing wider and even more horrible devastation. Maybe the Berlin crisis. Maybe the Korean War- MacArthur reportedly wanted to use them there.

How much more horrible would that have been? Maybe the USSR would have retaliated?

Now I know that all the military solutions to ending the war on Japan would have caused even more deaths than using the bombs, but maybe, maybe dropping the bomb was actually a Good thing, horrible as it was.

This is not to debate whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the Right thing, or ways the war could have been ended diplomatically. That last is the assumption of the debate- Resolved if the bombs had not been dropped there & then, would the then “first use” have been worse? Would there even have been a first use?

I think, but of course, do not know if it would have been worse, but I suspect NOT overall.

I know there is scholarly (and not-so-scholarly) debate on the reasons for the use of atomic weapons in Japan, a popular one being at least a strong secondary intent to make the Soviets keep their distance. I can see a ‘what if’ scenario in which Japan capitulates, but Soviet forces in Europe keep pushing east, further past what the rest of the Western forces would tolerate.

In this scenario, the Soviets, under a felt mandate to bring Communism to the whole of Europe and De-Nazify the rest of Europe (see what I did there?) intends to continue until all eternal threats are gone, and the US makes a similar ultimatum to what happened in Japan. Russia doesn’t blink, and the US uses the ‘first’ nuclear weapon somewhere in the European theater.

Which would be ‘worse’ from the POV of most Westerners, but not objectively so. In some ways, it would likely be ‘better’, in that it would most likely be targeted at a predominantly military target / buildup, but would still have massive and ongoing civilian losses as well. From the POV of the population at the time, also probably a wash, presuming the demonstration was on former Nazi territory - just like Japan, there would have been a feeling that if they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t have supported their respective governments.

Once the weapon was developed, and before the scale of the long term risks were known, I cannot help but assume the temptations to use it would have been too strong NOT to have done so at some point. The absolute worst case scenario though, would have been the US holding off on using them, until after Soviet spies learned of, and duplicated said devices, and then used them pre-emptively or as a counter after an American use - which could easily have spiraled out of control.

Yes, that is my assumption also.

I like your scenario for at least being not a whole lot worse.

Good reply, thank you.

I would think the Cuban missile crisis would have actually been a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union (and Cuba).

As it was we came perilously close to nuclear war. Had a bomb never been dropped on a populace prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis I think it likely nukes would have been hitting New York and Washington, DC (and other cities). And then the inevitable retaliation against the Soviet Union.

My guess is that the first use would have happened sooner rather than later. Likely in the late 1940s as a response to ongoing Soviet aggression. Guessing the results gets complicated quickly. I think there’s a fair chance that it would happen before the Soviets had their own nukes. If so, then Russia might be rebuilt in the same manner Japan was in our timeline.

With the USSR defeated and China stuck in a civil war (because the Communists now lack support from a USSR that was just defeated), the US would probably be the only nuclear power for decades. As far as what the world with US only nukes and a democratic Russia looks like, that gets even more difficult to guess at.

How does the Chinese civil war end?
What happens with India and the breakup of the rest of the British Empire?
Do the western powers resume pre-WW2 style colonization of Africa and the Arab countries?
Do the US and UK become rivals rather than allies?
Does the US develop a policy that any country that tries to develop their own nukes will be nuked preemptively?

These and many other questions arise, with answers we can only guess at.

I think their use a first time would have been inevitable, and the longer it took to get to that point, the worse it would have been. Due to ever-increasing stockpiles and ever-improving delivery methods.

The Soviet invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria began on August 8, 1945 and the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima two days earlier, so it’s difficult to see how the invasion could have changed Japanese minds in time to avert the bombing. Not that dominant hardliners would have crumbled over the invasion anyway.

I agree that delaying use of nuclear weapons would likely have led to markedly worse outcomes. especially if first use happened within the early postwar years, before revulsion at mass civilian casualties from bombing (nuclear and non-nuclear) became ingrained.

With men like Curtis Lemay around, The Bomb was going to be dropped one way or another. I think in Korea, most likely. And yeah, it would have been worse since there would probably have been a salvo of bombs along the front rather than two individual city strikes. Maybe at that point we’d get to the same thinking that we got in reality after the Japan nukes. That is to say, we’d come around to the same state of affairs, but later. And with Korea taking the hit instead of Japan.

By the way one of the lead scientists in Manhattan project , Klaus Fuchs, was a communist spy that delivered precises instructions on how to build an A-bomb to the USSR.
So if Japan hadn’t been bombed the same timeline deploys, but with increased risk of A-bomb dropping in the Iran crisis (45), the Berlin crisis (48) or the Korean war (50-53).
The most likely is the Iran one: USSR had invaded the north and British the south in 1942 when the Shah was overturned for being too axis friendly. After the war the country was to be reunited but Stalin dragged his feet. In this case, a rabid Le May could lever the use of a bombing to soften the Russians…

I agree that the longer the wait, then the more likely a bad outcome; however, do we know if the atomic bomb would have been developed further without a clear threat to counter? A lot of the work was done because of what was happening in Germany and the desire to develop it before they did, but once that nation had been defeated, and no major active war zone existed, the need to develop a massive bomb, and the methods for delivering it would have likely been given less importance. This is also true for the USSR. Without at demonstration of how devastating it was, it was all theoretical and could have just been seen as an expensive project with no real value. Although development would have continued, I do not think that it would have necessarily been on the scale that occurred afterwards.


I wish I could remember the source, but after the defeat of Germany, one of the Manhattan scientists asked a general if they still needed to finish the bomb just for Japan. The general said, “We’re not making this bomb for Japan. We’re making it for Russia.” So the powers that be were already planning for war with the USSR. Or even better, having a big stick to hold over the Soviets (prior to the Soviets getting the bomb).

It seems naive (for us, or a Manhattan scientist in 1945) to think that the Army invested in the Manhattan Project, and the manufacturing/stockpiling of bombs, in order not to ultimately use them. “Gotta nuke something!” NB actual photos of the horrors is one thing, but they did test a plutonium-type bomb in 1945, so it’s not like they had no idea what it did, the yield, fallout, and so on. Also NB Japan, or Germany, was not going to nuke them back.

That is really scary and plausible.

Interesting and plausible, but not quite as scary.

Right, that is what I thought too.

That was my guess.

Although the Soviets had detailed information, they still didn’t successfully explode a bomb until 1949. I don’t think Truman would have used an A-bomb in Iran (that was the Brit’s problem) or Berlin. But almost certainly in Korea. MacArthur wanted to use them anyway, and he knew exactly what kind of devastation the bomb had done to Japan.

Both Truman during the Korean War, and Eisenhower in the last days of the French counterinsurgency in Vietnam, came under Pentagon pressure to use nukes. Had there not been the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as examples of actual field deployment, I could see either of the men, in some scenarios, authorizing it in their respective later crises.

Remember that a Soviet submarine was going to launch a nuclear torpedo. To do so required three of the senior staff to agree. Two wanted to and one refused. It came that close.

Had the bombs not been dropped on Japan it is easy to suppose that nuclear torpedo would have been launched.

That’s my guess too; if not Japan, then it would have been as part of the Korean War. Not sure if it would have been against a North Korean target, or possibly a Chinese target.

I can imagine nukes being used along the Korean/Chinese border in response to the Chinese invasion. A bad day for the GIs at Chosin.

My question in this interesting alternative scenario (thanks OP) would be to what extent would the bombs have been kept secret. Suppose Japan comes to its senses and realizes the war is unwinnable and surrenders August 1st 1945.

You’ve developed the ultimate weapon and no one knows you’ve got it. Do you mount public a test and announce to the world that you’re the new big dog in town, or do you keep it a secret so that it can achieve its maximum potential should you need it.

Very interesting question. Hmm.

On another note, I think the general consensus is that MacArthur would have used them in Korea, if not someone else somewhere earlier. I guess that scenario is not as disastrous as several other possibilities, such as the Cuban Missile crisis.