Was the US attack on Hiroshima justified?

In history class, we are currently learning about WWII (If you must, please take this time to laugh because I am still in high school. Thank you.), and we were discussing the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. We were told to consider Harry Truman’s options (Invasion of Japan, bomb and blockade, demonstration of the atom bomb’s power, or drop the atom bomb on an industrial town) and independently decide which option we would choose. The class overwhelmingly voted for the bomb, with only three people choosing another option. After some discussion, I think everybody agreed on dropping the atom bomb as the best option. This led me to wonder if this is a purely American point of view - do other people around the world consider the US responsible for the current state of affairs, where many countries have weapons of mass destruction? And, considering Truman’s situation, was the US attack on Hiroshima justified? If it was justified, then was it morally correct?

It ended the World War II. Therefore, it was right on all moral an strategic fronts. Nuff Said.

On ALL MORAL fronts? I think there’d be a number of innocent civilians over here who would disagree with you.

My personal opinion is the war is over, and there is no point in rehashing this question. I will agree with Shagnasty that the good thing was that it ended the war. I don’t know if Nagasaki needed to be bombed to help prove the point though.

The good thing to come out of Hiroshima/Nagasaki is we know just how destructive nuclear power can be, which is probably why nothing has been executed on such a scale since.

Hmmm… is it possible this has already been discussed several dozen times? Might you consider using the search feature to look in the SDMB’s vast archives?

I’ve been to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember thinking about the same question as I walked from the train station to the A-Bomb Dome. I have always agreed with the rationale for dropping the bomb–shortening the war, preventing a bloody conquest of Japan and saving the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers.

As I passed people on the sidewalk, I wondered who I would kill to end the war–that businessman, that old woman with her grandson, those three middle school girls? It’s a sobering thought that the casualties of war have families, are people with names and faces.

The A-Bomb Dome is a lot smaller than it looks in photos.

So is the world.

Absa-fucking-lutely not. Testing a military super-weapon on a civilian population was not a nice thing to do. At least Pearl Harbor was a military target. Not that that excuses it, but Hiroshima was, in the most literal sense of the word, genocide.

Okay, so it ended the war. Great. We saved thousands of American soldiers’ lives, and we only had to kill countless men, women, and children to do it. Bravo, us. That’s real fair. At least the invasion of Japan would have pitted soldier against soldier, and not civilains against an atomic bomb.

Still think it was “necessary”? Okay, fine. Would you have the balls to explain it to any of the people going about their daily business on the day of the bombing?

President Truman: Oh, we’re sorry. We are going to kill you and everyone in this town.

Woman doing laundry: What?!

President Truman: No, no. It’s okay, really. You see, invading your country would cost countless American lives, and you can’t expect us to chose the lives of Japanese women and children over the lives of American men. It’s really for the best.

Woman doing Laundry: Oh, okay. How silly of me. You’re right.

Obviously, the notion that Hiroshima was the only way to go and was “okay” because it ended the war is a bowl of stinking shit. What would have been a better solution? I dunno. I feel that a full-scale invasion of Japan might have been no less bloody or horrific but probably more honorable. Or, then again, maybe it would have been worse. Could it simply have been that it was a shit situation and there was no right decision?

Ah, now you’re begining to catch on.

Genocide is, in fact or attempt, eradicating a people, a culture, a distinct people. Calling the bombing genocide is hystrionics. Mass murder, maybe. Genocide, no.

Try hundreds of thousands on both sides.

Do you know why I think it was necessary? Because my boss, a Japanese national who was born and grew up in the rubble of Tokyo, thinks that it was the quickest way to end the war, and cost the fewest lives of all the options. But what does he know of honor?

At least the invasion of Japan would have pitted soldier against soldier, and not civilains against an atomic bomb.

I assume you’ve never seen the video clips of Japanese civilians preparing for the defense of Japan? Every able bodied person from school girls to old men were expected to assist in the defense of the motherland. Children practiced fighting in hand-to-hand combat with sharpened bamboo spears. They were willing to fight a guerrilla war to the last person.

This wouldn’t have happened, of course. Japan would have eventually surrendered. But keep in mind that the extensive firebombing of Tokyo, which killed more than the atomic bombing of either Hiroshima or Nagasaki didn’t prompt a surrender.

Oh heavens, here we go again.

Well, no. Plans were being drawn up by the Japanese high command to enlist the old men, women and children, to die in defense of their homeland. Estimate of the number of American lives lost in an invasion: 500,000. Estimate of the number of Japanese lives lost: 1,000,000. Rough number of lives lost in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: about 130,000.

Certainly. My explanation runs something like this:
[li]You started a war by treacherously attacking my country in time of peace without warning or jusitification.[/li][li]In concert with the monstrous Nazi regime of Hitler, and the Fascists of Italy, you waged a cruel war of aggression against the free peoples of the world.[/li][li]You committed the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, conducted medical experiments against prisoners, starved and murdered those you attempted to enslave, and in general conducted yourselves in ways that disqualify you from consideration as a civilized society.[/li][li]At a dreadful cost in blood and treasure, you were driven back to your island, and given a chance honorably to surrender. You chose not to avail yourself of that opportunity.[/li][li]So, you don’t want to surrender? OK. We will see what can be done to change your mind.[/li][/list=1] Spare me the moral superiority. In time of war, those who have no suggestions on some reasonable alternative have also no business sneering at the people actually trying to win the war - and spare as many lives as they can. Both Japanese and American.


There is a summary of an excellent debate on whether the bombing of Hiroshima was justified here. It features Gar Alperovitz, a history professor who wrote The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb, along with his academic supporters and critics.

I believe that a common tactic in debates on Hiroshima is to appeal to people’s emotional attachments to their friends, fathers, and grandfathers who fought in World War II. “How dare you say that my grandfather should have been forced into a bloody invasion of Japan?” someone might say. It’s perfectly understandable that people feel this way, but the real test of whether bombing Hiroshima was justified was not whether the average soldier would have favored the bombing, but whether military leaders and diplomats who had access to privileged governmental and intelligence information felt that the bombing was necessary. I believe the Gar Alperovitz makes a strong case for the fact that military leaders and diplomats did have misgivings about bombing Hiroshima and thought that an forcing Japan to surrender was possible without using the atomic bomb.

I’ll concede that using the atomic bomb might have been morally justified IF it would have led to fewer deaths than a protracted military invasion of Japan, but because there are government documents that suggest that Japan might have surrendered anyway, I don’t think that was the case here.

Another interesting question is whether Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not just meant to end the war with Japan, but whether there was an ulterior motive there to frighten the Soviets away from messing around in Asia. If so, it didn’t work. On the other hand, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, criticism of bombing Hiroshima was often a conservative position promoted in the pages of National Review (the cites are in some of the Alperovitz articles, I think). National Review did not have a pacifist position on the matter by any stretch of the imagination. They just felt that a land invasion of Japan was simultaneously more honorable than using the atomic bomb and it would have reduced the Soviets’ influence in Asia more than the bomb did.


Jon P.

Do you have a more direct cite than the link you provided? My boss mentioned that there were doves in the Japanese war cabinet, but said that they were unable to affect policy because they were completely cowed by the hawks, who had the cultural advantage when discussions about fighting to the death came up.

Technically, the emperor was in complete charge of everything and could make any damn decision he felt like. In practice, the emperor waited for his advisors to come up with an unanimous suggestion, which he then always followed. With regards to the war, in Spring of 1945 the war council was split 3-3. Those arguing for continuing the war believed that any attempted invasion of Japan would be so costly for the Allies that they would agree to a negotiated settlement in which Japan could save face by not truly being the “loser.” After the A-bomb drops, the emperor directly intervened and decided in favor of peace.

As noted, earlier, this is a topic that has been broached in this Forum on occasion. The following threads have delved into the issues of

  • Were the Japanese trying to surrender?
  • Were the Japanese even ready to surrender?
  • Were nuclear weapons used solely to frighten the U.S.S.R./Stalin?
  • Was the motive revenge?
  • Was the motive racism?

(Sadly, one really exhaustive thread that was archived appears to have been lost to various Board reformations.)

Dropping the atomic bomb.
Was dropping the bomb on Japan unnecessary?
Sure the first A-bomb dropped was necessary. Why the second?
Hiroshima was a terrorist act

What I wrote was my honest emotional reaction to the issue backed up by what general facts I knew off-hand. I didn’t have all the facts and, if you’ll notice, in my original post I did admit that perhaps an invasion of Japan would have cost more lives. (Incidentally, I was aware of Japanese civilain involvement in the war, and this was part of the reason I made this statement.)

The point I was trying to make is not that the U.S. shouldn’t have used the atomic bomb, or even that it would have been better had they not–although in my (admittedly casual) opinion it was not as necessary as some people make it out to be. The point is that justice is not mathmatically quatifiable, and that regardless of how many lives it may have saved that does not make a nuclear attack on civilians any less horrible. “Justifiable” is not a word I would ever use to refer to a nuclear attack. “Necessary evil” is as far as I’d go… and with the emphasis on “evil.”

And I do think that in arguements that involve ethics on a grand scale, the matter of human feeling is often ignored. Regardless of the ultimate good that may or may not be served, I would never have the audacity to expect that the actual victims of such events should feel any less wronged because of it.

Not that that is necessarily what others on this thread are implying. However, I do think that one way to keep the past in perspective is to never rationalize away the paradoxes that shape it. If Hiroshima can be dealt with as easily as “it was for the greater good” that does not address the true complexity of what happened. If war ever begins to make sense so clearly, you are misunderstanding it.

Or that’s what I think anyway. It’s just how I feel about it. My earlier post was meant as a round-about way of illustrating the paradox. I’m sorry if it was confusing.

I just wanted to respond to some specific commets:

Thanks for the clarification–so it was mass murder.

Well, everyone’s got a story. I met a Japanese woman once who’s grandmother died at Hiroshima, and she seemed more ambivalent. I have no doubt that those in other parts of war torn Japan were thankful for the end of the war, and I’m sure that those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were as well. However, based on what I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to, I do not believe that it was ever this black and white for any survivor of either atomic attack. I suppose I can’t prove this, though.

I realize that. My point is that wartime ethics isn’t simply a matter of math. On a basic level, it is obviously preferrable for 130,000 to die than 1,000,000. My issue with Hiroshima is who was dying and how.

I apologize for coming off as morally superior (I think I was, which was not my conscious intention.) I think the way I chose to word my statement obscured the point I was trying to make. I did not mean to “snear,” but I do think there was more involved in the decision to drop the atomic bomb than simply the economics of minimizing casulties. Take racism, for example. I find it more difficult to give America the benefit of the doubt when it was the same country that blatantly circumvented its own constitution to imprison Japanese-Americans during the war. Not that this “proves” America’s motivations for dropping the bomb were racist, but it does prove that race was a concern within the U.S. goverment at the time of the bombing. That’s just one example. As suggested elsewhere on this thread there are other variables that may have contributed to the bombing, and they all deserve to be explored before we go decide to take the bombing at face-value.

For the record, I do not support or encourage naysayers who fane morally high positions and offer no alternatives. If I can help it, I try not to be one myself. The reason I offered no alternative for winning the war in my original post is because I was not arguing what would have been a more effective way to win the war. Bombing Hiroshima was a very effective way to end the war, and I dount anyone could argue otherwise. I was just trying to point out that it was not something that should be seen as “right” or “justified” simply because it contributed to a greater good… and that if this conflicts with the definition of those two words, I would like to challenge those definitions.

Consider the alternatives offered in the OP: an invasion of Japan or a program of conventional bombing and blockade would have produced more casualties (Japanese and American, military and civilian) than the atomic bombings did. A demonstration of the atom bomb’s power wouldn’t have worked; anyone who disputes this has to explain how a non-lethal demonstration would have triggered a surrender when the destruction of Hiroshima didn’t.

Nor is there any real reason to believe latter claims that Japan was about to surrender anyway. The Japanese were making plans to resist invasion and fight to the finish. Even after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet declaration of war, there was still an attempted military coup to overturn Hirohito’s surrender order and continue the war.

As for morality, in my opinion the best moral guide in warfare in Augustine’s principle that a just war prevents more suffering than it causes. By that logic, the atom bombings were moral.

[italics added] Wild exaggeration doesn’t help any.

Who’s trying to be fair?

“pitted soldier against solder?” What do you think this was, a medieval joust?

[quote[Still think it was “necessary”? Okay, fine. Would you have the balls to explain it to any of the people going about their daily business on the day of the bombing?



So your complaint is that caught in a situtation where no decision could be right, somebody made a decision?

There is a section on the conflict between doves and hawks in the Japanese government here with a bibliography on the following page. It appears that the sticking point for the Japanese doves was that they wanted a guarantee that they could retain their emperor, which the United States in fact allowed them to do. In other words, we bombed Hiroshima, then granted the Japanese the one concession that might have made the bombing unnecessary in the first place.

Jon P.

From what I was taught in history lessons Japan had already contacted the Allies to discuss a peace deal before the bombs were dropped. The entire point of dropping the bombs was to warn the USSR that the US had a fully developed A-bomb and was not afraid to use it. Therefore dropping the A-bomb was not justified.

The United States wanted a complete and unconditional surrender from Japan. Nothing less then that was acceptable.