Last updated: April 25, 2019
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Up to today, there have been only two cases of an atomic bomb being used on an inhabited city. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, where the atomic bombs “Little boy” and “Fat man”, were detonated in the Fall of 1945. The death tolls caused by these devastating weapons summed up to an estimated 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, with thousands of further deaths occurring in the years that followed due to the after-effects of radiation exposure. In public it is believed that President Truman dropped the atomic bomb to the end the unrelenting carnage of the Second World War, but new theory and facts are constantly coming to light for alternative reasons as to why President Truman truly dropped the bombs onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though Japan was intending to surrender and some US government officials knew that, President Harry S. Truman and the Secretary of State James F. Byrnes disregarded this and dropped the atomic bomb to show their authority, technology, and righteousness.

Truman and Byrnes, bonded in a strange sort of co-Presidency, both strove to prove their authority to the public and change their negative image. This was all constructed from the moment Truman was selected, or rather chosen by no other alternatives, as Vice President in the 1944 election.

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Roosevelt, increasingly frail, agreed to replace Henry Wallace as Vice President because Wallace was considered too liberal by the party establishment. The surviving evidence suggests that Roosevelt chose to leave the selection of a running mate unresolved well into the summer of 1944. James F. Byrnes of South Carolina was initially favored, but labor leaders opposed him. In addition, his status as a segregationist gave him problems with Northern liberals, and he was also vulnerable because of his conversion from Catholicism. The position was then offered to Governor Henry F. Schricker of Indiana, who subsequently declined. Before the convention began, Roosevelt wrote a note saying he would accept either Truman or Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas; state and city party leaders preferred Truman. Truman himself appears not to have campaigned directly or indirectly that summer for the number two spot on the ticket, and in years to come would always maintain that he had not wanted the job of Vice President. (Wikipedia)

Truman, taking the seat of President due to FDR’s death, had already been the focus of many controversies. Unlike other Presidents who had commonly graduated from Harvard or Yale, he was the first and only President that has not graduated from college. His “unreliable” image, carried on from his Vice Presidential days, had increased due to his new level of responsibility as commander and chief. (Tori 123-24). Truman wanted to make a public demonstration of his capability and authority as a President because of this, so as to gain the love and respect of America’s citizenry.

On the other hand, James F. Byrnes grieved that his opportunity to become a President had slipped away. Fortunately his grief was quickly ended, for he had built a strong bond with Truman as an advisor during his Vice Presidency. As Truman took office, not only his trust but his authority over the Manhattan Project was passed onto Byrnes. Byrnes had previously mentioned to FDR that he disfavored the Manhattan Project; viewing it as a scientist’s selfish pursuit and waste of large sum of the country’s money, which would surely cause a problem for the White House after the war. His opinion soon changed as Truman asked for his advice; he actually enforced the use of atomic bomb because he also wanted the recognition of the American public. Such absolute military power during wartime had turned into a boost of self-confidence for both Truman and Byrnes, and they were not going to gain anything without using the weapons. President Truman and Byrnes even got closer because of their similar goal.

As Truman becomes President and is briefed about the Manhattan Project, Truman and Byrnes both ignored the advice and concerns of the scientists involved, who voiced that the atomic bombs were initially built to protect the United States, not offensively harm another country. The Manhattan Project, still considered the largest research project in American history, served to build a new type of military weapon, the likes of which the world had never before seen- the atomic bomb. The leading scientist and specialist in charge were Hungarian-American physicist, Leo Szilard, and American theoretical physicist, Robert Oppenheimer. Prior to the project, Szilard had sent a letter to FDR regarding the threat of the atomic bomb that Germany was believed to be creating. This letter also included Einstein’s signature, for Einstein and Szilard both had a certain belief:

He (Szilard) hoped that the U.S. government, which prior to World War II had staunchly opposed the bombing of civilians, would not use nuclear weapons because of their potential for use against civilian populations. Szilárd hoped that the mere threat of such weapons would force Germany and/or Japan to surrender. He drafted the Szilárd petition advocating demonstration of the atomic bomb. However with the European war concluded and the U.S. taking heavy casualties in the Pacific, the new U.S. President Harry Truman sided with advisors and chose to use atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki over the protestations of Szilárd and other scientists. Before the war Szilárd had considered the U.S. to be the one truly humane government in the world. That was the reason why he chose to assist the U.S. in developing the atomic bomb. He abandoned this view after the weapons’ use. (Wikipedia)

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Fig.1.Einstein and Leo Szilard, conferring on the matter of the atomic bomb.

In addition to Szilard, scientist James Frank made a report called the “Frank Report” composed by seven leading scientists of the day. In this report, he expressed that it would be better to demonstrate the power of atomic bomb in front of each country, detonated at a desert or some uninhabited island, than dropping on Japan. This would allow demonstration of the bomb’s immense power, gaining political bargaining power for the Allies without the cost of human lives. As they handed the report to Truman, it was cleanly neglected.

On another case John Mccloy mentions to President Truman that America does not have to drop the atomic bomb, and Truman actually agrees with Mccloy. The conversation was made in the White House, but this was removed from record in the office’s official log. Mccloy died at age of ninety four in 1989. When Mccloy died, his son and daughter met with James Reston, the boss of the New York Times and Mccloy’s good friend, to show Mccloy’s lost record of the White House conversation. (Tori 134)

By the time Truman was given his Presidency, America been persistently attacking Japan’s coastlines and warfare factories for months, which caused Japan to consider surrendering. Up against the Allied powers of the US, Soviet Union, England, and France, Japan could expect no help from their own allies given that Germany had already surrendered in 1945. Italy had preceded Germany with the arrival of American and English troops in North Africa. This left Japan as the only remaining Axis power that had not surrendered yet. Commanders and generals of the US army believed that Japan would have eventually surrendered prior to the use of atomic bomb, but Truman and Byrnes neglected this advisement. In fact on Jun 22, 1945, little over a month before the first bomb was dropped, the Emperor and top five government officials met for a national assembly. They discussed surrendering because they were coming to the realization that Japan could not hold out much longer against the vastly superior forces facing their country. (Tori 50-54).

As the war approached its end, Truman and Byrnes anxiously begin to think of the aftermath, which further prompted them to use the atomic bomb. As Germany had finally fallen and Europe was regaining peace, Japan was the only country left to fight. Though prior to the fall of Germany, US hoped for the Soviet Union’s assistance to face Japan, for then they would be able to attack Japan from both sides of the sea. Eventually they saw how such force was unnecessary because Japan was on already surrounded and on the verge of surrender. Truman had then started acknowledging the Soviet Union’s increasing technology, which he considered as a threat. Though the Soviet Union had a pact with Japan to respect the borders and stay out each others land, Truman knew that they would break such promises and invade Japan if given the opportunity. If the Soviets were to gain control of Japan, it would shame Truman; Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor and the US had struggled greatly already to gain control of the Pacific and crush Japan’s military forces. On top of this, “If this (Manhattan Project) expense was not justified, Truman would have faced a Congressional inquiry into the misappropriation of $2 billion.”(Dinks 2) Wanting to be elected for another term as Presidential, Truman needed to prove to the public everything that he possibly could about his abilities as a leader. Therefore, Truman and Byrnes did not want the Soviets to become active in the Pacific war before the use of the atomic bomb (Mitsu).

The opportunity to prove their righteousness came along when it was mentioned in the White House that the atomic bombs would be available for use by August 1st 1945. With their newfound technology, Truman and Byrnes wanted to show the power of US and the power that they themselves yielded. The date of a possible Soviet invasion of Japan was not yet determined, but Truman and Byrnes knew that it would most probably whether on July 4th, July 15th, August 1st, or August 8th. Therefore if the Soviets had entered the conflict prior to August, they could have taken potentially over Japan, thus averting the use of the bomb and America’s subsequent occupation of the island nation (Sherwood 907). Worried about the date, Truman and Byrnes sent a government official, Hopkins, to the Soviet Union.

Truman and Byrnes carefully planned their activities so that they would achieve their goal. Truman had kept Hopkins’ visit to Russia top secret, even to many top government officials, for he had known at this point that his action was selfish and politically motivated. Truman assigned Hopkins to figure out the exact date the Soviets would plan on invading Japan. (Alperoviz 212) The prospect of a Soviet invasion preoccupied Truman, for on one letter to his wife he states that “If Russia dares to attack Japan, Japan will lose.”(Robert 45) If Truman really wanted to make Japan lose as soon as possible, he would have asked Russia to assist them in a conventional military invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Upon interviewing President Truman after the war concluded, he announced that “there is nothing heart breaking” regarding the tragedy of the atomic bomb (Japanese Asahi Times).

Truman’s decision to use the bomb argued that it saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost in an invasion of mainland Japan. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke in support of this view when she said, in 1954, that Truman had “made the only decision he could,” and that the bomb’s use was necessary “to avoid tremendous sacrifice of American lives. (Wikipedia)

Such interpretation of Truman’s statement as above is widely established, for I have learned no differently in high school. But that is mainly from the point of view of those guilty of dropping the bomb, just as murderers justify themselves in the commission of their crime. I once read a book published by a victim, Bun Hayashizume, fourteen years old. She was in Hiroshima when they dropped atomic bomb, but she had survived and been taken in by the ABCC, or Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which built shelters for victims after the war concluded. They kept and eye on the victims, recorded film and information of their body’s reaction to radiation exposure, and the Japanese government were prohibited to enter or know their activity. What was actually going on inside ABCC was that she was not treated for her injuries, but rather considered as a source of experimental data. (Mitsu). In fact on February 2nd, 1993, a Nevada newspaper has stated that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were little more than an “atomic bomb experiment.” (“President”) This picture is the aftermath of Hiroshima (see fig.2)

 

Fig. 2 The aftermath of Hiroshima (Tori)

 

As a result, historical researchers delve into facts that are not generally known to pursue the truth in history. I found a lot of sources about the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, including information based on first-hand accounts, newspapers, books, and historical online articles. In general, if one is asked regarding the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he or she may say that “Truman and Byrnes wanted to drop atomic bomb to the end of war.” But in reality, the atomic bomb was dropped for multiple reasons, all tied to Truman and Byrnes’s strong urges to drop the bomb to satisfy their own selfish aspirations for long and admired political careers.

 
Works Cited

 

Books:

 

Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. 1996. New York: Vintage Books,

1998.

Robert, Lifton J., and Greg Mitchell. Robert Jay Lifton Greg Mitchell: Hiroshima in America. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.

Sherwood, Robert. Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. 1948. New York:

Harper and Brothers, 1948.

Torii, Tami.The Atomic Bomb: Harry Truman and James Byrnes.Tokyo:Kabushikisanyousha,

2005.

 

 

Other print sources:

 

“President Truman, No Heart Break.” Tokyo Times. 3 Feb.1958. late ed.:B3.

 

 

 

Online sources:

 

Dinks, David, et al. “Why Did President Truman Drop the Atomic Bomb.” Essortment (2002).5 July. 2007 < http://oror.essortment.com/presidenttruman_rywp.htm >.

Mitsu, Kali. “World War?.” Unclear Power.1 Jan 1998 <http://inri.client.

jp/ hexagon/floorA4F_ha/a4fhc700.html>.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Jan 2001. Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

24 July2001 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_

and_Nagasaki >.