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«A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of the ...»

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A Thesis

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the

Louisiana State University and

Agricultural and Mechanical College

In partial fulfillment of the

Requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts in Liberal Arts


The Inter-Departmental Program in Liberal Arts


Joseph H. Paulin

B.A., Kent State University, 1994

May 2007


ABSTRACT……………………………………………………...………………...…….iii CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION……………………………………...………………….1 CHAPTER 2. JAPANESE RESISTANCE………………………………..…………...…5


CHAPTER 4. THE DEBATE……………………………………………………………38 CHAPTER 5. THE DECISION………………………………………………………….49 CHAPTER 6. CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………..64 REFERENCES.………………………………………………………………………….68 VITA……………………………………………………………………………………..70 ii


During the time President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, the United States was preparing to invade the Japanese homeland. The brutality and the suicidal defenses of the Japanese military had shown American planners that there was plenty of fight left in a supposedly defeated enemy. Senior military and civilian leaders presented Truman with several options to force the surrender of Japan.

The options included the tightening of the naval blockade and aerial bombardment of Japan, invasion, a negotiated peace settlement, and the atomic bomb became an option, once bomb became operational.

Truman received recommendations, advice and proposals from civilian and military leaders within the first two months of taking office after President Roosevelt died. Only after meeting with the senior leadership to discuss the various options did Truman authorize the planning and execution of the invasion of Japan. However, the extremely large casualty estimates presented by the Chiefs of Staff remained a concern for Truman, especially in the wake of the bloody battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

These estimates became the driving factor for Truman’s ultimate decision to use the new weapon against Japan and to end the war before anymore Americans service members died unnecessarily.

The decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan was only Truman’s decision to make. All the other leaders provided their recommendations and advice based on the events that shaped the brutalities of the war in the pacific. At no time did Truman receive advice on not using the atomic bomb. Critics and military leaders’ disapproval of his decision came after the war had ended. To this day, Truman’s decision remains a

–  –  –

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and followed up with a second atomic attack on Nagasaki three days later. After nearly four bloody years of war with the United States, the Japanese Empire surrendered in the face of unimaginable force and certain destruction. President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use the new weapon ultimately avoided the estimated 250,000 casualties that the United States would have suffered during the invasion of Japan. Additionally, Truman’s decision spared perhaps millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians from a bloody fight-to-the-death battle on the Japanese homeland. Nonetheless, the use of the atomic bomb became the most controversial event of World War 2 and has generated vast scholarly literature.1 While Truman made the final decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, the origins of the weapon began during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. Shortly after the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939, Albert Einstein had endorsed a famous letter from Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard to Roosevelt that outlined Nazi Germany’s efforts to develop an atomic weapon; that letter, in turn led to the creation of the United States atomic weapons program known as the Manhattan Project. Code-named S-1, the development of the atomic bomb was the “largest scientific-industrial undertaking in History”2 and thought to be the bestkept secret of the war. Only after the conflict did the United States learn that the Soviet Union had penetrated the Manhattan Projected early on and had complete knowledge of the development of the atomic bomb.

For a recent analysis of the conflicting views, see J. Samuel Walker, “Recent Literature of Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground,” Diplomatic History Vol. 29, (April 2005): pp. 311 – 334.

David McCullough, Truman, p.378.

The basis for America’s atomic weapons program was the fear that Germany was developing its own atomic weapon. German scientists, in fact, were actively engaged in atomic research, but they were unable to determine the right amount of uranium needed to sustain a reaction and could not manufacture enough fissionable material to produce a bomb. Only after Germany’s surrender in 1945 did the United States learn that German scientists had been far from developing an atomic bomb. Japanese scientists concluded in 1943 that the development of an atomic bomb was possible and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo granted unlimited funds and resources to them, but a B-29 raid on Tokyo in April 1945 destroyed the research facilities and ended Japan’s efforts in developing an atomic bomb.3 When President Roosevelt died in April 1945, only a few senior military and civilian officials knew about the atomic weapons program. Truman learned about the project only after taking office. Thereafter, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and James F. Byrnes, Truman’s personal representative for atomic matters and future Secretary of State, constantly kept the new president informed on the research and development of the atomic bomb and it fell to him to decide how best way end the Pacific War. While scientists achieved great results in developing the new weapon, the atomic bomb remained untested and lacked reliability as an option towards achieving a Japanese surrender in the early summer of 1945.

By mid-1945, American forces were driving the once powerful and victorious Imperial Japanese military war machine across the Pacific Ocean toward Japan. With no offensive capabilities left, Japan could not escape ultimate defeat. However, Japanese units refused to retreat or surrender and continued to fight against overwhelming odds. In many of the island campaigns, American forces had to destroy entire Japanese garrisons to achieve victory. During what turned out to be the final two battles in the war, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the United States Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, pp. 252-253.

suffered the greatest number of casualties of the entire war. Japanese defenders used their experiences from previous battles to perfect their suicidal defenses and tactics, which gave the American planners a horrifying idea of what to expect during an invasion of Japan itself. Having correctly identified the landing areas that the American planned to use, the Japanese deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians into prepared defenses in southern Kyushu. The so-called defeated Japanese planned to meet the American invasion force head-on and at equal strength.

His civilian and military advisors presented Truman with several options that would force the unconditional surrender of Japan. Those options include the tightening of the naval blockade in conjunction with the aerial bombardment of the Japanese home islands, a two-phased invasion of Japan, and a negotiated surrender that would revise the unconditional surrender demand and guarantee the safety of the Japanese Emperor. Truman’s advisors could not agree on how long any of the options would take to end the war. After hearing all the views and projected casualty figures from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Truman approved the plans for the invasion of Japan. The estimated 250,000 American casualties during the invasion became the determinant of Truman’s final decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan.

The successful testing of the atomic bomb on July 16, 1945 in the remote New Mexico desert provided Truman with an option that could make an invasion unnecessary and save countless lives. The planning and preparation for the invasion of Japan continued as Truman finalized his decision to drop the bomb. Once the Big Three issued the Potsdam Declaration to the Japanese government, the fate of Japan was in the hands of its leaders. Even though elements in the Japanese government were secretly trying to get the Soviets to mediate a peace settlement, at no time did they address the United States or any other government that issued the declaration about terms of surrender. Instead, Japan defiantly rejected the Allies’ demand and continued preparing for its suicidal defense.

Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb gave many scholars and leaders the opportunity to criticize his decision-making process and the need to drop the bomb on a defeated enemy. Over the years, scholars have provided a number of reasons as to why Truman decided to use this new weapon. Three schools of thought came from this controversial decision. The first are the traditional interpretations, which reiterate that the dropping of the bomb was necessary to stop the invasion of Japan and save American lives. The second interpretations are from the revisionists, who argue that the bomb was not necessary because that Japanese were already defeated and on the verge of surrender. Additionally, revisionists contend that the leaders did not attempt to change the American demand for unconditional surrender and dropping the bomb was racially motivated. The final interpretations for scholars are the middleground views. These views challenged both the views of the traditionalists and the revisionists.

While middle-ground scholars differ on their arguments, they do support the decision to drop the bomb to end the war and to save lives. However, they do believe Truman had more choices then just the bomb or an invasion. In the end, none of the advisors close to Truman ever recommended against using the weapon. All opposition came following its use, when the alternate choice to invade Japan and suffer a quarter of a million casualties was only a memory.4

–  –  –

The military situation in the spring of 1945 was one of great despair for the once powerful Japanese Empire. The Imperial Navy, having achieved in 1941complete surprise against the United States in crippling its Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, was no longer a major threat. Most of the Imperial Navy lay at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean or anchored in Japanese ports waiting for a final decisive battle. The Imperial Army that had defeated U.S.

forces in the Philippines and the British and Dutch forces in Asia either experienced disastrous defeats in its retreat to the Japanese home islands or remained on the Asian mainland to face a possible Soviet invasion. While the Japanese military was not capable of conducting offensive operations, it was capable of defending the homeland against the anticipated American invasion.

The bloody, fight-to-the-death battles on Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa were only a sample of what the American invasion force would face on the beaches of Kyushu and throughout the Japanese home islands. Japan began to mobilize its entire population for a decisive battle that would mean victory or total annihilation for the Japanese people.

The Japanese naval, ground, and air forces enjoyed complete military success over illprepared British and American forces until mid-1942. The American naval forces had recovered from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and were poised to stop the Japanese advance into the South Pacific. On June 5, 1942, during the battle of Midway, the Imperial Navy suffered its worst defeat of the war to date, when an American carrier squadron surprised the Japanese fleet and sank four irreplaceable aircraft carriers.1 With the loss of these carriers, the Japanese lost their ability to maintain air and sea supremacy in the South Pacific necessary to provide vital air support to Imperial ground and naval forces against the everSaburo Ienaga, The Pacific War 1931-1945, p. 143.

growing American military. The American invasion of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, was the beginning of a series of bloody campaigns against the Japanese that would place them on the defensive for the remainder of the war.

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