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they favored international control on nuclear material and an early demonstration of the weapon’s capabilities. Without a demonstration, the United States would not know how the American people or the world felt about such a weapon. With a demonstration, other nations would share responsibility of using the atomic bomb against Japan. Truman told Clark Clifford, former White House Counsel to Truman, 1946 – 50, “that he had considered it, and came to the conclusion that a demonstration would not suffice after a war of such terrible carnage, that Japanese live would have to be sacrificed to save many more American and Japanese lives.”11 The recommendations of the Franck’s Committee did not address any new issues, nor did it change the recommendations of the Interim Committee.12 On June 18, 1945, President Truman called together a number of his military and civilian advisors to discuss the campaign against Japan. The Joint Strategy Meeting consisted of Admiral William D. Leahy, General George C. Marshall, Admiral E. A. King, Secretary of War Stimson, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, Assistant Secretary of the Navy John J. McCloy, Brigadier General McFarland, Secretary of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lieutenant General Ira C.
Herbert Feis, Japan Subdued, pp. 40 – 43.
White House Conference, minutes, 18 June 1945, in Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library, HST, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History. Hereafter cited as White House Conference, 18 June 1945.
for the defeat of Japan. With the high amount of casualties sustained in Okinawa, the President wanted to make his decision based on the best option that “economizing to the maximum extent possible in loss of American lives.” Furthermore, “economy in the use of time and in money cost is comparatively unimportant.”14 General Marshall followed the President by reading a memorandum from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the President to the entire staff. The memorandum explained that General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz concurred with the Chiefs of Staff recommendation of November 1, 1945 as D-Day for the invasion of Kyushu. The Chiefs believed by the target date preparations would be complete; the Allied air power would have destroyed all Japanese industries and majority of its cities; the remaining Japanese Navy would not be a threat; and U.S air and naval forces would have cut the ability of the Japanese to send reinforcements from the mainland. Additionally, the earlier the date would minimize the time the Japanese had to prepare their defenses and after November the weather would delay any Allied amphibious operations.
Kyushu was essential for any further operations against Japan. It would serve as the lodgment site for the blockade and bombardment of Japan, which were all part of the strategy of strangulation and the least costly in American lives. The Chiefs could not give a good estimate of potential casualties for the Kyushu invasion. The memo stated, “Our experience in the Pacific war is so diverse as to casualties that it is considered wrong to give any estimate in numbers.”15 The Marshall further read that the United States was currently employing all available resources against Japan with no easing of the on going aerial bombardment and blockade against the Japanese homeland. The agreement amongst the Joint Chiefs was to let the Russians take Thomas B. Allen, Codename Downfall: The secret plan to invade Japan – and why Truman dropped the Bomb, p. 203.
White House Conference, 18 June 1945.
care of the Japanese forces in Manchuria and let the Chinese, with U.S. support, take care of their own country.16 Following Marshall’s reading of the memorandum, the discussion continued with the pending invasion of Japan and Operation DOWNFALL. General Marshall was in concurrence with the Chief’s selection of Kyushu as the site for the invasion. Admiral King added that the capture of Kyushu was vital to any blockade and “followed logically after Okinawa.” In addition to Kyushu, King believed that the preparation for the battle against the Tokyo Plains should continue, but not executed. The Allies would need to assess the loss of Kyushu, the effects of the blockade, and the impact of a Russian invasion on the Japanese leadership. The President, Marshall, and King all agreed that any action by the Russians would have an impact and the decision to invade Honshu could wait.17 There were no clear estimates of the number of casualties the United States could expect to sustain during the invasion of Kyushu or Honshu. Each member of Truman’s staff and each of the senior military leaders had their own estimate that ranged from 40,000 to over 220,000 killed or wounded. Admiral Leahy used the 35 percent casualty rate of the Okinawa invasion as his comparison of the expected casualty figure. By using Leahy’s 35 percent and MacArthur’s estimated total force of 681,000 personnel, the casualty rate would reach an estimated 238,350 Americans killed, wounded, or missing. While using Marshall’s estimated total force strength of 766,700 this would place the expected casualty rate over a quarter of a million.18 After addressing the possible influence of a “submerged class” that opposed the war in Japan and any references to altering the unconditional surrender demand, Truman gave his approval for the invasion on Kyushu. “This was a formidable conception, all of us realized that Ibid.
Allen, Codename Downfall, p. 211 the fighting would be fierce and losses heavy.”19 Truman “hoped that there was a possibility of preventing an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.”20 Only after Truman approved the invasion plans and personally singled out for his opinion did McCloy raise the question of the atomic bomb. Up until then, the issue of the atomic bomb did not come up for discussion.
McCloy believed that if the United States warned the Japanese of the bomb, it might provide a political solution and make the invasion unnecessary. Even if the Japanese still refused to surrender, “Our moral position will be stronger if we give the warning,” McCloy added.21 The idea to have the Russians enter the war against Japan was not a decision made by Truman. President Roosevelt made the decision in February 1945 at the Yalta Conference with Stalin. Stalin agreed to enter the war two to three months after the surrender of Germany, to recognize that Manchuria was part of China, and to negotiate a treaty of friendship and alliance with Nationalist Chinese government. Roosevelt accepted these agreements and in return would restore territory lost to the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War along with the Kurile Islands. In addition to these agreements, the Soviets and Americans agreed to better cooperation in planning and preparations against Japan. While the Russians seemed willing to establish a joint Soviet-American plan against Japan, cooperation fell apart shortly after the Yalta Conference ended and further joint planning seemed unlikely.22 Once Truman took office in April 1945, the requirement of having the Russians open a second front against Japan was beginning to resurface within Truman’s staff. Admiral King voiced his opinion at the White House conference on June 18, that “regardless of the desirability of the Russians entering the war, they were not indispensable and he did not think we should go Truman, Memoirs, p. 314.
White House Conference, 18 June 1945.
McCullough, Truman, p. 390.
Schoenberger, Decision, pp. 73 – 75.
so far as to beg then to come in.”23 Even though, the United States leadership was frustrated with the lack of Soviet cooperation and their failure to follow agreements made a Yalta, President Truman still planned to push for a Soviet declaration of war against Japan at the upcoming conference at Potsdam. General Alexei E. Antonov, the Soviet Chief of Staff, met with the American and British Chiefs during the Potsdam Conference and briefed the Combined Chiefs on the status of his forces and on Soviet military objectives against the Japanese in Manchuria. The Soviets primary objective was the “destruction of the Japanese Army in Manchuria, the occupation of the Liaotung Peninsula, followed by a Soviet withdrawal after the defeat of the Japanese.”24 President Truman went to the Potsdam Conference with several key points to discuss with Stalin, which was the political future of Eastern Europe, the occupation and dismantling of Germany, and a Russian commitment in the war against Japan. Of the three points, Truman considered a commitment from the Russians to enter the war against Japan as his main focus.
The conference began on July 17 with an informal meeting between Truman and Stalin, where they discussed several key issues, to include the Soviet’s entering the Pacific War. In his diary, Truman wrote,” He’ll be in the Jap war on August 15.”25 The next day on July 18, Stalin shared with Truman a message from Sato, the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow, which requested a meeting between the Soviets and Prince Konoye to discuss a possible peace settlement.
However, Truman already knew about the Sato message and other Japanese peace overtures from deciphered Japanese communications.26 Herbert Feis, Japan Subdued: The Atomic Bomb and the End of the War in the Pacific, p. 14.
Ibid., p. 83.
Harry S. Truman, Diary, 17 July 1945, HST, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History.
McCullough, Truman, pp. 419 – 425.
Truman did not spend his entire time in Potsdam talking with Stalin; he took the opportunity to meet with General Eisenhower and General Bradley to discuss the best strategy for defeating Japan. Truman never asked them for their opinion or recommendation on using the bomb against the Japanese. Bradley believed that Truman already planned to drop the bomb.
Eisenhower opposed using the bomb against a defeated nation and even expressed to Stimson that the United States should not be the first to use it. Eisenhower would later state that his opposition to the bomb was “personal and based on no analysis of the subject.” When Truman asked about the Soviets entering the war, Eisenhower gave the same advice as Admiral King about not begging the Russians to enter the war. However, the only thing that could stop the Russians from entering the Pacific War now was an immediate Japanese surrender.27 On July 16, 1945, the United States and the rest of civilization entered the nuclear age, with the first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert. The official report from General Groves did not reach Secretary of War Stimson until July 21, by special courier. After reviewing it with Marshall, Stimson went behind closed doors with Truman and Byrnes to further discuss the report. General Groves stated, “The test was successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of anyone.” Groves concluded with, “We are all fully conscious that our real goal is still before us. The battle test is what counts in the war with Japan.”28 There was a feeling of relief once Stimson finished reading the report. After all the manpower, resources and $2 billion dollars spent, the weapon worked far beyond everyone’s imagination. The United States now had a weapon that could force Japan to surrender or face complete destruction.29 Ibid., p. 428.
General Leslie R. Groves to Secretary of War, 18 July 1945, HST, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb:
Truman and the Bomb, a Documentary History.
McCullough, Truman, pp. 430 - 432.
Truman’s next task was how to tell Stalin that the United States now possessed the most powerful weapon every built. From 1941- 1945, the United States and Britain had worked in secret cooperation without the knowledge of the rest of the Allies to produce this new bomb.
Once he knew the bomb worked, Truman decided to inform Stalin. At the conclusion of a conference session on July 24, Truman approached Stalin and told him that we had a new weapon of unusual destructive force.” Stalin replied with, “He was glad to here it and hoped we would make good use of it against the Japanese.”30 President Truman was not alone when he decided to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese, even though the final decision was his alone. Upon taking office, senior civilian and military advisors connected with the project continuously briefed him on the bombs capabilities and provide valuable recommendations on its use. However, all the recommendations Truman’s advisors provided were only based on assumptions, since no one was sure if the weapon would even work. Following the successful atomic test and with input from his advisors, Truman set in motion the mission to deploy the first nuclear weapon ever used against another country.
President Truman made his final decision to drop the atomic bomb on pre-selected Japanese cities on July 24, 1945. Orders authorizing the bombs use went out the next day. This historic decision occurred two days before the United States, Great Britain, and Nationalist China issued the Potsdam Declaration to the Japanese Government. Truman was aware of the destructive capabilities of this secret new weapon and the political and international consequences that could follow once the secret was out. For the previous three months, Truman received recommendations, advice, assumptions, estimates, and options from his military and civilian advisors on how and when to deploy the weapon. Even after all of these briefings, Truman could not over look the large number of casualties the United States had already sustained during its war with Japan and the estimated quarter of a million more casualties expected during the invasion of Japan. Despite the hopeless military situation, the Japanese government continued to fight on and prepared for the anticipated American invasion.
The number of American casualties remained the top concern for President Truman.