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History remembered ... August 1945
Dropping the bomb
Maureen Zebian
8/21/2004

It was Aug. 6, 1945, when President Harry S. Truman ordered the Enola Gay to drop the first atomic bomb at the military base in the city of Hiroshima. The action was justified by saying that it would end the war quickly and save the lives of half a million American servicemen who would not have to invade Japan’s main islands. A second bomb was dropped three days later in Nagasaki, and seven days later the Japanese government surrendered, ending World War II.

Most generals at the time were in agreement with Truman’s, decision except for few notables, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, who said in 1963, “I told him I was against it on two counts. First, the Japanese were ready to surrender and second, it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

However, after witnessing the kamikaze guerrilla warfare from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, costing thousands of lives, the half million causalities may not have been an unreasonable estimation. But did the military have options besides the bomb and the invasion? Or was the United States flexing military muscle to send a message to the aggressive, land grabbing Soviets: “We have the bomb and aren’t afraid to use it.”

Whether using the bombing was a reasonable solution is still a hotly debated issue. Military studies in the 1980s suggest that the Japanese decision to surrender came not because of the bombing, but because of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall had advised the President that the Soviet Union declaration of war could force the Japanese into surrendering.

By dropping of the bomb, the United States became the ultimate aggressors, killing in one fell swoop 70,000 mostly civilian Japanese, including many women and children, with tens of thousands dying more slowly from the radiation poison. It is still not clear why a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki that immediately killed 40,000 more, but some suggest it was to study the effects of the plutonium-made atomic bomb.

While Truman’s military objective clearly stated that “soldiers and sailors were the target,” the highly experimental bomb killed indiscriminately.

“The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants,” said Gen. Omar Bradley.

The bomb’s safety net lasted only a short time after the supposedly well-guarded secrets were passed on by British scientist spy Klaus Fuchs to Soviet rivals. The Soviets detonated their own atomic bombs four years later. What transpired was the emergence of the Cold War, and the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction, which led fearful Americans to build bomb shelters in their back yards. As the great arms race was officially under way, no longer would Americans be kept safe by an ocean, but a stockpile of nuclear weapons.

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