There are two significant events that define the second world war: the Holocaust and the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. The decision by the United States to use these weapons in August 1945 is credited with the end of World War II. It is also important to note that those who issue that credit are the ones that were part of the Allied forces during the conflict.
The U.S. only dropped two of these bombs on Japan during the war, but it was a detonation that would be devastating by any definition. More than 80,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when the Little Boy uranium-based bomb was dropped over the city.
Then the plutonium-style bomb called Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki, which instantly killed 70,000 people. It would take just five days after the second bomb for the emperor to proclaim an unconditional surrender.
When all the effects of the radiation from these two bombs is taken into account, the acute effects would kill up to another 250,000 people in
List of the Pros of Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan
1. Despite its devastating impact, each atomic bomb ultimately saved lives.
After the conclusion of the European front in March 1945, Allied forces began turning their attention to Japan. This island nation was the lone holdout in the battle for world domination at the time. The military minds of these countries put together a plan that was called Operation Downfall.
One of the most significant issues in planning this invasion was that the landing locations for an invasion where highly predictable. Japanese forces came to the same conclusions as the Allied planners, so they began to reinforce their key structure points. An all-out defense of Kyushu was planned, with casualty predictions on both sides expected to be very high.
Although the final estimates would vary based on the assessment of the individuals involved, one such document created for the Secretary of War’s staff placed the number at up to 800,000 Allied fatalities, with an additional 10 million Japanese fatalities.
Despite the high number of casualties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, without the need for Operation Downfall, the actual number of deaths became much lower than anticipated.
2. The action of dropping the two atomic bombs issued in an era of global peace.
The conclusion of World War II created a shift in priorities for the world’s governments. The United Nations came about as an organization to fill in the gap left by the first attempt at the League of Nations. Countries went to war as a way to limit authoritarianism instead of allowing it to spread until it could no longer be contained. Although the United States would face significant conflicts in Korea and Vietnam in the decades following the second world war, the 50-year period between 1951-2000 was one of the most peaceful in the history of recorded human history. There were more threats of wars that governments faced than actual conflicts to fight.
3. We often forget about the fire-bombing campaigns that happened first.
When people debate the morality and ethics of the atomic bombs that were dropped in Japan, they often look at the numbers and discuss the sheer magnitude of the civilian casualties involved – and rightly so. Innocent deaths are always one of the most significant disadvantages of any conflict. The horrors of radiation only magnify this issue exponentially.
What gets left out of this debate was the bombing of Tokyo that occurred before the atomic bombs were dropped. In March 1945, over 100,000 civilians were killed, and another 1 million left homeless, when B-29s dropped a firebomb assault on the city. The government of Japan didn’t blink an eye when that happened. Only the shock of the atomic impact, with its ability to instantly wipe any city off the map, was enough to create movement toward peace.
4. There is no guarantee that the casualties would have changed.
The United States military was planning to firebomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of their military influence if the decision on the atomic bombs did not receive a go-ahead. After the destruction experienced in Tokyo, there is an excellent chance that the casualty count would have remained the same. The only difference in the outcome would have been a reduction in future casualties due to the cancer development and birth defects related to radiation exposure. Everyone in these cities were doomed from the moment Allied forces began plotting an eventual end to World War II.
5. It stopped the Soviet Union from repeating its demands from Europe.
When the European theater resolved itself after Allied troops took over Berlin, the Soviet Union began to carve out for itself a nice chunk of space that would eventually become known as the Iron Curtain. It would take over four decades for that veil to fall. The Soviets had their sights set on Japan in the closing days of the war in 1945 as well, envisioning another joint occupation scenario.
Despite the casualties caused by dropping the atomic bombs, the action itself stopped any Soviet ambitions cold in their tracks. The devastating results were so impressive that the Russians backed down from any potential demand to be involved in the Pacific theater. If that hadn’t taken place, the implications of the Cold War to come would have been very different for American politics.
List of the Cons of Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan
1. Most of the people killed in these two bombs were innocents.
When one nation targets another and kills over 200,000 people who are not engaged in active conflict, then it could be argued that such an act is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a national group. Although the legal definition of genocide was not created until 1948 under Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, far fewer people have been killed by an oversight organization and charged with this act. Incinerate civilians as a way to put pressure on their government might save American lives with an atomic bomb, but isn’t all human life equally valuable?
2. American POWs were killed by the atomic bombs in Japan.
There were a dozen American prisoners of war who were killed when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were being held in a police station when the bombs went off. These men, along with up to at least 3,000 American citizens who were living in the cities with relatives, were killed during or immediately after detonation. When history books from the Allied perspective tell the story of what happened, these lives are often not spoken about whatsoever. It shows that Americans were willing to kill their own as way to prevent future casualties.
3. The U.S. killed Allied troops during the bombing runs as well.
There were another 8 British and Dutch prisoners of war that were killed during or immediately after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Even though the Quebec Agreement required that nuclear weapons would only be used when there was mutual consent, so Britain was on-board with the two bombing runs. It should be noted that even President Truman told his Secretary of War that they would only be used on military objects, on soldiers and sailors, and not any women or children. That was why Tokyo and Kyoto were spared in the first place. Unfortunately, the results didn’t end up as intended, even if the cities held military significance.
4. There were more atomic bombs planned for Japan too.
There was another atomic bomb planned to be ready for use on August 19 if the Japanese had decided not to surrender. Another three additional bombs were in the process of being ready for September, with another three to follow in October as well. The actual order for these weapons was to drop them on cities in Japan as they were ready to go. It wasn’t until a response to a memorandum placed on August 10 that changed this to the order of the President.
5. Cancer increases are directly linked to these atomic weapons.
Radiation exposure does not immediately create a surge in cancer cases after the dropping of an atomic weapon. They have a minimum latency period of at least five years, while leukemia cases can sometimes appear in as little as two years, but peaking about 6-8 years after the event. Almost all of the cases of leukemia associated with these bombs involved an exposure of at least 1Gy. Up to 46% of the cancer deaths from the region between 1950-2000 could be potentially related to the fallout of the weapons involved in these attacks.
6. There was an increase in birth defects after the bombs were dropped.
It wasn’t just the current generation that experienced a negative impact because of the atomic bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was an increase in birth defects that occurred in the years after the event as well. Anyone with an exposure of 0.2Gy or higher faced an increased risk of experiencing this risk. The actual number of miscarriages, stillbirths, and other infant health issues was never documented in Japan after the war, so exact figures are not known.
7. Blockades were just as effective as a fighting strategy to cut off supplies.
Some military strategists argue that Operation Downfall was not even necessary because of the impact that naval blockades around the islands were having. Over 60 significant cities in Japan were already destroyed through conventional bombing techniques before the atomic bombs were dropped. The Soviet Army had attacked Japanese troops in Manchuria with great success. With more resources funneled into this strategy, the potential for an unconditional surrender was possible without changing the way we perceive warfare today.
The pros and cons of dropping the atomic bombs in Japan are being reconsidered because of their profound impact on the world today. Could this action have been a preventative measure to end the war quickly and save lives? That is always possible. It also meant that the U.S. would become the first nation in history to unleash this type of weapon in conflict on cities where the civilian population outnumbered the military contingent on a scale of 5:1.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.