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Truman’s terrible choice, seventy-five years ago

Was Harry Truman a moral monster, the equivalent of Stalin, Hitler, and the Japanese militarists who killed millions of innocent Chinese in a war that began in 1937?

Aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right) in August 1945. (Wikipedia)

Three U.S. Navy officers look out at me from a small, black-and-white snapshot, taken in Sasebo, Japan, on September 26, 1945: three and a half weeks after the Japanese Empire’s formal surrender aboard USS Missouri. These young Americans, assigned to an amphibious flotilla of landing craft, had spent the previous months on Okinawa, preparing to invade Dai Nippon. Given the carnage they had just witnessed on Okinawa, which was expected to be far worse when they led the seaborne invasion of Japan’s home islands, it’s not hard to imagine those three officers marveling that they were still alive, much less standing undisturbed at a major base of the Imperial Japanese Navy..

The officer on the far right of the photo is my father, LTJG George S. Weigel, USNR.

Other snapshots in an album I’ve recently rediscovered are striking. They show Japanese submarines; an enormous drydock; impressed Korean laborers lined up on a pier for repatriation to their homeland; two Japanese aircraft carriers abandoned at a late stage of construction; a bus fueled by a rear-mounted charcoal burner. Then there are the pictures of Japanese civilians: adults queueing at a railroad station, pushing carts through the streets, boarding a bus, riding bicycles; children on a playground.

The Japanese images are especially thought-provoking. Because, like my father and his two brother officers, those civilians would likely have been killed, had World War II in the Pacific not ended when it did and how it did. So would the 81, 556 Allied prisoners of war in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, who, by order of the Japanese high command, were to be murdered rather than released.

As D.M. Giangreco demonstrates from Japanese records in Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-47, the militarist-nationalist fanatics who dominated Japanese policy until Emperor Hirohito’s decisive intervention in August 1945 planned to turn the entire Japanese population into combatants during an American invasion. Elderly men and young boys, women and children – all were to resist with whatever tools were at hand, fighting alongside the still-formidable Japanese army and supported by kamikaze pilots, suicide speed boats, and human torpedoes.

Original American estimates of Japanese homeland casualties during Operation Olympic (the invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November 1945) and Operation Coronet (the invasion of the Tokyo Plain in March 1946) ranged from five to ten million; some later estimates put the anticipated death toll at twenty million, including perhaps ten million who would die of starvation as food supplies evaporated during the fighting. American combat deaths, projected from the slaughter on Okinawa, were expected to be no less than 500,000 and perhaps as many as a million, out of a total American casualty projection of two to five million.

In the summer of 1945, President Harry Truman had three options for ending the Pacific War without the unprecedented bloodletting of an invasion. The first was to step up the fire-bombing of Japanese cities, which had already killed hundreds of thousands and would, if continued, kill hundreds of thousands more. The second was to strangle Japan by naval blockade and starve her into a submission her leaders might not concede until millions, and perhaps tens of millions, were dead. The third was to use the atomic weapons developed by the Manhattan Project to stun Japanese politicians into recognizing that the entire nation would be destroyed if they did not constrain their militarists, acknowledge defeat, and capitulate.

President Truman chose the third alternative. In doing so, he saved millions, even tens of millions, of lives, American and Japanese.

The constraints on the bombing of cities set by the just-war tradition of moral reasoning had been breached long before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; far more Japanese died in the spring 1945 fire-bombings of Tokyo and other cities than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. And it seems difficult, if not impossible, to vindicate Hiroshima and Nagasaki on classic just-war grounds without relativizing moral norms in the kind of ethical calculus John Paul II rejected in the 1993 encyclical, Veritatis Splendor.

Does that make Harry Truman a moral monster, the equivalent of Stalin, Hitler, and the Japanese militarists who killed millions of innocent Chinese in a war that began in 1937? No, it does not. Truman authorized the use of the atomic bombs thinking, rightly, that doing so would save American and Japanese lives by shocking Japan into surrender.

It was a terrible choice, what Secretary of War Henry Stimson called “our least abhorrent choice.” Given the available options, it was the correct choice.


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About George Weigel 301 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent book is The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), published by Ignatius Press.

42 Comments

  1. The key line here, I submit, is the conflation: “The Japanese images are especially thought-provoking [….] had World War II in the Pacific not ended WHEN it did AND HOW it did.” The debate remains, “HOW it did.” Was the blockade already successful? Was it the Russian advance that made the difference? What is the basis of the figure 500,000 to one million casualties?

    To the last question, this figure is traced to an off-the-cuff remark dropped by former President Hoover. The estimated casualty figure for the initial November Kyushu landing was 31,000 (“Recommendations,” Compton, Lawrence, Oppenheimer, Fermi, June 16, 1945, Document 51 in The Manhattan Project, Stoff/Fanton/Williams, The Manhattan Project, McGraw Hill, 1991). According to the later Strategic Bombing Survey (a debated opinion) “certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered EVEN IF the bombs had not been dropped, EVEN IF Russia had not entered the war, and EVEN IF no invasion had been planned or contemplated” (ibid., Stoff et al, CAPS added).

    So, WHAT did we know and WHEN did we know it?

    A dense documentary history became available in 1995, DECLASSIFIED fifty years after the War. This material provides much of the basis for Gar Alperovitz, “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb”, Harper Collins, 1995. The Alperovitz thesis (also subject to debate) is that revisionist history began early rather than later, in 1947, in a Harper’s Magazine article, when the 500/000 to one million guesstimate was publicized, in the article signed by Stimson—precisely to convince the American public (?) that we had not lapsed into the image and likeness of our enemy.

    OTHERS on the record—and at the time—who opposed the actual use of the bomb on Japan population centers included such unseasoned minds as General Mac Arthur, Fleet Admiral Leahy (then Chair of the joint Chiefs of Staff), General Eisenhower (Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe), Admiral King (Seventh Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations), Admiral Chester Nimitz (Pacific Fleet), Admiral “Bull” Halsey, Secretary of Navy Forrestal—and to some extent even the commander of the Army Air Forces General Carl Spaatz, who refused to order the drops until commanded in signed writing to do so.

    SPAATZ later insisted that the “Statement of Effect of Atomic Weapons on National Security and Military Organizations” (draft Feb. 23, 1946) should begin as follows: “The atomic bombs dropped in Japan had two primary effects: first, ALTHOUGH the Japanese had already initiated diplomatic action leading to surrender, the actual ending of the war was accelerated with the probable saving of thousands [!] of lives; and second, a profound revolution in military thought has resulted.” It was then decided by the drafting committee that the “troublesome” middle phrase (“although…”) should be omitted from the final version presented to Congress (April 2, 1946).”

    My own amateur/armchair view is that much of the catastrophe of the War—judging not only from hindsight—rests in the elementary AMBIGUITY OF LANGUAGE: why the ambiguity of “unconditional surrender” ultimatum (a term lifted from a single battle in the Civil War and which arguably prolonged the war in both Europe and the Pacific); what about the weight given to (or not given to) Japanese peace feelers through both Moscow and the Vatican; what about the ambiguity of “mokusatzu” (in response to the late Potsdam Declaration, meaning either “ignore” OR “treat with silent contempt,” and which was directed only at Japanese troops but intercepted and interpreted (or misinterpreted).

    Alperovitz dismisses the thesis that it was simply MOMENTUM (instead of Truman alone) that made the decision, but is this dismissal and total burdening of Truman accurate? Much of the moral challenge (especially in a Technocracy)—I humbly propose—is not any end-game mathematics, but instead finding a way, early to resist cultural momentum—whether it be in nuclear research and the actual (and superfluous?) use of weaponry, or, say, biomedical research and its irresistible (?) application, or—say, cross-culturally—even the plastic meaning of a “pluralism” of religions and the inevitable (?) relativism that follows.

    Secretary of War Henry Stimson later wrote: “Unfortunately I have lived long enough to know that history is often not what actually happened but what is recorded as such” (his book: “On Active Service in Peace and War”).

    • What exactly is your point or question here? Dropping the bombs was the best of all of the bad possible options. People needlessly beat this issue like a dead horse. Of course unconditional surrender is ambiguous. That was the whole point.

      • There were more options. The sticking point was retention of the Emperor, and in the end this was conceded–not the unambiguous “unconditional.” The narrative is not as cut-and-dried as has sometimes been presented, in my opinion.

        • As I’ve posted here before, the use of the bombs could have been justified if the President calculated that their use would have the immediate effect of persuading the Emperor and government of Japan to sue for peace as ordered in the ultimatum. That would give the acts jus ad bellum, weighing in the balance the human, material and moral cost of the war to date.

          It occurred to me when I first read this article that the Americans could have invaded Japan in the expectation that they would mobilize the entire civilian population for resistance. That would have deprived the civilian population of protected status (non-combatant immunity) and rendered licit the use of the atom bomb.

          • Japan was not “planning on using citizens”; they were already training them in tactics. There exists a film of Japanese high school girls being trained to charge in formation with sharpened poles. They undoubtedly would have been slaughtered; but given the likely hesitancy of a soldier to shoot a young teenage girl, some would have either struck soldiers or caused enough delay/confusion to allow Japanese troops to effectively defend. My father, in the artillery in the 41st Division, explained in very plain words what it was like to be the object of a kamikaze attack: “I scraped Jap liver off my helmet”. George Weigel is right on.

  2. There have been many estimates on the death count were the allies to invade Japan, so let’s go with figures we do know – the Rape of Nanking. Estimates range from 260,000 to 430,000 in the 4 month period between December 1937 and March 1938, and then there’s the Bataan death march. Was what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki terrible? Beyond question it was, but it had to be done.

    • Add to that the estimates that Japanese military operations in southeast Asia cost the lives of 15 million people and it puts the bombing into perspective.

  3. To the extent that “unconditional surrender” was still ambiguous, many appeals were made, even in the American press, for needed clarification about what this term meant AND (!) what it did NOT mean.

    In addition, the scientific team feared that the actual use of atomic bombs (after competitor Germany was fully out of the War, in May 1945), would lead to a protracted arms race with the Soviet Union but (of course), to historical determinists, such an outcome was also inevitable and then “had to be done.”

    The scientists’ letter (July 4, 1945, Document 60 in Stoff et al, above), delivered by physicist Leo Szilard, was slow-walked by General Groves (master-builder of the entire Manhattan Project…) such that decision-maker (?) President Truman, on his way to Potsdam, almost certainly never saw it. Earlier, before he died, President Roosevelt had cautioned in the Hyde Park Agreement: “When a ‘bomb’ is finally available, it might perhaps [!], after mature consideration [!], be used against the Japanese [!], who should be warned that the bombardment will be repeated until they surrender.”

    Given their very un-Western culture, perhaps the Japanese failed to comprehend that explicit warnings would come more in the form of leaflets dropped on housetops, rather than direct formal communication? In any event, the leaflets arrived a day late at Nagasaki. The estimated acceptable collateral damage had been 20,000 (assuming the warned population went underground), not the actual 80,000 (when they did not). Only 150 of whom were military personnel. The bomb was dropped through a brief break in the clouds (purportedly), two miles northwest of the planned drop (e.g., Paul Glynn, A Song for Nagasaki, Ignatius, 1988/2009). Oppenheimer had insisted, almost frantically, that the drops should be visual, not by radar.

    Lots of MOMENTUM stuff came into play in the “decision”–my major point of which you ask. In a fast moving theater, we see in the significant details, perhaps, a chaotic confluence of tragic errors and missed opportunities.

    (I do not present myself as great expert in all this, but the issue has preoccupied me personally for many, many decades, as I was born within the barricade of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, in 1944, where plutonium was produced between 1944 and 1987, equipping most of our 60,000 warheads during the Cold War. I was raised in the nearby bedroom community. Most of the 20th century remains catastrophically incomprehensible to me although academic tomes of cause and effect are easy to come by.)

  4. Unconditional surrender is the issue. It is immoral and seen as such until the 19th century. Without this very un-Christian demand, there would have been no need for such a devilish decision. To bring in the fire bombings is just to equate one evil with another. Both the use of atomic weapons and the firebombing of cities targeted civilians, which again is un-Christian.

    • Unconditional surrender most certainly is not immoral.

      A State which wages a war of aggression has the unconditional obligation to cease hostilities, to make reparation for its wrongful act and to make just satisfaction for aggression, including the delivery of its leaders for trial in criminal proceedings.

      • But, you have listed conditions. Mass suicides were committed by Japanese civilians (and soldiers) on Okinawa because Japanese propaganda had led them to believe that American soldiers were cannibals who would eat their children. It would have been useful to dispel such delusions by simply stating what “unconditional surrender” was NOT. Likewise regarding retention of the emperor who was the centerpiece of pre-War cultural identity–a “condition” which was, in fact, allowed during the Occupation, but too late. Likewise trial proceedings rather than perhaps unlimited summary executions.

    • Unconditional surrender was the appropriate and necessary response based on a comprehensive understanding of the relevant issues. A militaristic regime responsible for the death of 15 million people doesn’t get to say what happens to it after its defeat. A negotiated peace would leave Japan with the resources to continue its military aggression. That is an unacceptable option. Since Japanese culture created the soldiers who committed the atrocities they did, the “civilians” were just as guilty as the soldiers. After all, the Rape of Nanking targeted civilians. The firebombings and atomic bombs were the just and appropriate penalty for a guilty nation.

  5. Weigel’s point about the massive fire-bombing of Japan from March 1945 through July 1945 is a central, since more civilians died by these combined raids than by the two A-bombs. But there is also a larger point that Weigel side-steps, which is this: The modern state at war engages large cross-sections of the civilian population to become de-facto active participants in a war-making machine. This was true of Germany, Russia, and Japan during WW2, and was also largely the case of England. Civilian participation may not be voluntary, and it makes the civilian essentially a slave, but slaves can drive a war machine and it makes them military targets. Only the babies were true civilians, while all others were essentially expendable cogs in a vast military machine. This is the dilemma of total war in our times.

  6. Germain Grisez a theologian of “unwavering orthodoxy” and Father John Ford S.J. were a lonely minority on the Papal Birth Control Commission. They provided the arguments that assisted Pope Paul in writing “Humanae Vitae”. Both of them unequivocally condemned the bombing of civilians in war including the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, are they right in saying that it is never permissable to use birth control but wrong in saying that the atomic bombings of Japan are unqestionablly immoral? They know the arguments presented by George Weigel and reject them. To them the ends do not justify the means. The bombings are immoral, no ifs ands, or buts. Using the arguments presented here one could ask, would it not be permissable for a couple who because of severe financial limitations, or who already have a large family, or who may already have a disabled child to use artificial contraception? Or is it always wrong for a couple who cannot engage in intercourse because of impotency due to, say, diabetes, to find release without penile penetration? Germain Grisez says such acts are always immoral just as he says the bombings are immoral beacuse an evil act can never justify a supposed good (allowing genital intimacy to couples who cannot enter the marital embrace.)

    Germain Grizez and John Ford S.J. were orthodox theologians. Ford was ostracized because of this support of Humanae Vitae. I do not think that their arguments can be summarily dismissed. And the very orthodox Catholic philosopher has said that “For it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come -– not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never.”

    • If the dropping of two atomic bombs is immoral “no ifs ands, or buts” and the bombings of civilians in war is condemned, one would have to say that all bombing is immoral (at that time at least) because civilians are always somehow in the way (collateral damage.) Because traditional high-altitude was inaccurate and ineffective, General LeMay took up the British architected incendiary bombing technique because nearly four in ten Japanese lived in cities and a certain means to preclude manufacture of war making material. However, torching civilian centers was contrary to the entire moral pretenses of the precision strategic bombing strategy of the war. This change was felt necessary to compensate for the fact that dispersed factories were embedded among the civilian population.
      The March 1945 napalm firebombing of Tokyo remains the most destructive single 24-hour period in military history. The postwar US Strategic Bombing Survey estimated over 100,000 civilians died, with an equal number wounded or missing. Over the next five months, more than half the urban centers of the largest cities were destroyed, claiming the lives of over 500,000 civilians. Before all attacks, the American Air Force did send warning to civilians to depart, although such warning may have been disallowed by the Japanese military or been unfeasible.
      The dispersed nature of the industrial war effort integrating military-industrial with civilian centers guaranteed Japanese civilians would be wiped out no matter the method chosen to wage war on the Japanese homeland.

      • Bill,

        It’s not always easy being a Catholic.

        John Ford S.J., by the way, condemned the bombing of civilians in European cities before the nuclear bombings in Japan.

        I failed to mention in my previous post that Edward Feser was “the very orthodox Catholic philosopher has said that “For it is never, never permissible to do what is intrinsically evil that good may come -– not even if you’d feel much happier if you did it, not even if you’ve got some deeply ingrained tendency to want to do it, not even if it will shorten a war and save thousands of lives. Never.” Sometime after Weigel’s article, Feser wrote a response: https://catholicherald.co.uk/ch/weigels-terrible-arguments/

        Several weeks before Weigel’s article, Feser shared his thought on the bombings:

        http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/08/happy_consequentialism_day.html

        I pray in front of an abortion clinic about 30 times a year. I oppose abortion in every case. But I also realize that some women, because of tragedy or trauma, feel compelled to have an abortion. A woman who is aware that she is carrying a child with catastrophic health issues may feel that it is merciful not to bring a child to term who will live his entire life in pain and sorrow. She may feel that she cannot bear the astronomical financial costs it will take to raise her child. She may be painfully aware that she and perhaps her other children cannot bear the emotional commitment of having this child in the home. So, she commits an evil act to spare the child and her family untold suffering. She may rationalize the act but the Church, while always extending mercy, declares the act unequivocally evil. The same goes for the bombing of civilians in warfare. One can come up with dozens of reasons why the bombing is necessary and that it results in a good outcome, but the act is still inherently evil.

      • Laurie,

        Your statement echoes the logic of pro-abortion politicians, doctors, feminists, et al who claim that bishops are neither doctors nor women and are thus not competent to moralize on reproductive rights.

    • Your logic is that because they were correct on Humnae Vitae, they are therefore correct on their assessment of just war theory. There is no question that the nuclear weapon is feared more than any conventional weapon. The difficulty is that there was no “good” or “just” alternative; any other alternative would have caused far, far more deaths of the Japanese, and some would have caused far, far more deaths of Allied troops. The use of nuclear weapons has gained more and more opponents as time has moved on from WW2, and the focus seems entirely on the horror and revulsion most have to the weapon itself and leads to wholesale condemnation. And it is always coupled with the mantra of “citizens” deaths. Clear evidence that “citizens” were beig taught tactics of suicide charges to defend the homeland, “citizens” is becoming an emotional term, not a description of reality.

      • I’m willing to give Truman the benefit of a doubt in using the a-bomb. Truman called a halt to the a-bombings after the Nagasaki a-bombing.
        *
        The test bomb, which was detonated in a static test tower at Trinity, was atomic detonation number one. The Hiroshima bomb was atomic detonation number two. The Nagasaki bomb was atomic detonation number three. The Trinity test took place on July 16, 1945. The Hiroshima bomb was used on August 6, 1945. The Nagasaki bomb was used on August 9, 1945. The two bombs used in combat were of two different designs and were the first real world combat use of each bomb type. The footage that we see on TV about the above ground testing and its effects on infrastructure took place after the war.
        *
        Part of the horror of nuclear bombs are the radiation and fallout effects, as well as the quantum leap in destructive capabilities. It took the post-war nuclear tests to establish the dangers from radiation and fallout effects. If you are interested, YouTube has a lot of videos of declassified films of the post-war nuclear tests, as well as documentaries about the Manhattan Project and nuclear bombs in general. Nukes are in a class of their own when it comes to the dangers inherent in their use. It is this horror over their use that makes MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) a credible nuclear deterrence strategy.

  7. Has George Weigel ever written an article that didn’t both mention JPII and cheer lead for the American empire? I have yet to read it if he has.

    • Don’t know. I’m not a fan of George, nor a hater. I would say that, whether I agree with his line of thinking or not, I certainly appreciate that he wrote this article because it resulted in an excellent discussion on the topic. What you call “cheerleading” for “American Empire” is simply a sidplay of patriotism – nothing wrong with that. That he “cheerleads” for st. John Paul II does not bother me at all, either, being that he was a great man, a good pope, is a canonized saint, and, last but not least, was the head of the diocese I grew up in before he was taken from us so he can lead the Barque.

      I find it hard to condemn Truman outright for use of nuclear weapons from an armchair quarterback position. I would be more inclined to be upset with him for selling half of Europe to the Soviets in Potsdam, though that may be because it affected me more personally. Still, how many millions became casualties of communist regimes in the aftermath of WWII because of that? Counting all the killed, maimed, tortured, tormented, and economically disadvantaged for generations to come, likely more than the number of killed in the two Japanese cities. We could armchair quarterback like that until kingdom come. Instead, let’s draw proper conclusions from the past so that we don’t have to repeat it in the future. The discussion spurred by the above article is a step in that direction, and that, I am grateful for. Thanks George!

  8. I wonder why this historic tragic episode has become an issue here at this particular time. Don’t we have enough Sh errr crap on our table in the here and now to concern ourselves with?

  9. My father was in the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Service (The Nisei MIS) during WW2 where he served as a Japanese Language interpreter at Monterey Bay. His unit was preparing for the land invasion of Japan where they fully expected high civilian casualties and possibly the use of biological weapons by the Japanese Army against the Americans – he was being trained to interrogate Japanese officers and work with Japanese doctors. It didn’t happen, so my dad played a lot of ping-pong before being discharged the following January 1946. When he got back to Hawaii his parents told him the tragic news of how some of his Okinawan female cousins and many of his former female classmates jumped off a cliff rather than risk being raped and sold into slavery as told to them retreating Japanese officers. Ironically, 1 year earlier my dad was at Camp Savage, Minnesota and was offered duty as an interpreter in the future invasion of Okinawa but instead passed an advanced written Japanese language test for the purpose of translating captured Japanese biological warfare documents and the Army shipped him to Monterey Bay. He would always recount the story to us with deep sadness and regret and would say, “They were my friends and relatives and I could have used the Uchinanchu language {Native non-Japanese language} instead of Japanese to convince them not to jump – if only I were there to help.” Aside for the Bushido b.s. that taught all Japanese soldiers to act with cruelty to the defeated, is the Tenno Hiko as God b.s. that would have compelled many more scenes like the Himayuri suicide cliff described above – I’m sure this event was on Truman’s mind as he made the decision to use the ultimate weapon of weapons. Why recount now? I am sure it is to remind us Catholics that as then as now, God is in control of History and despite the portend of a possible unknown future here in the USA for our Catholic friends and families, we must have faith in the Holy Spirit to watch over the faithful and walk on water all the while embracing trusting in the Lord our God.

  10. It is do very easy to critcize President Truman from 75 years on and 5000 miles from the battlefield. He had the most difficult of decisions to make and it was his alone to make. He had been a soldier and knew the soldier’s lot in war. Those who post here without ever being in the hell of the Pacific war or in the position of responsibility for the tens of thousands of American soldiers who would die conquering mainland Japan, you were not are not in the arena.
    Shame on you all for your easy criticisms from your comfortable library.
    Thank you, President Truman, for the guts to make the decision you made.

    • The above questioning is partly about whether the battle was won BEFORE even the initial November invasion would have commenced.

      Those “easy criticisms (“from (y)our comfortable library”)–by those “in the position of responsibility” at the time (!)–included: “General Mac Arthur, Fleet Admiral Leahy (then Chair of the joint Chiefs of Staff), General Eisenhower (Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe), Admiral King (Seventh Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations), Admiral Chester Nimitz (Pacific Fleet), Admiral “Bull” Halsey, Secretary of Navy Forrestal—and to some extent even the commander of the Army Air Forces General Carl Spaatz, who refused to order the drops until commanded in signed writing to do so” (repeated from the above for the convenience of those who appear to filter rather than actually read).

    • If you want to run for and win the Presidency.V Presidency, you are subject to criticism.

      That’s one of the main reasons to study factual history, so you don’t repeat similar mistakes.

  11. After doing just a little research on this topic, I found that the reason the Japanese did finally surrender was because Russia (our “ally”) sent them a telegram (a couple of days before the nuking) saying they could not honor a treaty they had made with Japan in which both parties would defend each other. Did Truman not have timely access to that telegram? Perhaps but that would seem odd for him not to.

    Even the carpet bombing of helpless citizens was inexcusable. We knew the end of war was very near after the Japanese generals got that telegram.

    • One school of thought (termed Operation Columbia, I think) has been that the straw that broke the camel’s back in the final “decision,” was in fact the Russian invasion eastward–a concession given to good ‘ol “Uncle Joe” Stalin at the Yalta Conference earlier in 1945.

      https://www.loc.gov/law/help/us-treaties/bevans/m-ust000003-1022.pdf

      Was this concession and pact with the devil–unnecessarily prolonging/expanding the wartime alliance (U.S., Britain, Russia)–part of the confluence-of-mistakes mentioned above? Was it now “necessary” to punctuate with the bomb an already-certain and pending outcome to the War in the Pacific? In order to stop the Russian army in its tracks and prevent Stalin from dividing Japan, as was now becoming apparent in Eastern Europe (a divided Occupation)?

      The great historian Henry Ford upstaged entire libraries when he announced that, after all, “history is just one damn thing after another.” And, it is we who make it so often by early and smaller missteps. Will we ever be well-formed enough to imagine earlier–and thus to sidestep–a few more box-canyon “decisions,” whether aborting an avoidable and unwanted concession made at Yalta or, at a smaller scale, aborting an avoidable and unwanted pregnancy?

  12. Count me among those who have no patience with revisionist history made by those sitting in soft armchairs in safety two generations later. War is a bloody and horrible affair, which makes it both a thing to be avoided if possible, and worth the while to pick one’s enemies wisely. The Japanese did neither. After a sneak attack which resulted in the death by drowning of thousands of our soldiers and the destruction of much of our Navy, they went on to announce their own brutality in no uncertain terms by their actions.They did this by the use of kamikazi pilots to extract maximum victims, the rape of Nanking,and theuse of slave labor including “comfort Women”.They disemboweled injured soldiers on the battlefield and worse,and routinely engaged in the beating and starvation of POW’s in their charge, resulting in many deaths. They didnt adhere to any civilized world standards and in my opinion were entitled to none. In war, you fight as hard as hard as you can to win, and cant concern yourself with philosophical issues. The alternative would have been to allow this regime and that of the equally brutal Nazis to devour the world. Civilian casualties in Japan ( or the bombing of German cities) pale in comparison to what might have been . Nations that chose to attack the US do so at their own risk and must accept the consequences. One might have thought that scholars would have learned the lessons of US General William Tecumsah Sherman. His program of slash and burn everything in his army’s path to demoralize the enemy and deprive their army of supplies unquestionably shortened the war and thereby save many more battles like Gettysburg which would have killed many more on both sides. In brief, he was brutal but effective. War is not a game. You play to win , or do not play. In the years in which too sensitive, hand-wringing type Presidents have handicapped our armies with too many rules of engagement, it did nothing to bring the war to a swift conclusion.Americans first, and our enemies beware. Thank God for Harry Truman.

  13. It is very interesting the United States lead by by General Stevenson over threw, forced by gun point, the Queen of Hawiian, Liliʻuokalani to step down in the 1890’s.
    The United States took by military force, the Hawaiian Islands, 1890’s.
    The allies of the USA in World War Two, a deemed Christian war, was China and Soviet Union, both Communistic, Anti-Christian then and NOW.
    The Communistic tried to take over Germany, prior Hitler, Hitler won out… They then took over Russia, making Communistic, US ally, World War Two… Today Russia is a moral upheaval, as China.. Germany is one of the strongest economies, and cleanest countries to visit. Still Christian.

    Who would side today, with the USA in a Global, World war three today, the Communist of World war Two, or the few remaining Christian Nations,. The United States is NO longer Christian itself.
    NO one would argue, the United States is, NOT A Christian nation today.
    Unjust war, Unbridled Capitalism, all prove those facts.

  14. Over a month ago there was an article in CWR reviewing this subject and, in that case, drawing a flawed conclusion. As someone who worked in nuclear weapons his whole career, I applaud CWR for these well thought out articles and also appreciate the many constructive comments people have made in response. Dr. Weigel’s analysis hits the mark. Anyone who wishes to speak intelligently on this matter should read the book he referenced, Hell to Pay. It will open your eyes and might disabuse those whose comments show are wrong headed about this.

  15. George Marshall wanted to drop a bomb on an atol off the coast of Japan-thus demonstrating the awful power of the bomb without actually using it. All other advisors wants to use it as with only 4 bombs they were unsure if they would work, one to two may be duds, Truman was ignorant of the bomb, as Rosevelt never told him about it although Marshall was the right call one can not blame Truman as he was blindsided by his new role as president and then this news out of blue.

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