President Truman’s Reflection on the Atomic Bomb

On August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped the first nuclear-powered ordnance upon the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second nuclear bomb was detonated over the city of Nagasaki. Tomorrow, August 9th, 2019, will mark the 74th year from this history-altering event.
While these two bombings may have ended World War II, the debate still rages today over their necessity. But what did the United States military and political leaders of the era think about this question?
In an overlooked memoir by President Harry S. Truman himself, we find some of these thoughts from a firsthand perspective. The following link to archive.org, a book digitization project with over ten million documents, will take you to a short reflection by President Truman on why he chose to utilize the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” against populated areas in mainland Japan.

Please find this reflection, originally published by President Truman in 1955, here:archive.org/details/yearofdecisionsv030151mbp/page/n457

What do you think? Do you think President Truman followed the correct course? Post your comments and let us know!

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1 Comments

  1. James Rife

    Reply

    Yes, Truman really had no other choice when faced with the immense casualty projections for an invasion of the Japanese home islands—with some 500,000 allied servicemen and over a 1,000,000 Japanese civilians projected to be killed during Operation Downfall. Truman’s decision was also made in light of the horrendous casualties suffered on Okinawa, in which the Japanese not only fought almost to the last man but also many of the island’s citizens committed suicide rather than accept allied liberation. During that battle, the Japanese lost some 120,000 troops, while the Allies suffered 12,500 dead and another 35,000 wounded. The Allies also lost 36 Allied ships, most of which were destroyed by the 2,000 or so Japanese Kamikaze pilots who attacked the fleet. Truman and his advisors recognized that another such campaign against the Japanese homeland would be far worse, which made his decision somewhat easier in his mind.

    Moreover, if Truman had decided NOT to drop the bombs, and Operation Downfall had then proceeded resulting in the projected casualties or more, then he would have been castigated by the U.S. public for wasting all of those lives when he could have ended the war immediately with the new weapons.

    As it happened, Americans for the most part had no problem with the decision in the aftermath, with prominent American physicist and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Karl T. Compton defending it in a December 1946 issue of the ‘The Atlantic,’ which Truman responded to with approval.

    www.theatlantic.com/letters/archive/2018/06/archival-letters-when-harry-truman-weighed-in-on-the-atlantics-nuclear-counterfactual/560348/

    In August 1963, Truman again reiterated that he had NO regrets about his decision in an (unsent) letter written to a critical Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Sun-Times:

    www.trumanlibrary.gov/library/research-files/harry-s-truman-irv-kupcinet
    catalog.archives.gov/id/201504

    “Letter from Truman to Irv Kupcinet

    Dear Kup:

    I appreciated most highly your column of July 30th, a copy of which you sent me.

    I have been rather careful not to comment on the articles that have been written on the dropping of the bomb for the simple reason that the dropping of the bomb was completely and thoroughly explained in my Memoirs, and it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.

    You must always remember that people forget, as you said in your column, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was done while we were at peace with Japan and trying our best to negotiate a treaty with them.

    All you have to do is to go out and stand on the keel of the Battleship in Pearl Harbor with the 3,000 youngsters underneath it who had no chance whatever of saving their lives. That is true of two or three other battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Altogether, there were between 3,000 and 6,000 youngsters killed at that time without any declaration of war. It was plain murder.

    I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war that would have killed a half million youngsters on both sides if those bombs had not been dropped. I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again – and this letter is not confidential.

    Sincerely yours,
    Harry Truman

    Mr. Irv Kupcinet
    Chicago Sun-Times
    Chicago, Illinois”

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