Bill Totten's Weblog

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hiroshima: Was it Necessary?

Summary of the full article

by Doug Long

This summary is far too brief to handle the complexity and shades of gray dealt with more fully (but still concisely) in the article Hiroshima: Was it Necessary? I have included it because I know some readers will be put off by the length (50k) of the full article. Perhaps upon reading the summary, the reader will be intrigued enough to read the article, which s/he can find at

With the end of the European war, the Allies focused their efforts on Japan. Japan still fought fanatically, despite being badly hurt by bombing and blockade.

The Potsdam Proclamation, which demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan, was issued. It made no mention of Japan's central surrender condition: the status of the Emperor. Japan rejected the Proclamation.

The Japanese believed the Emperor to be a god (this is a key point).

The US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia declared war against Japan.

Japan, because of its military, still refused to surrender.

Japanese peace advocates, fearing the imminent destruction of the Emperor, prevailed upon the Emperor to break with tradition and make government policy by calling for peace now. The Emperor did so.

As the result of the Emperor's call for surrender, the entire Japanese cabinet, including the military, agreed to surrender. The cabinet saw that this would allow the Emperor to be retained.

Even Japan's doves would have fought to the death had they not felt the Emperor would be spared. They saw "unconditional surrender" as a threat to the Emperor.

President Truman had been advised of the importance of the Emperor to the Japanese.

Japan was seeking Russia's help to end the war in July 1945. The US was aware of this at the time thru intercepted Japanese cables. But the US did not keep up with this change in Japan's position.

The US chose military methods of ending the war rather than diplomatic methods. The desire for revenge helped make military methods more attractive.

Was it necessary to use the atomic bomb on Japan to end the war without an invasion of the Japanese mainland? Quotes from historians who felt it was not necessary can be found at Quotes from prominent Americans who felt the atomic bombings were not necessary can be found at

We probably could have ended the war sooner with fewer deaths on all sides by using the full carrot and stick: 1) offer retention of the Emperor for a quick surrender; and 2) threaten Russian invasion and 3) atomic destruction as the alternative. None of these key incentives to surrender were used prior to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Had the above method failed, and had the Russian invasion failed to bring surrender soon, the atomic bombs were still available - but as a last resort.

After the atomic bombings, Japan was allowed to retain their Emperor, anyway.

Some Background on Doug Long

My web site, Hiroshima: Was it Necessary?, has been on the Internet since October 23 1995. The site has won the Critical Mass Award.

I have been studying the atomic bombings since 1985. The bibliography on my web site contains many of the sources I've read on the topic.

Regarding my credentials, I am a retired computer programmer, and in my spare time I have worked as a professional historical consultant on the atomic bombing of Japan.

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts from Adrian College (1973) in Adrian, Michigan.

I am Co-Chair of the Social Action Committee at my Unitarian church.

When not otherwise occupied, I root for the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. I do not get my hopes up too high. I also work on my lawn and plants. I do not get my hopes up too high.

My wonderful wife, Rita Sonnleitner, encourages me in my web site writings. How lucky can anyone be?

Bill Totten


  • Because of the horrific destruction, visited mainly upon civilians, at Hiroshima (as well as Tokyo and Dresden during massive incendiary-raids)the issues you again review merit serious discussion.

    With 26 years in the military and now many years as a veterans counselour, I have often asked WWII veterans for their perspective. I have also researched many of the source documents while pursueing a masters in history.

    The divinity of the emperor and how we dealt with that issue are certainly important. But, this fact and the contradictory opinions of political and military leaders who recommended against the atomic attack ignore the overall political climate and the "facts on theground" as viewed by most of the military commanders and the enlisted men who would have born the worst of the invasion horrors.

    My clear conclusion is that, sadly there was no practical alternative. When a nation embarks on a military adventure, it unleashes too many forces to control all of the side-effects. that includes control by its adversaries. The emerging strength of the USSR certainly constrined options by the US if it wanted to wait for dipomatic solution. The human concerns of Allied prisoners who were dying (or being executed) in Japanese prison camps was a factor.

    It was in reality, only drop the bomb or invade as soon as possible. Evidence from those who actually were in Japan right after the war, that I have talked with, reinforce the majority opinion that the casualties on both sides would have been enmormously worse than the effects of the bombs.

    Thank you for a thoughtful article.

    By Blogger QuestRepublic, at 12:15 AM, August 16, 2006  

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