“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”, said J. Robert Oppenheimer, lead physicist of the Manhattan Project. These are words Oppenheimer uttered after the first successful test detonation of an atomic bomb in New Mexico. We posit, however, that dropping atomic bombs on Japan was not just intended to bring World War II to an end; they were also used as instruments of influence and intimidation.
A Frighteningly Powerful Weapon
The atomic bomb was so powerful that it instantly vaporized approximately 80,000 people when it was dropped on Hiroshima, on August 6th of 1945.
Three days later a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing an additional 80,000 people. Deaths from radiation sickness and other injuries in both cities total in the hundreds of thousands.
Could so many civilian casualties have been avoided? Is it possible that the use of the atomic bomb was not needed to win the war against Japan during World War II? Let’s take a look.
History has taught us that the atomic bomb effectively ended the war with Japan, leading to their surrender to Allied forces in August 1945. But did you know that, at the time, many military officials believed that the use of such a weapon was not needed to subdue Japan?
Admiral William Leahy, who from 1942 to 1949 was the highest ranking official within the US military, stated, “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons…” Also, present in the minds of Japanese leaders, was Russia’s possible declaration of war on Japan: a Russian invasion would almost certainly remove the potential for Japan to negotiate a conditional surrender.
Dropping Atomic Bombs on Japan to Strong-Arm Russia?
Experts believe that the influence of James F. Byrnes, one of President Truman’s closest advisers, was key to Truman’s decision to use the bombs. Byrnes believed that dropping atomic bombs on Japan would showcase the military might of the United States. In turn, this would make any post-war negotiations with Soviet Russia much easier, acting as a leverage of sorts.
While the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played a role in Japan’s exit from World War II, it likely wasn’t the only reason for their surrender. Not to be dismissed is the theory espoused by some historians: the decision to drop the bombs can be seen as the first strike of the Cold War.
- Leahy, William I Was There Whittlesey House 1950 p. 441
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