On August 6

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first ever atomic bomb on Japan, which effectively ended World War II. The dropping of this atomic bomb was a momentous event in history. The governments reason as to why the bombs were dropped was that they were the swiftest way to end the war and save millions of lives that could have been lost if the war raged on, but some think the United States dropped them in large part to intimidate the Soviet Union. Why did the United States build the atomic bomb and why was it deemed necessary to use against Japan? What other means of warfare were there, and why were they unable to end the war? Why was the atomic bomb dropped, and why did the U.S. choose the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Japan is a small island country that lacks natural resources. A few of those resources include oil and iron. Before the start of World War I, Japan began to work towards expanding the empire and acquiring new territory. By acquiring new territory they would be able to break through their resource limitations. “Between the years 1894-1909, Japan had gained control of the Pescadores Islands and Formosa, won the Russo-Japanese War, and annexed Korea.” These actions showed to the rest of the world that Japan is one of the strong powers in the east. After the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, the Japanese gained control of the former German territories in the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Islands. With these new additions, the Japanese empire has extended over 3,000 miles into the Pacific Ocean. This extension eventually puts pressure on the United States threatening the security of their bases in the Philippines. Japan isn’t done yet, in order to further expand the empire they declare war with China in July of 1937. The war began with the invasion of Manchuria. Once the Japanese had control of the Chinese state, “the League of Nations called on them to leave. Instead, the Japanese left the League of Nations.” Even though Japan was accumulating new territory, their economy and government were severely dominated by the Japanese army, resulting in constant war up until 1945.
While Japan was spending it’s time expanding to new territories during the 1920’s and 1930’s, the United States was dealing with some internal conflicts. The end of World War I left the U.S. in isolation, which was caused by congress being against the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. Since the ratification fell through, the U.S. didn’t join the League of Nations. They figured the best way to achieve their peace was to become isolated.
Beginning in June of 1938, the Japanese and Americans gave it their all to stay on peaceful terms, but when intentions differed it was too hard to do so. Summer of 1941, Japan stated its intention is to “create the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, with hostile intent for those countries that did not cooperate with them.” The U.S. responded by restricting trade with Japan, this severely threatened Japan’s oil supply. Japan was torn between two options, either back down or start a war. On December 1, 1941, Japan made the fatal decision to conduct a surprise attack on the U.S. navy, six days later that’s exactly what happened. Japan attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as well as the air bases at Wheeler, Bellows, and Hickman Fields.
“Between December 7, 1941, and May of 1942 Japan attacked and conquered Guam, Makin, and Tarawa in the British Gilbert Islands, Wake Island, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Burma, Borneo, and New Guinea.” At this point, Japan’s empire had reached its full extent of expansion.
Mid 1942, the U.S. was finally ready to retaliate, and the first showdown between the two powers was the infamous Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, through June 6, 1942. This battle was the first of many to come between the U.S., who was fighting for the revenge against Pearl Harbor and Japan, who were fighting to defend the land they conquered and “to protect their unique culture against western imperialism.” The Americans main plan to combat the Japanese navy as the war continued was to fight through a sequence of sea battles. The army moved continuously from island to island through a technique called “Island Hopping” until in range of Japan, so then they could attack the Japanese homeland directly. The allies slowly made their way across the Pacific towards Japan. By early 1945, the American air bases on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan were able to launch raids on Japan itself. At this point, General Curtis LeMay took the fighting to the next level and began bombing Japan with incendiary bombs.
Once the U.S. landed on the islands of Okinawa and Iwo Jima in early 1945, they got their first taste of the Japanese’s extreme fighting style. The Allies’ goal was to move their base of operations close enough to Japan so that they could successfully complete the ordered air raids. The taking of the two islands was supposed to be easy, but was anything other than that. February 19, 1945, the U.S. navy heavily bombed the shores of Iwo Jima, paving the way for two marine divisions to storm onto its beaches. The attack did little to weaken the enemy forces, who had been strategically entrenched into Iwo Jima’s many cave systems. “The battle of Iwo Jima, ending on March 26, 1945, left nearly 7,000 marines killed and 20,000 wounded. The Japanese toll was greater by far with 110,000 soldiers and 80,000 civilian’s dead.” Now that the U.S. has secured the two islands that are within range of Japan, the term “fight to the death” will be the Japanese’s number one priority in order to protect the homeland at all costs.
On March 9, U.S. warplanes took off from airstrips on the volcanic isles of Tinian and Saipan and dropped more than 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo. In retaliation for the bombings and the loss of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Japanese began their Kamikaze “suicide attacks”. This style of warfare was to them showing national loyalty and rather than surrendering they decided to sacrifice their lives for the Japanese war effort. In April and June 1945, there was a total of 1,800 suicide attacks, which hurt both powers. The U.S. lost 28 ships and 176 others sustained damage, while the Japanese were losing their few remaining pilots.
Spring 1945, America and the allies had finally ended the war in Europe and it looked as if Japan was next to surrender. Even though the Japanese had been weakened they had no plans of giving up. Once summer of 1945 came and Japan still did not surrender the allies, specifically the “U.S., Britain and Russia issued the Potsdam Proclamation in July of 1945, which ordered that Japan surrender or “face prompt and utter destruction”.” Japan of course ignored these attempts to end the war, so instead on November 1, 1945, the allies would invade Japan. “Initially 767,000 soldiers would land on the beaches of southern Japan and on March 1 or the following year 1,534,000 men would land on the beaches near Tokyo, poised and ready to fight.” This plan was never carried out because instead, on August 6, 1945 the B-29 named “Enola Gay” dropped the first ever atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later the second atomic bomb would be dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Six days after Nagasaki, Japan surrendered, quoting it was because of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
The making of the atomic bomb began because of these three reasons. First, science supported the fact of possibility for one to be made. Scientists knew it was possible for an atomic bomb to be made, but they just didn’t have the knowledge as to how to make one yet. The knowledge needed would finally come after conducting many experimental and theoretical trials by nuclear physicist’s and other important scientists associated with the project. Second, the Germans were also in development of nuclear fission and atomic power, and like the allies they too were assigning scientists to their own atomic bomb project. The reason as to why the Germans didn’t get far with their own projects was due to the fact that they lacked the knowledge necessary and the resources needed like pure Uranium-235. Third, the development of the war with Germany and Japan boosted the allies desire to create the bomb first. War before the creation of the atomic bomb usually lasted long periods of time and could potentially stalemate, but with the invention of the atomic bomb entire cities could be devastated, which then could lead to a fast surrender. “The intimidation factor of the atomic bomb alone allowed the U.S. to instill fear in the rest of the world, making other countries think twice about attacking them or their allies.” After all, the purpose for the construction of such a destructive bomb was that it would save hundreds of thousands of allied soldier’s lives, who were supposed to invade Japan.
“The making of the atomic bomb started in England in 1939, shifted to the U.S. in 1941, and moved forward steadily until it was dropped in 1945.” Once the Manhattan Project was finally finished and succeeded in the creation of the atomic bomb, “it cost upwards of 2 billion dollars, employed thousands of people, and required the vast knowledge of many leading scientists.”
Before the atomic bomb was even dropped, “fire bombings in March and April of 1945 had completely destroyed Tokyo and many other cities.” Americans saw these fire bombings as a better option in defeating the Japanese rather than using the atomic bomb because “people viewed the atomic bomb as unnecessary and thought that if the Allies simply continued their firebombing raids on Japan and established a blockade, then the war was as good as won for the allies.” But, given the Japanese mentality, the U.S. thought it was going to take drastic measures in order to get the surrender they so wanted. Fortunately, the U.S. had a despicable weapon in their arsenal and decided to test it on July 16, 1945. “The atomic bomb detonation codenamed “Trinity” had been tested successfully in New Mexico and was ready to be used.” One of the observers at the base camp quoted that the radiating heat felt miles away was “like opening a hot oven with the sun coming out like a sunrise.”
The option of dropping the atomic bomb was favored by many people as opposed to invading Japan because if there was to be an invasion, the United States would be putting its own soldiers in danger. The American soldiers knew that the Japanese would continue to fight with their ruthless style of fighting, which could of lead to thousands of American soldier deaths. “No matter how you slice it you are going to kill an awful lot of civilians. Thousands and thousands. But if you don’t destroy Japanese industry, we’re going to have to invade Japan. And how many Americans will be killed in an invasion? Five hundred thousand seems to be the lowest estimate. We’re at war with Japan. Would you rather have Americans killed?” These words spoken by General LeMay put it simply that if the U.S. was to invade Japan there would end up being a lot of deaths for both sides, but if we were to drop the atomic bomb then it would only be Japan that had to suffer with the loss and our own soldiers would be safe. If America was to invade Japan the estimated number of casualties ranged from a low of 250,000 to as high as 1 million Americans. Most families wanted their loved ones to return home safely, for many that did not happen, but when the public heard of this new weapon the government had created, they were willing to let the government do whatever was necessary to keep the soldiers safe. Even though the atomic bomb could be considered a diabolical weapon, many people in the United States felt that after what Japan did to Pearl Harbor the Japanese deserved everything they would get.
Instead of the atomic bomb, the other option the U.S. had in its arsenal to use against Japan was poison gas. This option of poison gas was never really given a chance because after the events of WWI the public viewed poison gas as such a horrific weapon. Towards the end of WW2, when poisonous gas could have aided the Allied soldiers on Okinawa and Iwo Jima, military strategists vied the public as a constraint on their actions, and did not use poisonous gas. The editors of Time Magazine made the point that “Americans should stop debating the morality of particular weapons and instead consider their practicality.” Despite how practical poison gas could have been if used, it still is considered to be one of the most devastating and inhumane weapons on this earth. Keeping this in mind, the allied military forces were at hard work trying to keep the atomic bomb as secret as possible. Even high ranking officials like the president of the United States did not know everything there was to know, and some Manhattan project employees of two and a half years did not know what they were building. This secrecy was in large part due to the fact that people could not be trusted with such classified information. In particular, people who might have ties with foreign intelligence agencies.
Even though the atomic bomb was a cruel and terrible weapon, it had precedents. At the beginning of the war the U.S. had proposed the idea of trying to keep the war out of the air and on the ground. This tactic never stuck around in Europe because after the Battle of the Bulge the allies became frustrated with continued resistance and decided to fire bomb Dresden, Germany, on the February 13, 1945, killing an estimated 125,000 people. With these fire bombings occurring in Europe, General LeMay decided to use the same style of bombing used on Germany, but instead on Japan. “On the night, March 9, 1945, over 300 B-29’s attacked Tokyo for three straight hours, dropping firebombs and igniting the city. This attack proved to be highly effective, killing 83,793 Japanese and injuring 40,918.” “One night of firebombing destroyed 267,171 buildings and left one million people homeless.” This form of warfare was especially formidable because it did not only target soldiers, but it targeted/killed everyone that was in the path of destruction. These high numbers and brutal killing tactics set a precedent for the atomic bomb. The shocking number of Japanese killed by the fire bombings were high enough that the projected 20,000+ deaths due to the atomic bomb predicted by the scientific head of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer were not viewed as many.
The first of the two atomic bombs eventually dropped on Japan was codenamed “Little Boy”. This atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. “Little Boy” was the second atomic bomb to ever explode, following just behind the “trinity” test that took place in New Mexico. Once the “trinity” test was successful, the U.S. began to prepare the first atomic bomb for flight. But before the U.S. had fully completed the first atomic bomb, they had already assigned a committee of officers and scientists to the mission of determining the best place to drop an atomic bomb, if the order was ever given to drop one. “The committee settled on two “psychological” objectives of the first atomic bombing: to scare the Japanese into unconditional surrender and to impress upon the world the power of the new weapon.” Both of these two objectives put forth by the U.S. would eventually be successful. Alex Wellerstein, a historian at the Stevens Institute of Technology states that “Hiroshima is compact and possesses factories and facilities that aid the Japanese war effort, and if you put a bomb like this in the middle of it, you end up destroying almost the entirety of the city.” Hiroshima being compact and possessing military factories was the nail in the coffin for the city. “Little Boy” devastated Hiroshima killing 150,000+ Japanese people in total, with roughly 20,000 of the 150,000+ being Japanese soldiers.
The second of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan was codenamed “Fat Man”. This atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. “Fat Man” was the third atomic bomb to ever explode, following just behind the “Little Boy” atomic bomb that was only dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier. Nagasaki was a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island, with an initial population of 240,000. The reason as to why Nagasaki was chosen to be bombed is much like Hiroshima’s. Nagasaki was compact and had factories/facilities that aided the Japanese army with supplies. Once the bomb was dropped, an estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 had been injured. August 14, 1945, 5 days after the destruction of Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito announced that he intended to surrender, but the official end of WW2 did not happen until September 2, 1945. This day was known as victory over Japan day. Ultimately, over 340,000 people perished in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the end, the atomic bomb was built because the scientists could. It was necessary because the other means of battle would not quickly end the war. It was dropped because it was thought to be the only way that Japan would surrender, and the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen because they aided the military the most.