In his memoirs written in 1955, Harry Truman wrote a few pages on his decision to drop an atom bomb on the city of Hiroshima.
He wrote, “I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used. The top military advisors to the President, recommended its use, and when I talked to Churchill he unhesitatingly told me that he favored the use of the atom bomb if it might aid to end the war.”
This was clearly Truman’s rationale for using the bomb and it would be used to convince the Japanese that their only option was unconditional surrender and the lives of American soldiers would be saved rather than have to surrender on Japan’s home ground. General Marshall told Truman informed him that that an invasion might cost half a million American lives.
A lengthier defense of the decision to drop the bomb was written by Henry Stimson, Truman’s secretary chief advisor on atomic policy to both Franklin Roosevelt and Truman.
In April of 1945, as scientists prepared the bomb’s final testing, Truman appointed Stimson as head of a committee to consider the scientific, political, and military aspects of the bomb. In June, the committee recommended using the bomb as soon as possible. If they had dropped the bomb over a deserted island it would not have convinced the Japanese of its power.
After meeting with Churchill and Stalin in Potsdam (a suburb of Berlin) on July 26, Truman issued an ultimatum to the Japanese to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction”. Two days later the Japanese premier replied that the ultimatum was “unworthy of notice.” This left Truman with no choice but to follow through.
From that point onwards, events moved according to plan and on August 6 the first atom bomb fell August 6, 1945 the first atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. On August 9, the second fell on Nagasaki and on August 14, the Japanese surrendered.
Truman’s and Stimson’s accounts of the decision making process appeared unimpeachable, not only had they clearly explained why they used the bomb, but history had proved their analyses to be correct.
Needless to say, revisionist historians have a different point of view. According to them Truman’s motive was not to demonstrate American power to its Japanese enemies, but to the Russians. From this point of view the bomb was not the final act of World War II, but the start of the Cold War.
Churchill did comment after the successful test “Now I know what happened to Truman yesterday. When he got to the meeting after having read this report he was a changed man. He told the Russians just where they got on and off and generally bossed the whole meeting.
Ah politics! It’s all about power. Did the Japanese make an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor? Was Stalin a real sweetheart? Do we feel devastated about the innocents in Japan who suffered? Of course.