Did the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki end the war?

Jun 10, 2023
Flight map of the atomic bomb missions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

In 2016, President Obama visited Hiroshima. He was the first US President to do so since the bombing in 1945. He said that he would not be apologising for the dropping of the bomb and would not try and second-guess President Harry Truman’s decision.

A repost from May 27, 2016

The widely accepted moral justification for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that they brought a quick end to the war which if continued would result in more widespread deaths and destruction.

There is an argument that what the Japanese military feared most of all was not the bombing of civilians but the threat of Soviet occupation and perhaps partition of Japan.

Murray Sayle, in the New Yorker in 1995, argued the importance of the Japanese military and its fear of the Soviet military that was decisive in ending the war. The late Murray Sayle was a widely admired Australian-born journalist. When the Times refused to publish his report on the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland in 1972, Sayle left the paper and moved to Japan. From Japan in 1995, he wrote the following ‘Did the bomb end the war? ” John Menadue

Which was the crisis that Hirohito and his divided Cabinet believed now made the Emperor’s personal decision necessary—the atomic bombs, Soviet intervention, or the worsening situation as a whole? Certainly the new bombs added to Japan’s woes—along with the ongoing sea blockade, “conventional” firebombing, burned-out cities, total enemy control of sea and air, the shelling of ports by battleships close in-shore, mass hunger, and the promise of a meagre rice harvest. A small provincial city had been largely destroyed, by fire, and another partly destroyed. But then so had Japan’s capital, Tokyo, and the B-29s, still eliminating such “productive enterprises” as Japan “had above ground,” were doing so at least as effectively as atomic bombs could. The war had continued despite the fire raids; the new atomic weapon did not interfere with the Army chiefs’ military plans, or change their indifference to civilian casualties. The Soviet intervention, however, demanded a new consensus, because it made the existing consensus inoperative. And—a point implicit in much of the leadership’s discussion—the bombs promised only to kill more Japanese, whereas the Soviets, possibly allied with local Communists, threatened to destroy the monarchy, which almost all Japanese, and certainly those in the government, viewed as the soul of the nation. A surrender with some guarantee for the Emperor thus became the best of a gloomy range of options, and the quicker the better, because every day that passed meant more gains on the ground for the Soviets, and thus a likely bigger share of the inevitable occupation. Recognition that a surrender today will be more favourable than one tomorrow is the classic reason that wars end.

In the World Post on 24 May 2016, Gar Alperovitz wrote about this same issue under the heading ‘Obama’s Hiroshima visit is a reminder that atomic bombs weren’t what won the war’. In this article, Gar Alperovitz said ‘The vast destruction wreaked by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the loss of 135,000 people made little impact on the Japanese military’.

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