(Created by Chetna Taori, History 135, February 2001)
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Enola Gay from www.doug-long.com
Enola Gay, B-29 Bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima Source: www.doug-long.com

Did the U.S. have other viable options for ending the war with Japan in 1945? Why was the decision made to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?

With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, the Allies (United Sates, China, Great Britain, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) focused their efforts on the defeat of Japan. When President Franklin Roosevelt died suddenly in April 1945, Vice-President Harry Truman took over the White House and quickly felt pressure to find an end to the long war. The Potsdam Proclamation, drawn up by the allies at the Potsdam conference, demanded the immediate and unconditional surrender of, but Japan rejected the Proclamation.
There were efforts by the British and American forces to close-in on Japan. Nevertheless, the Allies dreaded invasion of Japan expecting suicidal resistance of the sort displayed by the kamikaze pilots, who deliberately crashed their planes into American warships. The Soviets had meantime declared war on Japan, even though Japan had sought the USSR's help to end the war in July 1945. The U.S. was aware of this at the time through intercepted Japanese cables, but the U.S. did not pursue this change in Japan's diplomatic position. The U.S. chose military methods of ending the war rather than diplomatic methods. The U.S. elected to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the United States, scientists had first begun exploring the possibilities of atomic weaponry in the late 1930s. As World War II progressed, the urgency to develop an atomic bomb--especially before the Germans did--intensified. The military did not want any more "Pearl Harbor" mishaps to happen. Considering the gloomy estimates of American casualties if the U.S. had to invade Japan, Truman ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima based on his belief that it would quickly end the war and save the lives of thousands of American troops.
On August 6, 1945, at 2:45 A.M. local time, the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber loaded with an atomic bomb, took off from the U.S. air base on Tinian Island in the western Pacific. Six and a half hours later, at 8:15 A.M. Japan time, the bomb was dropped and it exploded a minute later at an estimated altitude of 580 +/- 20 meters over central Hiroshima, Japan. United States military forces had just dropped the first atomic bomb used in combat on Hiroshima. The bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy", destroyed extensive areas of the city. Immediate estimates were that at least 100,000 to 140,000 people were killed, injured, or missing, and 90% of the city was leveled. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the U.S. military dropped another atomic bomb, "Fat Man," on Nagasaki, Japan. The world had officially, and brutally, entered the "Atomic Age".
Japan protested the atomic bombing saying that the new type of weapon used was a violation of international law. However, it soon thereafter accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces. This brought an end to World War II, the ultimate goal of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some Historians have argued that the American decision reflected a desire to end the war with Japan before the Soviets could claim a share in the victory. Some even suggested, not necessarily convincingly, that the bombs were dropped more to scare Russia, than to defeat Japan.
The atomic bomb offered one quick, yet complicated, solution. This ending left a scar on those who survived the "blast". They went through a lot of health problems even several years after the bombing. Symptoms appearing in the first four months after the bombing were called acute. Besides burns and wounds, they included: general malaise, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abnormally low white blood cell count, bloody discharge, anemia, loss of hair. Prolonged injuries were associated with aftereffects. The most serious in this category were: keloids (massive scar tissue on burned areas), cataracts, leukemia and other cancers. Personal accounts of several eyewitnesses outlined, in excruciating details, the pains and sufferings of the survivors.
Much of the city has been reconstructed since then. But a gutted section has been set aside as a "Peace City" to illustrate the effect of an atomic bomb. Since 1955 an annual world conference against nuclear weapons has met in Hiroshima. Hiroshima prefecture (1990 pop. 2,849,822), 3,258 sq. mi (8,438 sq. km), is generally mountainous, with fertile valleys. Rice and oranges are grown extensively, cattle are raised, textiles are manufactured, and shipyards are plentiful.
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July 16,1945 - First nuclear test in history conducted by the United States (Alamogordo, New Mexico). USS Indianapolis leaves San Francisco for Tinian Island in the Marianas (via Hawaii). Cargo: Portions of uranium 235 and atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima. Scheduled to arrive on July 26. (Other portions of uranium 235 and bomb parts were transported in separate shipments.)
July 17-August 2,1945 - President Truman attended conference at Potsdam, to discuss post-war treatment of Germany with Premier Joseph Stalin of Russia and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain.
July 24, 1945 - At the Potsdam Conference, President Truman told Stalin only that the U.S. "had a new weapon of unusual destructive force." This is often considered the start of "atomic diplomacy."
July 26,1945 - Potsdam Declaration announced in United States, United Kingdom and China, asking for unconditional surrender of Japanese.
July 28,1945 - Japan announces it will ignore the Potsdam Declaration.
August 6,1945 - A Uranium bomb is dropped and explodes on Hiroshima.
August 9,1945 - A Plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
August 10,1945 - Japan protests new type of weapon as violation of international law.
August 15,1945 - Japan accepts the Potsdam Declaration (Surrenders unconditionally to the Allied Forces).
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WWW Sites
Here are some of the most notable Websites on Hiroshima:

Atomic Bomb Decision, Hiroshima-Nagasaki includes links to declassified documents relating to the decision to drop the bomb.

Hiroshima Directory - bibliography and links to historical, artistic, literary, and other sites that focus on the bombing of Hiroshima.

Damage from the Atomic Bombings outlines the immediate effects of the explosion.

The Voice of Hibakusha Eyewitness accounts, by survivors, of the bombing of Hiroshima.

President Truman Speech After the Bombing of Hiroshima

Personal Record of Hiroshima A-Bomb Survivor, by Takeharu Terao.

Hiroshima Panoramic Photos offering three panoramic photographs of the A-bomb destroyed city of Hiroshima.

A-Bomb WWW Museum includes a description of the first atomic bomb, photos from the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, and interviews with A-bomb survivors.

Hiroshima Peace Site (English version) an appeal for a lasting world peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. From the City of Hiroshima

Nuclear Files documents on topics such as the discovery of nuclear power, the Manhattan Project, the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the hydrogen bomb, and more.

City of Hiroshima (English version) includes information on the atomic bomb and peace, and introduction to city industry and tourism, and links.

Hiroshima Peace Park contains map and sections on the A-bomb Dome, the Children's Peace Monument, the Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Peace Memorial Museum.

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Recommended Books
There is an immense reading list available on Hiroshima and its various aspects, including:
  • Gar Alperovitz: The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb
  • Kai Bird: Lawrence Lifschultz editors, Hiroshima's Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy [excellent collection of articles on the a-bombings, including documents from WWII. Although most of the articles weigh against the atomic bombings, it also contains the most famous article to defend the atomic bombings: Sec. of War Henry Stimson's 1947 article, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb]
  • Lester Brooks: Behind Japan's Surrender
  • Robert Butow: Japan's Decision to Surrender [tells what was going on in the Japanese government in 1945]
  • Robert Ferrell, editor, Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman [President Truman's diary]
  • John Toland: The Rising Sun [history of Japan in war from 1931 thru 1945]
  • Harry Truman: Memoirs of Harry S. Truman, 1945, Year of Decisions, Vol. 1
  • The Pacific War Research Society: The Day Man Lost: Hiroshima, 6 August 1945 [mostly about what was happening in Japan from 1941 thru 1945; written by Japanese scholars]
  • Richard Rhodes: The Making of the Atomic Bomb
  • Peter Wyden: Day One: Before Hiroshima and After [for the beginner, this is the best book on the making and use of the atomic bomb]
  • Findley/Rothney: Twentieth-Century World History: This book seeks to help students understand how global interrelatedness has evolved, primarily since World War I.
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