Did We Need to Drop Atom Bombs on Japan to Win World War II? Magazine Asks Experts

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In the latest issue of AMERICA IN WWII, two experts tackle the great question of the last century: Did the US really need to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to win World War II?

The atom bomb--and the question of whether the US needed to use it to defeat Imperial Japan in World War II--dominates the newest issue of AMERICA IN WWII magazine.

The atom bomb--and the question of whether the US needed to use it to defeat Imperial Japan in World War II--dominates the newest issue of AMERICA IN WWII magazine.

Nor had the bomb saved the lives of a million American servicemen...[as] was routinely cited after the war to justify dropping the bomb.

If there is “a shape that came to symbolize modern war’s apocalyptic power,” suggests the cover caption of AMERICA IN WWII’s latest issue, it is the mushroom cloud. The cover of the magazine’s July–August issue shows the cloud that rose over Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945, after the explosion of an American atom bomb code-named Fat Man. It was the second atom bomb to strike Japan. The first—a bomb dubbed Little Boy—leveled Hiroshima on August 6.

From the first reports of the Hiroshima bombing (and earlier, among the scientists developing atomic weapons), questions about the ethics and necessity of using nuclear weapons arose. A fierce global debate continues to the present day.

The latest issue of AMERICA IN WWII, which appears on newsstands June 30, brings two fresh opposing perspectives on the debate about the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II, from two renowned experts.

In a special two-article section entitled “The Debate Continues: Was America Right to Use the Atomic Bomb?” Australian journalist, historian, and author Paul Ham argues No. Wilson D. Miscamble, author and professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, argues Yes.

Ham, whose 2014 book HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI: THE REAL STORY OF THE ATOMIC BOMBINGS AND THEIR AFTERMATH will appear in paperback this summer, argues that Japan’s leaders didn’t even consider the atom bombs as they decided what to do next. In an essay titled “While the Emperor Fiddled,” he writes:
“In Japan’s eyes, the decisive factor in surrender was the [newly announced] Soviet invasion and America’s acceptance of Tokyo’s condition that [Emperor] Hirohito’s life and dynasty be spared. The atomic bomb had barely registered as a factor.”

“Nor,” writes Ham, “had the bomb saved the lives of a million American servicemen,” a casualty estimate for a US invasion of Japan that was “routinely cited after the war to justify dropping the bomb.”

What did the use of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki accomplish, then? “It gave Hirohito and Japan the basis for face-saving propaganda,” argues Ham, “and for a claim—however undeserved—to the moral high ground.”

Miscamble, author of THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL DECISION: TRUMAN, THE ATOMIC BOMBS, AND THE DEFEAT OF JAPAN (2011) and FROM ROOSEVELT TO TRUMAN: POTSDAM, HIROSHIMA, AND THE COLD WAR (2007), differs sharply from Ham in his assessment of the justness of using the bomb against Japan.

In his essay “Harry Truman’s Simple Decision,” Miscamble contends that US President Truman used the bomb because he concluded it was necessary in order to defeat Japan and end World War II. “The principal motive for using the new weapon lay in a potent mix of desire to force Japan’s surrender and to save American lives,” he writes.

And save lives it did, he insists. “The bombs contributed decisively to forcing [Japan’s] surrender and in bringing the brutal war to an end prior to any costly invasion of the Japanese home islands.”

The prompt end to World War II, and the avoidance of a US ground invasion of Japan, Miscamble writes, were precisely what Truman hoped to achieve, “thus saving American and Japanese lives.” But “eventually historians challenged that argument.” And, he writes, despite strong evidence to refute such challenges, “new works still appear regularly that propagate the myth that Truman erred in using the atomic bombs.”

Ham and Miscamble make their respective arguments in an issue that also includes a photo essay titled “A Sun that Wouldn’t Set,” by author Jay Wertz, on the difficult task of bringing Imperial Japan to surrender—and “The Big Secret of Oak Ridge, Tennessee,” an excerpt from Lindsey A. Freeman’s 2015 book LONGING FOR THE BOMB: OAK RIDGE AND ATOMIC NOSTALGIA.

AMERICA IN WWII, now in its 11th year, is a bimonthly magazine about the American experience in the Second World War—the war, the home front, and the people. It is available at Barnes & Noble and Books A Million stores, and select other bookstores.

Subscriptions to the print edition are available at 1-866-525-1945 (toll-free). Digital editions for every handheld device, Mac, and PC are also available; check your device’s newsstand or app store, or visit http://www.AmericaInWWII.com/subscriptions for links.

AMERICA IN WWII and AmericaInWWII.com are publications of 310 Publishing LLC of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a company committed to telling the stories of history in human terms.

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