On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Seventy-one years later, on May 27, 2016, President Obama visited Hiroshima – the only American president to do since World War II. That blast hastened the end of the War and helped halt further war deaths in the Pacific Theater beyond the 20 million lives already lost. But in his speech, Obama stated:
The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well. That is why we come to this place [Hiroshima]. . . . Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.
President Obama’s statement that Hiroshima calls for a moral revolution is a common view among Progressives, who repeatedly blame America for much of the evil in the world. But what is missing is the compelling evidence that given what was occurring in Japan at that time, using the atomic bomb was actually a very moral thing to do, indisputably saving millions of lives.
With the war in Europe ended, Japan and the Pacific became the unitary focus of Allied military action. As American and Allied forces worked closer to Japan in victory after victory, Japan was extended multiple informal opportunities to surrender, including the public offer resulting from the Potsdam Conference, but all offers were rejected. An assault on Japan was therefore planned similar to that which had ended the war in Europe.
There would be a D-Day style invasion followed by Allied troops fighting their way across the island until they finally took complete control, forcing the enemy into the surrender that all sides knew was inevitable. Projections of fatalities resulting from the invasion ranged from around 7 million on the low side, up to 14 million on the high side. These projections included American, Allied, and Japanese deaths. Given this situation, there was no moral dilemma: Truman chose to save millions of both Japanese and Allied lives by using the atomic bomb and bringing the war to a quick close, but little known today are the extraordinary efforts made by the Americans to avoid using that bomb.
The radio station on Saipan (which was then in Allied control) began broadcasting information about the pending attack directly into Japan, and B-29s also dropped millions of leaflets telling the people exactly which cities would be bombed and what the effects would be. Americans pleaded with the Japanese to flee those cities and save their lives.
For example, on July 28, one million leaflets were dropped over the 35 Japanese cities (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) had been targeted for bombing in coming days, urging citizens to evacuate those cities. These actions by the American military were very risky as the bombers dropping the leaflets not only faced enemy attacks but also forewarned the Japanese military exactly where the American bombers would be coming. But American leadership felt these were acceptable risks in order to give Japanese civilians every opportunity to flee those cities.
Japan ignored America’s pleadings, and so the first atomic bomb was dropped at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Over the next few days, President Truman warned the Japanese that a second bomb would be dropped unless surrender occurred, and those warnings were broadcast into Japan every fifteen minutes. Still, the Japanese refused to surrender. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, and Japanese leaders quickly notified the Allies of their surrender.
Significantly, neither bomb came as a surprise to the Japanese. Japan had been forewarned about what would happen, and they choose the path of the atomic bomb – both bombs were dropped due to choices made by the Japanese, not the Americans. Therefore, contrary to what President Obama and other Progressives suggest, any “moral dilemma” that exists about ending World War II should center on Japanese decisions, not American ones.
For many more surprising facts about the final months of World War II, see a longer (and footnoted) version of this article on the WallBuilders website.
Also, check out many of the WWII leaflets dropped by the B-29 bombers on Japan (like the one pictured above), available in the WallBuilders library here.