The president’s speech was intensively scrutinized by both supporters and opponents to see whether he would issue any direct apology for America having dropped atomic bombs, extinguishing at least 130,000 Japanese lives. 2 The president carefully stayed on script and delivered no overt apology, but even the mainstream media did not miss the fact that by simply appearing at Hiroshima he was issuing an indirect apology:
A majority of Japanese people view the atomic bombings as inhumane attacks — war crimes for which the United States has never been punished. . . . Hiroshima is a decidedly one-sided location; the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. At this setting one country is victim, the other assailant. 3Washington Post
No American president has visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki in the 71 years since the attacks because of concerns the trip would be perceived as an apology for the two bombings that helped bring an end to World War II. 4ABC News
The president wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in late March, “As the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons, the United States has a moral obligation to continue to lead the way in eliminating them.” “Moral obligation”? . . . Why would America assume a “moral obligation” if not because the nation was guilty of some ill-advised, even immoral, action? 5US News
A visit would inevitably be construed by many as a de facto U.S. apology. . . It would be seen as vindication for Japanese claims of victimization, encouraging those in Japan who still deny responsibility for a war of aggression. . . . [the] goal of a presidential visit to the nuclear bombing sites is to finally come to terms with the morally difficult decisions made in World War II. 6The Diplomat
The media recognized that the issue of morals was inseparable from any official visit to Hiroshima, and as expected, the president did address that issue in his speech. According to President Obama:
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]. We stand here, in the middle of this city, and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war, and the wars that came before, and the wars that would follow. 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. Someday the voices of the hibakusha [survivors of the bombings] will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change. . . . We can tell our children a different story – one that describes a common humanity; one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted. We see these stories in the hibakusha [survivors of the bombings] – the woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb, because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself. 7
Notice the interesting moral perspective communicated by the president. He asks that we imagine the suffering in Hiroshima – the dread of the children; the voice from the victims of the bombings; the silent cry. He also praises the forgiveness of the Japanese woman who forgave the American pilot who dropped the bomb. All of these statements point us toward the Japanese viewpoint. Human and Japanese loses are always tragic, but viewing them with a factually-accurate perspective is crucial.
For example, the woman who forgave the Americans: did she also forgive her Emperor for the treacherous and unprovoked surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 Americans and wounded 1,178, 8 thus bringing America into the war? Did she forgive Japan for declaring war on America when we were working diligently to stay out of the war and be uninvolved? Did she forgive the Japanese military leaders for keeping the war against America going long after the rest of the world had surrendered? Without these three Japanese-initiated events, no atomic bombs would have been dropped. So why are the Americans the transgressors who need to be forgiven?
And empathizing with children is important, but shouldn’t we likewise imagine the cries of the American children whose fathers were mercilessly slaughtered by the Japanese in the Bataan Death March, or killed in the many other Japanese atrocities that in both brutality and scope parallel the war crimes perpetrated by the Nazis in Europe? Throughout the War Japan engaged in active genocides, including against its Asian neighbors in Korea, Manchuria, the Philippines, and China. (It is estimated that in China alone some ten million innocents were exterminated by the Japanese. 9 ) Japan’s military philosophy was barbaric with no respect for human life.
For example, Japanese officers actually held competitions to see which officer could behead 100 prisoners in the shortest time, with a runoff to determine a winner. 10 American prisoners were callously burned alive after being captured, 11 and others had their heads smashed in with sledge hammers. 12 (To see the almost unimaginable sadistic brutality that characterized the Japanese military, check articles such as “Japanese War Crimes” 13 and “Ten Japanese Atrocities from World War II” 14 as well as many others.) There is a reason that after the war, war-crime trials were held in Japan and not just Germany.
President Obama’s acknowledgment 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. Even the study guide for the Advanced Placement Test for high school U. S. History (written by the College Board, headed by Progressive educator David Coleman) tells students that “the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.” 15 Following public outrage, that statement was modified to read: “The use of atomic bombs hastened the end of the war and sparked debates about the morality of using atomic weapons.” 16 The change was an improvement, but it still preserved the view that the use of an atomic weapon was symbolic of America’s lack of morality. Other sources echo that belief:
Truman’s decision was a barbaric act that brought negative long-term consequences to the United States. 17
The . . . use of such a weapon was simply inhumane. Hundreds of thousands of civilians with no democratic rights to oppose their militarist government, including women and children, were vaporized, turned into charred blobs of carbon, horrifically burned, buried in rubble, speared by flying debris, and saturated with radiation. 18
The American government was accused [by modern Progressive writers] of racism on the grounds that such a device would never have been used against white civilians. 19
There are many similar claims, 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. Two categories of proof fully demonstrate this: (1) The reason the atomic bomb was used, and (2) The manner in which it was used. Consider the definitive evidence for each category.
In World War II, America and the Allied Forces fought simultaneously on both the European and Pacific fronts, but late in the War they focused the bulk of their efforts on the European Theater until Germany and Italy finally capitulated. At that time, Japan, the remaining major Axis power, was losing battle after battle to Allied Forces in the Pacific but still refused to surrender along with their comrade nations.
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, multiple informal opportunities to surrender were extended to Japan before the official surrender declaration from the Postdam Conference but all offers were rejected. 22 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. Significantly, Japanese leaders fully understood that they could not win, but they wanted to extract as high a price as possible with their loss. Japanese leaders were defiant, determined to fight to the end regardless of the cost in human lives. As one foreign policy expert affirmed:
As U.S. forces in the Pacific advanced toward Japan, its people were committing suicide in hordes rather than face capture. Anticipating a land invasion, Japan’s leaders were preparing their people for a fight to the finish, conscripting boys as young as 15 and teaching them how to kill incoming U.S. troops and conduct kamikaze operations. 23
(Notice yet another similarity between the Japanese military and ISIS: training youth for suicide bombing missions.)
Allied military plans were undertaken for “Operation Downfall” – the code name assigned to the planned invasion of Japan. As part of the preparations, casualty estimates were prepared, calculating the probable loss of lives, both Japanese and Allied.
General Curtis Lemay, commander of the B-29 force that would be central to any invasion of Japan, was informed that the operation would result in at least 500,000 American deaths. 24 A study done for President Truman’s Secretary of War Henry Stimson estimated American casualties at 1.7 to 4 million (including up to 800,000 American deaths), and from 5 to 10 million Japanese fatalities, depending on how stiff the resistance would be. 25 Several million more casualties were projected for other Allied Forces, 26 which included nations such as Great Britain, China, Canada, and Australia. Projections thus placed death numbers at around 7 million on the low side, up to 14 million on the high side.
President Truman understood the scope of the new atomic weapon at his disposal, but the other nations had no such conception for such a bomb had never been used before. Truman therefore went to extraordinary lengths to warn the Japanese of what was to come if they did not surrender (amazing details on this will be presented shortly). He finally had a choice to make. He could continue fighting with traditional weapons until the Japanese finally surrendered, which was estimated to be another full year, 27 costing millions of lives in the process. Or he could use an atomic bomb, which might result in 100,000 deaths per bomb. These deaths would be tragic but the numbers paled in comparison to the potential loss of millions of lives. The psychological shock of the use of such a weapon should rapidly push the enemy toward an immediate surrender. Given the situation, there was no moral dilemma: Truman chose to save millions of Japanese and Allied lives by using the atomic bomb.
Meanwhile, across the Pacific, on July 7, 1944, the US military launched a bloody but successful month-long campaign to recapture the strategic island of Saipan. 29 Located 1,200 miles from Tokyo, it provided a base from which Allied bombers could reach Japan and a key location from which an invasion could be launched. A 50,000 watt radio station (KSAI) was also constructed there, allowing the B-29s bombing Japan to track its radio broadcast waves as a beacon safely back to the tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.
Saipan also became the center of Allied communication. The radio station began broadcasting important information and messages directly to the Japanese people, bypassing their fanatical leaders. A print shop was also constructed, and prior to Allied bombings, B-29s dropped 63 million leaflets across Japan, warning citizens about the specific cities that had been targeted for bombing, urging civilians to flee and avoid those areas. 30 However, Japanese military officials ordered the arrest of any citizen who read the leaflets, or kept them and did not turn them into local authorities.
In Europe, on the other side of the world, on July 26, 1945, Allied leaders gathered in Potsdam, Germany, and established the terms of surrender for Japan. Called the Potsdam Proclamation, it called for what scholars described as the “disarmament and abolition of the Japanese military; elimination of military influence in political forums; Allied occupation of Japan; liberation of Pacific territories gained by Japan since 1914; swift justice for war criminals; maintenance of non-military industries; establishment of freedom of speech, religion and thought; and introduction of respect for fundamental human rights.” 31 If the Japanese rejected these terms, the result would be “prompt and utter destruction.” 32
The Allies knew that Japanese leaders would say nothing to their people about this offer, so the radio station on Saipan began broadcasting the Proclamation directly into Japan even before it reached Japanese leaders through official channels. And B-29s also dropped 3 million leaflets (see some of these leaflets from the WallBuilders library here) telling the people about the Proclamation. But on July 27, Japan officially rejected the proposal, thus continuing the war.
The next day, July 28, one million leaflets were dropped over the 35 Japanese cities (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) targeted for bombing in coming days, urging citizens to evacuate those cities. That leaflet (with its picture of five B-29s releasing their cargo of bombs) specifically warned:
Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend.
In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes.
So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people.
The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately. 33
Understandably, the crews scheduled to bomb those areas were concerned for their own safety, for the leaflets not only told the Japanese military exactly what was about to occur but also where. Nevertheless, humanitarian concerns for Japanese civilians remained foremost in American thinking, even jeopardizing the lives of Allied pilots and crews.
America specifically avoided bombing the Emperor’s palace, or the historic temple area of Kyoto, but after days of bombings, “Japan’s Air Defense General Headquarters reported that out of 206 cities, 44 had been almost completely wiped out, while 37 others, including Tokyo, had lost over 30 percent of their built-up areas.” 34 But despite the increasingly extensive devastation, Japan still refused to surrender.
Bombings alone had proved insufficient to end the war. The only remaining traditional warfare option was a full-scale land invasion of Japan, which could produce the millions of casualties predicted in the various official reports. Facing this prospect, President Truman therefore approved the B-29 Enola Gay dropping the atomic bomb “Little Boy” over Hiroshima. The devastation that occurred is a matter of historical record.
Japan still refused to surrender. President Truman publicly and explicitly warned Japan that unless they ended the war quickly, more such bombs would be forthcoming:
We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. 35
B-29s then dropped five million leaflets across Japan, warning citizens:
TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:
America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.
We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by men. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29’s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.
We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.
Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our President has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better, and peace-loving Japan.
You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
EVACUATE YOUR CITIES 36
The radio station on Saipan also began broadcasting warnings every fifteen minutes directly to the Japanese people. America had undertaken every means possible to prevent dropping the first bomb, and did so again with the second one. Yet even days after the bomb on Hiroshima, the Japanese remained unmoved, so on August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped by the B-29 Bockscar over Nagasaki.
By 2AM the following morning (August 10), following extensive debates by Japanese authorities, Emperor Hirohito ordered acceptance of the surrender terms of the Potsdam Declaration. At 7AM the Japanese Cabinet transmitted word to the Allies that they accepted most of the terms, but insisted that the Emperor remain the sovereign ruler of the empire. Allied leaders tentatively agreed to this change so long as “from the moment of surrender, the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers.” 37 They awaited Japan’s official acceptance of this provision.
While awaiting the Japanese response, further bombing of Japan was temporarily halted. The decision to end the war was now back in the hands of Japan’s leaders, but the people still knew nothing of Japan’s official offer of surrender. So the radio station on Saipan began announcing the news to the people, and the printing presses went into high speed production. On August 12, five million leaflets were dropped by B-29s telling the Japanese:
These American planes are not dropping bombs on you today. American planes are dropping these leaflets instead because the Japanese Government has offered to surrender, and every Japanese has a right to know the terms of that offer and the reply made to it by the United States Government on behalf of itself, the British, the Chinese, and the Russians. Your government now has a chance to end the war immediately. You will see how the war can be ended by reading the two following official statements. 38
(The two statements mentioned and included in the leaflet were the text of the Japanese offer to surrender, and the Allied response.)
On August 14, 1945, Japanese leaders accepted the terms and officially surrendered.
By the way, Japan still has never officially apologized to America for the attack on Pearl Harbor. And Japan has other World War II skeletons in its closet that are just now being openly addressed. As one diplomatic news service reported:
Japan and South Korea have only recently reached a compromise agreement to finally offer compensation and apology to the so-called “comfort women” compelled into sexual service in Japan’s wartime brothels. It remains a fragile agreement, not yet implemented, and many other wartime issues — such as the compensation for hundreds of thousands of Asians and Allied POWs dragooned into forced labor — remain unresolved. 39
Also indicative of positive American morals, after the war was over, America rebuilt Japan – something it had no obligation to do. American General Douglas MacArthur guided Japan through transformational reforms in military, political, economic, and social areas. 40 Japanese war crimes and war criminals were promptly punished and official military Shintoism abolished. The power of the elite class was broken, with control over the military, politics, land, and business being decentralized. America poured emergency food relief and economic aid into the nation, also extending $2.2 billion to Japan 41 (about $15.2 billion today). Under American leadership, the people were raised, women elevated, the economy rebuilt, and the country democratized. The transformation under American leadership was so thorough that by 1952, Japan had been openly accepted back into the world community of nations.
From the American side, what happened at Hiroshima demonstrates no need for any “moral revolution,” as President Obama called it. Contrary to the claims of critics, the use of the bomb did not show a lack of morality on the part of America but rather quite the contrary. The true immorality would have been for America to allow the war to drag on for another year, costing millions of lives, when it could have been stopped quickly and further deaths ended. No civilized person should ever want to take innocent life but rather should always seek to preserve it. The use of the atomic bomb did exactly that, saving the lives of millions, both Japanese and Allied.
1. There was a total of 60 million casualties during WWII with 45 million civilian and 15 million military deaths – “By the Numbers: World-Wide Deaths,” National WWII Museum (accessed on June 24, 2016). It is estimated that the Chinese civilian deaths alone (numbering around 10 million) made up half of the total casualties from the Pacific Theater, making the total number of casualties from the Pacific Theater 20 million. – “Sino-Japanese War,” History (accessed on June 24, 2016).
2. See, for example, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Death Toll,” UCLA (accessed on June 24, 2016); “The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Chapter 10 – Total Casualties,” The Avalon Project (accessed on June 24, 2016).
3. Jennifer Lind, “As Obama goes to Hiroshima, here are 3 principles for a successful visit (with no apologies),” Washington Post, May 26, 2016.
4. Margaret Chadbourn, “A Look at Whether Obama Should Visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” ABC News, May 9, 2016.
5. Lawrence J. Haas, “Don’t Apologize for Hiroshima: The president mustn’t express guilt over U.S. use of nuclear weapons during World War II,” US News, April 19, 2016.
6. Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel Sneider, “Should President Obama Visit Hiroshima?” The Diplomat, April 16, 2016.
7. “Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe of Japan at Hiroshima Peace Memorial,” The White House, May 27, 2016.
8. “By the Numbers: Pearl Harbor,” National WWII Museum (accessed on June 24, 2016).
9. “There were also savage reprisals carried out against Chinese peasants, in retaliation for attacks by partisans who waged a guerrilla war against the invader, ambushing supply columns and attacking isolated units. Warfare of this nature led, by the war’s end, to an estimated 10 to 20 million Chinese civilians deaths.” “Sino-Japanese War,” History (accessed on June 24, 2016); Professor R.J. Rummel estimates that there was about 10 million Chinese civilian casualties during the Sino-Japanese war. – R.J. Rummel, China’s Bloody Century (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1991), Table 6.2.
10. “The Contest to Cut Down 100 People,” google.com, English translations of 4 Japanese articles from 1937; Journal of Japanese Studies (The Society for Japanese Studies: Summer 2000), Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 307-340, Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, (Summer 2000), “The Nanking 100-Man Killing Contest Debate: War Guilt Amid Fabricated Illusions, 1971–75.”
12. “10 Japanese Atrocities from World War II,” listverse.com, May 6, 2014.
13. “Japanese war crimes,” Wikipedia (accessed on June 20, 2016).
14. “10 Japanese Atrocities from World War II,” listverse.com, May 6, 2014.
16. College Board, AP Course and Exam Description: AP United States History (Fall 2015), p. 75.
17. “The Decision to Drop the Bomb,” U.S. History (accessed on June 20, 2016).
18. Michael Barnes, “Arguments Against the Bomb,” authentichistory.com (accessed on June 20, 2016).
19. “The Decision to Drop the Bomb,” U.S. History (accessed on June 20, 2016).
20. “The Decision to Drop the Bomb,” U.S. History (accessed on June 23, 2016). See also Steven Zaloga, Kamikaze: Japanese Special Attack Weapons, 1944-45 (Osprey: 2011), p. 12.
21. K, M. Kostyal, “Korean ‘Comfort Women’: Japan’s World War II Sex Slaves,” HistoryNet, November 2, 2012.
22. “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009; Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Vol. 1 (1994 Reprint), “Japan’s Surrender.”
23. Lawrence J. Haas, “Don’t Apologize for Hiroshima: The president mustn’t express guilt over U.S. use of nuclear weapons during World War II,” US News, April 19, 2016.
27. Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Vol. 1 (1994 Reprint), “‘Downfall’ The Plan for the Invasion of Japan.”
28. Kirk Spitzer, “A Forgotten Horror: The Great Tokyo Air Raid,” Time, March 27, 2012.
29. See, for example, “Western Pacific: The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II,” army.mil (accessed on June 24, 2016).
30. Richard S. R. Hubert, “The OWI Saipan Operation,” Official Report to US Information Service, Washington, 1946, charts pp. 88-89; “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
31. World War II Surrender Documents: Japan Surrenders 1945, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, DC, 1976; “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
32. World War II Surrender Documents: Japan Surrenders 1945, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, DC, 1976; “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
33. Richard S. R. Hubert, “The OWI Saipan Operation,” Official Report to US Information Service, Washington, DC 1946; “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
34. OWI [Office of War Information] Daily Digest, series 7, no. 46, 23 August 1945; “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
35. Harry S. Truman, “Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima,” The American Presidency Project, August 6, 1945.
36. Harry S. Truman Library, “Miscellaneous historical document file, no. 258,” 1945; “Primary Resources: Leaflets warning Japanese of Atomic Bomb, 1945,” PBS (accessed on June 24, 2016); Lilly Rothman, “See a Leaflet Dropped on Japanese Cities Right Before World War II Ended,” Time, December 14, 2015. (link no longer works)
38. “The Information War in the Pacific, 1945,” Central Intelligence Agency, May 6, 2009.
39. Gi-Wook Shin and Daniel Sneider, “Should President Obama Visit Hiroshima?”, The Diplomat, April 16, 2016.
40. See, for example, “Japanese economic takeoff after 1945,” Indiana University Northwest (accessed on June 24, 2016); “Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945-52,” Department of State (accessed on June 24, 2016).
41. Nina Serafino, et. al, U.S. Occupation Assistance: Iraq, Germany and Japan Compared (Congressional Research Services, 2006), p, 14, “Table 2. Japan: U.S. Assistance FY1946-1952.”