August 6, 1945 was the day the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped on a city, Hiroshima. Two days later, the only other atomic bomb ever dropped on a city, Nagasaki, effectively ended the war between the Allies and Japan. The next day, August 9, Japan agreed to unconditional surrender, and signed such a treaty on September 2, 1945.
It is fashionable amongst pacifists and historical revisionists to look at this event as unnecessary and even call it war crime. One such site says the only reason they were employed was because Americans wanted to see what would happen (i.e. whether they would work -- strictly to satisfy military planners, scientists and engineers, presumably; in which case, it would not have been necessary to drop the second one) and because Americans were racists (presumably justifying the second one).
This is a facile analysis.
The more compelling arguments advanced for the non-use of the A-bombs centre around the notion that Japan was seeking to end the war and that it was already “defeated”, so A-bombing was redundant. These argument lead to a broader conclusion that the A-bombs played no useful role in ending the war with Japan.
It is worth reflecting on that word “defeat”. In the context of war, what does it mean to say that an enemy is defeated? One easy way to tell if your enemy is defeated is when it lays down its weapons, puts its hands in the air, and says, “I surrender”. That is what the Allies were demanding of Japan and made it clear that they would continue the war until that happened, or until Japan could no longer wage war, whichever occurred first.
The other way to tell if the enemy is defeated is when you go out to the airfield waiting to be scrambled for combat and the Luftwaffe no longer appears in your skies, as happened after 3 intensive months of bombing during the battle of Britain. In short, when the other boxer is face down on the canvas and can’t get up after the ten-count, the fight is over.
One needs not go back 60 years to consider this question. The Taliban have been ousted from power in Afghanistan. The ability of these folks to mount sustained military operations to regain power has been effectively ended. Does anybody believe the Taliban has been defeated?
Documents examined after the war indicate that the Japanese military had determined as early as January, 1944 that Japan could not win the war with the U.S. The Emperor had concluded by April, 1945 that Japan should seek terms to end the war (not surrender, mind you, but terms reasonably favourable to Japan under the circumstances) and between then and the atomic bombs a number of feelers were put out through the offices of the Soviet Union with whom Japan had a non-aggression treaty.
The military leadership which had controlled much of the foreign policy before and during the war wanted none of this and for a time considered a coup d’état that would remove the Emperor from the influence of his peace-mongering civilian politicians.
Japan, was down, but not out for the 10-count, at the beginning of August. It was prepared to continue the war, Winston Churchill fashion, “on the beaches, in the streets, etc.” It was training the civilian population, including women, in combat. The Bushido code under which the military authorities conducted themselves required that all 100 million Japanese die defending the homeland. The Allies were preparing to invade Japan with 30 divisions and the Japanese anticipated sending 20 divisions to the beaches to meet them.
In April, when the Emperor began to put out peace feelers, Harry Truman became President of the United States. In the first 3 months he was in office American battle casualties amounted to a figure that was about half the total of the previous 3 years of the Pacific war. During the island by island push back of Japanese occupation not a single Japanese unit surrendered, preferring to fight to the death even when there was no hope of victory. Next to the U.S. civil war, this was the bloodiest war America ever fought. More Marines died on Iwo Jima than in any other campaign in the history of the Corps.
There was nothing that suggested that taking the island of Japan would be easier, or even as easy. Pundits believed that the war would drag on until June, 1946.
It is worth considering that had the A-bomb been ready in March, Roosevelt would have used it and 50,000 American lives would have been saved, and an even greater number of Japanese lives would have been spared.
In the cold calculation of war, Truman later said that he thought saving 250,000 American lives was worth a couple of Japanese cities.
To suggest, as some historical revisionists would have it, that the Japanese just serendipitously abandoned the Bushido code, gave up on home defense, and agreed to unconditionally surrender the day after Nagasaki and that the atom bomb was irrelevant to that outcome is just silly.