What If the Atomic Attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Were a Mistake?

Warfare History Network

Key point: The bombings remain greatly disputed and controversial to this day.

The most controversial decision of the 20th century—probably in all of history—was the one reportedly made by President Harry S. Truman, president of the United States and commander-in-chief of the United States armed forces, in the summer of 1945 to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. No other event has affected mankind so dramatically, and no other decision is as controversial.

To the young soldiers and Marines who were in training or moving to the Pacific when “the bomb” was dropped there was no question—many of them survived the war because Harry Truman “had the guts to drop it.” This belief was burned into their young minds when they heard the news and most never bothered to question whether it was founded on fact. In recent years their sons have sought to reinforce the belief of their fathers, once again without taking a serious look at the facts surrounding the decision to drop the bomb and the events leading up to it. Yet, in reality, Truman never made an actual decision to use the bomb, and it was the one decision made by Emperor Hirohito of Japan to accept Allied surrender terms and end the war that actually spared their lives.

Even while millions of Americans continue to believe that the atomic bomb ended World War II, many, including some in high positions in government and the military at the time, have long believed it was unnecessary. Previously classified documents released to the National Archives in recent years support their position that the White House knew the end for Japan had already come and that the use of atomic weapons was motivated more by postwar concerns than by preventing an amphibious invasion of Japan. Furthermore, principals such as General Leslie Groves, the officer in charge of the nuclear project, have revealed that there never really was a “decision” as such by President Truman to drop the bomb, but that he simply allowed plans that were already in motion before he was thrust into office to continue. In essence, the decision to use atomic weapons against Japan was made long before Truman even had an inkling of their existence.

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