THE DECISION TO DROP THE ATOMIC BOMB
The incredibly bloody battles described in the preceding section greatly concerned military officials who were planning for an invasion of Japan. Japanese resistance to such an attack would have been fanatical. Franklin Roosevelt had suddenly died in late 1945; the new president, Harry Truman, was informed in July 1944 about the atomic bomb. The actual planning for this bomb was the purpose of the Manhattan Project, begun in August 1942. Construction of this bomb took place in Los Alamos, New Mexico under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The bomb was successfully tested in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945.
Much debate has taken place over the American decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japanese cities. For Harry Truman this was not a difficult decision. Losses in an invasion of Japan would have been large; Truman later admitted that what had happened at Pearl Harbor and on the Bataan Death March also influenced his decision. Some historians also claim that some in both the State Department and the War Department saw the Soviet Union as the next potential enemy of the United States and wanted to use the atomic bomb to “show them what we had.” After the atomic bombs were dropped American public opinion was incredibly supportive of Truman’s decision. It should be noted that movies, newsreels, and even comic books made the eventual decision to drop the bomb easier by turning the war against the Japanese into a race war. The Japanese were referred to as “Japs,” were portrayed with crude racial stereotypes, and were seen as sneaky and certainly not to be trusted (it is interesting to note that the war against Germany was usually portrayed as a war against “Hitler” or against “the Nazis” and almost never as a war against the German people).
On August 6, 1945, the airplane the Enola Gay dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Over 75,000 were killed in the attack. Three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Some historians are especially critical of the dropping of the second bomb; there is evidence that the Japanese were pursuing a surrender through diplomatic circles on the day of the attack. Japan surrendered one day later, and V-J celebrations took place in many American cities the following day.