President Harry Truman and the Bombs of August

Here is Victor Davis Hanson on President Harry Truman’s decision 73 years ago:

It’s easy in retrospect to fault Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan, but he had only worse options at his disposal.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped a uranium-fueled atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, another U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 repeated the attack on Nagasaki, Japan, with an even more powerful plutonium bomb.

Less than a month after the second bombing, Imperial Japan agreed to formally surrender on September 2. That date marked the official end of World War II — the bloodiest human or natural catastrophe in history, accounting for more than 65 million dead.

Each August, Americans in hindsight ponder the need for, the morality of, and the strategic rationale behind the dropping of the two bombs. Yet President Harry Truman’s decision 73 years ago to use the novel, terrifying weapons was not considered particularly controversial, either right before or right after the attacks. Both cities were simply military targets.

Hiroshima was the headquarters of a Japanese army unit, and a key manufacturing center and port. Nagasaki — a secondary target after clouds and smoke obscured the city of Kokura — was the site of a huge Mitsubishi munitions plant.

Yet the sheer destructive power of the two bombs — the 15-kiloton “Little Boy” Hiroshima bomb and the 21-kiloton “Fat Man” Nagasaki bomb — ensured catastrophic civilian casualties well beyond soldiers and munitions-plant workers. During the blasts — and long afterward, due to radiation showers — perhaps 150,000 Japanese were killed.

Truman wanted to use the bombs to avoid invading the Japanese mainland. The recent battle for Okinawa had resulted in an estimated 50,000 American casualties — the bloodiest of all the American battles of the Pacific War. Truman’s military planners warned that invasions of the Japanese mainland to end the war might cost the equivalent of 20 more Okinawa campaigns.

Read more: National Review