A-bomb motivation

Paul K. Davis's picture

I often read about Truman authorizing the atomic bombings as a deterrent to the Soviet Union. Is there any pre-drop evidence that such a motivation was actually considered?

J. Samuel Walker in his "Prompt and utter destruction" sweeps away this hypothesis, saying that it was more of a "diplomatic bonus", but not a first motive in the building and using of the A-bomb. He is pretty convincing, but I do not know if is argument is contradicted somewhere in the recent literature

Paul, This is one vampire which will not seem to die.
This idea comes from Gar Alperovitz, who manufactured it from nothing in his pseudo-scholarly book Atomic Diplomacy.
It has been debunked for a long time but it hangs on, just like a blood-sucking undead creature.
Here are the best works that debunk this notion.
_The New left and the Origins of the Cold War_, Robert James Maddox (1973, now republished by Princeton in their classics series, NOTE THE DATE)

_Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947 (Naval Institute Press second edition, 2017)
Here is Giangreco's website, which will keep you reading on these matters and where you can check facts.

vr, John T. Kuehn, Past Major General William Stofft Chair for Historical Research, US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth KS
Twitter= @jkuehn50

I seem to recall that the idea did come up in some circles, but I don't remember the details. I recommend you check out Richard Frank's book, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire.

Hi Paul, there is a great deal of scholarship on this subject. Too much for a short reply. I think with all things historical the truth is far more complex--especially when it comes to the development and use of Atomic/Nuclear weapons. So here I will focus on Truman and his decision specifically.

Wilson Miscamble has written about Truman and this decision quite a bit. You might look at "From Roosevelt to Truman" and "The Most Controversial Decision". Maybe take a look at Hamby's or McCullah's bios of the president.

Then there is the larger literature, as I am sure you are likely aware, that is critical of the decision; see for example, Gar Alperovitz's works.

Hope this provides some inkling of an insight.

I wholly endorse recommendations to look into the books by Richard Franks and Wilson Miscamble. My belief is that from the outset there was no doubt in the minds of American military decision-makers from the President on down, that when the weapon became available it would be used against whichever Axis power posed the greatest threat. When it was weaponized on the heels of the Okinawa campaign, which generated devastating loss of life on both sides, the decision to use it against Japan was inevitable. Even a panel of distinguished nuclear scientists (chaired by Oppenheimer) recommended its use against military targets. The Army generals running Japan were utterly determined to fight to the last Japanese, and even after the Soviet conquest of Manchuria the Imperial Army was inflicting great loss of life elsewhere in China. Japan's cities were burnt to the ground and meaningful economic activity grinding to a halt, but dropping the Atomic Bomb was what the peace faction around the Emperor needed to bring the government to accept capitulation.

I've always thought the simplest answer to any questions about use of the A-Bombs is in the records of the Imperial Japanese Council. Where the fanatic war generals headed by Tojo were determined to not surrender, and had figured that they could make the invasion they knew was coming so bloody that the Americans would have to settle for terms other than unconditional surrender. Even after the first bomb fell, they would not change, three days later the second fell, and still they argued. Only when they decided to break the impasse with the civilian members by agreeing to let the Emperor make the final decision (which apparently they expected to be in their favor) did surrender come about. And that was after junior officers stole the record Hirohito had made for the broadcast, but fortunately he had a copy and finally the word went out that they would all "endure the unendurable".
Any invasion of the main islands would have made Okinawa look like a walk in the park, and that had been one of the very bloodiest battles of the war for Americans. My favorite uncle, who'd just carried a BAR across France and into Germany, was in one of the Divisons slated to go to Japan for the invasion. I thank heaven and Harry Truman that he never had to go there.

I would have to agree with the others on this one. While I've come across many times the idea that the US dropped the bombs as a Soviet deterrent, it was never one that made sense as the driving motivation. If memory serves, the US military's operational time table for "Downfall" extended into 1947, and that might've been on the conservative side. Moreover, based upon experience in previous campaigns, like Tarawa, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, military planners were expecting well over a million casualties for the upcoming invasion of the Home Islands, since Japanese resistance continued to intensify the closer the US leapt toward Tokyo. Some books that I've read have stated that the IJA had between 4-5 million men under arms by the summer of 1945 with kamikazes waiting in the wings, thus the rapid buildup in Kyushu. This doesn't include the civilians the Japanese government was mobilizing to resist with bamboo spears. Also, some US leaders were concerned about US public morale, and how it might hold up in the face of an increasingly bloody and protracted war. Taken together, and combined with Japanese military fanaticism, as well as the massive effort then being planned/undertaken to shift forces from Europe to the Pacific, the primary motivation would've been to end the Pacific war.

A great resource documenting the history surrounding the decisions/activities by the leaders on both sides is The Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb by Michael Kort. The documents contained thoroughly debunk revisionists theories on why the bombs were used.

The simplest part of this history are the detailed records of the Japanese Imperial Council, in which it is crystal clear that Tojo and the other generals were determined to not surrender, and were preparing to make the future US invasion into a bloodbath that would make Okinawa and Iwo Jima look like walks in the park. Then they could demand to have conditional surrender that would preserve their system. They didn't consider surrender after Hiroshima, days went by, Nagasaki got hit, they still fought against it. Only when they all agreed to let the emperor make the decision, and he surprised the generals, did surrender become possible. None of the other arguments about that history really are cogent.

I really do not have anything to add to this chain except to agree with Professor Kuehn about the vampire effect of this story. As an aside, when I was a graduate student at Penn State in the late 1960s I was in Professor Maddox's seminar. Every single one of us thought Alperovitz's book was the last word on the subject. Professor Maddox challenged us to each take a chapter and check the footnotes to check his veracity. We all emerged from the exercise chastened. The moral is that it does not pay to cheat in history.