75 years ago this week, President Harry S. Truman faced a decision of a magnitude not faced by any world leader in history up until that point: Should he order the dropping of an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, to bring the Imperial Japanese Army to its knees?
If he didn’t, it was estimated that as many as 500,000 American soldiers could have been killed during a land invasion of the Japanese mainland. The invasion would have been equivalent to D-Day, only this time in the Pacific Theater.
President Truman also had to weigh that catastrophic human toll that would be inflicted on the Japanese civilians. He decided to drop the bomb, unleashing the first atomic explosion on August 6th, 1945. Three days later, on August 9th, he dropped another one on Nagasaki. In total, 200,000 Japanese citizens are believed to have died between the two blasts.
It is easy to sit back and say that Truman should have shown restraint. However, the devastation in the form of deaths and destruction would have been a magnitude that was unthinkable, both to America and to Japanese citizens throughout the entire Island of Japan.
Truman had to act in the best interest of America and he knew that Japan would never have surrendered without taking drastic action. Six days after Nagasaki, the Japanese Emperor announced his surrender on radio, putting an end to the deadliest conflict in human history.
In remembrance of the anniversary, Newsweek reported, “In Hiroshima, on August 6, around 80,000 people were killed immediately when the bomb was dropped. In Nagasaki, on August 9, around 40,000 people were killed instantly. Tens of thousands of others died in the aftermath, of radiation poisoning and their injuries.
However, due to the massive destruction of the cities, the recorded death tolls are estimates, with other studies saying 66,000 people died in the Hiroshima bombing and that 39,000 people died in the Nagasaki bombing
The 9,000-pound uranium-235 bomb was dropped at 8.15 a.m. local time, exploding 2,000 feet above Hiroshima. The blast was equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT and destroyed five square miles of the city.
Three days later, a plutonium bomb known as “Fat Man” was loaded on a B-29 bomber called Bockscar, which was flown by Major Charles Sweeney. The initial target was the city of Kokura, but because of thick clouds, the bomb was dropped on the secondary target of Nagasaki.”
War is barbaric and should be avoided at all costs. However, if a nation is going to fight, they’d better fight to win. The Civil War is a classic example of this dictum. Early in the war, General George McClellan fiddled and refused to take aggressive measures to strangle the Confederacy. His inaction failed and he was eventually replaced by Ulysses S. Grant, who fought a campaign of Total War, which required the use of all measures in order to beat the South into submission so they would end the war.
Grant ordered General William T. Sherman to march into Georgia to demoralize the south in the hopes they would throw up the white flag.
History.com reported. “From November 15 until December 21, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman led some 60,000 soldiers on a 285-mile march from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia. The purpose of Sherman’s March to the Sea was to frighten Georgia’s civilian population into abandoning the Confederate cause. Sherman’s soldiers did not destroy any of the towns in their path, but they stole food and livestock and burned the houses and barns of people who tried to fight back.
The Yankees were “not only fighting hostile armies but a hostile people,” Sherman explained; as a result, they needed to “make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”
Sherman’s “total war” in Georgia was brutal and destructive, but it did just what it was supposed to do: it hurt Southern morale, made it impossible for the Confederates to fight at full capacity, and likely hastened the end of the war.
Less than a century later, Harry S. Truman carried out a similar strategy, and he was vindicated in victory as well.
War is an ugly business, sadly, and that’s not likely to change. However, as we reflect on the conflicts of the past, we can only hope that we learn from them as we try to create a better future.