The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombing

The Pearl Harbor Attacks

The Second World War was an international military conflict involving most of the world’s nations, including all the major world powers. It was organized into two military alliances opposing each other and involving more than 100 million military personnel giving rise to the most widespread war in the world’s history. The two opposing sides were referred to as the Axis and the Allies. The Allied powers included the British Empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the United States of America. Other countries included France, Poland, South Africa, and Canada. The Axis powers were opposed to the Allied powers and included Germany, Italy, Japan, and Hungary. Dubbed the deadliest conflict in humankind’s history, the war claimed more than 70 million lives. The war was sparked in September 1939 by the German invasion of Poland, making the United Kingdom and France declare war on Germany. Some of the major events that led to a full-scale war include the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Operation Barbarossa, and the Pearl Harbor attack. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a battle between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Republic of China’s National Revolutionary Army in 1937 that marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese war. Operation Barbarossa on the other hand was Germany’s invasion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that started on June 22, 1941. More than 4.5 million Axis powers troops invaded the USSR.

The Pearl Harbor attack was a surprise attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Sunday morning December 7, 1941, ordered by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, the equivalent of the United States Joint of Chiefs Staff. Prior to this, the United States was not militarily involved in the Second World War. The attack was intended to keep the United States Pacific Fleet from impacting the battles that Japan planned to wage against Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States in South East Asia. 353 Japanese aircraft, coming from 6 aircraft carriers, launched attacks directed at Pearl Harbor. The attack managed to sink four United States Navy Battleships and damage another four. Three US cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer, and a hundred and eighty-eight aircraft were also either sank or damaged. More than 2400 American lives were lost and more than 1200 wounded. Prior to the September 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was widely considered to be the greatest disaster in the history of the United States. The Japanese side recorded minimal losses, twenty-nine aircraft, five midget submarines, and at least 65 people either killed or injured. Japan’s objective was to neutralize the United States Pacific Fleet so as to ease their advance into Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies to enable them access to oil and rubber (Wohlstetter, p. 57).

Before this, tensions between the United States and Japan had steadily risen following the Japanese expansion into French Indochina and Manchuria leading to increased levels of blockades and sanctions to Japan from the United States and other nations. Japan also considered the 1940 United States Export Control Act unfriendly. The act stopped the shipment of aviation gasoline, machine tools, parts, and airplanes into Japan. After the fall of France and Japanese expansion into the French Indochina, the United States stopped oil exports to Japan in 1941. This coincided with the United States military build-up in the Philippines and the moving of the Pacific Fleet to Hawaii to discourage Japanese advance in the Far East. The Pearl Harbor attack, launched without any formal declaration of war from the Japanese side, changed the US public opinion of isolationism to one of pro participation in the war (Wohlstetter, p. 57).

Though the Pearl Harbor attack is generally considered a surprise strike, arguments to the contrary have emerged. Some historians, scholars, politicians, and other personalities have questioned the level of awareness in the United States government pertaining to the Pearl Harbor attacks. According to their argument, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the then United States president, wanted to join the war but the country’s mood of isolationism acted as a hindrance to his desire. He, therefore, embarked on a series of events intended to provoke Japan. The evidence by this particular group of people that President Roosevelt was well aware of the Pearl Harbor attack is based on the following arguments:

  • In 1940 president Roosevelt ordered the Pacific Fleet to relocate from the US West Coast to Hawaii. Its commander, Admiral Richardson was allegedly replaced when he protested that Pearl Harbor lacked inadequate protection from air attacks.
  • A navy IQ analyst is said to have written an eight-point memorandum to President Roosevelt in 1940 on how to force Japan to wage war against the United States. All the eight strategies, including the American oil embargo to Japan, were accomplished.
  • It is reported that Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, a day after Germany attacked the USSR, wrote a memo to President Roosevelt hinting that there might develop a situation that would make it easy for United States to get into the war and avoid criticism that they had gone to war as USSR’s ally by embargoing oil to Japan. Since the United States was the main exporter of oil to Japan, the latter would be forced to take preventive measures against the US in order to facilitate its smooth advance to oil-rich Dutch East Indies.
  • On August 14, 1941, the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Conference noted ‘the astonishing depth of Roosevelt’s intense desire for war.’
  • There are claims that the United States before the attack, cracked key Japanese codes but the commanders at Pearl Harbor were not informed. On November 26, the United States ordered the two aircraft carriers out of Pearl Harbor. On November 29 Secretary of State Hull told the United Press that the Harbor would be attacked on December 7. On December 8 the New York Times reported that the attack was expected.
  • According to the diary of Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, there was an entry that read as follows: “For a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by the way of Japan.” (Carter, p. 1).

These allegations continue to attract controversy with the question in the minds of American citizens being if such a claim against one of the most acclaimed and longest-serving United States presidents could be credible. Was Franklin Roosevelt willing to sacrifice more than 2400 American lives as a means to another end? (Melosi , p.36).

Hiroshima/Nagasaki Bombing

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were nuclear attacks by the United States of America against Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945 through the Executive orders of President Harry Truman. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing was preceded by a 6-month intense bombing of 67 other Japanese cities. The first nuclear bomb in mankind’s history was dropped on Monday, August 6, 1945, in the city of Hiroshima. The second nuclear weapon was dropped on Thursday, August 9, 1945, over Nagasaki. They are the only nuclear weapons to be used in the history of mankind. By the end of 1945, the bombs had managed to kill more than 240,000 people and since then, thousands more have died from effects caused by the exposure to radiation released by the nuclear weapons. Japan announced its surrender six days after the bombings on May 7, 1945, formally marking the end of the Pacific War and consequently the Second World War. The bombs were made by the United States with assistance from Canada and the United Kingdom in what was referred to as the Manhattan Project.

The bombs were intended to hit an urban area larger than 3 miles in diameter, a blast that would achieve the desired and effective damage and avoid the risk of the weapon being lost or misplaced. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were largely spared from the nightly bombing raids so that the United States could make an accurate assessment of the weapon’s effect. The bombings aimed to convince Japan to surrender. According to Washington, they were supposed to do this unconditionally in accordance with provisions provided for in the Potsdam Agreement. This was a Proclamation defining the terms for the surrender of Japan issued on July 26, 1945. It was agreed upon by United States president Harry S. Truman, Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek, and United Kingdom Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill at the Potsdam Conference and warned Japan of prompt and utter destruction if it failed to surrender. The Japanese Premier is reported to have dismissed the Potsdam Declaration as a mere repetition of the Allied Powers’ earlier proposals. The United States had carried out assessments on four cities that they intended to bomb which were Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Yokohama. The attacks were designed to achieve the biggest psychological effect possible against Japan and make the use of the nuclear bombs a spectacle well recognizable by the whole world. Kyoto was considered strategic because people there were highly intelligent and would immediately appreciate the significance and objective of the weapon. Hiroshima was considered an important army depot located in the middle of an industrial town and a large fraction of the city was easily damageable. Tokyo though was more popular and the home of the Japanese Emperor but was spared since it was considered to be of less strategic value (Long, p. 34).

The ‘little boy’, as the first atomic bomb was known, was primarily targeted at the city of Hiroshima. It missed its target by almost 800 feet and was considered very inefficient. President Harry S. Truman after the bombings declared that if Japan failed to unconditionally surrender, they should brace themselves for a rain of ruin never before witnessed on this earth. The Emperor, the government, and the War Council failed to heed the Potsdam Declaration. The Nagasaki bombings were initially intended to hit the city of Kokura but a cloud cover obscured the city. The nuclear bomb was to later be used in the city of Nagasaki. The United States planned to release more bombs on Japanese soil when suitable weather was available but this was never to be. Up to the second bombing, which coincided with the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan, the war council was still emphasizing its 4 conditions for surrender. The Japanese Emperor officially resigned from his throne on August 14, 1945, citing that the United States possessed a terrible weapon able to destroy many innocent lives, ultimately lead to the collapse of their nation and the destruction of the entire human civilization. He, therefore, decided to accept the terms as laid out in the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers (Long, p. 45).

Questions are raised as to whether President Harry Truman’s order to attack Japan with nuclear bombs was necessary. One of the major Axis powers, Germany, had already surrendered in the May of 1945, leaving the Allies with only Japan as their main focus. Even after the two bombings, Japan still refused to surrender. On August 13, the war council was divided into two, with three members favoring surrender but the other three including War Minister Anami, Navy Chief of Staff Toyoda, and Army Chief of Staff Umezu adamantly opposed the surrender. The Japanese Cabinet, the only body with the mandate to accept surrender through a unanimous decision, met later and failed to reach a conclusive decision. The consistent behavior of Japan being adamant was a major reason why President Harry Truman used the atomic bombs. That is evident since even after Japan and the world witnessing the scale of nuclear bomb damage, they still refused to surrender.

Breaking of the Japanese Codes

The Pearl Harbor advance knowledge debate has been going on since its attack to the present day. This is a question over the extent to which The United States was caught by surprise, and to what extent did the American officials know of the Japanese plan for the strike. Several people, such as writer Robert Stinnett and former Admiral Robert Theobald have indicated that officials high in the United States and United Kingdom government had prior knowledge of the attack. The United States Signal Intelligence during the Second World War was a good deal advanced and had recorded successes in breaking other country’s crypto traffic. The United States Army Signal Intelligence Service and the Naval Intelligence crypto group had by late 1941 successfully broken a number of Japanese ciphers including J19, PA-K2, and PURPLE. The United States was also assisted with decrypted messages by the Netherlands’ Intelligence. It is said that sometimes the flow of encrypted messages was very controlled that even at times president Roosevelt did not receive any information on code-breaking. One of the major code-breaking successes was PURPLE. This code was considered to have little information on Japanese plans before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The JN-25 was considered a state of the art encryption and is one of the major contributing arguments to the Pearl Harbor debate. Detailed reports have not revealed any good reason to prove that any JN-25 messages were exhaustively decrypted prior to the start of the war. There are other claims that radio signals from Kido Butai were detected therefore alerting the United States intelligence but these reports are disputed by other sources. In late November 1941, the United States sent war warnings to Japan to all its Pacific commands. This is interpreted by some as evidence that some of the officials in the Roosevelt administration were well aware of the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor (Wohlstetter, p. 67).

In conclusion, what is not in dispute is that the Pearl Harbor attacks played a major role in making the United States declare war on Japan and therefore militarily involve itself in World War II. The attacks perhaps motivated President Harry Truman to use atomic bombs on Japan later in the war.

Works Cited

  1. Carter, Austin. The Bombing of Pearl Harbor: The Pearl Harbor Deception.
  2. Melosi, Martin V. The Shadow of Pearl Harbor: Political Controversy of the Surprise Attack, 1941-1946 Texas A&M University Press, 1977
  3. Wohlstetter, Roberta. Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision: Stanford University Press, 1962
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