14 May 2016

Eisenhower, LeMay, Nimitz: "Hiroshima bombing unnecessary"

"All the watches found in the ground zero were stopped at 8:15 am, the time of the explosion."
President Obama's planned trip to Hiroshima has triggered a series of memorial articles, some of them revisiting the question of the necessity of the bombings.
In a 1963 interview on the use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima, President Dwight D. Eisenhower bluntly declared that “…it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”...

Eisenhower was even more specific in his memoirs, writing that when he was informed by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson the bomb was about to be used against Japan “…I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives…”

Eisenhower was not alone. Many of the top military leaders, mostly conservatives, went public after World War II with similar judgments. The President’s chief of staff, William D. Leahy–the five-star admiral who presided over meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–noted in his diary seven weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima: “It is my opinion that at the present time a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense against future trans-Pacific aggression.”...

Just a few weeks after the bombing, the famous “hawk” who led the Twenty-First Bomber Command, Major General Curtis E. LeMay, stated publicly that “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb…the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”...

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet stated publicly two months after Hiroshima: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace before the atomic age was announced to the world with the destruction of Hiroshima and before the Russian entry into the war.” “The atomic bomb,” he stated “played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan….”
More at the Salon article.  The counterargument (and the dominant justificatioin in American history articles) is that dropping the bomb saved lives by ending the war early.  That viewpoint persists to this day. Those who disagree and would like to argue with Eisenhower, Nimitz, and LeMay are welcome to do so in the Comments.  

Photo via Fogonazos, where there is a gallery of images, many NSFW.


  1. Not that I agree with this logic, but I remember being taught that the bombs were dropped for the sake of intimidating the USSR. My argument was always that they could have been dropped offshore or in some unpopulated area with similar effect, but I suppose willingness to kill a huge number of civilians says something. Of course the firebombings of various cities caused more civilian casualties anyway.

  2. We had a neighbor who went through the bombing of Hiroshima. Her story was hard to listen to--so tragic. And unnecessary.

    1. I would like to read her story!

  3. I am inclined to believe it was necessary. The American saw at the battle of Saipan that civilians were instructed to commit suicidal attacks upon the enemy, that womenwould jump to their deaths from cliffs, carrying their babies, Japanese civilians were told that an honourable death was better than surrender, and that it was their duty to die rather than accept defeat. They were also told that the 'round-eye' soldiers were cannibals who would rape, torture, kill and eat civilians.
    The Imperial Japanese Military Command ordered that if Japan appeared close to defeat, that every prisoner of war must be killed. The Death-March on Bataan, the Burma Railway, both demonstrated the complete commitment there was to the death of prisoners.
    My own father was one of those prisoners. I met, through him, many men who had faced the Japanese resolve to die rather tan surrender. The man I knew as 'Uncle Ted' was a slave labourer at the Mitsubishi shipyards in Nagasaki, when the bomb was dropped. He was lucky, he heeded the order to get into the air-raid shelters, but other men stayed at the surface, believing the lone plane was a photo reconnaisance mission.
    When the dark sub-basement flashed as bright as daylight, it was too late for the men at the surface, the skin was falling off them, blistered and cooked.
    Ted and his fellow prisoners were sent to firefight. and later to collect bodies.
    This demonstration totally changed the attitudes of the Japanese who saw its devastation. They knew then that to continue the fighting meant the obliteration of Japan, Those two bombs proved there was no alternative to surrender, if Japan were to survive.
    Millions lived, because those bombs were dropped.

    1. If "Japanese civilians were told that an honourable death was better than surrender", why would the deaths of Japanese people lead to what would have been considered the less honourable choice of surrender?
      Are Americans conditioned to surrender? Have they heard incredible tales of the lengths an enemy will go to? Has that resulted in mistreatment and deaths of prisoners? What bombing would have prevented the opportunistic military adventurism in the Middle East?
      And my sympathies for what your father endured. Also to the 200,000 others for whom it was too late and whose "skin was falling off them, blistered and cooked".

    2. The difference is that Japan knew we could destroy their civilization. As an individual, Japanese would die for their civilization, but now they knew it wasn't just their death, it would have been their culture, history...
      Ultimately it gave the emporer the power he lacked to take on the Generals who controlled the country. The citizens had voice only through him.

  4. About the Russians entering WWII to fight Japan - what a bunch of 'Ivan come latelies'! Just so they could say, 'Yeah, we were there.'.

  5. Cool. Another anti-capitalist rewriting history.

  6. I'm convinced we had to drop it to justify the enormous expense of the Manhattan Project. You can't spend that much on a bomb and not use it.

    As for the comment about re-writing history, history actually contains more than one viewpoint, and if you are only ever exposed to one, it's highly unlikely you know what actually happened.

    1. history actually contains more than one viewpoint, and if you are only ever exposed to one, it's highly unlikely you know what actually happened.

      That is a true statement. But that does not mean that every viewpoint on history contains truth and should be taken seriously. People making up shit that conveniently fits their worldview should be ridiculed.

      To add to your statement: People should be aware that historical viewpoints are very sensitive to current culture. We now think that Hitler and the Japanese Emperor were the bad guys. They clearly did not think so at the time; they were willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people for their viewpoint. And more importantly, those people were willing to sacrifice themselves.

  7. "Those who disagree and would like to argue with Eisenhower, Nimitz, and LeMay are welcome to do so in the Comments."

    It's odd those gentlemen weren't included in the original decision.

    1. That's an interesting question -- so I went and looked it up.

      Eisenhower was commander of US & Allied forces in Western Europe, and had nothing to do with war planning or operations in the Pacific. So its not surprising at all that he was not included in an decision for the Pacific, after the war had ended in Europe and he was fully involved in the occupation of Germany and other areas.

      Nimitz was commander of naval forces in the Central pacific which did not include the strategic bombing forces, nor the decision to drop the Atomic bomb. He was Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPOA). That area included the Pacific Ocean and its islands, but did not include mainland Asia, Philippines, Australia, Netherlands East Indies, New Guinea, and most of the Solomon Islands. But again, he had no command over, or operational responsibility for the bomber forces attacking Japan.

      The Bombing campaign in the pacific was run by an independent command. At the time of the atomic bombing it was commanded by Gen Carl Spaatz, who had taken over the job after VE day and was responsible for the strategic bombing of japan, including all missions.

      Curtis LeMay originally commanded 2 bomber commands in the Pacific region -- the XX Bomber Command in China and the XXI Bomber Command in the Pacific. This included all the B-29s in the Marianas areas. However, it should be noted LeMay had been replaced by Lt Gen Twining before the atomic bomb missions were launched. He was promoted up to be General Spaatz's Chief of Staff.

      Knowledge of the Atomic bombs was highly restricted -- The primary military officer who knew of the bombs was General George C Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff. The small group which controlled the project was the "Top Policy Group", who reported to Marshall, and included representatives from the White House, State Department, and Office of Scientific Research. Once approved in DC, the order to drop the bomb came from Gen. Marshall's office to General Spaatz, commander of the Army Strategic Air Forces which was doing the strategic bombing campaign against Japan.

      When the order came, it went to Twining, then to Colonel Paul Tibbits of the 315 Bombardment Wing, which had been specifically training for the atomic bomb mission. They were not included in the decision to drop the bomb -- that decision had been made in Washington.

      So I'm not surprised the Nimitz and Eisenhower didn't know about the atomic bomb. LeMay knew of the mission, and his primary objection was that he felt the mission should be flown by veteran B-29 commanders, not the specially trained 351st crews. He had no control over the strategic bomber forces, nor had any direction or control over their operations.

      Lemay had also been very vocal that he felt it was his duty to carry out massive attacks so that if the war was shortened even by one day, the attacks would have served their purpose. He felt the war was best prosecuted by continuing the massive fire bombings of cities and industrial areas (which killed more people in a single night in Tokyo than the atomic bombing), plus naval mining and blockade, and unrestricted air war over Japan would be more effective in the long run in ending the war than two individual special attacks.

    2. Kudos, anon, for a thoroughly-researched and well-written comment. Glad to have you on board as a reader.

  8. I believe both sides were correct, depending upon their views.

    Would the war have ended if the atomic bombs were not dropped? Yes. In that sense, the comments from military leaders is correct.

    Would the warm probably have continued longer if the atomic had not been dropped? Yes. From my readings on the cabinet level discussions by the Japanese, they had not yet made the decision to surrender. They only made the decision after the second bomb was dropped, and then it took the Emperor and his personal prestige to make the decision stick. The decision to surrender was a very near thing. The usage of the atomic bomb was specifically called out in those documents as a primary reason they wanted to stop now (unconditional surrender), and not continue and attempt to negotiate an end. So on that basis, the dropping of the bombs did speed an end to the war.

    How much did it speed the end? and how many possible lives did that save, versus the number lost in the bombing? That is debatable, depending upon how long you assume, the intensity of the bombing campaigns and blockade, and other actions. IMHO I *suspect* the net result was somewhere in the 10's of thousand of additional lives not lost. If the decision had dragged out for months to include the planned Allied invasion of the home islands, that number is probably much higher -- but that would have required the decision to surrender to be delayed for a longer time.

  9. it was for Pearl Harbor....actions have consequences! USA USA USA!!!!! Love it or leave it! Merica!

  10. Life is quite strange it seems to me. My mother and her family were POW's in the Phillipines for just under 3yrs. My mom was 9 in 1945, the youngest of 3 sisters. They lost everything and almost died. Unlike our soldiers who were horribly treated in prison, my mom recalls treatment was not horrible, only supplies were, almost starving in the 3rd year.
    My mother-in-law recently married her long time boyfriend, who is a Hiroshima survivor. He was about 2km from the center, 5 yrs old then. He is now an American citizen of some stature, but truly Japanese underneath. His opinion was that the first bomb should have been dropped somewhere away from population, but close enough to demonstrate its power to the Japanese people. He feels they would have surrendered then. I'm in disagreement with that thought. I did not yet asked him about where we should have dropped the 2nd bomb, if they did not surrender after the 1st example...
    I cannot see how dropping the bombs did not save lives, both US and Japanese. The Iwo Jima battle showed us to what extent the Japanese would defend the homeland, so an invasion into Japan would come with terrifically high death tolls. So the real question is should the US have accepted the early surrender that was not unconditional?
    I believe that the horrendous atrocities that Japan committed in Asia alone is reason enough not to accept anything short of unconditional surrender...
    The alternate of atomic bombing would have been carpet bombing multiple cities for days. People would have also died, bend burned, and more...... In that light were not little boy and fat man far more humane?

  11. To those who aren't aware: Japan didn't surrender unconditionally. Look it up.

    1. >To those who aren't aware: Japan didn't surrender unconditionally. Look
      >it up.

      I did, it's an interesting topic.

      Japan surrendered by accepting the Potsdam Declaration. The Potsdam Declaration included these words:

      "We call upon the government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction."

      Japan did not want to accept this. They wanted 4 conditions

      - Immediate cease fire, and then Japan would withdraw from former European Colonies. (note this does not include China or Korea or arguably several other countries)
      - No Allied occupation of any Japanese territory
      - No Allie War Crimes trials. Any prosecution of war crimes would by done by Japanese military in Japanese military courts
      - No substantial change in the Japanese government

      This was unacceptable to the Allies.

      In the end, with the War Cabinet locked at a 3-3 tie, the Emperor broke the tie by accepting the Allied Potsdam Proclamation.

      The one clarification the Japanese wanted was they stated they would not accept any peace conditions that would "prejudice the prerogatives" of the Emperor -- that he would remain in a position of power.

      The reply from the Allies was that "From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state would be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers..." and "The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people".

      Note there was no explicit guarantee for the role of the imperial system after a surrender. That was the only clarification beyond the Potsdam Declaration.

      Again, the Japanese War Cabinet voted and deadlocked 3-3 as to continue or end the war. And the Emperor reiterated that the war should be ended, and Japan surrender, breaking the deadlock.

      Was this unconditional surrender? Going back to the Potsdam Declaration, Japan accepted the unconditional surrender of all Japanese Military. Plus they accepted placing all of the Japanese government *and* the Emperor under an Allied military commander (which was MacArthur), as specifically called out in the Allied reply.

      So I'd say yes, it was unconditional. YMMV, of course.

    2. Excellent, anon. I'm delighted to have you on board as a reader.


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