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THE US POST-PEARL HARBOR: WAS THE USE OF ATOMIC BOMBS INEVITABLE?

On the 8th of December 1941, Americans were shocked by the daring of the Japanese with their attack on Pearl Harbor. This attack is what led to the end of America’s isolationist policy and what forced the country to physically get involved in WW11. By 1941 WW11 was far from over – it’d take another 4 years before all hostilities ended. One of the most important outcomes of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and one which has continued to cause much discussion, was the first use of atomic bombs.

In August 1945, President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the very first time, what the world had dreaded the most happened. The destruction that this action caused was unprecedented. The death toll is estimated to be anywhere between 160,000 and 200,000. Even worse was the aftermath – many more people died of complications caused by exposure to the bomb. To the Japanese, and much of the world, President Truman became an instant villain.

For decades, the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have raised serious debate among historians. What people have been wondering is whether the US really needed to use atomic bombs on a country which was on the verge of surrender. Historians who hold the view that this action was unnecessary (also known as revisionists) go the extent of claiming that Truman’s actions were an act of racism. They also argue that by 1945 the war was actually over and that all that inspired the action taken by the US was simple retaliation.

Not everybody holds this view however. There is group of historians who firmly believe that atomic bombs were the only solution that could force the Japanese to surrender. Throughout history, they argue, the Japanese have never been known to surrender and would rather commit suicide than do so. Examples abound but some of the most striking ones given include the large number of kamikaze pilots who wrought destruction with their suicide missions. They also point out that even after Hiroshima was bombed the Japanese emperor did not surrender and only did so when Nagasaki was bombed.

In addition, historians who support the bombing argue that were the US to send troops to Japan, the death toll on either side would have been several times more than the number of people that the bombs killed.

So, did the US really need to use atomic bombs on Japan?