August 11

Ep. 0072: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

This month is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and the subsequent surrender of Japan to the United States, ending World War II.  The standard mainstream American narrative about this portrays it as a no-brainer, a morally unquestionable & absolutely necessary decision that saved untold numbers of lives.  This narrative is not supported by many serious academic historians who are experts on this topic these days, and it is highly questioned in countries other than the United States, to put it mildly.  What’s the truth about these bombings?

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  • A brief word on mass-bombing of civilians in WWII, and how prior to its entry into the war, the US government condemned any mass bombing of civilians, but began engaging in it on a larger scale than anyone else once in the war
  • The successful “Trinity” test of an A-bomb, and the effect that had on the US government’s decision-making
  • What was going on in the Japanese government & in the US government at the time
  • The Potsdam Conference & Declaration of July, 1945
  • The bombing of Hiroshima & its effects
  • The entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan & its effects
  • The bombing of Nagasaki & its effects [*Note:  Had an error I made here pointed out by a listener named Matt via Facebook: I said in the episode that Enola Gay also dropped the second bomb; it did not.  The E-G was involved in the 2nd mission as a weather recon plane, but another B-29 named “Bockscar” actually dropped the 2nd bomb.  I messed that detail up in my notes & as a result messed it up in the episode.]
  • Japan’s surrender
  • Some closing thoughts & observations on the bombings, their morality (or lack thereof), and debates that have continued ever since

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Posted August 11, 2015 by profcj in category "American History", "Military History", "Modern World History", "Podcasts


  1. By Halsingen on

    About warning the civilians, the libertarian historian Paul Johnson wrote in his book Modern Times (I only have the Swedish translation, so all lingustical errors are mine) about Hiroshima:

    “720 000 leaflets who warned that the city would be “erased” had been dropped two days earlier. Noone attached importance to it, partly because there was a rumor that Truman’s mother had once lived in the city, beautiful as it was, and it would be used by the Americans as an occupying center.”

    Is that not true?

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      As far as I know, that is not correct. That said, it’s possible that Johnson has some evidence for that claim that I was not aware of. But all of the sources I consulted for this episode indicated that there was no prior warning about the atomic bombing, though there had been about earlier conventional bombings. Some of the sources I consulted even described the debate within the Truman Administration over whether or not to give a warning, and how the “anti-warning” faction won out over the “pro-warning” faction. (The latter I believe included some important people, such as George Marshall and also, if memory serves, Henry Stimson.)

      I believe Hiroshima may have had some leaflets dropped on it a few weeks prior to the A-bombing, but that these were generic leaflets that were being dropped on almost all large Japanese cities at the time, and were not specifically warning of the A-bombing. I think they may have simply been proclaiming the Potsdam Declaration. (Perhaps these are the leaflets to which Johnson was referring, and perhaps he misinterpreted them as having been specifically warning about the A-bomb?) Also, as far as I know, for at a week or two prior to the A-bombing, there were no leaflets dropped on Hiroshima.

  2. By Dave on

    I had also heard of the leaflet warning as described in a book. I think it was called “Macarthurs secret war.”

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      The following is from Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, eds., Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy. Stony Creek: The Pamphleteer’s Press, 1998.

      “In his May 29, 1945 memorandum of a conversation with Henry Stimson and General Marshall, John J. McCloy notes that Marshall also emphasized, ‘[E]very effort should be made to keep our record of warning clear. We must offset by such warning methods the opprobrium which might follow from an ill considered employment of force.’…Despite the views of Marshall and others, no warning of an atomic attack was given to either the Japanese authorities or the populations that had been targeted. There was never an opportunity for civilians to leave the target areas. This is a subject we shall return to in greater detail because it represents one of the most macabre of all the varied elements that went into the making of the Hiroshima legend.” (from Bird & Lifschultz’s introduction, p. xxxvi)

      “The second ‘article of faith’ that sustains the Hiroshima legend among so many Americans is the conviction that the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were specifically warned that their cities would be bombed by a new type of weapon….The truth about the atomic “warning” leaflets is macabre beyond belief — they were dropped after both cities were destroyed. Sanho Tree, one of the contributors to this volume, wrote…:

      ‘…The leaflets Leonard Nadler and William P. Jones recall seeing in the Hiroshima museum in 1960 and 1970 respectively were dropped after the bombing.

      ‘This happened because the President’s Interim Committee on the Atomic bomb decided on May 31, “that we should not give the Japanese any warning.” Furthermore, the decision to drop “atomic” leaflets on Japanese cities was not made until August 7, the day after the Hiroshima bombing.

      ‘General Leslie Groves, the man in charge of the Manhattan Project, wrote in his memoirs Now it Can Be Told, “To exploit the psychological effect of the bombs on the Japanese, we had belatedly arranged for leaflets to be dropped on Japan proclaiming the power of our new weapon and warning that further resistance was useless. The first delivery was made on the ninth.”…

      ‘The leaflets were intended to notify 47 Japanese cities with population over 100,000 that the bombing of Hiroshima was atomic in nature and that more bombs would follow if they did not pressure their leaders to stop the war. Nagasaki, it should be noted, did not get leafleted until August 10 — the day after it was bombed. In all, six million “atomic” leaflets were dropped and all of them after Hiroshima. Furthermore, Nagasaki was the secondary target on August 9 and the primary target was Kokura (which was passed over due to cloud cover.) Neither Kokura nor Niigata, the other city on the atomic bomb target list, received atomic warning leaflets…[W]e can say…that the residents of Hiroshima received no advance warning about the use of the atomic bomb.’

      “On June 1, 1945, a formal and official decision was taken during a meeting of the so-called Interim Committee not to warn the populations of the specific target cities…According to the records of the meeting, ‘Mr. Byrnes recommended and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible…and that it be used without prior warning.”
      (From Bird & Lifschultz’s Introduction, pp. liii-liv)

      Bird & Lifschultz then on p. lv of Hiroshima’s Shadow quote the minutes of the May 31, 1945 Interim Committee meeting as follows: “After much discussion concerning various types of targets and the effects to be produced, the Secretary [Stimson] expressed the conclusion, on which there was general agreement, that we could not give the Japanese any warning…”

      Hiroshima’s Shadow includes extensive primary source evidence on this and many other serious questions about the atomic bombings.

      The following is from Ch. 5 (‘Were the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified,’ by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa) of Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History edited by Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young. (New York: The New Press, 2009.)

      Discussing the Interim Committee’s decision on this issue, Hasegawa writes, “[T]he Interim Committee discussed whether the United States should give a warning or have a demonstration before using the atomic bomb against Japan. In the end, it was decided that the bomb should be used without prior warning. Because it was the general practice toward the end of the war to warn the Japanese before a firebombing, urging civilians to evacuate the cities targeted, the decision to give no warnings for the atomic bomb was meant to maximize the impact of surprise and the number of deaths.” (p. 121)

      Hasegawa then quotes Interim Committee minutes which reveal that “the Interim Committee decided that the bomb must be used on Japan ‘as soon as possible, that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes, and that it be used without prior warning.'” (p. 123)

  3. By Shocktroop0351 on

    I think it is irrelevant what a person’s emotions are related to the subject. The fact that the administration chose to kill so many unarmed people without a warning is disgusting. And to say that the people in those cities somehow deserved the fate because of the policies and practices of their government is completely ridiculous. Do some people actually believe that the average Japanese citizen knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened? Sure, we knew about it and didn’t act, but I doubt that in a day and age of limited communication (compared to today) that it was common knowledge and completely agreed upon. By using that line of thought I guess my home deserves to be destroyed because of all the death and destruction that ISIL has caused, simply because my elected government has chosen to arm them and help them behind my back. Or, we could go and start rounding up every person who is still alive that lived in Nazi Germany, since, by you logic, all the Germans must be responsible for the actions of the Nazi’s. What is sad is that history always will hold a group of people responsible for the actions of a few. And to say that if the people don’t like what their government is doing (if they did know about it) they should just resist is a little bit of an over simplification I think. Good luck getting housewives and the elderly to start a resistance against a government that is so willing to eradicate whole populations.

  4. By David on

    Wow! FANTASTIC episode. As you say, super sad to consider but completely necessary.

    A horrific, evil war crime. No question about it!


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