The anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki present an opportunity to demolish a cornerstone myth of American history — that those twin acts of mass civilian slaughter were necessary to bring about Japan’s surrender, and spare a half-million US soldiers who’d have otherwise died in a military conquest of the empire’s home islands.
Those who attack this mythology are often reflexively dismissed as unpatriotic, ill-informed or both. However, the most compelling witnesses against the conventional wisdom were patriots with a unique grasp on the state of affairs in August 1945 — America’s senior military leaders of World War II.
Let’s first hear what they had to say, and then examine key facts that led them to their little-publicized convictions:
- General Dwight Eisenhower on learning of the planned bombings: “I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and voiced to [Secretary of War Stimson] 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. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’.”
- Admiral William Leahy, Truman’s Chief of Staff: “The use of this barbarous weapon…was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.”
- Major General Curtis LeMay, 21st Bomber Command: “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.”
- General Hap Arnold, US Army Air Forces: “The Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell, because the Japanese had lost control of their own air.” “It always appeared to us that, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.”
- Ralph Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy: “The Japanese were ready for peace, and they already had approached the Russians and the Swiss…In my opinion, the Japanese war was really won before we ever used the atom bomb.”
- Brigadier General Carter Clarke, military intelligence officer who prepared summaries of intercepted cables for Truman: “When we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it…we used [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] as an experiment for two atomic bombs. Many other high-level military officers concurred.”
- Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, Pacific Fleet commander: “The use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.”
Putting out feelers through third-party diplomatic channels, the Japanese were seeking to end the war weeks before the atomic bombings on August 6 and 9, 1945. Japan’s navy and air forces were decimated, and its homeland subjected to a sea blockade and allied bombing carried out against little resistance….