This week is the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. I have been reading a fair bit about whether it saved lives or not, how ethical it was, and folks with 20/20 hindsight doing armchair quarterbacking. So I figured that I might as well join in.
It is difficult to judge how many lives the use of the two bombs in Japan may have saved.
Here's my opinion.....The overall number of lives saved...probably not that many. If Japan did not surrender and the US forces had to go in and seize control of Japan, the losses to American and Japanese troops would be very high....perhaps a few hundred thousand soldiers in total would be killed. Of course, by using the bombs, hundreds of thousands were killed...many instantly, others over the next several years due to radiation effects. So it seems to me, that the use really did not save that many lives in general.....it saved American lives...but not lives in general.
The real question is how close was Japan to surrendering when the bombs were dropped. There is still much debate on whether a negotiated peace could have been agreed to, which would have negated the need for a US invasion of Japan. In the original Potsdam Talks, the Japanese rejected the US demand for an unconditional surrender. Later, the US changed the language to say an unconditional surrender of the military....in order for there to be some wiggle room for the Japanese to keep the Emperor. This option was never fully explored in negotiations to my knowledge. And keep in mind that after the bombs were dropped, Tojo took the fall for the war, going so far as to say at his trial that he always obeyed everything that the Emperor said, with the exception of starting the war. This was done primarily to isolate the Emperor, so that he could remain at least as a figurehead monarch...which he did.
I think that at that time, the decision to drop the bombs had more than just one goal. First and foremost, it was to demonstrate the power of the US and to lead to a quick surrender, without the need for a invasion. But there were more reasons.....the Russians had declared war on Japan only a few days before the Hiroshima bomb was detonated. The US had already seen how the Russian forces had seized large parts of eastern Europe and did not want to have a similar Russian presence in Japan. The US military also wanted to demonstrate to the Russians that they were not afraid to use the big weapons....a not so subtle reminder to the Russians not to break their agreements in Europe. And finally, it was a weapons test. Over $2 billion had been sunk into creating those two bombs and the Trinity device....and that is is $2 billion in 1945 dollars. There were some that believed that if we didn't use the weapons, it was a tremendous waste of much needed cash during wartime.
Ok. So that is my two cents worth on the topic of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.