> HEISENBERG: One can't say that. One could equally well say "That's the quickest way of ending the war.”
And there’s seven decades’ worth of debate summed up in an instant on the day of the first bombing.
Something to keep in mind next time I feel tempted to argue about it.
(not seeking to argue with you, I'm replying to Heisenberg so to speak)
"We only had one man working on it and they may have had ten thousand"
This is why I always chuckle at the ww2 "documentaries" positing the possibility of german or japanese bomb. Nevermind that both parties were preoccupied fighting far stronger and larger opponents ( US, British Empire, Soviet Union, China ), they lacked the resources, economic power and infrastructure to construct one before the US. We had a much larger economy and resource potential than germany and japan. Just like we do today. It was a race neither had a chance of winning.
Another interesting read is the military's view on hiroshima and nagasaki. Most military leaders saw it as serving no military purpose. So ultimately, hiroshima and nagasaki were the largest human experimentation in ww2. It was a predominately a radiation test on civilian populations and cities. Something we'd continue doing on unsuspecting pacific islanders decades after ww2.
Yes, I once thought that it should have been surprising that Germany didn't get the bomb first. Upon more reading, the effort that the US threw at the project was simply staggering - nobody knew which was the best technique for how to do a bunch of different things, so the Americans tried all of them at the same time. No other participant in the war could have duplicated that level of effort. And despite all of that effort, the bomb was only ready to be dropped after Germany had already been defeated by conventional arms.
I have also read that the German scientists' point of view is that a nuclear bomb as a practical military weapon was an interesting idea, but that nobody would be able to build one in time for the current war. And they were right - for themselves.
Effort aside, there's also luck. Americans couldn't assume that Germans haven't tried despite the lack of resources, and scored on first attempt by sheer chance.
This is one of those races where even if you're very confident that you're faster than everybody else, you still give it everything you have, because the consequences of not winning are too grave for anything else.
Of course it's debatable on whether or not those bombings did indeed cause the surrender of Japan. Politically the U.S. has not been a nation to stomach large numbers of its soldiers being killed. The actions on Iwo Jima and Okinawa were far more bloody than the public cared for. How many more such battles would a war weary public have endured? Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not military targets but they were political targets.
I don't know if the bombings were morally right or wrong and can see the argument both ways. But from at least one drafted soldier's perspective they were a good thing.
They were specifically mentioned in emperor's address. Yes, they caused the surrender.
> Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not military targets
They were military targets. There was army HQ, troops stationed there, factories which were producing military goods.
Broadly speaking, this is widely regarded amongst historians as not true at all, though most American schoolchildren are still taught it.
Mostly this is because American conventional airpower was so overwhelming in Japan that its effects were substantially interchangeable with the bomb. Before the atomic bombings, Secretary of War Henry Stimson (who chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki as targets) mentioned that America had literally run out of targets to (conventionally) bomb in Japan .
A more detailed summary of the "Bomb didn't cause surrender" argument is given in .
 http://www.doug-long.com/stimson5.htm , ctrl-F for "I was a little fearful that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength."
Yes, its military effects. (And humanitarian effects.)
But no, in political effect. If "war is politics carried on by other means" and the goal was to defeat Japanese Fascism, then you had to make sure it couldn't come back from the dead after a grudging surrender. That was IMHO the main lesson of Versailles. And it worked.
When people debate this issue, I find they tend to resort to a reductionist view of history and the players involved in order to justify their personal views of the US. The degree to which one is opposed to American cultural imperialism and military hegemony, or believes the US to be an evil state, tends to be the degree to which one believes the bombings had a nefarious purpose, or an ulterior motive. The whole thing has become a Rashomon style play of contradictory truths, except no one insisting on the order of events, motives or naming the culprit was actually there.
It seems more likely to me than not that the bombings didn't have only that one explicit purpose to the exclusion of the others, just as it seems unlikely to me that the bombings were either absolutely responsible or absolutely irrelevant to Japan's surrender.
> Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.
Also, there is no ambiguity to the morality of hiroshima or nagasaki. No more than there is any ambiguity to the morality of nazi death camps. They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity. And as mcnamara said, if we had lost the war, our leaders would have been executed for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
>...They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Why do you say they were racially driven? The same types of civilian bombing was done in Germany as was done in Japan. If we had the atomic bomb before the war ended in Germany, I am sure it would have been used there.
Your stated confidence that there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US—come on, how is that supposed to demonstrate anything other than a personal desire to prove that racially-tinged animosity wasn't a factor?
Protip: don't expect a historically sophisticated, humane, balanced historical account to emerge from HN comments.
Of course there is debate - I never said their wasn't.
It was the original poster who wrote:
>>..It isn't debatable because we know hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender.
>…Your stated confidence that there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US—come on, how is that supposed to demonstrate anything other than a personal desire to prove that racially-tinged animosity wasn't a factor?
Don't misrepresent what I wrote. I never said "there was no difference in the way Germany and Japan were viewed in terms of racial difference from the US".
The original poster wrote:
>>…They were both racially driven war crimes and crimes against humanity.
If someone makes extraordinary claims, they need to provide some evidence. Maybe there is some proof of this, so in my reply I asked for some evidence.
I also pointed out that the same types of bombing was done in Germany and if the bomb had been available earlier I ams sure it would have been used there also. I wrote:
>…Why do you say they were racially driven? The same types of civilian bombing was done in Germany as was done in Japan. If we had the atomic bomb before the war ended in Germany, I am sure it would have been used there.
To clarify what I said about the same types of bombing done to cities in Germany, there is this account by the physicist Freeman Dyson who was a civilian scientist working for the Operational Research Section of RAF Bomber Command headquarters:
>…We killed altogether about 400,000 Germans,* one third of them in the two fire storms in Hamburg and Dresden. The Dresden fire storm was the worst. But from our point of view it was only a fluke. We attacked Berlin sixteen times with the same kind of force that attacked Dresden once. We were trying every time to raise a fire storm. There was nothing special about Dresden except that for once everything worked as we intended.
Roosevelt wanted to use the bomb on Germany if it could be made available. before the war in Europe was over. I've never seen any suggestions that any of the Roosevelt administration (or any of the allies) proposed the atomic bomb not be used over Germany because of their race. If someone wants to claim that the use of the atomic bomb in Japan was "racially driven", it is entirely fair to ask for some evidence.
>Protip: don't expect a historically sophisticated, humane, balanced historical account to emerge from HN comments.
After Hiroshima, the Russian invasion of Manchuria, and Nagasaki, Japan still went through an attempted coup to try to prevent the surrender.
I think it's totally false to say "hiroshima and nagasaki had no bearing on the japanese decision to surrender". That doesn't match the evidence of history whatsoever.
>We're not talking about a democracy, though.
Like the democratic decision to drop the bomb? This is a silly statement, everybody involved had most of the power consolidated into a few hands.
I think this is an interesting idea but I would love to see a source on this.
When I took a Japan at War class in college our professor seemed to be of the opinion that using the atom bomb was what finally convinced the Japanese to surrender unconditionally but that they would have agreed to a conditional surrender as long as their emperor was guaranteed some form of independence. What are your thoughts on this?
Many Japanese cities (sixty-ish) were destroyed by traditional firebombing. For the Japanese, Hiroshima and Nagasaki simply meant "two more cities".
Two days after Hiroshima, Russia declared war against Japan. So their strategic position in the war became hopeless. Historians believe Russia entering the war shaped the surrender much more than the atomic bomb.
and another similar comment previously https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10485563
Can you post a source for these? Google hasn't been any help.
English translations, obviously, would be preferred.
As an aside, the book makes for fascinating reading. Being compiled by Japanese from accounts by other Japanese, one has to be wary of a certain amount of face-saving and retconning, of course. However, it's the first I've seen that overlays the timeline of events occurring within the Japanese government with the US progress in the war.
That may well be the case but it is not remotely clear that the people making that decision knew it for a fact which is what actually has bearing on the morality.
Also - why focus so much on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The bombing of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, London, Coventry, etc. were all attacks on civilians. We tend to judge atomic bombing as being special because of the thermonuclear age that followed but if it wasn't for that, we'd think of them as "strategic" bombing of population centres exactly the same as all the other such bombing done by all sides in WW2.
And at the time it appears the military leaders saw the atomic bomb as primary an optimization measure for carrying out this kind of city-wide attack.
(See : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fog_of_War)
However the psychological impact of the nuclear attacks being a single bomb is important to consider as well.
We're probably less than a decade away from revisionist history bleeding over into 9/11, and people will actively teach my children that the United States deserved it as some kind of cosmic karma.
There is moral ambiguity on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For one, you view the actions with the benefit of hindsight and with the moral views of a different era. So in your mind you can say they were definitely moral crimes but you can’t objectively demonstrate this in the sense of convincing most people that you are right.
Was the bombing of Dresden racially motivated? I’ve never thought it so. There were certain racial views against the Japanese but that doesn’t make the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima racially motivated. Was the Tokyo fire raid racially motivated? What about the invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima? We could have blockaded Japan and possibly forced their surrender. Of course that wouldn’t have stopped the 2 million or so Japanese soldiers in China from doing their fighting.
Yes, McNamara said that. Was he right? I don’t think so. The Germans and the Japanese had no need for trials of conquered leaders. They just killed them. It’s interesting to think about the what ifs and claim this action was unnecessary or that action was morally criminal. We’ll disagree on the efficacy of the nuclear attacks. My previous post was mostly to point out that the bombings weren’t meant to serve tactical military considerations. That the bombings were political and hence it’s perfectly reasonable that the military leaders would consider them militarily useless even if they weren’t useless in the broader political context. Military leaders don’t always get it right. McArthur famously wanted to nuke China like 50 times during the Korean War.
In any case, I also think the charge of racism is a bit uncalled for, the complete disregard for human suffering exemplified by the firebombing campaigns are surely enough to qualify as very serious war crimes all on their own.
(Though to claim that an America that was interning all its japan connected citizens in camps was acting without any racial impulses do seem rather implausible)
None of this suggests a primarily racially-motivated rationale. The evidence doesn't seem to support the premise that the US bombed Japan because they were Asians and didn't bomb Germany because they were Caucasians.
Although, racism and xenophobia likely informed American public opinion of the bombings after the fact. There's no way to know how that would have played out had Germany been bombed, or both Germany and Japan.
...well, there was also the fact that Germany had already surrendered by the time the first atom bomb was built.
That did probably make the calculus a lot simpler.
Not only is this debatable but it is often debated.
Your post is absurd. In your mind the Holocaust is morally equivalent to the nuclear bombings of Japan. That's crazy: Japan and the US were engaged in a war (that Japan started) whereas the Jews (and other victims of the Nazis) were not at war with Germany.
If you want a more nuanced perspective on the bombings and the surrender of Japan, read Downfall by Richard B. Frank. Even if you disagree with Frank, acting like there's no debate on this subject is dishonest. There's plenty of debate. In my opinion, people who talk about issues like this in absolute terms are unwilling or unable to grapple with the complexity that necessarily exists in wartime.
Soldiers volunteer to fight a war, civilians don't. If the Japanese had bombed LA, we wouldn't be having this conversation, every American would understand why this was morally wrong.
My position, based on my classes on the rule of law in warfare from a US service academy, is that civilians are an illegal target for the military and using a nuke on several hundred thousand people to take out a handful of industry is definitely outside of acts of legal warfare. It's different to target a manufacturing facility directly, even with civilians inside.
So, this isn't an argument, my position is the correct one. Even a US service academy teaches its officer candidates that the nukes were objectively wrong. The lives of civilians are more sacred than the lives of soldiers during wartime, legally.
So, this isn't an argument, my position is the correct one.
I did not know your view of the morality of this bombing was the only one that matters. Apparently far too many people are wrong on this issue then.
Even a US service academy teaches its officer candidates that the nukes were objectively wrong. The lives of civilians are more sacred than the lives of soldiers during wartime, legally.
Apparently our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan did not get the message. Of course, the perspective taught in West Point today was not the one taught in West Point in 1945. It was not the viewpoint of Army Air Force commanders either during WWII. What is deemed moral is culture and time dependent. Hence some people - myself included - think it only proper to at least consider the views and knowledge of the people at the time the decisions are made.
Since you have deemed yourself correct on this issue there isn't a point in discussion I suppose. Nothing I say can cause you to question anything on this matter. I will read any response you wish to give since I'm not so certain about my position.
It is the 3rd factor that was the crux. I believe if we understood the terms of the conditional surrender then we could have ended the war without dropping the bomb. In fact, we likely did comply with what the Japanese wanted since we protected the emperor after the war.
Germany spent about an equivalent amount of money in the V1 and V2 rocket programs that the US spent on the Manhattan project. Though Heisenburg later claimed he had sabotaged the German effort, the evidence seems to be a bit in favor of saying that he just miscalculated the amount of uranium needed so that it looked like it would be impractical as a weapon:
>...The largest piece of evidence was that Heisenberg had miscalculated the critical mass needed to achieve an atomic bomb, and thus still believed that tons of U-235 was necessary to create the bomb.
>...Most military leaders saw it as serving no military purpose. So ultimately, hiroshima and nagasaki were the largest human experimentation in ww2.
They weren't chosen at random. For example, the original target for Nagasaki was supposed to be Kokura:
>...The American bomber was a B-29 named Bock's Car, and it was supposed to drop the world's first plutonium bomb on Kokura. Three times, Bock's Car passed over Kokura, bomb bays open, a hum in the cockpit signaling that the bomb was ready for release, the crew wearing the special goggles that were supposed to protect them from the flash of the atomic explosion.
>But although the radar scope was locked on to Kokura, the orders were to drop the bomb only on visual identification of the huge arms factory that was the target.
The use of the atomic bomb was both a military and political statement.
For example, a concentration camp to keep enemy soldiers is far different than a concentration camp to keep jewish, japanese american, etc civilians ( fathers, mothers and children ).
And it's odd that you bring up macarthur since we know for a fact that he was against hiroshima and nagasaki.
"When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."
How do you reconcile that with the commonly held historical view? Or is that merely your own personal opinion?
"Hiroshima was a city of both industrial and military significance. Hiroshima was the headquarters of the 2nd General Army 第2総軍 (日本軍) with responsibility for most of western Japan including Kyushu as well as a depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It was a good radar target and it was such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills that were likely to produce a focusing effect that would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers, it was not a good incendiary target. It was classified as an AA(Prime)Target. It had a military garrison of about 40,000 men. Hiroshima was the primary target for the August 6 attack, with Kokura and Nagasaki as alternatives. Far from being an innocent city full of civilians, the garrison of 40,000 soldiers were doing calisthenics when the bomb exploded and were in fact the largest single group of casualties in the city.
Nagasaki was a major industrial city making torpedoes and ammunition. Mitsubishi Steel, Orikami Ordinance Works and a large engine works dominated the production in the city in addition of a large garrison. There were also a major dockyard used for the transport of men and materials to the north. It, too, was a high priority target but was a secondary target that was only hit if the primary target was too cloud covered for a visual drop on the primary."
Secondly, by August of 1945, Japan had been starved of food and resources for years. So whatever industry they had was nonexistent. So even if you are able to justify nuking an entire city just to take out a factory, you still can't justify hiroshima or nagasaki because they was no industry to speak of in August of 1945.
Whether you like it or not, hiroshima and nagasaki are no different than auschwitz and dachau. Indefensible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It's amazing the lengths we'll go to justify genocide. Also, it is not a commonly held historical view. It's a commonly held propaganda that we've been forcefed since childhood. And it's not my opinion. It's the opinion of General MacArthur, the commander of the entire pacific theater. It is also the opinion of Eisenhower, Marshall, Nimitz and every major military leader.
You can try to posit a Nazi regime without such constraints, but a Nazi regime which isn't lead by Hitler is fundamentally different from the regime we're talking about. A well-run Nazi Germany, one which didn't pick unwinnable fights, is a Nazi Germany contrary to Hitler's vision.
The Manhattan project indeed had a brain trust working on it, the like of which existed nowhere else on the planet. (Maybe more Hungarian than German, though.) Germany could not have replicated that, but it seems likely to me that the brains they did have would have been plenty.
There could have been some other roadblock of course, like the total lack of some material. But I don't know of one. IIRC the Soviets mined about half their Uranium in E Germany, so that was available.
HEISENBERG: One can't say that. One could equally well say "That's the quickest way of
ending the war.”
"7. HAHN and HEISENBERG discussed the matter alone together. HAHN explained to HEISENBERG that he was himself very upset about the whole thing. He said he could not really understand why GERLACH had taken it so badly. HEISENBERG said he could understand it because GERLACH was the only one of them who had really wanted a German victory, because although he realized the crimes of the Nazis and disapproved of them, he could not get away from the fact that he was working for GERMANY. HAHN replied that he too loved his country and that, strange as it might appear, it was for this reason that he had hoped for her defeat. ..."
Then there was also this bit:
"... BAGGE: That's not true. You were there yourself at that conference in Berlin. I think it was on 8 September that everyone was asked – GEIGER, BOTHE and you, HARTECK, were there too– and everyone said that it must be done at once. Someone said 'Of course it is an open question whether one ought to do a thing like that.' Thereupon BOTHE got up and said 'Gentlemen, it must be done.' Then GEIGER got up and said 'If there is the slightest chance that it is possible – it must be done.' That was on 8 September '39.
WEIZSÄCKER: I don't know how you can say that. 50% of the people were against it.
HARTECK: All the scientists who understood nothing about it, all spoke against it, and of those who did understand it, one third spoke against it. ..."
Here we see that these very intelligent men all were patriots to their own people, despite their evil leader. But they all knew that this patriotism was misplaced and would make the world worse. They all knew that they should loose, despite their loyalty to their own people.
In the 8 decades since, have we come to a conclusion on how to deal with this? What is a person to do when the nation goes towards evil? Must we all go Capt. America on our own?
The decisions of these cowards and their internal conflicts echo to this day.
>WEIZSÄCKER: I don't think we ought to make excuses now because we did not succeed, but we must admit that we didn't want to succeed. If we had put the same energy into it as the Americans and had wanted it as they did, it is quite certain that we would not have succeeded as they would have smashed up the factories.
>WEIZSÄCKER: One can say it might have been a much greater tragedy for the world if Germany had had the uranium bomb. Just imagine, if we had destroyed LONDON with uranium bombs it would not have ended the war, and when the war did end, it is still doubtful whether it would have been a good thing.
I had the honor to study with the economist. I rarely get the explicit idea that someone is smarter or dumber than me. But with him, it was so obvious I skipped right over jealousy straight to awe and enjoyment.
There is also a play, “Copenhagen”, featuring three or four possible versions of a meeting of WeizsÄcker. Heisenberg, and Bohr.
Another timeline that most can be glad we didn't go down. America would be even more dominant over the western world. Russia even more on edge.
Not only then, but still today. (If not even more today.) I remember the late unpleasantness with the PIIGs, and believe it or not, there was a little while there where people would try to determine where a Euro note came from...
and they wouldn't take it unless it was from Germany.
The Germans may not be vocal about dominating Europe, but they definitely dominate Europe. And they have in many ways for a long time. At least since the 60's.
Whether this was a good thing or not, I think newsgremlin should ask some Poles.
Right now it's looking like Germany is clearly the power in Europe. With American military still there, and still largely based in Germany. I could be totally off, but it really does seem like Europe is dominated, in most meaningful ways, by Germany.
Over half of the transcript is them coming up with excuses why the Americans succeeded where they did not. Let it be a lesson about the human condition that the excuses all but eclipse the guilt over having attempted to build such a bomb themselves. Both the guild and envy are powerful emotions. Envy wins.
They were wondering whether they’d go back, and how they’d be perceived/treated by their fellow Germans. Would they be perceived as traitors for failing to create the bomb?
The comments about how they see history being written, specifically about the German contributions, comes across as particularly naive but evident of men who were clearly distraught and disoriented.
And their predictions about Stalin and Russia were ominous but nearly correct several times over.
I'm fairly sure that by "engines" they meant reactors.
I saw on another page "General Leslie Groves consulted with lead scientists of the project and agreed to investigate simultaneously four separate methods of separating and purifying the uranium-235: gaseous diffusion, centrifuge, electromagnetic separation and liquid thermal diffusion."
Seems like a ton of work.
Heisenberg: I believe this uranium business will give the Anglo–Saxons such tremendous power that EUROPE will become a bloc under Anglo–Saxon domination. If that is the case it will be a very good thing.
Heisenberg: [T]he days of small countries are over.
Weizsäcker: Our strength is now the fact that we are 'un–Nazi'.
Heisenberg: I believe that we are now far more bound up with the Anglo–Saxons than we were before as we have no possibility of switching over to the Russians even if we wanted to. On the other hand we can do it with a good conscience because we can see that in the immediate future Germany will be under Anglo–Saxon influence.
Weizsäcker: If I ask myself for which side I would prefer to work of course I would say for neither of them.
Weizsäcker: History will record that the Americans and the English made a bomb, and that at the same time the Germans, under the HITLER regime, produced a workable engine. In other words, the peaceful development of the uranium engine was made in Germany under the Hitler regime, whereas the Americans and the English developed this ghastly weapon of war.
Have a read of Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg, he was involved and saw a lot of the nuclear planning during the Cold War. It’s pretty clear from his retelling that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were not essential to end the war. Japan was days away from surrender, and we killed more people in a firebomb raid than with the A-Bomb anyway, so it’s not like they weren’t already suffering citywide destructions. In fact Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two cities kept off of the firebombing list simply to still have test targets for the A-Bomb.
On the German front Hitler apparently discontinued the nazi program when he found out it was going to take too long for his timeline to win the war.
In Cold War terms there’s almost too much disturbing in the book to list. But one thing it brought home to me was that we should have a “no first use” policy like other countries, but we don’t because we like to threaten their use. And we have absolutely no need for land based ICBMs anymore given we have SLBMs more than capable of destroying the world, the ICBMs are a strategic liability (targets) and yet instead of getting rid of them we are planning to spend over $100b to replace them.
And: It's not clear that "no first use" policies are anything more than PR tools. IIRC it emerged that not one of the USSR war plans for Germany was nuclear-free.