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Argument: Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was cynically about deterring USSR

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Supporting quotations

Mark Selden, a historian from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US. - "Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan," says Selden.


Robert Freeman. "Was the Atomic Bombing of Japan Necessary?". CommonDreams.org. August 6, 2006 - if dropping the bombs was not driven by military needs, why, then, were they used? The answer can be discerned in the U.S. attitude toward the Russians, the way the War ended in Europe, and the situation in Asia.

U.S. leaders had long hated the communist Russian government. In 1919, the U.S. had led an invasion of Russia - the infamous "White Counter Revolution" - to try to reverse the red Bolshevik Revolution that had put the communists into power in 1917. The invasion failed and the U.S. did not extend diplomatic recognition to Russia until 1932.

Then, during the Great Depression, when the U.S. economy collapsed, the Russian economy boomed, growing almost 500%. U.S. leaders worried that with the War's end, the country might fall back into another Depression. And World War II was won not by the American laissez faire system, but by the top-down, command and control over the economy that the Russian system epitomized. In other words, the Russian system seemed to be working while the American system was plagued with recent collapse and a questionable self-confidence.

In addition, to defeat Germany, the Russian army had marched to Berlin through eastern Europe. It occupied and controlled 150,000 square miles of territory in what is today Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. At Yalta, in February 1945, Stalin demanded to keep this newly occupied territory. Russia, Stalin rightly claimed, had been repeatedly invaded by western Europeans, from Napoleon to the Germans in World War I and now by Hitler. Russia lost more than 20,000,000 lives in World War II and Stalin wanted a buffer against future invasions.

At this point, in February 1945, the U.S. did not know whether the bomb would work or not. But it unquestionably needed Russia's help to end both the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific. These military realities were not lost on Roosevelt: with no army to displace Stalin's in Europe and needing Stalin's support, Roosevelt conceded eastern Europe, handing the Russians the greatest territorial gain of the War.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Stalin agreed at Yalta that once the War in Europe was over, he would transfer his forces from Europe to Asia and within 90 days would enter the War in the Pacific against Japan. This is where timing becomes critically important. The War in Europe ended on May 8, 1945. May 8 plus 90 days is August 8. If the U.S. wanted to prevent Russia from occupying territory in east Asia the way it had occupied territory in eastern Europe, it needed to end the war as quickly as possible.

This issue of territory in east Asia was especially important because before the war against Japan, China had been embroiled in a civil war of its own. It was the U.S.-favored nationalists under General Chiang Kai Shek against the communists under Mao Ze Dong. If communist Russia were allowed to gain territory in east Asia, it would throw its considerable military might behind Mao, almost certainly handing the communists a victory once the World War was ended and the civil war was resumed.

Once the bomb was proven to work on July 15, 1945, events took on a furious urgency. There was simply no time to work through negotiations with the Japanese. Every day of delay meant more land given up to Russia and, therefore, a greater likelihood of communist victory in the Chinese civil war. All of Asia might go communist. It would be a strategic catastrophe for the U.S. to have won the War against the fascists only to hand it to its other arch enemy, the communists. The U.S. needed to end the War not in months, or even weeks, but in days.

So, on August 6, 1945, two days before the Russians were to declare war against Japan, the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. There was no risk to U.S. forces then waiting for a Japanese response to the demand for surrender. The earliest planned invasion of the island was still three months away and the U.S. controlled the timing of all military engagements in the Pacific. But the Russian matter loomed and drove the decision on timing. So, only three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered on August 14, 1945, eight days after the first bomb was dropped.

Major General Curtis LeMay commented on the bomb's use: "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." Except that it drastically speeded the War's end to deprive the Russians of territory in east Asia.

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