Dropping the Atomic Bombs on The Cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki EssayAtomic Bomb Writing Prompt
Directions: You will be writing a five paragraph essay based on the prompt below. Below the prompt is
evidence for you to use in crafting your essay.
Prompt: One of the most controversial turning points in history was the decision made by U.S. President
Harry S. Truman to use atomic weapons on Japan, the lone remaining Axis Power at the conclusion of
World War II. In your opinion, was the decision to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki a military necessity? If not, was it justifiable for a reason other than military necessity? Today,
historians continue to debate this decision. Was there another way to end the war? If you were
President Truman in 1945, would you have dropped the bomb?
I. Introduction (7-10 Sentences)
a. Background Info
b. Go over key points for paragraph 2-4. (Brief)
II. Key Point 1 (6-8 Sentences)
III. Key Point 2 (6-8 Sentences)
IV. Key Point 3 (6-8 Sentences)
V. Conclusion & Historical Impact of the Bomb. (7-10 Sentences)
Historical Background: – President Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
In the early morning hours of July 16, 1945, great anticipation and fear ran rampant at White Sands
Missile Range near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan
Project, could hardly breathe. Years of secrecy, research, and tests were riding on this moment. “For the
last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and when the announcer shouted, „Now!’ and there came this
tremendous burst of light followed abruptly thereafter by the deep growling of the explosion, his face
relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief,” recalled General L. R. Groves of Oppenheimer, in a
memorandum for Secretary of War George Marshall. The explosion, which carried more power than
20,000 tons of TNT and was visible for more than 200 miles, had succeeded. The world’s first atomic
bomb had been detonated.
With the advent of the nuclear age, new dilemmas in the art of warfare arose. The war in Europe had
concluded in May. The Pacific war would receive full attention from the United States War Department.
As late as May 1945, the U.S. was engaged in heavy fighting with the Japanese at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
In these most bloody conflicts, the United States had sustained more than 75,000 casualties. These
victories insured the United States was within air striking distance of the Japanese mainland. The
bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese to initiate United States entrance into the war, just four years
before, was still fresh on the minds of many Americans. A feeling of vindication and a desire to end the
war strengthened the resolve of the United States to quickly and decisively conclude it. President Harry
Truman had many alternatives at his disposal for ending the war: invade the Japanese mainland, hold a
demonstration of the destructive power of the atomic bomb for Japanese dignitaries, drop an atomic bomb
on selected industrial Japanese cities, bomb and blockade the islands, wait for Soviet entry into the war on
August 15, or mediate a compromised peace. “Operation Olympia”, a full-scale landing of United States
armed forces, was already planned for the Japanese island of Kyushu on November 1, 1945, and a bomb
and blockade plan had already been instituted over the Japanese mainland for several months. The
Japanese resolve to fight had been seriously hampered in the preceding months.
Their losses at Iwo Jima and Okinawa had been staggering. Their navy had ceased to exist as an effective
fighting force and the air corps had been decimated. American B-29 “Superfortresses” made bombing
runs over military targets on the Japanese mainland an integral part of their air campaign. Japan’s lack of
air power hindered their ability to fight. The imprecision of bombing and the use of devastating city
bombing in Europe eventually swayed United States Pacific theater military leaders to authorize bombing
of Japanese mainland cities. Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe all were decimated by incendiary and
other bombs. In all, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these air strikes meant to deter the
resolve of the Japanese people. Yet, Japanese resolve stayed strong and the idea of a bloody “house-tohouse” invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce thousands more American and Allied casualties.
The Allied leaders declared at the Potsdam Conference in late July 1945 that the Japanese must
After Japanese leaders flatly rejected the Potsdam Declaration, President Truman authorized the use of
the atomic bomb any time after August 3,1945. On the clear morning of August 6, the first atomic bomb,
nicknamed one of the most controversial turning points in history was the decision made by U.S.
President Harry S. Truman to use atomic weapons on Japan, the lone remaining Axis Power at the
conclusion of World War II. In your opinion, was the decision to drop atomic bombs on the cities of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki a military necessity? If not, was it justifiable for a reason other than military
necessity? “Little Boy”, was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. Leveling over sixty percent of the city,
70,000 residents died instantaneously in a searing flash of heat, while many thousands more were killed
as buildings crumbled as a result of the explosion’s shock wave throughout the city. Three days later, on
August 9, a second bomb, “Fat Man”, was dropped on Nagasaki. Over 20,000 people died instantly. In
the successive weeks, tens of thousands more Japanese died from the after-effects of the radiation
exposure of the blast.
Document 1: Photos from Pearl Harbor (USS Arizona)
The USS Arizona burned for two days after the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl
Harbor. The wreckage of the Arizona remains at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, where it still leaks a quart
of oil daily. 1,177 of 1,512 crew members were killed. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor began just
before 8AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Within a short time, five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor
were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes
were also knocked out, and over 2,400 Americans were dead.
Document 2: Bataan Death March Propaganda Poster
After the April 9, 1942, U.S. surrender of the Bataan Peninsula on the main Philippine island of Luzon to
the Japanese during World War II (1939-45), the approximately 75,000 Filipino and American troops on
Bataan were forced to make an arduous 65-mile march to prison camps. The men were divided into
groups of approximately 100, and what became known as the Bataan Death March typically took each
group around five days to complete. The exact figures are unknown, but it is believed that thousands of
troops died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and
bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war
camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment and starvation.
Document 3: Japanese Kamikaze Photo
The Japanese pilots who in World War II made deliberate suicidal crashes into enemy targets, usually
ships. The term also denotes the aircraft used in such attacks. Kamikaze attacks sank 34 ships and
damaged hundreds of others during the war. At Okinawa they inflicted the greatest losses ever suffered
by the U.S. Navy in a single battle, killing almost 5,000 men. Usually the most successful defense against
kamikaze attack was to station picket destroyers around capital ships and direct the destroyers’
antiaircraft batteries against the kamikazes as they approached the larger vessels.
The image above is of a Japanese Kamikaze flying into a US Naval ship.
Document 4: Japanese Defenses of Iwo Jima, 660 miles south of Tokyo
“…seeing that it was impossible to conduct our air, sea, and ground operations on Iwo Jima toward
ultimate victory, it was decided that in order to gain time necessary for the preparation of the Homeland
defense, our forces should rely solely upon the established defensive equipment in that area, checking
the enemy by delaying tactics. Even the suicidal attacks by small groups of our Army and Navy airplanes,
the surprise attacks by our submarines, and the actions of parachute units, although effective, could be
regarded only as a strategic ruse on our part. It was a most depressing thought that we had no available
means left for the exploitation of the strategic opportunities which might from time to time occur in the
course of these operations.”
– USA, FEC, HistDiv, “Operations in the Central Pacific”–Japanese Studies in World War II (Japanese
Monograph No. 48, OCMH), p. 62.; cited in George W. Garand and Truman R. Strobridge (1971). History
of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S.
Marine Corps. Vol IV, Part VI, Ch 1
Document 5: Physical Map of Japan
By the summer of 1945, American military strategists were planning “Operation Olympia”, a full-scale
invasion of the Japanese home islands.
Document 6: Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Explosion Image
Document 7: Hiroshima after the Atomic Bomb Image
Document 8: Paul Fussell, U.S. Infantryman in Europe, upon Receiving Word of the Atomic Bombing of
Hiroshima & Nagasaki
“When the atom bombs were dropped and the news began to circulate that we would not be obligated
in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned,
mortared and shelled we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were
going to grow to adulthood after all.”
– “Thank God for the Atom Bomb” by Prof. Paul Fussell
Document 9: President Harry S. Truman’s Press Release Announcing the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima
on August 6, 1945 and Statement Defending the Use of Atomic Weapons
“…The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the
end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to
supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in
production and even more powerful forms are in development… We are now prepared to obliterate
more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city.
We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we
shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war… It was to spare the Japanese people from utter
destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that
ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of
which has never been seen on this earth.”
“We have used it against those who attacked without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have
abandoned the pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it to shorten the agony
of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”
Document 10: Critics of Truman’s Decision to Use Atomic Weapons
“…It is the Survey‟s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1
November 1945 (well before the date of the [proposed] invasion) Japan would have surrendered even if
the atomic bombs had not been dropped.”
-United States Army Air Force Strategy Bombing Survey, 1946
“It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki 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…My own
feeling was that being the first to use [the atomic bomb], we adopted an ethical standard common to
the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and that wars cannot be
won by destroying women and children”
-Admiral William D. Leahy, President Truman‟s Chief of Staff, in his memoir “I Was There” (Whittlesey,
Document 11: Colonel Paul Tibbets, Jr., and His Thoughts on the Use of Atomic Weapons on Japan
Colonel Tibbets was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B29 Superfortress that dropped the world‟s first
atomic weapon on Hiroshima. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, Tibbets was
asked how he felt about his role in the world-altering events of August 1945:
“I was anxious to do it… I wanted to do everything that I could to subdue Japan. I wanted to kill the
bastards. That was the attitude of the United States in those years…I have been convinced that we saved
more lives than we took. It would have been morally wrong if we‟d have had that weapon and not used
it and let a million more people die.”
-“The Men Who Brought the Dawn: The Atomic Missions of Enola Gay and Bock’s Car”, Smithsonian
Document 12: Hiroshima & Nagasaki Death Statistics
Document 13: Operation Downfall (Planned Invasion for Japan) Estimated Statistics
Personnel at the Navy Department estimated that the total losses to America would be between 1.7 and
4 million with 400,000 to 800,000 deaths. The same department estimated that there would be up to 10
million Japanese casualties.
Source: Excerpts from “Three Narratives of our Humanity” by John W. Dower, 1996. The following is
from a book written by a historian about how people remember wars. John W. Dower explains the two
different ways that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is remembered.
Document 14: Viewpoints on Hiroshima
Hiroshima as Victimization
Japanese still recall the war experience primarily in terms of their own victimization. For them, World
War II calls to mind the deaths of family and acquaintances on distant battlefields, and, more vividly, the
prolonged, systematic bombings of their cities.
If it is argued that the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was necessary to shock the Japanese to surrender,
how does one justify the hasty bombing of Nagasaki only three days later, before the Japanese had time
to investigate Hiroshima and formulate a response?
Hiroshima as Triumph
To most Americans, Hiroshima—the shattered, atomized, irradiated city – remains largely a symbol of
triumph – marking the end of a horrendous global conflict and the effective demonstration of a weapon
that has prevented another world war.
It is hard to imagine that the Japanese would have surrendered without the atomic bomb. Japanese
battle plans that were in place when the bombs were dropped called for a massive, suicidal defense of
the home islands, in which the imperial government would mobilize not only several million fighting
men but also millions of ordinary citizens who had been trained and indoctrinated to resist to the end
with primitive makeshift weapons. For Japanese to even discuss capitulation (surrender) was seditious
(against the law).