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3.1 Was the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified?

Those who have argued that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified have stressed that alternatives would have dragged the war out much longer. Dropping atomic bombs is therefore regarded as forcing Japanese surrender swiftly and ending the Pacific war. While other military options were used at the time, these are seen to have had little substantial impact on Japanese military resistance and a military invasion of Japan by the allies would have been hugely costly in terms of casualties on both sides.

Those who have argued that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not justified usually argue for the morality of the situation. Thus it is argued that targeting civilians cannot be morally justified, particularly since alternative military options where not exhausted (e.g. targeting military facilities; relaxing unconditional surrender; preserving the Emperor). Further, these voices also often stress that the war was already won: at the time, Japan was already pursuing initial peace negotiations through Moscow, which President Truman would have known, given the thoroughness of American intelligence.

To complement the discussion illustrated here, think about the following questions:

  • Do you believe it was morally right to use atomic bombs against Japanese cities?
  • What advice would you have given President Truman about alternatives to dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities?

What impact did Hiroshima and Nagasaki have on post-war international relations?

  • Those who regard the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as immoral have stressed that it had significant consequences for international relations as a whole. With this argument, the two events that are attributed to the bombings are the cold war and nuclear proliferation. With regards to the former, power politics are largely attributed to U.S. bombings, where it is argued that America was keen to end the war before Moscow could extend its influence in Asia. In terms of the latter, it is noted that the Soviets significantly accelerated their atomic programme after the bombing, starting a global arms race.
  • Those who regard the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as moral have stressed that one of its consequences was a strengthening of nuclear taboo. In this, notions of deterrence are crucial.