Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Was the Dropping of the Atom Bomb Historically and Morally Justified?


As World War II progressed, and the Allies defeated the Germans in the European campaign, the war subsequently became solely focused on the Pacific Theatre.   Every inch of land and territory gained by the U.S. Army and Navy did not come without significant loss of life.  The boys were tired, and demoralized by the harsh reality of kamikaze warfare that the Japanese military implemented in their military strategy.  Little did the Japanese know, a secret weapon was being developed back at home in the United States.  Albert Einstein’s famous E=MC2, that was derived in 1905, stated that mass multiplied by the speed of light squared would culminate in mass being converted into pure energy.  This energy would be released as heat in the form of x-rays and gamma rays which are the two most energetic light waves in the electromagnetic spectrum.  Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman were the two scientists who were able to make a breakthrough on nuclear fission in December of 1938.  The isotope Uranium-235 was experimentally proven to be a sufficient element capable of sustaining a nuclear fission process because in order to create a chain reaction, the nucleus of an atom must be bombarded with a neutron in the core.  Since the isotope had an odd number of pairs of protons and neutrons in the nucleus, it had one free neutron which when bombarded with the neutron from an outside source would cause a chain reaction, and a subsequent splitting of the atom.  “A more humdrum way of remembering the difference between the two types of Uranium is by focusing on the nature of the even and odd numbers.  Since U238 had 238 particles in its nucleus, everything was paired off; but since U235 has an odd number of particles in its nucleus, that means there are 46 pairs of protons and 71 pairs of neutrons- and one extra neutron.”(Bodanis, 281)    After a letter from Einstein hit Washington D.C. in early 1939, which urged the development of an atomic research program, the United States took a more serious role in forming a government project in which to undergo such a production process culminating in the atom bomb.  As a result, the government began a nationwide secret project referred to as the Manhattan Project.  The government project took place in five main areas of the country under the direction of General Groves whose impressive leadership role in the construction of the Pentagon won him the job in this subsequent project.  The main areas of use were: Washington D.C., Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Chicago, Illinois, Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Oak Ridge, Chicago, and Hanford were three sites used strictly for creating the enriched uranium the bomb.  Chicago University was used by physicists to test the theory of E=MC2 by conducting experiments on nuclear fission ran by famous Enrico Fermi, who later would be given the patent for designing the nuclear reactor, while the other two sites were areas in which the uranium was processed in much larger quantities for the making of the bomb.  The strategic location of both sites was important both were along a large river to allow for the cooling of the reactor cores.  After enough uranium, and later plutonium which was made in Hanford towards the end of the Project, the fissionable metals were transferred to Los Alamos where J. Robert Oppenheimer, and a group of physicists, engineers, and mathematicians were to devise a plan in which to detonate the bomb.  The first bomb would be set off by conventional artillery, while the second would be implosion.  The mathematics of the methods of how to set off the bomb and the approximate height was devised by the arguably the greatest mathematician of his time, John von Neumann.  When the bomb was dropped, there were two small holes around the middle where wires had been tugged out of it as it dropped away, which was the first arming system.  When the bomb reached 7,000 feet above the ground, a barometric switch was turned, priming the second arming system.  The bomb was just ten feet long and two and a half feet wide, but what was inside this small speck in the sky was the power of the sun.  Radio waves bounce off the ground detailing how far from the ground the bomb was.  At just under 2,000 feet Neumann calculated that this was the ideal height at which to detonate the uranium bomb.  “ An electric impulse lit cordite sacs, producing a conventional artillery blast.  A small part of the purified uranium was now pushed forward down a gun barrel that was actually inside the bomb.”(Bodanis,164)  The gun was a scaled-down model of the U.S. Navy weapon which was just one-fifth the weight of the conventional weapon.  The first uranium segment traveled about four feet within the gun barrel, and then impacted the remaining bulk of uranium.  There were a number of stray neutrons loose inside it, which helped induce the beginning of the chain reaction.  Because neutrons have no charge, they were not affected by the electrons of the outer casing of the atoms, and were able to freely enter the nucleus of the uranium atom.  “The nucleus normally blocked outside particles from entering, for it was seething with positively charged protons.  But since neutrons have no electric charge their invisible to the protons as well.  The arriving neutrons pushed into the nucleus, overbalancing it; causing it to oscillate and subsequently split.”(Bodanis, 165)  This reaction broke what we called the nucleus force.  Gluons which hold together the nucleus of an atom is ripped apart, causing a chain reaction in which mass was disappearing and being replaced by pure energy.  The entire chain reaction sequence was over within a few millionths of a second.  The bomb took 43 seconds to descend from 31,000 feet to 1,900, but the reaction triggered by nuclear fission took all but a fraction of a second.  “The chain reaction went through 80 “generations” of doubling before it ended.  By the last few moments of this, the segments of broken uranium nuclei were so abundant, and moving so fast, that they started heating up the metal around them.”(Bodanis, 166)  Once there was no more matter to be converted over to energy, this energy was being transformed into heat energy because the speed of the uranium nuclei were moving at speeds close to the speed of light and were rubbing against resting metal.  This heat energy reaches temperatures equivalent to that of the sun.  As the heat moves up and goes through the steel around the uranium, as well the several thousand pound casing of the bomb, but then it pauses.  The energy of the explosion must be released, so x-rays push themselves outwards in all directions.  As the energy is used, and the fragments try to cool themselves, and the x-ray bombardment is over, the heat ball resumes its outward spread. This is now a site to see, as normal photons fill the sky, seeming as though a new star has been created just above the surface of the earth, and the bomb burns for a fraction of a second, taking a few more to empty itself out.  This new destructive force kills tens of thousands of Japanese citizens instantaneously.  “And when that great mushroom cloud appeared, E=MC2’s first work on planet Earth was done.”(Bodanis,169) 
                Countless individuals from intellectuals to the common man have their opinions on whether the bombs should have been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but in the end, history cannot be changed.  Hindsight in the eyes of society is always 20/20, but swift and deliberate decisions had to be taken during a time of stress.  After the demise of FDR, Truman took command of not only the nation, but the entire Armed Forces of the United States.  Inevitably, Truman’s decision as Commander in Chief, affected the outcome of the war, but was his decision to drop the bomb morally and historically justified?  In my opinion, the atomic bomb was not needed to end the war for three distinct reasons:  The Potsdam Proclamation in theory could have ended the war via a peace agreement allowing Japan to implement a constitutional monarchy and rid the country of its militarism if both sides would have come to an agreement.  In addition, according to several reports from military personnel close to Truman, the war could have been over by November of 1945 regardless of the use of the Atomic Bomb, and finally Truman’s decision directly caused the demise of over 200,000 Japanese civilians whose effects from the bomb were felt not just in the short term but the long term as well.  As a result of careful historical and moral judgment, one can see that the dropping of the atomic bomb could have been avoided, but Truman wished to prove American military superiority over Russia In seeing who could force Japan to surrender first and subsequently decide their ultimate fate.
                At the Potsdam Conference, the three distinguished leaders of the Allies, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and President Harry Truman met in Potsdam, Germany to decide the fate of the war torn Europe, Germany in particular, as well as discuss objectives in the Pacific Theatre.   The leaders pondered on concepts on how to end the war in the Pacific Theatre to end the bloodshed of American soldiers which was taking massive casualties in the island hopping campaign.  If the Allies, more specifically Truman, would have allowed the Japanese state to surrender under the condition that they could keep a Constitutional Monarchy, but end Japanese militarism and imperialism in Asia.   This ideology in theory would have appeased the peace party as well as the emperor especially if Stalin were to have signed the Potsdam Proclamation.  “The promise of preserving the monarchical system might have prompted members of the peace party to intercede to end the war before the first atomic bomb, although there was no guarantee that their argument would have silenced the war party.”(Hasegawa, 15)  If Stalin would have been invited to signed the Potsdam Proclamation, it would have inevitably forced the Japanese government and war machine to surrender and sign the document because they could no longer use The Soviet Union as a mediator between the Allies and the Japanese state although it was evident that even if Stalin was invited, he would have never agreed to such an agreement due to his militaristic nature to join the Pacific conflict.  Although the Potsdam Conference really did not do much in terms of creating an agreement to end the war peacefully, it really showed great promise towards allowing the Japanese to uphold their form of government, while eliminating the imperialistic military of Japan.  “Undoubtedly, a promise to retain the monarchy would have strengthened the peace party’s receptivity of the Potsdam ultimatum.  It would have led to intense discussion much earlier among Japanese policymakers on whether or not to accept the Potsdam terms, and it would have considerably diminished Japan’s reliance on Moscow’s mediation,”(Hasegawa, 13)  As long as Japan submitted to full unconditional surrender which according to Japanese tradition and military culture would be dishonorable, the Potsdam ultimatum was completely ineffective for both sides because of the stubborn nature of military leaders.
After Stalin’s Soviet Union joined the Pacific Theatre on the side of the Allies, the ability to make war and defend their land became much more difficult for Japan.  As a result of the Soviets entering the war, it made the use of the atomic bomb unnecessary for the United States.  Because the Japanese policymakers saw the Soviet Union as a means of mediation between the imperial nation and the United States, it all but ended Japan’s ability to continue talks with the Allied forces.
 “The importance to Japan of Soviet neutrality is crucial in this context.  Japan relied on Soviet neutrality both militarily and diplomatically.  Diplomatically, Japan pinned its last hope on Moscow’s mediation for the termination of the war.  Once the Soviets entered the war, Japan was forced to make a decision on the Potsdam terms, and the Japanese military strategy was based on Soviet neutrality.”(Hasegawa, 17)   
In addition, this created a two front war for the Japanese forces, which began to choke the Japanese military forces from the West and the East.  Because the Japanese refused to give in to the Potsdam ultimatum, the Soviets used this opportunity to begin its quest of expansion into the Far East.  As a result of Japanese vulnerability of both fronts, the Soviets were able to take advantage, and could have taken over places such as “Manchuria, southern Sakhalin, the entire Kurils, and possibly half of Korea.”(Hasegawa, 17)  As one can see, Japan had no choice, but to surrender because Japanese forces were to too weak both militarily and economically to make war.  Because of the Soviet’s shear military strength, the U.S. needed to drop the atom bomb not to stop the Japanese from making war, but to stop the Soviets from moving any further into Asia, and becoming an influence in a region in which the U.S. wished to control.
Finally, the atom bomb was simply unnecessary simply because of the significant devastation it caused the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  As a result of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, “revisionist historians concluded that Japan would have surrendered before November 1, 1941, without the atom bombs.”(Hasegawa, 16)  On top of the total destruction and the killing of a quarter million people in the Strategic Bombing raids, the atomic bombs dropped on the two Japanese cities subsequently killed another 150,000-200,000 people.  On top of the utter destruction to human, economic, and the cities themselves, the long term effects of radioactivity and radiation poison leads to long term infection, disease, and in many cases cancer from the exposure to high energy light and particles that are prevalent in the lower atmosphere as a result of the bomb.
Although the atomic bomb was certainly not justified, one must take a look at the use of deception the Japanese empire used to play with the mind of America.  By deception, Japan was able to plan a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as well as, simultaneously attacking strategic point it’s in its island hopping campaign in the South-east Asia. 
 In an address to Congress after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt says, “It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago.  During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the U.S. by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.  The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces.  I regret to tell you that very man American lives have been lost.  In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.  Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.  Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, and Wake Island.  And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.”(Roosevelt, 34)  In turn, the Japanese deceived the American government and military with false diplomatic talks because in the end they had their own agenda.  This use of deceit against America gave the government a justified reason to cripple the Japanese military as a result of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  At the same time, the Japanese invaded American owned islands in the South Pacific which in turn, created an even greater gateway for American military intervention because of the military tactics of Japan on the civilian population in the regions in which they occupied.  In the end, one could see the dropping of the atomic bomb to be justified from a political and military perspective, but as a civilian you are left vulnerable to the actions of one’s government and their political and military agenda.
As one can see, the use of the atomic bomb was justified in Truman’s mind not only because he felt it was justified, but also because of the popular belief and ideology of the American people was to attack.  Even with taking this in a purely logical manner, the killing of roughly 300,000 civilians in Japan is much too barbaric for the Japanese military killing of 3,000 in Pearl Harbor.  In conclusion, this goes to show the true hunger for power.  Truman in my opinion, made an irrational decision with his power because the decisions he made were based off of anger, fear, and resent which was inflicted on a large citizen population.  In the end, because of government and military imperialism and corruption, war tends to affect the citizen populous more than those who have truly created the conflict.

Bodanis, David. E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most famous Equation. The Berkeley Publishing Group. New York. 2000.
Roosevelt, D. Franklin. Words That Changed the World: 25Speeces That Shaped the World We Live In.  Pg 34. BlueRed Press Ltd. New York. 2010.
Madaras, Larry. Taking Sides: Clashing Views in U.S. History Since 1945. Pg. 15-22.  McGraw-Hill Higher Education. New York. 2008. 3rd Edition. 

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