Why did the United States drop two nuclear bombs on the Japanese mainland? It appeared that Japan was ready to surrender.
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The official reason was to avoid a long and costly battle attempting to force the Japanese to surrender by invading the mainland. The Japanese were tenacious fighters and their tactics of Kamikaze suicide bombers and their courageous defense of their country in engagements such as the Battle of Okinawa, lend substantial credibility to this claim. Some such as General Eisenhower disagreed to as whether such a maneuver was really necessary.
Regardless of whether the Japanese government was seriously considering surrender, the bombing forced the decision and was less costly to the Americans (obviously) than a protracted war. Whether a protracted war would have spared Japanese lives as opposed to several more months of brutal warfare is an open question.
It is my opinion that this motivation was one of several competing reasons as to why the Americans decided to detonate nuclear bombs on Japanese civilian centers. In a large part I feel this was simply the natural evolution of the doctrine of total war applied to aerial bombings of civilian targets, first seen in action during the German bombing of Guernica and continued by the Americans both in the fire bombings of Dresden and Tokyo.
Beyond this there was also the ability to justifiably test an atomic bomb in warfare conditions. American military scientists were very interested in seeing the effects of nuclear weapons in many environments (even detonating them underwater to see what would happen). Obviously the most important environment to test it on would be that of urban or military targets. The prior would be unthinkable, outside of a war anyway.
Also, by deploying the bomb America was able to send a strong message about the balance of power after the war. Given that there is always some degree of uncertainty about political relations and military stability after the war, the bomb was certainly a strong message that Americans were not to be messed with. I don't think any of these motivations were alone sufficient in explaining why the American high command decided to drop the bombs; its far more likely that it was a combination of several of these and possibly additional concerns as well.
The Soviet point of view was that the US used the bomb to threaten the USSR.
According the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, article "Nuclear weapons" ("Ядерное оружие"):
But my opinion is that the bomb was actually developed against Germany and only the fact that they surrendered so quickly saved them and brought such misfortune to Japan. The US already spent much money on the new weapon and just could not leave it unused.
It was also instrumental to demonstrate technical superiority over enemy (including Germany, which at the time was considered the most technologically advanced nation), so that to break an image of "advanced" and "civilized" Germans defeated by barbaric and underdeveloped inferior nations (the Germans did not consider the Anglo-Saxons sub-human, but still always empathized that the Germans are the most productive and creative). It was known that Germany developed a range of "wonder-weapons" so that their enemies had to get something to counter-balance such image.
The war in Europe had brought the powerful red army, which was mostly responsible for beating Nazis to Berlin in Germany. Us and the soviet Union were having some disagreements on arragements on Europe. Us wanted to let the russians know who is the boss (in the words of Truman) and thus US army roasted nearly half a million Japanese and hurt millions in the coming generations to achieve that. President Truman was instrumental in this by failing to stop the hawks in the army. FDR (Rosevelt would never allow the vision of post war power grab to extend to nuking Japan.) Japanese cities were already incinerated and the most worrisome thing for the Japanese was a Russian Invasion and not the nuclear attack. Also they could not stomach the hanging of their emperor. US delayed assurances to safeguard the emperor until it had exploded the second bomb, on the same day USSR attacked Manchuria, then controled by Japanese forces. Japanese were considered to be sub human at that time and thus the political cost for US politicians was negligable. To understand this well watch Oliver Stone's documentary "Untold history of the USA" episode 2 and 3.
The Japanese had 4 terms they were demanding in order to "surrender":
To Westerners, this means that the Japanese would be "returning to barracks" and not surrendering in any way that word was understood to mean. The Allies stated clearly "unconditional surrender"
The Japanese felt that they could disgust and demoralize the Allies with the kamikaze attacks and drive the Allies to the bargaining table.
As for the 2nd atomic bomb, the United States knew what the Japanese were thinking because it was reading their codes. The high command claimed that since it took 4 years for the Allies to make the first atomic bomb, then it would take 4 more years for the second atomic bomb. They knew what an atomic bomb was, and the effects of such weapons, because they had 2 separate atom bomb projects themselves (one in Tokyo using chemical separation of Uranium isotopes, and a diffusion plant in what is now North Korea). Rhodes wrote 2 books (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun) that discussed this along with other national nuclear projects).
A conventional land invasion of the "home islands" of Japan was expected to cost between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Allied troops. Based on how fierce the Okinawa fighting was, and that it took about 25 Japanese casualties to inflict 1 Allied casualty, it would be expected that a conventional land invasion of Kyushu and Honshu would end up having to kill tens of millions of Japanese civilians before they would really surrender.
Cook, in Japan at War, lists the number of soldiers in Japan at the time of surrender ate 4,335,500, with 3,527,000 stationed outside Japan (mostly in China and Korea).
In the end, the allies did not accept any of the conditions, but promised that the status of the emperor would be determined by the Japanese people.
Compare to German, Japan have controlled 1/6 part of world on august 1945.
Japanese are kamikaze.
Hiroshima was a main military port and main headquarters.
Nagasaki was a city-military-factory, Mitsubishi produced motors of aircrafts.
It was like nuking The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin's main factories.
There's a lot to explain.
Why was the bomb built?
This is too big to answer here! Read the great book The making of the atomic bomb. I'll quote it to answer the other questions.
Why the Allied policy of unconditional surrender?
When the Allied leaders met in 1943 at the Casablanca conference, the phrase 'unconditional surrender' was deliberately left out of the joint statement. But Roosevelt later used it in a hasty speech. and Churchill went along unquestioningly, rather than show any tension between the Allies.
Why did the Japanese refuse the Allied terms of surrender?
Why not invade Japan?
Why not ask Russia to help invade Japan?
Why drop atom bombs rather than more fire bombs?
Why not warn Japan about the bomb before dropping it?
Why not demonstrate the bomb on an unpopulated area?
Why was the bomb secret?
Why risk a nuclear arms race when the world sees the bomb?
Why not keep the bomb secret from Russia?
Byrnes' most dangerous misunderstanding from Szilard's point of view was his reading of the Soviet Union: >
The bombing of Japan was a warning to the USSR. The allies knew that Japan would surrender at the drop of a hat without a fight as the had actually asked to be allowed to surrender ten times before the first bomb was dropped.
The official reason for denying them a surrender was that they had placed various requirements on the surrender but in actual fact almost all of these demands were actually accepted in the end - the biggest request from the Japanese PoV being, of course, the continuance of the Emperor's position which was granted.
There was never any chance of a fighting invasion of the Japanese mainland, and everyone knew that well in advance. That idea is simply propaganda. The Japanese were beaten and they knew it. If there was the odd general who wanted to fight on the simple fact was that he would have had to do it himself as the army was on the verge of mutiny, as was the remains of the air force. Again, the vision of the unconquerable samurai who would die before surrendering is a comfortable myth bolstered by a handful of freaks like Hiroo Onoda. Such imagery is no more a true picture of the Japanese army than the Alamo is of the US army en mass.
When MacArthur presented Japan's documentation on the subject of being allowed to surrender, Truman reportedly dismissed the idea without even reading the proposal, commenting that MacArthur was a great general but a lousy politician - a strong clue that the bombing was a political event rather than a military one.
The reason for the second bomb has been debated but is likely to be a combination of two main reasons: firstly to test the second device's design which was substantially different from the first; secondly to hint to Stalin that the US had a supply of these things, not just one made through some super-human effort which would be hard to replicate quickly.
It is easy to forget the degree to which the Japanese had been dehumanised in the US. The idea that a bomb design be tested by being dropped on civilians would not have raised anything like enough of a protest in the US if it had been floated beforehand and, indeed, continued to be regarded as completely justified for decades afterwards in general public opinion.
The ultimate roots of the bombing are a fascinating story of the interaction of militarism and religion on both sides, going back to the days (less than a century before) of Admiral Perry's expedition to "open" (ie, threaten to bombard into submission) Japan and the reaction of the Shogunate to that challenge. In light of that, there is a horrible irony in the fact that Nagasaki was bombed (due to weather), as it was one of the first cities opened to the outside world and was opened specifically as an attempt to avoid Japan being attacked and conquered by the US.