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Tokyo was Japan's capital. Why didn't the US choose Tokyo to demolish with Atom Bomb?

Bonus Question: What factors decided to bring Hiroshima and Nagasaki on table?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Hiroshima, the first city, was "an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing[sic] effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target. (Classified as an AA Target)" [1]. There were also four other possible targets: Kokura, Niigata, Yokohama, and Kyoto. There were three criteria for choosing targets:

  • The target was larger than 3 mi (4.8 km) in diameter and was an important target in a large urban area.
  • The blast would create effective damage.
  • The target was unlikely to be attacked by August 1945. "Any small and strictly military objective should be located in a much larger area subject to blast damage in order to avoid undue risks of the weapon being lost due to bad placing of the bomb." [2]

The first source states:

The possibility of bombing the Emperor's palace was discussed. It was agreed that we should not recommend it but that any action for this bombing should come from authorities on military policy. It was agreed that we should obtain information from which we could determine the effectiveness of our weapon against this target. [1]

Tokyo was considered as a target, but it was not of as much strategic value as other cities. If Japan were to be invaded, it would be from the south and Tokyo was not in the south. With the exception of Niigata, all of the targets were in the south. Kyoto was eventually dropped from the lists because the US secretary of war had honeymooned there. It was replaced by Nagaski, which was eventually chosen for the second bomb.

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One of the other reasons behind your 3rd bullet was that if the bomb was dropped on a city that had already been extensively bombed (like Tokyo) it would be more difficult to determine exactly how powerful it was due to the pre-existing damage. –  Dan Neely May 22 '13 at 17:26
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The U.S. likely did not target Tokyo for the atomic bomb strikes as it was the seat of the Emperor and the location of much of the high ranking military officers. These are precisely the people you do not want to kill if you want to negotiate a surrender, as they are the people you would be negotiating with.

The U.S. decided to drop the bombs onto military industrial targets and centers that had significant military utility such as ports and airfields. Nagasaki was actually a secondary target, being a major port. Inclement weather kept the Bockscar from dropping the second atomic bomb on Kokura.

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the targets were chosen from cities not yet firebombed. Tokyo was burned to a crisp several times using firebombing, so wasn't on the target list. Not wanting to kill the emperor was secondary. –  jwenting Aug 31 '13 at 21:01
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From the notes of the first Target Committee meeting (spring 1945)

Tokyo is a possibility but it is now practically all bombed and burned out and is practically rubble with only the palace grounds left standing. Consideration is only possible here.

The same was true of most Japanese cities. From The making of the atomic bomb.

The committee had refined its qualifications to three: "important targets in a large urban area of more than three miles diameter" that were "capable of being damaged effectively by blast" and were "likely to be unattacked by next August." The Air Force had agreed to reserve five such targets for atomic bombing.

Most noteworthy is that Kyoto was at one point the top target

Kyoto-This target is an urban industrial area with a population of 1,- 000,000. It is the former capital of Japan and many people and industries are now being moved there as other areas are being destroyed. From the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intel- lectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget..

When General Groves brought that to Stimson, secretary of war, Stimson objected

I informed him and told him that Kyoto was the preferred target. It was the first one because it was of such size that we would have no question about the effects of the bomb.... He immediately said: "I don't want Kyoto bombed." And he went on to tell me about its long history as a cultural center of Japan, the former ancient capital, and a great many reasons why he did not want to see it bombed. When the report came over and I handed it to him, his mind was made up. There's no about that. He read it over and he walked to the door separating his office from General Marshall's, opened it and said: "General Marshall, if you're not busy I wish you'd come in." And then the Secretary really double-crossed me because without any explanation he said to General Marshall: "Marshall, Groves has just brought me his report on the proposed targets." He said: "I don't like it. I don't like the use of Kyoto."

Stimson and his wife had been to Kyoto for their honeymoon.

So Kyoto at least, the Rome of Japan, founded in 793, famous for silk and cloisonne, a center of the Buddhist and Shinto religions with hundreds of historic temples and shrines, would be spared, though Groves would continue to test his superior's resolve in the weeks to come. The Imperial Palace in Tokyo had been similarly spared even as Tokyo was laid waste around it. There were still limits to the destructiveness of war: the weapons were still modest enough to allow such fine discriminations.

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One (big) reason was because Hiroshima and Nagaski were two cities left in a very small pool which had not been bombed yet. Tokyo, as well as many of Japan's other major cities, had already been heavily damaged by previous bombings. It would not have been as effective to bomb a city that was already mostly destroyed, so these "lesser" cities that were still in tact were selected instead.

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