Were there any pilots that refused (or politely declined) to take part in the operations of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy," knowing the destruction these would cause? Similarly, were there any scientists or officials who resigned from or opted not to take part in the Manhattan Project, or any subsequent projects to create ever more destructive variants of the atom and hydrogen bombs?

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    Were serving US Air Force officers allowed to politely decline orders?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 12:29
  • Off topic because this is a question about an alternate reality in which "orders" has a very different meaning than it has in our reality.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 12:49
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    This is actually a good question, i know many of the scientists opposed the bombs and retired/moved on. Im sure we can find a few instances of people against the bomb. And anyone in the military can refuse and order, thats not a big deal, i mean you go to military jail for a while and then get discharged typically, but orders are declined all the time.
    – Himarm
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 14:21
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    @Himarm The same could be said about armed robbery - you go to jail for a while, then leave, get a felony record, what's the big deal? (although you can technically be shot for disobeying an order in wartime, while the same is not true for armed robbery)
    – cpast
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 7:26
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    @MarkC.Wallace It's not an alternative reality at all. "Orders" means "Do this or there will be consequences". There are many cases where the a member of the military chooses to accept the consequences (dishonourable discharge, jail, even execution) rather than do the thing they were told to do. So it seems perfectly to reasonable if anybody disobeyed this particular order. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 12:08

2 Answers 2


Were there any pilots that declined to carry out the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The answer is no.

Then Lt. Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, who retired a Brigadier General, was put in charge of the newly formed 509th Composite Group of the Army Air Corps in September, 1944 (activated in December, 1944). He was a successful bomber pilot / leader and was recommended to Major General Uzal Ent, who was responsible for getting the atomic bombs dropped on targets, by Dwight Eisenhower himself.

Tibbets was given complete authority by Uzal to appropriate, transport and make needed alterations, etc. of the planes to be used. He also was allowed to pick and train the flight crews for the group--as well as the missions themselves.

Tibbets was the only member of the 509th who knew in advance what the missions would be, though it is likely others guessed as the time drew near. In preparation for the missions, Tibbets developed a dramatic diving turn for the bomber that he insisted all pilots of the group adapt and practice.

The idea behind the plane--and crew--stressing move was to create immediate speed to put as much distance as possible between the B-29 Super Fortress and the impact point of the bomb after the drop. All crews were required by Tibbets to have practiced the drop a minimum of 50 times.

All of the personnel associated with the 509th were well-trained and as best as I have been able to determine, all were excited to participate as well.

All crews had completed a minimum of 17 practice missions over Japan, dropping 10,000 lb. special "pumpkin" bombs, roughly the size and shape of the atomic bombs. All crews also participated in a minimum of 12 actual bombing missions just prior to the real events as well.

Tibbets, as the person responsible for picking mission crews, picked himself for the Hiroshima mission and Major Charles Sweeney for the second.

Just before take-off Tibbets gathered his crew together for a meeting. Without revealing exactly what they were going to do, he told them the mission was extremely dangerous. He also said anyone who wanted out would be allowed to do so without any question or recrimination. Everyone stayed. Only after being airborne were the crew advised about the mission.

The same was the case for the second mission.

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    Don't you mean Major Charles Sweeney? Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 1:18
  • Yes! Darn it! Thanks for correcting me. I knew the name but had one of my ever increasing senior moments....
    – kevin king
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 1:52
  • Also, one other fact that I forgot to include in my original answer. All personnel for the 509th Composite Group were volunteers. According to at least one source en.wikipedia.org/wiki/509th_Composite_Group the wash-out rate for volunteers air crews was as high as 80% during training.
    – kevin king
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 2:08
  • With an all volunteer force and difficult training, it's even less likely anybody would want to be excused from the duty.
    – kevin king
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 2:11
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    Could you add (a) source(s) to your answer, please?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 15:25

This questions "asks a negative" so it is impossible to answer with absolute certainty, but I would highly doubt there was any hesitation among the air crews.

The B-29 crews were all elite crews who were highly expert and highly committed to the war effort. These men had already been fire bombing Tokyo and cities in Okinawa, so I doubt they had any qualms about killing Japanese civilians.

At the time, none of the current stigma over nuclear weapons existed. All they knew is that it was a powerful bomb. Of what the effects would be, they had no specific knowledge beyond what the missions required.

The Pacific war in general was a very brutal one, and both sides almost never took prisoners. The Japanese perpetrated gruesome tortures on any wounded they found left alive and frequently left the mutilated bodies where they knew Americans would find them. Our soldiers had ZERO sympathy for the Japanese and were doing the maximum to kill as many as they could. If some big blockbuster bomb worked, so much the better as far as they were concerned.

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    @BrunoHeblingVieira I am not trying to analyze which side was more vicious, I am just trying to get the OP to understand that it was really unlikely anybody declined the Atom bomb missions for reasons of conscience. Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 3:24
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    That only pertains the US soldiers, stating brutal acts commited by Japanese military personnel is beyond the point.
    – Firebug
    Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 3:43
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    @BrunoHeblingVieira No, it is very much to the point, because the OP needs to understand the reasons for the motivations and attitudes of the soldiers to understand why they would be bombing civilians so aggressively. Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 3:46
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    My question is not about what feelings about violence were on either side at the time of the war, but only whether there were any specific individuals in or outside the military who refused to take part in either the development of atomic weapons or their actual detonation. In the case that there were such individuals, they likely left some historical record. For example, if a pilot refused to drop a bomb, and faced some sort of consequences, there would be some military record of that. If a scientist resigned or refused to take part in the Manhattan Project, there would be a record of that.
    – Rasputin
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 1:23
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    Therefore, while the question may require some research (which your answer is conspicuously lacking in), it is certainly not "impossible" to answer. As a reasonable person should be able to see, I'm not asking for the identification of every single individual who took such action, but for as many as we can identify by searching the historical records. One such individual was Bernard Baruch, who in 1947 resigned his position as representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Baruch). Baruch's plan for the elimination of atomic weapons was
    – Rasputin
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 1:32

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