Friday, June 17, 2005

Dropping the Atomic Bomb

Dropping the Atomic Bomb

Deborah Sinclaire

While US President Harry Truman was meeting with Allied leaders in Germany in July 1945, he received an important message from a small town in the middle of the New Mexico desert: "Babies satisfactorily born." These codewords indicated that American scientists had detonated the first atom bomb. Now, Truman had to decide what to do with his terrible "babies."

The stage was set for an invasion of the Japanese mainland, and US military planners expected the Japanese to defend their homes with even more determination than they had defended islands like Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. That was a grim prospect considering that almost 13,000 Americans had died at Okinawa alone. More than 200,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians had died in that battle, many in suicidal attacks. US War Secretary Henry Stimson therefore envisioned the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall, as "a score of bloody Iwo Jimas and Okinawas." American casualties during the operation were projected at one million or more. For Japan, the figures would be staggering, possibly in excess of 10 million.

For Allied leaders like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the atom bomb held the hope that the war could be ended "in one or two violent shocks." Truman agreed, believing the bomb would save many more lives than it would cost. For the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that cost was 200,000 people who died within minutes, and thousands more who died of injuries and radiation sickness in the coming months. Japan, not knowing that the US had used its only two atom bombs, surrendered. The war was over, but the atomic age--and the many new and complex problems that came with it--was born.


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