Truman and Allies approve use of atomic bomb

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).

Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).

The death of Roosevelt had catapulted Harry S. Truman into a position of awesome responsibility for which he had little preparation. He had not been privy to the work of the Atomic research programme while Vice President but now he had to give the final authorisation for the use of the new weapons.

The Allies were still actively planning Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese mainland, and their forecasts of anticipated casualties varied widely. In June President Truman had been briefed that it might cost over 250,000 US fatalities. Another study, after the bloody experience on Okinawa had been absorbed into the thinking, placed the range at up to 4 million U.S. casualties with fatalities between 400,000 – 800,000 – Japanese casualties were assumed to be several times greater, including a high proportion of civilians.

It was in this context that Truman was presented with the news of the successful Trinity test and the option of using the new Atomic Bomb. He outlined the circumstances in his diary, in which, curiously, he refers to himself as the US President:

Diary: Potsdam 25 July 1945

We met at eleven today. That is Stalin, Churchill, and the US President. But I had a most important session with Lord Mountbatten and General Marshall before that. We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.

Anyway we “think” we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling — to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower 1/2 mile away and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.

This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.

He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance.

It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.

See Mr. President: THE FIRST PUBLICATION FROM THE PERSONAL DIARIES, PRIVATE LETTERS, PAPERS AND REVEALING INTERVIEWS OF Harry S. Truman, THIRTY-SECOND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

On the 26th July the Allies issued a statement calling upon Japan to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction”.

Stalin, Truman and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Clement Attlee, Churchill's political opponent in the British General Election, stands in the background between Truman and Churchill.

Stalin, Truman and Churchill at the Potsdam conference. Clement Attlee, Churchill’s political opponent in the British General Election, stands in the background between Truman and Churchill.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Vitee January 31, 2017 at 7:48 am

“Rare color photograph of the first nuclear test at Trinity site, July 16, 1945. Blurriness is in the original photograph (done when color photography was still fairly new).”

The “blurriness” in the photo has nothing to do with how “new” colour photography was at the time – in fact it wasn’t new at all – it was likely due to not being able to focus on the explosion due the fact that the photographer would have been blinded – permanently!

zen January 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

..Sorry Minor Heretic, but it is War that is immoral.

Editor July 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm

It is important to remember that Ladislas Faragó is more noted for his ability to sell colourful books than his skill as a scrupulous historian and respecter of the facts.

“The most successful disinformer or dupe was the American Ladislas Faragó, ‘a somewhat Hemingway-esque figure with a strong Hungarian accent and a confidential manner’, whose ‘good connections with the CIA and secret services of several European countries enabled him to investigate and publish on a non-attributable basis’ a series of half correct tales.” Ronald Newton

Minor Heretic July 28, 2015 at 12:58 am

If you can find it, read a book titled “Burn After Reading” by a former Naval Intelligence staff officer named Farago. He documents that the Japanese had been trying to arrange a surrender through multiple channels for months before the first atomic bomb dropped. Most of them were acknowledged as genuine by the various intelligence services, but all were ignored.

Really, Truman wasn’t facing hundreds of thousands of casualties. He was facing a decision between abrupt, definitive action and tricky back-channel negotiation. He was also facing the post-war problem of the Soviet Union. And everyone in the Pacific bomber command knew that Hiroshima wasn’t really a military target.

He made a politically expedient decision (domestically and geopolitically) at the expense of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was immoral.

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