Eisenhower’s Opposition to Dropping the Bomb

I had always, maybe somewhat reflexively, argued that the atom bombs convinced a recalcitrant Japan to surrender, saving us from having to engage in an unfathomably brutal invasion.  But I just came across this passage, from page 10 of this book:
<blockquote>Eisenhower had little, if any, influence on President Harry S. Truman’s decision.  Not until the final Big Three conference at Potsdam in mid-July did he even learn that scientists and engineers working under the direction of the army had been trying to develop a bomb since the beginning of the war.  Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson informed him that the first bomb had just been successfully tested and that this revolutionary weapon would be used to force the surrender of Japan.  Eisenhower strenuously objected.  Japan was already defeated and making overtures for peace, he protested, and the use of such a devastating weapon might tarnish the image of the United States at the moment of its greatest international triumph.  Truman’s mind was made up, however, before hearing Eisenhower’s arguments.  Truman believed that the bomb would shorten the war and save the lives of American soldiers.  Furthermore, accepting the advice of Stimson, he believed that the bomb could be a “master card” in international relations, a weapon of such awesome force that it would give the United States a decisive advantage in peace negotiations with the Soviets.</blockquote>

I have a lot to learn about how our decision was made.


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8 Responses to “Eisenhower’s Opposition to Dropping the Bomb”

  1. bayesian Says:

    Hello Elvis –

    Sorry for delay in commenting. The author Pach seems real enough (http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~pach/) but I wonder how he sourced Eisenhower’s view that using the Bomb might “tarnish the image” of the US. It somewhat triggers my anachronistic projection detector (that is, I suspect the author is projecting his own view of the result).

    If you have the book, did Eisenhower have anything to say about the firebombing campaign against Japan (which in my mind comes much closer to being a war crime than Hiroshima, was already well in gear by the time of Potsdam, and was hardly a secret)?

  2. Elvis Elvisberg Says:

    Thanks for commenting– sorry for my delay in responding! I’ll check the book tonight. The book plays up the dislike between Truman and Ike, but that didn’t really flare up until well after the war.

  3. JamesC Says:

    I’ve done a fair amount of reading lately on WWII books, including Omar Bradley’s book that reveals much about the decisions the made by Eisenhower and his generals. I also recently finished the books “Enola Gay” by Thomas/Morgan-Witts and “Duty” by Bob Green.

    I’d like to offer my perspective regarding Eisenhower’s oft quoted remarks that the Bomb was not necessary because Japan was “already defeated”. There was a big difference between Eisenhower’s European Theatre and the Pacific Theatre. As the Allied forces closed the noose on the Nazi forces, bringing the fight across the Rhine into the German homeland, there were more and more cases of German soldiers surrendering. Sure there were a few fanatical SS soldiers, but they were the exception. Villagers would flag their sheets on every window to show their intent to surrender. The only suicides involved top commanders here and there. Now compare that to what was happening in the Pacific. As the noose closed on Japan the reaction was quite different. Japanese commanders on Iwo Jima charged each of their soldiers to kill 10 Marines before they themselves were killed or committed suicide. On Okinawa the Japanese forces had a similar strategy and wholesale use of kamikaze pilots also came into play. Civilians deaths there were approximately 100,000 including thousands of suicides encouraged and even assisted by the Japanese military. As the U.S. military planners looked to the invasion of the main island of Japan they had hard statistics from which to base their calculations of hundred of thousands of casualties on both sides. And Japan was bringing hundreds of thousands of additional troops back from China to help defend the home island.

    So I understand Eisenhower’s opinion from his perspective of fighting Germany. But Japan was a completely different story.

  4. Elvis Elvisberg Says:

    First off, bayesian, my apologies for taking forever to get back on this. Hope you drop by again to get the answer to your question. The source for the above paragraph is Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance, pp. 220-38. The reviews at Amazon indicate that it’s a very well-researched book. This article indicates that he has a point of view on the matter, but researching things often leads to forming opinions.

    JamesC, thanks for reading and for your comment. Your argument that the mentality of the Japanese soldiers and civilians was even more extreme than that of the Germans is definitely plausible. The mass suicides in Okinawa were, I believe, encouraged by the Japanese military. That’s hardly fatal to your point, though, if the powers running Japan were ready to encourage civilian suicides rather than surrender.

    Here is a brief point-counterpoint I found by searching for the phrase “already defeated” that you mention in your post. The scholar who argues “no” doesn’t quote anyone from the Pacific Theater.

    I’m very new to this debate, embarrassingly, which is why I was so taken aback by the passage quoted in this post. I’m not arguing one way or the other, for lack of knowledge. But I’m realizing that it’s at least complicated enough that I can’t just assume we did good because we’re us, which was how I’d always tended to think of it.

    As for WWII books, “Is Paris Burning?” is very readable, written I think by two Newsweek reporters. It’s a history of how the liberation of Paris happened, the stories of various key figures and witnesses, rather than purely military history, though many high-level military sources are quoted.

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