.. ‘t see any reason why they shouldn’t always be. This feeling expressed by Truman of what seems like sincere desire for a friendship is reinforced in Truman’s gratitude towards Harry Hopkins, whom he sent to meet with Joseph Stalin and set the stage for the upcoming Potsdam Conference, and was greatly pleased about the good progress Hopkins made. In a telegram to Truman on 12 May 1945 Winston Churchill expressed his fear and concerns that the Allies, his country included, were withdrawing troops out of Europe, and asked, Meanwhile what is to happen about Russia? Feis states that, “If, as Alperovitz maintains, Truman was seeking a showdown with Russia would he not have responded to Churchill’s fears and ordered America’s troops to stay in Eastern Europe? That way when the delayed showdown did occur, he would still have military leverage in Europe.” Instead Truman continued to withdraw his American troops from Eastern Europe. Later Truman explained his reasoning: We were 150 miles east of the border of the occupation zone line agreed to at Yalta.
I felt that agreements made in the war to keep Russia fighting should be kept and I kept them to the letter. In these statements, Feis saw a sincere desire not to have a confrontation with Russia, or to intimidate them, but rather a real desire to cooperate with them. In a letter to his wife on 18 July Truman told her that, a start has been made and I’ve gotten what I came for–Stalin goes to war August 15 with no strings on it. There is no antagonism in these words, only pleasure over Stalin’s entrance. Nevertheless, there is one single, yet extremely important, diary entry which seems to support the Alperovitz theory.
In his diary on 17 July, the first day of the Potsdam Conference, Truman recorded that, Most of the big points are settled. [Stalin will] be in the Jap war on August 15th. Fini Japs when that comes about. Those last six words are of the utmost importance, for they strongly suggest that Truman desired not to receive help from the Russians, but instead to finish the war before Russian aid came into being. Perhaps, as Alperovitz maintains, there may well have been a desire on Truman’s part to drop the bomb to gain an upper hand against Russia.
In hindsight it appears as if there existed five major alternatives to the dropping of the atomic bombs: a non-combat demonstration, a modification of the demand for unconditional surrender, a pursuit of Japanese peace feelers, awaiting Soviet entry into the war and lastly continuing conventional warfare–aerial bombing of cities and naval blockade. Nevertheless, the first two of these are arguably the most realistic, and therefore my discussion will be limited to the first two only. A non-combat demonstration would have entailed either dropping the bomb in a desolate area with international observers or the dropping of the bomb on an unpopulated area of Japan. This alternative was brought up twice, once on 31 May 1945 at the Interim Committee Lunch and again in the Frank Committee report on 11 June 1945. The recommendation by the Scientific Panel (presided over by the four principal physicists involved in the Manhattan Project–Fermi, Lawrence, Compton and Oppenheimer) was to use the bomb only in direct military use.
This recommendation was collectively embraced by Stimson, Truman, Byrnes and others because they feared that the bomb might turn out to be a dud and thus prove counterproductive toward intimidating the Japanese, and also because there was a severe limit to the materials on hand; as Stimson later wrote we had no bombs to waste. Thus this alternative was not pursued, for the logistical obstacles were thought to be difficult to overcome, and Allied military and political advisors were not sure the observers would be allowed to report the demonstration to the Japanese Emperor accurately. The second alternative to dropping the bomb would have been to modify the American demand for the unconditional surrender so as to guarantee the continuance of the Japanese emperor. It was believed by many American officials that this was the single issue restraining the peace factions in Japan. After consulting with Joseph Grew and Harry Hopkins, who both believed that Japan was already on the verge of defeat, Admiral Leahy recommenced to Truman on 18 June 1945 that the demand for unconditional surrender be modified.
Truman commented that he would think about it, but voiced concern over public opinion on this matter. Secretary of Stimson concurred, and in his 2 July 1945 memorandum to Truman he wrote that he advised adding the clause that while the United States demanded a peacefully inclined government, they would not exclude a constitutional monarchy under [Japan’s] present dynasty. In the end Truman did not accept this recommendation, and the Potsdam Deceleration was released without any mention of the Japanese emperor. Truman made this decision because he feared that such a modification might embolden the Japanese to fight on for better terms. Ironically, when Japan’s surrender was accepted on 14 August, the emperor was allowed to remain in power. Thus, this alternative to dropping the bomb was eventually embraced, but only after the bombs were dropped, when it was no longer an alternative.
Since these alternatives were not explored by Truman and his officials, Feis thought that it could never be known if the atomic bombs were indeed a savior of lives. Still, Feis stated that it was still possible to consider hypothetical situations. Feis wanted us to assume that Truman explored the two major alternatives above, and perhaps the three others as well. The first possibility is that the alternatives might have been successful before 1 November 1945. In this case the bombs were not savior of lives, but rather robbed Japan of as many as 240,000 innocent citizens.
The second possibility is that the alternatives would have failed, and the November invasion would have proceeded as planned. To decide if the bomb would have been a savior of lives had the alternative failed, Feis could only guess how many Americans and Japanese would have died in the November invasion. Truman, Stimson wanted the American public to believe that the invasion would have cost America one million casualties, but there was no evidence available to support this claim. In a meeting on 18 June the Joint War Plans Committee gave Truman projected death rates ranging from a low of 31,000 to a high of 50,000, and a projected causality rate (deaths, injuries and missing) of 132,500. During the fighting in the Pacific, from 1 March 1944 to 1 May 1945, the Japanese were killed at a ratio of 22 to 1.
Thus, Feis used an estimate of 40,00 Americans that would die, it was determined that there would be 880,000 Japanese deaths–for a combined total of 920,000 deaths. Although death rates for Hiroshima and Nagasaki vary widely, none were even half this high. Thus it was conclude that if an invasion of Kyushu had been necessary, and the Japanese were killed at a rate comparable to previous fighting, then the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved lives. The decision to drop atomic bombs of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is one of the most written about contemporary historical topics. Well over fifty major, fully-researched and unique books are accessible to the public on this fascinating topic, and perhaps as many as three hundred historical journals have been written as well. Still, the majority of these articles are polarized–either the dropping of the bombs was an immoral diplomatic maneuver or a glorious military action.
To anyone with a sincere desire for objectivity, a moderated view seems most reasonable, recognizing that it was a combination of military, diplomatic and domestic issues that led to Truman’s decision. In addition, instead of passionately declaring the bomb to have cost innocent lives, or declaring blankly that it was without doubt a savior of lives, it seems most reasonable to conclude that we simply can not tell. Furthermore, Truman became President only weeks before making his monumental decision; he seems to have dropped the bomb simply because he never considered not dropping the bomb. Together with his advisors, Truman never thought to rethink the basic principals established under the Manhattan Project’s inception under Roosevelt, and therefore dropped the bomb because they believed in their heart it was the right thing to do, and never reconsidered.