The A-Bomb and the Japanese Surrender in World War II

Fumio Kyuma, a Japanese defense minister, resigned under pressure for making comments that suggest that the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were a necessary way to end World War II.

It is well documented (and explained in horrific detail in the book Flyboys) that the broiling and burning of Japanese by dropping incendiary bombs caused a tremendous amount more structural damage and loss of life than both atomic bombs combined.

So were the atomic bombs inevitably necessary to end World War II? Not really. The war would’ve ended eventually, either with total (or near total) Japanese destruction or a unconditional surrender. Did the atomic bombs speed the decision to the unconditional surrender? Some would argue yes. I would argue no, however.

As stated earlier, the fire bombs dropped on Tokyo and numerous other cities in Japan caused far greater damage than the atomic bombs. The atomic bombs were simply too expensive to produce and far riskier to drop than several hundred B-29s ready to pour liquid fire on the people (err, targets) below.

The fire bombing was the greater threat to the Japanese at the time, not the atomic bombs being dropped.

16 thoughts on “The A-Bomb and the Japanese Surrender in World War II”

  1. Biscuitrat,

    That's a good point that the atomic bombs were more of a political statement than a military statement. Nagasaki would probably have had a greater loss of life with incendiary bombs than with an atomic one since the bombs could have been dropped in more targeted locations. Nagasaki was an alternate target and very well could have easily been spared.

    I definitely agree that the ending of the war spared millions of lives on both sides combined. It is tough to say whether it was the atomic bombs or fire bombing that resulted in the surrender, but by the time the atomic bombs were dropped, the Japanese were clearly beaten (from America's point of view).

  2. I agree that the firebombs caused more devastation, although the two cities were rather decimated anyway by the atomic bomb, but the atomic bomb created a wave of panic. People had burns and injuries that they had never imagined before.

    But the cost of life, if you measure it like that, of an atomic bomb was far less than the cost of life would have been for a land invasion. First of all, many thousands of American soldiers would have died just getting onto the beaches of Japan. Second, the civilian and Japanese casualties would have increased, and Japan was likely not going to surrender easily to an invasion on its own grounds.

    The Japanese were close to a treaty, but I suppose the United States wanted to establish a very firm — and painful point — as well as take revenge for Pearl Harbor. Of course, the argument can be made that regular bombing runs would have been the only necessary force to push Japan to surrender, but America probably also wanted to make a point to Russia (thus beginning the Cold War), since Stalin was an ally, albeit a cautious one. The atomic bomb has set the standard of warfare — at least, threatened warfare — for the past 60, almost 70 years.

    And to think, we were the ones who created it first.

  3. As a preface: I acknowledge Ronalfy's superior knowledge of WWII compared to mine, so feel free to enlighten any parts of my argument that aren't historically accurate. 🙂 On with the show…

    Two points have been made that Japan was close to surrendering before we nuked Japan. I thought that the Japanese were being coached that every man, woman, and child needs to be ready to fight off the invading force to protect their "god-emperor"? That doesn't put the Japanese very close to surrendering in my book. There would definitely have been great loss of life on both sides if the US had launched a ground invasion of Japan.

    I think one aspect of the atomic bomb has been slightly overlooked. Yes, the fire bombing caused more damage and killed more people, but it was a conventional weapon. After 200 mortar attacks, does one more mortar make a person give up the fight (well, some might…)? Fire isn't all that unusual, even if it is destructive.

    But take the atomic bomb. Can you imagine the impact of seeing that weapon for the first time? It skipped past burning and went straight to vaporizing for a large section of its blast radius. You can put a fire out eventually…how do you stop an atomic bomb? You can't defend against such a weapon. I would guess that it removed a great deal of hope in the Japanese that they could win any war with the US (a ground invasion they could at least fight off).

    Main point: I think the atomic bombs played a huge part in causing Japan to surrender. I think I'll leave the whole "political statement with Russia" thing alone, since I know even less about that aspect than bombing Japan. 🙂


  4. cetroyer,

    Yes the Japanese populace was prepared to fight. If the leadership hadn’t surrendered, the populace very well would have fought to the end. An example would be the battle of Saipan where civilians chose death rather than surrender.

    As far as conventional, I really don’t think the Japanese knew what hit them when the atomic bombs were dropped. Fire bombs terrorized more effectively than atomic bombs, but at least a firebombing campaign could theoretically be outrun.

    As far as putting out a fire… Napalm is extremely hard to extinguish. Couple that with thousands of incendiary bombs and the chance of putting out a fire is nil.

    The atomic bombs played a part in President Truman’s declaration that Japan would be completely destroyed if a unconditional surrender wasn’t made by the Japanese. Hindsight is 20/20, but I think the surrender of the Japanese would have been made around the same time even if the atomic bombs hadn’t been dropped.

  5. Good point on the napalm. Also good point on the Japanese not knowing what hit them. That actually reinforces my point: what is more terrifying, knowing what you are being attacked with or not knowing?

    I am curious why you think that the Japanese would have surrendered even if the bombs had been dropped? I just want the reasoning behind your position. 🙂

    After visiting the WWI and WWII museum in Paris (the one next to Napoleon’s Tomb), I have to disagree with your statement that “Japanese were clearly beaten (from America’s point of view)”. Even up to the very end, the battles for the various islands were vicious, fight-to-the-last man battles. I doubt many Americans thought invading Japan would be any different. Now, if you meant that the Japanese were clearly beaten because their Navy was destroyed and they only had Japan left, but would still put up a fight there, then I agree with you. 🙂


  6. Conventional and firebombs were used on Germany, were used on Japan and were used by Germany on Britian. In none of these cases did the bombs cause the recipients to surrender. The bombs crippled Germany’s ability to retool & rearm and even then, it was a fight all the way to Hitler’s bunker.

    I would expect no less from Japan but with one fundamental difference. Their culture would have led them to fight harder and until every man, woman and child was dead. This is exactly what happened with most battles leading up to the bombing. I believe that the atomic bombs were decisive in the surrender of Japan.

  7. Lance Kilpatrick

    Good points from all who have given them. I am by no means an expert on war or politics but as a scholar of both topics I would like to point out that no one here mentions what the effect that the Soviet declaration of war on Japan would have on any kind of surrender given by Japan. If you remember the Japanese beat the Russians in the Russo-Japanese war during the early years of the Twentieth century. This may seem contridictory but the Russian forces that fought the Japanese in 1904 and 1905 were considerably weaker than the Soviet forces of the 1940’s. Another point to bring up is that Germany had surrendered just days before the Soviets declared war on Japan, meaning that not only would Japan be fighting the US, and British forces but also the Soviets. I cant really say that the bombs were the main reason for surrender or not but I think everything needs to be considered.

  8. How could 3 B-29 even approach to Hiroshima
    At that time no day light bombing were possible by B-29

    How could Building standing 300 meter away

    How could the after bomb shot are very similar toyko fire bomb after shot

    If fusion is chain reaction then how could the sun is not exploding

  9. To answer your questions:

    1) The flight to Hiroshima and back were right at the bomber’s maximum limit.
    2) What was that building made of?
    3) Fire follows any nuclear blast because of the intense heat.
    4) The Sun’s own gravity keeps it from exploding.

  10. 1. japs defense were so fearsome B-29 can’t day bomb
    2. steel concrete dome building 300 meter away
    I think that they made museum out of it actual devastation is due to fire of wooden building

    then what is advantage of neuclear bomb
    it is just same as fire bomb

    4. how come we have sunshine
    are you under estimating of fusion energy

    There were tree every where

    If american knows the effect of hiroshima then how come they expose their soldiers to the neclear blast

  11. The B-29s were flying from Saipan. If they did need to refuel, they could do so on Iwo Jima.

    Tokyo consisted of a lot of wooden structures. Fire bombing nearly wiped the city off the map. The fire bombings also killed more civilians than both atomic bombs combined.

    The Enola Gay flew from Tinian Island, also well within range of Hiroshima.

  12. B-29 day bombing were so unsuccessful
    US Air force switch to night bombing

    Japs has adequate means of defending their air in day light

    Three B-29 never had chance even approach to hiroshima in day light

    I think that hiroshima was fire bombed like toyko since there were no difference in after shot

  13. You’re ignoring historical facts. Such as the ship that delivered the bomb to Tinian and was later sunk returning home.

    There’s also video footage from the Enola Gay as the bomb was dropped.

    Not to mention the thousands of Japanese who died from Gamma radiation after the blast. This comes from nuclear fallout, and is potent for several days after the blast.

    And Japan’s aerial defenses weren’t all that great. Their airforce and navy was practically non-existent, and most of their anti-aircraft was destroyed by bombing.

  14. I think that just goes to show how sensitive this topic remains in Japan, 60 years later. It is interesting how completely the atomic weapons have purged the Japanese soul of belligerence. The Japanese were quite militaristic, historically, prior to their defeat in WWII. I don’t know if their current pacifist attitude is permanent. Perhaps so, as long as American warships protect Japan.

  15. I do believe it was the Emperor and the Imperial Japanese government that needed to be convinced to surrender, not the general population or the military. Indeed, the military chiefs attempted a coup against the Emperor to prevent surrender. Also, Truman was a lot more realistic about Stalin as a long-term ally than Roosevelt had been. I truly believe the United States did the right thing in using the “A-bomb” to bring the war to its conclusion; this is all-the-more remarkable given the extent to which the U.S. Department of State had been infiltrated and occupied by Soviet operatives. Invasion of the Japanese mainland would very likely have resulted in an unimaginable bloodbath on both sides, and even possibly a communist Japan.

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