Truman's Decision to Drop the Bomb

From  Memoirs:  Year of Decisions

Harry S Truman

Questions to Consider

  1. According to Harry Truman, what did the advisory committee recommend?

  2. What were Truman's alternatives to dropping the atomic bomb?

  3. What is the significance of this selection?

  4. Was dropping the bomb needed to end the war?

  5. How did the bomb affect foreign relations after the war?

        Stimson was one of the very few men responsible for the setting up of the atomic bomb project.  He had taken a keen and active interest in every stage of its development.  He said he wanted specifically to talk to me today about the effect the atomic bomb might likely have on our future foreign relations.

        He explained that he thought it necessary for him to share his thoughts with me about the revolutionary changes in warfare that might result from the atomic bomb and the possible effects of such a weapon on our civilization.

        I listened with absorbed interest, for Stimson was a man of great wisdom and foresight.  He went into considerable detail in describing the nature and the power of the projected weapon.  If expectations were to be realized, he told me, the atomic bomb would be certain to have a decisive influence on our relations with other countries.  And if it worked, the bomb, in all probability, would shorten the war....

        My own knowledge of these developments had come about only after I became president, when Secretary Stimson had given me the full story.  He had told me at that time that the project was nearing completion and that a bomb could be expected within another four months.  It was at his suggestion, too, that I had then set up a committee of top men and had asked them to study with great care the implications the new weapon might have for us....

        It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon at it could b done.  They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning and against a target that would clearly show its devastating strength.  I had realized, of course, that an atomic bomb explosion would inflict damage and casualties beyond imagination.  On the other hand, the scientific advisers of the committee reported, "We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use."  It was their conclusion that no technical demonstration they might propose, such as over a deserted island, would be likely to bring the war to an end.  It had to be used against an enemy target.

        The final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb was up to me.  Let there be no mistake about it.  I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used.  The top military advisers to the President recommended its use, and when I talked to Churchill he unhesitatingly told me that he favored the use of the atomic bomb if it might aid to end the war....

        In deciding to use this bomb I wanted to make sure that it would be used as a weapon of war in the manner prescribed by the laws of war.  That meant that I wanted it dropped on a military target.  I had told Stimson that the bomb should be dropped as nearly as possibly upon a war production center of prime military importance....

        Four cities were finally recommended as targets; Hiroshima, Kokura, Nigata, and Nagasaki.  They were listed in that order as targets for the importance of these cities, but allowance would be given for weather conditions at the time of the bombing....

        On August 6, the fourth day of the journey home from Potsdam, came the historic news that shook the world.  I was eating lunch with members of the Augusta's crew when Captain Frank Graham, White House Map Room watch officer, handed me the following message:

Big bomb dropped on Hiroshima August 5 at 7:15 P.M. Washington time.  First reports indicate complete success which was even more conspicuous than earlier test.

I was greatly moved.  I telephoned Byrnes aboard ship to give him the news and then said to the group of sailors around me, "This is the greatest thing in history.  It's time for us to get home."