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UNIT 6: JAPAN SURRENDERS

(first draft)

Source: The entire first draft of the script can be found in Judgement at the Smithsonian (New York: Marlowe Company, 1995)

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UNIT 6: JAPAN SURRENDERS

(final draft)

Source: The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II by the Curators of the National Air and Space Museum

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The introduction of nuclear weapons into the world, and their first use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, left powerful legacies beyond the long-term radiation effects on the survivors. For Japan, the United States and its Allies, a horrific war was brought to an abrupt end, although at a cost debated to this day; for the world, a nuclear arms race unfolded that still threatens unimaginable devastation. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be said to have simply caused either the end of the war or the nuclear arms race, but they have exercised a profound influence as military and political acts, as symbols of the arrival of the nuclear age, and as a glimpse of the realities of nuclear war.

JAPAN SURRENDERS

The sudden surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945 --only eight days after the bombing of Hiroshima and five days after Nagasaki --have led many to believe that the atomic bomb alone forced the Japanese government to accept defeat. Actually, the bombings were one of two major shocks to Japan. the other was the Soviet Union's declaration of war on August 8/0, which destroyed the hopes of the Japanese elite for a compromise peace through Moscow. The Soviet declaration was immediately followed by a massive surprise attack on the Japanese Army in north China.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nevertheless played a crucial role in ending the Pacific War quickly. Some have argued that no atomic bombs were needed to shock the Japanese leadership, because a peace agreement was already possible if Emperor Hirohito's position had been guaranteed. Others have argued that only one bomb was needed and that the destruction inflicted on Nagasaki was unnecessary. These matters remain hotly contested, but surrender of Japan was doubtlessly a critical legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

JAPAN SURRENDERS

"The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the Japanese war. It stopped the fire raids, and the strangling blockade; it ended the ghastly specter of the clash of great land armies."

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson

The atomic attacks played the crucial role in the sudden surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945 --only eight days after the bombing of Hiroshima and five days after Nagasaki. They were accompanied by the Soviet Union's declaration of war on August 8-9, which destroyed the hopes of the Japanese elite for a compromise peace through Moscow. Immediately following their declaration of war, the Soviets launched a massive surprise attack, overrunning the Japanese army in Manchuria and Korea.

Allied prisoners of war cheer rescuers, as the U.S. Navy arrives at the Aomori POW camp near Yokohama, August 29, 1945. They are waving the flags of the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.

Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute

HIROSHIMA AND THE SOVIET DECLARATION OF WAR

For days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the Japanese government had only sketchy information. The destruction was so massive that the city was effectively cut off from the rest of the world. The shock effect of Hiroshima was thus largely derived from President Truman's August 6 announcement of the nuclear attack, repeated on Allied radio stations. That announcement simultaneously revealed to the world the ultra-secret Manhattan Project.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima also shocked the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin. He had promised to enter the Pacific war, but the offensive was not planned until mid-August or later. Afraid that the war would be over before the Soviet Union could gain a share of the spoils, on the evening of August 7, Moscow time, Stalin ordered Soviet forces to attack the Japanese Army in north China twenty-four hours later, at midnight August 8/9, Far Eastern Time. Shortly before that, the Japanese ambassador was handed a surprise declaration of war.

HIROSHIMA AND THE SOVIET DECLARATION OF WAR

Soon after the bombing of Hiroshima, the Japanese government received reports about the destruction of the city and the unique character of the weapon. President Truman's August 6 announcement of the nuclear attack, broadcast throughout the world, increased the shock of the bombing because it revealed to the world the United States' harnessing of atomic power --a stunning and revolutionary achievement.

The Soviet offensive against Japan was not planned to take place until mid-August. Afraid that the war would be over before he could gain a share of the spoils, on the evening of August 7, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered his forces to attack the Japanese army in north China 24 hours later. Shortly beforehand, the Japanese ambassador was handed a surprise declaration of war.

Headlines from U.S. newspapers about Hiroshima.

No caption needed.

Soviet tanks and trucks in the Manchurian steppe in north China, August 1945.

Courtesy of Sovfoto/Eastfoto

Campaign map

The Soviet campaign against the Japanese army in northern China and Korea, August 1945.

THE EMPEROR INTERVENES

"The time has come when we must bear the unbearable... I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation..."

Emperor Hirohito, August 10, 1945

The Japanese government and military leadership was unable to meet until August 9, after the Soviet declaration of war. Throughout the day, the peace faction, led by Foreign Minister Togo, was stalemated by the military hard-liners, who would not accept surrender. Even the news of the Nagasaki bombing did not change the situation. The key stumbling block was the preservation of the monarchy. Togo argued for accepting the Allies' Potsdam Proclamation, as long as it "would not comprise any demand which would prejudice the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler."

The political deadlock provoked an emergency conference with Emperor Hirohito in his air-raid bunker, beginning around midnight, August 9/10. At the end, the Emperor clearly stated his wish that Japan offer surrender on Togo's terms.

THE EMPEROR INTERVENES

"The time has come when we must bear the unbearable.... I swallow my own tears and give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation."

Emperor Hirohito, August 10, 1945

The Japanese government and military leadership was unable to meet until August 9, after the Soviet declaration of war. Throughout the day, the peace faction, led by Foreign Minister Togo, was stalemated by the military hard-liners, who would not accept surrender. Even the news of the Nagasaki bombing did not break the deadlock. The key issue was the preservation of the monarchy. Togo argued for accepting the Allies' Potsdam Declaration, as long as it "would not comprise any demand which would prejudice the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler."

The deadlock provoked an emergency conference with Emperor Hirohito in his air-raid bunker around midnight, August 9/10. At the end of this meeting, the Emperor stated his wish that Japan offer to surrender on the terms proposed by Togo.

Emperor Hirohito meeting with the Supreme War Council.

Courtesy of Lapi-Viollet

TRUMAN AND THE EMPEROR QUESTION

"From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate the surrender terms."

U.S. note to Japan, August 10, 1945

The Japanese surrender offer of August 10, which sought to keep Emperor Hirohito on the throne, provoked disagreement among President Truman's advisers. The President's Chief of Staff, Admiral Leahy, argued for immediate acceptance. Secretary of State Byrnes felt, however, that the Japanese condition would lead to "the crucifixion of the President" by an angry public demanding "unconditional surrender." Truman eventually instructed Byrnes to dodge the issue by sending a note that said nothing about the ultimate fate of the Emperor.

TRUMAN AND THE EMPEROR QUESTION

"From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers who will take such steps as he deems proper to effectuate the surrender terms."

U.S. note to Japan, August 10, 1945

The Japanese surrender offer of August 10, which sought to keep Emperor Hirohito on the throne, provoked disagreement among President Truman's advisers. The President's Chief of Staff, Admiral Leahy, argued for immediate acceptance. Secretary of State Byrnes felt, however, that a clear statement that the Emperor could stay would lead to "the crucifixion of the President" by an angry public demanding unconditional surrender. Truman eventually instructed Byrnes to send a note that said nothing about the ultimate fate of the Emperor.

American servicemen read news of the Japanese surrender offer, August 10, 1945.

Courtesy of

NO THIRD ATOMIC BOMB

On August 10, during discussions of the Japanese surrender offer, President Truman ordered that no more atomic bombs be dropped without his consent. He told Commerce Secretary and former Vice President Henry Wallace that he did not like killing "all those kids." Although he had written in his Potsdam diary in July that the target for the first bomb would be "purely military," he clearly understood after Hiroshima that whole cities and their inhabitants were the target.

General Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, held up the shipment to the Pacific of the plutonium 239 core for another "Fat Man" bomb. Otherwise it would have been available for a mission from Tinian around August 24. The original primary target for the Nagasaki mission, Kokura, would probably have been chosen, although there was some talk of attacking Tokyo. Further plutonium cores could have been shipped to the Pacific approximately every three to four weeks thereafter. But no uranium 235 for a "Little Boy"-type bomb would have been available for some months.

NO THIRD ATOMIC BOMB

On August 10, while discussing the Japanese surrender offer, President Truman ordered that no more atomic bombs be dropped until further notice. According to the diary of Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace, Truman told the Cabinet that "the thought of wiping out another 1000,000 people was too horrible. He didn't like killing, as he said, 'all those kids.'" Although he had written in his Potsdam diary in July that the target for the first bomb would be purely military, Truman clearly understood after Hiroshima that whatever the target, atomic bombs could destroy whole cities.

Because of Truman's order, General Groves held up the shipment to the Pacific of the plutonium 239 core for another "Fat Man" bomb, which was to be available for a mission around August 20. Further plutonium cores could have been shipped to the Pacific about every three to four weeks thereafter. But no uranium 235 for a "Little Boy" bomb would have been available for some months.

"For myself I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the 'pigheadedness' of the leaders of a nation, and, for your information, I am not going to do it unless it is absolutely necessary. It is my opinion that after the Russians enter into the war the Japanese will very shortly fold up. My object is to save as many American lives as possible but I also have a human feeling for the women and children of Japan."

President Harry S. Truman to Senator Richard Russell, August 9, 1945

(if available)

On this August 10, 1945, memorandum from General Groves to General Marshall, Marshall has written that a third bomb is " not to be released on Japan without express authority from the President."

Lent by the National Archives

A "LIVING GOD" SPEAKS

The failure of American note of August 10 to clearly guarantee the Emperor's position provoked another dangerous deadlock in the Japanese ruling elite. The militarist hard-liners felt that there was no choice but to fight the war to the bitter end. After some careful maneuvering by the leaders of the peace faction, Marquis Kido and Foreign Minister Togo, the Emperor called another emergency conference in the Imperial Palace air-raid bunker on August 14. Hirohito once again broke the deadlock by asking that the government accept the American terms.

During the night of August 14/15, ultra-right-wing military officer tried to overthrow the government to prevent the surrender, but the attempt failed because of lack of support in the Army. At noon, Tokyo time, August 15, 1945, the Japanese people for the first time heard the voice of the Emperor on the radio. His recorded message was hard to understand, because it was in archaic, court Japanese, but it conveyed stunning news: Japan had lost the war.

In all Allied countries, that same day was one of riotous celebration: V-J Day. World War II was over.

A "LIVING GOD" SPEAKS

The American note of August 10 did not clearly guarantee the Emperor's position. This provoked another deadlock in the Japanese ruling elite. Even after the atomic bombings, the militarist hard-liners felt that there was no choice but to fight the war to the bitter end. After some careful maneuvering by the leaders of the peace faction, the Emperor called another emergency conference in the Imperial Palace air bunker on August 14 and once again asked the government accept the American terms.

During the night of August 14-15, military officers tried to overthrow the government to prevent the surrender, but the attempt failed because of lack of support in the Army. At noon, Tokyo time, August 15, 1945, the Japanese people for the first time heard the voice of the Emperor on the radio. His recorded message was hard to understand, because it was in archaic, court Japanese, but it conveyed stunning news: Japan had lost the war.

In all Allied countries, that same day was one of riotous celebration: V-J Day. World War II was over.

"The enemy has begin to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should We continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliterating of the Japanese nation, but it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects; or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.... It is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable."

"The peace party did not prevail until the bombing of Hiroshima created a situation which could be dramatized."

Emperor Hirohito to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, September 27, 1945

THE COLD WAR AND THE NUCLEAR ARMS RACE

"A single demand of you, comrades, provide us with atomic weapons in the shortest possible time. You know that Hiroshima has shaken the whole world. The equilibrium has been destroyed. Provide the bomb --it will remove a great danger from us."

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, mid-August 1945, to Munitions Minister Vannikov and chief nuclear scientist Kurchatov

Hiroshima and Nagasaki cannot be said to have caused either the Cold War or the nuclear arms race between East and West, but the first use of these weapons nevertheless had profound effects. The Soviet Union had had a small nuclear project since 1942, but the news of the bombings spurred it into a crash program. Stalin would have wanted to acquire the atomic bomb in any case, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki were frightening demonstrations of the power of these weapons.

Following the Soviet Union's lead, Great Britain, France and China all started their own bomb projects. By the 1960's, two bomb s had become tens of thousands of bombs.

THE FAILURE OF INTERNATIONAL CONTROL

Immediately after World War II, American scientists pushed the idea of "international control": all atomic weapons would be put in the hands of the United Nations to prevent a worldwide arms race. The United States government proposed a version of that idea called the "Baruch plan," after the chief American delegate to the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission, Bernard Baruch.

To many in the United States, the Baruch plan looked like an unprecedented offer to give away America's greatest military secret, but to the Soviet Union, the plan appeared to guarantee the continuation of the American nuclear monopoly, at least in the short run. Fear and mutual distrust between the two sides prevented the plan from being enacted. As conflicts over the fate of Eastern Europe and other regions heated up in the late 1940s, the Cold War ended any possibility of even limiting a nuclear arms race to a smaller number of weapons.

MORE BOMBS AND BIGGER BOMBS

On August 23(?), 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. The Truman administration responded with a crash program to build a "hydrogen bomb" that would harness the fusion power fueling the Sun and the stars. When the United States exploded the world's first thermonuclear device on November 1, 1952, it was nearly one thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. An entire Pacific atoll was vaporized and the fireball was so huge it could have enveloped much of the island of Manhattan. The Russians responded with their first primitive thermonuclear device in 1953 and their first full-scale hydrogen bomb in 1955.

The United States and the Soviet Union also began to build la4ge numbers of smaller "tactical" nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield and in short-range attacks. Great Britain staged its first atomic test in 1953 and exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1958. As a result, the number of nuclear weapons in the world skyrocketed into the thousands in the 1950s.

THE VOYAGE OF THE LUCKY DRAGON

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fear of the radiation effects of nuclear weapons grew, but it was the hydrogen bomb tests of the mid-1950s that made nuclear "fall-out" into a world-wide issue. Particularly important was the United States' "BRAVO" test of March 1, 1954. The bomb was twice as powerful as planned and radioactive dust fell on the natives of Rongelap Atoll and on the Japanese fishing vessel, the Lucky Dragon No. 5. When the boat returned to Japan two weeks later, the crew was suffering from the classic effects of radiation sickness. One crew member died.

The Lucky Dragon incident profoundly shocked Japan. A panic broke out about the possible radioactive pollution of tuna fish. In America, many were angered by government denials that radiation had anything to do with the fishermen's illness.

THE RISE OF THE ANTI-NUCLEAR MOVEMENT

The hydrogen bomb tests of the mid-1950s and the Lucky Dragon incident energized the anti-nuclear movement around the world. Although there had been movements ever since 1945 to "Ban the Bomb" and advocate "One World or None," nuclear fall-out and the frightening power of the new "H-bombs" made the arms race much more personally threatening to many around the world.

The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became especially important as international symbols of the dangers of nuclear war. Commemorations had been held every year in the two cities on the anniversaries of the bombings, but it was the tenth anniversary ceremonies in 1955 that first gathered wide international attention.

DIDN'T THEY ALL GO CRAZY?

One of the strangest myths that emerged out of the growing fear of nuclear weapons was the belief that the aircrews on the Hiroshima missions all had gone insane and killed themselves. These stories had their root in the troubles of a former 509th Composite Group pilot, Claude Eartherly. On the Hiroshima mission, Eatherly had commanded one of the B-29s used as weather planes, but had not directly witnessed the bombing. An unstable personality, Eartherly committed burglaries in the mid-1950s and began to claim that guilt had driven him over the brink. Rumors soon spread that he was the commander of the "Enola Gay" and that all the crew members had similar troubles.

Eartherly was also exploited by Soviet-bloc propaganda, which often used peace and anti-nuclear slogans in a hypocritical way to attack the United States. In fact, no other 509th crew members had mental problems or claimed to have felt guilty for having done their duty as servicemen in wartime.

A WORLD GONE "M.A.D."

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union both developed intercontinental nuclear missiles that threatened nuclear annihilation of both sides within minutes instead of hours. "M.A.D." --Mutual Assured Destruction-- was one acronym coined to describe this terrifying new reality. On the one had, nuclear "deterrence: seemed to insure for the first time that wars between the great powers were no longer possible. On the other, human civilization itself could be destroyed if deterrence failed. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, that possibility came frighteningly close to reality.

NUCLEAR WASTE AND HUMAN EXPERIMENTS

Fear and the urgent need to build nuclear weapons produced other problems: widespread nuclear pollution, accidents and experiments on humans to determine the dangers of radioactivity. On all sides, the production of bomb fuel left huge quantities of nuclear waste. These wastes created massive clean-up problems and sometimes have engendered dangerous accidents. In 1959, a chemical explosion at a Soviet nuclear-weapons plant contaminated a huge area in the Ural Mountains with radioactive materials, killing hundreds.

The need to know about the radioactive effects of nuclear war and nuclear-weapons production also led on both sides to human experiments and the exposure of soldiers to above -ground bomb tests. Particularly shocking has [sic] been revelations of the injection of patients in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s with radioactive materials. But the other powers undoubtedly also staged such experiments.

ARMS CONTROL?

The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 ended most bomb-testing in the atmosphere, although not by the new nuclear powers, France and China. Arms control agreements were also concluded by the superpowers in the 1970s. Yet none of these stopped a relentless build-up of nuclear weapons. At its apogee in the mid-1980s, there were nearly 70,000 warheads in world stockpiles, 98% of which were held by the United States and the Soviet Union.

On Average, each of these warheads were tens of times as powerful as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. If that explosive power were evenly distributed, every man, woman and child on Earth would be hit by the equivalent of several tons of TNT.

THE COLD WAR ENDS --REAL NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT BEGINS

In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the first arms control agreement that actually resulted in the demolition of deployed nuclear weapons. The Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminated a whole class of weapons --short and medium-range missiles.

It was a harbinger of much more fundamental agreements signed by the two sides after the stunning collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire between 1989 and 1991. At long last, strategic missiles and bombers were actually taken off alert and scrapped, beginning in 1992. But the danger of nuclear war has not disappeared. Even today, the United States, Russia, other former Soviet republics, Britain, France and China have many thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at each other. The threat of global nuclear war has apparently vanished, but the possibility of nuclear weapons being used may have actually increased.

A Soviet SS-20 and an American Pershing missile, like those destroyed under the INF Treaty, can be seen in Milestones of Flight (Gallery 100).

NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION AND NUCLEAR TERRORISM

Although the Cold War is over, an increasing danger is the acquisition of nuclear weapons by more nations and even by terrorist groups. Already during the 1960s and 1970s, Israel appears to have built a number of nuclear warheads and India actually tested a nuclear device. South Africa built a few warheads similar to the Hiroshima gun-type bomb, although it has apparently become the first nation to dismantle al its nuclear weapons. Other nations who attempted, or who are still attempting to build atomic warheads include Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and North Korea. As the danger of global nuclear war has gone down, the possibility of a local use of nuclear weapons has increased.

It is also possible that terrorist groups could acquire enough plutonium, either from existing nuclear electric production or from the former Soviet republics, to build a crude device.

FIFTY YEARS OF THE NUCLEAR DILEMMA

A half century after the arrival of nuclear weapons in the world and their employment on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the nuclear dilemma ahs not gone away. Some feel that the only solution is to ban all nuclear weapons. Others think that this idea is unrealistic and that nuclear deterrence --at a much lower level-- is the only way that major wars can be prevented. One thing is clear, the nuclear "genie" is out of the bottle and, for the foreseeable future, the human race will not be able to eliminate the knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons. The dilemma is not about to disappear.

SHOCK AND SURRENDER

Prime Minister Suzuki told his American interrogators after the war that the atomic bomb had enabled his military colleagues to surrender honorably. to surrender when one's powers of resistance remained was dishonorable; to surrender to a force of overwhelming power was acceptable without loss of face. No brigades of children with bamboo spears, no kamikaze attacks, no spiritual strengths could overcome such might.

Japan had reversed itself previously in the face of superior power. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the prospect of more to come, compelled Japan to surrender, lest it be destroyed forever. This was the argument that Hirohito made in council to his government, and it ended the war.

President Truman announces the Japanese surrender to the press, 7:00 p.m., Washington time, August 14, 1945.

Courtesy of the National Archives

Japanese citizens listen to Emperor Hirohito's surrender announcement , August 15, 1945.

Courtesy of Kodansha International Birnback

American sailors at Pearl Harbor hear the news of the surrender.

Courtesy of the National Archives

American servicemen and women in Paris celebrate V-J Day, August 15, 1945.

Courtesy of the National Archives

V-J Day in Times Square, New York City.

Courtesy of the National Archives

"When the atom bombs were dropped and the news began to circulate that...we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared and shelled...we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all."

Paul Fussell, former U.S. Army infantryman in Europe, from "Thank God for the Atom Bomb"

The Japanese government officially surrendered on September 2, 1945, in a ceremony held in Tokyo Bay on the deck of the battleship Missouri . Standing at left is Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the newly designated Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

Courtesy of the National Archives

Another view of the surrender ceremony.

Courtesy of the National Archives

A facsimile of the original surrender document signed on the Missouri , September 2, 1945.

(Stacked pile of Japanese swords, if available.)

No label needed.

THE OCCUPATION OF JAPAN

The American occupation of Japan laid the foundation for postwar peace and prosperity. Japan was occupied from August 1945 until the peace treaty went into effect in April 1952. While representatives of other Allied powers served on various advisory councils, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was the dominant figure. He held the post of Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers until April 1951, when he was replaced by Gen. Matthew Ridgeway.

American occupation policy sought to demilitarize Japan and to encourage the growth of democracy. Japanese war criminals were tried and convicted. A new democratic constitution went into effect on May 1, 1947. Occupation officials also initiated land reform, encouraged the establishment of political parties, instituted radical changes in the educational system, and took a variety of other measures to transform Japanese society. Generous American economic aid also contributed to Japan's remarkable economic boom, which began in the 1950s.

General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito in September 1945.

[Tokyo war crimes trial photo to be added here.]

THE LEGACY OF THE ATOMIC BOMB

The introduction of atomic bombs, and their first use at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, left a powerful legacy. For the Allies and Japan, a horrendous war was brought to an abrupt end. For the world, the new weapon was a double-edged sword. It offered both the hope of preventing another global war and the danger that a failure of deterrence could destroy civilization.

During the postwar arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, about 70,000 nuclear weapons were added to the world's arsenals --some of them a thousand times more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the wake of the Cold War, these massive arsenals are being drastically reduced. But other nations still possess nuclear weapons, and some non-nuclear states as well as terrorist groups will be tempted to acquire them.

The atomic bomb cannot be uninvented. But the atomic bombings that ended World War II provide grim evidence of the devastating potential of these weapons --and perhaps the most compelling reason why they have not been used since.

Graphic of the buildup of the number of nuclear weapons

From what had been two bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki sprang 70,000 at the height of the nuclear arms race --some a thousand times as powerful as the original two.

By the visitor comment area near the exit of the exhibition.

Even during the planning stages, this exhibition generated widespread debate. We invite you to add your comments to those we have already received.

Even during the planning stages, this exhibition generated widespread debate. We invite you to add your comments to those we have already received.

A sampling of the letters to the National Air and Space Museum regarding The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II>

"The 'Enola Gay' dropped a bomb which ended World War II prior to my death. I could have been killed on a bombing mission on the 17th of August 1945, but I didn't have to fly that mission because the Japanese quit. They might have held out until our November 1st invasions, in which case I truly believe we would have lost a million people --and so would have Japan. I consider the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima to be a net gain in human lives --both on the Japanese side and on ours."

"I am a former member of the 315th Bombardment Wing (VH), and a former pilot of the B-29 aircraft. I was bombing the coal liquefaction plant at Ube, on Honshu, the same date that the 'Enola Gay' hit Hiroshima. I honestly feel that millions of lives, both American and Japanese, were saved by that one crew on that one airplane!"

"To the extent that the exhibit furthers our eternal quest for truth, it will help to break the self-perpetuating cycle of war --at an unprecedented time in world history when widespread peace can be realistically entertained. I think the lesson to be taken from the vocal outbreak of opposition to your efforts is, again, that war wreaks atrocious devastation on humans, psyches, cities, countries, economies, politics,....everything, for years to come."

"I was a crew member on a B-29 bombing Japan. We were shot down on our seventeenth mission bombing Yokohama on May 29th, 1945. All crew members managed to bail out successfully and were taken prisoners at various locations over the island of Honshu. We were interrogated frequently, beaten, put on a starvation diet and most of us lived crowded on the floor in cells built form an old horse stable, rife with lice and fleas and without sanitation facilities or medical help. Most of us lost at least fifty pounds during this ninety day period.... Americans, in my estimation, should make no apologies for strategic fire-bombing or dropping the atomic bomb. It took that to win the war!"

"Most people are not aware of the poor communication between the U.S. and Japan at that time. Or that there was the possibility (we'll never know for sure) that if we had offered to let the Emperor remain in some capacity (as some of Truman's advisors suggested to him, such as former president Hoover), that the Japanese might have surrendered sooner, with a saving of lives on both sides and without the dropping of the atomic bomb. Perhaps a clear warning and/or demonstration of the atomic bomb to Japan might have encouraged surrender --little thought was given to that. And people have little awareness of those possibilities now."

"My ship was allocated to the diversionary assault on the island of Shikoku the day before the main assault on Kyushu. I and the other 48 members of my amphibious ship felt we were assigned to a suicide mission. Harry Truman's decision to drop the bomb was most welcome by us."

Further information about aviation and rocketry in World War II can be found in the following exhibition galleries.

World War II Aviation (Gallery 205)

Sea-Air Operations (Gallery 203)

Jet Aviation (Gallery 106)

Space Hall (Gallery 114)

Other exhibitions on World War II can be found at the National Museum of American History.

A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution examines the internment of Japanese Americans during the war.

Science in American Life has a section on the role of science during the war, including the development of the atomic bomb.

World War II GI: The American Soldier's Experience covers the life of the soldier form induction through homecoming.

[A film on the 509th Composite Group will conclude the exhibition.]

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