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Churchill on the Decision to Drop the Bomb

On July 17 world-shaking news had arrived. In the afternoon Stimson called at my abode and laid before me a sheet of paper on which was written, "Babies satisfactorily born." By his manner I saw something extraordinary had happened. "It means," he said," that the experiment in the New Mexican desert has come off. The atomic bomb is a reality." Although we had followed this dire quest with every scrap of information imparted to us, we had not been told beforehand, or at any rate I did not know, the date of the decisive trial. No responsible scientist would predict what would happen when the first fullscale atomic explosion was tried. Were these bombs useless or were they annihilating? Now we knew. The "babies" had been "satisfactorily born." No one could yet measure the immediate military consequences of the discovery, and no one has yet measured anything else about it.

Next morning a plane arrived with a full description of this tremendous even in the human history. Stimson brought me the report.... The President invited me to confer with him forthwith. He had

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with him General Marshall and Admiral Leahy. Up to this moment we had shaped our ideas towards an assault upon the homeland of Japan by terrific air bombing and by the invasion of very large armies. We had contemplated the desperate resistance of the Japanese fighting to the death with Samurai devotion, not only in pitched battles, but in every cave and dug-out. I had in my mind the spectacle of Okinawa island, where many thousands of Japanese, rather than surrender, had drawn up in a line and destroyed themselves by hand-grenades after their leaders had solemnly performed the rite of harakiri . To quell the Japanese resistance man by man and conquer the country yard by yard might well require the loss of a million American lives and half that number of British --or more if we could get them there: for we were resolved to share the agony. Now all this nightmare picture had vanished. In its place was the vision --fair and bright indeed it seemed --of the end of the whole war in one or two violent shocks....

Moreover, we should not need the Russians. The end of the Japanese war no longer depended upon the pouring in of their armies for the final and perhaps protracted slaughter. We had no need to ask favours of them.... We seemed suddenly to have become possessed of a merciful abridgment of the slaughter in the East and a far happier prospect in Europe.... At any rate, there never was a moment's discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not....

The final decision now lay in the main with President Truman, who had the weapon; but I never doubted what it would be, nor have I ever doubted since that he was right. The historic fact remains, and must be judged in the after-time, that the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around our table; nor did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise.

Source: Winston S. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), pp. 638-639.