The Atomic Bombing in Japan

On August 6 and 9, 1945, The United States detonated two atomic bombs on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki towns. Up to 226 000 people died, mostly civilian women and children. It marked the end of World War II and the beginning of some powerful nations investing in nuclear weapons. Critics have probed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and reveal that it was facilitated by greed for power besides ending World War II. As such, the reason for bombing the two towns has been debated. The use of the atomic bomb cannot be justified because Japan was to surrender, there were alternative resolution methods, the bombing affected innocent civilians, and it is generally immoral from a philosophical standpoint.

Japan would have surrendered, and the bombing did not have anything to do with ending the war. Several historical research studies have found that the atomic bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not have anything to do with ending the war (Wilson, 2007). The study cites General Curtis LeMay, chief of the Air Forces, who claimed that the war could have been over in a fortnight without the bombing or the interference of the Soviet Union (Wilson, 2007). The surrender was apparent because besides Japan seeming helpless, some factions had already begun peacemaking missions using coded language MAGIC. One of the MAGIC intercepts had conversations of Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo claiming that plans to surrender were underway after the critical situation that Japan had found itself (Burr, 2005). As such, the bombing was necessitated by other intentions besides ending the war (Alperovitz, 2015). Some of the reasons hypothesized include testing nuclear weapons and maintaining dominance after the war. For instance, James Francis Byrnes, who was then referred to as “Assistant President,” was cited in a Manhattan project saying that America was concerned about Russia’s post-war behavior (Alperovitz, 2015). Besides, the Congress seemed relentless in dominating as the superpower, and bombing Japan could be among the strategies of intimidating Russia. Hence, the bombing was not justifiable as a means of ending the war as has been generally claimed.

The bombing is not justified because other means for the United States to coerce Japan to surrender were available. For instance, the bombs could have been dropped in places that had fewer casualties. One such example is at the shores of Japan, which could have alarmed the Japanese emperor about the severity of the consequences if he failed to accept the unconditional surrender. Besides, Truman should have initiated a signing of the Potsdam declaration with Stali. The Potsdam declaration was drafted to unite the Soviet Union and the United States against Japan. That way, Japan would have surrendered. However, Truman did not appreciate the idea of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war, and thus, he consciously avoided signing the draft. Besides, Truman could have revised the unconditional surrender, which is among the reason Japan did not surrender. According to Bernstein (1975), Truman was deliberate about the unconditional surrender’s content so that he could avenge the attack on Pear Harbor. Therefore, the United States could have used other viable and less fatal options to make Japan surrender instead of the bombing.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks killed more civilians than the military; yet, civilians were not part of the war. Unfortunately, the two bombs were dropped in by then highly civilian-populated towns. World War II concerned militarism in Japan and Germany, among other reasons. As such, the battle for power concerned the militaries and not civilians. It was unfair that hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians suffered at the expense of military contests for power. An extreme alternative would have been to bomb the Japanese army and save innocent civilians. That is currently criminalized by the principle of distinction or noncombatant immunity, adopted by the United Nations Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (McKinney, Sagan & Weiner, 2020). The principle criminalized attack on civilians during military targets since civilians do not have propionate combat advantage. Such advantages can be minor, such as awareness of possible attacks that were not provided to Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Hence, the bombing cannot be justified.

From the perspective of civilian attacks, the bombing is immoral and therefore not justifiable. It affected innocent people (civilians) who were unaware of the attack. Hence, it is deemed unfair and immoral. Besides, the killing its self is at large immoral. Human life is precious and deserves respect and honorable preservation. Instead, the United States military killed hundreds of thousands, one bomb after another. The bombing of Nagasaki is further disturbing and warrants the immorality of the United States military. It is acclaimed that the military and some civilian scientists wanted to compare the impacts of both bombs since they had different designs. In that approach, bombing Japan was an experiment for nuclear technologies. It is synonymous with treating the Japanese as guinea pigs, on which weapons would be tested. It is immoral because the test overrode the principles of ethics such as beneficence and non-maleficence and compromised Japanese civilians’ dignity, autonomy, and quality of life. Besides, it is immoral to kill during the war, except for self-defense, and to maintain relevant order, according to the ethics of war (Lazar, 2009). However, the United States did not bomb Japan for any of the above reasons. Japan was at that time not attacking the United States, and was in fact, planning a surrender. Besides, maintaining the relevant order was arguably not requiring such an amount of force as using atomic bombs. Hence, a philosophical standpoint finds the bombing as ethically (morally) unjustifiable, and as such, the use of the atomic bomb cannot be justified in World War II.

To sum up, the use of the atomic bomb in World War II is not justifiable since Japan was to surrender, there were alternative resolution methods, the bombing affected innocent civilians, and it was generally immoral. Japan had been overcome significantly, and it could surrender in about two weeks as thought by American Generals. It also appears the bombing did not have anything to do with ending the war, since besides ignoring the surrender plans, there were other methods for coercing Japan to surrender. Eventually, the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed innocent civilians, which is immoral and unjustifiable.

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Alperovitz, G. (2015). The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And the Generals Who Dropped the Bomb Knew It. Retrieved 9 March 2021, from

Bernstein, B. (1975). Roosevelt, Truman, and the Atomic Bomb, 1941-1945: A Reinterpretation. Political Science Quarterly90(1), 23. doi: 10.2307/2148698

Burr, W. (2005). The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II: A Collection of Primary Sources. Retrieved 9 March 2021, from

Lazar, S. (2009). Responsibility, Risk, and Killing in Self‐Defense. Ethics119(4), 699-728. doi: 10.1086/605727

McKinney, K., Sagan, S., & Weiner, A. (2020). Why the atomic bombing of Hiroshima would be illegal today. Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists76(4), 157-165. doi: 10.1080/00963402.2020.1778344

Wilson, W. (2007). The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima. International Security31(4), 162-179. doi: 10.1162/isec.2007.31.4.162