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Why Truman Dropped the Bomb

Avoiding American casualties and securing greater bargaining power against the Soviets were factors

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Manchuria was only part of the traditionally Chinese territory that Stalin expected to get out of entering that war.

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Nowhere else was the news of the dropping of the bomb greeted with more relief than among American infantrymen in the Pacific preparing to storm beaches of Japan. To them, it meant rescue from an ordeal that they would prefer to avoid. Many would not have survived.

But was the dropping of the bomb necessary to bring about a Japanese surrender before the invasion planned for Nov. 1?

The best authority on this subject has to be Truman's chief military adviser, Admiral Leahy. The admiral, who was also chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined US and British Chiefs of Staff, wrote in his book, ''I Was There'' (1950), the following:

''It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons.''

Other military experts have agreed with the admiral that Japan was near surrender. Its Navy had largely been sunk. Its best pilots were killed in kamikaze attacks. Its Air Force was unable to prevent daily Allied attacks on Japan's cities and industrial centers. Its Army was repeatedly defeated. Besides, the sea blockade had shut off overseas supplies of food, oil, and industrial raw materials vital to the civilian and military economy. Japan was defeated and helpless. Some think that the use of the bomb may have shortened the war by perhaps one or two weeks.

Truman, however, himself a veteran from the previous war, was thinking about the half million or so US soldiers preparing for the invasion. He knew that the bomb would lift a load of anxiety from their backs and those of their families. And he longed for the increased bargaining power against the Soviets that he knew the bomb would give him.

There is no evidence that Truman hesitated for long, or that he was troubled or anguished over the decision. To him, the bomb represented a quick way to save a lot of American lives, and incidentally, gain new leverage in future negotiations with the Soviets.

Nor did he have much time for others who proposed dropping one bomb in such a way as to show the Japanese what we had, but without killing many civilians. One idea was to drop it in the middle of Tokyo Bay. To Truman, dropping the bomb where it would be a decisive stimulus to surrender was important.

Leahy was a great admirer of Truman and speaks with respect of him throughout his book. But in his book, he said of the bomb the following:

''These new and terrible instruments of uncivilized warfare represent a modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man. One of the professors associated with the Manhattan project told me that he hoped the bomb wouldn't work. I wish that he had been right.''

* Other articles ran Jan. 30, Feb. 13, March 6, April 10, May 5, June 12, and July 17. Joseph C. Harsch covered World War II for the Monitor from Washington, D.C., the Pacific, and Europe.