Ethics of the United States Bombing of Japan

William Brown
February 15, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Choice to Drop the Bombs

Fig. 1: Hiroshima atom bomb cloud about 6 miles east of the center. (Source: Wikimedia Commons )

The man who decided to drop the bombs was the 33rd president of the United States Harry S Truman. He became president after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. [1] The United States dropped the bomb on Japan on August 6, 1945. [2] Hours after the president came out and expressed to the American public what had happened. This was a decision he came to because he said there were only 3 other options and none of them seemed to be valid. The first was he could await the Soviet entry into the Pacific War. The second option the president had was to continue the conventional combing campaign and the naval blockade. The last option was to modify Franklin D. Roosevelt's commitment to seek the unconditional surrender and instead allow the emperor to remain in place but just diminish his powers. [3] Instead Truman decided that the best option was to drop the atomic bomb, see Fig. 1. Another contender was an invasion but they believed this would lead to unnecessary American deaths.

Ethical Dilemmas

Although many people say this was justified because Truman had previously warned them saying,"It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26, was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth."

There are clear ethical dilemmas between the two options. In one option they can destroy a whole city and kill an estimated 200,000. This seems harsh but it would be rash to say it was not well thought out. The other option was to send more of their own people in to get killed, which would amount to thousands of more US deaths. As unjustified as it seems Japan was not willing to surrender easily, so many believe that the US wanted to send a shock to the Japanese. It seems that dropping at atomic bomb is completely unjustified, after dropping one bomb the Japanese War council was still unwilling to surrender unconditionally. This led to the second bomb. This shows how strong the Japanese were in their ideals, but does not take away from the damage these bombs did to Japanese cities and to many innocent people.

© William Brown. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. Beaudoin, "The Myth of the Atomic Bomb," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[2]"Atomic Bomb Revolutionizes War; Hit Japan like 20,000 Tons of TNT," International Herald Tribune, 6 Aug 45.

[3] J. S. Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 1997).