ON ADVISABILITY OF MILITARY USE OF THE ATOMIC BOMB
In August 1945 American aircraft dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing
over 100,000 people and injuring many more. Japan soon sued for peace and World War II ended. Ever since President
Harry S. Truman made the fateful decision to unleash atomic weapons on Japan, contemporaries and historians have
debated the morality, necessity, and consequences of the choice.
Truman said he authorized the use of the atomic bombs on populated areas because that was the only way to shorten
the war and save American lives. Until the 1960s most historians accepted that conclusion. But recent scholarship,
although not denying the argument that American lives would have been spared, has suggested that other
considerations also influenced American leaders: relations with Soviet Russia, emotional revenge, momentum, and
perhaps racism. Scholars today are also debating why several alternatives to military use of the bomb were not tried.
In early May 1945, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson appointed an Interim Committee, with himself as chairman, to
advise on atomic energy and the uranium bombs the Manhattan Engineering District project was about to produce. In
the committee's meeting of May 31, 1945, the decision was made to keep the bomb project a secret from the Russians
and to use the atomic bomb against Japan. On June 11, 1945, a group of atomic scientists in Chicago, headed by
Jerome Franck, futilely petitioned Stimson for a non-combat demonstration of the bomb in order to improve the
chances for postwar international control of atomic weapons. The recommendations of the Interim Committee and the
Franck Committee are reprinted here.
Report of the Interim Committee on Military Use of the Atomic Bomb, May 1945
Secretary Stimson explained that the Interim Committee had been appointed by him, with the approval of
the President, to make recommendations on temporary war-time controls, public announcement,
legislation and post-war organization. . . . He expressed the hope that the [four] scientists would feel
completely free to express their views on any phase of the subject.
The Secretary explained that General Marshall shared responsibility with him for making
recommendations to the President on this project with particular reference to its military aspects;
therefore, it was considered highly desirable that General Marshall be present at this meeting to secure at
first hand the views of the scientists.
The Secretary expressed the view, a view shared by General Marshall, that this project should not be
considered simply in terms of military weapons, but as a new relationship of man to the universe. This
discovery might be compared to the discoveries of the Copernican theory and of the laws of gravity, but
far more important than these in its effect on the lives of men. While the advances in the field to date had