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20EDUCATIONABOUTASIAVolume 11, Number 1Spring 2006August 6 through 9 of 2005 marked the sixtieth anniversary ofthe atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thesebombings stand as a watershed event in modern historybecause they brought to a decisive conclusion the greatest and mostdevastating conflict in human history, and because they ushered in anew age, the era of nuclear weapons andthe policies of “massive retaliation” and“mutual assured destruction”—which atthe height of the cold war brought withthem the very real potential for the destruc-tion of modern civilization in a large-scalenuclear war. The decision to use the bombhas generated profound and continuingcontroversy among historians, militaryanalysts, scientists, educators, and con-cerned citizens. Some have justified thebombings on the basis of military need orthe imperatives of global power politics,while others condemn them as at bestunnecessary and therefore tragic, and atworst as a wartime atrocity. The controver-sy ultimately hinges on whether the deci-sion to use atomic weapons on Hiroshimaand Nagasaki was based on military neces-sity or on political expedience. Like manyimportant historical controversies, theanalysis of the decision is complex andmultifaceted, and requires a historicalreview of the situation in the summer of1945. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945leaving Japan alone in an increasinglyhopeless war against the United States andits allies. By the summer of 1945, most ofJapan’s navy was lying on the bottom ofthe Pacific Ocean, and its armies werescattered throughout the remnants of thecountry’s short-lived empire. The Japan-ese army was bogged down in China, hadbeen defeated in numerous costly islandbattles, and American forces were nowaiming directly for the Japanese homeland.Okinawa had been lost to Japan in anenormously bloody battle in April, May,and June, and since March, waves ofAmerican bombers had relentlessly pound-ed and incinerated much of urban Japan.Deprived of overseas sources of oil, iron, coal, and even food,Japan’s wartime economy was grinding to a halt: it could no longerproduce ships or airplanes, and there was almost no aviation fuel leftfor the 6,000 to 8,000 airplanes that were held in reserve for finalkamikaze attacks in defense of Japan’s home islands.1By August,the Japanese people were reduced to nearstarvation, over 330,000 civilians had beenkilled in the air raids since March, withover 500,000 additional casualties, and mil-lions more were made homeless by the firebombings. The United States StrategicBombing Survey Report revealed that fromMarch through August, 104,000 tons ofbombs had been dropped on sixty-six urbanareas, destroying approximately forty per-cent of Japan’s urban infrastructure.2Despite the overwhelming evidencethat defeat was inevitable, Japan’s PrimeMinister Suzuki apparently rejected thePotsdam Declaration, an ultimatum callingfor Japan’s unconditional surrender issuedon July 26, 1945,3with the phrasemokusatsu, which could be interpreted