Most Americans have been taught that using atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was justified because the bombings ended the war in the Pacific, thereby averting a costly U.S. invasion of Japan. This erroneous contention finds its way into high school history texts still today. More dangerously, it shapes the thinking of government officials and military planners working in a world that still contains more than 15,000 nuclear weapons.
Truman exulted in the obliteration of Hiroshima, calling it “the greatest thing in history.” America’s military leaders didn’t share his exuberance. Seven of America’s eight five-star officers in 1945 — Gens. Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and Henry Arnold, and Adms. William Leahy, Chester Nimitz, Ernest King and William Halsey — later called the atomic bombings either militarily unnecessary, morally reprehensible, or both. Nor did the bombs succeed in their collateral purpose: cowing the Soviets.