Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets
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Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, it took six months for the United States to stem the tide of Japanese aggression. And for most of the next two years, Allied troops in the Pacific pushed Japan back in a series of difficult conflicts. The worst fighting started in 1944 as Japan became increasingly concerned about protecting its homeland.
In March 1945, American troops conquered Iwo Jima. Just 350 miles from Japan, the island's defenders fought nearly to the last man. A third of all U.S. Marine casualties in the entire war were at Iwo Jima. Meanwhile, American bombers were raining destruction on Japan, targeting airfields and ports and cities. After just two days, miles of city streets were leveled, a million people were left homeless and 100,000 people were dead - and that was just in Tokyo. But Japan refused to surrender. When American troops invaded Okinawa, they met even stiffer resistance. The Japanese defenders and civilians fought desperately for nearly three months, and sent in a rain of kamikaze attacks. Before it was over, they had inflicted nearly 50,000 U.S. casualties while losing as many as 200,000 of their own, but they still refused to surrender.
Meanwhile, Franklin Roosevelt died, Harry Truman became president, and Germany was defeated. In July 1945, Truman met with other Allied leaders at Potsdam to discuss next steps, including an invasion of Japan itself.
While he deliberated the planned invasion, President Truman learned about the Manhattan Project, a secret program to develop a powerful new weapon: the atomic bomb.
It began, in some ways, before America even entered the war. Upon Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Albert Einstein, the famous German Jewish physicist, had fled to the United States. And then in 1939, Einstein and other leading scientists learned that Germany was working to split a uranium atom. They quickly contacted President Roosevelt to urge him to begin a nuclear program, and thus began America's Advisory Committee on Uranium. From very humble beginnings with just $6,000 and three university labs, the program grew to include 30 sites in the U.S., Canada and Britain, with more than $2 billion in funding. In 1941, it was code-named the Manhattan Project, though its main facility was high in the mountains of Los Alamos, New Mexico. In addition to developing an atomic weapon, the program also gathered intelligence on Germany's project from behind enemy lines. Ultimately, the Manhattan Project employed over 130,000 people. Under the direction of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the massive research project was kept secret from even the vice-president. Ironically, the Soviet Union had learned about it from a well-placed spy.
After experimenting with both uranium and plutonium, as well as trying both explosion- and implosion-type weapons, the world's first nuclear bomb was detonated at the Trinity Site, in the desert of southern New Mexico. Even the scientists who had developed the bomb were shocked by its power. A mushroom cloud stretched 40,000 feet into the sky. The blinding flash was visible for 200 miles, and a shock wave blew out windows 100 miles away. The desert for half a mile was turned into glass. Civilian witnesses to the destruction were assured that an ammunition dump had exploded.
Three years of intense work had paid off. It was July 16, 1945, the day before the Potsdam Conference convened.
By most accounts from the period, the decision to use the new weapon against Japan was fairly simple. The slow progress of the island invasions and Japan's refusal to surrender were becoming expensive, both in terms of dollars and casualties. If the goal was to end the war as soon as possible, why wouldn't America use every weapon at its disposal to do just that? Keep in mind that the conventional bombings in Germany and Japan up to that point were already deadly and destructive to civilian targets. Truman also justified the attack as retribution for Pearl Harbor, saying, 'When you have to deal with a beast, you have to treat him as a beast.' Finally, using this impressive new weapon was a way to send a warning message to Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union, with whom tensions were increasing quickly.
Truman approved the bombing of selected Japanese targets. But before they were dropped, the Potsdam Declaration of July 26 sent an ultimatum to Japan: surrender unconditionally or face prompt and utter destruction. The Emperor never responded.
On August 6, 1945, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped a bomb nicknamed 'Little Boy' on Hiroshima, a center of war industries and military operations. Temperatures reached tens of millions of degrees, and the flash was ten times brighter than the sun. Within minutes, two-thirds of the city's buildings disappeared and up to 80,000 people died. But Japan did not surrender. Three days later, August 9, the United States dropped a second nuclear weapon, called 'Fat Man,' on Nagasaki. A third of the city and roughly 40,000 people were destroyed. That same day the Soviet Union, with whom Japan had tried to make peace, invaded the Japanese outpost in China. Finally, with almost no ability to wage war and unwilling to endure more destruction and loss of life, Emperor Hirohito decided to surrender, without knowing Truman had called off any further atomic strikes. Although a few Japanese generals attempted a military coup, preferring to fight to the death rather than surrender, they were defeated.
On August 15, 1945, the Emperor explained his decision to surrender in a radio broadcast to his people. Because of time zones, the announcement reached the United States on August 14, widely considered VJ Day in America, although a treaty wasn't actually signed for several weeks. World War II was finally over.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed that the abrupt end of the Pacific war saved a million Americans and a quarter million Britons. But VJ Day was not the end of the suffering for the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Besides the casualties inflicted on the day of the bombing, thousands more died from burns, radiation sickness and other related injuries within several months. Most of the dead and wounded were Japanese civilians, although there was a large military presence in Hiroshima, and thousands of foreign laborers were in both cities, including at least two American POWs. And though it's difficult to calculate long-term effects, many scientists believe the bombings increased rates of cancer and other radiation-related disorders in the region throughout the lifespan of the survivors.
Many people today still debate what role the bombings had in Japan's surrender, and whether the human and financial cost of their use was worth the benefit. President Truman stood by his decision, but no atomic weapons have ever been used in warfare since that time by any nation.
Let's review. As World War II dragged on in the Pacific without an end in sight, the Allied leaders met at Potsdam to discuss how they could bring this war to a close. The day before the Conference began, President Truman learned that American scientists had successfully tested an atomic weapon. It was the culmination of a top-secret, 6-year program known as the Manhattan Project, which Truman himself had only just become aware of. Wishing to bring the war to a swift end, American planes dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Finally, Japan surrendered. VJ Day was celebrated on August 14, 1945 in the United States.
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Back To CourseHistory 104: US History II
14 chapters | 111 lessons | 10 flashcard sets