Hiroshima & Nagasaki:
Was It Justified?

World War II is known for acts of heroism on both sides, as well as controversial decisions. One major event that has long been debated was the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The political landscape before the bomb was dropped prevented a Japanese surrender. The war would have taken much longer had an invasion been attempted. An invasion would have cost more lives for both sides than the bombings. The Allies were justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The first reason the bombing was justified was that it was the most viable way to force the Japanese to surrender. The Allied offer of the Potsdam Conference on July 26, 1945 stipulated that the war would end only when the Japanese surrendered and gave up Emperor Hirohito. This offer was completely unacceptable to the Japanese, who, at the time, regarded their emperor as a god. President Harry S Truman was in a situation where he could not change the terms of the offer, because the American citizens wanted Hirohito imprisoned, if not executed. Changing the terms of the offer would also be regarded as a sign of weakness on the Americans' part, which was unacceptable during a time of war.

Another reason that the Americans were justified in dropping the bomb was that it ended the war much more quickly than would an invasion. The second of the two atomic bombs was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 and the Japanese surrendered 5 days later on August 14, 1945. The alternative to the use of the atomic bomb, an invasion over land, had been scheduled for November 1 had the bombing not succeeded or had it been cancelled. This invasion could have dragged on for months, if not years, and the war easily would have carried on into 1946.

The third, final, and most important reason the Americans were justified in dropping atomic bombs on Japan was that the bombings claimed far less lives than would have been taken during an invasion. Between the two cities, there was estimated to have been approximately 115,000 deaths as a result of the bombings. President Truman estimated that as many as one million American soldiers would have died in an invasion of Japan, as would most of the two million Japanese soldiers stationed in the home islands, as well as many civilians. President Truman intended the atomic bomb to be a way to end the war at a minimum cost of American and Japanese lives.

The use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a justified strategy on the Allies' part. A Japanese surrender was impossible due to the political landscape before the bombings. The war would have dragged on much longer had the bomb not been dropped and an invasion carried out instead. The bombings claimed fewer lives than an invasion would have. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought a decisive end to the Second World War, as well as ushering in the nuclear age; changing the world forever.

"The Decision to Drop" http://www.atomicmuseum.com/tour/decision.cfm (February 6, 2000)
"The Decision to Drop the Bomb" http://www.nhk.or.jp/nuclear/e/text/unit-3a.htm (February 6, 2000)

I wrote this essay for my grade 10 Canadian History class. The assignment was to defend or attack the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most people in the class opted to argue it was unjustified. I, ever the non-conformist, chose to argue it was justified.
amoeba: You are completely right. In retrospect, I really should've worked that into the essay. Apart from the fact that I didn't put enough thought into it for that idea to occur from me, I couldn't've worked it in because my teacher was really adamant that it be a five paragraph essay, if I worked a sixth paragraph in there would be hell to pay.

I like your analogy.

Was The Use Of Atomic Bomb On Japan Justified?

Over 50 years ago the atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is still controversy on whether this should have been done. The reasoning at the time was that many more people would be lost in an invasion of Japan. Also, an invasion would take much longer than bombing. A demonstration of the atomic bomb was not feasible because there were only two bombs. Truman was justified in using the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

An invasion would have caused even more deaths than the atomic bombs did. It was predicted that an invasion would leave 500,000 Americans dead and 2,000,000 Japanese dead before the Americans finally won. This prediction was based on the Japanese fighting fiercely to the last man, which is what was expected from experience on islands in the Pacific Ocean. The bombing of Hiroshima took 80,000 lives and the bombing of Nagasaki took 40,000 lives. Estimates of over three times those numbers have been suggested, but are still far less than the estimate of causalities from an invasion. The awesome destructive power of the atomic bombs pales in comparison to the predicted loss in an invasion.

The atomic bombs ended the war quickly. The prediction was that an invasion of Japan would take eighteen months before the Allies finally won. Instead, the bomb ended the war in five days. The war had already been going for several years and no one wanted the war to last any long than it had to. The use of the atomic bomb greatly shorted the already long World War II.

Many have suggested a demonstration of the atomic bomb before using it on a populated area. This would not have been a good idea because the United States only had two bombs (plus one tested), and the bombs were very expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. If the Japanese were not sufficiently impressed with the show of strength, then the United States would only have one bomb left to attack Japan with. Since they did not surrender after the bombing of Hiroshima, the Japanese definitely would not have surrendered after a demonstration. A demonstration would not show the full power of the bomb as clearly as actually using it on a target. Also, the demonstration may not have shown any of the power of the bomb: the bomb could have been a dud. Even if the bomb did work, the United States would have to tell the Japanese where to look ahead of time, and the Japanese might have put prisoners of war or other people in the target area. There are many flaws with the idea of have a demonstration of the atomic bomb’s power.

The use of the atomic by the United States on Japan was justified. It shortened the long war and decreased the enormous death toll of World War II. Truly, the question is inconsequential because it already happened. No matter how much the point is debated the bomb still will have been dropped. At least the show of its full power will make anyone think more than twice about using it again.


  1. Movies & reading in class (sorry, I have no way to find out correct citing for them)
  2. http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1186788&displaytype=printable

I got apparently the same assignment Disco Jesus got, and partially based my essay off of his (teacher didn't care).

It is important to note that this entire arguement is void if the Japanese were in fact ready to surrender before the bombs wre dropped. Some claim that it was the United States's demand for unconditional surrender which cased the Japanese to continue fighting. The Japanese did not want their emperor to be captured. In fact, it ended up the Emperor Hirohito was allowed to continue ruling anyway, so the entire argument of conditional vs. unconditional surrender was made void. Unforunately, this was after the bombs were dropped, which given this evidence was unneeded after all.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and a Bit of Perspective

In assessing whether the atomic attacks on civilian targets - entire cities - at Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be justified, we would be remiss if we failed to consider the consequences of those attacks, consequences which were surely anticipated. We would be equally remiss to consider any justification for the attacks in a vacuum, without examining how any justifications advanced would apply in other cases.

Before the attack, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had populations of 255,000 and 195,000, respectively. In Hiroshima, 66,000 people were killed (25.8% of the population) and 69,000 (27%) injured. In Nagasaki, 39,000 (20%) were killed and 25,000 (12.8%) injured. 95% of the casualties were civilians. Many more would suffer the long-term effects of massive radiation exposure. By way of comparison, the attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor killed 2408 people and wounded 3596. The civilian casualties at Pearl Harbor were 68 dead and 35 wounded (1.6% of total casualties). These figures, which certainly must be considered in determining whether the attacks were justified, regardless of how one ultimately resolves the issue, are conspicuously absent from the other writeups in this node.

It is argued that the attacks on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 provide justification for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki As this is the easiest argument to dispose of, I will consider it first. Consider the following assertion:
If you get into an argument with somebody at a bar because you spilled his beer and refused to buy him another one, you are in the wrong, and he has every right to tell everyone in the bar what a prick you are. If he breaks into your house with a knife, later that night, he's now in the wrong, and you are within your rights to shoot him.
This argument might be valid if there were a certain degree of rough proportionality between the attack providing justification and the response. Here, however, there is no proportionality. 32 times as many people were killed in the atomic attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki as were at Pearl Harbor; moreover, this does not include the long-term effects of the attacks. The disproportionality becomes even more obvious when we note that 98.4% of the casualties at Pearl Harbor were military, as opposed to 5% at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Beyond the obvious disproportionality, this argument is inapposite in another respect. "If he breaks into your house with a knife" assumes a degree of necessity that is not present in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Moreover, under the law, even self-defence must must be proportionate to the danger presented by the assailant and not exceed the amount of force reasonably necessary to ward off the danger.

We must also consider what else this theory would justify. The basic proposition is that an attack on a military facility justifies an attack on civilian targets with predicted casualties of many times the number of casualties caused by the original attack. Certainly, we must allow others the same generous moral standard we allow ourselves. Recently, in an unprovoked attack, in direct violation of international law, "with the expressed [sic] intent of taking over [their], country," the United States and the United Kingdom killed up to 10,000 Iraqi civilians (not including deaths due to the indirect, but predictable, consequences of the choice of targets) and did immeasurable damage to facilities protected under the Geneva Conventions. By the standard that is advanced in defence of the atomic attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Iraq, would be justified in dropping atomic bombs on the United States and the UK and killing up to 320,000 civilians. Similarly, much of Latin America would be entitled to lay waste to New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and Vietnam would be entitled to kill fully 36% of the U.S. population. Or, to put it in the terms of the analogy cited above, if A breaks into B's house with a knife, B is entitled not only to kill A, but to kill 31 of A's relatives, friends, and neighbours, giving those in their immediate vicinity cancer. This logic will serve only as a rather gruesome solution to the world's overpopulation problem.

It has also been suggested that Japanese atrocities during World War II justified the use of weapons of mass destruction against Japanese civilians. First, it is important to note that this rationalisation is entirely retrospective. No one was thinking in those terms at the time. Moreover, it is worth noting that Japanese atrocities against people in Asia rarely merit a mention as "atrocities" in the US, where the only atrocities generally referred to as such are the attack on Pearl Harbor and the treatment of Allied P.O.W.'s (which, in terms of atrocity, was approximately the same level as U.S. treatment of Japanese P.O.W.'s). However, assuming that the atrocities of the Japanese military against Chinese and other civilians could justify the use of weapons of mass destruction by the U.S. against Japanese civilians, we are left with the same issue as with the Pearl Harbor argument. Indeed, at least the Pearl Harbor argument has the merit of being relatively limited, as only the directly aggrieved party may kill the other country's civilians. With this argument, on the other hand, all limitations disappear. If country A's soldiers commit atrocities against country B's civilians, country C (any country in the world) may commit atrocities against country A's civilians. An equally gruesome solution to the overpopulation problem, even if it would likely play out much faster than the one described above.

The notion that the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary in order to end the war quickly and prevent "500,000 American deaths" involves a certain degree of speculation. Thus, I will limit myself to what is known of the U.S. decisionmaking process at the time. The 500,000 figure is several times the number of deaths anticipated by the Department of War at the time. Even assuming arguendo that this figure were correct, the necessity of an invasion in order to end the war was by no means the way it was seen in Washington at the time. Japan had made repeated diplomatic overtures, seeking to end the hostilities, up until the time of the atomic attacks. According to General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces under Truman, "It always appeared to us that, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse." Similarly, then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower noted
"I had been conscious of depression and so I voiced to [Secretary Of War Stimson] my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at this very moment, seeking a way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face.' "
Eisenhower noted on another occasion that "Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of 'face'… It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Similar views were echoed throughout the U.S. high command. In 1946, the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey noted that
"Certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
Nor were they alone. Harry Truman's 18 July 1945 diary entry read: "P.M. [ Churchill] & I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace."

Thus, in the view of those in charge of the war, even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan was looking for a way out. Indeed, the only thing preventing a Japanese surrender was a matter of semantics: Japan wanted to surrender unconditionally without using the words "unconditional surrender." While the question of what would have happened is by its nature speculative and cannot be answered conclusively, those who made the decision to drop the bombs did so in the belief that the bomb would be of "no material assistance in our war against Japan." (Admiral William D. Leahy). What the man who broke into your house with a knife would have done had you not shot him is certainly not easily answered, but if you knew he didn't pose a threat at the time you shot him, you can't later claim self-defence, and you certainly can't claim to be justified in going out and killing 31 of his friends and neighbours at random.

Can you justify a war crime?

Hiroshima: Approximately 120,000 immediate Japanese civilian casualties, out of an active population of 250,000. Nobody took shelter, because there was no large wave of incoming bombers, only one unescorted B-29 (Straight Flush) with three more (Enola Gay, The Great Artiste, and Necessary Evil) arriving a while later. They were assumed to be recon in advance of a larger formation. Little Boy detonated as an airburst 2,000 feet above the city. At least 2,000 American citizens died at Hiroshima, most of whom were not prisoners of war, but rather Japanese-Americans who were kept as free-roaming political prisoners, prohibited from returning to the US for fear (by both sides) of espionage. Only 11 American POWs have been positively identified at Hiroshima, but there were hundreds more unidentified POWs, some of which were American. An unspecified number of British, Australian, and Dutch POWs were also killed in the explosion. Essentially all wooden housing in a 5 mile radius was turned to ash, either due to the initial heat shock of the blast, or due to the city-wide fire that resulted from uncontrolled hearth-fires in destroyed homes. The non-reinforced buildings in the city center -- mainly residential and commercial buildings -- were instantly reduced to rubble. Black tile roofing was liquified as far away as a mile's line-of-sight.

The bombing resulted in a negligible military death toll, and a negligible disruption of industry or rail transportation -- even through the city center. Railroads, being so low to the ground, survive nuclear explosions practically undamaged. Rail cars weren't even significantly derailed, due to the bomb detonating above rather than away. The shockwave hit them almost vertically. 75% of the city's production capacity was completely undamaged, and the remainder could have been rebuilt in less than 30 days. This is due primarily to the decentralized locations of factories around Hiroshima, rather than being clustered at the city center.

Nagasaki: Approximately 100,000 immediate Japanese civilian casualties, out of an active population of 230,000. Again, unspecified non-Japanese casualties, some of which were POWs. Again, nobody took shelter, despite the city having tunnels large enough to accomodate 100,000 people. This time it was one B-29 (Laggin' Dragon) followed by only two (Bock's Car and The Great Artiste), and again it was assumed that they were reconning for a larger bombing run. The camera plane Big Stink missed its rendezvous and arrived only after detonation. Fat Man detonated as an airburst 1,500 feet above Urakami Valley. Some portions of the city were spared direct effects from the blast due to the hilly geography of the region and the fact that Bock's Car missed its mark by almost two miles due to cloud cover, resulting in only half of residential structures being destroyed. Exact ground zero turned out to be St. Mary's cathedral, which was at the time the largest Catholic church in Japan. Those buildings not reinforced and not sheltered by hills were, again, instantly reduced to rubble. Hearth-fires did not significantly contribute to the city-wide fire here, which was instead started directly by the blast, which was both larger and hotter than the one at Hiroshima. Again a negligible military death toll, but this time there was a minor disruption of industry. Mitsubishi-owned torpedo, steel, and electricity facilities were badly damaged, but none of these reinforced factory buildings were rendered unusable. It was rather pointless to bomb these, since they were at the time operating at skeleton capacity anyway, due to resource shortfall. Had the war continued, they could have continued operating at those reduced capacities without any significant need for repair. The Nagasaki ship and dock yards, accounting for the primary military significance of the city, were almost completely undamaged by the atomic bombing, being nowhere near ground zero. The docks had previously been damaged by conventional bombing raids, and would also have required some months to be repaired to full capacity. The intended ground zero was actually farther away from the docks, closer to the residential parts of the city.

In total, a full one-fifth of the deaths attributed to both bombs were non-Japanese. This group was partially comprised of Allied POWs, but mainly it was comprised of Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, and Korean civilians brought to Japan as slave labor.

The atomic bombings achieved no military objective whatsoever. They didn't even produce all that much "shock and awe" outside the regions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki themselves, with the majority of the Japanese population -- not eyewitnesses to the carnage the bombs created -- having no realistic understanding of the damage. It cannot even be reasonably stated that the atomic bombings contributed significantly to the Japanese surrender, not even the timing of it. Japan would have surrendered in the fall of 1945 one way or another. There was no real element of choice at that point. The modern pedagogy that the bombs were dropped "to end the war" is largely propaganda so that American kids don't have to wonder today if their great-grandfathers were accessories to war crimes.

By August 1945 Japan had been attempting truce with and conditional surrender to the US for nearly a year, beginning late in the tenure of Tojo's successor as Prime Minister, the relatively powerless Kuniaki Koiso. All that can really be said about the bombing of Hiroshima affecting the timetable of surrender is that it prompted Hirohito to demand unanimity among the Big Six for unconditional surrender, where previously three of them (primarily Korechika Anami) were holding out for the desire to draw the US into an invasion of Kyushu that would have resulted in millions more casualties on both sides. But the bombing of Nagasaki was totally irrelevant to that process. Even if the bombs had not been dropped, Japan would have needed to accept unconditional surrender by October at the latest, due to their declining domestic conditions and the onset of winter. Insurrection led by the underground Japanese Communist Party was expected no later than midwinter in the absence of a resolution to the war, based on a report that Fumimaro Konoe supplied verbally to Hirohito in February of that year, when he said:

I see all the conditions necessary to bring about a communist revolution being prepared day by day: the impoverishment of daily life; an increase in the level of labour's voice; a pro-Soviet mood, which is the other side of a rise in hostile feelings toward Great Britain and the United States; the reform movements of a ring within the military; the movement of the so-called "new bureaucrats" who ride on this; and the secret manoeuvres of leftist elements who are manipulating this from behind.

Not to mention Stalin's breaking of his neutrality agreement with Japan and the launch of August Storm, the Russian invasion of Japanese Manchuria. Japan's people were starving to death, the military had no oil left, they lost Saipan, they lost Okinawa, they lost Manchuria, and an invasion force was at their border. The atomic bombings were needless, and war crimes for which nobody has ever been convicted. Continuing conventional bombing (which was done anyway), or even no more bombing at all, would have been sufficient to guarantee surrender. Invasion of Honshu would not have been necessary, merely the threat of invasion was significant. This is in full agreement with the 1 July 1946 report of the US Strategic Bombing Survey.

Supposing that, somehow, the bombs were a necessary gesture, it was nevertheless done all wrong. First of all, as already mentioned, the bomb dropped on the city center of Hiroshima did no siginficant damage to anything but civilian life and infrastructure. It should never have been dropped. It was an unacceptable target. The Nagasaki dockyards would have been a valid military target, but they were not targeted either. Not to mention that no advance warning was given to either city to allow for civilian evacuation or seeking shelter.

If the objective was to use the bombs to destroy valid military targets, the plan failed utterly even from the initial planning stage. Kyoto, which had no strategic significance whatsoever, was actually considered to be the main target for the atomic bombing runs until Truman's Secretary of War, Henry Lewis Stimson, struck it from the list for sentimental reasons. Kokura was also spared, purely by random chance. It was the secondary target of Special Mission 13, but Hiroshima didn't need to be aborted. It was the primary target of Special Mission 16, but due to cloud cover was aborted in favor of Nagasaki. Nagasaki wasn't even on the original list of targets, having been selected as the secondary target by Paul Tibbets. Kokura Arsenal would have been an ideal military target, had there been any reason to destroy it that late in the war.

If the objective was to provide a horrifying spectacle for the Japanese government, the plan largely failed there too. It would have been more appropriate to airburst a bomb some miles off Tokyo harbor for that effect, and there needn't have been any significant loss of life. There's no reason why Tokyo harbor couldn't have been targeted. It was within range of Tinian, and indeed it was a target in several of the dozens of "pumpkin bomb" test runs performed by the 15 bombers fitted for nuclear payload.

I offer twelve people as legally culpable for the atomic bombings. In rough order of increasing responsibility:

  • Dr. Joyce C. Stearns, as the Site Y liaison in charge of selecting the targets, designating ground zero for each target, and as the originator of the decision to disqualify purely military targets. Picked Kyoto as the most ideal scene of detonation, after being advised that it was diplomatically unwise to suggest the Imperial Palace. Died 1948.

    Stearns is placed at the top of the list because he has the least responsibility of anyone listed. He was a civilian, and had no actual decision-making authority in the chain of command that led to the usage of the bombs. Still, I think he deserves to be on the list, given his contributions. Scientific idealism does not mix well with military pragmatism, and he really should have known better.

  • Thomas Ferebee, as bombadier of Enola Gay during Special Mission 13. Died 2000.
  • Kermit Beahan, as bombadier of Bock's Car during Special Mission 16. Died 1995.
  • William Parsons, as weaponeer of Enola Gay during Special Mission 13, responsible for arming the bomb. Nobody else could have. Died 1953.
  • Frederick Ashworth, as weaponeer of Bock's Car during Special Mission 16, responsible for arming the bomb. Nobody else could have. Died 2005.
  • Charles Sweeney, as pilot of Bock's Car during Special Mission 16. Died 2004.
  • Paul Tibbets Jr., as pilot of Enola Gay during Special Mission 13, and also as Group Commander of the 509th at the time. Still alive and aged 92 as of this writing.
  • Carl Spaatz, as overall commander of the strategic bombing of Japan. Died 1974.
  • Thomas Farrell, as executive officer of Gen. Groves, and the highest ranking officer actually present at the committee who designated civilian targets for the bombs, and as President Truman's courier to Col. Tibbets giving him the orders to launch. He also signed Little Boy and addressed it to Hirohito. Died 1967.
  • Leslie Groves, as unilateral commander of the Manhattan Engineering District (including Project Alberta), and therefore as final military authority over the committee who designated civilian targets for the bombs, and indeed final military authority on the development, construction, and deployment of the bombs. Died 1970.
  • Henry Stimson, as Secretary of War, and therefore as the final War Department authority over the committee who designated civilian targets for the bombs. Died 1950.
  • Harry S. Truman, as President and commander-in-chief, ultimate responsibility belongs to him. To use his own phrase, "the buck stops here". It was his explicit responsibility to ensure that the bombs were being used against valid targets before he authorized their launch. Were he still alive it would be his prerogative to accept responsibility on behalf of everyone else listed. Died 1972.

My selection criteria here are the people who knowingly and willingly strategically decided, logistically planned, and finally tactically delivered the atomic bombing of civilian targets. Not the people who invented the technology, not the people who constructed the planes or the weapons, and generally not the people who merely relayed orders from above, except where they could have meaningfully dissented. This is the list of people who had the direct power to stop the bombings, even if such a decision would have been punished, even if someone else would have been found to do it at a later time. Each one of these people, for one reason or another, failed the human race in contributing to the misuse of nuclear weapons. The "I was only following orders" excuse didn't work at Nuremberg, and thus I don't see why it should work here.

The legal particulars.

The United States government maintains that there was no international law or treaty that it was signatory to in August 1945 which can be used to consider the atomic bombing of Japan as a war crime, but that's not true.

The bombings can be tried under as many as five articles of the annex of Section IV of the Hague Convention of 1907. The United States and Japan were both party to this convention, and it was in effect at the time (and indeed still is).

Section IV annex, "Regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land", states (in part):


Article 22.

The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.

Article 23.

In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden -

To employ poison or poisoned weapons;

To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;

To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;

To declare that no quarter will be given;

To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;

To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;

To destroy or seize the enemy's property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;

To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent's service before the commencement of the war.


Article 25.

The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.

Article 26.

The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.

Article 27.

In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.


The bombings qualify as "war on land" in the sense of the Hague Convention for several reasons:

  1. There was no ship-based combat involved, nor bombardment from naval cannons.
  2. The bombers did not take off from ships, but rather dry land.
  3. The USAAF was a component of the US Army, understood to be a land force.

It was ruled in Japan in 1963 (Shimoda et al. v. The State) that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time qualified as undefended cities:

In principle, a defended city is a city which resists an attempt at occupation by land forces. A city even with defence installations and armed forces cannot be said to be a defended city if it is far away from the battlefield and is not in immediate danger of occupation by the enemy.

Unfortunately, Article 19 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan basically says that Japan is not allowed to pursue claims of reparations over anything that was done during the war, and they have absolutely no redress for their grievances.

Interestingly however, the text also says that "Japanese claims specificially recognized in the laws of any Allied Power enacted since 2 September 1945" can be pursued. Note how it just says "since 2 September 1945" and thus theoretically extends to the infinite future. This can be interpreted, quite credibly, to mean that even today, were "any Allied Power" to enact law that recognized Japanese claims of atrocity against the United States over the atomic bombings, those claims could then be pursued.

More interestingly, for the purpose of the treaty, "Allied Powers" refers to any or all of: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ceylon, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, South Africa, The United Kingdom, The United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

On the other hand, Article 14 of the same treaty also basically says that no nation is allowed to pursue claims of reparations over anything the Japanese did during the war, either, so you can see why the Japanese government is not enthusiastic about shooting holes in the treaty.

Though the treaty waives the right of the governments involved to claim reparations for acts which occurred during the war, it cannot and does not waive the right of any affected individuals to demand compensation from governments for those same acts, which is further maintained by the above-quoted Section IV annex, Article 23 of the Hague convention of 1907: it is forbidden to declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. So nothing in the peace treaty can be taken to disparage any right of individuals to seek redress.

Gratuitous editorializing and dénouement.

The popular Euro-American beliefs that the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan was strategically necessary, was legal, or is above suspicion are wrong. Period. Let me hear you talk about "harsh but fair" when it's your own families. For some Americans, Britons, Australians, and Dutch... it was. Even if you can't (for whatever reason) sympathize with the weird little yellow people on the other side of the world, know that they were not the only victims. The United States of America also ate its own in dropping those bombs, and the families of the POWs who died have a totally separate case for justice under totally separate articles of war besides the ones I cite above. And they do have a case.

No court in the world has ever even considered their pleas, going on 62 years. Most of the non-Asian American families didn't even know their loved ones died at Hiroshima or Nagasaki until around 20 years ago when it was declassified.

Nor is there any merit to the idea that the bombings were "for the Soviets". First of all, how would that justify the deaths of half a million civilians? Second of all, by the time Truman formally announced at Potsdam that he had the bomb, Stalin already knew all about the Manhattan Project, the Trinity tests, the Alberta project to fit planes to deliver the bombs to Japan, the schematics of Fat Man, how far along it was, and what color it was painted. He knew all this because Manhattan Project physicists Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall were Soviet spies for the entire project. Nor were they the only two.

Partial List of References:

Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee
Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945

United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report
Washington DC, July 1, 1946

Chronicle of an early attempt to surrender
from the diary of Admiral Sokichi Takagi
July 1945

Approximately 80 additional documents

Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
The Hague, 18 October 1907.

Treaty of Peace with Japan
Signed at San Francisco, 8 September 1951.

Shimoda et al. v. The State
Tokyo District Court, 7 December 1963

Roosevelt Ignored M'Arthur Report On Nip Proposals
By Walter Trohan
Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1945.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.