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[WWII] The dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan was unnecessary.


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On August 6th and 9th, 1945, nuclear bombs were dropped by American forces on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. These bombings are largely consider (by Americas) to be the primary driving force behind Japan's surrender, and necessary to end the war without unacceptable casualties on either side.

As, pro, I intend to refute this perception and argue that neither bombings were necessary to bring about a timely end to the war with acceptable casualty rates. Con will argue against, and support the decision.

Burden of proof is shared.

Round 1
World War Two, a Brief Timeline of Events

May 7, 1945

Germany, under the leadership of Reich President Karl Dönitz, surrenders unconditionally to Allied Forces. A day later, Victory in Europe Day would be declared and the allies would focus on the war in the Pacific.

The Battle of Okinawa

A month before VE day, the allied forces launched an invasion of Okinawa, considered to be one of the last stepping stones in the "island hopping" strategy to reclaim the Pacific Islands and eventually invade and defeat Japan. The invasion would last almost three months - until June 22nd - and be one of the most vicious and bloodiest battles of the war, with casualties on both sides being nearly equal. It would be considered to be a taste of what an invasion of the Japanese mainland would be like as Japan had pledged to "prosecute the war to the bitter end."[1]

Weighing the Options

Throughout the war, the allied forces had been conducting numerous conventional bombings on the Japanese mainland while liberating the islands under Japanese control. Prior to the awareness of nuclear weapons, it was naturally assumed that the defeat of Japan would happen by conventional means. This was formalized in a plan known as Operation Downfall, devised by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during 1945.

Unbeknownst to most, President Truman had formed the Interim Committee, a secret group whose purpose was to advise the present on practical applications of nuclear power. The first order of business: the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. Their conclusion on June 1st:

Mr. Byrnes recommended, and the Committee agreed, that the Secretary of War should be advised that, while recognizing that the final selection of the target was essentially a military decision, the present view of the Committee was that the bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers’ homes; and that it be used without prior warning.[2]
Note, that the eventual defeat of Japan was certain, it was merely a question of how to bring this defeat about expediently with as few casualties as possible. Regardless of which method they would employ, by early July, the general strategy for dealing with Japan politically had been decided: surrender, or be destroyed[3]

The Potsdam Conference

The war was not being fought by the US alone, and it would be necessary to determine how current and future spoils would be divided, and how the political future of Europe and the Pacific would be designed by the victors. From mid-July to early August, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and United States (and other leaders) conferred upon these issues.

On July 26th, the US, UK, and Chinese leaders would issue the Potsdam Declaration, publicly demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan, lest it be completely destroyed. Within a few days, Japan would provide a public statement of ignoring the declaration as unimportant.

The Bombing

On August 6th, 1945, the Enola Gay would drop the "Little Boy" atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later, the Bockscar would drop the "Fat Man" on Nagasaki. Within the week, Emperor Hirhohito publicly would issue a surrender.

Behind the Scenes

The Story...

The story often told of the Japanese as an implacable enemy that would fight to the death, inflicting enormous casualties on all who would dare violate her soil[4]. Such is their confidence that they refused to accept the destruction of Hiroshima, believing it to be a meteor or other natural disaster. Only after the complete destruction of two cities would she bow to a foreign nation.


While it is common to portray the Japanese as being of a single mind, given the face they presented on the world stage, the fact is, the members of the Emperor's cabinet were divided as to how to proceed. One the one side, some argued for fighting to the death in order to force favorable terms while the other argued a quick surrender to minimize damage to the Japanese people[5]. Both camps were of the same mind on one thing: Japan must, at some point, surrender. Were the atomic bombs the tipping point, then? While it is often taught that Japan surrendered not long after the dropping of the second atomic bomb, overlooked is the fact that the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan at the same time.

Ruskies to the Rescue

The Japanese had long feared the Russian army and considered it an impediment to their goals in Asia and the Pacific. Japan had suffered a shocking loss to Russian forces in 1929 and failed to secure any lasting victories against the Soviet Union prior to and throughout World War II. Ultimately, the Soviets and Japanese would sign a pact of neutrality: a mutually beneficial agreement that would allow both nations to ignore each other and focus their forces on a single front. Even when Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Japan opted not to exploit the diversion and maintained neutrality with respect to the Soviets.

In response to the Potsdam Declaration (which the Soviet Union was not a part of), the Japanese government reached out to the Soviets, hoping to use them as a third party to negotiate better terms for surrender[6]. After the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan reached out again, indicating that this act of destruction was not a deciding factor. Even after the second bombing at Nagasaki, Japan considered the Soviet invasion of Manchuria to be more significant[7]. With enemies on all sides and no party to negotiate on their behalf, Japan was forced to offer unconditional surrender.

Military Assessment

Much has been made (for and against) of comments of military advisers regarding the necessity of the bombing, most famously that of Dwight D. Eisenhower[8]. More importantly, though, was that the atomic bombings were ineffective, even by the proponents of the bombing. George C. Marshall, in defense of using nuclear bombs, complained, "We killed 100,000 Japanese in one [bombing] raid in one night, but it didn't mean a thing insofar as actually beating the Japanese." Yet the death tolls of Nagasaki and Hiroshima did not significantly eclipse that number, whose casualty numbers include those that later died of radiation poisoning or other indirect causes[9]. Japan had been weathering conventional bombings for over three years at that point, with around 400,000 individuals killed[10]. There is no reason to believe that nuclear weapons were any more effective, having produced similar results to conventional air raids, when previous raids, causing comparable losses also had no effect.


While the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had a great effect on the world at large, there is little evidence that supports they were necessary to bring about a timely closure to the war. Japan had already internally acknowledged eventual surrender, putting hope in a settlement negotiated by the Russians. This hope was dashed when the Russians denounced their pact of neutrality and invaded Manchuria. The bombings themselves were not significantly more effective than the conventional bombs that had failed to phase Japan over the course of the previous three years. Had the US continued with conventional air raids, it is clear that Japan would have still surrendered after the Soviet invasion, having no other possible hope for a negotiated surrender.

[3] "It is important to emphasize the double character of the suggested warning. It was designed to promise destruction if Japan resisted, and hope, if she surrendered."
[4] "We had to assume that a force of 2.5 million Japanese would fight to the death"
[5] "The war camp maintained that Japan must inflict tremendous damage on the Americans in order to win better terms than the 'unconditional surrender'... The peace camp contended that ending the war as soon as possible was the best way to achieve both camps’ overriding goal: retaining the emperor system."
[7]  "[T]he Soviet Union’s entry into the war, and the realization that Japanese forces would have to fight the Soviets in the north and the U.S. in the south, constituted 'the greater shock'"
[8] "My belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary." - The White House Years
[10] Average derived from a number of reports and studies:
This debate system is very trashy. Now here I go

1. Refusal to surrender

The Japanese were not willing to surrender. They planned for a operation called "Operation Ketsugō" Which it involved using Kamikaze attacks on boats to attack the Allied ships and attack boats. [1] When asked to surrender unconditionally, the Japanese responded with "MokusatsuMeaning "ignored" in Japanese, and the war would continue on. 
In the year of 1944, the War Journal of the Imperial Headquarters said that: "We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. The only course left is for Japan's one hundred million people to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight."

Number of people killed by the Japanese

It is not exactly clear how many people the Japanese killed, but it estimated that almost 3 to 10,000,000 were killed by the Japanese, way more than the number of people killed by the bombs. [2] 

3. Alternative to the bombings

If the bombs were not to be used, it was estimated that half a million troops would be killed in the invasion. Even said in an quote by Kyle Palmer "half a million to a million Americans would die by the end of the war. [3]

In the operation from the Olympic group we would see

• Soldiers: Numbering from 766,700 - 815,548
• Vehicles: 134,300

With 11 Infantry divisions, 3 Marine divisions, and 40 Air groups.

From the Coronet

• Soldiers: 1,026,000 - 1,171,646
• Vehicles: 190,000

(look at the 3 box for same sources in the article)

With a large 20 Infantry divisions, 3 Marine divisions, at least 2 Armored divisions, and 50 Air groups. 

I am finished with my argument, and I will post my next in the time you post again, maybe tomorrow. 
Round 2

1. Refusal to Surrender

The key phrase from CON's argument is "We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success." At this point, Japan had acknowledged that winning, or even a stalemate, was simply not possible. Their primary objective, then, was to avoid unconditional surrender. Japan was ready for peace, but conditionally.[1,2]

As history played out, Japan abandoned Ketsugō. What changed their mind? Was it the bombs? After the first bomb, there was some skepticism within the Japanese government about what, exactly, had happened, and they delayed official response until a scientific was dispatched to conduct a study. Even after the dropping of the second bomb, the military recommended continuing the Ketsugō operation.[3]

At this point, Japan had become inured to the bombing raids on Japanese soil and the casualties that came as a result. Military stance was gearing to defend against an anticipated Allied invasion, one that excluded Soviet assistance.[4] Even in evaluating potential ways in which the Soviets could get involved, Japan was depending on maintaining Soviet neutrality, or perhaps even turning them against the Allies.[5]

The "Mokusatsu" response of Japan to the Potsdam Declaration bears clarification. Ignoring the declaration outright was a politically savvy move. It gave the impression that Japan would continue to prosecute the war completely, while giving them time to attempt negotiations with the Soviets.[6] It was, essentially, a stalling tactic.

2. Casualty Expectations

The US had predicted a great degree of casualties for a full-blown invasion of the mainland. However, these figures were based on only US and UK involvement.[7] At this point, not even the Allies were counting on Soviet involvement.

3. The Turning Point

What caused everyone to change their plans? What caused Japan to abandon Ketsugō and the Allies to stand down on Operation Olympic? The Soviet Invasion. I will admit that the bombs did have an amplifying affect on the Japanese decision making process, but it was the Soviet Invasion that was was the turning point.[8]

Consider an analogy: If I have already decided to do something, putting a gun to my head will probably put a little pep in my step, but it couldn't be said that the gun was necessary as I was simply carrying out a course of action I had already decided on.

The bombs changed the equation of war, certainly, but not significantly. It was simply a more powerful form of bombing that Japan had already weathered. It was more significant to the US (who could inflict higher casualties with less risk and resources) than it was to the Japan (who had suffered worse casualties in conventional bombing raids). The invasion of the Soviets, however, upset Japanese expectations (that the Soviets would remain neutral and could be used against the Allies, either in war or in peace) and ruined their hopes for any type of negotiated settlement. It was only after this last option was removed, did Japan recognize the need for unconditional surrender.

[1] "Hirohito’s first and foremost preoccupation was the preservation of the imperial house.",
[2] "[N]o Allied occupation and that demilitarization and any war crimes trials be conducted by Japan itself.", ibid.
[3] "Anami made startling assertions that the United States might possess more than 100 atomic bombs, and that the next target might be Tokyo, the military insisted upon the continuation of the Ketsu Go strategy.", ibid.
[4] “'It is unlikely that the Soviet Union will initiate military action against Japan this year, but extreme vigilance is required over their activities in August and September.'”, ibid.
[5] "Of these alternatives, the army preferred to accept the Soviet demand and either keep the Soviet Union neutral or, if possible, involve the Soviet Union in the war against the United States and Britain.", ibid.
[6] "It is also important to recall that the Japanese government decided to suspend judgment on the Potsdam Proclamation precisely because it had pinned its last hope on Moscow’s mediation.", ibid.
[8] "Nevertheless, it was not until he learned of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria that [the Prime Minister] 'was finally convinced that the moment had at last arrived to end the war, since what we had been afraid of and tried to avoid at any cost had finally come about'",

Round 3
I extend my arguments. If my opponent publishes during the final round, then we can treat this as a two round debate. Otherwise, it should unfortunately be treated as a forfeites debate.
I apologize for not giving my second arguments when I should have. This is on me and let me finish this debate, though we can try again and redo this debate if you want. 

1. Continuation of fighting.

Your rebuttal had the following statement: "Even after the dropping of the second bomb, the military recommended continuing the Ketsugō operation.[3]" This proves that the Japanese were not willing to surrender. Remember you stated that "The atomic bombings of Japan was unnecessary" but would the Japanese still have surrendered if the U.S didn't drop the bombs? Just with the Russians invading? 

2. Factors of the decision process.

I would say that the factors leading to Japan surrendering were the Russian invasion, lack of food, and the bombings. [1]  See this from the article: "it was the Soviet entry into the war and the atomic bombings that precipitated a hasty surrender. But it was overdue because the signs of defeat, including a devastating series of setbacks on the home front, had been gathering for some time: endless fire bombings, growing shortages of food due to the U.S. blockade “Operation Starvation.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were among key factors in the factors in the decision to surrender, and I will count on the source I provided to back my claim. Had they not been bombed, it would have not been likely that Japan would surrender. [2]