Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on the “Facts” Surrounding the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs

For this Thursday’s conversation, I was responsible for finding and presenting the basic “facts” of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To do so, I turned to every-historian’s-favorite-source, Wikipedia, because I knew it would give me a good starting point for this information as well as be (mostly) devoid of commentary on the decision to use the bombs.

Dr Strangelove

According to Wikipedia, on July 25th, 1945, President Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. The United States had originally identified four potential targets for where to drop the atomic bomb, and on August 6th and August 9th, the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man from the Enola Gay and Bockscar onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing at Hiroshima killed a approximately 80,000 individuals instantly; the bombing at Nagasaki killed approximately 70,000 individuals instantly; approximately 190,000 individuals died from secondary effect of the bomb later on. The August 9th bombing quickly brought about the surrender of Japan.  Although the Wikipedia entry goes into greater detail about the preparations for the bombings, the bombings themselves, and the aftermath of the bombings, I found this level of information sufficient for creating a framework to discuss the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Ultimately, I found Wikipedia to be a good source for establishing a timeline of the events that preceded and followed the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For me, the most interesting part of the Wikipedia entry was that even within its analysis free entry, the page still largely presented the very standard American argument/justification (one might call it the Stimson argument) for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan – that it ultimately saved American and Japanese lives. The entry references a report commissioned by Secretary of War Stimson that estimated a land invasion of Japan would result in upwards of 800,000 deaths for the Allies and upwards of 10 million deaths for the Japanese. While these numbers may or may not have been accurate, the narrative that the United States dropped the atomic bombs to save lives is exactly the narrative that revisionists historians push back against, and this presentation of the atomic-bombs-saved-lives narrative speaks to what one might call a American-centric version of events. Ultimately, this narrative on the Wikipedia page relates to our conversation from Tuesday about objectivity, basic facts/truths, postmodernism, etc. For example, the page references two predictions for how many casualties/fatalities would be suffered by both sides if the United States were to have carried out a land invasion of Japan. Although the numbers are not congruous, they are still presented in absolute sense (e.g. Had the US not dropped the bombs, this many lives would have been lost) which makes it difficult for average readers of the page to think critically what other factors might have gone into the decision to drop the bombs. Finally, I should acknowledge that the very bottom of the Wikipedia entry briefly details different schools of thought about why the decision to drop the bombs was made. However, the point of my analysis is that all presentations of historical information have some bias inherent in them, and it is our job as consumers and writers of history to be critical and transparent about the ways in which these biases manifest themselves in narratives or our writings.

Works Cited

“Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Wikipedia.” 2017. Accessed September 8.


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