Editor's Note: This month marked the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. To commemorate the occasion, we shared two articles from the American Heritage archives that shed greater light on details surrounding the events.
The stories received an outpouring of reactions on social media, including over 1,000 comments on our Facebook page, so we thought we'd share some of the most insightful remarks with the rest of our audience. Read on for a selection of those responses. (And don't forget to sign up to follow our Facebook page because we are constantly publishing new material there.)
The bombs prevented more horrendous casualties
"I have an uncle who was in the Army in the Pacific Theater. Had the war continued and the Japanese mainland invaded, the casualties on both sides would have been absolutely horrendous. My uncle, no doubt, would have been part of the invasion force. Had he died or been severely injured our family history would look much different."
-Ron Mele, Birmingham, Alabama
A restless American public
"Very difficult decision, but in hindsight probably the right one. Casualties on both sides would have been exponentially higher, both militarily and civilian, in the long run. A blockade of the home islands would have went on forever, to 'starve them out'. Danger of the Soviets invading and occupying from the North (exclusion of the Sakhalin Islands). At this point, following the surrender of Europe, the war was becoming unpopular and the American public restless."
-Shirley Balinski, Rudyard, Michigan
U.S. hand was forced
"The Japanese government 'forced' us to find an alternative to standard invasion. Southern Japan was defended by 3 divisions. Invasion was doable. Before we could turn around that 3 became 12 and invasion was no longer feasible. The first bombing didn't get them to surrender. Only the 2nd bombing combined with Russia declaring war and attacking convinced them to surrender. They knew islands lost to Russia may never get returned."
-Danny Bryant, Missouri
"Why do they continue to try and rewrite? [Truman] made his decision based on the info he had. Unless there is a smoking gun document which proves otherwise, he made his decision. For all you doubters - how easy was it to invade and change Afghanistan or Iraq? Take that same tenacity and put it in Japan. There would have been massive deaths, along with women and children. Is that what you wanted?"
-Russ Beres, Cuddebackville, New York
My father didn't have to invade
"My father was on a troop transport in the middle of the Pacific. He was headed to Japan as part of an invasion. The situation in Japan led military officials to believe that the U.S. casualty rate for the invasion was not acceptable. Truman didn’t have many choices. Remember that Japan didn’t surrender after seeing the effects of the first bomb. The war might have gone on for months if the U.S. had invaded. I'm glad for my father that he didn’t to invade."
-Clegg Verret, Oceanside, California
"I was just listening to Malcolm Gladwell on this topic. He quoted a Japanese historian saying the Japanese should be grateful for the atomic bombing because far more Japanese would have died in an invasion. Also a new and unprecedented weapon gave Hirohito a face-saving excuse for surrender, without which he might not have been able to overcome the resistance of his own military leaders."
Hindsight is 20/20
"It’s easy to look back, 75 years after the fact, with millions of pages of documents, with 20/20 hindsight, to second guess decisions. Were the bombings horrible? Yes. But what we don’t know is what would have happened had President Truman not used the atom bomb. Would the Soviet Union gained a larger foothold in Asia? Had the world not seen the terror of nuclear weapons in 1945, would the Cuban crisis 16 years later ended up in a nuclear exchange with much more powerful weapons? Learn from the past — absolutely. Second guess it??"
-Charles Weiland, Greeley, Colorado
No good answer
"I don't pretend to be a scholar on this subject but what evidence I have seen suggests Truman made the correct decision. It's horrible for all those largely innocent people in the two cities. But I think of all the American men who lived to go home to their families. I also think of the Japanese in other places who did not have to go through an Okinawa like battle and they lived. There was no good answer but it didn't seem like the Japanese would surrender otherwise."
-Neil Winchester, Chesapeake, Virginia
"I visited Hiroshima a number of years ago and we had a tour guide that was in Japan when the bomb was dropped. He stated that there is no ill will because that saved as many Japanese lives as American. He also said that Japan was 6 months from having it’s own atomic bomb and would have used it on the US. That would have extended the war for years. Hindsight is 20/20 but it is done."
-Gary Robertson, Wilmington, Illinois
World witnessed the horror of nuclear war
"After the battles for Tarawa and Okinawa, Truman was correct in his assumption that a conventional invasion would have been costly and bloody. Not just for the Allies, but Japan itself. The one good thing that came out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the world witnessed the horror of nuclear warfare. And another bomb has not been dropped in anger since."
-Gordon Allen, Chicago, Illinois
Saved my husband's life
"My husband always credited the bomb for saving his life. He was scheduled to go in the first wave in the Japanese invasion. He lived to raise 5 children, see 13 grandchildren and numerous great-grand ones. It was the hardest right decision anyone every made. Thank you, Mr. Truman, for being a real President."
-Betty Thornton, Grand Junction, Colorado
Same foolish question
"Why is it that every year at this time this same foolish question is asked? Had instead an invasion occurred it was estimated American casualties would have been horrendous. As long as we've hopped aboard a time machine we might ask ourselves that had the war continued and our fathers and grandfathers did not make it back. How many of us would be here today?"
"We could have bombed an unmanned or sparsely manned island and told them the next one would be the emperor's palace. It would have had the same effect without deliberately targeting civilians."
-Clifford Steiner, Fulton, Illinois
Hope it never happens again
"Probably the hardest decision a president has ever had to make. On the one hand it was horrible as it ended the lives of thousands of innocent people and impacted generations to come. It also changed the American military presence on the worldwide stage. Since then we have interjected ourselves in so many conflicts.
On the other hand, it did bring a swift end to the war which may have saved thousands more lives. Also, the argument could be made that the use of nuclear power then was the only thing that stopped the Cold War from escalating further, having seen such destruction.
Either way, it remains the darkest day in U.S and Japanese history and hopefully it will never happen again."
-Michael Tibbetts, Portland, Maine
Lesser of the two evils
"I just read the essay on Truman's decision to use the Atom Bomb on Japan. In my opinion he did what was right at that time. I believe the US was very tired and after many bloody battles with Japan decided to do whatever it took to end the war. Was it the right thing to do? I leave that up to those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the military and are now with their creator.
I fought in Vietnam and didn't like it one bit. However when I saw injustice imposed on innocent people I did not like that either. The lesser of the two evils was to stop that injustice even though I was a foreigner in a foreign land. All life is sacred. However when a government decides how people live and how people die it curls my blood. Japan wanted world dominance at that time. Had the US not stopped them and Germany who knows what the world would be like today. Or based on history would we know and then be saying "why didn't we do something to stop this?"
Grace of Japanese people
"Now knowing the devastation of the bomb and internment of these beautiful people, I am amazed that growing up in the 60’s my friend's parents graciously allowed us entrance into their homes and children’s lives. It is always the humble, loving, hard working people who suffer from governments policies of war. Bless us all and create a world where the probability of this will not happen again. Let us learn from history not repeat it."
-Denis Holt, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee