Strategy behind the bombing of Hiroshima

Japan 1941-1945 and the acts of belligerence that the nation displayed including the attack on Pearl Harbor. The writer examines the strategy behind the bombing of Hiroshima. The writer examines the fact that had Japan remained more patient she would not have had to engage in a war or wake the American sleeping giant with an unprovoked attack.


When the attacks on the World Trade Towers occurred September 11, 2001, Americans immediately began comparing it to that fateful day in 1941 when Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor. While the attack on the Trade Towers was horrific in nature it was founded in a small faction group trying to display their anger at America. The Pearl Harbor attacks had the backing of an entire national government.

Sixty years later historians still argue the facts about what prompted Japan to launch an attack on what was noted the most powerful country on earth. Debates rage around strategic thinking, need for raw materials, the desire for power and a simple hatred of America and all that it stood for (Price, 2001). The answer to why Pearl Harbor is that it was a combination of all those elements. Japan was angry, Japan was impatient, and Japan believed that an attack on America would give it greater power and respect in the world.


For one to fully understand the strategic thinking behind Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor and the four years of belligerence that it showed following that attack, one must have an understanding of the history directly leading to that era.

It was during the years of World War II when nations were jockeying for position in the arena of raw materials, land and the export markets (Price, 2001).

At the time France, Great Britain and the Netherlands had a powerful hold over most of Asia. The United States controlled the colony known as the Philippines.

Japan, independent, dreamed of empire. Its military leaders justified conquests in Asia by considering themselves liberators; their invasions of neighboring countries were freeing the region from white racism and domination by Western powers (Price, 2001).” prominent general in the Japanese military remarked at the time that Whites had made Asians objects of oppression and the time had come to seize the power that rightfully belonged to Japan.

Ironically at the same time the general was pointing the finger at Whites and arguing that they oppressed Asians the Japanese military powers were world renowned for their mistreatment of China and Korea with its belief that all people were inferior to the Japanese. The Japanese military regime treated them with cruelty that would shock the most cold hearted of nations on a regular basis (Price, 2001).

They also believed that Japan’s Emperor Hirohito was descended from the sun goddess and should be worshipped like a deity. Each day, Japanese teachers asked their classes: “What is your dearest ambition?” Each day, students would respond in unison: “To die for the Emperor (Price, 2001)!”

This created an atmosphere in which most Japanese soldiers would rather commit suicide than surrender or be defeated.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked it was placed directly on the head of the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto however, recent discovery has uncovered the fact that he got some of his strategic ideas from a book called the Pacific War that he read just before making the decision to attack the U.S.(Honan, 1991).

The attack sent a shock wave around the world as Americans scrambled to regroup. It was a day that will never be forgotten and it set the stage for a bomb dropping that would kill many people in Hiroshima as retaliation for the attack on America.

No nation has ever again attempted to attack the United States and much of that is based in the understanding of how America reacted to Pearl Harbor. Japan had grown impatient, and greedy and convinced itself that America was an evil empire that had to be destroyed, however what it did in actuality was to provide the stage for America to demonstrate to the world what will happen if a government ever again decides to flex its muscle in the direction of the U.S.


The belligerence displayed by the actions of Japan between 1941-1945 remain a mystery, but there are certain strategic elements that have become clear since its occurrence (Fallows, 1991).

For the most part, Japan believed if it attacked the United States it would place itself on equal footing with the West. In addition it believed that the attack would free it from domination from the outside world.

One of the constant issues in the debates about Pearl Harbor is the fact that it was an impossible goal. While the world was shocked at the lengths that Hitler was willing to go there is some evidence that he had a chance at dominating and taking over all of Europe with his military endeavours (Fallows, 1991). The attack on Pearl Harbor was futile before it began and therefore seemed to be a strategically planned suicide mission in the part of the Japanese government.

Five weeks before the attack a meeting was held during which time many military leaders tried to convince the Japanese government that America was so strong and powerful it would be committing national suicide to move against it, however, those who wanted to the attack to occur would turn a deaf ear and move forward.

In the years leading to the attack, Japanese leaders grew increasingly frustrated in what they believed to be a constant move to corner the nation and have it dominated by Western ideas and cultures (Fallows, 1991). In the months directly before the attack the leaders drew the conclusion that domination was inevitable of action was not taken and soon.

Part of the fear that spurned the leaders was the belief that a recent boycott led by America, England, China and Holland would expand to further cut off any ability to prosper. The boycott blocked the flow of raw materials from and too Japan. It was engineered as a punishment for Japan’s earlier decision to expand military power into French Indonesia.

As the attack on America drew close Japan found itself becoming boxed in with regard to other nations including the Soviet Union and China. Japanese leaders believed the only answer was going to be a showdown that would occur between Japan and America and Japan and Europe.

Japanese leaders knew the Japanese military operations were running out of steam. Holding itself against so many large nations had worn its ability down and there was soon to come a time in which the military had no more strength.

This was realized at the same time the Japanese government made up its mind that America had become arrogant and self absorbed with little concern for what was happening in the rest of the world.

The fact was however, that the depression was in full swing and America was trying to stay out of the war and instead was concentrating on trying to stabilize the domestic situation. Japan believed this to be an arrogance as the world struggled to decide its various boundaries and economic and trade issues (Fallows, 1991).

Had Japan simply had more patience America would have been able to get a handle on its domestic issues, and then sit down with Japan and discuss the boycott and what could be done to end it without military interference.

As America continued to refuse to take part or to take sides in the war Japan grew increasingly angry with what it perceived to be a self absorbed attitude on the part of Americans and the United States government. The only time America would get involved was to take part in a boycott against Japan or other times in which America would be directly affected by the outcome.

This perceived arrogance drove Japanese leaders to become nervous about the future of their nation. They began to believe that it was only a matter of time before its military was worn down.

They also believed that America was keeping an eye on the events of Japan during the war and waiting for the military to run out of steam, as that would be a perfect opportunity for America or one of its allies to step in and overtake Japan with very little effort or money needed.

This became a focus of the Japanese government as it watched its military strength continue to weaken during a war in which America, to that point had carefully avoided any involvement. This meant in the mind of the Japanese leaders, that America was resting in a militaristic sense and when Japan became weak enough it would not take any effort at all to dominate the smaller nation.

In a last ditch effort to gain power and to protect what it believed to be its national reputation Japan made the decision to attack America before it had no more strength. While many argued that it was a mistake the attack happened anyway and the result was a punishment that had never been experienced before in the history of the world. The dropping of an atomic bomb changed the strategic thinking of Japan for the rest of history. Today, and for the past five decades the nation has spent its energies trying to be a friendly ally to America and Great Britain instead of trying to become more powerful than they are. It has focused its attention on technological development and assisting the world in moving forward and not on which nation has the most power, the most money or the best military forces. The strategy behind the attack on Pearl Harbor was founded in the fear of economic and trade threats. Now the nation addresses those fears through advances in technology and the sharing of those advances with the nations it used to fear.


The decision to drop a bomb was made and executed in 1945. Many believe it triggered the end of the war as the world realized the power America had and was willing to use. Strategically it produced a mindset change in the Japanese leader circle. The bomb dropping was strategic in that before this decision was made there was another plan to invade through Kyushu.

From mid-July onwards, Ultra intercepts exposed a huge military build-up on Kyushu. Japanese ground forces exceeded prior estimates by a factor of four. Instead of 3 Japanese field divisions deployed in southern Kyushu to meet the 9 U.S. divisions, there were 10 Imperial Army divisions plus additional brigades. Japanese air forces exceeded prior estimates by a factor of two to four. Instead of 2,500 to 3,000 Japanese aircraft, estimates varied between about 6,000 and 10,000. One intelligence officer commented that the Japanese defences threatened “to grow to the point where we attack on a ratio of one (1) to one (1) which is not the recipe for victory (Frank, 2005).”

Because America had to recreate American faith in its ability to protect its residents it had to be sure that any invasion of Japan or attack on Japan would be overwhelmingly successful.

It was important from a strategic standpoint as the world watched and wondered if a nation as tiny as Japan was actually able to attack the United States and get away with it. American officials had no choice but to develop a plan that would demonstrate to the world including the Soviet Union that America still considered itself the most powerful nation on earth even given the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When military intelligence told American officials that Japan had built up enough forces in Kyushu to fend off an attack or at least put up a fight that would make America look weak the leaders switched gears and instead decided to drop a bomb first on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki.

This decision came on the heels of Truman being told by McArthur that he felt Japan was nearing the decision to surrender the war.

It was a now or never situation for American leaders. If they let this opportunity pass it would appear to the world that America could be attacked and there would be no long lasting or devastating repercussions for such a decision (Frank, 2005).

American leaders were aware of two things.

The first awareness was that Japan was fully prepared to defend Kyushu with so much military power the America troops may lose and if they did not lose there would be a significant cost involved with the decision invade.

The second thing that American leaders were conscious of was the fact that America still had not made an earth shattering impression to the world about what would happen if any nation ever again thought it could attack on American soil.

With the information and belief that Japan was readying to surrender the war American leaders had to move quickly or the window of opportunity would be forever lost. If a bomb was dropped following a surrender America would simply look like a bully, not a defensive action nation.

The decision to drop the bomb also brought a discussion that it would most likely prolong the war as Japan answered the attack by America, however, the real reaction instead was a surprisingly quick and peaceful surrender shortly after the bombs hit their targets.

For Truman the end of the war seemed at hand; the issue was no longer when the war would end, but how and on whose terms. If he believed that the war would end with Soviet entry in mid-August, then he must have realized that if the bombs were not used before that date they might well not be used at all (Alperovitz, 1995). ”

The strategy behind the bomb was not solely about retribution for the attack, against Japan, but was about using that attack on Pearl Harbor to demonstrate to the world what America was capable of if any other nation had similar plan.


America will never forget the attack on Pearl Harbor, nor will the world ever forget the answer that Japan received for that attack. The development of nuclear war capabilities has been around for many decades yet nobody has pushed the button and brought them out for use. This could be due to what was witnessed when the atomic bomb landed in Japan and caused mayhem, mass destructions and countless deaths. The lesson learned by the world was that America would not sit quietly and accept military action on its own soil. The second lesson learned was that atomic bombs cause so much damage hat nations needed to agree not to use them ever again.

The strategy of Japan during its belligerence of 1941-1945 was based in its fear of being dominated by the West. Its decision to attack Pearl Harbor was based in its weakening military power and the decision to do it now or never style.

In the same manner just as Japan was about to surrender America decided to drop the bomb because the time to show the world its muscle was now or never in 1945. The strategy worked.

The Japanese have spent the past six decades working to be friends with America.


Alperovitz, Gar (1995) Hiroshima: historians reassess. (atomic bombing)

Foreign Policy

Honan, William (1991) Who Planned Pearl Harbor?;a British Expert Warned the World, but Only Japan Remembered.The Washington Post

Fallows, James (1991) the mind of Japan. (Japanese history) (Special Report: Pearl Harbor: 50 Years) (Cover Story) U.S. News & World Report

Frank, Richard (2005) Why Truman dropped the bomb: sixty years after Hiroshima, we now have the secret intercepts that shaped his decision.(Harry S. Truman)

The Weekly Standard

Price, Sean (2001) Parallels to Pearl Harbor: in 1941, as in 2001, a surprise attack on America united the nation for a major war. (times past). New York Times

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