Desktop version

Home arrow History arrow U.S. History


By the summer of 1945, the Allies had defeated Germany, and U.S. forces were within bombing range of Japan. Authorities as diverse as future Nobel Prize winner William Shockley and expresident Herbert Hoover estimated that the planned U.S. land invasion of Japan would have cost 1 million U.S. casualties and up to 10 million Japanese lives. The Japanese military was training all civilians — including children — to fight to the death.

The decision to drop the bomb

The United States had just completed the first test of the new atomic bomb. The Soviet Union was attacking the Japanese army in Manchuria, and the U.S. didn't want to give the Soviets time to make territorial claims. After dropping warning leaflets, the U.S. exploded an atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 130,000 people. The Japanese still didn't surrender. Three days later, the Americans dropped another bomb over Nagasaki that killed an additional 60,000 people.


Question: Why did the United States drop the atomic bomb on Japan?

Answer: To end the war, stop Soviet expansion, and ultimately save lives.

The ending was deadly, but it marked the end of years of global suffering during World War II. The dictators' threat to democracy was so serious that some have called the Allies' defense of international freedom the Good War.

The outcome of World War II

The Allies wrapped up World War II by occupying Japan and Germany. They divided Germany into zones controlled by Britain, France, the U.S., and the U.S.S.R. Although Berlin was technically in the Soviet zone, the parties divided it separately; the Soviets got East Berlin, and the West took West Berlin. Japan was an all-American occupation, with General Douglas MacArthur dictating a democratic constitution.

In both Japan and Germany, 20 or so major war criminals went on trial, and a few were executed. In Germany, these postwar hearings were called the Nuremberg trials (1946), and they established the principle that people have the responsibility not to follow orders if those orders violate international law.

Before World War II, only a handful of democracies existed throughout the world. Now, most of the countries in the world hold democratic elections (or at least pretend to). Before World War II, the world was an international jungle — every nation for itself. Now, although pain and conflict are certainly still plentiful, the United Nations and other international organizations at least try to call attention to abuses and occasionally take real action.

The United States was changed as much as any part of the globe by World War II. Thrust into world leadership, America could never go back to the dream of isolationism.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics