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Some say that the atomic bomb, as awful as it was, saved a million people from dying in a longer war. Is this true?

Projections have no basis in fact and are simply used to justify the bombing

One theory maintains that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war more quickly and thus saved the lives of many people who would otherwise have been killed. In July of this year, the Japanese public was furious when U.S. Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Robert Joseph, remarked at a press conference, "I think most historians would agree that the use of an atomic bomb brought to a close a war that would have cost literally millions of Japanese lives".

I found that many people in the United States, including American presidents, have employed various projections in order to justify these bombings. But how have they calculated their projections?

I spoke with Motofumi Asai, the director of the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University, and he told me that "these projections have no basis in fact. The 'myth of one million' is used to justify having used the atomic bombs".

The 'myth of one million' grew as a response to American critics of the bombings. After the bombs were dropped, these critics contended that the bombs had not been necessary to end the war. Moreover, a research panel within the US government itself concluded that, "Even if we had not used the atomic bombs, Japan would have surrendered."

The myth originated in an article in a magazine

The research panel's conclusion upset political leaders and they encouraged Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, known as "The Conscience of America", to write an article to counter this idea. Despite his apparent reluctance to include the following sentence--"I was informed that such operations might be expected to cost over a million casualties of American forces alone"--the article was published, spawning the myth.

Former President Harry S. Truman also presented projections of the death toll in his books. He asserted that "500,000 American citizens, 250,000 members of the allied forces, and 250,000 Japanese" would have died if the atomic bombs had not been dropped. But Mr. Asai points out that "These figures are always adjustable since they are manufactured to justify the bombings." In fact, before the bombings, there had been a different projection. If the war had stretched on and the United States had invaded Kyushu, one report projected that the military would suffer 31,000 casualties in the first month. This report was submitted to the President by a military commander and is often mentioned by American historians. However, this figure abruptly grew much larger after the war ended.

The myth has become ingrained in children, too

In America, there are many who believe dropping the atomic bombs was justified. Yumiko Yoshikiyo, 28, who recently visited more than 220 schools in the United States to convey the reality of the bombings, told us, "The idea that the atomic bombs prevented a high death toll is widely accepted among American children."

In investigating this issue, I was shocked by how these projections have escalated. Apparently, use of the atomic bombs can be justified if the figure is a million lives, but not thousands of lives. However, my main concern is not the actual number. The basic question of dropping the bombs at all should be denied, since these weapons have had such a dreadful and long-term impact on the victims. ( Kyoko Morioka, staff writer)