Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Root Questions…

The following are some “root” questions I recently asked Odyssey Hiroshima & Nagasaki guide author Robert O’Connor – his answers are interleaved.

1 – The “Do Not Firebomb” list…

There was a shortlist of cities spared firebombing. When was this list drawn up and who was responsible?

Was the list intended from the start as a set of atomic bomb targets?

At what point was the list of doom fixed?

The list of four targets was chosen by the Target Committee.

Among its members were Col. Leslie Groves and his assistant Thomas Farrell. The list was drawn up in April 1945 and considered cities that were not bombed out (Tokyo was discussed, but excluded because it had been firebombed in March).

As a result of the list, the five cities were ordered to be spared from firebombing for an effective demonstration of the nuclear bombs.


2 – Why were Hiroshima and Nagasaki selected?

Is there any record of the criteria/rationale that led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki being on that list?

Perhaps something like “bigger than X but smaller than Y population?”

Hiroshima was put on the list because it had an army depot and a port in the middle of an urban area. It also had nearby hills that the committee believed could focus the effects of the blast.

Kyoto was initially one of the targets because it was (quoting the committee minutes) “an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon.” Kyoto was removed from the list at the insistence of Secretary of War Henry Stimson and replaced with Nagasaki.


3 – Why was Hiroshima picked first?

Hiroshima was picked first because it was thought that there were no American POWs in the city (in fact between 10 and 20 American POWs were there and died in the blast)


4 – After the 2nd (Nagasaki) bomb, could more have followed?

It seems the decision to use two was made early on in the planning, so that in theory it would have taken an order from Truman not to go ahead with the second, rather than saying he ordered it actively.

Is there any actual record of the reason why it had to be “two and then pause”?

Or is it more accurate to say the plan was to proceed down a list of targets at regular intervals, until halted?

Fat Man was used quickly after Little Boy because the military wanted the Japanese to believe they had more atomic bombs coming.

James Byrnes wanted to use the atomic bombs to force a Japanese surrender before the Soviet Union declared war (which ended up happening).

According to Henry Wallace, Truman ordered any future use of the atomic bomb stopped when he saw the first report from Hiroshima.


Model of Hiroshima in 1945 before the bomb By Derek Springer ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Model showing Hiroshima’s city centre after the bomb By Derek Springer ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Coming Soon:

Currently in production: a new Odyssey guide to Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Currently in production: a new Odyssey guide to Hiroshima and Nagasaki


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