Harry Truman on Dropping the Atomic Bomb

Finally, in August 1945, after more than six years of fighting and with tens of millions of people killed worldwide, World War II was over. Although the world celebrated the end of the war, there was also intense debate about the use of the atomic bomb to bring it to a conclusion. "I realize the tragic significance of the atom bomb," President Harry Truman said in a radio address before the Japanese government finally surrendered, "[but we] have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans." Eighteen years later Truman felt just as strongly. He was still being criticized for his judgement, and he was grateful to those who had supported him. In July of 1963, Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Sun Times wrote a favorable column on Truman and his decision, and Truman wrote the following letter in response.


August 5, 1963

          Dear Kup:

          I appreciated most highly your column of July 30th, a copy of which you sent me.

          I have been rather careful not to comment on the articles that have been written on the dropping of the bomb for the simple reason that the dropping of the bomb was completely and thoroughly explained in my Memoirs, and it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did. It probably also saved a half million youngsters on both sides from being maimed for life.

          You must always remember that people forget, as you said in your column, that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was done while we were at peace with Japan and trying our best to negotiate a treaty with them.

          All you have to do is to go out and stand on the keel of the Battleship in Pearl Harbor with the 3,000 youngsters underneath it who had no chance whatever of saving their lives. That is true of two or three other battleships that were sunk in Pearl Harbor. Altogether, there were between 3,000 and 6,000 youngsters killed at that time without any declaration of war. It was plain murder.

          I knew what I was doing when I stopped the war that would have killed a half a million youngsters on both sides if those bombs had not been dropped. I have no regrets and, under the same circumstances, I would do it again -- and this letter is not confidential.

          Sincerely yours,

          Harry S. Truman

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