Guided Readings: The Atomic Bomb

Reading 1

Nuclear bombs cannot possible remain a “secret weapon” at the exclusive disposal of this country for more than a few years. The scientific facts on which their construction is based are well known to scientists of other countries. Unless an effective internal control of nuclear explosives is instituted, a race for nuclear armaments is certain to ensue following the first revelation of our possession of nuclear weapons to the world. . . . In the war to which an armaments race is likely to lead, the United States, with its agglomeration of population and industry in comparative few metropolitan districts, will be at a disadvantage compared to nations whose population and industry are scattered over large areas.

We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, we would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching international agreement on the future control of such weapons.

—Scientists’ petition against use of the atomic bomb, June 1945

Reading 2

I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb. Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken. . . . But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we know the disaster which would come to this nation . . . to all civilizations, if they had found it first. . . .

Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned the pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. 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.

—President Truman defending his decision to drop the atomic bombs, August 1945

Questions for Discussion

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