Almost 80 years later, we are still talking about the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When they did a showing of different World War 2 planes at the Smithsonian, the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was still so controversial they had requests not to share or showcase the Enola Gay or the events. With all of that, that means of course when we went through our World War 2 unit, of course, we had to have a Hirshoima debate for this WW2 history lesson.
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Background for this WW2 history lesson
Germany had fallen, and now the United States and the rest of the allies have turned their attention to Japan. So far the United States has been following an island-hopping plan. They conquer one island and move on.
It’s working, but it’s slow going. Very slow going, and it has a heavy death toll.
For both sides. Japan has dug in, the islands are covered in caves, and the whole thing is a death trap.
Japan is starving for resources (if you want to bawl your eyes out, there is a heart-rending picture book about the elephants in the Tokyo zoo, that was an example of a book you really should read ahead of time, it’s apparently no longer at my library because it’s pretty horrible).
FDR has recently died, and President Truman is now in charge. He’s been briefed with all of the information FDR has, and he has a decision to make.
This video does a pretty good job of giving all of the information Americans had at this time, and why America wanted World War 2 over. It was brutal.
Should the United States use the nuclear bomb?
That was the question I put to the kids. We covered modern history when they were in 6th grade, so it’s been a few years since they came up with their theories.
I’m rather curious what their answers will be when we cover this material again next year.
Here are the requirements for this assignment:
You need to present your plan for ending World War 2 to President Truman. With your plan, you need to explain why your plan is the best plan.
With that information, they set out to research and present their plans.
Surprisingly, none of the kids were in favor of dropping the bomb, and all had very similar suggestions of alternate plans.
I’m still debating about uploading the videos of their debates with all of the changes going on over at YouTube.
Long and short, they all decided not to bomb, and instead, we should, “Targeted bombing of specific military installations, and that would cause the Japanese to surrender.”
Princess even gave the specific bombs she would suggest using instead of the nuclear bomb, which quite impressed me.
Side note, on this WW2 history lesson looking back now
It’s amazing to me the difference in what I expected then, versus what I would expect from them now as a high school student. If the kids did this now, I would expect a lot more. Here are the standards I would put to make this a high school WW2 history lesson.
- Specific details, estimates of lives saved, timelines, and resources to back this up.
- 3-5 minute presentation, their presentations when they did this in 6th grade were about a minute long.
- Visual aids, Superman used some Legos to explain what he would do, but none of them used effective visuals.
- Practice their presentations ahead of time. In reality, this is something I should have required then, but they were still working on presentations then.
What actually happened, the ending for this WW2 history lesson
Okay, I really have no clue how people might look this topic up, I mean, I mentally title this, “Why drop the bomb lesson.” But that doesn’t make sense to explain much, so I’m calling it a WW2 history lesson, it’s not super great, but kind of funny.
Back to this lesson.
As you know, the United States dropped the bomb and ended World War 2 in the Pacific Theater.
Personally, I agree with the decision. It may not be correct, but with the information they had, and the information I’ve read, it’s the decision that saves the most lives, for both sides.
It’s a terrible decision, and I’m glad I didn’t have to make it. From the reports I’ve heard, Truman did not lose one bit of sleep from his decision.
I don’t think I would be able to say that.
natalie planetsmartypants says
I also read quite a bit on this topic, especially considering where I am coming from. But even from the Soviet point of view, it was the right decision. The world was exhausted and this brought the end quicker than it would have otherwise. Great resources in this post!
Thanks! It’s always fun to find good resources.
I’m awfully glad this wasn’t my call to make.
Me too! I can’t imagine the difficulty of the calls they had to make.
Lewis Hall (Elevated Math) says
I saw this posted on Twitter. I’ll respond here. No doubt, dropping the bombs saved American lives. How many is uncertain. Would Japan have killed all the POWs as I’ve heard say? Yet, these two bombs killed almost a quarter million people (about how many Covid-19 has killed in the US).
Why Truman didn’t lose sleep over the decision was that his decision was also a political one. Russia was carving up Europe (taking half of Germany, etc.) and our intelligence had told us that they were planning to do the same in the Far East. UNLESS we had something to threaten them with – i.e. the atomic bomb.
And finally, there is the behavioral reason. We had been fighting this war for four years and were tired. We wanted it over. Plus, we had spent all this time and money and secrecy in developing this bomb. It was simply human nature to want to use it, see how it works and end the war. So Truman said yes. Japan attacked us. If someone shoves you, human behavior makes you want to shove back. It takes a tremendous amount of faith, love for your fellow man, forbearance, and good will to overcome this tendency. It’s not just will power. I can’t blame Truman and unsure if I could resist the temptation to use the bomb. And not sure if I could live with knowing my lack of action had cost American lives.
I think all of those reasons and more came into play.
I’m with you, I don’t know how I would have lived with the knowledge that my lack of action caused more American lives, and probably more Japanese lives as the war continued on.