During World War II, the United States and Britain began an atomic bomb programme called the ‘Manhattan Project’. The development of the atomic bomb was initially driven by the fear that Germany might be developing such a weapon but development continued after Germany surrendered.

After a successful test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, US President Truman decided to use it against Japan. The second bomb called ‘Little Boy’ was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, and the third called ‘Fat Man’, was detonated over the city of Nagasaki.
At the time the US government justified the use of the atomic bombs in terms of revenge for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Japanese refusal to accept the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. In later years, the US government argued that it was militarily necessary to drop the bombs because the only alternative was an invasion of Japan, which would have cost many soldiers and sailors their lives.

Right from the start, however, America's most senior Army, Navy and Airforce officers and some top officials denied that there was any military necessity to drop the atomic bombs. In the words of General, later President, Eisenhower, ‘We did not need to hit them with that awful thing.’ From decoded Japanese telegrams and other information it was known that Japan was militarily defeated and that a combination of American surrender terms which would allow the Japanese to keep their Emperor - which the US did agree to after the dropping of the atomic bombs - and the Soviet Union's forthcoming entry into the war against Japan would most likely lead to a Japanese surrender without any need for an invasion.

Recent studies of the US, Japanese and Soviet diplomatic archives show that one of President Truman's main motives in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 was not to avoid having to make an invasion by allied troops, but to limit Soviet expansion in Asia. They show that Japan surrendered because the Soviet Union began an invasion a few days after the Hiroshima bombing, not because of the atomic bombs themselves. Furthermore it is clear that the US knew both that the Japanese were ready to surrender if guarantees were given that they could keep their Emperor, and that they would very likely surrender if the Soviets were to enter to war in the Pacific, which the Russians had confirmed they would do before the dropping of the bomb.

The Cold War, which began in response to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is over, but the legacy of that fatal decision haunts us still. There are over 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, more than a thousand of them ready to launch at a moment's notice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

While the prospect of an all out war between Russia and the US has receded, the prospects of a nuclear weapon actually being used are perhaps greater today than during the cold war.

Nuclear weapon states have repeatedly refused to give up their arsenals of weapons. This attitude has led to the near collapse of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - the agreement which is supposed to control nuclear arms and lead to eventual total global nuclear disarmament. Moreover, it has contributed to other countries - including India, Pakistan and very likely North Korea - developing their own nuclear weapons in recent years. Nuclear brinkmanship is inevitable in such a climate of nuclear hypocrisy.

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