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How the U.S. Justified Dropping the Bomb on Hiroshima

Excerpts from <em>The Atlantic's</em> archives in 1946 show the debate behind this pivotal moment in history. By Caroline Kitchener

Sixty-eight years ago today, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 110,000 Japanese citizens and thrusting the world into a nuclear age.

The American public didn't know how to respond to this unprecedented military move. Should they just be glad that the war was over, and conclude that the ends justified the means? Or should they be skeptical, and question whether this final assault was really absolutely necessary?

In December 1946, just over a year after Hiroshima, The Atlantic published Dr. Karl Compton's article, "If the Atomic Bomb Had Not been Used." Compton argues that if the United States had not implemented the Manhattan Project, hundreds of thousands more lives - both American and Japanese - would have been lost. President Truman - who called Compton's article, "the first sensible statement I have seen on the subject" - expressed his support for Compton's position in a letter published in The Atlantic in February 1947. Together, Compton's article and Truman's letter explain how the U.S. government justified its decision to cause massive destruction on a scale the world had never seen before.

Read more at The Atlantic.