More than a half century after the nuclear age was born, the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains a controversial subject and a major turning point in world history. Historians and others have spent considerable effort trying to uncover the full story of the development of the bomb and the decision to use it. Scientists, politicians, historians, and millions of ordinary citizens around the world know more about the true destructive power of nuclear weapons today than was true of all but a handful of people in 1945.
The man who made the decision to drop the bombs was the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. He said, "I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used." The President called the development of the atomic bomb "the greatest achievement of organized science in history."
There were other opinions in 1945. The American philosopher Lewis Mumford said that the very fact we had used such an awesome new bomb proved that mankind was "neither intelligent enough nor morally sound enough to be in charge of this weapon." One of the leading scientists in the development of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, said, "If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos [where the bomb was developed] and of Hiroshima."
The decision to use the atomic bomb will always remain a serious and extremely important topic in the history of the twentieth century. The world still lives with the results of that decision.
Nuclear weapons changed forever the meaning of war. Human beings have in their power the ability to end human life on this planet, not just defeat an enemy. Manhattan Project scientist Phillip Morrison has said:
"At the height of its mobilization in World War Two, the United States could manage to make six or eight hundred big bombers. They could visit a city and do big damage in one night. If these eight hundred came to a city several nights, they could do the damage of an atomic bomb. So, you could manage to knock off, with all your forces, a city a week. But now, a thousand cities in a night! It's the numbers. It's the cheapness."
(Quoted in Studs Terkel, The Good War, 514-515).