On August 6, 1945, our world entered the Nuclear Age when the Allies dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The following is an excerpt from President Truman’s speech to the American people on August 9, 1945, outlining the progress on the Potsdam Conference, and the Potsdam Declaration which demanded the surrender of Japan. The nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had already occurred (the attack on Nagasaki took place the same day as Truman’s address, though it is not mentioned), resulting in the death of as many as 250,000 civilians. Japan would surrender eight days later. I am particularly struck by the last line of this excerpt. I am not convinced that God really has a purpose for the atomic bomb. You can read the full text of the speech here.
The British, Chinese, and United States Governments have given the Japanese people adequate warning of what is in store for them. We have laid down the general terms on which they can surrender. Our warning went unheeded; our terms were rejected. Since then the Japanese have seen what our atomic bomb can do. They can foresee what it will do in the future.
The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost. I urge Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities immediately, and save themselves from destruction.
I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb.
Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this Government. But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we knew the disaster which would come to this Nation, and to all peace-loving nations, to all civilization, if they had found it first.
That is why we felt compelled to undertake the long and uncertain and costly labor of discovery and production.
We won the race of discovery against the Germans.
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 all 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.
We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.
The atomic bomb is too dangerous to be loose in a lawless world. That is why Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal that secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction.
As far back as last May, Secretary of War Stimson, at my suggestion, appointed a committee upon which Secretary of State Byrnes served as my personal representative, to prepare plans for the future control of this bomb. I shall ask the Congress to cooperate to the end that its production and use be controlled, and that its power be made an overwhelming influence towards world peace.
We must constitute ourselves trustees of this new force—to prevent its misuse, and to turn it into the channels of service to mankind.
It is an awful responsibility which has come to us.
We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.