How (and Why) Hiroshima and Nagasaki Were Selected

Originally published:

With the 70th anniversary of the use of the first atomic bombs coming up (August 6th and 9th for those needing a reminder), the annual deluge will inevitably arrive of what did and didn’t happen, how innocent the people were needlessly killed , and why the bombs should not have been used usually accompanied by 20/20 hindsight from those that were never there.

Truthfully, as much as I was tired of hearing the false claims by ‘experts’ I also knew few, if any, used any original source documents to back their claims.

Hence this post… and I didn’t have to go very far as one Wikipedia article had a TON of original source documents that counterpointed most of the false claims I was hearing…

Which begs the question, “Just how lazy were they in their own research?”

The following is an extract from Wikipedia: Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, edited to provide full names instead of just last as well as for format…

Target Committee

In April 1945, Army General Marshall asked Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (and director of the Manhattan Project) to nominate specific targets for bombing for final approval by himself and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson.

Groves formed a Target Committee chaired by himself, that included Brigadier General Thomas Farrell , Major John A. Derry, Colonel William P. Fisher, Joyce C. Stearns and David M. Dennison from the USAAF; and scientists John von Neumann, Robert R. Wilson and William Penney from the Manhattan Project.

The Target Committee met in

  • Washington on April 27
  • Los Alamos on May 10, where it was able to talk to the scientists and technicians there; and finally in
  • Washington on May 28, where it was briefed by Brigadier General Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr (the pilot to the Enola Gay) and Commander Frederick Ashworth from Project Alberta, and the Manhattan Project’s scientific advisor, Richard C. Tolman

Selecting Targets and Criteria

The Target Committee nominated 5 targets:

  • Kokura: the site of one of Japan’s largest munitions plants
  • Hiroshima: an embarkation port and industrial center that was the site of a major military headquarters
  • Yokohama: an urban center for aircraft manufacture, machine tools, docks, electrical equipment and oil refineries
  • Niigata: a port with industrial facilities including steel and aluminum plants and an oil refinery; and
  • Kyoto: a major industrial center

The target selection was subject to the following criteria…

  • It had to be larger than 3 mi (4.8 km) in diameter and was an important target in a large urban area
  • The blast would create effective damage
  • The target was unlikely to be attacked by August 1945

These cities were largely untouched during the nightly bombing raids and the Army Air Forces agreed to leave them off the target list so accurate assessment of the weapon could be made.

Hiroshima was described as…

“An important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target.”

Psychological Factors

The Target Committee stated that…

“It was agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great importance. Two aspects of this are…
“(1) obtaining the greatest psychological effect against Japan and
“(2) making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released.”

“Kyoto had the advantage of being an important center for military industry, as well an intellectual center and hence a population better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon.”

“The Emperor’s palace in Tokyo has a greater fame than any other target but is of least strategic value.”

Edwin O. Reischauer, a Japan expert for the U.S. Army Intelligence Service, was incorrectly said to have prevented the bombing of Kyoto.

In his autobiography, Reischauer specifically refuted this claim:

“… the only person deserving credit for saving Kyoto from destruction is Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, who had known and admired Kyoto ever since his honeymoon there several decades earlier.”

On May 30, Stimson asked Groves to remove Kyoto from the target list, but Groves pointed to its military and industrial significance.

Stimson then approached President Harry S. Truman about the matter.

Truman agreed with Stimson, and Kyoto was temporarily removed from the target list.

Groves attempted to restore Kyoto to the target list in July, but Stimson remained adamant.

On July 25, Nagasaki was put on the target list in place of Kyoto.

Japanese Mindset Towards the End WWII

Here’s what most of those that say we could have done without the atomic bomb attacks ignore.

Japan was running out of resources — material as well as human.

Emperor Hirohito demanded everyone start using their bayonets and shovels, surrender would be looked upon as losing face in more ways than just death — usually families would follow suit.

The lack of human resources meant everyone who was in an industrial town was enrolled into the cause of keeping Japan alive — and indoctrinated to support their military with every means possible.

In other words, no one in any industrial city was an innocent citizen reading the newspaper, having tea with the family while their kids were scurrying around as a couple of propaganda videos portray — anyone capable of working or producing at any level were focused on providing the material Japan needed to stay alive.

The only way to escape that kind of life was to move to the country side — IF the Japanese government allowed you.

Doing so was also highly looked down upon by all of Japan — so few if any were even close to doing anything of that sort…

Japan was killing people in the Pacific Rim by the millions and empathy was the last thing on the list if it was permitted to be on any list.

Even with limited armament, the Allies were experience heavy resistance from the Japanese even before Emperor Hirohito demanded every capable body to be assisting Japan to stay alive.

Japan had to be stopped before millions more would die as well as having the war continue for what many believed would be 2 or 3 more years.

The Mindset of the Attack

Orders for the attack were issued to General Carl Spaatz on July 25 under the signature of General Thomas T. Handy, the acting Chief of Staff, since Marshall was at the Potsdam Conference with Truman.

That day, Truman noted in his diary that…

“This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital [Kyoto] or the new [Tokyo]. He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one.”


Vincent Jones: Manhattan, the Army and the atomic bomb; 1985, pp. 528–530

Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee; Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945

Edwin O Reischauer: My Life Between Japan and America, p. 101

Jason M. Kelly: Why Did Henry Stimson Spare Kyoto from the Bomb?: Confusion in Postwar Historiography: Confusion in Postwar Historiography” Journal of American-East Asian Relations pp. 183–203.

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa: Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 2006; pp. 67-68, 149-150

Wesley Craven, James Cate, editors: The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki. The Army Air Forces in World War II Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1953 pp.712-713

Notes by Harry S. Truman on the Potsdam Conference, July 17-30, 1945 President’s Secretary’s File, Truman Papers (especially the notes on the dates of the 17th 18th and 25th)



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