On May 10, 1945, three days after Germany had surrendered to the Allied powers and ended World War II in Europe, a carefully selected group of scientists and military personnel met in an office in Los Alamos, New Mexico. With Germany out of the war, the top minds within the Manhattan Project, the American effort to design an atomic bomb, focused on the choices of targets within Japan. The group was loosely known as the Target Committee, and the question they sought to answer essentially was this: Which of the preserved Japanese cities would best demonstrate the destructive power of the atomic bomb?
General Leslie Groves, the Army engineer in charge of the Manhattan Project, had been ruminating on targets since late 1944; at a preliminary meeting two weeks earlier, he had laid down his criteria. The target should: possess sentimental value to the Japanese so its destruction would “adversely affect” the will of the people to continue the war; have some military significance—munitions factories, troop concentrations, and so on; be mostly intact, to demonstrate the awesome destructive power of an atomic bomb; and be big enough for a weapon of the atomic bomb’s magnitude.
Groves asked the scientists and military personnel to debate the details: They analyzed weather conditions, timing, use of radar or visual sights, and priority cities. Hiroshima, they noted, was “the largest untouched target” and remained oﬀ Air Force General Curtis LeMay’s list of cities open to incendiary attack. “It should be given consideration,” they concluded. Tokyo, Yawata, and Yokohama were thought unsuitable—Tokyo was “all bombed and burned out,” with “only the palace grounds still standing.”