In Letters from the Archives, we'll highlight past Atlantic stories and the correspondence they received in order to exhibit what then-readers thought about culture, politics, foreign affairs, and everything in between.
In his December 1946 Atlantic article, “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used,” Karl T. Compton argued in support of the nuclear weapon by considering what might have been had the United States decided not to use it. Compton believed, “with complete conviction,” that the atomic bomb saved “perhaps millions” of American and Japanese lives. Without it, he asserted, the war would have continued.
Compton’s argument was grounded in three points: (1) all war is inhuman, (2) absent the bomb, Japanese soldiers would have continued to fight relentlessly, potentially to their own demise, and (3) Japanese surrender subsequently ended the war. It was not just the physical destruction that lead to peace, he said. “It was the experience of what an atomic bomb will actually do to a community, plus the dread of many more, that was effective.”
In addition, he wrote that the use of the bomb was inevitable: “No one of good conscience knowing, as Secretary Stimson and the Chiefs of Staff did, what was probably ahead and what the atomic bomb might accomplish could have made any different decision.”