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Renowned Expert Lectures on the Role of Nuclear Weapons in Ending World War II
U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Michael Ehrlich

Renowned Expert Lectures on the Role of Nuclear Weapons in Ending World War II

By MC2 Michael Ehrlich

Dr. John C. Hopkins, former Director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Weapons Program, offers a guest lecture on the role of nuclear weapons in World War II in Glasgow Hall, Feb. 8. The free-flowing discussion offered attendees the opportunity to re-examine the effectiveness of atomic weapons in the closing days of the second World War, leading to Japan’s ultimate surrender.

“As the years go by, the rhetoric of revisionism and conspiracy theory confuse the rationale for the use of nuclear weapons in WWII,” said Hopkins. “In my view, the original explanation for the nuclear strikes is most compelling. I will focus today on the events leading up to the two nuclear strikes on Japan in August 1945, and the Japanese Supreme War Counsel reaction to the use of nuclear weapons.”

Hopkins continued his lecture by posing a question to the audience ... Was Japan ready to surrender in the summer of 1945? At the time, research has shown that some in the Japanese Foreign Office wanted to consider an armistice, not a surrender, which was to be mediated by the Soviet Union, he explained.

“The Japanese hoped for better terms at the peace table, not necessarily to win the war,” said Hopkins.

Neither an armistice nor surrender had occurred, and the decision to exercise a nuclear strike was made, with the first weapon detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, followed by Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

Attendees posed several questions revolving around the decision to employ these weapons and Japan’s eventual surrender on Aug. 15. Was three days between each nuclear strike enough time for Japan to surrender? Was the Soviet Union’s invasion and declaration of war a motivating concern for Japan to surrender in order to maintain their territory? Was the perception of Japan’s surrender different after the nuclear strikes because of a now clear technological disadvantage versus a loss of will to fight?

In closing, Perkins offered a closing perspective on the ultimate question with regard to the use of nuclear weapons in WWII, morality.

“I will close with one final thought, it has to do with the perceived morality of the use of nuclear weapons during WWII,” he said. “I have heard and seen reports of Oppenheimer’s misgivings about the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. As far as I can tell he did not have any regrets, either at the time of the nuclear strikes or later. When David Bohm wrote to him in December of 1966 asking whether he felt any regret over the bombing of Hiroshima, Oppenheimer wrote back, ‘My own feelings about responsibility and guilt have always had to do with the present, and so far, in this life, that had been more than enough to occupy me.’”

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Today@NPS showcases some of the speakers, conferences, experiments, lectures, and other events that take place at the Naval Postgraduate School on a daily basis. If you would like more information about any of the highlighted activities please contact the public affairs office at pao@nps.edu.

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February 2018

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