Was Truman's Decision to Drop the Bomb, To End the War in the Pacific, Justified or Not?

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
3-4 class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will analysis and evaluate primary documents, videos, excerpts from newspapers and books, and then in groups will create a persuasive essay supporting their point of view, including quotations from the provided sources.
  • Students will watch videos, view photographs, read primary documents, and write a consenting or dissenting view through a persuasive essay.  They will then participate in an open debate through a practice called, “Tag you are it.” Cross-curricular participation could occur with the English teacher who will grade their essay and the Speech teacher who will grade their debate participation.
  • Introduction:  Over the last 50 years tremendous controversy has arisen over the United States and President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use and drop the bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. It is important to remember, that the final, ultimate decision rested solely in the hands of our Commander-in-Chief, President Truman. Both points of conflicting view argue over the necessity of ending the war, just in differing ways, of course, the main difference being the more than 200,000 civilians who died. The documents and videos chosen for this topic are ones describing the arguments for or against the decision to drop the bomb.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)

It is imperative for students to develop their own cognitive understanding through their own reasoning (which can be developed thoroughly through their own research, utilizing primary and secondary sources). By allowing students to research, synthesis and analysis actual sources from an event, such as the US decision to drop the bomb, they can then, on their own, better rationalize the past and apply it to their own present and future. Therefore, students will analysis and evaluate primary documents, videos, excerpts from newspapers and books, and then in groups will create a persuasive essay supporting their point of view, including quotations from the provided sources, AND debate their point of view.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Learn to write a persuasive point of view in essay form, consenting or dissenting, the dropping of the bomb to end the War in the Pacific, including quotes from provided sources (ALTHOUGH students are welcome to do research on their own; if they do, they need to cite all sources correctly). 
  •  Develop a deeper understanding of what led up to the utilization of the bomb by the US through research and document analysis. They will look at documents through a historical perspective (who wrote the document, when, where, why; is it reliable, why or why not). Develop a deeper understanding of the controversy of President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Japan to end the War in the Pacific.
  • Contextualize and corroborate with the other students within their group over the documents, photographs, and videos provided, comparing and contrasting points of view, creating a Thesis Statement. 
  • Use their prior knowledge of history to write, including their own view of the moral implications of the decision to drop the bomb and whether it was or was not justified through their evaluating the documents, videos, and pictures provided, reflecting their analysis through their writing.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • 7. Knowledge of the use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps and documents)

           C. Understanding fact, opinion, bias and points of view in sources - Distinguish between fact and opinion and recognize bias and points of view

           G. Supporting a point of view - Identify, research and defend a point of view/position



Key Ideas and Details:

    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.


Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Document 1:

Harry S. Truman. Memoirs. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1955. Pages 419-423.

  • Documents 2 and 3:

Frank, Richard B. “Downfall, the end of the Imperial Japanese Empire.” Penguin Group, New York, NY, 1999. Pages 248, 269.

  • Document 4:


  • Video One:

      Video about the Manhattan project

  • Video Two:

      President Truman video reading his announcement to drop the bomb:

  • Video Three:

      This is video about HST giving ultimatum to Japan:

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed


Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Document 1

"I had then set up a committee of top men and had asked them to study with great care the implications the new weapons might have for us. It was their recommendation that the bomb be used against the enemy as soon as it could be done. They recommended further that it should be used without specific warning... I had realized, of course, that an atomic bomb explosion would inflict damage and casualties beyond imagination. On the other hand, the scientific advisors of the committee reported... that no technical demonstration they might propose, such as over a deserted island, would be likely to bring the war to an end. It had to be used against an enemy target.
The final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb was up to me. Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never doubted it should be used."

—President Harry S. Truman

From Harry S. Truman. Memoirs. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1955. 419-423. 

Document One Question One:  Why did President Truman feel that the atomic bomb had to be used against enemy targets?


Document 2

Secretary of Navy, James Forrestal, wrote on July 24, “the cabinet’s… judgment and decision was that the war must be fought with all the vigor and bitterness of which the nation was capable so long as the only alternative was the unconditional surrender.”

Question: What position within the cabinet did he hold? What was his opinion on whether Japan would surrender or continue to fight?


Document Three (This also is shown on video TWO)

From Book page 269 Truman’s radio statement on August 6 announcing use of bomb on Hiroshima:

“We are no prepared to obliterate rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city.  We shall destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake, we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. It was to spare the Japanese from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam.  Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on earth.”

Document Three Question One: Had Truman tried to peacefully negotiate with Japan, explain.  What primary targets was Truman prepared to destroy of Japan’s? ­­­­­­

Document Three Question Two:  Why did President Truman feel that the atomic bomb had to be u