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Almost forgotten in the haze of events that followed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the summer of 1945 witnessed an intense public debate over how best to end the war against Japan. Weary of fighting, the American people were determined to defeat the imperial power that had so viciously attacked them in December 1941, but they were uncertain of the best means to accomplish this goal. Certain of victory—the “inevitable triumph” promised by Franklin Roosevelt immediately after Pearl Harbor—Americans became increasingly concerned about the human cost of defeating Japan.

Particularly after the brutal Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns, syndicated columnists, newspaper editorialists, radio commentators, and others questioned the necessity of invasion. A lengthy naval and aerial siege would have saved lives but might have protracted the war beyond the public’s patience. Advertisers filled the media with visions of postwar affluence even as the government was exhorting its citizens to remain dedicated to the war effort. There was heated discussion as well about the morality of firebombing Japanese cities and of using poison gas and other agents of chemical warfare.

Chappell provides a balanced assessment of all these debates, grounding his observations in a wealth of primary sources. He also discusses the role of racism, the demand for unconditional surrender, and the government’s reaction to public opinion in the decision to drop the atomic bomb. Compelling and controversial, this is the first work to examine the confusing and contradictory climate of the American home front in the months leading up to V-J Day.

John D. Chappell is assistant professor of history in the Department of History, Politics, and Law at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.

"The subjects in this book are important and provocative. One of the most important findings in this book is the deep desire of Americans to resume their lives and to enjoy a prosperity that they had been denied by the Depression and World War II."—American Historical Review

"This is a fascinating study, based on a wealth of research in the American media and in public and private archives."—American Studies

"Focusing on the American home front between V-E Day and V-J Day, Chappell assesses public opinion about the continuing Pacific war, the extent to which that opinion differed from government perceptions, and how government officials responded to it. . . . [Chappell] offers thorough research and convincing conclusions."—Choice

"This monograph does not purport to be a study of all the reasons for dropping the bomb, but it succeeds in bringing many long-obscured American voices back into the debate over whether the Pacific War needed to end with the use of nuclear weapons."—Indiana History Magazine

"[Chappell's] consultation of major African American publications reveals that they focused primarily on the ongoing racial struggle in the United States, though they also provide fascinating examples of an all-too-rare evaluation of the racial overtones of the Pacific War."—Library Journal

"Chappell has done an outstanding job of extensive research and prepared a good analysis in his scholarly account of just how America approached the end of the Pacific War."—Military History of the West

"Compelling and controversial, Before the Bomb examines the confusing and contradictory climate of the American home front in the months leading up to V-J Day. Before the Bomb is a critically important contribution to our understanding of wartime and post-wartime politics."—Reviewer's Bookwatch

"Chronicles a gradual unraveling of support for the war following the Allied victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, that persisted until the dropping of the atomic bombs three months later on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."—Southern Historian

Publication Date

1996

Publisher

The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY

ISBN

9780813119878

eISBN

9780813158624

Keywords

World War II, Pacific War, War and public opinion

Disciplines

Military History

Before The Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War
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