Majority Supports Use of Atomic Bomb on Japan in WWII

by David W. Moore

Say bombing saved American lives by shortening the war, but divided on whether it saved Japanese lives

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Six decades after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively ended World War II, a majority of Americans, 57%, say they approve of using the bombs, while 38% disapprove.

As you may know, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshimaand Nagasaki in August 1945 near the end of World War II. Looking back, would you say you approve or disapprove of using the atomic bomb on Japanese cities in 1945?

Approve

Disapprove

No opinion

%

%

%

2005 Jul 25-28

57

38

5

1995 Jul 20-23

59

35

6

1994 Dec 2-5

55

39

6

1991 Nov 21-24

53

41

6

1990 Jul 19-21

53

41

6

1945 Aug 10-15 ^

85

10

5

^WORDING: Do you approve or disapprove of using the new atomic bomb on Japanese cities?

The views expressed around the 60th anniversary of that historic event, the only time atomic weapons have ever been used in war, are not much different from the views expressed 10 years ago around the 50th anniversary. But approval differs substantially from the overwhelming support Americans gave just a few days after the bombs were dropped in August 1945. At that time, 85% said they approved and just 10% disapproved.

A major factor in President Harry S. Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that the bombs would hasten the end of the war and thus save American lives. Today, 80% of Americans believe the bombs did in fact save American lives by shortening the war. Ten years ago, the percentage was slightly higher, at 86%.

Do you think dropping the atomic bombs saved American lives by shortening the war, or not?

Yes, saved
American lives

No,
did not

No
opinion

2005 Jul 25-28

80%

16

4

1995 Jul 20-23

86%

7

7

The public is more ambivalent, however, about the long-term consequences to the Japanese people. While 41% of Americans say they think that dropping the atomic bombs saved more Japanese lives than would have been lost if the war had continued, 47% believe that dropping the bombs ultimately cost more Japanese lives. These views are not much different from those measured 10 years ago.

Do you think that dropping the atomic bombs saved more Japanese lives than would have been lost if the war had continued, or did dropping the bomb COST more Japanese lives?

Saved more
Japanese lives

Cost more
Japanese lives

No
opinion

2005 Jul 25-28

41%

47

12

1995 Jul 20-23

40%

45

15

Gender, Party, and Age Differences

The poll shows that men are much more likely than women, and Republicans are more likely than Democrats, to express positive views about the bombing in Japan. To a lesser extent, older people are more positive than younger people.

Overall, 73% of men, but only 42% of women, approve of the bombing. Similarly, 73% of Republicans, 53% of independents, and just 47% of Democrats approve. An irony here is that it was a Democratic president who made the decision to drop the bombs, though now Democrats give the least support among the three partisan groups.

The large gender gap is not due solely to the fact that men disproportionately identify as Republicans and women as Democrats. Even within the party faithful, there are large differences in views between men and women.

Among Republican men, 87% approve of the bombing, compared with 60% of Republican women -- a gender gap of 27 percentage points. Among independents, the gap is even larger, at 40 percentage points (71% of men approve vs. just 31% of women). And among Democrats, the gender gap is 26 percentage points (63% of men approve, as do 37% of women).

PERCENTAGE OF EACH GROUP WHO APPROVE
OF DROPPING ATOMIC BOMBS ON JAPAN

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

Difference
Republicans vs.
Democrats

Male

87%

71%

63%

+24

Female

60%

31%

37%

+23

Difference
males vs.
females

+27

+40

+26

Note that among each gender group, the differences between Republicans and Democrats are similar. Eighty-seven percent of male Republicans approve, compared with 63% of male Democrats, a difference of 24 percentage points. Similarly, 60% of female Republicans, while only 37% of female Democrats, approve -- a difference of 23 percentage points.

Younger people are somewhat less likely to approve of the bombing than are older people -- an average of 53% approval among people under age 50, compared with 63% among people 50 and older.

Similar patterns of differences by gender and party are also found on the other two questions about the bombing. Men and Republicans are more likely than their counterparts to say the bombing helped save American and Japanese lives.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted July 25-28, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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