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Ending the War Against Japan: Science, Morality, and the Atomic Bomb
Fifth edition. July 2007.
Probably no decision has generated more lasting controversy than President Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although over sixty years have passed, the subject still sparks heated debate. In many respects, the debate has taken on a life of its own, often divorced from the historical context of World War II. This curriculum unit uses readings, simulations, and primary sources to help students assess the complex political, moral, and military situation at the end of World War II. The materials prepare students to role-play a debate by President Truman's advisors about whether and how to use the bomb.
This curriculum has been designed as an interdisciplinary unit. The method and irresistible logic of scientific research, and their implications for public policy, are as much a focus of the unit as is the role of political leaders in funding the production of atomic weapons and determining their use.
The readings place students in the context of mid-1945 as they prepare to consider the policy debate surrounding the atomic bomb. The text explores the evolution of total war in the 20th century and has students follow the progress of the scientific team assembled at Los Alamos as its members overcome a series of theoretical and technological hurdles in their race to produce a nuclear weapon.
The Choices Role Play
Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the three options the Truman administration considered at the time, students draw upon primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history. A fourth group of administration officials questions and evaluates the option groups. A fifth group, acting as the Los Alamos team, explains the scientific implications. By exploring a broad spectrum of alternatives, students gain a deeper understanding of the competing values and assumptions that framed the debate on U.S. policy at the close of World War II.
Wartime Decisions and Democratic Values
Students use a hypothetical bombing target list to determine values in time of war and to evaluate the role of ethics in warfare from ancient times to the twentieth century.
World War II and the Responsibility of Scientists
Students analyze the contributions of science to military technology and assess the moral responsibility of individual scientists in wartime.
Role-Playing the Three Options
Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the three options the Truman administration considered at the time, students draw upon primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history. A fourth group of administration officials questions and evaluates the option groups. A fifth group, acting as the Los Alamos team, explains the scientific implications.
The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Students grapple with ongoing political and ethical questions by examining eight specific issues raised by the deployment of the atomic bomb.