Despite such setbacks, the militarists who dominated the Japanese government rejected any suggestions of surrender.

End of the War in the Pacific

With war won in Europe, the Allies poured their resources into defeating Japan. By mid-1945, most of the Japanese navy and air force had been destroyed. Yet the Japanese still had an army of two million men. The road to victory, it appeared, would be long and costly.

Japanese Resistance

As American forces closed in on Japan, the Japanese put up fierce resistance. By 1944, young Japanese kamikaze (kah muh KAH zee) pilots were undertaking suicide missions, crashing their explosive-laden airplanes into American warships.

Photo of a plane hitting an aircraft carrier, destroying itself in the process.

Kamikaze attacks were a desperate attempt to ward off American advances. Japanese pilots crashed into Allied aircraft carriers and other ships, killing American sailors along with themselves.

The next year, in bloody battles on the islands of Iwo Jima from February to March 1945 and Okinawa from April to July 1945, Japanese forces showed that they would fight to the death rather than surrender. Some American officials estimated that an invasion of Japan would cost a million or more casualties.

A Powerful New Weapon

While Allied military leaders planned for invasion, scientists offered another way to end the war. Since the early 1900s, scientists had understood that matter, made up of atoms, could be converted into pure energy. In military terms, this meant that by splitting the atom, scientists could create an explosion far more powerful than any yet known.

During the war, Allied scientists—some of them German and Italian refugees—raced to harness the atom before the Germans could. In July 1945, the top secret Manhattan Project, successfully tested the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

News of this test was brought to the new American president, Harry Truman. He realized that the atomic bomb was a terrible new force for destruction. Still, after consulting with his advisors, he decided to use the new weapon against Japan. Truman believed that dropping the atomic bomb would bring the war to a faster end and save American lives.

Photo of two men in suits sitting at a desk pointing at a stack of maps, with radio equipment in the background. One man is wearing glasses.

President Harry S. Truman and U.S. Secretary of State James Byrne examine a map of Europe aboard the U.S.S. Augusta on their way to the “big three” conference in Potsdam in the summer of 1945.

At the time, Truman was meeting with other Allied leaders in the city of Potsdam, Germany. They issued a warning to Japan to surrender or face “complete destruction” and “utter devastation.” When the Japanese ignored the warning, the United States took action.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments