Younger Americans say the United States shouldn’t have used atomic weapons against Japan during World War II, according to a new poll.
As the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches, YouGov conducted a poll on Americans’ views on the invention of nuclear weapons and America’s decision to use them during World War II.
Among the poll’s findings is that younger Americans generally believe the United States was wrong to use atomic weapons against Japan to end the war. Some 45 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-29 said the United States made the wrong decision, compared to just 41 percent who said Washington made the right decision.
Opinions were slightly more mixed among respondents between the ages of 30-44. Among that age group, 36 percent said the United States was wrong to use atomic weapons during WWII, while 33 percent support Washington’s decision.
Not surprisingly, support for America’s use of nuclear weapons is higher among older respondents. Among the respondents between the ages of 45-65, for example, some 55 percent said the United States made the right decision, compared to just 21 percent who said the United States made the wrong decision. Respondents over the age of 65 overwhelmingly supported America’s decision to use the bomb: 65 percent said the United States made the right decision compared to just 15 percent who said it was wrong to use the bomb.
Overall, 45 percent of respondents in the survey said the United States made the right decision to use atomic weapons, compared to 29 percent who said America made the wrong decision.
This continues the long-standing trend of less Americans’ supporting the decision to use the bomb against Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.
Opinion polls taken immediately after the war found overwhelming support for America’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In an August 1945 poll taken by Gallup, 85 percent of Americans supported the decision to use atomic bombs on Japanese cities, compared to just 10 percent who said they opposed it.
In a different poll taken around the same time, some 23 percent of respondents said they wished the United States had dropped more atomic bombs on Japan before Tokyo had a chance to surrender! That was more people than opposed the decision to use the bomb.
Support for dropping the atomic bomb has declined precipitously since the immediate aftermath of the war, but has still generally stood above fifty percent. For example, a Gallup poll taken around the 50th anniversary of the bombings found that 59 percent of Americans’ supported the decision. Ten years later, a Gallup poll found that a robust 57 percent of Americans still supported using the bomb.
A 2009 Quinnipiac poll similarly found that 61 percent of respondents said the United States did the right thing in dropping the bomb, compared to only 22 percent of people who said it did the wrong thing.
Despite a plurality of Americans still supporting the use of atomic weapons against Japan, Americans overwhelming believe the invention of nuclear weapons was a bad thing. According to the new YouGov poll, 62 percent of Americans said the invention of nuclear weapons were a bad thing while only 20 percent said they were a good thing. Some 19 percent of respondents were undecided. Self-identified Republicans were more likely to say it was a good thing (35 percent) compared to Democrats (12 percent), but voters from both parties still overwhelmingly felt it was a bad thing that nuclear weapons were invented.
Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.