Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


What if .... End of WWII in the Pacific
Author:
John Kerr
Course:
US History
Time Frame:
One class period
Subjects:
World War II

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Class discussion

Rationale:

Promote evidence-based creative historical thinking

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


  • UCLA National History Standard #2 (Historical Comprehension)

Historical Thinking #2

Appreciate Historical Perspectives

                  Differentiate Between Historical Facts and Historical Interpretations

      Historical Thinking #3

                  Consider Multiple Perspectives

Distinguish Between Unsupported Expressions of Opinion and Informed Hypotheses Grounded in Historical Evidence

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • “Downfall: The End of the Japanese Imperial Empire,” Richard Frank, New York, 1999, chapters 10 and 21.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Karl Compton, “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used,” Atlantic Monthly, December, 1946.
  • Letter, Harry Truman to Karl Compton, December 16, 1946, Atomic Bomb, Box 112, President’s Secretary Files, Truman Library.
  • “My Parents:  A Differing View,” James Roosevelt, Chicago, 1976, pp. 169-170.

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Following a discussion of WWII in the Pacific, the teacher will pose the question, “Do you think Roosevelt, had he lived, would have dropped the bomb?  After speculation by the students, the teacher will read a brief incident recalled by FDR’s son, James, in January, 1945, which suggests there was no doubt FDR was prepared to drop the bomb.
  • The teacher will ask the students what would have happened in the summer of 1945 if the United States had not dropped the bomb?  One such possibility, as Frank mentions in his book, would have been a blockade, denying the Japanese—both soldiers and civilians—all imports, including food.  The teacher will pose the question, “What if we would have opted for this approach?” 
  • Another possible alternative to the bomb, as the teacher will point out, was an invasion. Discussion will focus on the invasion plans, Japanese preparations to defend the homeland and the estimated casualties.  In the course of the discussion, the teacher will point out that our perception, in the summer of 1945, was that Japan was on the verge of losing the war.  The teacher will then pose the question, what if the Japanese soldiers defending the homeland didn’t have the same perception?  How would a different perspective have impacted their approach to defending the homeland?  The teacher will then pass out copies of the Compton article and give students a chance to read it.  Discussion will follow, focusing first on the author’s interviews with Japanese soldiers, and secondly on the entire article.
  • Finally, the teacher will pose the questions, “What if Truman would have read this article?  How would he have felt about it?”  After speculating, the teacher will pass out copies of Truman’s letter to Compton regarding the article.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

This will not be assessed directly, but instead within the confines of the unit examination