Henry Stimson began his second tenure as Sec. of War in July 1940, having previously held the position from 1911 - 1913. He was first informed of the atomic bomb project in Nov. 1941, when he was appointed to the "Top Policy Group" which would control the project.

By 1945, Stimson was receiving more direct information about World War II than any other U.S. official. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall reported directly to Stimson, and as a member of the "Committee of Three" with Sec. of the Navy James Forrestal and Under Sec. of State Joseph Grew, Stimson also received information directly from the Sec. of the Navy. Grew provided Stimson with the State Department's diplomatic information on the war.

Stimson also knew much about an important factor known to few others: the atomic bomb project. In June 1942 the transfer of the a-bomb project to the Army was begun, and from May 1, 1943 until his retirement on Sept. 21, 1945, Stimson was directly responsible to the President for the Manhattan Project (Henry Stimson, McGeorge Bundy, "On Active Service in Peace and War", pg. 612-613).

As it was his role to report to the president on the atomic bomb project, on April 25, 1945 Stimson gave President Truman his first full briefing on the atomic bomb.

At Stimson's request, President Truman authorized the creation of The Interim Committee, which began in May 1945 with Stimson as its chairman. One of the Committee's recommendations for President Truman came from the June 1, 1945 meeting. As stated in the Committee notes for that meeting, " Mr. [James] Byrnes recommended, and the Committee agreed, that... the [atomic] bomb should be used against Japan as soon as possible; that it be used on a war plant surrounded by workers' homes; and that it be used without prior warning." (underlining in original). (Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy files, folder # 100, Record Group 77, National Archives).

Stimson became one of the key supporters of the atomic bombing of Japan. His article, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb" (Harper's, Feb. 1947) is the first thorough, written defense of the a-bombings.

On the other hand, Stimson had tried to bring a Japanese surrender before the atomic bombings by recommending that the Allies tell Japan she could keep her emperor in return for surrender. Stimson knew of the emperor's importance to the Japanese, who considered him to be a god, and sought to make use of it to end the war sooner. But Stimson's recommendation was not taken until after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Stimson later noted in his 1948 memoirs, written with McGeorge Bundy, "Only on the question of the Emperor did Stimson take, in 1945, a conciliatory view; only on this question did he later believe that history might find that the United States, by its delay in stating its position, had prolonged the war." (Stimson & Bundy, "On Active Service in Peace and War" pg. 628-629).

- Doug Long

For further information:

Henry Stimson, McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War

Godfrey Hodgson, The Colonel: The Life and Wars of Henry Stimson, 1867-1950

Elting Morison, Turmoil and Tradition: A Study of the Life and Times of Henry L. Stimson

Excerpts from Sec. of War Henry Stimson's diary and papers

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