Harry Truman signs the press release announcing to the world the bombing of Hiroshima: "Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima. . . . It is an atomic bomb"Harry S. Truman Press Release Signed as President Announcing the Bombing of Hiroshima, together with a Matthew J. Connelly Typed Letter Signed referring to the press release. The press release is three and one-quarters pages, 8" x 12.5", "The White House / Washington, D.C." Stamped in the upper right corner is "Aug 6 1945." Less than four months after assuming the presidency, Harry Truman authorized the only use of nuclear warfare in history, convincing the Japanese to surrender on August 15 and end World War II. This press release notified the people of the United States and the world at 11:00 a.m. on August 6 that "an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima" sixteen hours earlier (7:15 p.m., August 5, Washington time). Truman has boldly signed on the fourth page, "Harry S Truman." The paper is toned and each page bears staple holes in the top left corner.
Following the German surrendered in May 1945, Harry Truman attended the Potsdam Conference in Germany from July 17 through August 2. From there, a declaration of surrender terms was drawn up and sent to Japan on July 26. In that declaration, Japan was notified that if it declined the surrender, it would face "utter destruction," a reference to the successfully-tested atomic bomb which the U.S. had been developing since 1939.
Japan ignored the Potsdam Declaration's ultimatum and the decision was made to use the weapon against Hiroshima, a Japanese military target. President Truman took responsibility for making "the final decision of where and when to use the atomic bomb," which, he wrote in his memoirs, "was up to me. Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used." (Memoirs. Vol. I: Years of Decisions. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1955, page 419.) Interestingly, as Roosevelt's vice president, Truman did not know about the development of the weapon; he learned about it on his twelfth day as president.
Truman left the Potsdam Conference and traveled aboard the USS Augusta from Europe to the United States. While eating lunch on August 6, still in the Atlantic on the Augusta, the president was given a note from War Secretary Henry Stimson in Washington informing him that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. About an hour earlier - at 11:00 a.m. - the secretary of war had released Truman's prepared statement notifying the nation and the world. Three days later, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. On August 15, Japan surrendered, ending the most destructive war in history.
This press release - the president's message - doesn't mention the death toll or destruction because those details were not known at the time. The message is headed "The White House / Washington, D.C. / Immediate Release / Statement by the President of the United States" and reads in part:
"Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British 'Grand Slam' which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.
The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.
It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East. . . . We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war.
It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.
The Secretary of War, who has kept in personal touch with all phases of the project, will immediately make public a statement giving further details. . . . The fact that we can release atomic energy ushers in a new era in man's understanding of nature's forces. Atomic energy may in the future supplement the power that now comes from coal, oil, and falling water, but at present it cannot be produced on a basis to compete with them commercially. Before that comes there must be a long period of intensive research. . . . I shall recommend that the Congress of the United States consider promptly the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. I shall give further consideration and make further recommendations to the Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace."
Autograph material related to the Potsdam Conference is scarce and fetches a premium at auction. Examples include: A menu for the final banquet of the conference signed by Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Truman sold for $40,000 in 2008; a copy of the Potsdam Declaration signed by Truman, adding Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek's name in Truman's hand sold for $22,000 in 2004. In 2007, we auctioned the Enola Gay flight log for $358,500. That log, dated August 6, 1945, and prepared by the bomber's navigator, logged the mission which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Our research located only one other document sold at auction with Truman's signature related to Hiroshima: a one page letter signed dated November 21, 1961, defending the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki sold for $25,000 in 1995. It appears that the statement offered here is the only period copy of a document directly related to Hiroshima signed by Truman as president to surface at auction.
Also included is a Matthew J. Connelly Typed Letter Signed. One page, 6.25" x 9.25", Washington, November 10, 1949, on White House stationery. Connelly, President Truman's secretary, writes in full: "I have received your letter and it was kind of you to send that article for the President to see. He was happy indeed to autograph the two press releases and sends you his best wishes, in which I join." The other press release mentioned in this letter announced the surrender of Japan (see lot 34132).
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