The Trial of Harry S Truman


It is 1945 and World War II has just ended with the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many wonder whether dropping the bomb was necessary, especially the one dropped on Nagasaki--the second bomb that was released three days after the first. However,some think it was in order to limit the projected amount of high Allied casualties generated from a November invasion of Japan. Still others felt that the bombs could have been detonated over less populated areas and still have proven the same point. The object of this trial is to debate whether or not President Truman was justified in dropping two separate bombs on Japan or whether he is guilty of crimes of war and human atrocities.

TASK You are going to participate in a trial against President Truman for his actions and decisions near the end of World War II. The defense and prosecution will prepare their arguments and an opening statement in order to discuss in class. After the research is complete, the trial will be conducted as a group debate. A spokesperson for the prosecution and for the defense will be chosen to voice the group's opinion in answering the question: "Was Truman guilty of war crimes against humanity in his decision to drop the atomic bomb?" Those not chosen as the spokesperson will sit in the audience and help their spokesperson by asking questions of the other spokespeople and supplying any information their spokesperson may need to make his points more convincing. Your teacher will serve as the moderator. A 3-5 minute cross-examination will conclude the trial. Students should be prepared to argue their side.

The participants:

Judges (three members of an International Tribunal), Harry Truman, Witnesses for the Defense: Douglas MacArthur, Secretary Marshall, Robert Oppenheimer, Members of the US Military: American Army private in Okinawa, American Sailor on a destroyer in Okinawa, parent of an American soldier, wife of an American sailor. Hostile witnesses for the Defense: Emperor Hirohito, Tojo. Witnesses for the Prosecution: three different citizens of Japan (past and current).

A lawyer representing Harry Truman, and a prosecutor. The lawyers for the prosecution and the defense will call these individuals to the stand and ask them to state their testimony. Given various facts and supporting reasons, two class representatives (Prosecution and Defense) will state the most important reason for Truman’s innocence or guilt. Members of the jury will then deliberate regarding the evidence that they have heard. Each member of the jury will read his or her “verdict” to the class.

The Judges: You are actually acting as the jury in the case of United Nations vs. Harry S. Truman. It is your responsibility to hear all the evidence and decide of Harry S Truman, President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the US Armed Forces at the close of World War II, is guilty or not guilty of the charge of “crimes against humanity.” Mr. Truman has been indicted for what are called “war crimes” under international law for having ordered the dropping of a weapon of mass destruction, namely an atomic weapon, on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima on August 7, 1945 and one on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. The point of international law that you must consider involves the fact that civilians, or non-combatants, were killed by the use of weapons of mass destruction. You must consider whether the use of the atomic bomb against Japan constituted a violation of treaties and conventions that have guided the laws of war throughout history.

Witnesses for the Defense: The US Military

Your role is to help defense lawyers develop a convincing case that supports Truman’s use of atomic weapons again the Japanese. You must help defense lawyers develop a convincing case that supports Truman’s use of the A-bomb against Japan. You must help defense lawyers show that the use of the atomic bomb was the correct military move at that point in the war to save American and Japanese lives which would have been lost in a direct invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Lawyers for the Defense: Your job is to create “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the judges, who are acting as a jury in this case, that Truman is guilty of “crimes against humanity (war crimes against the people of Japan) when he ordered the atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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