Henry Lewis Stimson
September 21, 1867 - October 20, 1950
Secretary of War under President Harry S. Trumanby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Henry Lewis Stimson was a man who served the United States for many years holding various government positions throughout the course of his life. Most notably, he served as Secretary of War during World War II helping to bring about the end of that horrible conflict and also providing advice on the use of the atomic bomb. The success of the United States during the Second World War was partly due to the sacrifice made by Secretary Stimson in the service of the United States.
Stimson was born on September 21, 1867 in New York City. His family enjoyed a degree of social esteem despite the fact that they were not particularly wealthy. His Grandfather worked as a stock broker and his dad was employed as a doctor. For his high school education, Stimson attended the Phillips Academy boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts. He later attended Yale University and graduated in 1888. 1
He had not yet finished the extent of his schooling, but during these years of his life, Stimson fell in love with Mabel Wellington White. They did not get married right away but waited five years during which time Stimson sought employment. Then the couple was married and began a long and happy life together. His honeymoon was celebrated in the Japanese city of Kyoto, Japan. This experience greatly impacted Stimson would influence his decisions as Secretary of War in the future. He later completed his extended education when he graduated from Harvard Law School and began to practice at a law firm in 1891. He soon became a partner in the firm. 2
In 1906, Stimson extended government service began when Theodore Roosevelt appointed him District attorney for the southern region of New York becoming famous for his involvement of trust cases. He later ran for governor of New York in 1910 but was beaten in the election. But in 1911 he was selected by President Howard Taft to be the Secretary of War. In this position Stimson contributed to the nation by enhancing the US Army before the outbreak of the Great War (WWI). When the US became a belligerent in the World War, Stimson served as an artillery officer gaining the rank of Colonel in August 1918. 3
Stimson was also involved in foreign affairs during his service in the US government. In 1927 he was appointed to make consultations in Nicaragua. He also offered his services in several other nations. During this particular era, many people groups sought to pursue independence from foreign control. Stimson, however, opposed such independence movements in the areas he worked in because he believed that the peoples where unfit to govern themselves. During the years 1930 and 1931, Stimson represented the US in several conferences. At the same time, the United States issued the Stimson Doctrine which announced that the US would deny the legitimacy of anything that would limit their rights to make treaties or was constructed through hostility. 4
For a short time after these things, Stimson returned to private life. As the Second World War was brewing, Stimson personally expressed his opposition to Japanese belligerence. In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt** again requested Stimson's services in the US War Department. He worked to expand the US army to around ten million men and contributed to the nation's success in WWII. In the final stages of the conflict, Stimson also advised President Harry S. Truman on the best method of ending the War. 5 Japan was the last Axis nation that required attention. In refusing the surrender, Japan required another attack to subdue. Basically the US had to choose between launching another land invasion or employing the newly developed Atomic bomb. Stimson ultimately sided with those in favor of using the bomb. In speaking of the Interim Committee that met to discuss this very issue, Stimson said:
"The committee's function was, of course, entirely advisory. The conclusions of the committee were similar to my own, although I reached mine independently. I felt that to extract a genuine surrender from the Emperor and his military advisers, they must be administered a tremendous shock which would carry convincing proof of our power to destroy the Empire. Such an effective shock would save many times the number of lives, both American and Japanese, that it would cost." 6
In his quote, Stimson showed his concern for both the Americans and the Japanese by expressing his approval of the bomb as a means of saving both American and Japanese lives. Interestingly, Stimson's visit to Kyoto for his honeymoon caused him to reject a proposition to use the Atomic bomb on that city, knowing first hand of its cultural significance..
Stimson was certainly a great American who was willing to offer his talents and abilities to his country. Throughout his life he made many difficult decisions that affected countless individuals. The decision to use the Atomic bomb was no exception as it was estimated to have saved over one million lives. His reasoning was morally legitimate, and aligned with his Presbyterian affiliation. Given the fierce island fighting of the last three years, he felt the atomic bombs would end the war with the least bloodshed on both sides. Thus the bomb was not dropped out of frustration with Japan and a desire to hurt the nation, but it was designed to benefit the Japanese nation. Indeed, the Japanese high command later called the atomic bomb, "a gift from God" to save the nation and exit with honor. All governing authorities are called to make great decisions but as Stimson showed, these decisions should be made out of concern for the people and respect for human life.
BasicFamousPeople.com <http://www.basicfamouspeople.com/index.php?aid=1440> Henry Lewis Stimson Biography 5/31/09
NationMaster.com. <http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Henry-Lewis-Stimson> Henry Lewis Stimson 5/31/09
Stimson, Henry L. <http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/StimsonHarpers.pdf> THE DECISION TO USE THE ATOMIC BOMB 5/31/09