COVID-19 Updates: The Wisconsin Historical Society hours have changed. See a full list of COVID-19 Closures and Events HERE.

Decision to Drop the Bomb | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb

Wisconsin World War II Stories: The Pacific

Decision to Drop the Bomb | Wisconsin Historical Society
Enlarge Crew members of the Enola Gay recieve medals.

Medal Ceremony, 1945

The medal ceremony for the crew of the "Enola Gay" held on Tinian Island after they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. View the orginal source document: WHI 11569

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: More than one class period

Many excellent lesson plans have been developed on the decision to drop the atomic bomb and are available on the web. Several of those are linked below. This lesson in the "Wisconsin World War II Stories: Pacific" asks students to investigate the role of artists and historians in recording and interpreting that momentous conclusion to the war.

Holding a debate is a method that is often used to study this topic. Instead of a debate, in this lesson students will create a dramatization, using documented statements from a wide range of "actors," both at the time of the decision and since. Rather than debate the decision to drop the bomb, students will follow up on the dramatization with their own "60th Anniversary Enola Gay Exhibit" plans, drawing upon ideas from the 50th Anniversary Smithsonian Exhibit and the debate that surrounded that exhibit.

This lesson is one of four lessons related to Wisconsin Public Television World War II Stories video series. Depending upon time available, the lessons may be used with the videos, or they can stand alone. Since the subject of the video is World War II Europe, several of the lessons could be used in a World History or European History course as well as in U.S. History. Specifically, these lessons offer greater depth on the topics found in video one, The Struggle, although you will notice some overlap. They should provide students with a smooth transition to deeper study of World War II.


Students will:

  • Formulate historical questions
  • Obtain historical data
  • Interrogate historical data
  • Identify the gaps in the available records


When the war in Europe ended in the spring of 1945, Americans were jubilant, but there was also an awareness that our soldiers would not necessarily come home. The war in the Pacific raged on, and victory there was still to come. The third video in the Wisconsin World War II Stories examines the Pacific Theater through the stories of sailors, pilots, medical personnel, and U.S. Marines who served there.

Over the past several decades, high school students have learned a great deal about the European theater of World War II. From the 1950s onward, the popular media created numerous images of the war in Europe. In addition, U.S. history textbooks devote significantly more space to the war in Europe, and most of their coverage of World War II in the Pacific centers on two events: Pearl Harbor and the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Today, students tend to be unfamiliar with the geography of the Pacific, the battles, or the timeline beyond the attack on Pearl Harbor and the conclusion of the war.

As you view the video on the Pacific you will learn that this story is very compelling. In dealing with less well-studied subjects---the story of the USS "Indianapolis", for example -- the video presents a tremendously interesting history. The lessons in this part of "Wisconsin World War II Stories" span interest areas and levels. They include geography, technology, and human interest studies, and draw upon a wide array of social studies skills. The lesson plans can be combined with partial or whole use of the videotape or online video clips, or the lessons can be used independently. The five videotapes in this series can, with the lesson plans, constitute a complete World War II unit.

Resource Materials


  1. Ask students to review with you the events leading up to the summer of 1945, in the war in the Pacific. Use "Allied Plans for Invazion" to discuss invasion plans.
  2. Review with students what they learned from the video on the Pacific regarding transporting the bomb to Tinian Island and soldiers' thoughts at the time. Note the story of the USS " Indianapolis" and the role of the B-29s.
  3. Complete the Press Release lesson plan found on the Truman Library website.
  4. Discuss with students the impact of the bombing through photographs and artwork.
  5. Ask all students to read the Smithsonian's "Enola Gay-Former Exhibition Information." List the key ideas.
  6. Have students read Howard Zinn's article, "The Bombs of August." List key ideas.
  7. Then, divide the class into five groups (Groups A-E). Groups A-D are assigned the task of selecting quotes for a dramatic reading of the arguments that surrounded the Smithsonian's 50th Anniversary Exhibit plans. See more online about the assignments listed below.
    • "Introductory Letter" and "Statement of Principles"
    • "Smithsonian Responds to Committee Statement"
    • "Committee Answers Smithsonian"
    • "Military Officials Question Decision to Drop Atomic Bombs on Japan"
    • "Panel of Citizen Judges"
  8. On the day of the dramatization, each group member must present at least one part from their assigned reading. Students should wear name tags to identify the individual they are representing in the dramatic reading.
  9. The Panel of Citizen Judges will act as impartial observers of the dramatization, making notes as the "play" progresses. On the day following the dramatization, each judge will orally present a written decision about what should be included in the exhibit.
  10. If time permits, the class will create a 60th Anniversary Enola Gay Exhibit, based on the Citizen Judges' decision.


National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience

(National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA)

Era 8, Standard 3 - The causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.


Standard 3B - The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed.
5-12 Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters
7-12 Evaluate the decision to employ nuclear weapons against Japan and assess later controversies over the decision
9-12 Explain the financial, material, and human costs of the war and analyze its economic consequences for the Allies and the Axis powers

Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Social Studies


Standard A - Geography: People, Places, and Environments
A12.13 Give examples and analyze conflict and cooperation in the establishment of cultural regions and political boundaries
Standard B - History: Time, Continuity, and Change
B.12.1 Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches
B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion
B.12.4 Assess the validity of different interpretations of significant historical events
B.12.5 Gather various types of historical evidence, including visual and quantitative data, to analyze issues of freedom and equality, liberty and order, region and nation, individual and community, law and conscience, diversity and civic duty; form a reasoned conclusion in the light of other possible conclusions; and develop a coherent argument in the light of other possible arguments
B.12.6 Select and analyze various documents that have influenced the legal, political, and constitutional heritage of the United States
B.12.7 Identify major works of art and literature produced in the United States and elsewhere in the world and explain how they reflect the era in which they were created
B.12.9 Select significant changes caused by technology, industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, and analyze the effects of these changes in the United States and the world
Standard C - Political Science and Citizenship: Power, Authority, Governance, and Responsibility
C.12.1 Identify the sources, evaluate the justification, and analyze the implications of certain rights and responsibilities of citizens
C.12.8 Locate, organize, analyze, and use information from various sources to understand an issue of public concern, take a position, and communicate the position


These lesson plans are designed to be used with Wisconsin World War II Stories: Part III: Pacific, a video series created by Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, in association with the Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs. The lessons in this part of Wisconsin World War II Stories span interest areas and levels. They include geography, technology, and human interest studies, and draw upon a wide array of social studies skills. Information on the series can be found at: Wisconsin Stories Website.

Author: Victoria Zuleger Straughn