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The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb by Gar…

The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (original 1995; edition 1996)

by Gar Alperovitz

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226381,535 (4.03)2
Reconstructs the events leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
Title:The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
Authors:Gar Alperovitz
Info:Vintage (1996), Paperback, 864 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Reading: 2009, library book

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The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth by Gar Alperovitz (1995)



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Although this is a voluminous book I think Alperovitz misinterprets the evidence. In the early parts of the work he supposes that Truman's inquiries into alternatives to unconditional surrender constitutes some hesitation on his part to deploy the atomic bomb. Evidence is lacking. He seems rather simply to dismiss Truman as indecisive without real evidence. Alperovitz subscribes to a popular view that following the great and wonderful FDR Truman was just an inexperienced nabob. He was not and an appreciation of Truman's profound understanding of the Soviet nuclear threat allowed him to develop the Truman Doctrine. Truman, according to Alperovitz's presentation is a mere bystander. For example, in 668 pages of text, Truman centrally appears only between pp. 499-570, a mere 71 pages of text.

Also, simply the fact that James F. Byrnes is a manipulative person, Alperovitz would like his personality to imply that led Truman around by the nose which counters McCullough and other historian's assessments, based on evidence, that Truman was his own man. Alperovitz seems uncomfortable with the reality of American power, and thinks that using atomic diplomacy against the Soviets is an illegitimate aim. Truman's use of the bomb against Japan seems prescient in light of Soviet intransigence after World War II and their occupation of Eastern Europe. The use of the bomb did not create the Cold War: Soviet aggression did. In addition, because Hirohito hinted in July 1945 that he was open to a peace settlement, Alperovitz interprets this as a willingness to accept unconditional surrender, the key stumbling point to a peace settlement. Recognizing that Japan was beaten, is not the same as accepting the traditional demands of American peace: unconditional. Alperovitz is a dreamy-eyed optimist without any substantial evidence to support his idealism.

One of the best examples of Alperovitz's idealism is his failure to grasp the intransigence, insensitivity to their own people, and the brutality of the Japanese. He makes much of the fact that the Japanese are unusually attached to the Emperor-god Hirohito: fine. Unfortunately, this is so important for Alperovitz that he maintains that it is the Americans who failed to compromise on this critical peace-making criterion and therefore unnecessarily had to deploy not only one but two atomic bombs to end the war. He cites numerous supplemental military sources, but only Navy and Air Force voices, and confines anti-bomb Army sources to those not directly involved in the Pacific theater, instead of those who would be directly involved--Marine and Army sources in the theater--who would be directly assaulting the Japanese mainland. Yet, he stresses how the Americans deployed weapons of mass destruction instead of allowing the shock of a Russian invasion in the war to end the conflict.

A word needs to be stated in regards to the shock of Soviet involvement. Alperovitz does not cite a single source, much less a Japanese source that corroborates his consistent yet unsupported claim throughout the work that the Soviet invasion would be a shock. Indeed, in the midst of the deployed atomic bombs, the alleged Soviet shock of invasion did occur, and it moved the Emperor-god to declare surrender not a whit.

Perhaps more damaging to Alperovitz's claims is that the horror of an atomic bomb failed to motivate the supposedly peace-seeking, defeated Japanese. Hiroshima was destroyed on 6 August. The allegedly defeated and seeking peace Japanese did not surrender. Two days later Alperovitz's shock of the Soviet Union declaring war still did not motivate the leadership to surrender. That same day Nagasaki was bombed: and I am supporting my contention that regardless of the claims Alperovitz has advanced, still, there was no surrender offered. With the first atomic bombing, Togo requested a meeting with the Emperor who, according to Alperovitz, was ready to surrender but the "army leaders indicated they were `too busy' to attend (Alperovitz, p. 417). Perhaps Alperovitz is failing to appreciate just how dedicated to war the military was, or, in addition, the inability of the Emperor-god to command their surrender. In either case, it undermines Alperovitz' contention that the Japanese are beaten and looking for a way to surrender. On the 9th, the Japanese leaders finally sat down to consider surrendering. While they were meeting, they received news of the Nagasaki bombing. At this point, two atomic bombs had been deployed on their people, the Soviets had entered the war, and none of these three shocks were enough to compel the Japanese to announce their capitulation. With all these events: "no decision was reached" (Alperovitz, p. 417). "Finally, Premier Suzuki took the unprecedented step of requesting the Emperor's views" who proposed surrender (Alperovitz, p. 417). On August 10th the Japanese finally sent a surrender offer. The evidence undercuts Alperovitz's contentions.

As horrible as two atomic blasts were, and against Alperovitz, the Soviet entrance into the war failed to motivate the allegedly peace-seeking Japanese. Truman was right to deploy the weapons he had at his disposal and he should have continued to hammer away at the intractable Japanese leadership until they capitulated. It is certainly true that invasion casualties were widely inflated but Alperovitz postulates that an American invasion would have taken until November to occur, and would have resulted between 20,000 and 46,000 American deaths. After years of bloody warfare how many Americans would have said that three more months of war and that many casualties are worth enduring?

If atomic diplomacy had the added benefit of warning the Soviets of the post-war atomic reality all the better. The Soviets, our war-time allies, were already moving into Eastern Europe and in August of 1945 had no intention of leaving the soon-to-realized Iron Curtain.

The Americans were not cruel or heartless as their war-time ally the Soviets or their enemy the Japanese were. Stimson perceptively realized that international life based on "the spirit of tolerance and kindliness, viz: the spirit of Christianity" were necessary or the next war would end civilization (Alperovitz, p. 417). Interestingly enough, Stimson realized that Christianity developed more pronounced notions of civil behavior. And by benefit of hindsight, neither the Russians, or now the Islamists have responded in kind. There are no Islamists who suffer pangs of conscience that Iran might develop and deploy a nuclear bomb.
  gmicksmith | Apr 6, 2012 |
As more and more countries get the bomb these older books,which deal with the basic questions that never changes, become more and more important. This is a good book. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Jul 3, 2011 |
The author examines recently de-classified records from WWII to try to piece together the missing pieces of the process in which the US government decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is an era of history that I know too little about, and this book helped me fill in some blanks. ( )
  Devil_llama | May 2, 2011 |
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