Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Why Truman Dropped the Bomb

Friends of Historical Accuracy regarding the ethnic Japanese Evacuation of 1942

A good piece in the Weekly Standard details the historical revisionism of WW2.

Read it here.

Here is a book review on the same subject. The reparations movement consists of the same people as the Hiroshima Cult.

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult by Robert P. Newman. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan 48823-5202, 1995, 272 pages, $30.00.

World War II was brought to a close in August 1945 by the atomic bombing of Japan. Few events have generated as many books and articles or as much controversy as the circumstances surrounding the bombing. The 50th anniversary of the bombing saw a watershed of new, reissued, and revised works on the subject. By and large, one can characterize these works as traditionalist or revisionist, providing two distinctly differing views of the bombing.

The traditionalist view maintains that the bombs were necessary to end or hasten the end of the war—that their use saved many American and Japanese lives by avoiding an invasion. The revisionist view grew out of the 1960s, declaring that the bombs were not necessary to end the war because the Japanese were ready to surrender, or that even if an invasion were necessary, it would not have cost many lives. Revisionists typically view the use of the atomic bombs as racially or politically—not militarily—motivated. This explanation is a simplification of both positions, but it is representative of each.

The "Hiroshima cult" Dr. Newman refers to in his title embraces the revisionist views almost dogmatically. In his words, this cult is an "ahistorical group who grew up during the Vietnam era of distrust of the government and the military. The cult has its own holy day, 6 August; its own shrine, Hiroshima; and as stated above, its own written beliefs." Dr. Newman wrote Truman and the Hiroshima Cult as an answer to what he believes are the historical distortions of the cult. Therefore, the book is not about the development of the atomic bombs or the men who dropped them. It is about the decision to use them and the "what ifs" that historians, traditional and revisionist alike, have batted about for the past 50 years.

The book contains eight chapters, two hundred pages of text, and 70 pages of notes. In that 270 pages, Dr. Newman takes the reader through a thorough discussion of the factors involved in dropping the bomb, the military situation in the Pacific, and, ultimately, the evolution of the Hiroshima cult in the 1960s and beyond. The chapter titles show the direction taken by the author: "Why Did Truman Drop the Bomb?" "Was Japan Ready to Surrender?" "Was the Policy of Unconditional Surrender Justified?" "Why No Warning or Demonstration?" "Was a Second Bomb Necessary to End the War?" "Was Dropping These Bombs Morally Justified?" "Why Has the ‘Japan-as-Victim' Myth Been So Attractive?" and "What If the Bomb Had Not Been Used?"

Newman has a very readable style made authoritative by his extensive documentation and research. He is so careful with sourcing that one has no questions about the origins of facts or opinions. Further, he tends to drop a bombshell or two in each of the chapters.

In chapter two, for example, he clearly shows that the conclusions contained in the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) summary report about early Japanese surrender were wrong. Newman found them to be based on the beliefs of Paul Nitze, the on-scene team chief, rather than on any facts or material gleaned from interrogations of high-ranking Japanese military and political leaders. Nitze was a strategic bombing advocate; it was his opinion that the atomic weapons were nothing more than "bigger bombs." He used his position to ensure that the summary report emphasized the role of conventional strategic bombing in ending the war in the Pacific. The USSBS interrogations clearly show that, barring some other change to the status quo, Japan would have fought on for months and bitterly opposed any attempt at invasion. The conventional bombing, while devastating, would not have brought about surrender. The insertion of Nitze's beliefs as fact in the USSBS summary is no small manipulation of history. The USSBS summary has been taken as gospel for the last 50 years by many revisionists and some traditionalists to support different interpretations of the atomic bombing. Dr. Newman is one of only a handful of researchers to point out this distortion.

Revisionists routinely claim that using the bombs killed more people than allowing the Japanese to surrender on their own or even executing the invasion in November 1945. What if the United States hadn't used the bombs? Newman's research indicates that the consequences of not dropping the bombs in August 1945 would have been grim indeed. Assuming the invasion occurred as scheduled in November and not counting the actual casualties of the invasion itself, Newman conservatively estimates that three hundred thousand people would have died each month the war continued past mid-August 1945, based on death-rate figures from the United Nations and other sources. About 80 percent of those deaths would have occurred in Japanese-occupied territory, where the casualty rate would have certainly escalated as Japan's position grew more desperate. The rest would have died as a result of combat and the continued bombing of Japanese cities. All things considered, had the fighting gone into 1946, the additional death toll as a result of the Pacific war would have easily exceeded two million people. Again, this does not include the direct cost in American and Japanese lives due to invasion. The three hundred thousand casualties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while regrettable, pale in comparison, especially when one remembers that in Asia over 17 million people died at Japanese hands from 1932 to 1945.

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult proved a difficult work to review adequately without spoiling it for future readers. I purposely avoided a detailed discussion of "the cult" for this reason. I found it to be so powerful that I read eight other recent works on the subject, both traditionalist and revisionist, to check facts and "sample the competition" before writing this review. Although several works go into more detail about some of the specific points brought out by Newman, none were as compelling or as complete. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult will be the standard to which all other works on the subject will be compared. I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the debate on the atomic bombing of Japan. True members of "the cult" will not be swayed, but readers who value reasoning, logic, and fact will.

Lt Col David Howard, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama

UPDATE: I had said the reparations folks make up the same ilk as the Hiroshima Cult.

Greg Robinson is a timely example. Read his piece here.


At August 04, 2005 5:57 PM, Anonymous John said...

Thank you for your continued clear-eyed perspective on these issues of real importance. I appreciate your vigilance in the face of an unending flood of PC propaganda.

I have some material of interest that I'd like to share with you. I didn't see an email on the web site. Is there a good way to reach you?

I can be contacted at



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home