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Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (Rhetoric & Public Affairs) Hardcover – 31 Dec 1995
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Seeking the reason so much animosity has been generated over President Truman's motives in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, Newman (emeritus professor, communication, U. of Pittsburgh) concludes that the source of discontent is a "cult" which has grown in the US since the 1960s. It was weaned on disillusionment spawned by concerns about a
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So tragically beautiful, unpretentious, and undeniable, this quote, taken from the book, captures a truly reflective and reasonable mind attempting to grapple with difficult issues that defy the rhetoric and pathetic posturing one usually encounters from all sides when dealing with subjects of true depth and importance, such as the use of atomic weapons. It also very noticeably influences Newman's discussion. Although the result of Newman's research tilts in favor of Truman's fateful decision, Newman doesn't come across as cavalier about the use of the bomb, and in fact addresses it as an incredible paradox and admits the virtual philosophical impossibility of justifying such a terrible force. Further, he doesn't deny or discount that other, less than pure motivations influenced the context surrounding the bomb (with human beings that's ALWAYS true), yet Newman still presents an amazingly well-considered case...his position in a nutshell: 1. The decision to use the bomb was motivated primarily by ending the war as quickly as possible while saving as many lives as possible. 2. It achieved that goal.
By means of arriving at such a position, Newman expertly addresses the arguments of those who claim the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki unjustified and/or not needed. He does this by exploring not only the ideas perpetuated by many of those of the opinion that the bombing was primarily motivated by something other than moral and/or practical reasons but also how and why they began, most of which fall into one of six categories, namely,
(1)intimidation of the Soviet Union and psychological world influence
(3)desire of scientists to experiment with their discoveries/inventions
(4)fear of investigation by Congress of those in charge of the A-bomb project if the expenditure found not useful
(5)sheer bureaucratic momentum
(6)any combination of the above.
The book is essentially a debate - an appeal to actual history vs. convolution and misrepresentation of facts by some very formidable-sounding opponents. Some include U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (the impetus behind most of those who endorse any of the above), Gar Alporovitz, P.M.S. Blackett among most any others of note. The sheer volume of research would suffice for a great argument, but the way Newman delves into the sources behind the sources and their context coupled with the nearly flawless logic he employs is simply stunning - its a virtual lesson in debate as well as vital history. I consciously tried to poke holes in his discussion and failed miserably (since I was familiar with Gar Alporovitz's opus 'The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb'as well as a fair amount of WWII history, I thought I was reasonably prepared - wrong!) Even though Newman's discussion is utterly rational, logical, and non-vindictive or inflammatory, he effectively skewers the opposition. However, he still remains balanced in his position as his discussion of the AEC and post-war events shows. Highlights include his discussion of post-war events that influenced the American 'cultists' genesis and perpetuation as well as a total of deaths attributable to the Japanese from 1931-45.
I truly wish that I could point to a major flaw but I simply cannot. Newman deserves many accolades for such a contributory work. Outstanding book and essential Atomic Bomb history.
Point by point, the assertions made by the revisionists are destroyed. The battle of Okinawa, which took place only a few weeks before the bombings, with it's massive U.S. casualties, kamikaze attacks and widespread suicides by civilians is discussed. This is an episode either ignored or downplayed in most revisionist writings, and obviously constitutes a gaping hole in their arguments. The peace feelers sent out by the Japanese, which are usually inflated and put on the same level as a waving white flag, are shown to be half-hearted attempts by largely impotent civilian leaders to negotiate favorable terms that were thoroughly opposed by the military who fully controlled the country. Japanese plans to repel the planned U.S.invasion are documented in detail, and will give pause to those who believe the Japanese were incapable of waging war effectively by this time. Many other revisionist claims are shown to be weak at best and downright humorous at worst.
Some information given here is not so well known. For example, the widespread war weariness among allied troops was starting to show signs of developing into mutiny, thereby giving Truman another incentive to end the war fast. This was new to me. First hand accounts of Japanese leaders about their view of the Potsdam Declaration show that it was hardly seen as a death sentence for their emperor. Perhaps the most fascinating chapter deals with the doctrine of unconditional surrender and the reasons why this policy was in force. The Monday morning quarterbacks who second guess Truman's decision see this policy as nothing but an impediment to peace and have zero understanding of it's value. Another widely cited piece of evidence is a report by the U.S. military that the Japanese would have surrendered without the bomb. This report is completely discredited by Newman, who actually finds evidence of the opposite conclusion within the research done by this "survey".
All in all this book is an excellent refutation of a well publicized ideological campaign that masquerades as history. The only thing missing is that in the explanation of why this school of thought arose, not much is said about the shock the world felt at the use of atomic weapons. It's easy to understand why many would have second thoughts about such a horrible tool of destruction and why no sane person would ever want to see it used again. I think this is at least one motivation behind the attempts to show how it's use could have been avoided. But a distortion is still a distortion, and Newman does a decisive job of blasting this one out of the water.
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