The decision of President Truman to employ nuclear weapons to end World War II is once again undergoing a new wave of revisionist history. Call it neo—revisionism, perhaps. Oliver Kamm writes in the London Times:
... the American Society of Historians for Foreign Relations will honour the author of a recent work on the role of the atom bomb in Japan's defeat in 1945. In doing so, it will reward a pernicious thesis already appropriated by anti—Western campaigners for whom the study of history is a device for forcing pre—specified political conclusions.
The author is Tsuyoshi Hasegawa; his book is called Racing the Enemy. Unlike earlier revisionist historians, Hasegawa does not argue that a Japanese surrender might have been secured before the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb. But he depicts America's development and use of the A—bomb as a race to secure Japan's defeat before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War. On this view, the Bomb was a way of countering Stalin's regional ambitions. Hasegawa disputes that the Bomb was decisive in Japan's surrender. He argues that Soviet entry into the war played a greater role. (The Soviet Union declared war on Japan between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.)
There is more at stake here than dry academic interpretation. Hasegawa depicts President Truman as driven by domestic pressures 'to exact revenge'. He concludes: 'This is a story with no heroes but no real villains.' This is an extraordinary absolution of those responsible for Pearl Harbor and the suffering of those who built the Burma Railway. It is balanced by maligning the motives of the Truman Administration.
Mr. Kamm well—captures the signs of bias in Hasegawa's work (and no doubt among many who seek to honor him). Unquestionably, the decision to employe nuclear weapons was a difficult and complicated one, and multiple factors weighed on President Truman. But after the bloodshed of war it is difficult to believe that his primary motivation was other than ending the war quickly to avoid the huge casualties expected, based on the experience of the invasion of Okinawa. That millions of Japanese might well have died in a last—ditch stand is also a major consideration.
Hasegawa and his supporters prefer to believe that there was no difference between American and Japan, morally, in the war. That is nonsense, and tells you what you need to know about the author.
For those who would like to know a little more about the book, there is Michael Kort in Historically Speaking and D. M. Giangreco's work in History News Network.
Hat tip: D. M. Giangreco
Thomas Lifson 4 5 06