Book review: Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1995, 848 pp.
This lengthy volume will not be for every reader. However, if you want to understand how the decision to nuke Japan was made, who influenced whom, whether the Japanese were already trying to surrender, and whether the war was already won before the United State used two nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945, this is your book.
Alperovitz has exhaustively documented these questions, and—surprise—the answers are damning. Truman was influenced by Secretary of State James F. Byrnes. Among factors in the bombing were that an enormous amount of money had been spent in secret to develop these weapons and it seemed important to some to “have something to show for it all” in the end. But the saddest point is that scores of thousands of Japanese civilians were incinerated by the United State in a special attempt to impress the Soviet Union. They were impressed—they accelerated their own program developing the same kind of weapon.
Most of the top military figures advising the president did not want to use the bomb, or at least wanted to arrange a demonstration of the weapon for the Japanese. Initiatives were coming from the Emperor himself for ending the war, but surrender terms were left unclarified, although virtually everyone advising Truman sought for such a clarification.
This matter as outlined in the book raises the question of granting one man or a small group of men power to kill civilians. The myth that dropping the bomb saved hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives is also addressed. This myth was developed after the war when the use of the bomb generated a considerable outcry of disagreement. This book is almost two books in one, and the material about the myth and its development as worthy as the first part. First estimates were that the casualties that might accrue in the first month of an invasion of the Japanese mainland could go as high as 7,000. This number kept ratcheting up as pressure against what had been done mounted.
This book is a worthy read, quite detailed. This brief review does little justice to it. Since I have chosen to personally pursue more detail about the WWII / Cold War period, this book was one of real interest. Read Stinnett Day of Deceit,) first. You will have to set aside some time for Decision, although when you get down to the main text, you will only be reading some 670 pp. Helps one understand that the state is immoral, is run by incompetents who murder, and that there is grave danger in merely following orders. Nuking Japan adds a permanent tarnish against the record of the United State. No doubt, many good men fought in the war and did bad things as ordered, not understanding the import of their actions. However, the information is ready for you to chase it and you will see that what was done was a crime. Truman, Byrnes, and others will face their actions under the searching scrutiny of the Judge of all the Earth.