9780679443315

Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780679443315

  • ISBN10:

    0679443312

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 1995-08-01
  • Publisher: Knopf

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Summary

One of the most controversial issues absorbing America today: Was it necessary to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Fifty years after the fateful summer of 1945, we are still debating Harry Truman's decision.
Now, in an exhaustive, thoroughly documented study of the events of that time, Gar Alperovitz makes plain why the United States did not need to deploy the bomb, how Truman was advised of alternatives to it by nearly every civilian and military adviser, and how his final decision was later justified by what amounted to a deception - the claim that the action saved half a million to a million American soldiers who might otherwise have died in an invasion.
Alperovitz demonstrates that Japan was close to surrender, that it was profoundly threatened by the prospect of Soviet entry into the war, and that American leaders knew the end was near. Military commanders like Eisenhower, Arnold, and Leahy saw no need to use the bomb; most of Truman's key Cabinet members urged a clarification of the position of Japan's Emperor to speed surrender. But the inexperienced president listened most intently to his incoming secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, and Byrnes was convinced the bomb would be an important diplomatic instrument in dealing with the Soviets.

Author Biography

Gar Alperovitz is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

Excerpts


Chapter One

THE TRAJECTORY OF

JAPAN'S DECLINE

We believe that a considerable portion of the Japanese population now consider absolute military defeat to be probable. The increasing effects of sea blockade and the cumulative devastation wrought by strategic bombing, which has already rendered millions homeless and has destroyed from 25% to 50% of the builtup [sic] area of Japan's most important cities, should make this realization increasingly general.

--Combined U.S.-British Intelligence Committee, July 8, 1945

Among historians of World War II it is now a commonplace that Japanese power disintegrated rapidly in the spring and summer of 1945--that from the early months of that year, their defeat was certain. Robert J. C. Butow describes the dire situation as of the end of 1944:

... the scales of war had been tipped so steeply against the Japanese that no counterweights at their disposal could possibly have balanced them. Germany, which for the Japanese had been a seemingly invincible first line of defense, was facing inevitable destruction; the defense perimeter that the Japanese had created far out beyond their island base had been cracked and deeply penetrated; worst of all, Japan's military potential was dropping rapidly with her industrial capacity, as American submarines and planes cut the last of her economic lifelines to the outside world and great aerial armadas began the methodical destruction of her cities.

The Pacific War had initially moved relatively slowly as President Roosevelt gave priority to the European struggle against Hitler. The famous Pacific battles--Midway: June 1942; Guadalcanal: August-November 1942; New Guinea: September 1942-April 1944; Marianas: June-August 1944--along with the U.S. Navy slowly tightening its stranglehold on Japanese shipping--were dramatic, but far different from what was about to come. In the late summer of 1944, Japan's plight became severe. The fall of Saipan in early July and of Tinian and Guam one month later provided bases which brought the home islands into much better B-29 bombing range. In September, Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, Commander of Air Forces in the Southwest Pacific, was able to tell General "Hap" Arnold, Commander of the Army Air Forces:

The situation is developing rapidly and there are trends which indicate that the Jap is not going to last much longer.

His sea power is so badly depleted that it is no match for any one of several task forces we could put into action.

His air power is in a bad way. He has a lot of airplanes--probably more than he had a year ago--but he has lost his element, flight, squadron and group leaders and his hastily trained replacements haven't the skill or ability or combat knowledge to compete with us....

Without the support of his sea power and air power his land forces cannot do anything except hold out in isolated, beleaguered spots all over the map until bombs, bullets, disease and starvation kill them off....

The end-products of America's enormous industrial capacity--the battleships and carriers of the U.S. Navy and the heavy bombers of the Army Air Forces--now began to pummel Japan mercilessly. On November 24, the war was brought home to millions of Japanese when the Nakajima Aircraft works in the suburbs of Tokyo were struck. A few months later the firebombing of Tokyo (March 9-10, 1945) produced a military and human catastrophe. Some sixteen square miles of one of the world's most densely packed residential districts was completely burnt out, and at least 84,000 people were killed in the firestorm; total losses may have numbered upwards of 120,000. With the collapse of Iwo Jima in the last week of March, U.S. fighter planes could provide cover for heavy bombing missions to Japan--which now went forward on a massive scale. As another historian, Herbert Feis, has succinctly put it: "The structure of Japanese life and production was being smashed and burned."

On April 1, 1945, the U.S. Tenth Army--consisting of three Marine Corps divisions and four Army divisions--landed on Okinawa, the gateway to the home islands. At this time, too, the Russians signaled the likely end of their neutrality. The Koiso government, only nine months old, collapsed. An aging admiral known for his moderation, Baron Kantaro Suzuki, took over amidst growing chaos.

* * *

What was known within the U.S. government at the time--and, specifically, how much did top officials understand the meaning both of particular developments and, equally important, of the trajectory and developing trend of events?

Although most of the American public and servicemen in the field were led to envisage a long and fierce battle--and the high probability of an invasion--now, a half century later, we know a great deal more both about what was actually happening and about what was known by Washington. Clearly, Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the atomic bomb was used. Though the question of timing was in dispute, it is also certain that this was generally understood in the U.S. government at the time.

Shortly after the Suzuki government took over, a confidential internal U.S. government assessment by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) concluded:

Admiral Suzuki stands a world apart from the Kwantung Army faction which has exercised a paramount influence in Japanese politics since the February 26th military revolt in 1936.... Suzuki's appointment has all the appearance of a desperate stop-gap arrangement, an effort to by-pass these extremists and yet provide a new political alignment which can lay the basis for peace negotiations if possible.

At the same time, the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put forward a devastating report on Japan's situation. "With respect to essential raw materials for her war industries," it observed, "Japan is even more dependent than Great Britain upon imports from overseas...."

Due to the shortage of ocean shipping, Japan's main rail lines are already overburdened, while motor transport is totally inadequate.... The continued heavy destruction of machinery and equipment will make it impossible for Japan to replace losses with her existing or potential machine tool and heavy equipment industry....

Under these circumstances the Japanese "will" to continue the war may be expected to weaken progressively. Entirely apart from the physical results obtained by air-sea blockade combined with strategic bombing, the psychological effects upon the Japanese people as a whole will be most detrimental and will progressively undermine their confidence in victory or even confidence in the hope of avoiding complete and inevitable defeat.

Major international developments added to the crisis. In early April the Soviet Union gave notice that it would not renew its existing Neutrality Pact with Japan. If Stalin was no longer prepared to maintain neutrality once his vast armies had completed their work against Hitler, it would be disastrous:

We have great moral superiority through being the victim of her first sneak attack.

In a similar vein, the Combined U.S.-British Intelligence Committee submitted a report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in the first week of July which stated:

The Japanese ruling groups are aware of the desperate military situation....

We believe that a considerable portion of the Japanese population now consider absolute military defeat to be probable. The increasing effects of sea blockade and the cumulative devastation wrought by strategic bombing, which has already rendered millions homeless and has destroyed from 25% to 50% of the builtup [ sic ] area of Japan's most important cities, should make this realization increasingly general.

As if to underscore these assessments, in the first week of July the Japanese government publicly announced a 10 percent cut in staple rations, together with new plans to manufacture starch from potato vine and other plants. The Board of Technology stated that it would begin processing 150 million acorns as a substitute for rice. Radio Tokyo went "all out" in praise of acorns--and declared that a campaign to popularize the idea of eating acorns would follow.

At this time Radio Tokyo also noted that pine-root oil was now being worked on as an experimental airplane fuel and that a "wooden aircraft production department" had been established in the Japanese Munitions Ministry.

Copyright 1995 Gar Alperovitz. All rights reserved.

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