Far East and Pacific Theaters

Dropping the Bomb

Introduction and a Beginning Point

Included here:

1. Introduction

2. A Beginning Point


1. Introduction

From the mid-1960s but with particular vigor since 1985 and the publication of Gar Alperovitz's Atomic Diplomacy, a debate has raged about the reasons that led to President Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb against Japanese cities. The "traditional" view holds that the decision was made wholly or primarily on military grounds -- to shorten the war, avoid an invasion of the Japanese home islands, and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers. The "revisionists," Alperovitz and his progeny, point to political objectives and/or diplomatic considerations -- often, the idea of ending the war before the Soviet Union could move against Japan -- as playing a vital, some say dominant, role in the decision.

Materials reflecting this debate are presented in this bibliography, because such intelligence matters as whether the Japanese would surrender short of an invasion and estimated U.S. losses in an invasion scenario are woven into the most contentious issues.


2. A Beginning Point

Kerr, Sheila. "Alperovitz, Timewatch and the Bomb." Intelligence and National Security 5, no. 3 (Jul. 1990): 207-214.

Clark comment: Kerr's article succinctly frames the parameters of the debate over the U.S. decision to use the Atomic bomb. The author takes issue with the BBC's Timewatch program, "Summer of the Bomb" (first aired on 9 August 1989), and its presenter, Gar Alperovitz, with regard to the conclusion that President Truman decided to use the atomic bomb in order to intimidate the Soviets. Alperovitz' thesis "rests upon a great deal of circumstantial evidence which ... is ... either inaccurate or irrelevant." The work of other scholars on the subject was ignored in the BBC's program.

Robert Marshall, Timewatch program director, responds in "The Atomic Bomb -- And the Lag in Historical Understanding," Intelligence and National Security 6, no. 2 (Apr. 1991): 458-466. Marshall concludes that Kerr's article "is fully in line with th[e] now increasingly obsolete tradition" of not addressing the findings of recent research on the subject.

In a reply to Marshall, Kerr, I&NS 6.2/466-469, notes her belief that "scholarly opinion has not shifted as fast or as far towards Alperovitz's views as Marshall thinks." She also reiterates her argument that the BBC's program was too one-sided in the views it reflected.

Geoffrey Warner, I&NS 6.2/469-470, who was rather cavalierly dismissed by Marshall in his article as not being particularly well-known, reiterates his criticism of Alperovitz' use of his sources. Warner also quotes Arthur M. Schlesinger for the reinforcing opinion that "Alperovitz ... sometimes twists his material in a most unscholarly way" (The Cycles of American History, footnote on p. 167 of the Penguin edition).

Watt, I&NS 6.2/470-472, says that Marshall has "chosen uncritically to embrace one faction in a now out-dated pseudo-historical scholarly debate which ... used historical issues as a cover for an attack on American foreign policy in the 1960s and on the historical beliefs that were advanced to support that foreign policy."

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