Far East and Pacific Theaters

Dropping the Bomb

The Debate

K - M


Kagan, Donald. "Why America Dropped the Bomb." Commentary, 100 (Sep. 1995), 17-23.

Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), say that the author "is masterful in refuting the 'new revisionist consensus' that the bomb was neither necessary nor a morally acceptable means to end the war."

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."

Kimball, W.F. "The Cold War Warmed Over." American Historical Review, Oct. 1974.

Krueger, T.A. "The New Left Revisionists and Their Critics." Reviews in American History, Dec. 1973, 463-466.

Levine, Alan J. The Pacific War: Japan versus the Allies. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.

Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), portray Levine's argument thusly: "Had the A-bomb never existed,... Japan would still have quit before the planned invasion. But conventional bombing and blockade would probably have killed more Japanese than those lost at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 'It is thus reasonably certain,' Levine concludes, 'that the use of the bomb saved Japanese as well as American lives.' He also argues: 'In hindsight, the dropping of the second bomb, so soon after the first, must be considered a horrible mistake. Nagasaki's destruction seems to have contributed nothing to the decision to surrender.' Other writers would point to continued Japanese resistance up to and beyond the Emperor's proclamation on 15 August that Japan must make peace by 'enduring the unendurable and suffering the insufferable.'"

Lifton, Robert Jay, and Greg Mitchell. Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1995.

According to Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), the authors are quite "vituperative ... in condemning Mr. Truman and his associates." To them "Hiroshima is the 'mother of all cover-ups, creating tonalities, distortions, manipulative procedures, and patterns of concealment that have been applied to all of American life that followed' in Vietnam, Watergate, and Iran-Contra. They assert the decision to bomb Hiroshima ultimately caused the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda. There is more, but you get the drift."

MacEachin, Douglas J. The Final Months of the War with Japan: Signals Intelligence, U.S. Invasion Planning, and the A-Bomb Decision. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1998.

From the "Foreword": This monograph's "basic objective is not to pass judgment on the decisions that were made, but rather to examine the intelligence that was available at the time and to weigh the role the intelligence played or might have played in the deliberations on an invasion."

Zelikow, FA 80.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2001), calls this "the most important work on the atomic bomb controversy in a decade." For Jonkers, AFIO WIN 6-99 (10 Feb. 1999), MacEachin's work is a "fascinating and authoritative view of the elements that went into the decision to use the A-bomb." It is "[e]ssential reading for scholars and students of history."

Although of the opinion that it is "marred by some obvious errors" (such as, calling MacArthur CINCPAC), Bates, NIPQ 15.3, still finds the work to be "a fine document" and "an important historical document." Goulden, Intelligencer 10.2, calls the work "a solid documentary compilation." Skates, JMH, Oct. 1999, believes that the author "has put his finger precisely on the salient issues in the controversies surrounding the invasion of Japan and the use of the bomb." The appendices to MacEachin's narratives are "[m]ost important," especially the 118 pages of "critical archival documents."

Maddox, Robert James.

1. The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

2. Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1995.

Giangreco, NWCR, Spring 1998, says that the author follows a "solid, journeyman's approach" to his conclusion that "President Truman meant exactly what he said when he stated that the atom bombs were dropped in the hope that they would induce the Japanese to surrender before U.S. forces ... would be forced into a prolonged, bloody ground invasion of Japan."

For Cohen, FA 74.5 (Sep.-Oct. 1995), Maddox' work is a "concise and convincing study." The author is "[a] vigorous defender of the traditional interpretation,... [and] brings to bear considerable scholarly research. He is particularly scathing in documenting the errors of revisionists in handling historical evidence."

Auer and Halloran, Parameters (Spring 1996), see Maddox's work as "a lean, well-focused, and tightly argued volume seen largely from the standpoint of American leaders who influenced the President's decision. The book is carefully documented and has a useful bibliography."

Messer, Robert L.

1. The End of an Alliance: James F. Brynes, Roosevelt, Truman, and the Origins of the Cold War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

2. "New Evidence on Truman's Decision." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Aug. 1985, 50-56.

Miles, Rufus E., Jr. "Hiroshima: The Strange Myth of Half a Million American Lives Saved." International Security 10 (Fall 1985): 121-140.

Miscamble, Wilson D. The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bomb, and the Defeat of Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Freedman, FA 90.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2011), says that the author "skewers" the argument of Gar Alperovitz that "Truman and his advisers knew the bombing was unnecessary."

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