- Historic Sites
"We Can’t Do Business With Stalin"
August 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 5
Mr. Mee has made his own sketchy revision of standard revisionist doctrine. He parts company with the first generation of revisionist writers by spreading the Cold War guilt around, instead of fastening on President Truman as the archvillain. The Cold War, he now argues, served everybody’s purpose. Stalin “needed the Cold War… to discipline his restless people at home.” Churchill needed it because the only hope he saw of preserving some measure of British influence in world affairs was to set—and to keep—America and Russia at one another’s throats. But Truman still gets the worst of the argument. He is accused of “institutionalizing” the Cold War in order to maintain prosperity at home. Truman needed an excuse for deficit spending, so the Mee theory goes, because without it he could not have kept the American economy busy and productive. Thus he waged a Cold War, after the hot war was won, to justify continued deficit spending. “Eventually,” as Mee would have it, “with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, the encouragement of American multinational companies, and a set of defense treaties that came finally to encompass the world, he institutionalized it.”
An ugly accusation, this, which stands certain durable facts on their heads. There is the fact, for example, that Truman demobilized the Army and Navy with extraordinary speed as soon as World War II was won. From a combined strength of twelve million in 1945, he cut back the armed services to fewer than 1,600,000 men in 1947. By 1949 the Army was down to ten divisions. Between 1947 and 1950 he kept the national defense budget to an average of $13 billion a year. These are hardly the actions of a President determined to throw his weight around and to maintain prosperity through forced deficit spending.
It is not clear from Mee’s narrative what part, if any, the encouragement of American multinational companies could have played in this development. Precious few American companies were doing business in Europe thirty years ago. Precious little business of any kind was being transacted in the wasteland of broken stone and brick to which many of the great metropolitan centers of Europe had been reduced. Transportation and power grids were shattered; coal and industrial raw materials were in short supply; black markets flourished everywhere; food commanded a king’s ransom in the wildly inflated currencies of postwar Europe. Would Mr. Mee have refused to assist in restoring and rebuilding Europe for the sake of a balanced budget? It is not an unfair question. Obviously there were other, more honorable, motives at work than a presidential preference for deficit spending.
As for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan—and NATO—these were beyond question Truman’s accomplishments. Not, however, the “set of defense treaties that came finally to encompass the world.” The major responsibility for Seato, the Baghdad Pact, and the rest properly belongs to John Foster Dulles.
Having disposed of eastern Europe and Germany, Mr. Mee then turns to the atomic bomb. Here again Truman is portrayed as the villain of the peace. “In obstinate defiance of all other opinion,” we are told, Truman insisted that dropping the bomb on Japan was militarily necessary.
The few opinions Mee cites against the argument of military necessity are for the most part regrettably retrospective: the Strategic Bombing Survey, for example, which concluded after the war that Japan would have surrendered even if the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had not been dropped. That Japan would have surrendered eventually is not disputed here. The unanswered question was when that might happen—and how many months longer the war in the Pacific might drag on if the bomb was not dropped. We know today that Japanese counsels were divided on whether or not to end the fighting. Even after Hiroshima, the Japanese military chiefs vetoed an effort by influential civilians to accept the Potsdam Proclamation calling for unconditional surrender. Even after the second bomb had fallen, on Nagasaki, the military persisted in their refusal to surrender. It took the personal intervention of Emperor Hirohito to overcome that entrenched opposition.
The plain fact, however, is that Truman had no knowledge of these goings-on. A month before the Alamogordo test, he had received from General Marshall and approved a military plan for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. The American Sixth Army was to land on Kyushu about November 1. Four months later there would be a second invasion, the Eighth and Tenth armies going ashore on Honshu. Marshall expected fierce resistance with the loss of a half-million Americans. He speculated that the Japanese would not be brought to their knees until late autumn, 1946.
After Alamogordo, with Truman and his Joint Chiefs still at Potsdam, the decision was made to drop the bomb in the belief that its use would rule out the need to invade Japan—and would save the lives of hundreds of thousands of GI’s. Right or wrong, there is no persuasive evidence that the decision was challenged or questioned at the time. Churchill recalls in his memoirs: “The historic fact remains, and must be judged in the after-time, that the decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never even an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around our table; nor did I ever hear the slightest suggestion that we should do otherwise.” Even Stalin, when Truman informed him of the Alamogordo test on July 24 at Potsdam, expressed the hope that the United States would “make good use” of the new weapon against Japan. It would appear that Mr. Mee has left out of his account several opinions that do not fit his thesis.