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Hiroshima Re-reconsidered

May 2024
1min read

A New Book Makes A Persuasive Case For Our Use Of Atomic Bombs

Anyone interested in the controversy over the use of atomic bombs against Japan should read Enola Gay and the Court of History , by Robert P. Newman (Peter Lang, 220 pages, $26.00). For years Newman has pitted his scholarship against Hiroshima revisionists, who maintain that Japan was willing to surrender as early as the spring of 1945, provided it could retain its Emperor, and that Harry S. Truman and his advisers knew this but wanted the war to continue until the bombs became available. Supposedly, the real reason for using the bombs was to deploy “atomic diplomacy” against the Soviet Union, and officials conspired to mislead the American people by falsely claiming that they had acted to prevent massive casualties on both sides.

Newman believes this interpretation is a hoax, and in each chapter of his scrupulous book he dissects a different aspect of the debate. In one, he examines the much-cited United States Strategic Bombing Survey , a postwar study consisting largely of interviews with former Japanese officials. Its most famous conclusion was that the Japanese would have surrendered by November 1, 1945, “even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” In a fundamental sense the Survey is irrelevant, because whatever information it contained was unavailable to Truman when he made his decision. But Newman also shows that the man in charge of preparing the final reports, Paul Nitze, was a devotee of conventional bombing who cooked the results to fit his convictions. With one questionable exception, all of those interviewed actually claimed that Japan would have fought to the bitter end.

Newman’s chapter on the ill-fated Enola Gay exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in 1995 is especially telling. The in-house people who prepared the text to accompany the B-29 that dropped the Hiroshima bomb lacked expertise and seem to have relied almost exclusively on revisionist advisers. The result was a farrago of phantom quotations, misleading analyses, and an absurdly low casualty projection for the invasion of Japan. Those responsible for the exhibition tried to cast the controversy as one between “modern scholarly research” and some dotty old vets whose memories (as the museum’s then director put it) amounted to little more than a “largely fictitious, comforting story.” But as it turned out, the scholarship was shoddy, the senile recollections correct.

Robert Maddox

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