Dropping the Bomb: A Historiographical Review of the Most Destructive Decision in Human History

Derek Ide I Geopolitics I History I June 19th, 2014

The historiography of the atomic bomb can be roughly categorized into three camps: traditionalists, revisionists, and middle-ground "consensus" historians. [1] Traditionalists, also referred to as orthodox[2] historians and post-revisionists, studying the atomic bomb generally accept the view posited by the Truman administration and articulated most clearly in Henry Stimson's 1947 Harper's Magazine article.[3] In short, this argument assumes that the use of the atomic bombs against Japan was justifiable on military grounds in order to prevent a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Often attached to such analysis is the notion that insofar as the atomic bombs ended the war prior to an invasion and saved hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, the use of the atomic bombs was also a morally sound decision. There tends to be a remarkable level of homogeneity amongst the traditionalist arguments. Whereas they may emphasize certain facts or aspects of the debate, they tend to present strikingly similar arguments, with a few exceptions.

The revisionists, in contrast, tend to be far more heterogeneous. Revisionist historians are unconvinced by the official narrative, and tend to emphasize the alternatives to the atomic bomb not pursued by the Truman administration. Furthermore, most revisionists accept, on some level, the "atomic diplomacy" thesis articulated first by Gar Alperovitz in 1965. To one degree or another revisionists argue that the Truman administration purposefully chose not to pursue alternatives to ending the war and that post-war diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were germane to, and in some historian's view dictated, the use of the atomic bombs.

The third camp, the consensus historians, are those who J. Samuel Walker refers to as having "reached a broad, though hardly unanimous, consensus on some key issues surrounding the use of the bomb."[4] These include the fact that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war, that invasion would likely not have been necessary, and that the atomic bomb did not save hundreds of thousands or millions of lives. What distinguishes them from the traditionalists is the argument that the atomic bombs were not a military necessity. On the other hand, their rejection or hesitancy to incorporate atomic diplomacy into their analysis differentiates them from the revisionists.

Given the nature of the three camps, the organizational framework I have utilized includes three sections. The first section will deal with the debate between traditionalists and revisionists. It will focus on questions of atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, unconditional surrender, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and certain key figures in the Truman administration, the Soviet Union, and Japan. The second section will examine the points of disagreement within the revisionist camp. Although revisionists all challenge the orthodox position, they are significantly less homogenous than the latter. The third section of the essay will explore the consensus historians and their disagreements with both the traditionalists and the revisionists. Given the level of unanimity amongst the traditionalist historians, it is unnecessary to dedicate a section exploring differences between them because with rare exceptions, which will be noted when appropriate, there is remarkably little disagreement. The essay will conclude with a brief analysis of the authors, such as Robert Newman and Paul Boyer, who have extended their chronological framework significantly beyond the actual use of the atomic bombs.

The Traditionalists vs. the Revisionists

The five monographs within the traditionalist camp that will be analyzed here are Robert James Maddox'sWeapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (2004)[5], Robert P. Newman'sTruman and the Hiroshima Cult (1995), Richard B. Frank's Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999), Paul D. Walker'sTruman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (2003), and Wilson D. Miscamble's The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (2011). On the other side of the debate are four revisionist historians, including Gar Alperovitz's The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (1995)[6], Martin J. Sherwin's A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (2003),[7] Ronald Takaki's Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (1995), and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005). The positions of the traditionalists and the revisionists regarding atomic diplomacy, the Potsdam Conference, Japanese surrender, the unconditional surrender policy, Soviet entry into the war, projected casualty figures, and key individuals[8] involved in the decision to use the bomb and Japanese surrender are fundamentally at odds.

The question of atomic diplomacy is what creates the fundamental divide between the two camps. Although there is great variation between revisionist and traditionalist positions on unconditional surrender, the role and race and racism, and other factors, most questions tend to be subsumed within and intricately bound up with atomic diplomacy. Since the revisionists first posited this thesis, it is appropriate to adumbrate their arguments. Objecting to the official narrative that "Truman simply had no choice except to use the atomic bomb," Alperovitz argues that Truman, significantly influenced by Byrnes, used the bomb as a form of "atomic diplomacy" to pursue post-war U.S. interests in both Europe and Asia. In essence, Alperovitz argues that the U.S. government "generally understood" that "Japan was defeated and preparing to surrender before the bomb was used." [9] According to Alperovitz there was a "quite general" notion amongst U.S. officials at Potsdam that the bomb would strengthen U.S. diplomacy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. It was during this time that "a conscious decision not to encourage Soviet participation in the war" was undertaken. Attempts "to delay the Red Army's attack to the extent feasible" were meant to "limit Soviet political influence in Asia."[10] For Alperovitz atomic diplomacy is the crucial element in explaining the use of the bomb.

Martin Sherwin supplements Alperovitz's atomic diplomacy thesis by extending the importance of such diplomatic concerns backwards into the Roosevelt administration. Sherwin posits that the policies of the Roosevelt administration suggest "that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943."[11] Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt's elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt "consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill's monopolistic, anti-Soviet views."[12] Ronald Takaki, despite emphasizing the role of race and racism in the decision, also concedes that atomic diplomacy was indeed a factor. He notes the "incredible pressure" on Manhattan project scientists to complete the bombs prior to the Potsdam conference. Similarly, he explains how Truman purposefully postponed the conference to coincide with the bomb tests. Takaki maintains that two "schools of thought" dominated the thinking of U.S. officials, including the "quid-pro-quo" strategy, articulated by people like Henry Stimson,[13] and the "monopoly" strategy a la James Byrnes. [14] In Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's view, the Potsdam Proclamation was not a warning to Japan, but an attempt to justify the use of the bomb.

Hasegawa's argument aligns with Alperovitz's as well. He maintains that a "race" began at Potsdam between the United States and the Soviet Union when the Soviets set August 15 as their projected state of entry into the war. This "gave American policymakers a definite deadline to work for." [15] Thus, the timing of the Potsdam Proclamation was "integrally connected with the schedule for deployment of the atomic bombs."[16] The Truman administration desired to end the war via the atomic bombs in order to avoid Soviet entry and maintain hegemony in the Pacific in the post-war world. Therefore, the Truman-Byrnes commitment to unconditional surrender and the Potsdam declaration was simply a prelude to the use of the atomic bombs. Byrnes position was essentially: "if we insisted on unconditional surrender, we could justify dropping of the atomic bomb."[17] Concerned about the post-war political consequences of Soviet participation in the war, U.S. planners sought to bring about Japan's surrender before the Soviets could join. At best, Soviet participation in the war was an "insurance policy" in case the atomic tests failed.[18]

Thus, the revisionist position is quite clear. Officials in the United States were deeply concerned about post-war hegemony, particularly in the Pacific but in Europe as well, and saw the use of the atomic bomb against Japan as a way to contain the Soviet Union. Subsequently, any and all alternatives that could have ended the war, albeit not in time to prevent Soviet entry, were disregarded and not pursued. This conclusion is often premised on the fact that Japan was already defeated and near surrender. Alperovitz argues that "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 general understood in the U.S. government at the time." [19] Hasegawa contends that the "Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender" and, as such, the Japanese would have quickly surrender upon Soviet entry even without the use of the atomic bombs.

It is on these grounds that the traditionalists most vehemently challenge the revisionists. Robert James Maddox challenged what he saw as "blatant revisionist distortions" in order to construct his argument that the single-most decisive factor in forcing the Japanese to surrender and preventing a costly land invasion of Japan was the use of the atomic bombs. Whereas Alperovitz maintained that the casualty figures for a land invasion were inflated as post-war justifications by the Truman administration, Maddox suggests that the half-a-million figure "cited by Truman, and even higher ones, were circulated within the upper echelons of government."[20] For Maddox bombs were utilized out of military necessity because the Japanese would not have surrendered without the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, according to Maddox the "very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition."[21] Furthermore, ULTRA intercepts suggest surrender prior to an invasion was not even a serious option, let alone inevitable. Richard Frank goes even further, arguing that the conclusions the revisionist reach regarding the MAGIC are erroneous because they ignore the fact that Japanese peace feelers were completely "want of official sanction." [22] Thus, the "thesis that Japan was actively seeking to surrender in 1945, and that American policy makers knew this primarily from code breaking," is rejected by the traditionalists.[23]

Robert Newman concurs with this analysis, adding that most "Hiroshima cultists,"[24] including Gar Alperovitz, P. M. S. Blackett, Paul Boyer, the Smithsonian exhibit authors, and others who "swallow this conclusion of the [United States Strategic Bombing Survey][25] whole" are incorrect because the study itself was extremely flawed. [26] Information in the survey was purposefully distorted to support conclusions already arrived at a priori by Paul Nitze, and the testimony of most high-ranking Japanese officials "overwhelmingly indicated that Japan was not about to surrender before the bomb."[27] Thus, the "Truman bashers"[28] are incorrect to argue that the bomb changed no minds. In fact, according to Newman it "created a situation in which the peace party and the emperor could prevail." [29] Wilson Miscamble also views himself as "exploding permanently the myth of a Japan ready to surrender," a "myth" perpetuated by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946. [30]

Richard Frank furthers this argument by explaining that Japan's "fundamental policy," based on the Ketsu-Go defense plan, was a national resistance program intended to bloody the invading enemy enough to force political negotiations and ipso facto avoid unconditional surrender. Frank relies heavily upon the document produced by the Big Six entitled "The Fundamental Policy to Be Followed Henceforth in the Conduct of the War," which argued Japan "must fight to the finish and choose extinction before surrender."[31] In essence, Japan was "effectively locked on course for a fight to the last man, woman, and child."[32] Furthermore, Frank continues this theme, arguing that the goal was to "severely bloody the invaders" to the point of achieving political goals. Ultra documents, according to Frank, did much to "unmask their carefully wrought plans."[33] The forces on Kyushu far exceeded the 350,000 number given to Truman. Indeed, by November 1 Japanese strength would be 680,000, much closer to the 1:1 ration of American to Japanese soldiers that U.S. leaders desperately wanted to avoid. Paul Walker takes this argument to its logical extreme. He argues that due the 35 percent casualty rate of the Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles, as well as the "fanaticism of the Japanese military and their updated code of Bushido," casualties would have ranged from around 250,000 in the invasion of Kyushu alone, to over one million with the invasion of both Kyushu and Honshu.[34] Miscamble maintains that "retrospective castigations" like William D. Leahy's memoirs in 1950, which denounced the atomic bomb as a "modern type of barbarism not worthy of Christian man," can be dismissed since "no military officials counseled the president against using the weapons prior to Hiroshima."[35] Maddox concurs, explaining that despite the retroactive denunciations of the atomic bomb by top-ranking military officials, no military officials seriously attempted to guide Truman away from using the bomb prior to its deployment. The fact that the bomb was utilized out of military necessity dismisses the "gravest charge against Truman," namely that the atomic bomb was deployed "primary as a diplomatic weapon to intimidate the Soviet Union."[36]

The question of Soviet entry into the war preoccupies an important space in the discourse as well. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa maintains that "Soviet entry into the war played a greater role than the atomic bombs in inducing Japan to surrender."[37] Interestingly, Maddox claims the Soviets invaded Manchuria not to be "a good ally" but rather "to get in on the kill,"[38] an analysis Hasegawa would largely share. However, where the revisionists and the traditionalists differ, is that most traditionalists seriously downplay the role of Soviet entry into the war. In Frank's narrative, "Soviet intervention was a significant but not decisive reason for Japan's surrender… reinforcing but not fundamental."[39] Miscamble maintains that revisionist historians who emphasize Soviet entry in the war "distort history by overemphasizing" its importance.[40] According to Miscamble, Hasegawa's claim that Truman was disappointed at the Soviet entry into the war "are not substantiated by the historical evidence." [41] Paul Walker points out that when the emperor finally surrendered on August 15, 1945, the Russian invasion was not mentioned as a cause of surrender. Hasegawa counters this point by citing "another historic document" written by Sakomizu's [42] assistant and sanctioned by the emperor that was not issued until August 17. This rescript explained that if Japan continued fighting after the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war it would endanger "the very foundation of the empire's existence," [43] reinforcing Hasegawa's claim that Soviet intervention was key.

Perhaps the most creative defense of the use of the atomic bomb from the traditionalist camp is the moral one. One of the primary objectives of Wilson Miscamble is to "confront the question regarding the morality of the atomic bomb."[44] Miscamble suggests that for Byrnes and Truman "moral complexity or future diplomatic implications failed to complicate their straight forward thinking." If the atomic bomb "might save American lives" then it must be used, and this "remained, throughout, the essential motivation that guided the decision." [45] Whereas revisionists argue that Japan was defeated, he makes a stark distinction between defeat and surrender, explaining that the U.S. would have eventually won the war by "continued obliteration bombing of Japanese cities and infrastructure, a choking blockade, the terrible invasions... [and these] would have meant significantly greater Allied casualties and much higher Japanese civilian and military casualties."[46] Likewise, the abrupt end to the war also brought an end to Japanese brutality in other parts of Asia. Furthermore, "indiscriminate bombing had become the norm for the Anglo-American forces well before 1945," indicating that any "moral Rubicon" had already been crossed prior to Hiroshima.[47] Thus, the bomb was the "lesser of the evils available," and subsequently Miscamble pleas that in "future anniversaries of the dropping of the atomic bomb… one might hope for less moralizing condemnation of Truman's decision… Perhaps there might even be some empathy for the man who felt required to make the decision and who carried the burden of it."[48]

Robert Newman makes a slightly less sophisticated moral defense, proclaiming that neither "Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan's fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific,"[49] an idea he apparently entertains. Newman suggests that the atomic bombs were moral actions taken in order to prevent greater evil. According to him the general arguments against Truman's choice to use the bomb come in four general varieties: first, atomic bombs are intrinsically evil and should not be used; second, their use violated the principle of noncombatant immunity; third, the bombs were used on invalid motives, including retribution, revenge, and reprisal; and fourth, no specific warning was given. To the first, Newman responds that "the case for immorality of today's overkill arsenals and war fighting doctrines is strong," but "to apply the same case retrospectively to 1945, however, is senseless."[50] To the second, Newman quotes Bamba Nobuya to suggest that the "Marxist interpretation of imperialistic war," namely that "the 'people' should have been innocent," is incorrect. The Japanese population did not just passively support imperialism, "on the contrary, most people competed to get front seats on the fascist bandwagon." [51] Thus, they were not noncombatants and to attack them was legitimate. To the third point Newman maintains that because the Japanese were involved in developing atomic weapons as well, even though U.S. leaders were not aware of this at the time, it retroactively justifies the decision. Since "upwards of 250,000 people… would have died each month the Japanese Empire struggled in its death throes beyond July 1945," and since the bomb had the ability to end the war early, it could not have been used for the wrong reasons.[52] To the last point, he responds that the shock value of the bomb was decisive in ending the war, and thus it would have been ineffective and prolonged the war to issue the warning.

Finally, the issue of culture and its relationship to policies of surrender are intricately bound up in the traditionalist narrative. For Paul Walker, a key element of the war was the "barbarism, savageness, and race hatred" of "an oriental enemy with a brutal heritage." [53] According to Walker, the Japanese in World War II "believed they were fighting in the proud traditions of their samurai ancestors."[54] This ideological reliance upon "a version of Bushido" meant that military schools taught "a perverted cult of death" which made "young Japanese men expendable numbers for the military's reckless and costly adventures." [55] Tracing Japanese history from the Forty Seven Ronin to the Meiji Restoration and beyond, Walker paints a picture of uniform brutality and aggression. This culminates in the period from 1894 to 1945, where "Japan was involved in almost constant warfare with her neighbors."[56] Since being a prisoner of war was "completely unacceptable, considered dishonorable or shameful, and contrary to the samurai code," the Japanese were essentially automatons that fought to the death. In contrast with U.S. imperialism, where "Filipinos had a positive image of America" and U.S. intervention in Vietnam "sorted itself out,"[57] Japanese imperialism was infinitely more brutal, according to Walker. This notion that the Japanese were imbued with fanaticism and the ideology of Bushido, which permeated their consciousness for centuries, is an important part of Walker's thesis because it attempts to reinforce the notion that the toll of casualties would be great in a U.S. invasion of Japan. Miscamble suggests a similar theme, explaining that the "the twisted neo-samurai … geared up with true banzai spirit to engage the whole population in a kind of national kamikaze campaign." [58] Maddox is slightly less crude, suggesting that that the "very idea of surrender was alien to the Japanese samurai tradition."[59]

Thus, within the traditionalist camp one finds a remarkable degree of unanimity. While some authors, such as Miscamble and Newman, focus on the moral argument, others, such as Maddox, implore the military aspect. Others still emphasize the "savage" culture of the "Oriental enemy" a la Paul Walker. Yet, all of the traditionalists tend to converge in their main analysis. There is little disagreement among them on any vital issues. In one way this greatly distinguishes them from the revisionist camp, which presents a quite heterogeneous and diverse array of analyses.

The Revisionist Camp

The traditionalists and revisionists part ways on the fundamental divide of atomic diplomacy. Within the traditionalist camp arguments are largely convergent, whereas within the revisionists camp the nuances are far more pronounced. All tend to agree that some level of atomic diplomacy was in play. Most, however, disagree on a variety of other issues. Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin heavily emphasize the role of atomic diplomacy. In contrast, Takaki suggests race and racism as primary variables. Hasegawa maintains that an "international" perspective is vital, and criticizes past revisionists for heavily focusing on leaders in Washington. As Gar Alperovitz is the first and quintessential revisionist, much of the internal discussion amongst revisionists is characterized by correcting, expanding, or challenging certain assumptions Alperovitz has made.

The first distinction of analysis can be seen in the characterization of the Roosevelt and the Truman administration. Alperovitz imbues individual political actors, particularly Harry Truman and his adviser James Byrnes, with immense agency over the use of the bomb. He warns against "analyses which assert that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, and financial-produced the decision."[60] He also makes the case against "momentum theories," which may have "an odd feeling of seeming plausibility about them," but which go against the evidence that top U.S. military officials were against the bombing.[61] Throughout his work it is stressed that individual political actors were absolutely fundamental in the decision, and that no sort of "momentum theory" is capable of capturing the dynamics of the top-level discussions that led to the final decision. Alperovitz emphasizes the importance of the Truman-Byrnes relationship, implicitly suggesting that the outcome may have been different with Roosevelt in office.

Martin Sherwin articulates a somewhat distinct argument that draws a strong line of continuity between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. For Sherwin, an "analysis of the policies [Roosevelt] chose…suggests that the diplomatic value of the bomb began to shape his atomic energy policies as early as 1943."[62] Although Sherwin cites Roosevelt's elusive decision making process and sudden death as inhibitors to fully understanding his policy, he posits that Roosevelt "consistently opposed international control and acted in accordance with Churchill's monopolistic, anti-Soviet views."[63] He concludes that Roosevelt's commitment to amicable postwar relations with the Soviets has "often been exaggerated," and that "his prescriptions for the diplomatic role of the atomic bomb… reveal a carefully guarded skepticism regarding the Grand Alliance's prospects for surviving the war intact."[64] Thus, Sherwin argues that Truman did not "inherit the question" of whether to employ the bomb as a means of atomic diplomacy, but he "inherited the answer" since by 1943 the diplomatic value of the bomb had already begun to shape atomic energy policies. The decision to use the bomb, and its diplomatic implications, were prescribed by Roosevelt. Truman's decisions were more or less technical, revolving around how specifically to use the bomb. Where Alperovitz has attempted to present a break or disconnect between what he perceives as Roosevelt's uncertain and wavering atomic policies, Sherwin presents a forceful analysis suggesting strong continuity between the two administrations.

A second point of contention amongst revisionists is the role of race and racism in the decision to use the bomb. Here Alperovitz argues that while "it is certainly possible" that racism amongst U.S. officials played a role in the decision to drop the bomb, "it is all but impossible to find specific evidence that racism was an important factor."[65] In contrast, while Takaki adopts Alperovitz's notion of atomic diplomacy, he drastically parts with him on the issue of race. Takaki's primary focus is understanding the decision within the trajectory of US racism. [66] In this regard, it seems his argument is best encapsulated when he declares, borrowing from John Dower, that "in this 'war without mercy,' Truman made the deadly mushroom cloud of 'Manhattan' appear over Japan in order to destroy an enemy he regarded as 'a beast'."[67] Takaki explicates upon the "racialization of the Pacific War," positioning it within the historic context of racism and US expansionism. After briefly addressing Japanese notions of racial superiority, Takaki attempts to place Truman's decision to use the atomic bombs within the "sociological imagination" of anti-Japanese racism in US society. In doing so, he links the war in the Pacific to earlier periods of conquest. His analysis focuses on the complex processes by which the US idea of democracy was intricately bound up with westward expansion and slavery, all institutions saturated with racialized notions of superiority. Citing the Chinese Exclusion Act, "Yellow Peril" hysteria, the American Federation of Labor anti-Japanese agitation, and the Asiatic Exclusion League, Takaki draws a long line of continuity culminating in the internment of Japanese Americans and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Takaki, notions of racial superiority and anti-Asian racism were key variables in the "sociological imagination" which facilitated the bombing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. It is in this context of a society deeply permeated with both institutional and individual racism that Truman's actions must be analyzed. Takaki analyzes Truman's biography, emphasizing the implicit notions of racial superiority deeply embedded in him and his family of ex-slave owners. Takaki outlines Truman's broadly anti-Asian sentiments, such as in 1911 when he explained that he "does hate Chinese and Japs" and that the "yellow men [ought to be] in Asia." [68] By 1945, Truman referred to the "Japs" as "savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic." Thus, the "sociological imagination" was a highly racialized one that helped rationalize the slaughter of innocent Japanese civilians in the minds of men like Truman.

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa also takes Alperovitz to task on more than one occasion. Throughout Racing the Enemy he points out that he views his work as a corrective to the mistakes of revisionist historians. As he explains, the "sharp division between revisionist and orthodox historians in the Unites States" has failed to address the crucial international dimension because "the main point of contention is over American perceptions of Soviet intentions" that "depict Soviet actions as a sideshow and assign to Moscow a secondary role at best."[69] Furthermore, although Hasegawa is certainly not an orthodox historian, he is mildly critical of the revisionists who have preceded him: "Although much of what revisionist historians argue is faulty and based on tendentious use of sources, they nonetheless deserve credit for raising an important moral issue that challenges the standard American narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."[70] Thus, Hasegawa strengthens the revisionist narrative by correcting some of the errors and increasing the attention to the international dynamic at work.

Alperovitz in large part bases his argument on the conclusions of the 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey which argued that Japan "would likely have surrender in 1945 without atomic bombing, without a Soviet declaration of war, and without an American invasion." [71] In contrast with Alperovitz and most other revisionist historians who uncritically accept the United States Strategic Bombing Survey's conclusion, Hasegawa maintains that "defeat and surrender are not synonymous," and Paul Nitze's "conclusion was repeatedly contradicted by the evidence in the Survey itself."[72] He largely accepts the critique of the USSBS findings put forward by Barton Bernstein. Instead, he argues that "even without the atomic bombs, the war most likely would have ended shortly after Soviet entry into the war-before November 1."[73] Strangely, Hasegawa tends to overemphasize his departure from Alperovitz on this point, or he must have simply overlooked Alperovitz contention that, even had the atomic bomb not been used, it is "almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war."[74]

On a number of other points Hasegawa and Alperovitz certainly do disagree, however. Whereas Alperovitz characterizes the Sino-Soviet negotiations between Stalin and the Nationalists as a U.S. ploy to prolong Russian entry in the war, Hasegawa responds that in the Sino-Soviet negotiations, the "interests of Truman, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek all converged: the successful conclusion of a Sino-Soviet treaty could make everyone happy." [75] Hasegawa does not view the difficult negotiating by the Chinese as a concocted plot by the U.S. to keep the Soviets out of the war. "Revisionist historians are wrong," Hasegawa explains, "in asserting that Harriman's actions were meant to pressure Soong to resist Stalin's demand in order to prevent Soviet entry into the war against Japan."[76] Likewise, throughout his work Hasegawa repeatedly attempts to re-characterize Byrnes are someone not nearly as bent on geopolitical conflict with the Soviet Union as other revisionist historians have made him out to be. For instance, in response to the Soviet Kurils Operation as part of August Storm, Hasegawa argues that Byrnes, "though often regarded by revisionist historians as an ardent advocate for a tough stance against the Soviet Union… favored a conciliatory position on this issue."[77] Thus, the internecine differences amongst the revisionists exist. They are not nearly as pronounced or as heated as the differences between the traditionalists and the revisionists, but significantly more obvious than any real disagreement amongst traditionalist scholars.

Consensus Historians vs. The Traditionalists and the Revisionists

Between the traditionalist and revisionist historians lay a murky "middle ground" that encompasses a group of scholars who posit quite different arguments regarding the atomic bomb but tend to share in common a notion that alternatives existed. These "consensus" historians, as J. Samuel Walker refers to them, [78] in some way suggest that Truman and his advisers were aware of alternatives that seemed likely to end the war. The "consensus" historians reject the traditionalist argument that the atomic bombs were a military necessity and at the same time greatly distance themselves from the atomic diplomacy thesis. Samuel Walker'sPrompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (1997), Dennis Wainstock'sThe Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1996), and Sean L. Malloy's Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (2008) form the core of this "consensus" or middle ground camp.

Dennis Wainstock argues that the policy of unconditional surrender was a "policy of revenge, and it hurt America's national self-interest." [79] He continues, suggesting that had the United States given Japan conditional surrender terms, including retention of the emperor, Japan would have surrendered significantly earlier than it did. This means that neither the atomic bombs nor Soviet intervention would have been required. By prolonging the war in Europe and East Asia the policy of unconditional surrender expanded Soviet power in both areas, thereby harming U.S. interests. The dropping of the atomic bomb only "hastened the surrender of an already defeated enemy." [80] Wainstock does not neatly align with either the traditionalist or revisionist camp. First, he aligns his critique of unconditional surrender within "U.S. national interests." His emphasis is that unconditional surrender unnecessarily prolonged the war, and Truman's commitment to it subsequently harmed U.S. interests since the prolonged war eventually allowed the Soviet Union to enter the arena and exercise increased influence in East Asia. This "policy of revenge [unconditional surrender]… hurt America's national self-interest" because it "prolonged the war… and helped to expand Soviet power."[81]

It is in this way that Wainstock differs sharply from all of the traditionalists who, in one way or another defend the policy of unconditional surrender. Whereas Paul Walker, Richard Frank, and Wilson Miscamble tend to be generally supportive of the unconditional surrender policy, James Maddox, in a rather reserved way, argues that "there is no way of telling whether the doctrine prolonged the war in any way." [82] Robert Newman is Wainstock's primary adversary in this regard, however. Newman argues two main points: first, Truman "had no good reason" to believe that permitting retention of the emperor would have led to early capitulation and, second, the "Potsdam Declaration defined surrender in a fashion acceptable to the Japanese peace forces."[83] To "those who insist that unconditional surrender was a purely punitive stance," he proclaims that the "leaders of the Japanese peace party… saw in the Potsdam terms an acceptable alternative to the destruction Japan would otherwise sustain."[84] The reason that Truman eventually accepted the condition that the emperor be retained was, according to Newman, because "peace was too tantalizing to resist." [85] In the end, however, Newman is sure that retaining the emperor, "what Hiroshima cultists insist was a viable alternative for Truman to end the war early… was really no alternative at all."[86] Furthermore, the conditions outlined at Potsdam were not unconditional surrender, and the Japanese knew it. Thus, for Newman the entire thesis constructed by Wainstock rests on dubious grounds.

Regarding his differences with the revisionists, Wainstock concedes that "perhaps Truman's decision to drop the bombs was an attempt to both impress the Soviets… and to end the war before the Soviets entered and seize the Far Eastern territories."[87] Even if this were true, however, it was totally counterproductive since in the end it prolonged the war and allowed Soviet entry, something that could have been prevented by altering the policy. This brief commentary is all the space that Wainstock provides for the atomic diplomacy thesis. In other words, despite accepting that atomic diplomacy may have played some minor role, Wainstock contends that a blind policy of unconditional surrender was of prime importance in the decision. This is where his greatest disagreement comes to the fore with the revisionists, and in particular Hasegawa. Hasegawa contends that even if Truman had "accepted a provision in the Potsdam declaration allowing the Japanese to retain a constitutional monarchy," it would "not have immediately led to Japan's surrender."[88] It is doubtful, Hasegawa maintains, "that Japan would have capitulated before the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the Soviet Union entered the war."[89] Thus, whereas the policy of unconditional surrender is the fundamental variable for Wainstock, it is significantly less so for Hasegawa. Wainstock significantly minimizes the significance of atomic diplomacy and inflates the importance of the unconditional surrender policy.

Sean Malloy, like Takaki, attempts to analyze the decision to use the atomic bomb through the "lens of biography." [90] Malloy attempts to approach "the use of the bomb through a conceptual framework he calls the "context of use," positioning the use of the bomb as a "compound product of a series of choices" rather than "the result of single decision." [91] Malloy makes the argument that Stimson, as secretary of war, unintentionally "presided over a set of policies that accelerated the budding nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union,"[92] despite his "deep concern with limiting the effects of war on civilians and fostering trust between nations as the foundation of the peace that followed." [93] In essence, realpolitik dominated Stimson's approach to the atomic bomb and undermined his moral commitments.

One example of this is Stimson's oversight of the 1945 Stassfurt operation intended to secure Anglo-American hegemony over uranium supplies. By the time of Strassfurt, when the U.S. moved in to seize the largest known stock of uranium in Europe, they "did as so as part of a one-sided nuclear arms race" in which, "by 1945, the Soviet Union was already America's primary nuclear rival."[94] Thus, while Stimson is the tragic hero with a fatal flaw, James Byrnes is his foil, presented as the bad apple in the administration who desires conflict with the Soviet Union. Malloy's key argument, then, is that "by his own actions during World War II, the secretary of war had helped to set in motion exactly the kind of destructive international competition in armaments that he had spent much of his long public career attempting to avoid." [95] The almost capricious nature of his rapidly changing positions, and the tenuous justifications which frequently accompanied them, indicates that Stimson's moral convictions were more often than not drown out for the sake of political expediency. Malloy's conception of the atomic bomb as a "tragedy" is the principle departure from the traditionalists who tend to glorify the use of the bomb and celebrate it for ending the war and saving lives.

Malloy's differences with the revisionist camp are rather nuanced, but significant. Once again, his conception of the bombs as a "tragedy," rather than a calculated diplomatic initiative, separates him from the revisionists. Second, he makes the argument that the secretary of war "was in a unique position to shape many of the decisions about the use of the bomb."[96] This is in direct contradistinction to other historians, such as Alperovitz, who emphasize the agency of actors such as James Byrnes at Stimson's expense. Second, Malloy attempts to put forward a sort of "momentum theory" that Alperovitz considers "seemingly plausible" but in reality historically bankrupt. During the various decisions that led to the atomic bombing, the morals and convictions of officials were often sublimated for political expediency. For Malloy, this was particularly true of Stimson. In this way, a sort of "momentum theory" is employed by Malloy to mitigate the pernicious intent of certain actors and explain away the "failures" of their decisions. Thus, the atomic bombs were not intentionally used as diplomatic tools by most of the Truman administration, but policy "failures" as individuals were swept up in events. Further modifying the arguments of Alperovitz and Hasegawa, Malloy argues that "American domestic politics" were a primary reason that Truman "failed at Potsdam" to use the "two potentially useful, if imperfect, diplomatic levers… in an effort to end the war." [97] Furthermore, whereas Hasegawa presents Soviet entry as vital, Mallow suggests that "neither the public threat of Soviet entry nor the lure of allowing the Japanese to retain the emperor after the war were diplomatic panaceas." [98] Thus, Malloy's differences with the revisionists are perceptible.

A slightly different approach is apparent in J. Samuel Walker's book. He sets out to answer two interrelated questions: was the bomb "necessary at all" and, "if so, what exactly did it accomplish?"[99] By the conclusion of the book, Walker asserts that the answer to the first question "seems to be yes and no. Yes, it was necessary to end the war as quickly as possible. No, it was not necessary to prevent an invasion of Japan."[100] Addressing the second question, he maintains that the bomb "shortened the war and saved the lives of a relatively small but far from inconsequential number of Americans."[101] By situating his thesis within these parameters, S. Walker avoids having to take a position regarding the morality of the atomic bombings and instead focuses on rather narrow notions of "military necessity." He presents a variegated list of reasons Truman dropped the bomb: "(1) the commitment to ending the war successfully at the earliest possible moment; (2) the need to justify the effort and expense of building the atomic bombs; (3) the hope of achieving diplomatic gains in the growing rivalry with the Soviet Union; (4) the lack of incentives not to use atomic weapons; and (5) hatred of the Japanese and a desire for vengeance."[102]

Walker's differences with the traditionalists are quite clear: Walker suggests three rectifications to the popular narrative, a narrative the traditionalists largely accept: first, "there were other options available for ending the war… without the bomb and without an invasion"; second, due to Japan's enervated capacity for war, Truman and his advisers did not regard invasion as inevitable; last, even if invasion was necessary to end the war, military planners "projected the number of American lives lost at far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that Truman and his advisers claimed after the war."[103] Furthermore, Walker relies on the USSBS, a point of divergence between himself and both the traditionalists and Hasegawa, to conclude "the war would probably have ended before an American invasion of Kyushu became necessary." [104] Walker essentially dismisses the entire traditionalist approach, with the caveat that Truman was indeed concerned with saving as many American lives as possible.

It is important to note that he is rather critical of the revisionist approach as well. First and foremost, Walker specifically outlines what Alperovitz disparages as an analysis asserting "that a combination of factors-political, military, racial, financial-produced the decision." Alperovitz's criticism of such an approach is that it "is easy to assemble fragments of evidence" that suggest such an analysis, but jumping from these "fragments to an explanatory conclusion about decision-making at the very top of the U.S. government is suspect."[105] Thus, Walker's "five fundamental considerations" are a significant departure from Alperovitz. More significantly, Walker actually considers the entire atomic diplomacy thesis as a sideshow. For instance, he maintains that "Truman did not drop the bomb primarily to intimidate the Soviets." It was at best an ancillary consideration, a "bonus."[106]

Thus, the "consensus" historians, largely agree that potential alternatives existed, that invasion may not have been necessary, and that the atomic bombs were probably not responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. In other words, they were not a military necessity. At the same time, the atomic bombs were not deployed primarily as diplomatic mechanisms. Even if they eventually came to fulfill this role, it was either the unintentional result of "momentum" or a tertiary variable barely perceptible vis-à-vis other considerations.

Conclusion: The Myth, the Cult, Nuclearism, and Nuclear Consciousness

In the post-war era, the debate and discussion over the bomb has been of tremendous importance. Both the traditionalist and revisionist camps have plotted the trajectory of the discourse surrounding Hiroshima and Nagasaki in different ways. Gar Alperovitz has suggested that officials promulgated propaganda in a top-down manner in order to manufacture an "American myth" surrounding the use of the atomic bombs. Robert J. Lifton's preface to Martin Sherwin's A World Destroyed laments the emergence of "nuclearism," the ideology that the atomic bomb is a "deity" capable of both "destroying the world" and "capable of ruling and protecting the world, even of keeping the world going."[107] In contrast, Robert Newman denounces Alperovitz and other revisionists as "Hiroshima cultists," "Truman bashers," and a host of other pejoratives for creating a "cult" that worships at the altar of Hiroshima. Lastly, Paul Boyer, in his book By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (1994), suggests that a sort of "nuclear consciousness" has infused itself in the perceptions and ideology of Americans in the post-war era.[108] In fact, "nuclear reality" so deeply pervades our "consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it." [109] In these various ways authors have interpreted the post-war world after the atomic bomb.

In the second part of his book, Alperovitz explores the creation of the mythology surrounding the ostensibly "inevitable" use of the bomb. He maintains that three decisions, including the rejection to provide enough time for Japan to surrender, the choice to not offer the Japanese emperor assurances, and the explicit decision not to test a Russian entry into the war, "set the terms of reference for the bomb's subsequent seemingly 'inevitable' use… [and] so tightly framed the remaining issues as to make it all but impossible thereafter to oppose the bombings." [110] This "framing of the bomb," alongside the top-down campaign of disinformation immediately after the war, were key factors that facilitated the permeation of American consciousness with the "inevitability" narrative.

Stimson, Truman, Byrnes, and Groves were key figures in this top-down propaganda campaign. Despite what Alperovitz argues was an ancillary role in the actual decision to drop the bomb, Stimson did play a vital role in propagating the official discourse, citing Stimson's 1947 Harper's article which was presented as "a mere recital of the facts." Stimson posited a rigid dichotomy later picked up by traditionalist historians: either a costly invasion or use of the bomb was required to end the war. As Alperovitz explains, the article was an "extraordinary success," with the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reader's Digest, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and an indeterminate number of other media outlets "decidedly uncritical and, indeed, often effusive in praise."[111] Truman's argument that "the dropping of the bombs stopped the war" and "saved millions of lives" was the main line of thought he propagated continuously after the war. He maintains that the "over a million" figure "became the essential source for a myth which has been repeated with only occasional challenge for much of the last half century" despite modern scholarship demonstrating "the estimate to be without any serious foundation in the documents of that period." [112] Byrnes systematically distorted and revised the past by shrouding himself in secrecy and meticulously managing his personal writings. Groves' role as "an expert public relations artist and news 'spin' master" also comes to light when he devised a strategy whereby U.S. officials would "saturate" the "huge market hungry for information with officially approved material from the only authoritative source available."[113] In Japan itself a Civil Censorship Division of the Occupation had some 8,700 staffers engaged in examining thousands of newspapers, magazines, textbooks, motion pictures, and even private mail to ensure they did not stray too far from the official discourse.[114] The most pernicious form of censorship was also the most ubiquitous; namely, government classification. Thus, as Alperovitz argues, "the 'normal' functioning of government… is even more effective than the occasional excesses which make the headlines."[115] In these ways the historical narrative from beginning to end was "managed" by U.S. officials.

Part of Martin Sherwin's work is intended to combat the legacy of nuclearism. In a world where humans have "infused [the atomic bomb] with a constellation of awe and mystery. That constellation has included tendencies to embrace the bomb, to become fiercely dependent upon it, indeed, to render it something close to a deity."[116] The "willful embrace of the cruelest weapon ever created is the essence" of nuclearism.[117] Suggesting a line of continuity with Paul Boyer, A World Destroyed suggests that an "idealistic aura of peacemaking was inseparable from the bomb's lure of ultimate technology and ultimate power-all of which became part of the transcendent technology of nuclearism."[118] Hence, "the bizarre emphasis on the bomb's ostensible function of 'saving lives' rather than destroying them, of rendering the world peaceful rather than bringing to it a specter of annihilation." [119] This "bizarre emphasis" has been the plaything of traditionalist scholars for decades.

In sharp contrast with Alperovitz and Sherwin, Robert P. Newman's thesis in Truman and the Hiroshima Cult is the paradigmatic post-revisionist account of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. In it he argues that a "cult," with attendant cultists, has arisen around Truman and the Hiroshima decision. These "Hiroshima cultists" argue, in a variety of forms, that Japan was on the verge of surrender, that the "unconditional surrender" formula unnecessarily prolonged the war, and that Truman's decision to drop the bomb was driven either by racism towards the Japanese or diplomatic concerns vis-à-vis the Soviets, or some combination thereof. Newman vehemently rejects what he refers to as the "Japanese-as-victim cult," suggesting that any and all of the above suggestions are fundamentally incorrect. Newman proclaims that neither "Hiroshima cultists nor professional moralists had even considered the possibility that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were legitimate retribution for the millions of deaths caused by Japan's fourteen-year rampage through China and the Pacific."[120]

Newman traces the development and growth of what he maliciously and interchangeably refers to as the "Japan-as-Victim myth" or "Hiroshima cult." He begins by explaining how in the immediate aftermath of the war "the whole world viewed Japan as villainous." [121] After 1948, however, things began to change, in both Japan and the United States. In 1949 John Hersey's Hiroshima was published, which Newman credits with having the opposite but equally powerful impact that Anne Frank's diary had on Germany. Where Anne Frank's diary forced Germany to come to terms with its atrocities, Hiroshima shielded Japan from having to do so, and helped begin the "Japan-as-Victim" myth. Furthermore, in 1951 P. M. S. Blackett published Fear, War, and the Bomb, which argued that the bomb was not the last act of the Second World War but the first act of the Cold War. Finally, in 1954 when the U.S. tested the new H-bomb and the crew of a tuna trawler were affected by radioactive fallout, the "five most important Japanese newspapers took a common position: this was the third atomic bombing." [122]

Despite all this, however, in 1964 a public opinion poll suggested that 49 percent of the Japanese public viewed the United States as their "favorite foreign country." By 1973, after the U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and use of Japan to accomplish them, this "popularity" had dropped to 18 percent. [123] By the late sixties people were questioning earlier U.S. military endeavors, notably the dropping of the atomic bombs, as a reflection of the changing political tide and anti-Vietnam war sentiment. By 1989, the "majority opinion even among Japanese scholars" was accepting of both the Blackett thesis and racism as primary factors in the dropping of the atomic bomb. In the United States, the gradual buildup of anti-nuclear activism, starting with The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in the late 1940s to the "Scientists' Declaration on Nuclear Power" in 1975, had a major impact on retroactive views of the bombings. Thus, "accurate charges" of postwar "overkill… seemed to legitimate chargers of overkill levied at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs."[124] Furthermore, many "who became disillusioned with the American terror bombing in Vietnam became converts to the Hiroshima guilt trip."[125] Newman also cites Ian Buruma's The Wages of Guilt, which explores the myriad of factors for why a "Japan-as-Victim" cult developed but no comparably "cult" developed around Germany. The key factor as Newman sees it, however, was Vietnam. Without it, "the Japanese-as-victims cult in the United States would still be puny."[126] Newman's work is a vicious attack on the legacy of revisionists like Gar Alperovitz and Martin Sherwin.

Paul Boyer's study, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, addresses the "unsettling new cultural factor" of the atomic bomb that had been introduced in immediate post-war period from 1945 to 1950. [127] His contention is that the bomb "had transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness" in the United States.[128] These five formative years shaped how Americans first "confronted the bomb, struggled against it, and absorbed it into the fabric of the culture." [129] In short, Boyer maintains that the 1945 to 1946 period was a time of "obsessive post-Hiroshima awareness of the horror of the atomic bomb," while in the period from 1947 to 1950 and after there was a "diminished cultural attention and uneasy acquiescence" as the "dread destroyer of 1945 had become the shield of the Republic by 1950."[130] In essence, Sherwin's "transcendent technology of nuclearism" permeated what Boyer calls America's "nuclear consciousness." This "nuclear consciousness" was infused into the very core of American ideology in the post-war era and so deeply pervades American "consciousness that it is hard to imagine what existence would have been like without it."[131] Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Boyer argues, "stand as signposts marking both a gash in the living flesh of our historical consciousness and a turning point in our ethical history." [132]

From 1945 to 1946 an "intense discourse" had surrounded the atomic bomb, where after 1947 this "diminished to scattered murmurs and faint echoes" and by 1950 "America's nuclear culture… would appear as a gray and largely deserted landscape."[133] Around this time the Atomic Energy Commission began a full throttle propaganda campaign to associate atomic energy with health, happiness, and prosperity. This campaign drew in scientists, educators, radio personalities, health workers, and others, directly reaching some four million Americans and indirectly affecting many more. A "policy of deep secrecy about atomic-bomb research and stockpiling," alongside the "pervasive official practice… of playing down the bomb's dangers" continued to condition the American public.[134] In this context, and with the ensuing Cold War schism that dominated international relations, the "civil defense" paradigm displaced the "international control" slogan dominant during 1945-6. This multifaceted propaganda campaign was so successful that by 1950 Americans had overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, embraced the atomic bomb. The mid-1950s saw a resurgence of debate over the atomic bomb and then a re-decline after 1963. He argues that the illusion of diminished risk, the loss of immediacy, the promise of a world transformed by atomic energy, the complexity and comfort of deterrence theory, and the importance of the Vietnam War led to the decline of atomic prominence. Interestingly, whereas Newman positions the Vietnam as the central feature in establishing the "Hiroshima cult," Boyer contends that the Vietnam War actually lessened discussion and debate over the atomic bomb.

Although Boyer aligns neatly with revisionist historians, he does refocus the chronological lens. Where other historians have drawn a line of continuity between the development of the bomb and its use, or between the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, Boyer furthers that line of continuity by exploring the state's role in managing post-Hiroshima public discourse. In this way Boyer's work partially overlaps and agrees with but significantly transcends Alperovitz "architecture of an American myth." By focusing on the state's institution of a broad, far-reaching propaganda campaign that helped shape popular opinion, Boyer repositions the role of the state not just as user of the atomic bomb, but also as manager of the dominant discourse after its use. In this way, Boyer provides a unique historiographical contribution by arguing that atomic policies "transformed not only military strategy and international relations, but the fundamental ground of culture and consciousness" in the United States.

Thus, not only is the discourse surrounding the actual use of the atomic bomb split into competing camps, the post-war discourse itself is a topic of debate. In this regard, Paul Boyer's work is the most thorough, sophisticated, and systematic cultural analysis of the post-war discourse. For those of us interested in challenging not only the excesses of war, but the inter-imperial rivalries that ultimately lead to the use of the bomb, understanding the nuances of the historiographical debate is vital. More importantly, in the wake of the 1995 Smithsonian controversy and the ever-expanding list of countries with access to nuclear armaments, those of us on the left must continue to wage war on the post-war discourse justifying and rationalizing the atomic bomb.


Alperovitz, Gar. The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

Maddox, Robert James. Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

Malloy, Sean L. Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.

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

Newman, Robert P. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995.

Walker, J. Samuel. Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Walker, Paul D. Truman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003.

Stimson, Henry L. "The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb." Harper's Magazine (1947).

Sherwin, Martin J. A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Takaki, Ronald. Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995.

Wainstock, Dennis. The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. New York: Enigma Books, 2011.


[1] I borrow the term "consensus" from J. Samuel Walker.

[2] Tsuyoshi Hasegawa utilizes "orthodox" to describe this position.

[3] Henry L. Stimson, "The Decisions to Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's Magazine (1947). See full article: http://classrooms.tacoma.k12.wa.us/stadium/mberggren-2/us-history/download/Stimson%2B-%2BHarper%2BFeb%2B1947%2B-%2BDecision%2Bto%2BUse%2Bthe%2BAtomic%2BBomb.pdf?id=230795

[4] J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of the Atomic Bombs Against Japan (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 105.

[5] Originally published in 1995.

[6] A reiteration and strengthening of his 1965 work Atomic Diplomacy.

[7] Originally published in 1973.

[8] Truman, Stimson, Byrnes, Stalin, Hirohito, and the Big Six in Japan are examples where disagreement is most pronounced.

[9] Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 19.

[10] Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, 225.

[11] Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 6.

[12] Sherwin, A World Destroyed, 7.

[13] This argument maintained that the US should share atomic technology with the Soviet Union in exchange for political cooperation.

[14] This position stated that the US should maintain a monopoly over atomic technology as long as possible and advance its diplomatic aims through harsh bargaining from its position of atomic power.

[15] Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005), 140.

[16] Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy, 154.

[17] Ibid., 135.

[18] Ibid., 139.

[19] Alperovitz, 19.

[20] Robert James Maddox, Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004), xv.

[21] Maddox, Weapons for Victory, 146.

[22] Ibid., 113.

[23] Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 104.

[24] This is Newman's term for revisionist historians.

[25] The USSBS maintained that in all likelihood Japan would surrender prior to November 1, 1945 without the atomic bombing or the entrance of the Soviet Union into the war. It further states that had Japan not surrendered by November 1, it would definitely have surrendered prior to the end of 1945.

[26] Robert P. Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995), 36.

[27] Newman, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult, 47.

[28] This is one of Newman's other terms for revisionists.

[29] Ibid., 49.

[30] Wilson D Miscamble, The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 91.

[31] Frank, 95.

[32] Ibid., 96.

[33] Ibid., 197.

[34] Paul D. Walker, Truman's Dilemma: Invasion or the Bomb (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2003), 171.

[35] Miscamble, 115. Original emphasis.

[36] Maddox, 153.

[37] Hasegawa, 5.

[38] Maddox, 131.

[39] Frank, 348.

[40] Miscamble, 89.

[41] Ibid., 91.

[42] Sakomizu was chief secretary to the cabinet of Japan during World War II.

[43] Hasegawa, 250.

[44] Miscamble, 3.

[45] Ibid., 44.

[46] Ibid., 113.

[47] Ibid., 119.

[48] Ibid., 124.

[49] Newman, xiii. Emphasis added.

[50] Ibid., 120.

[51] Ibid., 130.

[52] Ibid., 138. Emphasis original.

[53] Paul Walker, 15.

[54] Ibid., 17.

[55] Ibid., 18-19.

[56] Ibid., 27.

[57] Ibid., 43-44.

[58] Miscamble, 120-1.

[59] Maddox, xv.

[60] Alperovitz, 656.

[61] Ibid., 657.

[62] Sherwin, 6.

[63] Ibid., 7.

[64] Ibid., 8.

[65] Alperovitz, 655.

[66] Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 8.

[67] Takaki, Hiroshima, 100.

[68] Ibid., 94.

[69] Hasegawa, 2.

[70] Hasegawa, 300.

[71] Alperovitz, 4

[72] Hasegawa, 295.

[73] Ibid., 296.

[74] Alperovitz, 85.

[75] Hasegawa., 129.

[76] Ibid., 188

[77] Ibid., 275

[78] Samuel Walker cites Barton Bernstein as one of the pioneering "consensus" historians of Hiroshima.

[79] Dennis Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb (New York: Enigma Books, 2011), 178.

[80] Wainstock, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb, 178.

[81] Ibid., 178.

[82] Maddox, 8.

[83] Newman, 57.

[84] Ibid., 71.

[85] Ibid., 73.

[86] Ibid., 77.

[87] Wainstock, 171

[88] Hasegawa, 290

[89] Ibid., 291

[90] Sean L. Malloy, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008), 7.

[91] Malloy, Atomic Tragedy, 8.

[92] Ibid., 81.

[93] Ibid., 11.

[94] Ibid., 67.

[95] Ibid., 70.

[96] Ibid., 9.

[97] Ibid., 129. Here he is referring to retention of the emperor (modifying unconditional surrender) and the public threat of Soviet entry into the war.

[98] Malloy, 129

[99] Samuel Walker, 6.

[100] Ibid., 109.

[101] Ibid., 109.

[102] Ibid., 92.

[103] Ibid., 5-6.

[104] Ibid., 89.

[105] Alperovitz, 656.

[106] Walker, 95.

[107] Sherwin, xi.

[108] Paul Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), xix.

[109] Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, xx.

[110] Alperovitz, 631.

[111] Ibid., 455.

[112] Ibid., 466.

[113] Ibid., 598.

[114] Ibid., 610.

[115] Ibid., 613.

[116] Sherwin, xi.

[117] Ibid., xi.

[118] Ibid., xii.

[119] Ibid., xi.

[120] Newman, xiii.

[121] Ibid., 153.

[122] Ibid., 161.

[123] Ibid., 164.

[124] Ibid., 177.

[125] Ibid., 183.

[126] Ibid., 184.

[127] Boyer, xxi.

[128] Ibid., xxi.

[129] Ibid., xx.

[130] Ibid., 352 and 349.

[131] Boyer, xx

[132] Ibid., 182.

[133] Ibid., 291.

[134] Ibid., 303.