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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


Modern global history still gives me a headache, but...

Prompt and Utter Destruction, Rev. Ed.: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan, Revised Edition - J. Samuel Walker

Only read this if:

-you are a student trying to write a research paper
-you know nothing about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Ok, just kidding. The two criteria definitely fit me, though. Hence this book, and taking almost two weeks to slog through the first 68 pages, before taking a deep breath, telling myself to suck it up and churning through the remaining 34.

For such a short book, Walker packs a lot of information and analysis. I'm impressed, although I was annoyed at first that Walker seemed so intent on restraining himself from passing a moral opinion. Mostly because I thought it made the book waaaaaaaay too dry. As the book went on and more evidence was examined, I started to appreciate his attempt to bridge both sides of a debate that even ignorant me knew to be extremely polemical. In fact, I started this thinking that NOTHING could ever justify the bombings of Japan.

This is a very narrow work, and spends most of its time analyzing the situations and concerns facing Truman and his advisers up to the eventual bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the primary one of which was to end the war as quickly as possible at the lowest possible cost to American lives. This was an objective first set forward by FDR before he died and passed the presidency to Truman. The second was the Manhattan Project--the development of the bomb itself--which had been kept secret from Truman until FDR's death, requiring Truman to make his ultimate decision on relatively short notice.

Walker also examines the "full-scale invasion vs. atomic bombing" contention, and describes a number of alternatives then available to American policymakers. One, for example, was the softening of the demand of unconditional surrender from Japan. Another was to wait until the Soviet Union entered the war in the Pacific (which it did in the end, and Walker concludes that both the bombings and the Soviet Union's invasion of Manchuria were the two critical factors in prompting Japanese surrender).

To simplify a great deal, Walker ends with the statement that five considerations moved Truman to use the bombs "immediately, without a great deal of thought and without consulting with his advisers about the advantages and potential disadvantages of the new weapons":

1) ending the war as early as possible
2) justifying the costs of the Manhattan Project

(this one I was less convinced except for this bit):


If Truman had backed off from sing a weapon that had cost the United States dearly to build, with the result that more American troops died, public confidence in his capacity to govern would have been, at best, severely undermined.

3) gaining a diplomatic edge with the Soviet Union
4) lack of incentives not to use the bomb

(in summary: it was available, it was convenient, and militarily, diplomatically, and politically advantageous)

5) racism against the Japanese

(mostly contributed to override potential hesitation over the decision to drop the bomb)

As for my opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the decision? Berate me for moral distancing, but after reading this book...I honestly don't know. One thing I'd like to read more about going forward (which I have to, school paper and all, heh) is the strategic situation between the two countries, especially with regard to the U.S. embargo on exports to Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Maybe a broader perspective would help.