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Alperovitz - The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1995) - Synopsis

Alperovitz - The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1995) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on January 24 & 31, 2011.
Synopsis of Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). -- Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on January 24 & 31, 2011.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on Jan 31, 2011
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXLVIII: January 24 & 31, 2011, 7:00 p.m. 
Gar Alperovitz,
The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
 The preponderance of theevidence is that geostrategic motives(specifically vis-à-vis the Soviet Union—usually referred to as "Russia" both in thetext and by the officials dealing with thatcountry in 1945) promoted by Secretaryof State James F. Byrnes, and not militarynecessity, was behind President Harry S. Truman's decision to use the atomicbomb, though "a full and unqualifiedanswer as to why the atomic bomb wasused is neither essential nor possible.What is important is whether, when thebomb was used, the president and histop advisers understood that it was notrequired to avoid a long and costlyinvasion, as they later claimed and asmost Americans still believe" (317).]
Judith Lewis Herman ontrauma.
This history neglects "non-essential details" to focus on "majorissues . . . most important . . . whether itwas understood before the atomic bombwas used that the war with Japan couldbe ended by other means withoutsignificant loss of life" (xiii; xiii-xiv).
Introduction: A Personal Note.
Leahyand Eisenhower believed use of thebomb was unnecessary and undesirable(3-4). The U.S. Strategic Bombing Surveyconcluded in 1946 it was unnecessary(4). Alperovitz's reading of HenryStimson's diary led him to raise the issuein passing in his
 Atomic Diplomacy:Hiroshima and Potsdam
(1965) (5-6). Anofficial U.S. historian concluded in 1990that "the hoary claim that the bombprevented one-half million Americancombat deaths is unsupportable" (7; 6-7). Yet most Americans believe the opposite(7). The focus in Part I is on documentsand illustrates how 'official' versions of reality are produced (8-9). Part IIexplores the complex way a myth of necessity developed (9-13). "None of theofficials involved in this tale had evilintentions. What can be said of them, Ibelieve, is that some of them became sotaken by the power the atomic bombseemed to give them to do good (as theydefined it) that they seem to have gottencarried away" (13). (Alluding to a remarkby Henry L. Stimson, "a man of greatintegrity" [13]): "We are all fineAmericans who should have knownbetter about our own silent refusal toconfront the enormity of nuclearweapons" (14).
BOOK ONE: THE DECISIONCh. 1: The Trajectory of Japan'sDecline.
"Among historians of WorldWar II it is now a commonplace that Japanese power disintegrated rapidly inthe spring and summer of 1945—thatfrom the early months of the year, theirdefeat was certain"; the U.S. governmentwas well informed of this (17; 17-22).
Ch. 2: General Efforts to End theWar.
Because the U.S. had broken Japanese codes (the "MAGIC" intercepts),Americans were well informed that Japanwas putting out peace feelers from July1944 on; in fact, this had been reportedin the
Kiplinger Washington Letter 
in May1945 (23-29). History of the publicizingof knowledge of the MAGIC intercept, andthe intercepts themselves, 1951-1995(29-30).
"[A]s thesummer of 1945 progressed, most U.S.leaders fully realized that the only
serious condition Japan's leaders soughtwas an assurance that the Emperorwould not be eliminated" (34; 33-35). The Japanese belief in the emperor'sdivine nature was understood byAmerican officials (35-36). The demandfor "unconditional surrender" wasadopted "almost accidentally byRoosevelt at the January 1943Casablanca conference," and there waswidespread support for its modification(36; 36-45). Truman appears to havecontinued to be willing to confine thedemand for "unconditional surrender" tothe military as opposed to the Emperor,as his May 8 statement indicated (45-46).
Ch. 4: To June 18, 1945.
The reasonsfor Truman's decision on Jun. 18 topostpone clarification of the meaning of the U.S. demand for "unconditionalsurrender," when he appeared to beleaning toward making such a statementbefore leaving for the Potsdamconference, remain uncertain; not alldocuments have been declassified (47-61).
Ch. 5: June 18, 1945.
Given all theevidence, it "seems reasonable tosurmise that it was [James F.] Byrnes[,then Truman's adviser, on July 3 to be hissecretary of state] who influenced Truman to reverse the thrust of his May 8softening of the surrender formula" (70-71; 62-72).
Ch. 6: From June 18 to July 2, 1945.
In this period it appears that "onlyByrnes, who formally took office on July3, was opposed to modifying thesurrender formula" (79; 73-79).
PART II: THE RUSSIAN OPTIONCh. 7: Phase I: From Pearl Harbor tothe Death of Roosevelt.
"Bymidsummer of 1945 intelligence experts,military and other officials, and thepresident himself, seem clearly to haverecognized that the impact of a RedArmy attack on the isolated and rapidlydeteriorating Japanese would almostcertainly precipitate a surrender eitheron its own or when combined withassurances for the Emperor" (84; 83-85). Throughout the war, U.S. leaders wanteda Soviet entry into the war "the sooner,the better" (85; 85-95).
Ch. 8: Phase II: April 1945.
But afterFDR's death on Apr. 12, in anundetermined and "odd" way the U.S."appeared to lose interest in a Sovietdeclaration of war"; Averill Harriman'sdisenchantment with the Soviets playedan important role (99; 96-110).
Ch. 9: Phase III: The New Reality.
Inthis period, which has been assessedonly superficially by historians, Trumanunderwent a "double shift in his attitudeduring a period of less than four weeks"(111; 111-24).
PART III: ATOMIC DIPLOMACY Ch. 10: Preliminaries: April and May1945.
That strategy vis-à-vis Russia wasat the heart of U.S. actions toward Japanat the end of the war is not known to thegeneral public (127-29). Truman firstheard about the bomb from Byrnes, whoexpressed then (acc. to Truman) hisbelief that it "might well put us in aposition to dictate our own terms at theend of the war" [134]) and then in detailfrom Stimson and Groves on Apr. 25(130-34). In April, the U.S. tried andfailed to dictate to Stalin about the Polishgovernment (135-37).
Ch. 11: Postponing a Confrontationwith Stalin.
There is abundantevidence the U.S. wanted to wait untilthe bomb had been proven to meet withStalin, though the evolution of Truman'sthinking is hard to trace in detail; theHopkins mission was probably alsorelated to bomb development (138-54).
Ch. 12: The Interim Committee.
TheInterim Committee was set up "to focusspecifically on issues connected with thenew weapon," was formed by Secretaryof War Henry Stimson and whichincluded, at Stimson's suggestion, JamesF. Byrnes as Truman's representative,(155-57). Its deliberations were stronglyinfluenced by tensions with the SovietUnion over Europe (157-58). TheCombined Development Trust had beenpursuing a worldwide monopoly of uranium supplies (159-63). Deliberationsof the Interim Committee (163-72).
Ch. 13: The "Second Track" and Asia.
Strategizing in May 1945 was greatlyinfluenced by playing off the possibleneed for Soviet participation in fighting Japan with concern about Sovietambitions in East Asia, and there wasintense interest in the timing of theavailability of the bomb: 'The availableevidence suggests that U.S. policy formlate May to mid-July soughtsimultaneously to insure that the SovietUnion would enter the war
if needed 
andto delay a final decision on Soviet entryuntil the results of the atomic test wereknown" (182, emphasis in original; 173-84).
Ch. 14: The Concerned Scientists.
"[The scientists] had virtually no impacton government decisions," but an effortwas made to placate them in order toavoid PR problems later (185; 185-88).Leo Szilard's Jul. 19 petition was delayedby Gen. Groves; Truman seems never tohave seen it (189-91).
PART IV: JAMES F. BYRNESCh. 15: "A Very MachiavellianCharacter"; "An Operator."
Byrnes'shistorical role has been obscured bysubsequent events (195-96). Trumanregarded Byrnes as a mentor; Byrnesregarded Truman as a nonentity (196-97). Truman informed Byrnesimmediately upon becoming presidentthat he intended to make him secretaryof state, the most important post ingovernment and next in line of succession in the absence of a vicepresident (197-98). Byrnes had alreadyserved as congressman, senator,Supreme Court justice, director of theOffice of War Mobilization, and FranklinD. Roosevelt's "'Assistant President forthe homefront,' essentially in charge of running the entire domestic economywith unprecedented authority" (198).Byrnes, rather than Truman, had beenexpected to be nominated vice presidentin 1944 (199). That Truman regardedhim as his chief advisor and, indeed,agent, was well known, but theinformality of his position until hebecame secretary of state on Jul. 3(delayed to avoid embarrassingSecretary of State Edward Stettinius onthe eve of the first U.N. conference)limited the documentary record of hisinfluence (200). They were drinking andpoker-playing buddies (201). Byrnes wascompulsively secretive, with a "passionfor anonymity," in the words of hisassistant and friend Walter Brown, eveninventing his own "private stenographicnote-taking code which to this day hasonly partially been deciphered" (202)."To put it bluntly, by virtually all accountsByrnes was a very devious politician"(202). Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said: "Hewas a kind of prior Lyndon Johnson"(203). His concern for spin controlextended to editing and fabricatingevidence (204). He did not keep thosearound him abreast of his activities(205).
Ch. 16: Sly and Able Policies.
Thereare "reasons to believe" that in a privatecapacity Byrnes advised and influenced Truman on a host of issues in the springand early summer of 1945 (206-13). "Itseems obvious that Byrnes saw theatomic bomb as important bargainingleverage, potentially useful in all mannerof international negotiations" (213-14).

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