My #1 theme in this group has always been that U.S. politics has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, long after most of us formed the pictures in our heads about how it all works and what the different political actors stand for and the direction they’re trying to take the country in. Counterintuitively, perhaps, this can also be true of history. As Sid used to say, history is a story, a narrative we use to organize the past to think about the present and future. Sometimes, the standard narratives we all learned about the big historical events are pretty accurate; but, sometimes, like in politics, they are stale and should yield to new information and new ways of thinking about history.
Is the atomic bombing of Japan in August 1945 an example of such a stale narrative? I’m skeptical. Revisionist history can be good, bad, or ugly. But, there has been a lot of scholarship on this subject in the last 30 years and Jim will lead us in a discussion about it on Monday. I may not be there, even though it sounds fascinating. I will leave the details to Jim. But, here are a few mainly Duh-like discussion questions, and a few good articles you might want to read if your memory of Truman’s reasons for ordering the attacks are a bit…dimmed by time, shall we say.
Discussion Questions –
- Why did Truman order the bombings? What do we know and not know about (a) what his options were, (b) what his advisors were telling him, and (c) what was/were the decisive factors ni his decision?
- Specifically, what role did considerations about the Soviet Union and post-war geopolitics play? What role did saving U.S. and even Japanese lives play? Could any American president NOT have ordered these weapons to be used?
- The counterfactual: Okay, let’s say we did not use the bomb. What do you think would have happened and how would the war’s end and the post-war world been different?
- So, knowing his options, his reasons, and the counterfactual future, did we have to do this? If not, is it understandable, anyway, given the nature of that war and the difficult position our leaders were in?
- Does any of this matter for today? (hint: Bush ordered USG to develop small, bunker-busting nuclear weapons to destroy terrorist bunkers; i.e., we have recently considered once again using nuclear weapons on enemies that do not yet possess such weapons).
- Why did Truman order the bombings? Multiple reasons.
- Wiki’s “Debate over the atomic bombing” Recommended for overview, but, IMO this focuses too much on humanitarian objections and not enough on the motive of preventing Soviet advances into East Asia that, I believe, historians have emphasized.
- A good quality, basic defense of the necessity of the bombings. Also, don’t forget this point. Recommended.
- A passionate but reasoned condemnation of the bombings. Recommended.
- NYT sums a 1995 scholarly book that argued strongly that we did not need to do it.
NEXT WEEK: Are Our Schools Preparing Kids for the 21st Century Jobs?