Monday’s Mtg: Did We Have to Drop the Bomb on Japan?

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 –  

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
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  5. 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).

Links –  

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NEXT WEEK:    Are Our Schools Preparing Kids for the 21st Century Jobs?

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5 responses

  1. I won’t be there. Enjoy.

  2. There are quite a few issues here. The foremost in my mind is that these attacks were not different in intent from the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden. If these attacks on civilians are OK, then I find it hard to justify any condemnation of use of WMD’s or indifference to “collateral damage” by other governments. The claim that the Japanese were the “bad guys” so use of any type of force by our country was therefore justified does not really hold water. It looks to me that not only were the attacks on civilians avoidable, but the war itself was also avoidable. The primary reason for the disagreement between Japan and the US and GB was over the availability of oil. Japan wanted a secure supply, the US and GB had a strangle hold on it and would not give any guarantees. Japan was always willing to negotiate something both before and during the war. It was FDR who was adamant about no negotiations of any type. So it seems to me that it was the US rather than Japan who bore the brunt of the responsibility for the damage done by the war.

  3. A comment was made about the Manchurian campaign and possibly 500,000 casualties.
    Since the campaign only lasted a week and the total numbers of the Kwantung army were about 600,000, this seems unlikely.

    Wikipedia has a quite comprehensive summary of the campaign:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Manchuria

  4. Sorry I missed the mtg. Even though it was Jim’s idea, I liked the topic for another reason than history. Right now our leaders are grappling with similar decisions about whether and how to use two (that I know of!) brand new tools of warfare that could revolutionize how we fight (or negotiate to prevent) wars of the future. these are:
    — Cyberwarfare, and
    — Drones.
    We lead the world in this stuff, but, when is the right time to use a new tool of war, and when is the right time to start negotiations to limit their future use? It took 18 years after Hiroshima to sign the first treaty limiting their use (above ground testing).

    Of course, drones and cyber are far, far less destructive than H-bombs. That’s what makes them so useful. Yet, many of the same question that were asked about the bomb early on could be asked right now about these new weapons. Use them or try to contain them?

  5. See this, by James Bamford, the country’s foremost expert on the NSa and no Leftist, on the enormous OFFensive cyberwar capability we have been developing. Bamford says it’s about to be let loose. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/general-keith-alexander-cyberwar/all/

    We have been cyber-fighting Iran for a decade, and they have struck back, at Saudi Arabia and our banking system, among others.

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