Harry Truman's Fateful Decision

Article excerpt

IWAS somewhere in Switzerland, watching the World War II anniversary celebration on CNN, when it occurred to me that from my own experience as a reporter I could provide a firsthand account of why Harry Truman made the decision to drop the nuclear bomb that brought that war to an end. I was interviewing Truman in Kansas City, Mo., shortly after he had returned to private life, and at some point I asked him about that fateful decision. Truman, as is well known, could be prickly, particularly in dealing with a journalist who was pushing him in a direction where he didn't want to go. But a Truman who had been most cordial and chatty up to this point didn't change his easy, conversational tone one iota as he addressed this question. It wasn't that difficult a decision, he told me. He said he had turned to the military advisers to counsel him on what to do and that when they told him the bomb was a military weapon that would save thousands of American lives, the decision was obvious. Without further thought, he said, he gave his go-ahead to the use of the bomb in Japan and then, he added, "I went to bed and got a good eight-hour sleep." Truman, it seemed, had looked at the decision in simple terms, much as he might have viewed some small military action he might have had to decide when he was a company commander in World War I. Indeed, it was much the way Truman always decided matters. He'd conclude what was the right thing to do and then do it. He was not a man, or a president, to stew over how to proceed. When Truman made that bombing decision he must have known that the powerful blast would kill thousands of Japanese civilians. But at that time he would not have known that a horrible radiation aftermath would take place. I have found in my files a yellowed, memo-sized letter with this printed at the top: "From the Desk of Harry S. …