After Hiroshima: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965

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AFTER HIROSHIMA: The United States, Race, and Nuclear Weapons in Asia, 1945-1965, Matthew Jones, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2010, 514 pages, $116.00.

If you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you shouldn't judge this one by its title. The title's reference to "Hiroshima" could suggest the book traverses well-trod ground recounting the aftermath of the world's first nuclear detonation in anger, and its reference to "race" is likely to elicit the kind of negative reaction that sometimes attends appeals to racial injustice in an effort to steer arguments over divisive social issues.

However, this is not the case. On the contrary, After Hiroshima presents a remarkably compelling argument that, beginning with the bombing of Hiroshima and continuing throughout the era of nuclear testing in the Pacific and well into the Vietnam experience, Asian governments and publics deeply and widely held the view that U.S. nuclear weapons were essentially anti-Asian weapons that the United States would never consider using against a "white" enemy. Indeed, the sentiment in Asia was that the United States had not used the bomb against Nazi Germany precisely for that reason. When it is pointed out that the United States had not developed the bomb prior to the fall of Nazi Germany, the response seems to have been something along the lines of "Yes, but even if it had, the United States would not have used it in Europe."

After Hiroshima makes a very strong case that the United States conducted its foreign policy from 1945 to 1965--in Asia and elsewhere, with allies and with adversaries--on the basis of this perception. Indeed, even if the U.S. had protested that the race-based perception was not correct, the protest would have fallen on deaf ears internationally, as the United States struggled mightily with its own racial issues at home--a fact, which After Hiroshima points out, was not lost on the Communist propaganda machine of that era, both in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. …