Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism

Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism

Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism

Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism


When President Harry Truman authorized the use of atomic weapons against Japan, he did so to end a bloody war that would have been bloodier still had the planned invasion of Japan proved necessary. Revisionists claim that Truman's real interest was a power play with the Soviet Union and that the Japanese would have surrendered even earlier had the retention of their imperial system been assured. Truman wanted the war to continue, they insist, in order to show off America's powerful new weapon.

This anthology exposes revisionist fallacies about Truman's motives, the cost of an invasion, and the question of Japan's surrender. Essays by prominent military and diplomatic historians reveal the hollowness of revisionist claims, exposing the degree to which these agenda-driven scholars have manipulated the historical record to support their contentions. They show that, although some Japanese businessmen and minor officials indicated a willingness to negotiate peace, no one in a governmental decision-making capacity even suggested surrender. And although casualty estimates for an invasion vary considerably, the more authoritative approximations point to the very bloodbath that Truman sought to avoid.

Volume editor Robert Maddox first examines the writings of revisionist Gar Alperovitz to expose the unscholarly methods Alperovitz employed to support his claims, then distinguished Japanese historian Sadao Asada reveals how difficult it was for his country's peace faction to prevail even after the bombs had been dropped. Other contributors point to continuing Japanese military buildups, analyze the revisionists' low casualty estimates for an invasion, reveal manipulations of the Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, and show how even the exhibit commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum hewed to the revisionist line. And a close reading of Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's acclaimed Racing the Enemy exposes many grave discrepancies between that recent revisionist text and its sources.

The use of atomic bombs against Japan remains one of the most controversial issues in American history. Gathered in a single volume for the first time, these insightful readings take a major step toward settling that controversy by showing how insubstantial Hiroshima revisionism really is--and that sometimes history cannot proceed without decisive action, however regrettable.


The use of atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II remains one of the most controversial issues in American history. Those who defend the decision claim that it ended a bloody war that would have become far bloodier had the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands proved necessary. Although the primary consideration was saving American lives, according to this view, millions of Japanese also were spared the catastrophic effects of an invasion coupled with round-the-clock conventional bombing, naval bombardment, and blockade. Those who have become known as “Hiroshima revisionists” contend that this version of events is nothing more than a postwar myth concocted by Harry S. Truman and his advisers to make more palatable what was basically a political rather than a military decision. The “real” reason for using the weapons was not to defeat an already-defeated Japan, but to make the Soviet Union more “manageable” by demonstrating the enormous power now in American possession. Never before has such a monstrous charge—that tens of thousands of people were callously incinerated for no better reason than to gain diplomatic advantage—been supported by such flimsy evidence. The essays contained in this volume show just how insubstantial Hiroshima revisionism really is.

The core of revisionist indictment is that Japan had been willing to surrender as early as the spring of 1945 provided only that its sacred emperor be retained as head of the Japanese polity. Truman and Secretary of State James F. Byrnes knew this through intercepted Japanese messages but refused to act upon it because they wanted the war to continue until the atomic bombs were ready for use. They deliberately forestalled a Japanese surrender by insisting on peace terms they knew would be unacceptable. Thus, not only were they willing to sacrifice countless Japanese in pursuit of their goal, but were equal-

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