Truman and the Hiroshima Cult

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult

Truman and the Hiroshima Cult

Synopsis

The United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 to end World War II as quickly and with as few casualties as possible. That is the compelling and elegantly simple argument Robert Newman puts forward in his controversial new study of World War II's end, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult. Simply stated, Newman argues that Truman made a sensible military decision. As commander in chief, he was concerned with ending a devastating and costly war as quickly as possible and with saving millions of lives. Yet, Newman goes further in his discussion, seeking the reasons why so much hostility has been generated by what happened in the skies over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945. The source of discontent, he concludes, is a "cult" that has grown up in the United States since the 1960s. It was weaned on the disillusionment spawned by concerns about a military industrial complex, American duplicity and failure in the Vietnam War, and a mistrust of government following Watergate. The cult has a shrine, a holy day, a distinctive rhetoric of victimization, various items of scripture and, in Japan, support from a powerful Marxist constituency.

Excerpt

I take the meaning of "cult" from Merriam-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate: "a great devotion to a person, idea, or thing: esp: such a devotion regarded as literary or intellectual fad." The intellectual idea to which Hiroshima cultists are devoted is that since Japan was about to surrender when the bombs were dropped, the slaughter of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not motivated by military reasons. It was instead motivated primarily by the desire to intimidate the Russians (so-called atomic diplomacy), by racism (we did not drop the bomb on Germany), by the desire of Robert Oppenheimer and company to experiment with a new toy, by the fear of Secretary of War Henry Stimson and others that Congress would investigate if their $2 billion dollar expenditure was found not useful, or by the sheer unthinking momentum of a bureaucratic juggernaut (Manhattan Project).

This cult has a shrine, a holy day, a distinctive rhetoric of victimization (it can also be called a Japanese-as-victim cult), various items of scripture (John Hersey's Hiroshima, The Franck Report, P.M.S. Blackett's 1949, Fear, War, and the Bomb), and, in Japan, support from a powerful constituency (Marxist). As with other cults, it is ahistorical. Its devotees elevate fugitive and unrepresentative events to cosmic status. And most of all, they believe.

The Hiroshima cult is the mirror image of the nuclear cult -- those evangelists of the 1950s and 1960s who saw the energy of the atom as the means to make the desert bloom, to air condition whole cities for pennies (the electricity would be too cheap to meter), to power an airplane across the oceans on a thimbleful of fuel, and to do other wonderful things. Daniel Ford dealt with these matters in his 1982 book, The Cult of the Atom. This cult has demonstrated its bankruptcy.

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