Academic journal article Military Review

Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War

Academic journal article Military Review

Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War

Article excerpt

BEFORE THE BOMB: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War by John D. Chappell. 246 pages. University of Kentucky Press. Lexington. 1997. $24.95.

Before the Bomb explores public opinion and national policy during the time between Germany's and Japan's surrenders-ay to August 1945. The book thoroughly examines certain topics - perhaps too thoroughly for most readers - but everyone can appreciate much of John Chappell's analysis. For example, few of us realize how extensive and pervasive the editorials were in echoing President Harry S. Truman's words: "Our victory is but half won." The St. Louis Post Dispatch was only one of many papers telling readers, "There is only one road to Japan's total defeat - a long, hard road necessarily marked by death and destruction."

Other topics Chappell handles well include military proposals to employ gas weapons. I was under the impression that gas weapons were only to be used against Japanese soldiers ensconced deep in caves. Chappell shows that Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall thought of using gas as a strategic weapon against Japanese civilians - an indication of how desperate he was to avoid an amphibious invasion of Japan. However, Truman never received these proposals.

The book's greatest weakness is the obligatory discussion of the pros and cons of dropping the atomic bomb. Was it necessary? Were there alternatives, aside from an invasion of Japan, which could have caused at least 200,000 Allied casualties? Chappell abandons his meticulous documentation and resorts to vagaries: "American leaders had information that certain Japanese leaders wanted to end the war." Everybody wanted to end the war, but on what terms! There was "a desire by certain Japanese to win additional conditions beyond preservation of the emperor." In fact, the Japanese peace faction, largely confined to the foreign office, would have made peace if possible, based solely on Emperor Hirohito's retention as the symbolic head of state. Unfortunately, the small peace faction lived in terror of the Japanese army that since 1931 had been practicing government by assassination. …

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