Martin J. Sherwin
The dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan and its relationship to the breakdown of the allied coalition has evoked enormous controversy among historians.* In one of the most important revisionist works of the 1960s Gar Alperovitz argued that the United States used atomic weapons to impress the Soviets more than to defeat the Japanese.
Suggesting that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender, and asserting that US officials knew they would surrender if only they were permitted to retain their emperor, Alperovitz claimed that President Harry S. Truman and his new Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes, could have ended the war without using atomic weapons. But, according to Alperovitz, they dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they wanted to end the conflict before the Soviet Union had an opportunity to declare war on Japan, march into Manchuria, and lay claim to the concessions (including Sakhalin and the Kuriles) that Roosevelt had promised Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Alperovitz also maintained that Truman and Byrnes hoped that upon seeing the power of atomic weapons, the Soviets would relax their policies in Eastern Europe and accept free elections and open trade. And finally, Alperovitz suggested that the possession of atomic weapons altered US thinking about Germany and encouraged US officials to turn quickly to the problems of reconstructing Germany on the assumption that the power of the atomic bomb afforded the United States the ability to control future German strength.**
* Samuel J. Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: An Historiographical Update,” Diplomatic History, 14 (Winter 1990): 97-114.
** Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (New York: Vintage, 1965).