Oliver Kamm: Truman Myths Again

Roundup: Talking About History

[Oliver Kamm is a leader writer and columnist at The Times (of London)]

I was unimpressed with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners, and it's unlikely (unless anyone pays me to review it) that I'll read his new book on genocide. But the FT has published its review today, by Hugh Carnegy, and it contains an aside that is worth disposing of. According to Carnegy:

"Nor does Goldhagen spare western democracies from his fierce analysis. Britain’s suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya is branded eliminationist. Truman is declared a “mass murderer” for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which Goldhagen insists Truman knew was militarily unnecessary."

If Goldhagen has done any archival research on the Pacific War, then I'm not familiar with it. But a document found in the Library of Congress by one of my correspondents, Robert Newman, ought to make Goldhagen pause in his confident assertions about what Truman knew.

Professor Newman is an authority on Henry Stimson, who served as Secretary of War under Roosevelt and Truman. One of Stimson's most senior aides, Edward Bowles, commissioned an independent report in June 1945 on casualty estimates in a conventional invasion of Japan. He gave the job to William B. Shockley, a brilliant scientist and future Nobel laureate in physics. Using classified Pentagon data, and noting that few Japanese troops had surrendered in combat, Shockley concluded (quoted in Michael Kort, Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb, 2007, p. 223-25, emphasis added):

"If the study shows that the behavior of nations in all historical cases comparable to Japan's has in fact been invariably consistent with the behavior of troops in battle, then it means that the Japanese dead and ineffectives at the time of defeat will exceed the corresponding number for the Germans. In other words, we shall probably have to kill at least 5 to 10 million Japanese. This might cost us between 1.7 to 4 million casualties including 400,000 to 800,000 killed."

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