What Truman was thinking when he decided to drop the bomb

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The most recent effort to assess US actions during the summer of 1945 is Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's "Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan," a landmark book that brilliantly examines a crucial moment in 20th-century history.

Beyond evaluating the American dimension of the story, Hasegawa, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, considers two related themes: the "tangled relationship" between the Soviet Union and Japan in the war's waning days, and the struggle inside the Japanese government between those who wished to end the war and those who were determined to continue fighting.

Among the book's more provocative conclusions is the contention that the atomic bombs by themselves were not decisive in compelling Japan to surrender.

The Japanese capitulated, Hasegawa argues, only when their negotiations with the Soviet Union broke down and Stalin decided to declare war on Japan. (For several years, Moscow had maintained its neutrality toward Tokyo, but in the summer of 1945, Soviet territorial ambitions in Asia led Stalin to choose war.)

Hasegawa is no less provocative in assessing America's decision to employ atomic weapons. Truman was "eager" to drop the bomb, he writes, and was unwilling to explore alternatives for three reasons.

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