Obama, Truman and Hiroshima

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tags: Hiroshima, Obama, Truman



Father Miscamble is a history professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of “The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs and the Defeat of Japan” (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

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The White House announcement Tuesday that President Obama plans to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park during his trip to Japan later this month undoubtedly will prompt much debate over President Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons in August 1945.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, wrote online Tuesday that the president will reflect on the site’s significance but “will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II.” That claim is disingenuous. To be the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima is to spark re-evaluations of Truman’s action and invite speculation that Mr. Obama will apologize, at least implicitly.

One can only hope that Mr. Obama grounds anything he might say on a sound historical knowledge of the situation Truman confronted and the basis for his decision. The president certainly should distance himself completely from the specious interpretation of the “atomic diplomacy” historians, who disgracefully allege that Truman, hoping to intimidate the Soviet Union in the already-developing Cold War, dropped two atomic bombs on a Japan that he knew was on the verge of surrender.

Mr. Obama, as well as his Japanese hosts, should appreciate that Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both major military-industrial targets, to help win the gruesome Pacific War as quickly as possible and with the loss of the fewest American lives—and, as it turned out, the loss of the fewest Japanese lives.

His goal was to avoid an invasion of Japan’s home islands, which Truman knew would mean, in his words, “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” For those who need reminding, the battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest, most ferocious engagements of World War II, with Allied forces—most of them American—suffering more than 65,000 casualties, including 14,000 dead. Truman’s intentions and assumptions were legitimate. ...




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