Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Question for Defenders of Truman's Decision

Aug 6, 2005 3:56 pm

A Question for Defenders of Truman's Decision

Defenders of Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb sixty years ago have typically presented the dilemma he faced in these terms: either order a bloody invasion of the Japanese mainland or “end the war and save lives“ by dropping the bomb.

I have a question: why couldn’t Truman have ended the war and saved even more lives by pursuing the third alternative of a conditional rather than an unconditional surrender?

Addendum: Greg Robinson over at Cliopatria describes how the inexplicable dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki poses an important problem for Truman's defenders.

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David Timothy Beito - 8/9/2005

Didn't they have at least some idea of what it would lead to based on the test in New Mexico? Some of the scientists certainly did. You are right that it probably wouldn't have made any difference.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/8/2005

Well, it's too late to change what happened, and I'm honest enough of an historian to know that the existence of options, the contemporary concievability of options and the consideration of options are three very different things. What I do think is that we should take this as a cautionary tale and demand more creativity, lateral thinking, etc, from our present and (if they can't hack it) future leaders.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/8/2005

Not that I'm aware of, no. They were largely unaware of the radiological effects, I think, though I'm not sure how that would have affected their very limited thinking.

David Timothy Beito - 8/7/2005


You were right there many potentional options but I don't see any willingness at the time even to consider them. Perhaps you can answer this. Did anyone at that time raise the similarities between chemical and biological weapons and the A-Bomb and use the similarities to argue for caution?

Anthony Gregory - 8/7/2005


If the point didn't elude people, the cycle of government mass slaughter would slow to a crawl and war would nearly vanish. States have an interest in getting their subjects to see themselves and foreigners not as individuals but as parts of their respective collectives.

That said, yes, it's amazing that people don't see through it.

Sheldon Richman - 8/7/2005


Amazing, isn't it, how this most elementary point eludes some people.

William J. Stepp - 8/7/2005

One of the things which we do not demand enough from our leaders, civilian or military, is creativity.

Creativity? From the government?
From Harry, Buckstopping, "My way the highway," Truman?
Surely your jest.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/7/2005 offense, but one of the things that drives me crazy in this debate is the "third option" argument, usually either conditional surrender or blockade.

In fact, there were any number of other options, including, based on the recent revelations that Japan had reinforced its Kyushu defenses, maintaining the "island-hopping" strategy by bypassing strong points and using air superiority and the geography of Japan to isolate ground-limited Japanese forces while permitting relief supplies to reach Japanese civilians.

One of the things which we do not demand enough from our leaders, civilian or military, is creativity.

Anthony Gregory - 8/7/2005

Last year the Future of Freedom Foundation published this article I wrote, called "Targeting Civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

Of course the bombings were war crimes. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey determined in 1945 that the bombings were unnecessary.

I have yet to see anyone explain why Japan posed any sort of credible threat to America by 1945. Even without an invasion, the blockades were starving the country into submission. Even without those blockades, it's not like Japan would have tried to conquer the United States.

Anthony Gregory - 8/7/2005

My take on it is: just because your government mass murders people in one country doesn't give the right of a government in another country to mass murder you and your neighbors.

Kenneth R Gregg - 8/7/2005

Often forgotten is the Soviet invasionentry of Manchuria and impending threat of Soviet occupation of the Japanese mainland. All the atomic bombing did was inject urgency into Japanese diplomatic efforts to end the war
As Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin said in the recent Los Angeles Times said--The bomb was dropped, as J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, said in November 1945, on "an essentially defeated enemy." President Truman and his closest advisor, Secretary of State James Byrnes, quite plainly used it primarily to prevent the Soviets from sharing in the occupation of Japan. And they used it on Aug. 6 even though they had agreed among themselves as they returned home from the Potsdam Conference on Aug. 3 that the Japanese were looking for peace.
Thanks to Alan Allport in The Fallacy of the Mechanistic Cause atCliopatria.
Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism

David Davidson - 8/7/2005

I want to see Greg Robinson address the Rape of Nanking and tell us why that does not justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Kenneth R Gregg - 8/6/2005

Ralph Raico's essay on Harry Truman has just been excerpted in today, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ralph is quite good on the subject, as to be expected from him.
Just a thought.
Just Ken
CLASSical Liberalism