“Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made; indeed, considered in the context of World War II, it wasn’t really much of a decision at all.”
There is nothing we enjoy more here at The Presidio Review than reviewing the historical record of 20th century conflict and putting to rest self-serving misconceptions about the wars, their causes, their conduct, and their consequences. But we do not do so gratuitously: if we are going to reassess the wars, we must rely on historiography, not on passion or bias.
The old issue of whether the United States was justified in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and later Nagasaki, has once again reared its head as President Obama plans to visit ground zero at Hiroshima.
At best today about half of Americans support Truman’s decision, and pressure is mounting for the president to make some gesture of apology.
Tom Nichols, who serves as Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College and author of No Use: Nuclear Weapons and US National Security, takes a decidedly different view. A calm, measured read through Nichols’ article in The National Interest is a reminder that much of the opposition to the bombings is at best ahistorical.
Nuclear arms are hideous, immoral weapons whose existence continues to threaten our civilization. To say, however, that Harry Truman should have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of American lives because of what happened in the nuclear arms race decades later is not only ahistorical, it is moral arrogance enabled from the safe distance provided by time and victory.
The more we open up the historical record, the more the decision was justified in the context of its time. Let’s put this one to rest and, finally, move on. For if we do not, we must go back and question every single command decision made by the US in the war, starting with the decision of some of our troops at Pearl Harbor to actually shoot back at the attacking Japanese.