Herbert Feis served as the Special Consultant to three Secretaries of War. This book was his finale to a series on the governmental viewed history of World War II, one of these receiving the Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Feis gives personal accounts in a strictly factual description leaving out no information that the president and high officials discussed within the walls of the White House. The information that is presented is referenced countlessly throughout the book.
His position in the government gave him the ability to have direct knowledge from personal individuals, in the government at that time, who had assessed the actions first hand. With these contacts his information is not presented as secondary information. In early August 1945, two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs quickly yielded the surrender of Japan and the end of the American involvement in World War II. By 1946, the two bombs caused the death of perhaps as many as 240,000 Japanese citizens.
The popular view that dominated the 1950s and 60s, presented by President Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson, was that the at the dropping of the atomic bombs was a solely military action that avoided the loss of as many as a million lives in the upcoming American invasion of the island of Kyushu. In the 1960s a second idea developed, put forth by a collaboration of historians, that claimed the dropping of the bomb was a diplomatic maneuver aimed at gaining the upper hand in relations with Russia. Twenty years after the bombing, Feis, with the advantage of historical hindsight and the advantage of new evidence, developed a third view, free from obscuring bias. First, he stated that the dropping of the bomb was born out of a number of military, domestic, and diplomatic pressures and concerns. Secondly, many potentially alternatives to dropping the bombs were not explored by Truman and other men in power. Lastly, because these alternatives were never explored, it can only be pondered over whether or not Trumans decision to drop the atomic bombs was a savior of lives, and it may never be known if Trumans monumental decision was morally just one.
Japan had expansionist aims in Eastern Asia and in the Western Pacific. In July of 1940, the United States placed an embargo on materials imported to Japan, including oil. The majority of the American war effort was placed in Europe. Before the United States could fully mobilize, most of South-East Asia had fallen to Japan, including the Philippines. “The Japanese forces waged a stubborn, often suicidal battle.” Truman learned of the project, then called by its code name, S-1 (and later as the Manhattan Project), from Secretary of War Stimson on 25 April 1945, only after becoming President. Concurrent with the Manhattan project, both Japan and America were making preparations for a final all-encompassing conflict.
Both sides expected it would involve an American invasion of mainland Japan. The Americans expanded conventional bombing and tightened their increasingly successful naval blockade. The Japanese began the stockpiling of aircraft, amassed a giant conscripted military force, and commenced the creation of a civilian army, all who swore total allegiance to the emperor. This awe-inspiring army included so-called ‘Sherman Carpets,’ children with dynamite strapped to their bodies and trained to throw themselves under American tanks. In the end, these final preparations were not effective.
On, August 6, 1945, the American B-29 bomber, named Enola Gay by the pilot Paul W. Tibbets, dropped the little boy uranium atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later a second bomb, made of plutonium and nicknamed fat boy, was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. On August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally and the war in Asia ended. Truman’s monumental decision, to drop these bombs, was born out of a complex background of decisions. Pressure to drop the bomb stemmed from three major categories: military, domestic and diplomatic.
The military pressures stemmed from discussion and meetings Truman had with Secretary of War Stimson, Army Chief of Staff General Marshal, Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal and others. On June 18, 1945, General Marshall and Secretary of War Stimson convinced Truman to set an invasion of the island of Kyushu for November 1945. Truman knew of the ferocious fighting currently taking place in the Pacific, and naturally had a desire to minimize what he felt would inevitably be a long, bloody struggle. The solution was the bomb. Even to the end, Truman implied that the bomb was something for which the American people should be proud of, because it ultimately saved more American lives. The second major source of pressure on Truman and his advisors to drop the atomic bombs came from domestic tensions and issues of reelection, combined with a collective American feeling of hatred toward the Japanese race. As in most major military conflicts, there was an effort to establish the Americans as morally superior to the Japanese.
Truman was no exception to this generalization, and on July 25, 1945, he wrote that the Japanese people were, “savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic..” Furthermore, there was fear amongst Truman’s advisors that if they were to, “interpret the supreme war goal more leniently for Japan than had been the case with Germany,” they would, “leave an unwanted impression, at home and abroad, of appeasement. ” Truman knew that if he backed down from not dropping the bomb and did not remain firm on his stance with Japan the American public might be outraged. Furthermore, if the bomb was not dropped, Truman feared that it would prove extremely difficult in post war America to justify the two billion dollars spent on the Manhattan Project. The third major source of pressures on Truman to drop the bomb was diplomatic tensions with Russia. Today, nothing about the dropping of the bombs is debated by historians more than whether diplomatic tensions played a role in Truman’s decision.
Truman’s predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed a program of cooperation and good relations with Russia, highlighted by the Lend-Lease program and the symbolic gestures of good nature at the Yalta conference. Truman broke away from these good-natured relations and sought to follow a new hard-line policy. While preparing for his first meeting with a Russian official as President of the United States, Truman exclaimed that if the Russians did not wish to be cooperative, they could go to hell. During his meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov, Truman told Molotov that the American interpretation [about the conflict over Poland] was the only one possible.
Furthermore, as the meeting came to a close a flabbergasted Molotov responded, I have never been talked to like that in my life. Collectively, these quotes leave little doubt that Truman embraced a new policy of strict bluntness and a willingness to play hardball with the Russians. While it is fairly clear that Truman embraced a new hard-line policy it is highly controversial whether Truman took this policy one step farther. The revisionist historian Alperovitz claims that Truman made a conscious effort to postpone the Potsdam meeting until the atomic bomb could be tested, which he calls the strategy of a delayed showdown. In this way, Truman would be able to intimidate the Russians and gain the political upper hand, or as Secretary of State Byrnes told Truman the bomb could, put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war.
On 16 May 1945 Stimson told President Truman that, We shall probably hold more cards in our hands later than now, and supposedly urged him to adopt the policy of delay. Although Alperovitz himself admits that many of the details are missing from Truman’s meetings with his advisors, it nonetheless becomes extremely difficult to believe Truman and Stimson’s claim that the only reason the bomb was dropped was for military reasons. There exists evidence in Truman’s diaries and letters to his wife that seems to contradict Alperovitz’s revisionist theory of American diplomacy concerned with using the bomb to intimidate the Russians. The first entry of note is from 7 June 1945, slightly more than a month before the inception of the Potsdam Conference. On that day Truman wrote: I’m not afraid of Russia. They’ve always been our friends and I can …