Daniel C. Zacharda History 298 Dr. Campbell 12/11/2014. Atomic Bomb Historiography: The Implement of Japan s Surrender?

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1 Daniel C. Zacharda History 298 Dr. Campbell 12/11/2014 Atomic Bomb Historiography: The Implement of Japan s Surrender? 1

2 Throughout history there are numerous events that historians have engaged in endless debate over, one of these events is the decision of the United States to drop the atomic bomb on the Empire of Japan. The use of the atomic bomb is a very complex issue that requires an indepth analysis. To fully comprehend the use of the atomic bomb and ultimately the Empire of Japan s decision to surrender, an analysis of articles from multiple perspectives is required. This essay focuses on three articles, each of which includes a different perspective about the atomic bomb. In order to get a complete understanding of how historians have written about the atomic bomb, the articles in this essay include one from the perspective of the United States, one from the Empire of Japan, and one from a key policymaker of the United States. On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs on the Empire of Japan. The United States was hoping to shock the Empire of Japan into surrendering with the use of this brand new weapon. The United States is still the only nation in history to have used nuclear weapons in warfare. Although the atomic bomb was effective for the United States as the Empire of Japan would ultimately surrender, the use of the atomic bomb remains controversial today. Debate over the morality of using this weapon and the decisions made before, during, and after the bombs were dropped provides a unique insight into one of the most controversial events of the 20 th century. One of the dominant topics relating to the atomic bomb that historians write about is the question was the atomic bomb necessary or was the United States trying to display their power to the Soviet Union?. A Pacific Historical Review article, written by Barton Bernstein in 1977, provides an excellent analysis into the role the atomic bomb played in the Empire of Japan s surrender. In his article, Bernstein s primary focus is on the decisions made by President Truman 2

3 and his Cabinet dealing with the atomic bomb and ending the war in the Pacific. Bernstein also focuses on the attitude of the United States in terms of the atomic bomb. Bernstein s article provides a strong accounting of the decisions made by the United States government in eliciting a declaration of surrender from the Empire of Japan. At the heart of Bernstein s argument is the concept that the United States government was willing to use the atomic bomb on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; however, their attitude towards the bombings changed in the days leading up to the Japanese surrender. To make his argument, Bernstein relies on analyzing the attitude of President Harry S. Truman and his decisions surrounding the atomic bomb. When discussing why had Truman decided to halt atomic bombings, Bernstein says that the horror of the atomic bomb, after the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had finally struck him. 1 Bernstein also adds In the months before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the atomic bomb had not raised new moral problems for American leaders or inspired most of them to seek new ways to avoid its use. 2 The drastic change in attitude Bernstein highlights with these two pieces of information help establish his argument that American attitudes towards the use of the atomic bomb had changed. Although Bernstein provides us with President Truman s change of heart, he suggests a not so noble cause for the change. In order to clarify President Truman s actions, Bernstein provides us with the concept that By giving the orders to stop atomic bombing, Truman did not commit himself unconditionally to the prohibition of nuclear bombs in the war against Japan. 3 Bernstein goes even further as he highlights that when President Truman gave that order, the United States did not have another atomic bomb battle ready and would not have one ready for at least a week. 4 The addition of these details in Bernstein s argument provides clarity into what President Truman was actually saying. President Truman was not ruling out the dropping of another 3

4 atomic bomb, but rather that the use of the atomic bomb is simply suspended. By elaborating on President s Truman s orders, Bernstein provides a more complete understanding of the mindset of President Truman and the American military. While Bernstein is focusing on the American side of the atomic bomb, Sadao Asada focuses his article on the Japanese side. Asada s article, written in 1998, makes the claim in the end it was the atomic bomb, closely followed by the Soviet Union entry into the war, that compelled Japan to surrender. 5 Both Asada and Bernstein agree that the atomic bomb was the ultimate deciding factor in Japan s surrender. However, Asada s article goes into much greater detail about a potential other cause that contributed to the Japanese surrender. Bernstein argues that politics of ending the war in the pacific were tied closely to problems of postwar Soviet-American relations. 6 Although this quote shows that the United States was worried about how their actions in ending the war in the Pacific would affect global politics, it does not speak to Soviet involvement in the war itself. A close examination of the Bernstein article reveals that there is no mention of the Soviet s declaration of war on Japan. When examining Asada s article, the role of the Soviet Union s entrance in the war is revealed. The role of the Soviet Union in determining Japanese surrender is described by Asada as a conformation and coup de grace. 7 Asada adds that From a political and diplomatic viewpoint the Soviet entry was indeed a serious blow to Japan; it dashed the last hope of Soviet peace mediation. 8 This analysis from Asada adds a new element to the atomic bomb historiography that Bernstein created. In Bernstein s article, a struggle between the United States and the Empire of Japan is depicted with some mention of the United States eyes turned toward future cold war relations. Asada s article goes into further detail to provide a more complex and analysis by bringing in the role of the Soviet Union. By looking at the atomic bomb and only in 4

5 terms of the United States vs. the Empire of Japan, Bernstein completely overlooks the role the Soviet Union played in the Japanese leadership determining that the war was truly over for them. Another aspect that Asada brings to light in his article is that Bernstein s perspective relies exclusively on the motives behind the bomb rather than the effects behind it. 9 Bernstein s perspective highlights only the United States perspective and reasons for dropping the bomb, in doing so, he overlooks the actual effects that the bombings had on the Japanese people and leadership. 10 By limiting his article to only the United States decisions for using the bomb, Bernstein is only getting part of the picture. Asada is able to establish Bernstein s United States perspective while also providing his own analysis into how the bomb affected Japan, which provides a much more complete analysis of the atomic bomb. Although Bernstein s article is limited to only the United States perspective, it includes a more in-depth analysis than that of John Bonnett s article published in In his article Bonnett limits his analysis even further than Bernstein as he focuses on United States Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and his effect on the decision to drop the atomic bomb on the Empire of Japan. Bonnett s main argument in his article is that Stimson played a large role in dropping the atomic bomb and because of that, historians have often assigned him undue blame. Unlike Asada and Bernstein, Bonnett chose to focus his article on the effects of an individual person rather than an individual nation. This makes his article unique because it provides a much more in-depth look into the role of a particular person. While Asada s and Bernstein s articles each discuss the roles of individuals, like Hirohito in Asada s and President Truman in Bernstein s, they are not able to go as in-depth in their articles because they have a more broad focus. By limiting his focus to only Stimson s role, Bonnett can not only go into 5

6 much greater depth than either Asada or Bernstein but he can also present new information that maybe edited out of other articles because they aren t as focused. Bonnett s article, although more in-depth, supports Bernstein s article in that it focuses on the factors surrounding the decision-making of the United States. An example of Bonnett s support of Bernstein can be seen with the quote despite his realization of the bombs revolutionary implications, Stimson apparently saw no reason to alter his doctrine of war. 11 This quote from Bonnett is supporting Bernstein s earlier claim that the leaders of the United States have little reservations about dropping atomic bombs on Japan. Furthermore, Bonnett states Stimson was trying to intimidate the Soviet Union. 12 By making that statement, Bonnett is supporting Bernstein s point that the decisions of the United States to end the war in the Pacific were directly related to their relationship with the Soviet Union. 13 Although Bonnett s article is dealing directly with Stimson, it has as even greater problem as Bernstein s article in that it is focusing on only one side. The greatest strength of Bonnett s article is also its greatest weakness. The ability to cover the role of Henry Stimson in great detail is a valuable asset to atomic bomb historiography, however, it also can be problematic. The narrow focus of Bonnett s article provides a much more in-depth analysis than any of the other articles about one particular person s role in the events surrounding the use of the atomic bomb, but it also limits the information he can cover in the article. Just like Bernstein s article is limited to the decisions of the United States, Bonnett is limited to only information that Stimson played a role in. Bonnett s article is a great analysis of one man s role in a series of events and would be a great resource to learn about Stimson s role in the events, but it lacks the overall ability to present facts from different angles like Bernstein and Asada s articles were able to. 6

7 Each article provides a unique addition to atomic bomb historiography. Bernstein s article focuses on the decision making of the United States and the possible reasons for its use of the atomic bomb. Asada s article focuses more on the Japanese role in the events surrounding the atomic bomb. Also present in Asada s article is the more detailed analysis into the role the Soviet Union played in the United States dropping the atomic bomb. The focus of Bernstein s article limits his ability to discuss all the possible scenarios and causes for the dropping of the atomic bomb and the Japanese surrender. Bonnett s article provides an even more limited focus than Bernstein s, however, he is able to cover the topic more in-depth because of the limited focus. All three articles do an excellent job of utilizing their primary sources. Bonnett s article provided the best use of primary sources due to his repeated quoting from Stimson s diaries and other works. Bernstein s article includes numerous references to President Harry Truman as well as members of his Cabinet. Asada s article includes primary sources from both the perspectives of the United States and the Empire of Japan, making his article very valuable when analyzing atomic bomb historiography. Each article presents their sources in a very organized way designed to help support their arguments and establish the validity of their arguments. Although each article contains a different focus, each article interprets atomic bomb historiography is a unique way. Each author presents a solid argument and supports his argument with a mixture of both primary and secondary sources. Analyzing all three of these articles provides a very in-depth look into how various historians have chosen to write about the atomic bomb. To fully understand the events surrounding the atomic bomb, reading articles from the three different perspectives presented by Asada, Bernstein, and Bonnett can clearly show the various ways the atomic bomb has been studied by historians. Overall, all three articles do a great job of providing a unique perspectives and insights in atomic bomb historiography. 7

8 Notes: 1 Barton J. Bernstein, The Perils and Politics of Surrender: Ending the War with Japan and Avoiding the Third Atomic Bomb, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 46, No. 1 (1977): 9. 2 Ibid. 3 Bernstein, Perils, Ibid. 5 Sadao Asada, The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender: A Reconsideration, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 67, No. 4 (1998): Bernstein, Perils, 6. 7 Asada, Shock, Ibid. 9 Ibid., Ibid. 11 John Bonnett, Jekyll and Hyde: Henry L. Stimson, Mentalite, and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb on Japan, War in History, Vol. 4 Issue 2, (1997): Ibid., Bernsetin, Perils, 6. 8

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