Wednesday, August 15, 2007

British lefty makes sense

"Left-wing interventionist" Oliver Kamm, whom I admire for the cheerful if somewhat stuffy way he maintains that impossible position, wrote a piece for the Grauniad last week on the the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In it he debunks some of the revisionist canards have cropped up over the last four decades. A common one, he says, is often voiced by Greenpeace:
Greenpeace maintains that a different American approach might have prevented the cold war, and argues that new research on the Hiroshima decision "should give us pause for thought about the wisdom of current US and UK nuclear weapons developments, strategies, operational policies and deployments".

This alternative history is devoid of merit. New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb. This conclusion may surprise Guardian readers [several probably dropped dead from shock--ed.]. The so-called revisionist interpretation of the bomb made headway from the 1960s to the 1990s. It argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union.

Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb. The decision to drop the bomb was founded on the conviction that a blockade and invasion of Japan would cause massive casualties. Estimates derived from intelligence about Japan's military deployments projected hundreds of thousands of American casualties.

Truman had to take account of this, and dropped the bomb for the reasons he said at the time. Contrary to popular myth, there is no documentary evidence that his military commanders advised him the bomb was unnecessary for Japan was about to surrender. As the historian Wilson Miscamble puts it, Truman "hoped that the bombs would end the war and secure peace with the fewest American casualties, and so they did. Surely he took the action any American president would have undertaken." Recent Japanese scholarship provides support for this position. Sadao Asada, of Doshisha University, Kyoto, has concluded from analysis of Japanese primary sources that the two bombs enabled the "peace party" within Japan's cabinet to prevail.
In two subsequent posts Kamm takes on his critics, by the way savaging "historian" Gar Alperovitz,
the principal populariser (though not the originator) of the view that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first acts of the Cold War. He is much cited by anti-nuclear campaigners, but ignored by historians owing to two fundamental weaknesses in his thesis. First, there's no evidence for it; and secondly, his use of source material is a scholarly disgrace.
Gee, that sounds familiar.
Alperovitz's characteristic technique, maintained consistently in the 40 years since the first edition of his book Atomic Diplomacy and continued in its successor volume, is to use ellipses in order to alter the meaning of the sources he purports to be examining.
Gee, that sounds familiar too. Read the whole thing(s).

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