Truman and the Bomb, Part 2
December 26, 2013
"The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.” Genghis Khan
For a fascinating, if excruciatingly detailed, account of the decision to drop two A bombs on Japanese, for the ostensible purpose of ending World War II and saving the lives, allegedly, of a million human beings, both American and Japanese, read Gar Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. In summary, Alperovitz argues convincingly that the myth that the bombs were needed to avoid an invasion of the Japanese homeland, an invasion that would claim the lives of, say, a million Americans and Japanese is just that, a myth, and one that was propagated with purpose after the war. Former Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote, with the aid of George McBundy, an article for Harpers magazine that stifled almost all criticism of Truman’s decision to drop not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan.
And another factor that influenced Truman to use the bomb was his desire to be able to dictate the terms of the post-war peace, especially with regard to the terms of that peace with the Soviet Union. In fact, the first time Stimson informed Truman of the existence of the Manhattan project was in the context of his conducting diplomacy with the Soviets and not in the contest of ending the war with Japan.
And while this is all very interesting, it seems to me that Alperovitz overlooks one possible motivation Truman may have had, that which is illustrated by the quote above which has been attributed to Genghis Khan. There is pleasure in what might called “righteous killing,” killing of those who deserve it, killing that is, in the strictest possible sense, justified! Was this among Truman’s motivations? It is, of course, impossible to say with certainty. But it seems to me that when a man describes his enemy as beast-like, as despicable, then there is a good chance that their killing would be perceived as righteous.