Truman and the Bomb, Part 3
December 27, 2013
“The use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul.” Herbert Hoover, the day before the bombing of Nagasaki.
“I could not put into words the shock I felt from the news that a city of hundreds of thousands of people had been destroyed by a single bomb. That awful event and its successor at Nagasaki sank into my soul, and they sank into the souls of all of us, whether we recognize it or not.” Bishop of Seattle, Raymond Huntshauser.
“The knowledge of horrible events periodically intrudes into public awareness [but] it is rarely retained for long. Denial, repression, and dissociation operate on a social as well as on an individual level.” Judith Herman, psychiatrist.
The United States “adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Admiral Leahy, chief of staff to the president [Truman].
“The readiness to use nuclear weapons….is nothing less than a presumption, a blasphemy, an indignity – and indignity of monstrous dimensions – offered to God.” George F. Kennan, “A Christian’s View of the Arms Race.”
Gar Alperovitz concludes his book, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, by arguing that we cannot know, at least not yet, why Truman decided to use the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945. He goes through the reasons most often offered, the military reasons, the political reasons, the economic reasons, the governmental/bureaucratic reasons, and the diplomatic reasons. But he modestly asserts that we cannot know exactly why Truman made the decisions he made, and he did make decisions.
But perhaps the “why question” is not as important or as interesting as the “what question.” That is, what did Truman do? And as some of the above quotes seem to make clear, what Truman had done was to sin. He committed “a blasphemy” which he “offered to God.” And this is why it revolted Hoover’s soul and why it “sank into [Bishop Huntshauser’s] soul” and, if the Bishop is correct, into “the souls of all of us.” It might be said even that Truman was possessed, that is, possessed by what some human beings have been possessed by throughout recorded history, the dream of possessing god-like power or powers, powers bordering on omnipotence. He possessed the power of fire that seems to originate in the heavens and can be used to cleanse the earth of its scourges. With this god-like fire, Truman would be able to control the world and bring it to a peace that is final and perpetual. In this way, Truman’s actions had little or nothing to do what Admiral Leahy calls “an ethical standard.” Truman was “beyond good and evil,” he was beyond morality. He had entered a different kind of realm altogether, the realm of sin.