President Harry S. Truman decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan is perhaps the most controversial act of policy in United States history. One of the many different reasons given for the use of this weapon was the shock effect it would produce in the Japanese foreign policy circle. While the shock of the Japanese will be discussed later, it is important to note that it had a similar effect on the west. This shock effect has caused countless authors to speculate as to the motivation behind, and effects of this revolutionary weapon.
For a time, the euphoria that came along with such a tremendous victory, as well as the national solidarity generated by America involvement in the cold war made this decision immune to speculation. Participation in the Vietnam conflict, and the division it caused in the 1970 produced an atmosphere in which the government was scrutinized. Unpopular military techniques employed in that war led some to question the techniques of wars gone past. Of course the glaring technique was the use of atomic weaponry.
Some authors, outraged at the determination to use atomic weaponry, have speculated that Truman decision was based upon diplomatic problems concerning the Soviet Union. These critics have argued that Truman used atomic weaponry in order to make the Soviet Union more likely to adhere to an American viewpoint of the post-war world. They also contend that the atomic bomb was used because of its ability to bring about the end of the war before the Soviet Union had a chance to occupy Manchuria. The most critical of these scholars have gone as far as to say that the decision to use the bomb in order to intimidate the Soviet Union was the first step towards the Cold War.
These evisionist historians argue that there were many indicators that the use of atomic weaponry was not necessary to end the conflict with Japan. They believe that, had the United States altered its ruthless approach to Japanese surrender, they would have capitulated. At times, they go as far as to say that Japan was ready to surrender even if the surrender terms had not been altered. Revisionist historians also contend that only a hock was needed to bring about Japans capitulation. This could have been in the form of a Soviet Declaration of war or even the exhibition of an atomic bomb.
The evidence used by revisionist historians includes government documents, intercepted Japanese cables, and private memoirs of foreign policy officials. These documents are abundant and, at times extremely convincing. In fact, many military reports as well as intercepted Japanese cables described a weak Japan, unwilling to continue the war effort. In addition to this, many policy makers influential at this time, including Truman himself have published memoirs that would lead one to believe that Soviet considerations did play a key role in the decision to use the bomb.
The revisionist interpretation of the last days of Imperial Japan has recently been challenged. Those challenging these ideas generally belong to what some would label eo-classical circles. The fundamental premise of these historians is that Truman used the bomb to end World War II with minimal loss of life. They reject ideas concerning Japan willingness to surrender. They argue that, without the bomb, Allied forces would have been forced to invade mainland Japan. This, of course, would have meant the loss of an untold number of lives.
The evidence used by neo-classical historians includes government documents, intercepted Japanese cables, and published memoirs of foreign policy makers. If this sounds familiar, it should. These scholars base their claims on exactly the same type of evidence as their adversaries. The interesting thing about this is that their use of the evidence is as convincing as the revisionists. This may simply be due to the ambiguity of the documents, or the sheer volume they represent. In fact,...