History in Review
Prompt & Utter Destruction, Revised Edition
Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan. By J. Samuel Walker. (Read How You Want: 2009)
EasyRead Large Edition. [Originally Published in Standard Print by The University of North Carolina Press.]
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - October 20, 2009
Within weeks, if not days, of the United States dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, word began to spread that the reason that the bombs were used was to save American lives. It was said that hundreds of thousands, upwards to a million, American military causalities were saved by the dropping of the Atomic bombs. Lives that would have been lost if the American's had invaded Japan, as planned, in an attempt to bring the War in the Pacific to a close. We were also told that the use of these horrific weapons also saved an untold number of Japanese causalities, both civilian and military, that would have been lost in the invasion of the Japanese homeland. It made sense, and it salved the conscious of a nation. But, was it true? In the revised edition of Prompt & Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan, historian J. Samuel Walker provides a step-by-step analysis of what led the American's and President Truman, in particular, to use Atomic bombs against Japan as a means of forcing a Japanese surrender and to bring World War II to a conclusion. He details the machinations that went into making this decision, how it was carried out, and its political ramifications. He also explores the testy question of whether or not the atomic bombs were really necessary to force a Japanese surrender and what other steps could have been taken to achieve the same goal. As well, he provides an analysis of the mythology that grew up surrounding the decision to drop the atomic bombs, and the veracity of the statement that their use saved hundreds of thousands of American lives and drastically reduced the length of the war.
In this book, Walker does not conclusively declare that the use of the bombs was, or was not, necessary to end the war and save American lives. What he does show, through careful analysis, is that the reason that the bombs were used was complicated. The decision encompassed not only a desire to end the war as soon as possible, but also to 'show up' the Soviets on both a military and diplomatic front, to get revenge on the Japanese for Pearl Harbor and other perceived atrocities, for Truman's own political purposes, and to justify the cost and manpower that had been devoted to the creation of the atomic bombs, to name just a few reasons. Walker also examines what other options were available to Truman for ending the war, and how long these options, if they had been implemented, would likely have taken, and the cost in American casualties that could have been anticipated. Why these options were not chosen, is also covered.
What I found to be of most interest is that Walker was carefull to differentiate between what information was actually known by Truman and his advisors at the time that they were making the decisions about using the atomic bombs, and what information has been derived from 'what might have been' scenarios that are based on hindsight and consequently was information that Truman was not privy to. As well, Walker examines Truman's personality, his decision making process, and highlights the fact that no one seems to have ever considered not using the atomic bomb against Japan. After all, the bombing of civilian targets had been into the American, and Allied, policies as shown by the carpet bombing of Dresden and other German cities. If by killing large numbers of civilians you could shock a people, or government, into capitulating, it was deemed, now, as a normal cost of war. As well, Walker provides insights into the thought processes of many of Truman's advisors, often by allowing them to speak for themselves via quotes and excerpts from speeches, letters, personal diary's and other first person sources.
In his analysis of Truman's decision to use the Atomic bomb on Japan, Walker also looks at how the success of the 'Trinity' test (the United States's first test of an Atomic device) influenced his behavior at the Potsdam meeting between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin, and how their interaction at this meeting shaped the Potsdam Declaration, which demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan. Walker also examines the role played by Truman's success in getting the Soviet's promise to enter the war in East Asia by invading Manchuria, and how this invasion, once it began, altered the face of the War. Interestingly, Walker also includes data gathered in part from Gallup Polls that show how average Americans felt about the use of the Atomic bomb against Japan.
From beginning to end, Prompt & Utter Destruction is an eminently readable book that is accessible to both scholars and general readers alike. Walker not only takes the reader on a guided tour of Truman's decision making process and shows what prompted him to give the order to use the Atomic bomb on Japan, but Walker also explores the historical situation that led to this decision. Walker also examines the Japanese viewpoint, not only in regard to the impact of the Atomic bombings on their decision to surrender, but also how the Allies call for an unconditional surrender, one that could conceivably have led to Hirohito, the Emperor of Japan, being tried for war crimes, may have made the Japanese reluctant to surrender even in the face of a crushing defeat! Walker also provides insights into the role that the use of the Atomic weapons had on the Japanese decision to surrender. As with the decision to use the bombs, their decision to surrender was not as clear cut and easy to define as one would first imagine.
Prompt & Utter Destruction is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the history of atomic weapons and warfare, the Truman administration, U.S. - Soviet relations, World War II, or who are simply curious about why Truman decided to use not one, but two atomic weapons on Japan.
Prompt & Utter Destruction is available in a variety of formats including Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats that range from 16-24 point fonts, from Read How You Want, an on-demand publisher. The RHYW editions of the book are complete and unabridged and included Walker extensive endnotes. In addition, the print versions of this book includes the same illustrations as the standard print version. Once you read this book, you'll understand that the decision to use the Atomic bomb against Japan was not a simple decision based solely on speeding up the end of the war or saving American military personnel from having to invade the Japanese home islands. Rather it was a multi layered decision that still has repercussions today...
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cold War, and the Atomic West, by Jon Hunner.
An engaging and readable biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the 'Father of the Atomic Bomb'. This biography was written from a unique perspective in that it examines how the American West influenced Oppenheimer, and how he influenced the American West.
MacArthur's Undercover War: Spies, Saboteurs, Guerrillas, and Secret Missions, by William B. Breuer
In this intriguing narrative, Breuer, chronicles MacArthur's long-running covert war that he waged against the Japanese during World War II.
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