Robert P. Newman's latest entry into the historiographical debate over the atomic bombing of Japan is engaging, vivid, and, in important respects, convincing. At the same time, the book is partisan, contentious, and, in important respects, unconvincing. There is little in it that is new or surprising; Newman has aired most of his arguments in earlier articles and in a previous volume, Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (1995). But the book still has value as a lively and engrossing summary of the views of a leading scholar in the controversy over the decision to use the bomb. [End Page 277]
Newman shows that the competing positions over using the bomb emerged within a short time after World War II. Paul Nitze and P. M. S. Blackett laid the foundations for what later became the revisionist interpretation by challenging the "official narrative." Nitze concluded in the 1946 report of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey that Japan would have surrendered by 31 December 1945 without the use of the atomic bomb, the invasion of Japan, or Soviet entry into the war. Blackett contended in a 1948 book that the United States dropped the bomb more to intimidate the Soviet Union than to defeat the Japanese. Newman demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Nitze's conclusions were not consistent with the evidence the Strategic Bombing Survey collected from high-ranking Japanese officials. He is equally persuasive in pointing out the flaws and distortions in the revisionist view of President Truman's decision. The best chapter in the book deals in an informed and discerning way with the morality of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But Newman fails to employ the same analytical skills in his discussion of the traditional position on the use of the bomb; he turns a blind eye to the fallacies, or at least the uncertainties, of the "official narrative." Further, he does a serious injustice to scholars who stand between the polar extremes by lumping them, with the partial exception of Barton J. Bernstein, with doctrinaire revisionists. Worse, Newman occasionally applies a double standard in making his judgments. He is sharply critical of curators at the Smithsonian Institution, whom he claims "bought the Nitze-Blackett narrative in toto" (p. 98), for failing to conduct primary research in the records of the Strategic Bombing Survey in the process of planning the ill-fated Enola Gay exhibit in the early 1990s. But he is guilty of the same offense in a brief but highly opinionated discussion of a complex and controversial study of the effects of radiation on workers at nuclear weapons plants. Newman did not consult either primary sources or relevant scholarly literature before arriving at his conclusions; instead he relied heavily on a conversation with the scientist whose research was at the center of the controversy.