- Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism
This slim volume of collected essays should be considered – but on the basis of this author's experience, won't be by some – a definitive refutation of some of the most firmly held beliefs of historical revisionists regarding the United States's employment of atomic bombs against Japan in 1945. (For example, see Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird's attempts to rebut Robert James Maddox's contention, in what is essentially a summary of Hiroshima in History, that the part of American Prometheus having to do with using the atomic bombs against Japan is "pure fiction." Maddox, Sherwin, and Bird, "The Atomic Bomb and American Prometheus: A Review and a Response," in Passport: The Newsletter of the Society for Historians of Foreign Relations, 38, no. 3 [December, 2007], 23-27 – of this, more below.)
Hiroshima in History, edited by Maddox, contains the views of distinguished experts previously published in various scholarly journals, including The Journal of Military History, from 1997 through 2006. In each article, its author addresses one or more facets of what Maddox identifies in his introductory essay as a key "myth" promulgated by revisionist historians regarding the atomic bombs and their effect on the Japanese decision to surrender. The basic revisionist arguments are well known and can be summarized briefly. Revisionists assert that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary. The Americans knew for several months from intercepted communications that Japan realized that it had lost the war and was willing to surrender, if the status of the emperor remained unchanged. Use of the atomic bombs was really a demonstration of U.S. military [End Page 535] might intended to intimidate Stalin and make him more amenable to U.S. objectives in the post-war world. Gar Alperovitz, has elaborated these theses repetitively in several scholarly formats, first in Atomic Diplomacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965).
A recent corollary to the revisionist case, promulgated by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa in Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005), is that the shock of the Soviet entry into the Pacific War, not the atomic bombs, was actually responsible for the final Japanese surrender. In any event, the necessity to invade Japan to end the war had passed by the time the bombs were dropped, and the post-war estimates made by the former Secretary of War, Henry Stimson and President Truman, of vast American casualties that an invasion force would have suffered were exaggerations intended to justify the unnecessary use of the atomic bomb. Dropping the bombs on Japan was a first step in the incipient Cold War, which at least tacitly, was the product of U.S. actions.
Maddox's lengthy introduction to Hiroshima in History identifies the chief "myths" of the Hiroshima revisionists and previews the work by the included authors that refutes them. In the initial essay, Maddox provides a pointed critique of Gar Alperovitz, who he identifies with considerable reason as the "Godfather of Hiroshima Revisionism." Maddox focuses on Alperovitz's scholarship in a manner similar to his early rebuttal of revisionism in The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), in which he demonstrated persuasively that some of the principal revisionist writers had shown a careless and sometimes flagrant disregard of the historical canons regarding evidence, including piecing together quotations from different documents to support their most egregious conclusions,. In Hiroshima in History, Maddox documents Alperovitz's continuing and troubling propensity to shape evidence to fit his theses.
Among the other distinguished contributors to Hiroshima in History, two are particularly notable for their extensive use of Japanese sources. Sadao Asada reexamines the impact of the atomic bombs on Japan's "peace party" and ultimately, Japan's surrender. He shows that the revisionists' picture of a Japan willing to surrender if only...