Truman on Trial: The Defense, Opening Argument





Ronald Radosh is the author of Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left (Encounter Books), and co-editor with Mary R. Habeck of Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (Yale University Press).

It now seems to be the season for identifying American war criminals. We have gone through somewhat of a national debate about whether or not Bob Kerrey committed crimes of war in Vietnam, and the journalist Christopher Hitchens has sought in a best-selling book to accuse Henry Kissinger of war crimes. Now Philip Nobile comes forth with his own ongoing campaign---to rewrite the verdict of history by forging a new consensus---one that would cast Harry S. Truman as a war criminal for giving the order to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The essence of Noble's case is based on a highly legalistic and a-historical citation of Article 6 of The Nuremburg Charter. Nobile takes it further, by extending the description of war criminal to Truman's entire atomic cabinet, his chain of command, the pilots on the Enola Gay, and all those politicians who through the years have praised what he calls"the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." His cast of characters is thoroughly bipartisan, exempting no one except Mr. Nobile himself---and we are never sure that as an American citizen, whether or not he is also guilty. Certainly, those historians who reach a judgment different than the one he reaches are also included---his list includes such scholars of distinction as Stephen Ambrose, Iris Chang, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., etc. etc. etc. I now give Mr. Nobile permission in advance to include my name among the above. I would welcome being among such august company---and no, I do not believe that anyone on his list is guilty of covering up actual crimes of war.

Rather than follow the technique used by Mr. Nobile, I would like to attempt to deal with the questions he raises in another way. To be guilty of a war crime, President Truman and his associates would indeed, as Nobile writes, have had to conspire"to commit two of the most fiendish slaughters in the annals of war." The purpose, in other words, would have had to be a desire to use the A-bomb in order to produce precisely such an end--"fiendish slaughter"--and not to force the Japanese military to make peace or save even more American and Japanese lives than died as a result of the bombing.

The very latest scholarship has all but demolished the revisionist accounts on which Nobile depends.

Let us first take up the question of whether or not using the A-bomb on Japan was militarily necessary. Was Japan a besieged nation yearning for peace, lying prostrate at the feet of the United States? From reading Nobile and the revisionist historians, one certainly gets this impression that the answer to the first is no, and the second yes. There are two related questions to consider in order to actually answer the question. The first is what actual amount of casualties did Truman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe would occur if the A-bomb was not used. The second is whether the Japanese government would have agreed to end the war if the A-bomb had not been dropped.

On both of these fundamental questions, the evidence indicates that Nobile and the revisionists have not made a strong case. Indeed, the very latest scholarship has all but demolished the revisionist accounts on which Nobile depends. Writing in the Pacific Historical Review in November 1998, Sadao Asada offered his own thoroughly researched answer in his seminal article,"The Shock of the Atomic Bomb and Japan's Decision to Surrender--A Reconsideration." His article reveals that the bomb and only the bomb galvanized Japan's peace party to take actions necessary to terminate the Pacific War. What he accomplishes in a virtual tour de force is to correlate the day by day decisions of the Japanese government from August 6th through the 14th in the context of how the use of the A-bomb worked to produce acceptance of the Potsdam terms of surrender. His criticism, that to the Japanese historians,"the sense of victimization takes precedence over historical analysis," may be extended as well to Mr. Nobile, for whom the desire to brand those who saw a need to use the bomb as a group of war criminals equally takes precedence over the task of the historian.

What Asado shows is that Prime Minister Suzuki, before being informed of Soviet entry into the Pacific War, had decided that because of the A-bomb, war between Japan and the USA could no longer be carried on. And Foreign Minister Togo added that"since the atomic bomb had made its appearance, continuation of the war had become utterly impossible." With the news of the second atomic bomb dropped at Nagasaki, Suzuki feared that rather than stage an invasion--for which Japan was prepared---the U.S. would keep on dropping atomic bombs. In other words, both bombs had the effect of jolting the peace party to move toward surrender. Asado describes what he calls the"shock effect" of the Nagasaki bomb on Japan's military and political leaders.

As Asado points out, the dropping of the two atomic bombs was the equivalent of American aid to Japan's beleaguered peace party. Thus, Kido Koichi, the emperor's main advisor, agreed that"we of the peace party were assisted by the atomic bomb in our endeavor to end the war." He agreed, in other words, with the very man Nobile attacks, Henry L. Stimson, who understood the"profound psychological shock" the bomb would have. As Asado writes:"This 'strategy of shock' worked, for it encouraged the peace party to redouble its efforts to bring about a decision for surrender." Stimson, therefore, was correct when he wrote Truman that the Japanese peace party yielded to the militarists"only at the point of the pistol." Both the Japanese peace group and the U.S. advisors accepted the atomic bomb and its use as the main instrument for ending the war, a linkage that Asado notes"rested on the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." It was, as Rear Admiral Takagi Sokichi said, one of the"gifts from Heaven," since it averted an impending and probable military revolt by the Japanese generals, and hence guaranteed acceptance of the Potsdam terms.

The Japanese leaders, although some had already begun to hope for peace, did not face the reality of defeat until the Hiroshima bomb, which was needed to accelerate and indeed prevent the peace process from collapse, allowing the Emperor to override the military diehards with the acceptance of surrender.

While Nobile pines away about U.S. war crimes, to this day the Japanese authorities fail to admit their own responsibility for the war.

Nobile also raises the much discussed theory that the bomb's real purpose was to end the war before the scheduled Soviet entry---a charge that goes back to the writing of the British left-wing intellectual P.M.S. Blackett, and which, of course, became the heart of Gar Alperovitz's argument. (As usual, we have the old quotes from Admiral Leahy, Eisenhower, Stimson McGeorge Bundy and Herbert Hoover.) As for the impact of eventual Soviet entry, which was expected by the Japanese government and for which they were prepared, it paled when compared to the bomb, which was unexpected entirely and which changed the factors they had to consider.

Asado also notes that Japan was busy trying to perfect its own atomic bomb, and had it succeeded,"there is no doubt that the Japanese military would not have hesitated to use the atomic bomb." But their scientists were far behind---they, unlike the Soviets, did not have the advantage of an espionage network firmly planted within the Manhattan Project---and they were totally caught off guard, believing that no power would be able to finish constructing an A-bomb during the course of the war. What is important, however, is that no Japanese military or political leaders questioned the legitimacy of using the atomic bomb as a weapon that could win the war for their side.

Now, Nobile can quote Japanese civilians, thinkers and political leaders as much as he wants---but as Colonel Ogata Ken'ichi, a military aide to the Emperor, wrote in his diary :"Is there not somehow a way to invent a new weapon that would forestall the enemy? If we had such a weapon it would then be possible to annihilate the enemy's task force and attack the mainland of the United States, thus turning the tables and affording a golden opportunity to reverse the tide of the war." Then it might have been San Francisco or Los Angeles that was destroyed, and Japanese and German leaders might have been putting U.S. authorities on trial for the bombing of Dresden and the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

"It is fantasy, not history, to believe that the end of the war was at hand before the use of the atomic bomb."

Indeed, while Nobile pines away about U.S. war crimes, to this day the Japanese authorities fail to admit their own responsibility for the war, or indeed, to acknowledge candidly in their own nation their country's sordid history of brutality and war crimes. The fact is that without the use of the A-bomb, Japan more than likely would not have surrendered, despite all of its serious problems. Its army had built up to 900,000 soldiers ready to defend against the planned American invasion of Kyushu, and would have been able to totally crush the first wave of invaders. No wonder that grunts in the field, like the future writer Paul Fussell, cheered mightily when the word came that Japan had surrendered, and the Pacific war was over. As Asado notes, the dropping of the A-bomb"forestalled sacrifices on both sides far surpassing those at Hiroshima and Nagasaki." (My emphasis.)

Since the time that Sadao Asado wrote his article, his findings have been confirmed and amplified upon by Richard B. Frank, a former air platoon leader who fought in Vietnam and is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. Writing in his magisterial book, Downfall:The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, (New York: Random House, 1999), Frank offers new research from previously unused and classified sources, along with closely detailed arguments, that Japan was nowhere near to surrendering in August of 1945, and that despite the horror of its effects, the use of the atomic bombs was superior to any other existing alternative, and saved both American and Japanese lives. As Frank writes,"it is fantasy, not history, to believe that the end of the war was at hand before the use of the atomic bomb." Moreover, Frank argues that despite the horrors resulting from use of the bomb, it is incorrect to assume that"any termination of the conflict that avoided the use of nuclear weapons would have been preferable." This point is, indeed, at the heart of the present issue. If Frank is correct, and I believe his tight analysis successfully makes the case for his argument, then the result of a battle that extended the war would have made things worse for both Americans and Japanese.

On the issue of the bomb being dropped on a civilian target, Frank notes that the accepted presumption from the start was that the bomb would be used when ready, a decision made by FDR and carried out by Truman. Indeed, to deliver the needed psychological shock, as the minutes of the Interim Committee noted, there was general agreement"that we could not give the Japanese any warning, that we could not concentrate on a civilian area, but that we should seek to make a profound psychological impression on as many Japanese as possible"; thus the desired target of a war plant" closely surrounded by workers' houses." Obviously, as Barton Bernstein has noted, the committee members knew that families lived in workers' houses.

Unlike Nobile, Frank argues that Truman, like FDR and their advisers,"did not truly grasp the real horror of these weapons." But he adds that Vannevar Bush and James Conant"actually believed that unless the huge and hideous effects of the weapons were graphically demonstrated on cities, people and leaders would not accede to the surrender of national sovereignty necessary to enforce an international control system for nuclear weapons." Like Asadao, Frank writes that after the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, it was still the case that even if the Emperor now wanted to terminate the war quickly, he still balked at accepting the Potsdam Declaration and doubted whether the Imperial Japanese Army would comply with a command to end the war. That result was not to occur until the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki.

The current retroactive opposition by Americans to the A-bomb use, however, discards the possibility that the very demonstrated power of the bomb led world powers to do all possible in the future to avert its actual use again.

Hopefully, those readers interested will read Frank's last two chapters, titled"Assessing Realities" and"Alternatives and Conclusions," in which he discusses cogently what Truman's critics have argued about the supposed lack of necessity for using the A-bomb, the projected American casualties if an invasion took place without use of the bomb, and the subsequent moral issues that arrive from one's analysis of Truman's decision. Frank notes that critics have chastised the consensus view as"patriotic orthodoxy," and he writes that this held"an invulnerable hold on the generation that fought the war." Of course, it is this orthodoxy that Philip Nobile and others have fought, which reaches its epitome in the attempt to brand Truman a war criminal.

Frank writes that he seeks to"address these issues by disentangling the essential factual realities from the speculative alternatives." In an extended endnote, Frank takes up the claim that Dwight D. Eisenhower told Henry L.Stimson that the use of"that awful thing" was not necessary and that Japan was"already defeated," a quote that Nobile repeats as the truth. Frank notes that only one source exists for this, Ike's own postwar recollections, with a second variant written in 1963"that somehow gained much additional detail" from the first telling. He notes that"the strongest refutation of this recollection is Stimson's own contemporaneous account," his detailed diary that recounts all discussion of the A-bomb, and which mentions both meetings he held with Eisenhower and which" contain no hint of such an exchange," a fact also reinforced by the official and semiofficial records of the period and other diaries." He calls this a case of Eisenhower's"flawed memory." Moreover, he notes that the General had a limited knowledge of Pacific developments, and he cites a letter written by Eisenhower in July of 1945 indicating that he had not the"slightest idea of what is going to happen in the Pacific."

My question is a simple one. Why do Nobile and other critics assume that the Eisenhower version is necessarily correct? Indeed, Frank writes--and his words apply to Nobile and other critics--that revisionist historians and a-historical moralists use Eisenhower's unconfirmed recollection as"proof of an authoritative contemporary American appreciation of the military and political situation in the Pacific," when in fact Eisenhower had no"expertise on the state of war in the Pacific." Secondly, they cite Eisenhower's statement as if it is true while at the same time argue that postwar statements from Truman and Stimson have to be discounted. Both arguments are incompatible. But what they reveal is a simple case of history that is dictated by a contemporary left-wing and anti-American political agenda.

Nobile, of course, also cites the words of Admiral Leahy approvingly from his 1950 memoirs, in which Leahy spoke of the"barbarous weapon" which was of no"material assistance in our war against Japan," and in which he asserted that the U.S."had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages." Mr. Nobile concurs. Leahy's argument actually was that the bomb was immoral and unnecessary, since a blockade could have secured Japan's capitulation. Frank asks:"If one accepts his moral criteria, how can the firebombing and atomic bombs be condemned yet the blockade pass muster?" His point is that a blockade has itself always been considered a barbarous form of warfare because its effects do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Moreover, aerial bombardment caused civilian deaths in the hundreds of thousands, and the blockade in China killed noncombatants in the millions. The institution of one in Japan would have had a similar devastating effect.

There are, as has been said, some arguments so stupid that only an intellectual could be counted on to make them.

On the question of what amount of casualties would have occurred if the A-bombs had not been dropped, Frank notes the report commissioned for Stimson by W. B. Shockley, who argued that defeating Japan by invasion would have cost five to ten million Japanese deaths and between 1.7 million and 4 million American casualties, including perhaps 400,000 to 800,000 fatalities. This report appeared precisely when Ultra information showed that Japan's defenses in Kyushu exceeded old estimates by three times in combat divisions and four times in aircraft, guaranteeing very high casualties. It was in this context that Truman had to decide on the use of the A-bomb, a context that Nobile, of course, ignores. The point, Frank writes, is that"potential ranges [of casualties] reach the large numbers cited by Truman and Stimson," and he adds that it is likely that at Potsdam on July 25, General Marshall did give the President"a basis to believe that casualties would substantially exceed earlier projections." He goes on to cite contemporary evidence that Secretary Stimson feared that an invasion would have the highest of cost, including"immense American casualty totals."

The bottom line is that Frank argues that use of the atomic bomb saved more lives--Japanese included--than would have been the case had the A-bomb not been used. Nuclear weapons did indeed cost the lives of between 100,000 and 200,000 Japanese noncombatants at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as thousands more who died from incendiary raids. But as Frank puts it,"those Japanese noncombatants held no stronger right not to be slaughtered than did the vast number of Chinese and other Asian noncombatants, the Japanese noncombatants in Soviet captivity in Asia, or the Japanese noncombatants (not to mention Allied prisoners of war and civilian internees) who would have perished of starvation and disease in the final agony of the blockade." Only the bomb forced the Emperor to accept surrender, and alternatives would not have ended the war or reduced human suffering.

Of course, revisionists like Nobile argue that a demonstration could have been held, and actual use of the A-bomb on a target was not needed. But even J.Robert Oppenheimer retorted that no display would be impressive enough to shock the Japanese into surrender, assuming that the two available bombs would have worked---and even if it had, that would have left but one to use. In fact, no one at the time argued that the A-bomb should not be used on a city in which non-combatants lived.

The current retroactive opposition by Americans to the A-bomb use, however, discards the possibility that the very demonstrated power of the bomb led world powers to do all possible in the future to avert its actual use again. Moreover, the difference between nuclear and regular weapons is not as large as it seems. Incendiary bombs killed almost 100,000 Japanese--as many as were killed at Hiroshima--and destroyed 250,000 buildings, leaving scores of Japanese homeless. Such bombing would have been continued, intensified and advanced along with a blockade and invasion. Would this have been a moral improvement over Hiroshima, and would Philip Nobile decades later be writing to accuse the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of committing war crimes by fighting with traditional means?

Indeed, in arguing that Truman is a war criminal, Philip Nobile and others really are saying that any war that harms noncombatants is criminal. I'm sorry to say, but that is the nature of warfare. Does Nobile want to go back and accuse General Sherman of war crimes for the burning of Georgia in the Civil War? Bombing did indeed hurt enemy morale, and the American actions--horrible as they were- were taken in the context of the Bataan death march, the rape of Nanking, the bombing by Japan of Shanghai, the forced prostitution of Korean women and the torture of prisoners of war. For these violations of the Geneva Convention and human rights, the Japanese, of course, have not only not apologized, but have hidden the reality of their nation's actions from its contemporary citizens. It is not surprising that in one of his articles, Nobile finds that his Japanese audiences all vote to condemn the U.S. and Truman for war crimes, while at the same time managing to see their own nation as purely a victim.

The A-bomb saved American and Japanese lives, ended the war quickly, forced a Japanese surrender, and precluded an invasion of the home islands. As Robert J. Maddox has written, referring to the planned invasion of the islands and a low estimate of 193,500 casualties,"only an intellectual could assert that 193,500 casualties were too insignificant to have caused Truman to use the atomic bombs." As a former chief of the Japanese Medical Association has said,"When one considers the possibility that the Japanese military would have sacrificed the entire nation if it were not for the atomic bomb attack, then this bomb might be described as having saved Japan." Is it too much to ask that Philip Nobile and the revisionist historians understand this?

We are to be thankful, however, that armchair accusatory writers like Philip Nobile are working journalists living in a free country, and were not policy makers serving an American administration engaged in a life and death struggle with a vicious enemy, and thereby forced to make tough and sometimes awful decisions that meant the taking of human lives. There are, as has been said, some arguments so stupid that only an intellectual could be counted on to make them. We have seen some of these arguments in the brief accusing Harry S. Truman of war crimes written by Philip Nobile. Our nation and its citizens should be proud of the leadership exercised by Harry S. Truman in August of 1945. Nothing Philip Nobile has written will change the judgment of history that paints Harry S. Truman as an outstanding President. As Donald Kagan has written in his essay"Why America Dropped the Bomb," (Commentary, Sept.1995)"Americans may look back on that decision [to use the A-bomb] with sadness, but without shame." One cannot, however, say the same about those who try posthumously to paint our leaders--when faced with tragic decisions--as war criminals.


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KateyCarleyBrittany FinkGatesGibson - 3/17/2009

We believe that Harry Truman is guilty of maliciously killing 200,000 innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including 544 students from First Hiroshima Municipal Girls School. This is against Article 6 paragraph b of the Nuremberg, which states that, “the wanton destruction of cities towns and villages or devastation not justifies by military necessity.” Truman must of intended to commit slaughters of the civilians, because he would of aimed at a military base or a bomb demonstration. The laws and customs of war distinguish between discriminate and indiscriminate military actions. Truman claimed Hiroshima was, “an important military base,” even though it was left five months untouched, worrying about the six other Japanese city's before destroying Hiroshima. According, to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1902 and the Paris Peace Pact of 1928 Civilian slaughters were considered criminal.

We decided to make Harry Truman guilty, because According to War Crimes are Namely, violations of the law or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoner of war on persons of the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity. “Military necessity,” refers to emergency battle conditions during which armies and navies are permitted wider latitude under international law. This term does not refer to massacres planned many weeks in advance thousand of miles from Japan. Truman also never said that destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a "military necessity." Truman dropped the bomb irresponsibly, because he dropped it without knowing the affects of it, and without considering the many civilians. Truman's Chief of Staff, Assistant Secretary of War, former Ambassador of Japan, Navy under secretary, and Joint Chief staff all urged him to at least demonstrate bomb, give a more specific warning, and/or change terms of surrender. According to http://www.cfo.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/hiroshima.htm, Truman warned that if Japan still refused to surrender unconditionally, as demanded by the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, the United States would attack additional targets with equally devastating results, which means that he knew what the bomb had the potential to do. According to http://mothra.rerf.or.jp/ENG/A-bomb/History/Damages.html, Wooden houses within 2.3 kilometers of ground zero collapsed. Concrete buildings near ground zero (thus hit by the blast from above) had ceilings crushed and windows and doors blown off. Many people were trapped under fallen structures and burned to death. People exposure within 500 meters of ground zero was fatal. People exposed at distances of 3 to 5 kilometers later showed symptoms of aftereffects, including radiation-induced cancers. Lennox Hinds, a U.S. professor specializing in international law, said the bombings were the act of “an indiscriminate extermination of all forms of life,” and that the targeted cities were like “guinea pigs” used in experiments to measure the impact of an atomic bombing.


Jonathan Dresner - 4/1/2007

While I'm thrilled to see evidence that one of you has read some of the arguments here, I have to point out that the warchronicle estimate of Japanese civilian deaths is absurdly low. The two atomic bombings and the firebombing of Tokyo alone account for almost that many deaths, and there were literally months of urban bombardments besides that. I don't have the exact figures at hand, but I'd double that figure, at least.


rachel thor - 4/1/2007


In general i am very against war, killing and destruction, but if we're already in the middle of a war with a massive death toll, ending it sooner is better than later. People make the argument that we killed so many civilian lives in dropping the bombs, but according to warchronicle.com there were a total of 350,000 Japanese civilian deaths in comparison to 2,000,000 military deaths. this is less than 1 civilian death per every 5 military deaths. Looking at total deaths in the war however, there is about 1 civilian death per every 3 military deaths, so in comparison Japan had less civilian casualties than the rest of the world.
Based on military necessity to end the war, our only other option besides bombing was to invade Japan with our own troop in man-to-man combat. The projected death rates of this choice soar above the amount killed with the bombs, for both Japan and America. Basically, we actually saved lives in the long run by ending the war quickly.
Also, Truman’s intention was not to recklessly injure and kill Japanese civilians, it was to damage military communications and force them to surrender. Since intent is part of the definition of “murder” according to war crimes, Truman isn’t guilty.


Edward Siegler - 7/28/2004

There's no reason to respect fraudulent attempts at altering the historical record. This is what the above assertions are based on. Some writers have gone through historical source materials and cut out what is of use to them, then constructed ridiculous theories with little basis in fact. These books have often sold well, which provides ambitious scribblers with an ulterior motive for writing them. Anti-Americanism, and during the Cold War, a slavish devotion to Communist doctrine, have also played a role. Characters such as Saddam Hussein have siezed upon these theories in order to advance their adjendas. Who is America to judge me when they have committed war crimes such as Hiroshima, Hussein has recently asked.

The bombardments were not experiments. The experiments were done in the New Mexico desert. These were real deployments of a new weapon, which was considered at the time to be simply a new and more powerful type of explosive. After their use, attitudes changed and atomic weapons became classified in the same way as poison gas - something too terrible to be used again. Hiroshima was the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army and was therefore a military target.

Truman went to Potsdam specifically to get the Soviets involved and to declare war, because he had no idea what it would take to defeat Japan and believed he needed Soviet help. There is little evidence in the historical record outside of a few remarks presaging the Cold War that would indicate the "show of power in front of Stalin" theory. Some writers have taken these quotes out of contex and strung them together in order to give this impression, which is an approach similar to that of the Holocaust deniers, who patch similar quotes from Nazi officials together to give the impression that there was no real attempt at exterminating the Jews.

Towards the summer of 1945 it was becoming clear that the Japanese will to resist was stiffening. The battle of Okinawa, one of the costliest in U.S. history, is proof. This battle didn't end until late June. The Japanese were making no preparations to surrender. This is another blatant distortion promoted by a few deluded writers who have taken some MAGIC intercepts of Japanese diplomatic communication and chopped out some exchanges between the Japanese foriegn minister and his ambassador to Russia. They were hoping to enlist the Soviet's help in securing highly favorable peace terms that would include no occupation of the home islands, no change of government in Japan, the Japanese military disarming itself and all war crimes trials to be conducted by Japan.

The lack of resistance shown to U.S. bombers is testimony to the effectiveness of U.S. forces in destroying the Japanese airforce and the factories that made their planes. In addition, the Japanese were hording planes to use in Kamakazie attacks. However the Bockscar, which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, was attacked by Japanese fighter aircraft over Kokura, in part forcing it to change targets. Just imagine if the Japanese had been able to shoot the plane down and recover the atomic bomb it was carrying.

Yes, the Japanese war machine was greatly weakened, but Japan's leaders did not want to face reality and surrender. They instead choose to have women and children trained to launch suicidal attacks at the expected Allied invasion, thereby creating real doubt that civilians could be considered non-combatants.

The Manhattan Project was initiated specifically in response to Germany's own atomic bomb program. The bomb was made to be used on Germany only the war in Europe ended before it was ready.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit in order to shock the Japanese into surrendering. Any other conclusion simply isn't supported by the facts.


Edward Siegler - 7/28/2004

Here are few errors in the above post:

1) Yes, Hiroshima was the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army, so referring to it as a "Japanese Army base" is accurate.

2) Only a few scientists were somewhat aware of the bomb's radiation capabilities at the time. It wasn't until well after the war that this aspect of the bomb became common knowledge.

3) Truman never stated that the bomb was used in order to inflict revenge on Japan. The statement that they had been "repayed many times" refers to the entire course of the war, not just the atomic bombings. His point is that what comes around goes around.

4) There was no attempt to lie to the American people about Hiroshima. The reasons for the bomb's use were self-evident to all at the time.


mikey - 4/7/2003

who is this guy?


Jimmy Michelson - 2/23/2003

In my own research of the bombing of Hiroshima, I happened upon President Truman's statement to the people after the bomb was dropped.
"Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British "Grand Slam" which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.
"The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.
"It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its powers has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East."

I found this statement disconcerting for a couple of reasons. First, Truman refers to Hiroshima as a military base? I don't think I even need to discuss that any further. Next, he doesn't refer to the bomb's radiation capabilities, which everone was fully aware of. Truman speaks of repaying the Japanese manyfold. Is that what the country of justice, the country of objective equality must resort to? Petty revenge, not only eye for an eye, but "manyfold"? Last time I checked, thousands of Americans did not contract cancer after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I don't see why such a just, noble act as some seem to refer to it had to be lied about to the American people.


Cory Ross - 2/23/2003

While I do respect the belief of many Americans that the dropping of the bomb was necessary to end the war and save lives, it is important to realize that the dropping of the bomb was driven by several ulterior motives, many less-righteous than the protection of American lives. For one, the bombardments were experiments, to test an untested weapon upon civilian lives. Truman and his administration had at first pledged to use the bomb only on a military target, but later decided that to see the destructive capabilities of the atomic bomb, they should use a larger target. Truman also wished to end the war before the Soviets got involved, and to make a show of power in front of Stalin. Towards the summer of 1945, it was becoming clear that the Japanese were weakening and preparing to surrender (the fact that bombers flew over mainland Japan with little or no resistance proves this), but Truman didn't want to give the Soviets time to invade. I think it is also noteworthy to mention that the atomic bomb would never have been used against Germany in a similar situation. In Truman's own diary, he referred to the "Japs" as savages and barbarians. So while you may speak of the bombardment of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as righteous acts in defense of American life, the bombs were really dropped for the sake of experimentation, anti-communist paranoia, and racism, all at the cost of innocent civilian life.


Gus Moner - 12/25/2002

I agree the article is full of irrelevancies and fails to address relevant areas.

Total war and scorched land policies were initiated in the USSR front by both participants, where neither combatant adhered to Red Cross or the International Rules of War. Aerial bombing by all sides are and were crimes.
Saying you are targeting legitimate targets and the casualties are collateral damage is also immoral today. No such claims were even attempted then. Everyone wanted the war ended and were used to carnage. Indeed, the carnage had turned all the combatants into animals.

Clearly, with peace feelers being sent by Japan and a collapse of resistance Japan was on the brink of collapse, nearly out of fuel and food. The bombs on civilians were unnecessary.

Yes, Nuremberg was victor’s justice. Nonetheless, it helped set the stage for this argument now. It could hardly have been part of the proceedings. What should be the historical verdict I dare not venture yet. One has to judge actions in their milieu to be fair.


Gus Moner - 12/25/2002

The core casualties question remains the key. Did we wantonly trade Japanese civilian casualties for US military ones? Therein lies the basis of the argument for conviction. The bomb(s) could have been tested near enough to Japan to help them decide for peace.

The magnitude of the weapon of mass destruction used required the utmost prudence. Nonetheless, it was another time, and the issues now being raised against the President were then tertiary at best. The ignorance existing or the unimportance attached to the issue, reasoned mostly on arithmetic, does not however, justify the act nor minimise the grave cruelty of it. I am not generally in favour of judging people’s past actions with new ideals, laws or morals, and this was not two decades ago but 57 fast-paced years with significant progress on these issues, perhaps fuelled in part by this barbarous act.

Today, when we see our leaders speak of war as if playing the bully on the block, with minimised damage explanations and irreverent attitudes towards war's perils, we need to ensure our leaders understand the grave responsibility of unleashing wars and the unpredictable and often more dangerous consequences wars deliver.


Benjamin Raty - 8/14/2002

Mr. Kelsey has raised a very valid point - or perhaps I should say, has illuminated the point which is the foundation of this discussion. Which is, that an investigation of whether or not war crimes were perpetrated by the Allies (and specifically, President Truman) is an investigation of ethics, not efficacy (the exception of course being utilitarianism).

Too many emotional outbursts arise when this discussion is raised, thus preventing an honest assesment of the question "Was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki morally justifiable?" If it was, then those who propogate such an argument should lay out succinctly their various reasons for believing so, and likewise those who condemn the decision on moral grounds should explain why and how they reached this conclusion.

Ad hominem attacks such as labeling an individual as un-American for investigating an action which touches upon their conscience is troubling, to say the least.


Bill Kelsey - 8/9/2002

Maybe a few facts would help here:

"Are they (the area/obliteration/saturation/carpet bombing of cities) considered unacceptable today?" It may depend on who we want to find this acceptable or unacceptable. It is certainly considered a violation of civilian immunity, which means it is a unacceptable under international law and just war doctrine. It is probably acceptable to those who disregard notions of just war or the rule of law during war -- that is, proponents of what is known as total war.

That these (among other) acts by the US and GB were not allowed to be raised at the post-war Nuremburg Tribunal is one of the reasons many regard the Nuremburg Tribunal to have failed to escape the ignominy of being another exercise of victor's justice.

"Were these considered war crimes in 1945?" One might want to consider the 1944 article "The Morality of Obliteration Bombing" by the American Catholic theologian John Ford, which detailed why this bombing is a clear violation of just war and immoral. Ford's seminal article became a major source for the rejection of the use of atomic/hydrogen/nuclear bombs by American churches.

As to whether "American leftists ... universally applauded the A-bomb's use", one merely needs to review the actual responses from the period. There was no single, universal response to these weapons or their use (although there was, of course, universal relief at the end of the war -- but that is not at all the same thing).

Part of the problem with Radosch's article is that it primarily presents irrelevancies. His central theme is merely that the atomic bombings did shorten the war -- but this has never been in dispute. The central question is not whether they were effective, but whether they were appropriate. The essence of war crimes is not that the criminal actions taken were ineffective, but that they were wrong, either intrinsically or in the actual circumstances underwhich they were taken. In this instance, one could argue that the atomic bombings were not appropriate because they were not necessary (there were other ways to end the war which would not have entailed the deliberate killing of 200 thousand non-combatant, including American POWs, which we knew were being held in the target cities), or that they were by their very nature wrong (since they deliberately and primarily targetted non-combatant civilians). Nobile makes both points.

On this same theme -- the deliberate targettng of non-combatant civilians is central to what we today comdemn as "terrorism", and as "evil". One would think we in the US would have become a bit more sensitive to this in the last year.


Bill Kelsey - 8/9/2002

Maybe a few facts would help here:

"Are they (the area/obliteration/saturation/carpet bombing of cities) considered unacceptable today?" It may depend on who we want to find this acceptable or unacceptable. It is certainly considered a violation of civilian immunity, which means it is a unacceptable under international law and just war doctrine. It is probably acceptable to those who disregard notions of just war or the rule of law during war -- that is, proponents of what is known as total war.

That these (among other) acts by the US and GB were not allowed to be raised at the post-war Nuremburg Tribunal is one of the reasons many regard the Nuremburg Tribunal to have failed to escape the ignominy of being another exercise of victor's justice.

"Were these considered war crimes in 1945?" One might want to consider the 1944 article "The Morality of Obliteration Bombing" by the American Catholic theologian John Ford, which detailed why this bombing is a clear violation of just war and immoral. Ford's seminal article became a major source for the rejection of the use of atomic/hydrogen/nuclear bombs by American churches.

As to whether "American leftists ... universally applauded the A-bomb's use", one merely needs to review the actual responses from the period. There was no single, universal response to these weapons or their use (although there was, of course, universal relief at the end of the war -- but that is not at all the same thing).

Part of the problem with Radosch's article is that it primarily presents irrelevancies. His central theme is merely that the atomic bombings did shorten the war -- but this has never been in dispute. The central question is not whether they were effective, but whether they were appropriate. The essence of war crimes is not that the criminal actions taken were ineffective, but that they were wrong, either intrinsically or in the actual circumstances underwhich they were taken. In this instance, one could argue that the atomic bombings were not appropriate because they were not necessary (there were other ways to end the war which would not have entailed the deliberate killing of 200 thousand non-combatant, including American POWs, which we knew were being held in the target cities), or that they were by their very nature wrong (since they deliberately and primarily targetted non-combatant civilians). Nobile makes both points.

On this same theme -- the deliberate targettng of non-combatant civilians is central to what we today comdemn as "terrorism", and as "evil". One would think we in the US would have become a bit more sensitive to this in the last year.


Don Kates - 8/8/2002

If there is any criticism of Radosch's magnificent send-up of Nobile it is that he does not have space to reproach Nobile's trivialization of the issue. Hiroshima came only after the Nazis were subject to British area bombing, and the Japanese to American area bombing. These actually were war crimes based on pre-WWII standards. Are they considered unacceptable today? After three years of them, were they considered war crimes in 1945? Certainly not by American leftists who universally applauded the A-bomb's use.
If there is a real "war crime" issue it encompasses "crimes" that occurred in the preceding war years -- and Nobile trivializes and obscures it by fallacious and tendentious arguments about the A-bomb


Richard Dyke - 8/7/2002

My only comment about Mr. Radosh is that I wish I had read him first, rather taking on an analysis of the Truman accusations first. Radosh provides ample argument dismissing the war criminal accusations against Harry Truman and does so using solid historical research rather than hindsight.


Arnold Beichman - 8/3/2001

In crimnal law, there is a category of accessory after the fact.Philip Nobile should also be seeking indictment as a war criminal, Josef Stalin, since he benefitted mightily by the U.S. atomic bomb campaign, so much so that he was able to declare war on Japan after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If Truman is guilty than Stalin is equally guilty but Nobile ignores that. Why ?