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Truman on Trial: Guilty

Defense counsel Ron Radosh suggests that a case"based on a highly legalistic and a-historical citation of Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter" is insufficient to convict Harry Truman of war crimes for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Just as the Nazis and the Japanese were liable for war crimes, Truman is guilty for"violations of the laws or customs of war" through the"wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity." Prosecutor Philip Nobile makes clear that Truman sought simply to ravage Japan, devastating cities so completely as to shock Japan into unconditional surrender. This"wanton destruction" was enough for this juror, but Nobile further proves that the bombs were unnecessary as Japan teetered on the edge of surrender in late 1945. Still, he continues, with the planned invasion of Japan months away, Truman possessed numerous other alternatives to the bomb. Finally, Nobile maintains that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not of strategic significance (evidenced by the lack of attention paid to them during previous air campaigns), and thus"not justified by military necessity." Based on the Charter, the precedents of Nuremberg and Tokyo, and Nobile's evidence, Truman's guilt is indubitable and a larger fight is hereby commenced.

For this historian, a"guilty" verdict takes a much needed shot at the growing anti-intellectualism of the Bush era. While some argue that arsenic is not harmful and global warming is a socialist conspiracy against divine industrialization, Radosh suggests that individuals who denounce the decisions of past"heroes" are un-American and intellectually bankrupt. He degrades Nobile's unique interpretation as an attempt"to rewrite the verdict of history by forging a new consensus," and denounces revisionism as a-historical. Unfortunately for Radosh, however, Nobile and history march forward. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob argued convincingly that the revising of history may provide"the only way to move forward, perhaps not on a straight line of progress into the future, but forward toward a more intellectually alive, democratic community, toward the kind of society in which we would like to live." (Telling the Truth about History, 1994) Arguments like Nobile's allows us to do just that.

Non-historians may also take great comfort in this decision. Radosh argues that this debate itself is reflective of frivolous"left-wing" history and dictated by an"anti-American political agenda." That is neither the case for this exercise, nor for this verdict. If fact, the opposite is true. What was good for the Nazis at Nuremberg and the Japanese in Tokyo is also appropriate for Truman. Might does not make right. To the victors should not go the history. Power must not triumph over reason. America cannot be exempt from international rules because, despite Radosh's appeal to patriotism in lieu of candor, there is nothing more American than the promise of equal justice under the law.