Truman on Trial: Not Guilty


Mr. Maddox is Professor Emeritus of History, Pennsylvania State University.

Philip Nobile's shrill tirade is long on invective and sarcasm, woefully deficient in logic and historical accuracy. It is as if he were caught in a time warp, repeating the discredited cliches of 1960s and 70s revisionism.

In addition to the authors Ronald Radosh mentions, the work of Herbert Bix, Lawrence Freedman, and Saki Dockrill renders completely untenable the revisionist claim that the Japanese would have surrendered during the summer of 1945 if only they had been assured that they could retain the emperor. Robert Newman has shown that the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey, long a favorite of revisionists, was a scam. Its conclusions were not based on what Japanese officials actually said, but were rigged to support the advocates of conventional bombing. Finally, D. M. Giangreco has demolished the"low casualty" figures Barton Bernstein and Gar Alperovitz have been peddling for years.

Regarding the last point, Nobile in his" cross examination" of Truman asks him whether he can produce any War Department document that mentions high figures. He has Truman answer"No." That is wrong. An annex (August 30, 1944) to a Joint Chiefs of Staff directive (JCS 924) stated that on the basis of losses suffered on Saipan, an invasion of Japan"might cost us half a million American lives and many times that number in wounded."

Nobile is equally misleading in citing a number of generals and admirals who later wrote or said that the atomic bombs were not necessary to end the war. Well, of course, but when? After a bloody invasion coupled with conventional bombing? After months, if not years, of blockade and conventional bombing? Both alternatives, by the way, would have inflicted horrible suffering on the women and children Nobile professes to care so much about.

Two things should be kept in mind here. First, that at the 18 June 1945 meeting Nobile refers to, the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended an invasion to Truman. Second, that of the officers Nobile mentions, not one of them--not Leahy nor anyone else--ever claimed to have uttered a peep of protest against the bombs to Truman at the time. Indeed, on 9 August 1945, General Spaatz and General Nathan Twining recommended that a third bomb be dropped on Tokyo. Admiral Nimitz and General LeMay concurred. Eisenhower later claimed that he protested to Stimson, but there is no evidence for his recollection and parts of it are demonstrably false (he said he was with Stimson when news of the successful atomic test took place. He was not.)

Space precludes a thorough airing of Nobile's other distortions. One point should be made. According to Nobile's"logic," if Truman had unnecessarily prolonged the war by failing to use atomic bombs, he should have been tried as a war criminal. That is, he should have been charged with the number of additional killings that actually took place because of his actions, as opposed to what would then have been only the theoretical deaths the bombs would have caused. Oh, please.

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Edward Siegler - 10/28/2004

Maddox is a true authority on the use of the atomic bomb. He is the author of Weapons for Victory. This book is an excellent overview of the phony controversy on this issue. It destroys point by point every assertion made by the so-called revisionists. Along with Truman and the Hiroshima Cult by Robert P. Newman it is essential reading on this subject.

Maddox is also the author The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War. The chapter on Atomic Diplomacy leaves no doubt about the total inaccuracy of this wrongly respected work of Hiroshima revisionism.

Edward Siegler - 10/28/2004

The views of military leaders were not regarded lightly. At the time all of them were unanimously in support of using the bomb. Not one, including all the individuals quoted above, spoke out against its use. It was only after the bombs were used that these leaders had second thoughts about the new and freightening era that they had begun. All of the above quotes were written well after World War II had ended.

Leahy didn't believe that the atomic bomb would work but had no objection to a planned third atomic bombing of Tokyo after he was proven wrong. His naval aircraft regularly attacked civilians, making his comments about the ethics of the a-bomb hypocritical.

Nimitz wanted a third bomb dropped on Tokyo after nothing was heard from the Japanese after Nagasaki. Truman overruled him on humanitarian grounds. Nimitz and the other naval leaders quoted above thought the Japanese could have been starved into surrender by a naval blockade from their fleets. Starving an entire country is hardly a humane alternative to destroying two cities.

Macarthur was likely insulted that he wasn't asked for his opinion on the bomb before it was used. He later wanted to nuke the Chinese after they interfered with his plans in Korea. Some peacenik.

Some of Eisenhower's papers indicate that he in fact supported the use of the bomb at the time and that as the commander in Europe he was largely ignorant of the situation in the Pacific. His recollection of this conversation with Stimpson is contradicted by other sources.

Air Force commanders felt threatened by the possibility that the bomb might diminish the importance of the Air Force and lead to a much smaller budget. Their point is that continued conventional bombing could have done the job. Another humane alternative.

The assertion that Truman and Byrnes delayed the end of the war is absurd and without any support in the historical record. Anyone who has read the Potsdam Proclamation can see that it presented very clear terms to the Japanese and allowed for the possibility that the emperor could remain. And there were no real Japanese peace feelers. There was a weak attempt to engage the Soviet Union as an intermediary in negotiating highly lenient terms. This took place on the initiative of foreign minister Togo without the knowledge or consent of the Japanese government. Togo feared for his life at the hands of the military which was completely opposed to peace.

JM - 1/18/2003

If the case for Truman is that the bombs were MILITARILY necessary, then the opinions of top US MILITARY men (see below) can hardly be dismissd so lightly.

Further arguments against Truman and Byrnes are that they DELAYED the end of the war and COST American and Asian lives by DELIBERATELY refusing to clarify the surrender terms, by deliberately stalling Sino-Soviet talks, by deliberately postponing the Potsdam conference, and by deliberately ignoring the many Japanese peace feelers.

Quotes by US military leaders WWII.

"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.....My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted the ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."
Admiral William D. Leahy. 5-star admiral, president of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combined American-British Chiefs of Staff, and chief of staff to the commander-in-chief of the army and navy from 1942 - 1945 (Roosevelt) and 1945 - 1949 (Truman).

"...I felt that it was an unnecessary loss of civilian life......We had them beaten. They hadn't enough food, they couldn't do anything."
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, quoted by his widow.

"Nimitz considered the atomic bomb somehow indecent, certainly not a legitimate form of warfare."
E. B. Potter, naval historian.

"The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment......It was a mistake ever to drop it......(the scientists) had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it......It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before."
Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet.

"Especially it is good to see the truth told about the last days of the war with Japan.....I was with the Fleet during that period; and every officer in the Fleet knew that Japan would eventually capitulate from...the tight blockade. "I, too, felt strongly that it was a mistake to drop the atom bombs, especially without warning."
Rear Admiral Richard Byrd.

(The atomic bomb) "was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion.....it was clear to a number of people...that the war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate.....it was a sin - to use a good word - (a word that) should be used more often - to kill non-combatants...."
Rear Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy.

"The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb........the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all."
Major General Curtis E. LeMay, US Army Air Forces (at a press conference, September 1945).

"Russia's entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding its end and would have been so even if no atomic bombs had been dropped..."
Major General Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers, and former US Army Air Forces commander in China.

"....from the Japanese standpoint the atomic bomb was really a way out. The Japanese position was hopeless even before the first atomic bomb fell..."
Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General of the US Army Air Forces.

"Arnold's view was that it (dropping the atomic bomb) was unnecessary. He said that he knew that the Japanese wanted peace. There were political implications in the decision and Arnold did not feel it was the military's job to question it...........I knew nobody in the high echelons of the Army Air Force who had any question about having to invade Japan."
Lieutenant General Ira C. Eaker, Arnold's deputy.

"When the question comes up of whether we use the atomic bomb or not, my view is the the Air Force will not oppose the use of the bomb, and they will deliver it effectively in the Commander in Chief decide to use it. But it is not necessary to use it in order to conquer the Japanese without the necessity of a land invasion."
Arnold, quoted by Eaker.

"No! I think we had the Japs licked anyhow. I think they would have quit probably within a week or so of when they did quit."
General George C. Kenney, commander of Army Air Force units in the Southwest Pacific, when asked whether using the atomic bomb had been a wise decision.

"...Both felt Japan would surrender without use of the bomb, and neither knew why a second bomb was used."
W. Averall Harriman, in private notes after a dinner with General Carl "Tooey" Spaatz (commander in July 1945 of the Pacific-based US Army Strategic Air Forces, and Spaatz's one-time deputy commanding general in Europe, Frederick L. Anderson.

"I voiced to him (Secretary of War Stimpson) my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of 'face'........It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing"
General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"I told MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to Truman, that peace could be had with Japan by which our major objectives would be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and that we would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the entry od Russia into Manchuria."
Herbert Hoover.

"MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it....He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be to limit damage to noncombatants.... MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off, which I think speaks well of him."
Richard M. Nixon.

"...he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it did later anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor."
Norman Cousins, from an interview with MacArthur.

David M. Kunsman - 8/6/2002

First, I wish to thank Dr. Maddox for his excellent book, Weapons for Victory.

My main comment is I recently read (past year or two) that the military ordered more Purple Hearts for the first time since 1945. That is, the decorations that they had ordered prior to the planned Japanese invasion lasted through Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War as well as Lebanon (50s and 80s), Somalia, etc. I think that that is a telling indication that the military were expecting a quite bloody invasion.

Ronald Dale Karr - 8/6/2001

"Indeed, on 9 August 1945, General Spaatz and General Nathan Twining recommended that a third bomb be dropped on Tokyo. Admiral Nimitz and General LeMay concurred."

I thought we only had the two that were dropped, plus the one detonated in New Mexico. Or hadn't the brass been told?

Ronald Dale Karr
O'Leary Library
University of Massachusetts Lowell