Tsuyoshi Hasegawa: Questions raised about his award

Historians in the News

THIS MONTH, the American Society of Historians for Foreign Relations will honour the author of a recent work on the role of the atom bomb in Japan’s defeat in 1945. In doing so, it will reward a pernicious thesis already appropriated by anti-Western campaigners for whom the study of history is a device for forcing pre-specified political conclusions.

The author is Tsuyoshi Hasegawa; his book is called Racing the Enemy. Unlike earlier revisionist historians, Hasegawa does not argue that a Japanese surrender might have been secured before the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb. But he depicts America’s development and use of the A-bomb as a race to secure Japan’s defeat before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War. On this view, the Bomb was a way of countering Stalin’s regional ambitions. Hasegawa disputes that the Bomb was decisive in Japan’s surrender. He argues that Soviet entry into the war played a greater role. (The Soviet Union declared war on Japan between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.)

[The article continues with a long note on sources and the news that Ferrell is coming out with a book concerning Cold War revisionists.]

There is more at stake here than dry academic interpretation. Hasegawa depicts President Truman as driven by domestic pressures “to exact revenge”. He concludes: “This is a story with no heroes but no real villains.” This is an extraordinary absolution of those responsible for Pearl Harbor and the suffering of those who built the Burma Railway. It is balanced by maligning the motives of the Truman Administration, and begrudging the genuine heroism of US statesmen and servicemen. Charged with defeating an aggressive tyranny while minimising loss of life, Truman took decisions that stand up well to scrutiny.

Scholars of America’s campaign have commented on Hasegawa’s “excessive liberty in interpreting his sources”, and “extraordinarily biased and rather dishonest perspective”. Their words will have scant effect on anti-nuclear campaigners. Piling non sequitur on dogmatic assertion, Greenpeace cites Hasegawa’s account as proof that “George Bush’s dream of dominating the world through massive investments in new nuclear weapons repeats a failed project”, and that “preparations . . . to replace Trident should stop”.

There may be good reasons for these policy preferences. If so, they need to be stated independently, without the deus ex machina of a historical work of historic irresponsibility.

Read entire article at Oliver Kamm at his blog

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