Cece Burger: Why the United States dropped the bomb, By Gar Alperoviz


Gar Alperovitz is an American political economist and historian and has done extensive research on the atomic diplomacy.

In this article, Alperovitz gives an alternative interpretation as to why the United State dropped the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He begins with a strong statement calling the traditional explanation “morally comforting” but known to be false. Alperovitz follows with many references and explanations of why the traditional explanation is incorrect. A lengthy explanation of the evidence and various arguments leads the reader to the conclusion that there was no need to use the bomb. This is followed by Alperovitz’s attempt to explain why U.S. leaders still chose to use the atomic bomb. All the explanations Alperovitz provides point out alternative motives that complicate and muddle the traditional explanation. First, he states there is clear evidence that shows the U.S. desired to end the war before Russia could attack Japan and gain any more territory. Second, and more importantly, Alperovitz insists that there is evidence that U.S. officials saw the bomb as a way to strengthen negotiation power over the Soviets, with regard to the fate of postwar Europe and Asia. The bomb would provide a sense of security once negotiations began. In sum, according to Alperovitz, the bombs were not needed to save lives and their target was not Japan but the Soviet Union.

Alperovitz is writing with strong intention and presents a very non-standard view of what happened with the dropping of the atomic bomb.  He is taking the approach of a debunker of traditional historical understanding. The writing was interesting and truly made me rethink all I knew about the bombs and ending the war with Japan. He packed in a lot of quotes from other scholars and presented an assertive and easy to read argument. A key element of this argument is the use of new evidence that allows for his revisionism. I did, however, find some of the wording to be too general and in need of further examination (this is expanded upon in his book that I have not read). Alperovitz provides the reader with a plethora of sources and relies a lot on secondary writings that are engaging. I found that Alperovitz is making such a charged and controversial argument that I should examine further arguments. He also takes a singular stance for one reason and falls on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum compared to traditional explanation. This also makes me hesitate. Extremes, on any side of a debate, merit deeper examination. He does point to a lot of scholarly work that uses new, unclassified, documents which seem to provide new insight. But older documents are still reliable and important to the story. There must be some moments in his argument that are completely valid and challenge the traditional narrative but I believe the “truth” falls somewhere in the middle of both sides.


Gar Alperovitz, “Why the United States dropped the bomb.” MIT, Technology Review. August 1990.

Word Count 497

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