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
In my search for a new resource that addressed the question of why the United States decided to use the atomic bomb in 1945, I found an intriguing article by historian David Kaiser from Time magazine. Kaiser is a frequent contributor to Time, is the author of seven books, and has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and the Naval War College.
Kaiser, in May of 2016, is prompted to write this article and explore the alternative theories about the use of the bomb because President Obama was amid his visit to Hiroshima. This visit inevitably raised old questions about the implementation of the first atomic bomb. Kaiser begins the article by addressing a school of thought from the 1960s that challenged the United States’ decision to use the atomic bomb. The argument avows that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not necessary nor intended merely to defeat the Japanese. It was instead disputed to have been dropped to alarm the Soviet Union. Kaiser points out this argument has been too intertwined with emotions and not reason. He feels credible scholarly works that discredit many of the new theories about why the bomb was used have been overlooked and ignored by the public. He shares, “Those who have continued to argue that Moscow…was the real target of the A-bombs, have had to rely upon inferences…” However, the lack of credibility of alternative reasoning was not all encompassing Kaiser points out, “Other studies have made critical contributions about other aspects of the controversy. Thanks to them, we can see clearly that the Japanese were not at all ready to surrender on American terms…” Kaiser is able to make a distinction between the studies that worked off inferences and created more meaning than in actuality and those that found credible accounts and evidence to support reality.
Kaiser ends his article with a new tone compared to the article’s beginnings. He addresses the moral implications of the nuclear weapons. He explains that the use of the atomic bombs is not specifically the issue at hand. Instead, it is the attitude towards human life. There are many examples of horrific loss of life equal to or greater than the bombing of Japan in the name of war. Kaiser questions why other moments are not more the target of extensive questioning and analysis. This questioning seems more unreliable than the rest of the article because many historians focus on wartime loss of life and surely Kaiser is not the only one to question this. Kaiser ends with this, “The dropping of the bombs horrifies us today, but at the time, it was viewed as a necessary step to end a terrible war as quickly and with the least loss of life as possible. Careful historical research has validated that view.” This final line echoes the feeling throughout the article that Kaiser values reliable research and strongly supported arguments.
Kaiser makes a forceful argument supporting the traditional narrative of the United States using the atomic bombs to end the war with Japan. As an accredited academic and historian Kaiser seems to be a reliable source and I read his article with more confidence than I would other online sources. Kaiser echoes a lot of what was found in the resources provided for today’s class discussion. He truly believes in the traditional narrative behind the decision to use the atomic bomb and backs it up with solid facts and reasoning. Kaiser seems to value reliable academic research and arguments that have solid fact-based foundations. Throughout the article, he rejects any alternative arguments that he finds lack factual base. He does not dive super deep into the counter arguments/alternative schools of thought surrounding the use of the atomic bomb. This could be viewed as falling short however, I felt this allowed the article to be condensed into a readable length more appealing to the average reader. Kaiser skillfully gives the reader a more holistic view of the debates around dropping the bomb and his argument against them. His ending paragraph was especially interesting and made me think about the event in a new way.
David Kaiser, “Why the United States Dropped Atomic Bombs in 1945” TIME.com. http://time.com/4346336/atomic-bombs-1945-history/ , Accessed 7 September 2017
Word Count: 702
Matthieu Watson Santerre is a Master’s student in History of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Santerre has published and posted several articles on a variety of topics. In September of 2014 he decided to address the question, is there an amount of time between facts and historical analysis/writing that allows for subjectivity and bias to be removed? I.e. can history be objective? He was prompted to share his answer to this question after being asked by a reader.
Santerre explicitly tells the reader he cannot speak for all historians but from his personal learning and research, he feels objectivity in history is impossible. He stresses that history is not a hard science but a social science in which bias can never be fully eliminated. Santerre states, “To better understand history, I think historians should begin to admit their limitations.” Santerre admits his own limitations by providing a personal example. He has chosen to study Emperor Franz Ferdinand and his role in WWI, in doing so he is bound to place more importance on him than someone who studies WWI from an American perspective. Through self-deprecation, Santerre shows innate predispositions that come with any study, inclusive of his own. Santerre concludes his article asserting that history is not meant to give absolute truths, but rather to “present facts and interpret them.” The strive for objectivity is important, however, its limitations must be acknowledged and explored.
This resource gives the personal view of a student of history in a frank writing style with controlled lengthiness that is not expected of an online opinion article. Santerre takes a methodical and honest approach to the question of objectivity in history but does not dive very deep into the topic. As a student of history, I value the opinions of my peers especially those in higher learning so the read was enjoyable. Santerre provides convincing reasoning to back his stance that historical objectivity is unattainable. Moreover, Santerre states the dangers, “By constructing subjective interpretations as fact we create dangerous preconceptions and myths.” and provides a solution, “We must accept [history’s] limitations. We need to be more open about it.” While these may be overly simplistic they are straight to the point and easy for a reader to understand.
Mattieu W. Santerre, “Can History Be Objective?” The Art of Polemics. https://theartofpolemics.com/2014/09/05/can-history-be-objective/, Accessed 5 September 2017.
Word Count: 395
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