The reviews are very polarized between those who favored using the bomb and those who opposed it; most reviews are either five stars or one star. I want to highlight two reviews in particular that really demonstrate this trend. One reviewer in agreement with Alperovitz that the U.S. should not have dropped the bomb wrote “This is a book that can make Americans understand why we should not have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan!” On the other end of the spectrum, a reviewer who disagreed with Alperovitz wrote “This is complete fabrication and pure liberal revisionist history trash.” Most reviews were more detailed than the two listed, but they do underline the controversy over the decision to use the atomic bombs. In more detail, those who liked Alperovitz’s work pointed to his analysis of recently declassified official documents and how he was able to link the pieces of these various documents together to make an argument against the decision to use the bomb. Those more critical of Alperovitz’s work criticized his quoting out of context, his reliance on too few sources, and having a predetermined conclusion regarding the decision to use the bomb. Regarding reasons Stimson may have omitted in his rationale for using the bombs, the urge to send a message to the Soviet Union about how the post war world would work appears to be one. And rather than a reason the bomb was used omitted by Stimson, multiple reviews praise Alperovitz for an exaggerated justification: that it saved millions of lives. Alperovitz’s questions the strength of the source and estimate that an invasion of the Japanese mainland would cost x number of lives that so many have come to rely on in justifying the bomb’s use. Stimson most likely crafted his argument in the way that he did because killing thousands to end a war and save millions of lives sounds much better than killing thousands of people to send a message.
I haven’t read Alperovitz’s book, but there are some strong takes on Alperovitz’s approach. Some common ground I can take away from the reviews is that Alperovitz challenges traditional accounts of the atomic bomb’s use. For some, Alperovitz utilizes recently declassified information to make a strong case challenging the traditional justification for the bomb. For others, Alperovitz is nothing but a revisionist historian who uses evidence that fits his beliefs and ignores evidence that contradicts such beliefs. Whereas Stimson based the decision to use the bomb based on what was known at the time (obviously), Alperovitz uses hindsight, using what we now know about the bomb, as well as the motives of the players in World War II to make his argument.
My guess is that Alperovitz makes a strong case against dropping the atomic bombs with the evidence he used. However, if there truly is evidence Alperovitz chose to ignore that would have hurt his argument, he has an obligation as an historian to address it. Also, if new facts become available to historians that could change an interpretation of an historical event, such as in Alperovitz’s case, then the historian that takes that step (Alperovitz) isn’t necessarily revisionist. One must be careful in changing an interpretation of history when new facts are released due to the possibility that such facts might not have been known at the time or the society at the time had a different interpretation of those facts. In Alperovitz case, however, many of these “new” facts seem to have been known by the relevant actors in the decision to use the bomb, but had been classified from the rest of society. It seems more to me like Alperovitz is filling in missing pieces to a larger puzzle than revising history.
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Amazon. “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: Customer Reviews.” amazon.com.
Accessed September 10, 2017. https://www.amazon.com/