Alperovitz’s “Decision”

Peter Kirstein is a professor of history at Saint Xavier University, Chicago. He is known for his research on the atomic bomb and studied under Howard Zinn – the author of my textbook in history 2014 (The Twentieth Century). With Kirstein’s knowledge, I felt that his review of Alperovitz’s The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (I’ll refer to it from herein as “Decision“) would be fair for the both the academic significance and historiography of the material.

Kerstein avoids rehashing the narratives of the book, instead he provides succinct condensations of the major “revelations” that Alperovitz first explored in his first book (Atomic Diplomacy) and then again in Decision. He also provides some corroborating stories from other sources that place in question the moral aspects of the bombings (referencing Terkel) and also the the realist perspective (reference to Haas). He places emphasis on morals in his review, bringing in some of his own works; questioning the morality of dropping the bomb is central to Alperovitz and Kerstein does well to bring in more sources (or at least embedding them in his own review) to bolster the arguments in Decision.

On Russia, Kirstein pares down the rhetoric surrounding the Soviet Union and it’s entrance into the Japanese campaign. It boils down to the Allied desire for Russia to enter the conflict earlier in the war, but then after the Trinity Shot the need for a second front from Russia was seen as unnecessary, owing to Truman’s belief in the power of the bomb. What Alperovitz argues, and Kerstein defends, is that the bomb was meant to be mostly a political weapon. Indeed, Kerstein quotes P.M.S. Blackett in saying that,

“the dropping of the atomic bomb was not so
much the last military act of the Second World War, as the first
major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia”
Along with the well-known statement that Truman gave to Stalin disclosing the bomb (without revealing as much), Kerstein also provides Churchill’s observations of that conversation, which I had not read before. This leads to  speculations about Russia’s knowledge of the a-bomb project (code named S-1). There is a great deal of evidence suggesting the Soviet Union’s espionage rings had penetrated the project; several spies were found later who had been involved in the Manhattan Project and the speed with which the Russians developed their own atomic bomb seems to lend credence.
  Kirstein is able to condense the majority of the information in Alperovitz’s book into a clean and clear summary-like review while also providing some background as well as some corroborating evidence in favor of the realist theme in Decision. Kirstein stands behind the narrative of  realism, and the revisionist ideals that implies, because it forces people to think about actions that may also result in great loss of life, and for some, respect in the eyes of others.
Kirstein, P. (2013). Reclaiming Realism for the Left: Gar Alperovitz and the Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. Advances in Historical Studies, 2, 46-53. doi: 10.4236/ahs.2013.22008.
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