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 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. 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 of the war with Japan. He packed in a lot of quotes from other scholars and presented an assertive argument. I did not, however, feel the argument was very trustworthy. Alperovitz fails in providing the reader primary sources and clearly relies solely on the secondary writings of others. This is not inherently wrong but because Alperovitz is making such a charged and controversial argument it would seem necessary to give robust primary evidence. He also falls on the extreme opposite end of traditional explanation which also makes me hesitate. Extremes, on any side of a debate, are untrustworthy and merit deeper examination. He does point to a lot of scholarly work that uses new, unclassified, documents which seem to provide new insight. I found the writing left me with more questions than anything else. I am not sure what to believe at this point! There must be some moments in his argument that are completely valid and challenge the traditional narrative but I believe they require more examination.


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

Word Count 445

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