Helen Goggins: Atomic Bomb Relativists and Traditionalists

Samuel Walker dissects the traditionalist and relativist views associated with Truman’s use of atomic bombs to attack Japan in the summer of 1945. Before focusing his research on atomic bombs, Walker worked at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as an historian and frequently received questions about the history of atomic bombs. He began studying the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how the perception of Truman’s actions have shifted over time. Cindy Kelly begins the interview with Walker by asking him to describe different events leading up to the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan.

Walker defines the traditionalist view as a group of people who believe Truman felt the need to use the atomic bomb end the war in the Pacific swiftly and save a significant amount of lives on both sides of the conflict by avoiding a land invasion. Differently, the relativist view asserts that Japan was willing to surrender before the use of the atomic bomb but the United States used them anyways as a means of demonstrating their new power to the Soviet Union. He clearly states that both ideologies contain flaws in their understanding of the same event.

Traditionalists ignore the possibility of ways to end the war other than the atomic bomb and land invasion. The land invasion was not scheduled to begin until the winter of 1945 allowing the United States ample time to reevaluate future military tactics in the pacific. Relativists champion the notion that Japan was willing to surrender while disregarding the facts that the Emperor of Japan refused to agree to complete surrender because he wanted to remain in power after ending the war. They bring up a fair point about the bombs being used as an intimidation tactic to the Soviet Union. Walker makes it clear that the truth lies somewhere in between traditionalism and relativism. To truly understand the events at the end of the war, one must dissect and fully comprehend the different view points.

“J. Samuel Walker’s Interview.” J. Samuel Walker’s Interview | Manhattan Project Voices. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://manhattanprojectvoices.org/oral-histories/j-samuel-walkers-interview.

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