Review of Gar Alperovitz’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1995)”- Chris Buck

The very first thing you notice when reading this review of Gar Alperovitz’s book, is that it focuses intensely upon Alperovitz’s life-long work on the one subject of dropping the A-bombs (Marilyn Young, book review). This review seems to be written to influence people who are well versed in the subject to read the book by touching on the styling within the book by Alperovitz and the evolution of Alperovitz’s argument throughout his career. The article presents the book as both Alperovitz’s crowning achievement and career finale. The article’s author, Marilyn Young, attempts to maintain scholarly credibility by quoting from various different parts of the book and of Alperovitz’s career, but loses much of that credibility by failing to engage the other side of the argument in dropping the bombs and hailing this book as being the one-stop shop for all things A-bomb decision.

As the review article points to, Alperovitz spent a large portion of his career focused on this one argument. In the book, Alperovitz is finally able to culminate all of his work in the first half of the book into proving that there were in fact other options Truman could have taken to defeat Japan without the use of the A-bombs. In the second half of the book, Alperovitz focuses on why the decision was in fact made to use them despite knowing of those other options. He also uses this half to focus on counter arguments that he had encountered in his career.

In my opinion, Alperovitz’s method can be summarized as perfection in meticulousness.  Alperovitz wonderfully builds his argument through the meticulous use of source material and the critical analyzing he follows each with. He gives credence to counter arguments by devoting nearly half of his book to a slow walk through of the dismantling of their arguments. I understand why the historical review article by Marilyn Young hoists this book as the book to read on the subject, however I wish that she had focused more on the fact that Alperovitz was understanding towards the counter arguments presented to him and sought to prove them wrong. As far as I have read, Alperovitz does recognize that his argument does not prove his argument to the point of being historical fact. Young’s review states that the book does in fact prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. There is no realization of a solid counter argument, only favoritism.

  • Marilyn Young. The American Historical Review 100, no. 5 (1995): 1515-516. doi:10.2307/2169869.
  • Alperovitz, Gar and Sanho Tree. The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth. 1st ed. New York: Knopf, 1995.
  • Why the United States Dropped the Bomb Technology Review; Aug/Sep 1990; 93, 6; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 22


  2 comments for “Review of Gar Alperovitz’s “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1995)”- Chris Buck

  1. hryan
    September 17, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    This is very interesting because not only does your post touch on the responsibility of the historian to address counterarguments, but the responsibility of the reviewer! I don’t think many of us think about this when reading a book review. Thank you for bringing this up.

  2. J. JeffreyWeisenfeld
    September 6, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Using Marxist/Alperovitz logic, I can prove that the USSR did not need to invade Germany. The Germans and Soviets both knew Germany had lost the war after Stalingrad. Stalin only invaded Germany to improve his bargaining position by grabbing as much of Europe as he could. This is especially true of the capture of Berlin which led to more casualties than both A bombs dropped on Japan.
    As far as Truman’s decision, true, the Japanese knew they had lost the war after Midway. Yet fought on to gain better terms. Alperowitz falsely conflates knowing you have lost with surrender.
    If the Pacific War had dragged on only a few months longer, with or without an invasion, the Japanese would have suffered more casualties from starvation, disease and bombings than from the A bombs. As far as the Japanese surrendering when the Soviets declared war and destroyed their army on the Asian mainland, they did not surrender. Moreover, the Soviets were little or no threat to invade Japan as they had no navy and the Japanese has amassed 5000 Kamikaze planes to resist any invasion.
    Might I say that Marxists and truth are natural enemies.

Leave a Reply to J. JeffreyWeisenfeld Cancel reply