“What then shall we say in response to this…”

Perspective is an important thing to understand when conducting historical analysis. As such, we will be revisiting the decision to drop the atomic bombs in order to garner a more complete understanding of the decisions that surrounded the groundbreaking event. In order to do so, the chapter, The Decision to drop the Bomb, in James Davidson’s book After the Fact will be heavily referenced and compared to Stimpson’s article in Harper’s Magazine throughout this post.

The first claim that Davidson calls in to question is the idea that it was President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. As Davidson discusses, Truman was on the way back to the United States from the Potsdam Conference when the decision to use the bomb was made. Davidson asserts that this runs in contradiction with the over-simplified view of American Bureaucracy that is often present in narrative political science and history. It is easy to pin the “big decision” on the President as Truman was the man to coin the term “the buck stops here”. In doing so, however, layers of decision making are ignored as well as the leaders who made them, ultimately effecting the direction the war, and how the ensuing decades of Cold War arms race would play out.

Davidson places particular emphasis on the view that the United States, and ally Great Britain, were playing a “desperate” game of catch up to the scientifically superior Nazis. Several scientists from fascist Italy and Germany fled to either Great Britain or the United States in the late 1930’s with troubling information that their respective nations were developing so called “super bombs” that harnessed the power of atomic energy. Davidson continues to propose that this could have been once incentive to urge the Allied powers to develop bombs of their own.

The chapter further delves into the bureaucratic under-belly of decision making in the United States  specifically through highlighting something called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. This is an interesting point for Davidson to hone in on for such a bulk of the chapter. On the surface it may just seem to be another acronym meant to simplify life. SOPs, however, are the brain-child of the United States Army, and have deep roots in the Military Decision Making Process and Troop Leading Procedures. Both of which are guiding doctrine in how to lead and execute military operations. As such, the language and decision making process used are heavily influenced by military jargon and procedures. The emphasis on military draws an interesting connection with Stimpson’s article for Harper’s.

Stimpson’s whole argument revolved around the idea that dropping the bombs would ultimately save lives and end the war in the most expedited way possible. As Secretary of War, he represented the view of the military. As Davidson discussed in his book, Truman, while Commander in Chief, was not completely in the loop with regards to the decision to drop the bomb. As is seen through both his physical location, and the manner in which the decision and implication of SOPs was made, it was a military venture.

Perspective can change at a moments notice. It can also allow for connections to be drawn between people, events, or circumstances that otherwise seemed unrelated. As historians, perspective is essential in order to better understand the full scope of a given field of study. Nothing is black and white and nothing better shows us that than a careful look at perspective.

  1 comment for ““What then shall we say in response to this…”

  1. hryan
    September 17, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    I’ve never heard this argument that Truman was out of the loop in regards to dropping the bomb. My question to you (and Davidson) is does it matter? One way or another, those bombs were dropped and those lives lost, so what do we get out of assigning blame?
    -HR

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