Andrew Pregnall: We choose to go to the moon

For this Thursday’s class, I was responsible for reading/watching JFK’s 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” address at Rice University. Throughout the course of his speech, I noticed three interesting rhetorical techniques that I will explore throughout the course of this blog.

At the outset of the speech, I was immediately struck by Kennedy’s juxtaposition of dualities. He describes “an hour of change and challenge” and a “decade of hope and fear” and “an age of both knowledge and ignorance.” It is evident that Kennedy’s juxtapositions are framing the United States against the USSR, with the United States being associated with the positively connotated words, change, hope, and knowledge, while the USSR is being associated with the negatively connotated words, challenge, fear, and ignorance. I find this technique striking because it simultaneously sets up an “us versus them” mentality while simultaneously promoting a sense of American patriotism that Kennedy can then funnel towards excitement and approval of the mission to the moon.

After his juxtaposition of dualities, Kennedy moves into a narrative about the technological history of mankind. Probably to the chagrin of many a historian of technology, Kennedy frames this history as one of accelerating upward progress. Rhetorically, this is, again, a brilliant technique because it sets up the mission to the moon as just another step in mankind’s destiny of reaching some form of enlightenment. Since JKF is delivering this address to a primarily American audience, this history naturally carries the connotation that Americans should be the ones to reach this next stage of enlightenment. In fact, Kennedy expressly notes that if American wants to lead the world, it needs to reach the moon.

Finally, the last rhetorical technique I noticed was Kennedy’s comparison of the space race to a sailing across the sea. I found this to be clever because it conjured images of past explorers like Columbus who Americans, by and large, view as heroic individuals, and thus carried the promise that our mission to the moon would cement American names alongside the names of those early explorers. It framed our mission as a noble one ultimately made it one the public was willing to support. Overall, this speech exemplified a number of the many reasons JFK is considered to be one of the best public speakers in American history.

Word Count: 386

Speech text from: https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm

Andrew Pregnall: The Cold War and the Space Race

For this Tuesday’s class, I was responsible for presenting the class with a brief, three minute or less, history of the Cold War to put the space race into context. Before class, I thought it was important to contextualize the space rate within the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation. At the end of World War II, the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and some historians argue that this constituted the start of the Cold War. Just a few years later, in 1949-1950, the USSR tested their own, more powerful, nuclear weapons, and that time period essentially set off the arms race to see who could build the most weapons and the most powerful weapons.

Image result for cold war timeline
The infographic I used to summarize the Cold War in class. Source: http://vfwsouthernconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/ColdWarwithCR2.jpg

At this point, it is appropriate to address the fundamental reason why the US and the USSR felt they needed to have nuclear armaments. To state it succinctly, the US felt the USSR’s promotion of communism led to a dangerous world. As a result, they took many steps to prevent the spread of communism in the world, and kept nuclear weapons in case full-fledged war with the USSR broke out. In a similar vein, the USSR felt the US was a dangerous to their country and the ideas it promoted around the world, so they kept nuclear weapons in case war broke out. Both countries having weapons led to the phenomenon or philosophy of “mutually assured destruction.”

In the period from 1947 to 1957, the US and USSR also engaged in a few proxy wars, including the Greek Civil War and the Korean War, in which they backed their respective ideologies by supporting a particular side in the war. These wars were known as ‘proxy wars’ because the US and the USSR were not ‘directly’ involved in the conflict; however, these wars certainly ratcheted up the tensions between the two countries. Then, in 1957, the USSR launched Sputnik 1 into space.

Now, in high school, I was taught the standard narrative that many people in the United States feared the launch of Sputnik because it was unexpected and many believed it could be used as a nuclear weapon delivery device, or at the very minimum it demonstrated that the USSR had the capability to deliver a long range nuclear device to the states. As we discussed in class, however, not all US scientists and government officials shared this sentiment about Sputnik, for its launch was planned and publicized in advance and represented a great leap forward in the technical capabilities of humanity. Although I had never learned this alternative story of the launching of Sputnik I, it does not surprise me. U.S. history in high school tends to, in my opinion, present a very simplified narrative of history that does more to paint our country in a good light than it does to truly teach students about the past and how to think critically about it. Ultimately, I found this alternative narrative very interesting because I had simply never heard about it before and because it demonstrates how where you are born colors what history you learn and how you learn about it.

Word Count:  540

 

Andrew Pregnall: Historiography

For this Tuesday’s class, I examined the historiographical approach known as either “history from below” or “people’s history.” Initially, I did not know that people’s history was its own historiographical approach because I always thought this style of historiography fell under a socialist/Marxist lens. I most likely thought this because a people’s history approach seems, to me, to fall neatly under the bourgeoisie vs. proletariat narrative embedded in Marxist histories – just with a heavy emphasis on the role of the proletariat. Conversely, “history from above” or “great man’s history” – another historiographical approach I found – would fall under that same Marxist lens but with a heavy focus on the bourgeoisie.

Anyhow, when I realized that “history from below” was considered its own historiographical approach, I wanted to write about a quintessential example of history from below – A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I’ve been reading Zinn’s book in small chunks for a bit now, and I’ve found it to be a very refreshing approach to U.S. history for two distinct reasons. The first reason is Zinn’s historiographical approach. I remember that even though world history and US history in high school focused so much on the accomplishments of great men – which were and are important to be sure – my favorite parts of the class were always the little snippets of insight we would gain into everyday people’s lives. Major events effect everyone in their own unique way, and I immensely enjoy trying to piece together those individual narratives into a compelling and relevant analysis/story of the past. Thus, to have an entire book dedicated to this approach and present an alternative view of what I learned in high school is very refreshing, enjoyable, and rewarding.

In addition, I found Zinn’s approach to US history to be very refreshing because he is so candid about what his approach to history and the biases it introduces. I think this sentence in the introduction to Zinn’s book perfectly sums up this type of candidness:

The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex

Zinn then continues to talk about how his historiographical approach focuses on the conquered, slaves, workers, and dominated for another page and a half and concludes “That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know that before going on.”

I find this openness about one’s approach/biases to be so powerful because it equips the reader with the knowledge and ability to be deeply critical about the strengths and flaws of the text.

Finally, to give one example of how this historiographical approach affects how Zinn writes about history, I would like to talk about something timely and relevant to this week. Zinn’s opening chapter discusses the rich Native culture that existed in the United States until Christopher Columbus arrived in the “New World.” In standard histories taught in US middle and high schools, the story of Christopher Columbus is one of noble discovery for God, gold, and glory. In Zinn’s text, however, the story of systemic pillaging, raping, and murdering of indigenous peoples and their land is told through the eyes of those natives, and through the personal diaries of the conquerors who were fully aware of what they were doing. Ultimately, I believe it is important that we tell all of these stories and contextualize them in the light of their counterparts because that enables us to have a more productive dialogue about issues we’re facing today such as celebrating Columbus Day vs Indigenous People’s Day.

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on “The Sad Irons”

For this Thursday’s class I read “The Sad Irons” which is an excerpt from Robert A Caro’s book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power. “The Sad Irons” was an interesting chapter to read because it did not necessarily contain an overt argument about the electrification of rural America. Instead, the chapter traced the implementation and effects of electricity in Hill Country – part of Lyndon Johnson’s congressional district – which was notably ‘behind the times’ when it came to the implementation of electricity. For instance, farmer’s in Hill Country, unlike their more contemporary counterparts, could not use an electric cow milkers, refrigerators, electric water pumps, or electric stoves because of their lack of electricity.

Caro argued that the lack of electric utilities on farms did not just affect the “quality of life” of these farmers, but it fundamentally affected how they were able to do farm work and compete in their market. To explain, farmers who did not have access to milkers had to wake up at o-dark thirty to milk all of their cows which was an hours long process. They did so in pitch black because kerosene lamps ran the risk of burning down their barns and because they needed every hour of daylight to work the fields. Once milking was done, farmers needed to keep their milk on ice so that they could sell it to the dairy or at market. However, ice was expensive and difficult to maintain, and it was often ineffective at keeping the milk cold enough to be able to sell it at market or to the dairy. This was just one example of how farmers lacking electricity had to do more labor and had less ability to complete against their electricity-having counterparts.

Throughout the chapter, Caro traces many similar narratives about ways in which the lack of electricity affected the ability of farmers and other Hill Country folk to ‘live a full life.’ He discusses the wash (which we discussed in our unit about women and technology!), ironing, reading, and other forms of entertainment. Given the quality of life narrative present in this chapter and the other readings discussed in class, I find the conventional narrative around the REA to be unsurprising. Like Dr Hirsh said, it is a great story to tell – especially if one is in government and is trying to implement other programs / policies around the country – because one can say “look how much your lives improved!”

 

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on Latin American Coups

For this Tuesday’s class, I read about U.S. involvement in Latin American political coups during the Cold War since I felt like there was an interesting juxtaposition between US and Latin American narratives surrounding the events. To explain, when I was in high school I remember these political coups being taught in one of three ways:

  1. Not mentioning the coups at all
  2. Mentioning the coups happened, but glazing over that the United States was involved in them
  3. Teaching that the coup happened and that there was US involvement in the coup, and presenting a narrative that US involvement was necessary and justified (to prevent the spread of communism, to protect US economic interests, to protect world peace, etc)

Outside of class, however, I remember reading commentary (mostly on social media websites) from Latinx people that explained why many Latin American countries have a very different view of the US military and intelligence systems (particularly the Marines and the CIA) because of their involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected (communist) governments. I read that often times authoritarian right-wing dictators were installed in place of these communist government, and, as a result, many Latin American peoples suffered human rights violations during this period (which the United States would ironically go on to critique).

Seeing as I read these perspectives in high school, I first wanted to find out all of the times/places that the United States was involved in a political coup in Latin American during the Cold War. Here is what I found:

  1. Guatemala (1954) – Operation PBSUCCESS
  2. Cuba (1961) – Bay of Pigs (Failed)
  3. Cuba (1960) — Operation MONGOOSE (Failed)
  4. Dominican Republic (1965)
  5. Chile (1973) – Project FUBELT
  6. Nicaragua (1982-1989) – Part of the Iran-Contra scandal
  7. Grenada (1983) – Operation Urgent Fury (Success)
  8. Panama (1989) – Operation Just Cause

Upon researching these individuals instances a little more closely, I did find some truth to the narratives I had been reading during high school. For instance, after the United States help overthrow Allende – the democratically elected president of Chile – a military dictatorship was installed with Augosto Pinochet at the helm. During his reign, 3000 Chilean political dissidents either disappeared or were killed and over 200,000 Chileans went into exile (BBC). Additionally, I found that many nations within the international community were not silent about the US involvement in these coups. For instance, after operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling US actions in Grenada a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Wikipedia)

Finally, in a brief search for more academic publications on US involvement in the Cold War I found two journal articles that seemed to focus on analyzing when the United States got involved in Latin American politics (in reference to coups). One article by Jorge I Dominguez argued that the United States only got militarily involved in Latin American when it felt ideologically threatened by communism; however, Dominguez concluded that these interventions did not constitute a drastic departure from previous US policy on the continent and thus did not have a major impact on long term relations. Although this was by no mean an extensive review of literature on the subject, I found it interesting that the top papers I found via search algorithms shared a similar narrative to what I was told in high school.

Word Count: 580

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, and James Dunkerley, eds. “The United States and Latin America: The New Agenda.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in_regime_change

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1222764.stm

 

 

 

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on “Through the looking glass: Canadian identity and the War of 1812”

For this Thursday’s class, I read the Sjolander article “Through the Looking Glass: Canadian Identity and the War of 1812.” To start with, the article was not at all what I was expecting. Based on the title, I thought the article would be about how an emerging Canadian identity led to or affected the War of 1812, or I thought the article would be about how the War of 1812 created or fostered a sense of Canadian identity during and immediately after the war’s conclusion.

Instead, Sjolander made an argument about how the modern-day Canadian conservative party used the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812 to foster a new nationalistic Canadian “warrior identity” to push back agianst the Liberal party’s “peacekeeping identity” and brand of liberal internationalism. Specifically, Sjolander argues that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada presented the War of 1812 as a unifying event in Canadian history in which, to quote Harper, “Aboriginal peoples, local and volunteer militias, and English and French-speaking regiments fight together to save Canada from American invasion.”

Wow. As Sjolander elucidates, this statement has all the elements of nationalistic identity reconstruction. There are people from diverse backgrounds (French Canadian! English Canadian! Aboriginal!) coming together (Unity!) to fight against a common enemy (Americans!). After all, if the First Nations can fight alongside the colonial English Canadians as well and French Canadians to defeat the Americans after those three groups long history of conflict, then Canada must truly be a unified place. Sarcasm aside, there are notable tones of colonialism and imperialism present in Harper’s remarks because they both imply and explicitly state (to a degree) that the only reason these groups were fighting was for Canada. Realistically, however, each of these groups were fighting against the Americans for their own distinct reason, and perhaps more importantly, each of these groups did not benefit equally from the muddy victory of the Americans. As we discussed in class, the First Nations clearly got the short end of the stick when it came to the War of 1812, and Harper’s remarks erase this history and perpetuate a system of native erasure to promote a nationalistic identity.

Now, this explains the core “what” of Sjolander’s article, but it does not explain the core “why” of her article. To understand why the Canadian Conservative party would use the War of 1812 to recast the Canadian national identity, we must understand the issue through both a domestic and an international lens. Domestically, Sjolander argues, the value in creating a nationalistic Canadian identity by presenting Aboriginal peoples and English and Francophone Canadians as unified “Canadians” during the War of 1812 is that it removes the responsibility from the Canadian government to grapple with its complicated past while simultaneously presenting its current domestic agenda as a noble cause for all Canadian people. In other (non-academic) words, it creates domestic Sheeple making it easier for the party in control to effect its agenda. Internationally, this rhetoric perpetuates Canadian values around the world because it presents them as just and noble – implying that the rest of the world such follow and implement these values too. Additionally, on an international level, Sjolander argues that celebrating the bicentennial of a Canadian war on moralistic grounds (e.g. defeating the invading Americans as a unified Canada) has the effect of justifying Canada’s current or future involvement in war because it shows that Canadians were “born out of war.”

Ultimately, Sjolander’s article is multifaceted, nuanced, complicated, and hard to encapsulate in the span of a blog post, but, at its core, it demonstrates how people of all political affiliations engage in “identity politics” to achieve their goals.

References:

Sjolander, Claire Turenne. “Through the looking glass: Canadian identity and the War of 1812.” International Journal 69, no. 2 (2014): 152+. Academic OneFile (accessed September 29, 2017). http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=viva_vpi&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA372250364&sid=summon&asid=21cdc2f3d7fc0640eb53c77b8f4fdd46.

Word Count: 640

 

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on Blue Monday

For this week’s class I ready the chapter of Never Done by Susan Strasser called “Blue Monday.” Strasser begins the chapter with a detailed description of the laundry process during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. For this post, I am going to focus more on the social argument of Strasser’s article as opposed to the economic side of her argument.

To start with, I was very impressed with the amount of labor that went into washing clothes in the ‘olden days’ since I’ve never thought about what life was like without washing machines. Seriously, these women had to:

  • Soak the clothes the night before (usually Sunday going into Monday)
  • Drain the clothes
  • Pour hot suds on the most soiled of clothes
  • Scrub each article of clothing against a washboard individually
  • Wring them out
  • Cover soiled spots with more spots
  • Boil the clothes
  • Rinse
  • Rub dirty spots again with soap again
  • Rinse
  • Wring
  • Hang out to dry
Boiling the clothes

And then they had to repeat this entire process over again with the next load, and, don’t forget, they were scrubbing each article of clothing individually.

Me after reading the section on the old clothe washing process

Surely, then, the advent of the washing machine infinitely improved the lives of twentieth century women. After all, they would spend less time washing the clothes each week which would allow them to spend more time doing leisure activities and consuming the technologies of the twentieth century. Right?

Well, Strasser argues that the picture isn’t so clear. For one, she argues that although women would spend less time on labor each time they washed the clothes, they were expected to wash the clothes more often since the process was easier. This trend coincided with evolving twentieth century values around sanitation (which Strasser addressed in her chapter on indoor plumbing) which added a sort of compounding effect, and ultimately laundry went from being a once a week ordeal with less clothes to a more frequent ordeal with more clothes. I really appreciate and understand Strasser’s argument in this situation, and, based on class conversation, it seems to be an argument she makes throughout the book. However, it’s moments like this I wish there were some form of quantitative data about how much time women spent on laundry before and after the advent of the laundry machine because I think this would add an interesting dimension to either “side’s” argument. This is not to say that data which showed women did spend less time on laundry after the advent of washing machine would invalidate Strasser’s argument; in fact, it could strengthen it. Regardless, it would certainly make the conversation more interesting.

The second portion of Strasser’s social argument focuses on what women lost when the process of laundry became easier: Socialization. See, since laundry was such a time and labor intensive process, women in communities would do it together. Sometimes, this involved each person doing an assigned task – sort of like an assembly line – but other times it just involved a group of women doing their families laundry in the same area. Inevitably, this led to talking and friend making and community building and solidarity. However, when it was no longer necessary to band together to complete laundry, this socialization was lost. It’s hard to understate the importance of socialization among human beings, and especially among women, so I think this might be the most important and yet most underappreciated aspect of Strasser’s argument.

Ultimately, I found the social parts of Strasser’s argument to be nuanced and to have applications to many conversations we hold today about cell phones and social media (which we discussed in class!).

References: Strasser, Susan. Never Done. New York: Pantheon, 1982.

Word Count: 612

Reflections on Revisionism feature Connections to GLMA 2017

For this Thursday’s class I read Christian Conger’s article, “How Revisionist History Works.” Since I am absent from class attending the annual GLMA conference, I thought I would connect the commentary in Conger’s article to one of the lectures I attended at the conference, so that I may apply the lessons from class to my experiences outside of it.

Yesterday, I attended a lecture given by Harlan Pruden – a two-spirit activist and scholar and member of the First Nation Cree – in which he discussed two-spirit history and its connections to LGBTQ+ health. According to Conger, one way to practice revisionism is to use a “social or theoretical perspective to re-examine the past through different lenses,” and this is exactly what Harland did: He looked at the historical and modern constructions of gender through a Native lens to better understand the interrelations between gender, sex, sexuality, and healthcare. Harlan argued that in Western frameworks, we look at gender and sexuality in a linear fashion (e.g. an individual is gay, straight, or somewhere in between, or a man, women, or somewhere in between). In a native framework, however, gender and sexuality exist in a circular fashion, and Harlan argues that it is necessary to understand the history of colonization through a native lens to understand the circular nature of gender and sexuality. In most native tribes, there are four genders: Male, female, what we could consider a male assigned individual who perform female gender tasks, and vice versa. These “extra” genders were named by the French as Bardache – a word which essentially means the receptive male partner in anal sex. Today, however, we know these people as two-spirit.

Natives did not look at these individuals as “male assigned” or “female assigned” and thus it was normal for male warriors to court a “male assigned” two-spirit individual or for a female gatherer to court a “female assigned” two-spirit individual. These couples were not viewed as “gay” or “lesbian” by other Natives, as we would, but as a normal, valued, and healthy part of Native societies. In a Western framework, where we predominantly erase the history of natives, it is impossible to understand this conception of gender and sexuality and its power; however, using a revisionist lens gives that power back to us as non-Native scholars and to Natives who are trying to reclaim their culture.

Harlan also spoke of historical trauma which is a cross-generational perpetuation of systemic violence that results in individual and community emotional and psychological damage. For native Americans / aboriginal peoples this takes the form of loss of land, loss of language, and loss of customs, just to name a few. For Black people in the United States, this takes the form of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. For Japanese people, this takes the form of internment camps; Chinese people the form of West coast labor camps; queer and trans people the form of sodomy laws, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, marriage inequality, and bathroom bills. I bring up historical trauma because it is difficult if not impossible to understand and believe in without using revisionist lenses, and we as historians either contribute to or fight against this systemic violence with our readings and writings of history.

Ultimately, revisionism is powerful because it gives agency to marginalized individuals and groups to tell the history of their culture, and this reclamation promotes unity, activism, and community.  Revisionism is dangerous, however, because it can give that same power of agency to the oppressor to erase those they find lesser.

References

“How Revisionist History Works.” 2009. January 7. http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/revisionist-history.htm.

Word Count: 586

Reflections on “The Decision to Drop the Bomb” by James Davidson

For Tuesday’s class, I read the article “The Decision to Drop the Bomb” by James West Davidson. In this article, Davidson examines the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan through three theoretical frameworks:

  1. Rational actor model
  2. Organizational process model
  3. Bureaucratic politics model

In this blog post, I will attempt to explain the theory behind each of these models, and provide illustrative examples for each.

According to Davidson, the rational actor model “treats the actions of governments and large organizations as the actions of individuals” (314). Common examples of rational actor theory in scholarship about the decision to drop the bomb are statements like ‘Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb’ or ‘Truman dropped the atomic bomb.’ The strengths of the rational actor model lie in that it does an excellent job of describing major events or decisions brought about by individuals, and subsequently stringing these decisions into a narrative. The weakness of the rational actor model is that this narrative is often over simplifies narratives. For example, the decision to drop the atomic bomb involved many military and civilian committees who made recommendations and decisions about how, when, where, and even why to drop the bomb. In addition, the rational actor model assumes that individuals make decisions based on logic only and does not leave any room for the irrationality of human emotion.

If the rational actor model were to be the ticking hands of a clock, Davidson likens the organizational process model to the “gears, springs, and levers” that make the clock tick (323). According to Davis, the organizational process model treats the actions of government “not as centralized acts and choices, but as the actions of bureaucracies functioning in relatively predictable patterns” (324). Davidson uses the military’s standard operating procedures as a paradigmatic example of predictable patterns. In addition, he argues that the strength of the rational actor model is that it allows for historians to understand the complexities and interrelations of governmental processes. In reference to the atomic bomb, this explains why the development of the bomb came slowly (committees to decide whether it was necessary, military security procedures, committees to decide whether to use the bomb and, if so, on who, etc.). I would argue that this same strength of the organizational process model can also be its drawback: If historians get too caught up in the intricacies of bureaucracy (akin to going down the rabbit hole), they might never make an argument about the event.

Finally, the bureaucratic politics model takes into account that “[p]owerful individuals or groups can often override the standard procedures of organizations as well as the carefully thought-out choices of rational actors” (327). Davidson argues that the death of President Roosevelt and the subsequent presidency of President Truman provides an excellent example for how bureaucracies and the well-thought-out decisions of individuals can be shifted by the politics of a particularly influential individual. To explain, President Truman had no prior knowledge of the Manhattan Project. As a result, for several months, Secretary Stimson found that he had great influence over President Truman’s thought and decisions regarding atomic bombs (328).

In his conclusion, Davidson argues that historians must use each of the three models to thoroughly understand the decision to drop the atomic bomb, and I personally agree with this argument. Ultimately, Davidson does an excellent job of explaining the three models and providing examples and analysis for each of the three. I will say that sometimes I found myself going back and rereading several passages the make sure I understand the theory behind each model before I delved into the specific examples, but this may be more the product of me sitting in a noisy airport and airplane than of his writing. Once I did so, however, I felt like I could apply each of these models/frameworks to novel situations. Finally, on a personal note, I found the opening pages of Davidson’s article to be a beautifully written narrative describing the testing of the atomic bomb, the decision to drop the atomic bombs, and the bombings themselves, and I would highly recommend reading them.

References

Davidson, James West, and Mark H Lytle. 2017. After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. McGraw-Hill. Accessed September 13.

Word Count: 710

 

Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on the “Facts” Surrounding the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs

For this Thursday’s conversation, I was responsible for finding and presenting the basic “facts” of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To do so, I turned to every-historian’s-favorite-source, Wikipedia, because I knew it would give me a good starting point for this information as well as be (mostly) devoid of commentary on the decision to use the bombs.

Dr Strangelove

According to Wikipedia, on July 25th, 1945, President Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan. The United States had originally identified four potential targets for where to drop the atomic bomb, and on August 6th and August 9th, the United States dropped Little Boy and Fat Man from the Enola Gay and Bockscar onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing at Hiroshima killed a approximately 80,000 individuals instantly; the bombing at Nagasaki killed approximately 70,000 individuals instantly; approximately 190,000 individuals died from secondary effect of the bomb later on. The August 9th bombing quickly brought about the surrender of Japan.  Although the Wikipedia entry goes into greater detail about the preparations for the bombings, the bombings themselves, and the aftermath of the bombings, I found this level of information sufficient for creating a framework to discuss the decision to drop the atomic bombs. Ultimately, I found Wikipedia to be a good source for establishing a timeline of the events that preceded and followed the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For me, the most interesting part of the Wikipedia entry was that even within its analysis free entry, the page still largely presented the very standard American argument/justification (one might call it the Stimson argument) for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan – that it ultimately saved American and Japanese lives. The entry references a report commissioned by Secretary of War Stimson that estimated a land invasion of Japan would result in upwards of 800,000 deaths for the Allies and upwards of 10 million deaths for the Japanese. While these numbers may or may not have been accurate, the narrative that the United States dropped the atomic bombs to save lives is exactly the narrative that revisionists historians push back against, and this presentation of the atomic-bombs-saved-lives narrative speaks to what one might call a American-centric version of events. Ultimately, this narrative on the Wikipedia page relates to our conversation from Tuesday about objectivity, basic facts/truths, postmodernism, etc. For example, the page references two predictions for how many casualties/fatalities would be suffered by both sides if the United States were to have carried out a land invasion of Japan. Although the numbers are not congruous, they are still presented in absolute sense (e.g. Had the US not dropped the bombs, this many lives would have been lost) which makes it difficult for average readers of the page to think critically what other factors might have gone into the decision to drop the bombs. Finally, I should acknowledge that the very bottom of the Wikipedia entry briefly details different schools of thought about why the decision to drop the bombs was made. However, the point of my analysis is that all presentations of historical information have some bias inherent in them, and it is our job as consumers and writers of history to be critical and transparent about the ways in which these biases manifest themselves in narratives or our writings.

Works Cited

“Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – Wikipedia.” 2017. Accessed September 8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki.

 

Word Count: 560