Hiroshima (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II has been marked by commemoration and controversy. In the United States, most of the controversy has centered on the act that ended the war: the dropping of atomic bombs by American bombers on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is universal agreement that the dropping of the bombs resulted in the coming of peace. Yet were these acts absolutely necessary? Was the use of these horrible weapons the only alternative to a bloody invasion of Japan or an indefinite protraction of the war? Were the Japanese ready to surrender anyway? Would the invasion have been that bloody? If the Allied governments had explicitly agreed to allow the emperor to remain on his throne (as they ultimately did allow) rather than insist on unconditional surrender, would the Japanese have given in more quickly? Does criticism by scholars of the decision to drop the bomb constitute unpatriotic blaming of the United States or imply that the critics somehow value Japanese lives over American lives?
Perhaps one indication of how controversial the issue became is the author’s biographical sketch on this book’s dust jacket. It includes the usual statements about education, current academic position, and previous publications. While acknowledging that the author has an obviously Asian name, however, the publisher felt the need to inform readers that Ronald Takaki is “a third-generation American.” This is unusual for...
(The entire section is 1853 words.)
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Hiroshima (Magill Book Reviews)
The most controversial action of the United States during World War II was the dropping of atomic bombs upon the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Historians have asked two separate but related questions. First, was the use of these weapons the only alternatives to either a bloody invasion of Japan or the war dragging on indefinitely? Second, what were Truman’s motivations?
Takaki rejects any simplistic explanation, whether it is Truman’s claim that he ordered the bombing to save American lives, or the insistence of “revisionist” historians that the decision had more to do with the Cold War with the Soviet Union than the military campaign against Japan, although he agrees that both the need to end the war and to impress Stalin played a part. He argues that confronted with perhaps the most difficult decision of his life, Truman was subjected to many influences.
Among the factors that swayed Truman was the nature of the war with Japan. For Americans, World War II in the Pacific was a campaign for revenge, a war in which violence against civilians was commonplace. It was also a racialized war: The Japanese were depicted in American propaganda in racial stereotypes as subhuman. Some of this hatred was rooted in the long history of racial discrimination against Asians and Asian Americans in the United States. In Takaki’s opinion, all these racial currents would have made Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb a little...
(The entire section is 380 words.)