I recently wrote a short post and a long one taking issue with certain assertions made by the historian Howard Zinn about the Hiroshima bombing. (Zinn is the author of a popular book called A People's History of the United States. The book is reviewed here by another left-wing historian, Michael Kazin. Kazin considers the book "bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions" and "polemic disguised as history", and that "Howard Zinn is an evangelist of little imagination for whom history is one long chain of stark moral dualities". Those sections of Zinn's book that I feel competent to judge - broadly, America's twentieth-century foreign relations; I don't have any particular specialist knowledge of American domestic history - do indeed appear to me light on historical learning, and ill-informed about other countries, notably Germany.)
In my posts, I referred to a number of recent scholarly papers on the conclusion of the Pacific War. I'm very pleased that several of these papers will be included in a single volume, to be published in June 2007, edited by the historian Robert Maddox, of Pennsylvania State University. The book is entitled Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, and will be published by the University of Missouri Press. Unfortunately, the Amazon link gives no information about the book as yet, but you can consult the publisher's catalogue here - the book and its contents are listed on page 23. Note in particular that Professor Maddox has contributed an essay (I believe it's a new one, or at least I haven't come across it before) entitled "Gar Alperovitz: Godfather of Hiroshima Revisionism". Alperovitz is the writer who Zinn asserts (see my long post) has never been refuted on the question of America's motives for dropping the A-bomb, but whose treatment of source material has been widely exposed as unscholarly. The publisher's blurb - which I can say is not exaggerated, as I have read most of the essays contained in the book - states:
This anthology exposes revisionist fallacies about Truman’s motives, the cost of an invasion, and the question of Japan’s surrender. Essays by prominent military and diplomatic historians reveal the hollowness of revisionist claims, exposing the degree to which these agenda-driven scholars have manipulated the historical record to support their contentions. They show that, although some Japanese businessmen and minor officials indicated a willingness to negotiate peace, no one in a governmental decisionmaking capacity even suggested surrender. And although casualty estimates for an invasion vary considerably, the more authoritative approximations point to the very bloodbath that Truman sought to avoid.
Also note, on page 22 of the same publisher's catalogue, a new volume of essays by the historian Sadao Asada, of Doshisha University in Kyoto, entitled Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays, which will also be published next June. Professor Asada is an outstanding scholar of Japanese-American relations. The blurb for his book states:
In these essays, Sadao Asada examines historical episodes in the interactions between these two countries from 1890 to 2006, focusing on naval strategy, trans-Pacific racism, and the atomic bomb controversy. For each topic, he offers a rigorous analysis of both American and Japanese perceptions, showing how cultural relations and the interchange of ideas have been complex—and occasionally destructive.
Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations contains insightful essays on the influence of Alfred Mahan on the Japanese navy and on American images of Japan during the 1920s. Other essays consider the progressive breakdown of relations between the two countries and the origins of the Pacific War from the viewpoint of the Japanese navy, then tackle the ultimate shock of the atomic bomb and Japan’s surrender, tracing changing perceptions of the decision to use the bomb on both sides of the Pacific over the course of sixty years. In discussing these subjects, Asada draws on Japanese sources largely inaccessible to English speakers to provide a host of eye-opening insights for non-Japanese readers.
I have read only one of these essays before. This is Professor Asada's conclusive demonstration, largely derived from Japanese primary sources, that the dropping of both A-bombs - Nagasaki as well as Hiroshima - was essential to allowing the peace party in the Japanese Cabinet to prevail and persuade the Emperor to surrender. The range of the subject matter in the rest of the book appears to me essential to understanding what went wrong in the foreign policies of the Western democracies in the inter-war period. By way of contrast between scholarship in this field and mere political posturing, consider a deservedly obscure essay by a non-historian, Noam Chomsky, entitled "The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War". American Power and the New Mandarins, 1969 (and reissued in 2003). Chomsky's argument is tortuous, but he appears to believe that Japan in the 1930s was forced into a bellicose posture by US intransigence. I reviewed Chomsky's book, and that argument in particular, in this post, where I pointed out that among other failings Chomsky had misrepresented the terms of the naval provisions of the Washington Conference of 1921-2. More fundamental, Chomsky gives a false account of the nature of Western policy towards Japan. That policy in the inter-war period comprised military weakness and contemptible racism - the exact opposite of what a prudent and principled foreign policy would have been.
On a connected subject, I recommend a new book by Wilson D. Miscamble, of the University of Notre Dame, entitled From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War (of which the publisher, Cambridge University Press, has kindly sent me an advance copy). I have just finished reading this; it's a lucid account of the early stages of President Truman's foreign policies. It argues that, contrary to a popular misconception that Truman turned American foreign policy towards hostility to the Soviet Union whereas Roosevelt would have maintained a cooperative stance, Truman adopted a policy of containment only after the possibilities of collaboration had been exhausted.
Finally, I would be remiss in speaking of books for 2007 if I failed to mention What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way by Nick Cohen. It will be published in February. It's an outstanding discussion, with which I am in almost total agreement, of some very curious and malign turns in left-wing thinking. You know the type of thing: identity politics, alliances with Islamism and the rest. The book is also - dispiriting though the subject be - very funny. I recommend buying several copies for friends and family.