This is a belated second post dealing with criticisms of my Guardian column last week on Hiroshima Day. The first one dealt with critical comments and letters published in The Guardian. Since I wrote that post, the newspaper has published two more letters on the subject, here. As those letters are a lot wiser than the ones I criticised, I make no comment other than to recommend them.
Also the journalist Phillip Knightley, who wrote one of the original letters criticising my column, has since published an article here. Knightley cites his Guardian letter and then expands his point:
The debate then broadened into discussing why the United States did this. I offered an answer: “By the summer of 1945 General Leslie Groves, who had been in charge of the American atomic bomb programme, headed what was in effect a new branch of the American armed services: a nuclear strike command with 15 aircraft and two atomic bombs. Groves saw it as his duty to have them dropped on two Japanese cities, to try them out so that their future effectiveness as weapons could be judged.” He persuaded President Truman to agree by drafting an order for him to sign suggesting, falsely, that the bombs would be dropped only on “military objectives and sailors and soldiers and not women and children.”
Truman wrote in his diary, “The target will be purely a military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives.” So Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit with atomic bombs so that the America could learn how many people such bombs could kill and how much property they could destroy, in short, a military experiment. If that was not a war crime, then what is?
Knightley's original letter was nonsense; so is his article. I'm grateful to one of the most distinguished of all historians of the Pacific War, who has checked the relevant memoirs of both men and found no indication that Groves (who did not hold the post Knightley claims) drafted any order for Truman (who was at Potsdam at the time). Groves did draft an order for the bombing to General Carl Spaatz, who was Commander of US Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, to be signed by Acting Chief of Staff Thomas Handy. The words Knightley quotes don't appear anywhere in it. It is sobering to note that Knightley is an experienced journalist who describes himself as "an acknowledged expert in the dark arts of warfare" (i.e. propaganda and espionage). You might wish to recall Knightley's haplessness on this issue the next time you come across his declared expertise.
It is thus no great step, I fear, from Knightley to the stridently unlettered right-winger Justin Raimondo. It would take an age to dissect the misconceptions of Raimondo's entire article on Truman and Hiroshima (though I hope and believe he is right to identify Hillary Clinton as a "national security" Democrat), and I will deal merely with his response to mine:
Harry Truman, the author of the single most unjustified act of savagery in American history, is the iconic figure of today's "national security" (i.e., pro-war) Democrats, the hero of Peter Beinart's paean to Cold War liberal interventionism, The Good Fight. And it is not for nothing that the pro-war Left has taken up the cause of Truman's genocide. Oliver Kamm presents the case for mass murder here, in his typically bilious, self-important manner.
According to Comrade Kamm, "New historical research in fact lends powerful support to the traditionalist interpretation of the decision to drop the bomb." Yet, somehow, in all his research, this learned scholar has never come across Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower's dissent from Truman's deadly decision. He likewise ignores the almost unanimous opinion of top military figures at the time – including Adm. William Leahy, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Gen. Henry Arnold, Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, Adm. Ernest King, Gen. Carl Spaatz, Adm. Chester Nimitz, and Adm. William "Bull" Halsey – that using the Bomb twice was not a military necessity.
(I should explain that Raimondo occasionally refers to me as Comrade Kamm because he is amused by the fact that my name is similar to the first syllable of the word "communism". Hence he refers to the views I and other left-wing interventionists espouse as "Kammunism". I'm not sure if he's aware of it, but this ingenious wordplay is even funnier when you take account of the German origin of my name. Communism in German is spelled with a "k", and all German nouns start with a capital letter. Moreover, the German pronunciation of the letter "a" comes somewhere between an English short "a" and an English short "o". Foreign names are a rich seam for humour, as I'm sure my readers will agree.)
First, note that Raimondo is so incompetent a writer that he has misunderstood even his own cited source. That source, by Peter Kuznick, Associate Professor of History at American University, maintains (emphasis added):
Top U.S. military leaders recognized Japan’s growing desperation, prompting several to later insist that the use of atomic bombs was not needed to secure victory. Those who believed that dropping atomic bombs on Japan was morally repugnant and/or militarily unnecessary included Admiral William Leahy, General Dwight Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, General Curtis LeMay, General Henry Arnold, Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, Admiral Ernest King, General Carl Spaatz, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Admiral William “Bull” Halsey.
Now, there is a great deal wrong with Kuznick's argument, but one thing he is careful to state (inelegantly) is the chronology of military commanders' alleged objections to the Bomb: they were later criticisms, made after the fact. The amount of "dissent from Truman's deadly decision" (to use Raimondo's phrase) among Truman's commanders at the time was, so far as we can tell from current documentary evidence, nil. Robert Maddox, Professor Emeritus of History at Pennsylvania State University, states in his book Weapons for Victory, 1995, p. 124: "Pending the discovery of new material, there is no reliable evidence that any high-ranking officer expressed moral objections about the bomb to Truman or gave him reason to believe that the military situation had changed appreciably - except that Japanese defenses were growing daily more formidable - since he had approved the Kyushu operation [i.e. invasion] during his meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 18."
It is true - as Kuznick says - that Eisenhower claimed in 1963 to have opposed use of the A-bomb and to have forcefully argued his case to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Kuznick does not however disclose (and Raimondo obviously has no idea) that independent evidence shows that Eisenhower's recollection cannot be taken at face value. Parts of it are clearly false and the rest is unconfirmed. (The evidence is set out in Professor Maddox's volume cited above, pp. 121-4, and in Barton J. Bernstein, "Ike and Hiroshima: Did He Oppose It?", Journal of Strategic Studies, 10, 1987.) It is also true that Admiral William Leahy later condemned the use of the Bomb, but there is no reputable evidence that he did so at the time. One could go through a list of these military figures and say the same thing in each case. The chronology matters, and is the reason I carefully stated in my Guardian piece: "Contrary to popular myth, there is no documentary evidence that [Truman's] military commanders advised him the bomb was unnecessary for Japan was about to surrender." So far as I can tell from his conceptual chaos, Raimondo believes that almost all Truman's commanders opposed the A-bomb decision. He's wrong.
Even so, should we not give weight to the fact that Eisenhower and Leahy at some time, even if not in 1945, expressed forceful objections to use of the Bomb on the grounds that Japan was already a defeated power? Well, no. I'll quote an email I received a couple of years ago on this subject from yet another historian, at London University, who expressed this point so well that I sought and received his permission to post his comments (which are well worth reading in full) on this site:
In fact, [Leahy's memoir] I Was There (written in 1950) is an unreliable source, tainted by hindsight and as partial as many a politician or decision-maker's recollections can be. Leahy's position on atomic weapons was affected by the fact that he simply did not believe that the bomb would work (an opinion discredited by the first test in New Mexico in July 1945). As far as Eisenhower and Montgomery were concerned, both men had fought in North Africa and Europe against the Germans and Italians. Their experiences, and those of the troops they commanded, were radically different from those of the US Army and Marines in the Pacific Island campaigns, or of 14th Army in Burma.
Again and again in the anti-nuclear campaigners' citations of military figures you find a confusion between Japanese defeat and Japanese surrender. Whether and when an enemy will surrender is a political judgement, not a military one. It is accordingly not a subject on which military commanders have any special insight. It would be extraordinary if, after such catastrophic acts of war as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there had been no second thoughts by military commanders on a subject about which they had no particular competence: could those acts really have been necessary? As I indicated in my article, recent historical research by American and Japanese scholars strongly suggests that the bombs were indeed necessary - both of them, and not just the one at Hiroshima - to secure Japanese surrender.
Let us turn briefly now to two other publications that commented on my article. Cathy Young, a columnist at Reason magazine, makes some thoughtful points about the erroneous belief that "all use of terrible means is equal". She deliberately doesn't get into the historical arguments, and directs her readers for an alternative view to "the revisionist case ... made here by the Hoover Institution's David Henderson".
By all means read Henderson's piece, but be aware that he is no historian. He is an economist (of notably doctrinaire free-market views, though that's not relevant to this debate), whose source is a hoary and massive volume by Gar Alperovitz. Professor Alperovitz is the principal populariser (though not the originator) of the view that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first acts of the Cold War. He is much cited by anti-nuclear campaigners, but ignored by historians owing to two fundamental weaknesses in his thesis. First, there's no evidence for it; and secondly, his use of source material is a scholarly disgrace. Again, I direct you to Professor Maddox for some gruesome evidence on Alperovitz's techniques (Robert J. Maddox, "Gar Alperovitz: Godfather of Hiroshima Revisionism", Hiroshima in History, ed. Maddox, 2007, pp. 7-23). Alperovitz's characteristic technique, maintained consistently in the 40 years since the first edition of his book Atomic Diplomacy and continued in its successor volume, is to use ellipses in order to alter the meaning of the sources he purports to be examining.
Last, the New Criterion magazine carried a brief controversy among its contributors. The magazine's editor, Roger Kimball, agreed with me, here and here. His colleague Andrew Cusack strongly disagreed. Much of Cusack's case is about ethics, notably a famous argument by the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, and I will address this subject in the next post. But I was taken with this passage from Cusack:
"The so-called revisionist interpretation," Mr. Kamm informs us, "argued that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific war than the opening acts of the cold war. Japan was already on the verge of surrender; the decision to drop the bomb was taken primarily to gain diplomatic advantage against the Soviet Union." Interesting enough? Well, here comes Mr. Kamm's jaw-dropping insight to debunk the revisionists: "Yet there is no evidence that any American diplomat warned a Soviet counterpart in 1945-46 to watch out because America had the bomb."
To borrow from the popular speech of our time: well, duh! The concept that American diplomats would officially (or even informally) inform the Soviet Union, one of their formal allies, that a given act of war against the Empire of Japan was also partly a warning to the Communists of American power is so ridiculous it can be rejected at first sight.
It's always satisfying to depict an opponent's argument as too stupid to merit a response, but it does carry a risk. If you are not, in fact, a master of the relevant source material you might end up looking dumber even than you believe your adversary to be. Mr Cusack is a case in point. It is not ridiculous to suggest that US diplomats might have issued such a warning to Soviet counterparts. We know, for example (or at least I know: Mr Cusack plainly is not in the same position), that Secretary of State James F. Byrnes told Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy in August 1945 that he intended to go the London Foreign Ministers Conference the next month with the implied threat of the bomb behind him in his dealings with his Soviet counterpart. The crucial point undermining the "atomic diplomacy" thesis is not that such a warning was inconceivable but that that warning was never in fact issued. (On this point, and the evidence of Stimson's diaries, see Robert H. Ferrell, Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists, 2006, pp. 22-3.)
That concludes my discussion of the historical objections to my article about Hiroshima. I find those objections highly unconvincing. My third and final post on the subject will address the ethical objections of Norman Geras and Michael Walzer. Professors Geras and Walzer are - I understate on a grand operatic scale - more formidable political thinkers than Justin Raimondo, but I take strong issue with their arguments too, for reasons I shall explain.
UPDATE: Cathy Young of Reason magazine has published a longer version of her post on her own blog, here. She makes many astute points, and the comments are worth reading too.