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February 04, 2008



Come now, Oliver, this is transparent. You are worse than the visitors to Bedlam who used to shake the chains of the lunatics to provoke a reaction.

Ian Deans

In the paragraph beginning 'So what do Russian specialists make of Hasgawa's "race" hypothesis?', a letter has been omitted from Hasegawa's name.


Shooting fish in a barrel. Kamm was less impressive writing last November that '(WWI)... was not
unnecessary at all'. I am still puzzled why Niall Ferguson's 'The pity of war', which debunks Kamm's mentor on the subject Fritz Fischer, was totally ignored.

Ben Sixsmith

How dreadful to claim that an ignoramus is not qualified to engage in complex historical debate. In the esteemed words of Medialens, 'That’s elitism and we reject it totally'.

Oliver Kamm

Nick and Ben, it's difficult to argue against the points you make.

Ian, thank you for pointing out the typo, which I'll correct.

Szeni, I'm sorry you were unimpressed with my comments about WWI, but so far from disregarding Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War, I much admire it. Ferguson argues briskly that (p. 421): "The real problem with the peace [i.e. with Versailles] was not that it was too harsh, but that the Allies failed to enforce it: not so much 'won't pay' as 'won't collect'." He rejects the notion that Germany bore only equal responsibility for the war with the Allies, still less that it was an aggrieved party. But his criticism of Fischer (who is not my "mentor" but is a seminal figure in the historiography of WWI) is (p. 169) "the assumption that Germany's aims as stated after the war had begun were the same as German aims beforehand". From this criticism, Ferguson maintains that British strategy was in error, and that (p. 461): "By fighting Germany in 1914, Asquith, Grey and their colleagues helped ensure that, when Germany did finally achieve predominance on the continent, Britain was no longer strong enough to provide a check to it."

That is a highly unorthodox view, and is difficult to reconcile with, among other things, the patently imperialist programme advanced by Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg in September 1914, only a month after the outbreak of war.

I naturally agree that Niall Ferguson is a more formidable historical analyst than David Cromwell of Media Lens. But this is my blog and I'm at liberty to choose the softest of targets if I want.


Excellent critique Oliver. I spotted a copy of the Media Lens book in Foyles the other day. According to the blurb on the front, one J Pilger calls it "The most powerful book about journalism I can remember." A ringing endorsement.

Anyway, you might be interested in this article in the journal International Security. It argues that the bomb did not influence Japansese surrender and I'd be interested in your thoughts.


Also, if you haven't read it already, you might like to read this review of recent debates between "traditionalists" and "revisionists":

Walker, J.S. (2005) Recent literature on Truman's atomic bomb decision: A search for middle ground. Diplomatic History, 29, 311-334.

I can send you a copy if necessary.


Whilst we're on the subject, I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Kamm gave the argument that Versailles could be considered too lenient on Germany. This was the argument, when the treaty was signed, of the Die Hard right of British politics (Leopold Maxse, Henry Page Croft, etc.) and I was surprised that someone on the left argued the point. It is refreshing when this argument is put forward, and it is in my view the correct one when you look at the situation rationally.

Sean Pelette

Ahh, Ward Wilson's article. He uses an interesting approach. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned together in both the beginning and end while the body of the essay carefully avoids any discussion of the Nagasaki bombing.

Hip Gnosis

This blog post was too long. I was sober when I started reading it, and completely drunk before I got halfway through. I think blog posts should never be more than about a foot long.


Off topic here , quite interesting although what you say about Boris is mean spirited and somewhat shallow .

Oona King`s appearance of vaccuous fraud may be a pose but not all poses are without truth...blah blah

Friedrich M.

"There are two fundamental problems with Alperovitz's argument that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were instruments of atomic diplomacy by the Truman administration against the Soviet Union. First, there is no evidence for it"

You know well that there is evidence for it, Oliver. But you (or, more exactly, your handful of crank rightwing correspondents on the issue, as it is obvious that you enjoy no mastery of this subject yourself beyond what you are spoon-fed by aforementioned cranks) systematically suppress any mention of it and rantingly misrepresent the complex scholarship on the matter at every opportunity. With this cynical pretense of thorough reading, you manage to fool a decent proportion of your worshipful commenters and readers. Bravo!

It is as plain as day however to at least some readers that you are no more expert on this subject than the amateurish Medialens crowd, and just as ideologically driven - but in the opposite (and coincidentally uglier) direction.


I think Mr Kamm's position is born of a leftwinger's horror of morally porous killing & enforced suffering. Which is not to imply partiality. It would be hard for him to think that America had killed over 200 000 people without excellent moral grounds & practical reasons (that is, crucially, the preservation of many more lives than were destroyed), because if it had not, his principles would enjoin him to abhor the acts. For me, I find it hard, with counterfactuals in play*, to achieve the sureness which Mr Kamm's tone rather brandishes -- but that is -his- tone; I don't know he can write otherwise.

If Friedrich has evidence, why doesn't he cite it?

*I have written a blogpost on this very question, but I won't link to it: I've a feeling that'd be rude.

Oliver Kamm

Friedrich M, you're right that I enjoy no mastery of this subject; I go purely by the secondary literature. But beyond that point, I'd be obliged if you would think hard before posting this sort of contribution to my site in future.

I have many correspondents, and some of them are cranks; but the historians I have quoted in this post and others are not cranks. They are leading scholars in fields relevant to this subject. I have no idea what political views are held by, e.g., my correspondent Michael Kort of Boston University, nor would they tell me anything about his research in the primary sources if I did know them. It might, however, interest you to know that another historian I've cited periodically, Robert Newman of Pittsburgh University (who discovered the Shockley report in the Library of Congress), is a veteran campaigner in the American anti-war and anti-nuclear movements. In his book Enola Gay and the Court of History he writes scathingly of US nuclear overkill, Truman's decision to develop the H-bomb, the Vietnam war, and US interventions in Chile and elsewhere. Prof Newman is not a right-winger by any standards. But what is important for this discussion is that he is a scrupulous historian who follows where the evidence leads him. I take strong issue with the ignorant and abusive contribution you have posted here, and hope that anything further from you will be more constructive.

If you find Alperovitz's contribution compelling, incidentally, you might wish to ask yourself why it avoids using Japanese sources, ignores the work of Truman's biographers, makes no mention of the literature on the Soviet nuclear programme, and evinces no curiosity let alone scepticism concerning Nitze's USSBS conclusions.

Seymour Paine

In Volume VI of the Second World War, Chapter 38 "Potsdam: The Atomic Bomb," Churchill discussed many of the points you mention. According to him, after the successful test ("Babies satisfactorily born") Churchill, along with General Marshall, Admiral Leahy, and President Truman conferred while in Potsdam with Stalin about using it. "To quell the Japanese resistance man by man and conquer the country yard by yard might well require the loss of a million American lives and half that number of British...Moreover, we should not need the Russians. The end of the Japanese no longer depended upon the pouring in of their armies for the final and perhaps protracted slaughter. We had no need to ask favours of them. A few days later I minuted to Mr. Eden: "It is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against Japan.""

(I invite you to read the chapter to acertain the elided portion does not distort Churchill's words.)


Oliver Kamm to Friedrich M: "I take strong issue with the ignorant and abusive contribution you have posted here"

OO-er! Do I catch a whiff of fiery indignation there?

If this were a comment made by an opponent, Mr K would perhaps describe it as "anguished bleating", or something like that..?

Seymour Paine

Opps: My syntax implied incorrectly that Churchill, Truman and Stalin were conferring in Potsdam about using the atomic bomb. Stalin wasn't part of that discussion (according to Churchill, Truman privately disclosed it to him shortly afterward, although I imagine his spies already knew about it).


Alperovitz, in his zeal to assign Hobbesian motives to the American leaders and high command (i.e., Truman mesmerizing Stalin and the world with his fissionable Leviathan) seems to ignore inductive logic. Yes, induction will only give probabilities, whereas deduction--as long as the major and minor premise are sound--will give absolute conclusions. However, life requires us to make inductive leaps. The purity of absolute knowledge is an elusive luxury, especially during periods of raw violence.

Several years ago, I saw Admiral Tibbets give a lecture on the Enola Gay, where he told the audience that after the war, he met with his former adversaries and counterparts in the Japanese military. Tibbets claimed that these men confirmed in private that America had no choice except to use the Bomb, because without it, Imperial Japan would have fought to the death. Well, is this true? Would there really have been mass suicides and Kamikaze attacks? Would Japanese teenagers with sharpened bamboo sticks really have fought U.S. Marines on the beaches?

Gore Vidal (a brilliant novelist, but a doctrinaire iconoclast if there ever was one) breezily dismisses the estimated million-American casualty rate, saying, if I remember correctly, that General George C. Marshall pulled this number out of thin air. Well, once again, is this true? Did the American leadership have any reason to believe--through the use of inductive logic, which is a probable outcome based on consistent observations--that a conventional invasion of Japan would have been a mutual slaughterhouse, or were the August mushroom clouds merely the product of racial propaganda or Machiavellian realpolitik? I am no jingo; I come from a war-traumatized family, so I have no special love of vicarious historical violence; however, let us look honestly at the mutual casualty rates in the Pacific Theater. Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Truk, Kwajalein, Okinawa--the death tolls, the details of the close-combat savagery horrify the mind. However, over and over again, we see a grim pattern repeated: Japanese soldiers repeatedly fought to the death. (This, by the way, is the central claim made by John Connor's short essay on this very subject, "The U.S. was Right.") Indeed, the source of this death-before-surrender mentality is debatable, but Connor makes an important point: the high body count exists, and we have a right to make conclusions based on that evidence.

Now consider some of the weapons in the Japanese arsenal: the Lunge AT Mine (an anti-tank bomb on the end of a bamboo pole); the infamous Kamikaze plane; the Kaiten ( a suicide submarine); the Ohka (an experimental suicide rocket plane). Now consider the romanticized death charge of the Yamato, Japan's last great battleship, in Operation Ten-gō. Without air cover and with only enough fuel for a one-way trip, the crew of the Yamato steamed into battle expecting to die.

I am not debating the ethics of dropping the Bomb: I leave that subject to better scholars than me. However, I ask this question of Kamm's critics: Did the American military have good reason to believe that a conventional invasion of Japan would have invoked staggering losses? If the Japanese militarists were willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of men to defend volcanic islands and atolls in the Pacific, how many would Imperial Japan be willing to sacrifice in the defense of Nippon itself?

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