Hiroshima: Why the Bomb?

Historian Takaki Discounts the Usual Reasons, Poses His Own Thesis
by Fernando Quintero

In the new book, "Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb," racist
attitudes toward the Japanese along with President Harry Truman's insecurity over
his masculinity are some of the startling answers provided by Ronald Takaki,
professor of ethnic studies.

The bombing of Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, was one of the most pivotal events of the
20th century, yet the question of why the bombing happened remains.
The most widely accepted theory is that Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Japan
to end the war quickly and avoid massive casualties. That explanation, says Takaki,
is too simplistic.

He considers such factors as the cultural context of race, reviewing the ways in
which stereotypes of the Japanese influenced public opinion and policy makers.
"At the time, the only familiarization with the Japanese was Gilbert and Sullivan's
'Mikado,'" he said.

Takaki also examines what he says are previously undisclosed aspects of Truman's
complex personality: his struggle to overcome his childhood identity as a "sissy"
and his troubled ambivalence over the decision to drop the bomb.
Relying on top secret military reports, diaries and letters, Takaki reveals, among
other findings:

o General Eisenhower advised President Truman in July that Japan had been beaten
and that the U.S. would not use such a "horrible" weapon.
o General MacArthur, supreme commander of allied forces in the Pacific, was not
consulted but was merely informed 48 hours beforehand. He did not believe using
the bomb was a military necessity.
oAdmiral William Leahy, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had urged Truman to
allow Japan to surrender with the assurance its emperor could remain, and thus end
the war without the atomic bomb.

Takaki, recently named a fellow of the Society of American Historians, is the
grandson of Japanese plantation laborers in Hawaii.

Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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