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Friday, August 8, 2014

Did Truman Not Understand Likely Civilian Toll of A-Bombs?

Terrific new article by the invaluable Alex Wellerstein raising a question I haven't confronted in years:  Did Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson's well-known success in getting the great cultural city of Kyoto taken off the atomic hit list mislead Truman into thinking the other targets were primarily military sites and not large teeming cities?  I'm not convinced.  I think Truman was insensitive to that to begin with (as were so many American leaders, military and even some scientists) but the point is worth considering.  If true, it does show how clearly clueless leaders can order slaughter, especially if shielded by subordinates.  Truman did describe Hiroshima merely as a "military base" in his historic announcement and I've always figured that was pure propaganda, but who knows, maybe he thought that was (mainly) true.  Nagasaki happened because he didn't care enough to halt for a few days--it was assembly-line massacre.

1 comment:

Alex W. said...

Dear Greg —

Thanks so much for your thoughts.

The only thing I would note is that Truman did not write his August 6th press release (and probably none of his later ones, either), as you probably know. It was written by Arthur Page, VP of AT&T and a "father" of corporate public relations, at the request of Stimson, and was edited by Stimson's Interim Committee (and probably Groves). (An earlier, more florid version was written by William Laurence of the NYT, but rejected by the Interim Committee.) So I don't know if the press statement reflects anything about what Truman himself thought whatsoever. It does go along with the aspect of him being at some remove from the whole thing, signing off on whatever his subordinates put in front of him. (Which I should emphasize does not, obviously, absolve him of anything.)

I have written a bit about it here. One of the people who was asked his opinion on the draft announcement was William Consodine, who I know you have run across before for his involvement with the MGM film: http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/2012/03/07/weekly-document-editing-trumans-announcement-of-the-bomb-1945/