I was visiting the International Security website and I was surprised and pleased to see that my article “The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima” was listed as one of the top five most viewed articles on their website. More than a full year later. If you haven’t read the article, I urge you to take a look. I intend, in the next few months, to make it the basis for a more important article that I’m at work on called “The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence.” I will argue that we have fundamentally misunderstood deterrence and that much of what we think we know about nuclear weapons is wrong. Have a look.
The crucial step in evaluating the evidence from Japan in 1945 is to understand how government by consensus works. In government by consensus agreement after consensus is arrived at is the sine qua non. It’s very important after a decision has been settled on to conform to the new position. People who are outside the consensus lose their positions of leadership.
When the Emperor says, “It was the Bomb that made us surrender” there is immediate pressure on everyone to then conform publicly to that position. There is a certain amount of “following orders” in this. There is also the pressure of not being out of step with the group.
What this means, from a historian’s point of view, is that everything after August 15, when the Emperor’s rescript is played over the nation’s radios, is suspect. Everyone will try to fit … Read More »
Recently I published an article in International Security called “The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima.” It argues that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II not because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but because the Soviets entered the war on August 8–the same day we bombed Nagasaki.
We look at Hiroshima and are shocked and appalled. To us it is clearly one of those epochal events on which history pivots. Of course it was crucial in any decision the Japanese leaders took about whether to continue fighting the war.
From our perspective nuclear weapons matter. They are strikingly different. We spent 2 billion dollars to develop them. We got the best scientific minds to work on them. Of course they were important. But when you look at the bombing of Hiroshima from the Japanese point of view, stand (in your imagination) in the shoes of Japan’s leaders, the picture changes.
The first problem is context. Our accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima often take place on a blank canvas. Or perhaps the lead-up to the event is a description of the transporting of the bomb to Tinian Island or … Read More »
If nuclear weapons aren’t useful, then how can you explain the fact that they won World War II?
It’s a good question. The problem is that they didn’t win World War II. The Soviet intervention did. The Soviet intervention radically changed the strategic situation. The atomic bombing was merely an extension of an already ferocious bombing campaign.
In 1945 the Japanese had lost the war. The Allies knew it. The Japanese knew it. The only question was how the Allies were going to persuade the Japanse to surrender. The US was offering “unconditional surrender” which meant the Japanese gave in and the US made no promises.
Historians have looked pretty closely at the situation inside the Japanese government in the summer of 1945. A certain amount of new evidence has come to light. Journals, diaries. Based on all the evidence historians have conlcuded … Read More »