Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Fictions and Facts

About the US atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, popular accounts still stick to the false but “greatest generation” story that, “Without [them], more Japanese would have died in a US assault on the islands, as would have tens of thousands of Americans,” as Mike Hashimoto wrote in the Dallas Morning News in 2016.

The New York Times reported that year, “Many historians believe the bombings [of] Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, which together took the lives of more than 200,000 people, saved lives on balance, since an invasion of the islands would have led to far greater bloodshed.” Many historians, perhaps; but not that many.

On the contrary the chief historian of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, J. Samuel Walker, wrote in the journal Diplomatic History in 1990, “The consensus among scholars is that the bomb was not needed to avoid an invasion of Japan and to end the war within a relatively short time. It is clear that alternatives to the bomb existed and that Truman and his advisers knew it.”

Historian Martin Sherwin has debunked the tale of the “good” atom bombs, citing in his 2003 book A World Destroyed “a ‘considerable body’ of new evidence that suggested the bomb may have cost, rather than saved, American lives. That is, if the US had not been so determined to complete, test, and finally use the bomb, it might have arranged the Japanese surrender weeks earlier, preventing much bloodshed on Okinawa.”

Historian Gar…

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