Summary of Charges and Responses

In the Hiroshima Debate on H-Net:
Section B


10/10: Eric Bergerud wrote: "In addition, Alperovitz frequently accuses the US government of "rigidity" in its posture toward Japan. Implicit in this charge is the idea that some kind of negotiated settlement acceptable to Washington was there for the asking."

The issue of whether surrender was possible is dealt with in many of the responses--and in Parts I, II, III of Alperovitz's response. In addition, it may be useful to note that Uday Mohan responded on public opinion toward surrender terms as expressed in the popular media on 10/3:

Despite Grew's public denial of the seriousness of peace feelers, calls for clarification of surrender terms multiplied, in Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. On July 13, the Washington Post editorialized:

". . . the main question . . . is whether we should make known not merely to Japan but also to ourselves, and particularly to the men who are bearing the greatest pain and burden of the battles, precisely what are our purposes in continuing them.
. . . If these purposes are clear in the minds of our statesmen, they are nevertheless masked under the purely rhetorical and meaningless phrase, 'unconditional surrender.'"

The Post was being consistent with its earlier editorials arguing strongly for terms for Japan. Just a month earlier an editorial had said:

"...the same two words ['unconditional surrender'] remain a great stumbling block to any [U.S.] propaganda effort and the perpetual trump card of the Japanese die-hards for their game of national suicide. Let us amend them; let us give Japan conditions, harsh conditions certainly, and conditions that will render her diplomatically and militarily impotent for generations. But also let us somehow assure those Japanese who are ready to plead for peace that, even on our terms, life and peace will be better than war and annihilation."

Similar sentiments were expressed in other publications. Time, for instance, noted on July 16 that "unconditional surrender" had yet to be clarified. "Or, if it has," the newsweekly noted, "it is still a deep secret. U.S. military policy is clear: blow upon blow until all resistance is crushed. But the application of shrewd statesmanship might save the final enforcement of that policy--and countless U.S. lives."


9/27: John Bonnett developed a theory concerning Stimson's "Psychology of Combat" and implied his views as chairman of the Interim Committee were consistent with his decision to support the use of the atomic bomb:

"[W]ith regards to the Interim Committee deliberations, his thinking likely ran along the lines he claimed after the war: his primary objective was to find the best means to exploit the bomb's shock value. The schema is also consistent with his postwar claim that he was not amenable to proposals that mitigated -- even slightly -- the potential shock value of the bomb, since therein lay his traditional prescription for ending a conflict."

On 11/10 Katie Morris pointed out in H-Japan Stimson's views on ending the war quite apart from the atomic bomb:

Stimson himself attempted three times in three weeks, with the support of Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, to persuade Truman to clarify the meaning of unconditional surrender with regard to the status of the emperor.

Again, because I fear that this evidence has been quoted so much that it has lost it's punch, I ask you to consider that: On July 2, in a memorandum to Truman, Stimson first proposed that a warning with assurances be issued. Almost echoing Leahy, Stimson rhetorically asked, "Is there any alternative to such a forceful occupation of Japan which will secure for us the equivalent of an unconditional surrender of her forces and a permanent destruction of her power again to strike an aggressive blow at the 'peace of the Pacific'?" He answered: "I am inclined to think that there is enough such chance to make it well worthwhile our giving them a warning of what is to come and a definite opportunity to capitulate." He emphasized: "I believe Japan is susceptible to reason in such a crisis to a much greater extent than is indicated by our current press and other current comment." And driving home the point McCloy had made, (probably in anticipation of any fears the president might have of domestic disapproval of assurances) he stressed his belief that if, in the warning, "we should add that we do not exclude a constitutional monarchy under her present dynasty, it would substantially add to the chances of acceptance."

Also, various diary entries, correspondence and papers confirm that the content of the July 12 and 13 MAGIC intercepts triggered Stimson's July 16 attempt to convince Truman that "we are at the psychological moment" to issue an ultimatum to Japan clarifying U.S. intentions vis a vis the emperor-and to use the bombs only if this did not work. In an official memorandum, he explained:

"The great marshalling of our new air and land forces in the combat area in the midst of the ever greater blows she is receiving from the naval and already established Army forces, is bound to provoke thought even among their military leaders. Added to this is the effect induced by this Conference and the impending threat of Russia's participation, which it accentuates.
Moreover, the recent news of attempted approaches on the part of Japan to Russia, impels me to urge prompt delivery of our warning...."

Again, to be quite clear, despite what Japanese sources reveal about the intransigence of Japanese military leaders, it was Stimson's view, as expressed here to Truman, that the desperate situation in the Pacific was "bound to provoke thought _even among their military leaders_."


10/14 and again on 10/28 Brian Villa charged Alperovitz with gross distortions:

"Nevertheless, three editions later, in a new volume with multiple co-researchers and over 800 pages we can find the following Alperovitzian phrase," the Japanese leaders were united in their determination to surrender." (p.651) It bespeaks unconscionable stubborness before contrary evidence, it relies, if not traffics on the tendency of readers to confuse the meaning of "seeking peace" with "determined to surrender." To tolerate this sort of stubbornness and this seeming confusing of the terms seeking peace and seeking surrender is to abandon some of the most fundamental rules of this profession, without which it is not a profession."

Thad Williamson responded on 10/23:

Nonetheless, anyone concerned with basic norms of intellectual exchange ought to be deeply disturbed by this kind of charge, especially when it is coupled with a grossly inaccurate characterization of another scholar's work. At the end of his long ad hominem diatribe against Gar Alperovitz, Brian Villa wants to know, for instance, why misrepresents the Japanese governments view of surrender in the "Alperovitzian sentence" that "the Japanese leaders were united in their determination to surrender"; and why there is a "failure to report that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Soviet entry into the war the Japanese military at the imperial war council cast their votes for continuance of the war."

As to the first point, let me be quite clear: The sentence attributed to Alperovitz by Villa does not exist in the book, not on p.651 (as Villa cites) or anywhere else. Alperovitz does, on p.651, write "Furthermore, the August intercepts which now showed `unanimous determination' to seek surrender through Moscow was an important new signal of the army's position..." The `unanimous determination' language is directly derived from Foreign Minister Togo's MAGIC cable of August 2 that "At present, in accordance with the Imperial will, there is a unanimous determination to seek the good offices of the Russian in ending the war..." Of course, this statement in no way implies unanimity as to the terms of surrender; nor is the quote used in to connote such a conclusion.

The quote is first cited in the text as follows on p.406, within the context of a detailed discussion of the evolving Japanese position in late July and early August:

"On August 2, Togo cabled Sato that although it was `difficult to decide on concrete peace conditions here at home all at once....
At present, in accordance with the Imperial will, there is a unanimous determination to seek the good offices of the Russians in ending the war, to make concrete terms a matter between Japan and Russia, and to send Prince Konoye, who has the deep trust of the Emperor, to carry on discussions...
The cable stressed, finally, that `we are exerting ourselves to collect the views of all quarters on the matter of concrete terms'; hence Whatever happens, if we should let one day slip by, that might have----[word uncertain probably "results"] (sic) lasting for thousands of years. Consequently, if the Soviet Government should reply in the negative....I urge you to do everything possible to arrange another interview with Molotov at once."

Alperovitz refers to this same cable again on p. 412: "We noted above that the August 2 MAGIC report suggested the `unanimous determination' of top leaders in Tokyo that Japan should seek peace." Alperovitz additionally quotes the following material from the August 2 cable: "`Under the circumstances there is a disposition to make the Potsdam Three Power Proclamation the basis of our study concerning terms.'"

Had Villa not provided a page reference to his misquote, I might have dismissed this error as simple sloppiness. Since he did provide a page citation, it is difficult not to suspect malicious intent in Villa's gross distortion of Alperovitz's position. There can be no quibbling in this matter. The "unanimous determination" phrase is explicitly attributed to the Japanese and is so cited. For Villa then to reattribute these words to Alperovitz, as if Alperovitz were claiming that there was unanimous agreement in Japan upon the terms of peace, is simply outrageous and unscholarly. I urge all interested readers to compare the actual text and Villa's characterization of it--there is no resemblance.

As to the second point, on p.651 of the Afterword, the continued intransigence of the Japanese military after Nagasaki and Soviet entry is directly addressed in a section reviewing some of the expert literature on this point, starting with the following sentences: "Some feel that what Japanese military leaders said they wanted in internal discussions after August 9 also makes it difficult to believe a surrender could have been achieved on terms acceptable to the United States. The Japanese military wish-list included preservation of the imperial system, no postwar occupation, self-disarmament, and self-management of war-crime trials. The question is what weight to assign the wish-list in after-the-fact assertions."

This is followed by further argumentation to the effect that when push came to shove and the Emperor directly intervened, the military representatives on the Big Six accepted the Emperor's decision to accept peace (contingent on protection of the Emperor), even though they had the constitutional power to block this decision.

Whatever one thinks of these complex issues, it is simply untrue to state, as Villa does, that the book fails to address the question of the continued hold-out of the Big Six's military representatives on August 9. The most charitable interpretation that one can give Mr. Villa's accusations (accompanied by a blatant misquotation) is that perhaps he has not read the book; unfortunately, given the fact that Villa cites the very page in which the August 9 Japanese military stance is discussed, this charitable interpretation is a very difficult one to sustain.

On 10/28 Brian Villa apologized for using the word "unanimous" and not "united", but did not acknowledge the larger misquotation:

Reference Tad Williamson's latest posting on H-Diplo. I do indeed owe some apology to H-Diplo readers for not getting out of my e-mail programme and double checking the exact wording of the Alperovitzian quote. Tad Williamson is correct insofar as he points out that the actual quote, drawn from a Togo to Sato cable used the word "unanimous" and not "united". Having made my apologies to H-Diplo's readers, I must point out that whether the original Alperovitzian presentation used the word "united" or "unanimous" is, as far as I can see immaterial. The connotative and denotative differences between united and unanimous are so negligible to anyone who has a moment to reflect that I am surprised Williamson's overblown reaction was posted in the form that it was. I guess that is the price one pays for instant electronic communications at thousands of bytes per second.

I may be wrong but one of the things I see in Williamson's reaction is the possible preparation of a "tu quoque" defense. Everyone makes slip-ups Villa makes slip ups Alperovitz makes slips ups and it is all relative. This -let us bury the controversy under relativism-was I thought also implicit in Chip Young's earlier pro-Alperovitz intervention. However what I taxed Dr. Alperovitz for was converting in a published work, written with 7 research agents and I presume several proof readers, a phrase referring to a Japanese " determination to seek peace" into the phrase "determination to seek surrender." This conversion is highly significant. Seeking peace is very different both in connotations and denotations from seeking surrender. If Alperovitz were correct that the Japanese were unanimous in their determination to surrender before the bomb was used then the blurb under which Alfred Knopf published this book: " Truman Knew War Was Over Before Using Atomic Bomb" might have some validity. Alperovitz would have a strong basis, indeed, for his general thrust that Hiroshima was criminal. But the Japanese cable spoke of a "unanimous determination to seek peace" not surrender. It is this conversion which amounts to distortion. Period. Full stop.

At this point debate was cut off without warning by the editors of H-Diplo. Villa edited his 10/14 H-Diplo post and this was crossposted to H-Japan on 10/29. In this edited crosspost, Villa continued to misquote Alperovitz. Thad Williamson responded thus to villa on H-Japan on 11/5:

I should also note that Villa continues to misquote the sentence even after the error was pointed out on H-DIPLO; he has corrected "unanimous" for "united", but still badly mangles the original sentence in his H-JAPAN posting. I do not understand why this misquotation is repeated, and since I have in hand a print review of by Bonnett and Villa in which they do manage to get the quote right I would rather not suspect anything other than error. But this error is serious, and must be pointed out; in any case, what is most important is not so much the misquotation but the misrepresentation of how Alperovitz uses the quote.)

As to the larger point Villa wants to raise--the claim that Alperovitz (consciously) misleads the reader by confusing "seek peace" with "surrender", a re-reading of how the cable is used by Alperovitz in its full context, as I have just given, disproves the charge (see above). Alperovitz does not use the cable to claim that the Japanese military was ready to surrender on American terms; but rather that even they too were beginning to recognize the need to get out of the war. As War Department intelligence analysts noted in the MAGIC report of August 3 (which also contained a delayed portion of the Togo to Sato cable):

"The second half of Foreign Minister Togo's 2 August message to Ambassador Sato--now available--contains the first statement to appear in the traffic that the Japanese Army is interested in the effort to end the war with Soviet assistance."

MAGIC also noted Togo's statement that "The Premier and the leaders of the Army are now concentrating all their attention on this one point." (As noted by Walter Brown in the diary passage cited above, these were the intelligence reports shown to Truman by Leahy on August 3 aboard the Augusta, leading Truman, Leahy, and Byrnes to agree "Japas [sic] looking for peace".)

The excerpts from the August 3 MAGIC report regarding the Japanese Army's position are quoted on p.412 of , but are not at all acknowledged by Villa, even though they are referenced in the second clause of the same sentence he takes such objection to. (Indeed in a subsequent H-DIPLO posting, Villa has also claimed that Alperovitz has no warrant to suggest the Togo to Sato cable says anything about the Army's view, apparently believing his own interpretation of the cable to be superior to that offered at the time by U.S. intelligence!) Alperovitz uses the August 2nd and 3rd reports simply to show that there was movement within the ranks of even the Japanese Army on the question of ending the war, as indicative of the overall weakening of the Japanese position and increased eagerness to find a way out of the war. It is not represented as definitive of any consensus as to terms of peace, but simply as a telling element within the larger picture. This is a legitimate use of evidence, with which one may agree or disagree in own's own interpretation; it is absolutely not a ploy to deceive readers.


9/25: John Bonnett used the Enola Gay controversy to set up a dichotomy between Vietnam War-era historians and WWII veterans, and sees the different experiences of these two groups as playing a role in their understanding of the bomb decision.

Response by Kai Bird on 10/1 on Alperovitz's pre-Vietnam roots:

. . . Alperovitz received his Ph.D. in 1964, and wrote his ground-breaking "Atomic Diplomacy" well before the Vietnam era--as is noted in his latest volume. Indeed, when "Atomic Diplomacy" was published in 1965 Alperovitz was top-ranking special assistant in the U.S. State Department. In other words, his book was not at all the product of those "historians who came of age during the Vietnam war." It was a product of the fact that certain highly relevant archival sources happened to become available in 1959--as Barton Bernstein has so revealingly told the story in his startling essay, "Seizing the Contested Terrain of Nuclear History" (Diplomatic History Winter 1993). But this too is irrelevant to Bonnett's purposes.

Also irrelevant to Bonnett is the elementary fact that views he attributes to Vietnam era historians--and which the Air Force Association's public relations flaks described as distorted, hateful, and anti-American during the Enola Gay controversy-were actually common fifty years ago among conservatives. Bonnett conveniently forgets that in the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima, military figures like Dwight Eisenhower, William D. Leahy, William Halsey, Curtis LeMay and Henry 'Hap' Arnold criticized the decision to annihilate Hiroshima with the bomb. Virtually all of World War II's ranking military figures could today be labeled "revisionists."

The New York Times' leading military affairs correspondent Hanson Baldwin included the Hiroshima decision in his 1950 book, "Great Mistakes of the War." Herbert Hoover, Henry Luce, and the Washington Post's Eugene Meyer questioned the necessity for the bomb. In other words, fifty years ago, leading figures in American life were more willing to voice criticism of the bombings than is allowed today in our national museum.

Response by Uday Mohan on 10/3:

[Bonnet's] framing of the issue would have surprised all the mainstream and conservative individuals who publicly claimed that the bomb was unnecessary--for example, James Reston, Henry Luce, David Lawrence (the conservative editor of U.S. News & World Report), Herb Elliston (the editor of the Washington Post in the 1940s and early 1950s), key military leaders, including Admirals Leahy and Nimitz (in addition to what Nimitz has said, Nimitz's son recently recalled on CBS that his father always regretted the use of the bomb because Japan had already been beaten), conservative writers in William F. Buckley's National Review and elsewhere, and many others. Conservative criticism of Truman's decision was, in fact, widespread enough in the 1950s that one writer began his 1959 _defense_ of the bomb in National Review by stating that "The indefensibility of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is becoming part of the national conservative creed . . ." A rich sampling of this material is laid out in Alperovitz's book, but it seems to have escaped Bonnett's attention.

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