Advances in Historical Studies
2013. Vol.2, No.2, 46-53
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ahs) DOI:10.4236/ahs.2013.22008
Reclaiming Realism for the Left: Gar Alperovitz and the
Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
Peter N. Kirstein
History Department, St. Xavier University, Chicago, USA
Received December 24th, 2012; revised February 14th, 2013; accepted Feb ruary 22nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Peter N. Kirstein. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons At-
tribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
Sixty-seven years after the decision to use the atomic bomb in World War II, controversy remains
whether the United States was justified in using fission bombs in combat. Gar Alperovitz, the great revi-
sionist historian, in his Atomic Diplomacy and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb transformed our
knowledge of the geopolitical motives behind the atomic attack against Japan at the end of World War II.
These uranium and plutonium-core bombs were political, not primarily military in purpose and motive
behind their deployment. His analysis will be compared to realists such as Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth
Waltz, Henry Kissinger and George Kennan who for the most part questioned unrestrained violence and
offered nuanced views on the wisdom of using such indiscriminate, savage weapons of war. The paper
will explore Alperovitz’s classic argument that out of the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the A-bomb
drove the incipient Cold War conflict. American national-security elites construed the bomb as a political-
diplomatic lever to contain Soviet power as much as a military weapon to subdue Japan. The views of
various political and military leaders, President Truman, Henry Stimson, James Byrnes, General George
C. Marshall, Admiral William Leahy and General Dwight Eisenhower are assessed.
Keywords: A-Bomb; Alperovitz; Realism; Hiroshima; Truman
Realism and War
At 8:15 in the morning on August 6, 1945 the world changed
forever when the United States launched the nuclear age with
an air-burst atomic bomb that exploded in the skies over Hi-
roshima, Japan. The city-busting carnage was repeated on Au-
gust 9 with the destruction of Nagasaki in the final days of
World War II. The cataclysmic potential for mass destruction of
humankind had not occurred on such a scale since the Colum-
bian invasions and subsequent extermination of the Native
American settlements beginning in the late fifteenth century
(Crosby, 1987). The decision to use the atomic bomb raises
questions ranging from its impact on international peace and
security to whether the atomic bomb advanced the national
Realism does not worship the use of force in all circum-
stances. Examples of realism shall be examined that explore
with nuance in theory and direct examination the use of the
A-bomb against a conventionally armed Japan. Realism em-
phasizes the use of power in pursuit of the national interest in a
world of anarchy. Alperovitz’s writings investigate many di-
mensions that are relevant to the realist critique that begin to
emerge in Thucydides’s epic history of the Peloponnesian War
in the fifth century B.C.E.
Athens informed the Lacedæmonians in speeches before
their assembly that they must submit to Athens’ greater power
and avoid rhetorical efforts to prevent domination. They are
told that “the secret being that where force can be used, law is
not needed.” Thucydides, anticipating the anarchy of realism
that requires a muscular approach in defending the national
interest, quotes the Athenians, “that the weaker must give way
to the stronger” (Thucydides, 1951). The militarily dominant
Athenians, in their war against Sparta, subdue the neutral is-
landers of Melos who had complained they were “debar(red)
from talking about justice and invite us to obey your interest”
(Thucydides, 1951). Neither conditional surrender nor negotia-
tion were permitted: surrender or die was the Athenian option.
The pursuit of the national interest by war and rejecting
non-violent conflict resolution is morally repugnant. Pope Paul
VI in his “World Day of Peace Message in 1976”, described the
atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a “butchery of
untold magnitude” (National Conference of Catholic Bishops,
1983). Atomic bombs are indiscriminate. They kill babies, fa-
thers, mothers, brothers, siste rs, children, hospital patients, doc-
tors, trees and gardens. Classmates, books, animals in zoos, life
savings, sidewalks, engagements, marriages, and highways are
destroyed (Sebald, 2003).
It is instructive to apply America’s launching of nuclear war
to realism and its variants that developed between the wars and
subsequently during the Cold War between the United States
and the Soviet Union. Realism is not a monolithic ideology and
one may glean a broad spectrum of analysis that can be applied
as a counter argument against the decision to use the atomic
bomb at the end of World War II.
E. H. Carr was an anti-imperial, Marxist historian whose
works on modern Russian history may endure as long as those
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
P. N. KIRSTEIN
in the realm of international-relations theory (Ghosh, 2007). He
was one of the early forerunners of classical realism and skep-
tical of a universality of moral principles that should govern
humankind. His between the wars critique of Wilsonianism, a
favorite target of realists determined to challenge lofty headed
idealism, was less than absolute. While various critics described
Carr’s “scathing critique” of idealism, the “harmony of inter-
ests,” and the search for a comprehensive moral code of justice,
his writings are almost lyrical in their denunciation of the in-
discriminate use of force unrelated to military necessity (Snow,
While Carr remains faithful to the tradition of classical real-
ism that the pursuit of power and not international moral prin-
ciples is essential for nation-state survival, he rejects the use of
military force if arbitrarily and indiscriminately destructive.
Carr’s distinct manifestation of idealism emerges from the real-
All agree that there is an international moral code binding
on states. One of the most important and most clearly
recognised items in this code is the obligation not to in-
flict unnecessary death or suffering on other human be-
ings… This is the foundation of most of the rules of war,
the earliest and most developed chapter of international
law (Carr, 1961).
Carr and Irving Critique
In a footnote, Carr observes with some conditionality that
following World War I, modern warfare has blurred the distinc-
tion between combatant and non-combatant immunity. While
attacking the latter might be “essential to... military purpose,”
Carr does not sanction a reckless or murderous disregard of
avoiding non-combatant carnage in war (Carr, 1961). During
World War II there was mass scale horrific destruction of non-
combatant populations. Strategic bombing killed one and a half
million civilians in urban areas across the globe including
Dresden, Cologne, Hamburg, Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and
London (Simic, 2003). As the violence mounted in a war with-
out mercy, nations waged total war upon defenseless, non-
combatant populations that were targeted along with military
bases, armies in the field, and key naval staging areas. One’s
status had no bearing on whether a person would be targeted;
only one’s distance from a conventional or nuclear explosion
would determine life or death (Rhodes, 2007). Even Secretary
of War Henry Stimson’s removal of Kyoto from the nuclear-
target list was intended to preserve the ancient capital’s historic
treasures but not its population (Carr, 1961).
If nation states reject any obligation to accept international
regimes, according to Carr, than international morality is im-
possible (Carr, 1961). Yet nations that attempt to universalize
their values are equally repugnant. Carr compares nations that
claim a universality of their principles to Hitler’s assertion that
Germany and the fittest are “the bearers of a higher ethic”.
Clearly referring to Wilsonian hubris, he eloquently denounces
the bombast “that American principles are the principles of
humanity” (Carr, 1961). Carr advocated some adherence to in-
ternational norms but not if it rested on nationalistic fervor
emanating from hegemonic ethnocentrism (Carr, 1961).
David Irving wrote in the opening sentence of Hitler’s War:
“To Historians is granted a talent even the gods are denied—to
alter what has already happened!” (Irving, 1990). In addition to
historians, nation-states and other ruling elites have unwar-
ranted influence in selecting and defining the components of
public memory. Race, class, and gender are powerful factors in
determining whose history gets written, whose history is me-
morialized in museum display, and whose history is deemed
important or relegated as nonhistory. While everything in the
past is history, the historical record includes what influential
elites—the press, the fawning professor-academic class, various
ethnic groups, the government and the media—believe can ad-
vance their interests. Dominant groups control history by con-
trolling the present and thus memory of a civilization.
Revisionism and the A-Bomb
Gar Alperovitz in his major revisionist works, Atomic Di-
plomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam, the Use of the Atomic Bomb
and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power and The
Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb avoids directly the moral
question of whether the atomic bomb was justified as a weapon
of war (Alperovitz, 1985, 1995). Yet his stunning analysis of
transformative revisionist history argues convincingly that the
Truman administration’s decision to use the atomic bomb at the
end of World War II was not militarily needed to defeat Japan
and that the standard defense of the bomb’s use is egregiously
Alperovitz has created a new past in challenging the archi-
tects of the atomic era and those who dominated its historical
significance. His magisterial writings that appear in books and
essays contain five major revelations: 1) In the months before
the A-bombs were unleashed in August, 1945, the United States
had several viable options to end the war without resorting to
weapons of mass destruction; 2) These options were not created
in postwar-revisionist New Left history but were known at the
time at the highest levels of government. In particular, Japan
was looking for a way to end the war and retain its emperor
through intense diplomacy with Russia; 3) The atomic bomb
was essentially a diplomatic weapon to contain and even roll
back Soviet influence in Central and Eastern Europe in the
early days of the Cold War (Alperovitz, 1985); 4) The weap-
ons’ principal military purpose was not to defeat an already
defeated Japan, but to preempt greater Soviet influence in Asia
that might result from a protracted, sustained role after it en-
tered the Pacific War; 5) The atomic bomb was not necessary to
defeat Japan or prevent a high-casualty invasion of its home
islands (Alperovitz, 1985).
Manhattan Project and Targeting
The Joint Chiefs of Staff initially ordered that Hiroshima,
Kyoto, Kokura, and Niigata escape conventional bombing to
preserve pristine targets to measure and admire the destruction
of atomic bombs. (Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Man-
hattan Engineer District, 1945) Hiroshima and ultimately Na-
gasaki became urban-atomic experiments because conventional
bombing had not reduced them to ashes. Major General Leslie
R. Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, ordered a
post-attack assessment report. The report confirmed Hiroshima
was chosen since it was “relatively untouched by previous
bombing, in order that the effect of a single atomic-bomb could
be determined” (Manhattan Engineer District, No Date). This
was a strong indication that Hiroshima was not considered a
high-value strategic military target.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 47
P. N. KIRSTEIN
While the Manhattan Project report stated atomic targets
should have “high military strategic value,” it was ignored with
the indiscriminate atomic bombings of urban populations. The
report emphasized that the A-bomb should have a “morale ef-
fect upon the enemy” (Manhattan Engineer District, No Date).
It affirmed an advantage of fission weapons is the “sheer terror
it struck into the people of the bombed cities,” and “terror re-
sulted in immediate hysterical activity” including “flight from
the cities” (Manhattan Engineer District, No Date). Fission is a
term borrowed from biological cell division and refers to the
neutron splitting of a uranium or plutonium nucleus into two
smaller and similar sized nuclei.
Clearly, the decision to use the atomic bomb was not to re-
duce Japan’s capacity to wage war as two cities were marked
for destruction because of revenge, racism, and a desire to field
test these new weapons of mass destruction (Dover, 1986; Ta-
kaki, 1985). President Harry S. Truman’s diary during the Pots-
dam Conference contained this entry: “The Japs are savages,
ruthless, merciless and fanatic” (Bernstein, 1991). Many more
targets were planned. One-hundred thousand persons had al-
ready been incinerated in fire-bomb raids of Tokyo during a
single night in March, 1945 (Freedman, 2007). Because Tokyo
was of “great psychological value,” Thomas Farrell, deputy
commanding general and chief of field operations of the Man-
hattan Project, urged its nuclear annihilation when more fission
bombs became available (Farrell, 1945). On one level it was an
inevitable escalation of conventional-strategic bombing.
The Target Committee meeting on April 27, 1945 had de-
clared that the 20th Air Force conventional bombing of urban
areas had “the prime purpose in mind of not leaving one stone
lying on another” (Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Man-
hattan Engineer District, 1945). Philip Morrison was one of
several Manhattan Project nuclear physicists and engineers on
Tinian who loaded the “Fat Man” Nagasaki implosion-triggered
plutonium A-bomb onto Bockscar. This was the B-29 Strato-
fortress that carried the weapon to the skies over Nagasaki with
the eponymous reference to Captain Frederick C. Bock. Ironi-
cally he switched aircraft just prior to takeoff and Major
Charles Sweeney was at the controls of Bockscar (Rhodes,
1986). Morrison after the war reflected: “But I wondered: Is
this the right thing to do… We knew a terrible thing had been
unleashed… We obviously killed a hundred thousand people
and that was nothing to have a party about… This would reduce
a city of three hundred to four hundred thousand people to
nothing but a sink for disaster relief, bandages and hospitals”
Realism’s Approach to War
Realism’s concern that worldwide anarchy requires a unilat-
eralist pursuit of its national interest is not absolute. Realism is
seen as rejecting economic, social, and human-rights violations
in third countries as germane in developing a nation’s strategic
approach to foreign policy. Pragmatists tell us that realism is
disciplined with a focus on limiting American foreign policy to
pursuing the national interest through the use of power (Haas,
1997). While clearly less committed than internationalists or
pacifists to defining how power might be used or enforcing the
laws of war, its founding intellectuals questioned the ethics of
atomic war at the beginning of the nuclear age.
Reinhold Niebuhr, the influential, realist theologian, drifted
from Marxism to realism during his great career as a public
intellectual. Such ideological musings are evident in his Moral
Man and Immoral Society. Niebuhr alternated between opposi-
tion and support of various nuclear policies during the Cold
War. He opposed publicly the dropping of the atomic bombs on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was a signatory of a Federal
Council of Churches statement that opposed the atomic detona-
tions over Japan. James B. Conant was president at Harvard on
leave during the war when he served as chair of the National
Defense Research Committee. He was a major architect of the
Manhattan Project and served on the pivotal Interim Policy
Committee on Atomic Energy (Interim Committee). He com-
plained to Niebuhr about his support of the anti-nuclear bomb
petition and received an ambivalent apology that stated the
atomic weapons were “evil… in order to do good” (Lears, 2012;
Hans Morgenthau attacked the hypocrisy of the Roosevelt
administration’s condemnation of indiscriminate warfare result-
ing from Japan’s attack on Canton and Russia’s assault on
Finland in the 1930s when the United States and others perpe-
trated far more ruthless strategic bombing during World War II.
He places the atomic attacks as the culmination of the progres-
sion toward total war:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are stepping stones… in the mo-
dern morality of warfare… The national interest in the de-
struction of enemy productivity… and the opportunity the
modern technology presents of satisfying that interest,
have had a deteriorating effect upon international morality
Contrast this analysis with Herman Kahn’s graduated deter-
rence and the escalation-dominance catechism that would drive
nuclear war-gaming scenarios during the Cold War. Morgen-
thau ruefully predicted that the incorporation of nuclear weap-
ons as “normal instruments of warfare would mean the destruc-
tion of… viable societies.” To construe their utility as a super
weapon that can decisively determine the outcome of war
“would not be a rational means to the rational ends of foreign
policy but instruments of desperation denoting suicide and
genocide” (Morgenthau, 1985).
A-Bomb and Diplomacy
Avoiding a final invasion of Japan and the myth of saving a
million American casualties have been the most enduring de-
fense of the decision to use the atomic bomb. The preliminary
invasion, Operation Olympic, was not scheduled to begin until
November 1, 1945 on the southern island of Kyushu. The full-
scale Operation Coronet invasion across the Tokyo Plain would
not commence until March 1, 1946, almost seven months after
the Hiroshima bombing (Alperovitz, 1985). Other military or
diplomatic options could have been pursued during the inter-
vening period. Alperovitz believes the United States hastily
used the bombs just before and after the Soviet Union decided
to end its neutrality in the Pacific War.
The US deployed the atomic bombs not as a winning weapon
but as a preemptive nuclear war to deter Soviet influence in
Manchuria and Japan (Alperovitz, 1985). Months before the
Olympic and Coronet ground invasions would occur, the
United States dropped uranium and plutonium-core nuclear
weapons over Japan. It was a geopolitical decision to effectuate
a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union in America’s ex-
panding Northeast Asian empire, dominate the peace in occu-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
P. N. KIRSTEIN
pied Japan, and strengthen its yet to be named “containment”
policy in Easte rn Europe.
At the Moscow Foreign Ministers Conference in October
1943, almost two years before the Manhattan Project would
produce combat-ready nuclear weapons, the Roosevelt admini-
stration pressured the Soviets, then engulfed in epic conflict
with the Wehrmacht and sustaining the majority of the war’s
casualties, to enter the Pacific War (Alperovitz, 1985; Baker,
1976). Joseph Stalin was more preoccupied with national sur-
vival after the Nazi “Barbarossa” invasion of June 22, 1941, but
agreed with Hitler’s defeat in sight at the Yalta Crimea Con-
ference in February, 1945 to terminate its state of non-bellig-
erency with Japan. Russia would end its state of neutrality with
Japan within two to three months after its defeat of German
forces. It surrendered on May 8 and, ninety-two days later on
August 8, Russia invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria from
its bases in Siberia. The Truman administration chose not to
allow the impact of the devastating loss of Russian non-bellig-
erency to register fully with Japan. It was fighting alone with-
out an ally in what was suddenly a conflict against the two
greatest powers on Earth. Truman also chose not to allow Japan
ample time to comprehend its atomic vulnerabilities following
the “Little Boy” Hiroshima attack (Horowitz, 1971). The day
after the Soviet Union initiated its Yalta pledge to enter the war
and three days after the first atomic bombing, “Fat Man” de-
Truman postponed the Potsdam Conference that was held in
a suburb outside bomb-ravaged Berlin during the summer of
1945 hoping that a nuclear test might allow a unilateralist ap-
proach in dominating post-war Japan (Alperovitz, 1985). The
conference began July 17 the day after the successful atomic-
bomb “Gadget” explosion at the Trinity site in New Mexico.
Truman wanted confirmation that the A-bomb worked before
suddenly reversing long-term American policy that ending the
Pacific War required a Soviet-American coalition (Alperovitz,
1970). The “Little Boy” gun assembly, uranium Hiroshima
bomb was then shipped to Tinian in the Marianas as Truman
anticipated a nuclear ending to World War II would preempt a
sustained Russian entry into the war. The 1945 Russo-Japanese
conflict was a six-day war from August 8 to August 14 when
Emperor Hirohito announced a surrender.
Russia and the Bomb
James Byrnes, Truman’s personal representative on the In-
terim Committee, dominated policy formulation on how and
not whether the atomic bomb would be used. Byrnes becomes
secretary of state in July while still serving on the Interim
Committee. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall,
in the spirit of allied transparency, suggested at a May 31, 1945
Interim Committee meeting that two Russian scientists attend
the New Mexico A-bomb test and observe its unprecedented
power. Byrnes rejected any sharing of information with the
Soviets on S-1, the codename for the Manhattan Project (Cor-
respondence (“Top Secret”) of the Manhattan Engineer District,
After Trinity, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill en-
dorsed the American abandonment that urged Russian entry
into the Pacific War: “we should not need the Russians” and
“European problems” would be more manageable with a “far
happier prospect in Europe” (Churchill, 1953). Cold War
power-maximizing thinking took precedence over preserving
the solidarity of the wartime alliance. Nuclear weapons were
the great equalizer that would preempt Russian influence in
post-war Japan and manage its domination of Red Army liber-
ated Central and Eastern Europe. P. M. S. Blackett’s classic ob-
servation stated, “the dropping of the atomic bomb was not so
much the last military act of the Second World War, as the first
major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia”
At Potsdam there was a brief exchange when Truman obli-
quely informed Stalin that the United States had developed a
new weapon against Japan. The words “atomic” and “nuclear”
were not used (Alperovitz, 1985). Henry Kissinger a realist
scholar-statesperson stunningly states that Truman revealed to
Stalin “the existence of the atomic bomb” (Kissinger, 1994).
Kissinger without documentation claims that “undoubtedly”
Stalin’s “paranoia” induced the Soviet leader to construe this
atomic revelation as “intimidation” (Kissinger, 1994). Kiss-
inger’s depiction of the exchange contrasts sharply with that of
Churchill who observed intently the Truman-Stalin conversa-
tion from a distance of five yards. Churchill described Stalin as
“delighted” but “had no idea of the significance” of Truman’s
vague reference to a more destructive weapon (Churchill,
The prime minister and Truman agreed they no longer
“needed” Soviet intervention in the Pacific War. Two days after
the July 16 plutonium A-bomb test in a New Mexico desert,
Churchill composed a note for his War Cabinet that Truman
told Stalin only “the simple fact” of a new weapon but “at all
costs refused to divulge any particulars” (Churchill, 1981).
Truman told Churchill after the July 24 conversation with Sta-
lin that he asked no questions and Churchill believed had “no
special knowledge of the” atomic bomb (Churchill, 1981). Un-
like the expansive Churchill, the laconic Truman devotes a
mere three sentences in his memoirs on his encounter with Sta-
lin. Yet he confirms a “casually” delivered account of a “new
weapon of unusual destructive force” and corroborates Chur-
chill’s observation that the Soviet leader appeared pleased
Kissinger makes another speculative but interesting assertion
that Stalin knew about the existence of S-1 before Truman did
(Kissinger, 1994). Stalin probably was aware of the Manhattan
Project based on Soviet intelligence prior to Secretary of War
Henry Stimson’s comprehensive April 25 S-1 briefing of the
new president after the death of Franklin Roosevelt (Harri-
son-Bundy Files, 1942-1946). F. D. R. was aware of likely So-
viet intelligence assets during the developmental stage of the
atomic bomb. Stimson had alerted Roosevelt as early as Sep-
tember, 1943 of its wartime ally’s penetration of the Manhattan
Engineer District (Sherwin, 1973). Yet Stalin had little concep-
tion of the atomic bombs’ magnitude of scale before the attacks
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Patterson, 2000). Kissinger’s air
of authority that Stalin was fully informed about the atomic
bomb through a combination of espionage and Truman’s al-
leged atomic revelation at Potsdam is highly speculative. He
ignores the Anglo-American determination to retain indefinitely
an atomic monopoly as the Grand Alliance was beginning to
unravel with Cold War division and competing imperial over-
stretch. The ethnocentric belief that the Russians were not ca-
pable of developing an atomic bomb for several decades fed the
arrogance of atomic monopoly amidst a world of inferior tech-
nological actors (Sherwin , 1975).
Kissinger avoids any citation of Alperovitz’s work and relies
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 49
P. N. KIRSTEIN
instead upon counter-revisionist scholars such as John Lewis
Gaddis. While presenting himself as a Metternichian acolyte
committed to realism and pragmatism in external affairs, Kiss-
inger actually confirms Alperovitz’s revelation that the A-
bomb’s use was intended in large measure to intimidate the
Russians into accepting containment and America’s technologi-
cal mastery in the postwar period. Kissinger supported Byrnes’s
objective to use American atomic might to pressure the Soviet
Union to embrace free elections in Poland and throughout
Eastern Europe (Maier, 1978; Alperovitz & Messer, 1991-1992;
Bernstein, 1991). The “awesome power of the atom bomb…
would have strengthened the American bargaining position”
(Kissinger, 1994). Kissinger laments the failure of Byrnes’s
atomic diplomacy to control Soviet behavior yet strikingly
avoids any lamentation much less referencing of the atomic
bomb’s impact on the citizens of Hir oshi ma and Nagasa ki.
Military Leaders and A-Bomb
Classical realism emphasizes “the central role of power, the
primacy of national interest, and the pervasiveness of conflict”
(Spanier & Hook, 1998). Military leaders orchestrate the use of
power in war. They are intimately involved in decision making
as it pertains to strategy and tactics. They literally defend the
putative national interest and participate in defining it. In World
War II, senior military officials were widely respected and ad-
mired. General Dwight Eisenhower would follow Truman as
the thirty-fourth president and General George C. Marshall
would serve as secretary of state and defense.
Opposition to a unilateral nuclear war was not limited to lib-
eral-internationalist scientists working at the Metallurgical Lab-
oratory (Metlab) of the University of Chicago (Kirstein, 2001).
Alperovitz demonstrates that many senior military leaders op-
posed abandoning conventional warfare in the final days of
World War II. Eisenhower told Stimson before the nuclear
assaults that “he had a feeling of depression… that dropping the
bomb was completely unnecessary… as a measure to save
American lives” (Alperovitz, 1970). Eisenhower later pro-
claimed, “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing”
(Alperovitz, 2011). In March 1945, General Curtis LeMay di-
rected B-29 indiscriminate, low-altitude, nighttime burnings of
some sixty-three Japanese cities prior to Hiroshima. He de-
clared after Japan’s surrender: “The war would have been over
in two weeks… The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the
end of the war at all” (Alperovitz , 2011). Admiral William D.
Leahy was the nation’s senior military officer serving as chair
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of staff to Truman. He
“believed war is not to be waged on women and children.”
Leahy stated “they went ahead and killed as many women and
children as they could which was just what they wanted all the
time.” Elsewhere in his memoirs he refers to the atomic attacks
as “barbarous” (Alperovitz, 1985, 1995).
Arguments over Bomb Use
Truman’s declared revenge was a motive in his announce-
ment of the bombing of Hiroshima: “the war from the air at
Pearl Harbor… has been repaid many fold.” Yet the “Little
Boy” bomb was a nuclear Pearl Harbor with a sneak attack on
an unsuspecting nation (Harrison-Bundy Files, 1945). While
Pearl Harbor was horrific and tragic, it was tactical and directed
against battleships and airplanes. Supporters of the decision to
use the A-bomb dismiss the necessity of announcing the exis-
tence of the weapon prior to attack; Japan deserved no sparing
of suffering that American technological prowess might deliver.
Advocates of an atomic warning believed it was a moral im-
perative prior to atomic ruin. No atomic warning was contained
within the Potsdam Declaration that Truman, Churchill, and
nationalist China Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek signed on
July 26, 1945. The exclusion of Russia from signing the decla-
ration was a clear signal to Stalin that the United States was
attempting now to bypass previous entreaties to enter the war.
The use of the atomic bombs without warning to Japan or Rus-
sia indicate the desire on the part of the United States to contain
Soviet power in Asia (Hasegawa, 109).
Morrison also witnessed the plutonium-gadget test at Trinity
in the appropriately named desert, Jornada del Muerto (Journey
of Death). In a postwar interview he said: “I was of the opinion
that a warning to the Japanese might work. I was disappointed
when the military said you don’t warn… Now, of course, I
don’t think the bombing was justified” (Terkel, 1984).
Probomb advocates also opposed a non-lethal demonstration,
as Marshall advocated, for fear it might be a dud or if con-
ducted in Japan, American POW might be brought into a pre-
announced ground-zero site (Steiner, 1977). The Truman ad-
ministration rejected a demonstration of the atomic bomb off
Tokyo bay, in the United States, or in some sparsely populated
area to stun Japan into surrender. Several scientists from Metlab
issued the Franck Report on June 11, 1945, which recom-
mended a demonstration on a “desert or a barren island” to
forestall widespread “horror and revulsion” (Kirstein, 2001).
Physicist Edward Teller, a strong supporter of nuclear weapons
and a major figure in the development of the hydrogen bomb,
noted in his memoirs that a demonstration over Tokyo Bay
might have convinced Japan that ending the war was necessary
for its survival (Teller, 2001).
Japan was defenseless. American naval assets surrounded
and effectuated a “strangling blockade” of Japan (Stimson,
1947). The war of burning cities had reduced the nation to rub-
ble. Its navy was virtually destroyed and air force and air de-
fense incapable of retarding attack. Truman and Byrnes, how-
ever, opposed any modification of unconditional surrender
terms that would allow Japan to retain its emperor in exchange
for surrender. Japan’s emperor was considered a deity and the
incarnation of perfection. The evidence, while not conclusive,
strongly suggests a Japanese surrender prior to Hiroshima if
guaranteed the preservation of its monarchy (Alperovitz, 1995).
Alperovitz demonstrates American intelligence in breaking the
Japanese code was privy to its frantic démarche with Russia to
conclude a mediated settlement of the war with the preservation
of the chrysanthemum throne. Only Byrnes among senior civil-
ian officials rejected outright any modification of unconditional
surrender that Roosevelt had declared in an almost impromptu
manner at a press conference during the first allied-war confer-
ence at Casablanca in January 1943 (Alperovitz, 1995).
Truman’s rejection of conditional surrender through diplo-
macy prevented a possible shortening of the war without the
introduction of nuclear weapons (Sherwin, 1975). If a belliger-
ent believes that surrendering could have the most egregious
consequences for state survival, there are no inducements to
end the fighting other than abject surrender to a more techno-
logically advanced and remorseless enemy. After Japan’s sur-
render the United States preserved the emperor within the
framework of a constitutional monarchy (Alperovitz, 1995).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
P. N. KIRSTEIN
The use of the A-bomb and the Soviet decision to intervene
occurred at virtually the same time. August 6 and 9 were the
fateful days of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet Union
attacked Manchuria on August 8. Yet Alperovitz believes it was
the Soviet entrance into the war that was the decisive event
leading to Japan’s surrender. The Russian declaration of war
was a crushing failure for Japanese diplomacy and that alone
might have ended the war. Emperor Hirohito informed senior
Army officers and soldiers on August 14, the day he declared
surrender, that “The military situation has changed suddenly.
The Soviet Union entered the war against us… Now that the
Soviet Union has entered the war, to continue under the present
condition… would only result in further useless damage…
Therefore … I am going to make peace” (Alperovitz, 2011).
Defenders of the decision to use the atomic bomb claim it
hastened the end of the conflict and was responsible for sparing
over a million American and Japanese lives. Numerous docu-
ments and Alperovitz’s revisionist history suggest strongly the
decision to use the atomic bomb did not shorten the war. The
United States Strategic Bombing Survey stunningly concluded
in July 1946, “that certainly prior to December 31, 1945, and in
all probability prior to November 1, 1945, Japan would have
surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped,
even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion
had been planned or contemplated” (Feis, 1970). It concluded
the “atomic bombs did not defeat Japan” (Bernstein, 1976).
Supporters of the decision to use the atomic bomb assert that
the horrific atomic ending of World War II served notice that
nuclear war was too dangerous and has deterred subsequent use
of these weapons. Opponents of the bombing of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki claim it launched a nuclear arms race. America’s
nuclear ending of World War II created even greater interna-
tional instability with vertical and horizontal nuclear prolifera-
tion. Atomic bombs were replaced in many arsenals with ther-
monuclear weapons in the 1950s and eventually were deployed
on a lethal triad of bombers, ICBMs, and SSBN submarines.
The United States during the Cold War manufactured 70,000
nuclear weapons that stole $5 trillion that might have been used
for vital domestic programs (Connelly et al., 2012). It’s been
estimated that the destructive yield of the world’s nuclear arse-
nals approached an equivalence of 1.5 million Hiroshima
bombs (Stone & Kuznick, 2012). Nine nations now possess ei-
ther atomic or hydrogen-nuclear weapons. Eight are declared
nuclear weapons states: the United States, Russia, China,
United Kingdom, France, India, Pakistan and the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea. Only Israel has refused to acknow-
ledge officially its nuclear weapons’ status. There are still thou-
sands of strategic nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals on
hair-trigger alert status, despite some reductions in the START
I (1991), START II (1993) and New Start (2010) treaties. The
latter will “limit” Russia and America to 1550 deployed strate-
gic warheads and 700 launchers within seven years (Baker,
Neo-Realism and Nuclear Weapons
Kenneth N. Waltz’s neo-realism describes the international-
state system as adrift in anarchy and “interdependence among
them is low” (Waltz, 2010). Imposing on the state system a
strongly suggestive Marxian materialist conception of history,
Waltz argues the structure of the world order governs external
state behavior regardless of national preference. Marx’s dialec-
tical materialism also minimizes human consciousness and vo-
lition in determining inevitable progressive cataclysmic change.
Forces of revolutionary and societal tumult unfold independ-
ently from human will as substructural productive forces and
productive relations undergo seismic inevitable transformation
(Feuer, 1959). Robert Keohane also identifies elements of Mar-
xian theory in realism’s deterministic analysis of hegemonic
domination and state behavior (Keohane, 1989).
Waltz believes nation-states, independently of their will, cre-
ate balances of power to prevent hegemonic subjugation. The
United States according to Waltz rearmed after World War II
despite “a strong wish not to” (Waltz, 2010). He argues that
Hiroshima and the development of nuclear weapons did not
create a “new world” since “the perennial forces of politics are
more important than the new military technology” (Waltz,
The global order, however, is structurally dynamic and Ame-
rica “has played a leading role in transforming the international
system over the past sixty-five years” (Department of Defense,
2012). The nuclear era was revolutionary and created a new
world out of “a world destroyed” (Sherwin, 1975). Our capacity
to attain global annihilation reached a new level of terror and
magnitude. Whether or not a structural realist determinism
conditions interstate behavior, human-made institutions consist
of sentient beings. They can adopt new strategies of self-pre-
servation to cope with the present danger of a nuclear Arma-
geddon. This is the challenge that lies ahead. Hiroshima led to
nuclear proliferation as states attempted to either balance their
power or pursue a mindless strategy of nuclear dominance. Yet
the old tactics of power and the pursuit of the national self-in-
terest in a world of thermonuclear warheads are hopelessly in-
adequate and must challenge the determinism of realism and
Waltz, a structural theorist desires the spread of nuclear
weapons. He welcomes the expansion of the nuclear club in the
post-Hiroshima world as a stabilizing deterrent that mitigates
anarchy and reduces armed conflict. Waltz described the fission
bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “Model-T
bombs” and noted inaccurately they were small because they
could fit into a B-29 (Sagan & Waltz, 2003). “Fat Man”, the
larger of the two fission bombs, was eleven feet in length,
weighed 4.5 tons, and had a yield of about twenty-one kilotons
(Kirstein, 2003). They could barely fit into the bomb bay of the
Enola Gay and Bockscar B-29 strategic bombers (Rhodes,
1986). They were large and B-29s had to be modified to fit
them into the bomb bay. The modifications included the re-
moval of all four bomb bay doors and the outer fuselage section
between the two bomb bays (Washington Times, 2011).
Waltz believed, however, the nuclear climax of World War II
demonstrated that nuclear weapons were small, hard to preempt,
and useful in restraining additional war. He argued nuclear-
weapon states through deterrence will always refrain from initi-
ating a first-strike nuclear attack due to the uncertainty they
could avoid a second-strike retaliatory nuclear response (Waltz,
2003). Nations will keep their nuclear-powder dry for fear they
cannot escape retaliation. In Waltz’s world nuclear proliferation
contributes to strategic stability as “the gradual spread of nu-
clear weapons is better than either no spread or rapid spread”
(Waltz, 2003). Horizontal proliferation according to Waltz’
neo-realism preserves the peace as more nations grow increas-
ingly wary of initiating a nuclear exchange (Waltz, 2003). Mu-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 51
P. N. KIRSTEIN
tual Assured Destruction (MAD) preserves the peace and averts
In the pre-Hiroshima era, nations were eager to introduce
more deadly and destructive weaponry onto the battlefield.
World War II’s nuclear ending reflected this conventional
mindset when the United States used its fission bombs as the
latest version of strategic bombing. Waltz claims poison gas
and chemical weapons were not introduced in the war due to an
informal deterrence in the absence of a monopoly of these sys-
tems. When both sides to a conflict possess weapons of mass
destruction, conflict is avoided and peace through mutual as-
sured destruction is maintained (Waltz, 2003). Even a few nu-
clear weapons can go a long way in preserving a state of non-
war according to Waltz. Whether a nuclear-tipped world can
permanently avert the use of these weapons places undue faith
in theory and a belief that the structural dynamics of the inter-
state system are indefinitely predictable.
George Kennan, the architect of containment, represented a
softer side of realism in asserting that World War II in particu-
lar and the use of violence in general retards the advancement
of civilization and inhibits the spread of democratic values:
But, basically, the democratic purpose does not prosper
when a man dies or a building collapses or an enemy
force retreats… And this is why the destructive process of
war must always be accompanied by, or made subsidiary
to, a different sort of undertaking aimed at widening the
horizons and changing the motives of men and should
never be thought of in itself as a proper vehicle for hopes
and enthusiasms and dreams of world improvement (Ken-
The unrestrained, intimidating rhetoric of the Potsdam Dec-
laration is palpable: “We call upon… Japan to proclaim… the
unconditional surrender of its armed forces, and to provide
proper and adequate assurances of their good faith in such ac-
tion. The alternat ive for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”
Thucydides described a similar statement from the Athenians
prior to attacking the island of Melos. In their colloquy with the
Melians, the Athenians reject their plea for justice and conflict
resolution: “Then you do not adopt the view that expediency
goes with security, while justice and honor cannot be followed
without danger” (Thucydides, 1951). The Melians are told they
have a choice between “war and security,” the latter meaning
survival by surrendering to Athens (Thucydides, 1951).
Potsdam Declaration and Truman Threat
As Truman returned across the Atlantic from Potsdam on the
USS Augusta, the White House released a written statement
announcing the bombing of Hiroshima and the existence of the
nuclear age (Truman, 1955). As seen with Athens and the Pots-
dam Declaration, the strong order the weak to surrender or die:
We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and com-
pletely every productive enterprise the Japanese have
above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks,
their factories, and their communications… If they do not
now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from
the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth
(Harrison-Bundy Files, 1945).
Newly elected British Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee
also announced the Hiroshima bombing and released a state-
ment Churchill had prepared prior to his General Election de-
feat and abrupt departure from Potsdam (Harrison-Bundy Files,
1945). It also threatened continued nuclear annihilation of Ja-
pan: “It is now for Japan to realize in the glare of the first
atomic bomb which has smitten her what the consequence will
be of an indefinite continuance” of the conflict (New York
Times, 1945). Indeed three days after Hiroshima “Fat Man”
produced 75,000 casualties in Nagasaki.
The Potsdam Declaration in thirteen paragraphs of threats
and frenzied rhetoric proclaimed that “stern justice shall be
meted out to all war criminals, including those who have visited
cruelties upon our prisoners” (National Diet Library, 2011). Yet
on August 6 and August 9, American prisoners of war were
knowingly sacrificed in the atomic attacks. American POW
were known to be held in Kokura but it made no difference
where their camps were in Japan because the Target Committee
did not want Japan to have a prisoners’ veto over US target
selection (Farrell, 1945).
American POW were also nuclear casualties in Nagasaki.
General Farrell tersely described the killing of American pris-
oners of war in Nagasaki: “There was a prisoner of war camp in
Nagasaki and that some few prisoners were made casualties by
our bombing” (Farrell, 1945). LeMay admitted after the war, “I
suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war
criminal” (Rhodes, 1995).
Alperovitz was determined to reexamine the past and de-
velop a new history of understanding acts of violence with such
great import. The realist perspective in no small measure con-
tributes to the revisionist assault on the standard history of the
bomb. It supports the use of force to advance the national inter-
est and some realists supported the atomic attacks. Yet realism
as seen above frequently requires reasonable moral restraint and
yes, overarching ethical standards before resorting to the use of
force that invariably destroys so many lives.
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