The political considerations surrounding the decision to drop the first atomic bomb--and then to try and keep anyone else...



The political considerations surrounding the decision to drop the first atomic bomb--and then to try and keep anyone else from having one--have been fertile ground for revisionist historians. Gar Alperovitz, Martin Sherwin, and Daniel Yergin have all looked there for the opening skirmishes of the Cold War, and now Yale historian Herken has his say. Herken thinks the bomb would have fallen on Hiroshima regardless of Soviet actions in Manchuria, so it wasn't solely intended as a warning to Moscow. But unlike some of his colleagues, Herken portrays Truman as unsure about how to use the bomb diplomatically, and wavering while his advisors fought it out. Largely swayed by the misinformation supplied by General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, which gave the impression of prolonged US superiority in atomic weaponry (misinformation based, in turn, on Groves' erroneous assumption of an American monopoly of weapons-grade uranium and of the required engineering capability), Washington opted finally to keep the bomb to itself rather than to use it as a bargaining chip to change the direction of Soviet politics. But the US atomic-bomb monopoly also made possible the use of future international cooperation as a diplomatic lever--specifically, in the hands of Bernard Baruch at the UN. But, Herken argues, the mistaken assumptions surrounding maintenance of the atomic ""secret"" also doomed the bomb as a diplomatic tool at the UN. Finally, the sudden awareness that the calculations had been wrong all along--which came with the Soviet's own successful bomb test--prompted the US, in 1950, to embark on a policy of further escalation toward development of the hydrogen bomb. Herken blends together some strands from the work of others, but adds much that is helpful, especially regarding the central role of Groves. He has also integrated the sensational spy cases of the period (played up by the government, he contends, to rouse support for its atomic policies) into a coherent picture of the simultaneous rise of the atomic age and the ""national security state"" which is, finally, far superior to Yergin's. Herken's thesis isn't bold--he opts for a scenario built on stumbling rather than on pernicious motives--but his measured analysis of government documents and diaries, together with the concentration on secrecy, makes this the leader of a fast pack.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 1980


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980