A provocative look at the closing days of the Japanese Empire and the long shadow cast ever after by the atomic bomb.
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not have to happen: Thus, in a nutshell, is Sunday Times Australia correspondent Ham’s (1913: The Eve of War, 2013, etc.) position, as distinct from that of many authors and historians who have insisted that the United States would have suffered more than 1 million casualties in any invasion of the Japanese mainland. Ham’s lines of argument introduce several profitable data points: For one thing, the emperor seemed inclined to peace even as the peace faction within his government grew with the dawning realization of the inevitability of defeat. For another thing, the destruction of the two cities, which were not of primary military value, was as much a signal to Joseph Stalin that that is what awaited his country as it was an effort to force the peace with Japan. Ham also looks at pregnant counterfactuals: What if Harry Truman had taken Henry Stimson’s suggestion and approached the Soviets as partners, committing with the other Allies not to use atomic weapons without the consent of all involved? Of a piece with W.G. Sebald in the matter of the bombing of Dresden and other German cities, Ham argues persuasively that the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented but two episodes in an all-out “process of deliberate civilian annihilation”—a process, interestingly, that found many critics in American churches who “quietly registered their Christian disapproval of the mass killing of noncombatants.”
A valuable contribution to the literature of World War II that asks its readers to rethink much of what they’ve been taught about America’s just cause.