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Has the History Profession Awarded a Prize to Another Flawed Book?

Editor's Note Last week at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) announced that Tsuyoshi Hasegawa has won the Robert Ferrell Book Prize for Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. The award attracted the notice of Professor Hasegawa's critics, including Robert P. Newman. We asked Mr. Newman to explain his objections. After we had his piece in hand we sent it over to Professor Hasegawa for a response. Click here for Professor Hasegawa's response.

Now that The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations has shot itself in the foot by awarding the Robert Ferrell Prize to Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, it is time for another attempt to moderate the stultifying bias of the history establishment. A year ago, Corey Robin in the London Review of Books articulated the truth that of all human motivations, none is as lethal as ideology:

"The lust for money may be distasteful, the desire for power ignoble, but neither will drive its devotees to the criminal excess of an idea on the march. Whether the idea is the triumph of the working class or of a master race, ideology leads to the graveyard."

The ideology of the history establishment, praising Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, leads to the graveyard of truth about the Japanese surrender in 1945. Perhaps these worthies did not read Hasegawa's concluding chapter, where be finally reveals his objective: to put all the participants in the Pacific War on the same moral plane. Tojo and Anami were no worse than Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. "Thus this is a story with no heroes but no real villains either - just men."

I know some heroes. They trained with me before losing their lives in the Philippines and Okinawa (I was lucky enough to be sent to the Saar and Rhineland). And I know some villains: they conducted the Bataan Death March, the Rape of Nanjing, and Unit 731's biological warfare. Did Ernie May and John Dower not read this monstrosity before endorsing Hasegawa? And did they swallow Hasegawa's many other demonstrably false claims, such as that the Soviet entry in the war took the Japanese government by complete surprise; the Ketsu-go defense plan presupposed continued Soviet neutrality in the war; and the most naive claim of all, "After all, morality by definition is an absolute rather than a relative standard." My Oxford ethics tutor would choke on that.

But the history establishment loves Hasegawa. He supports the antinuclear stance with no recognition of the benefit to the thousands - possibly millions - of Asians being killed in the death throes of the Japanese empire, who were saved by the shock of the atom. I will put my antinuclearism against Hasegawa's any day; the destructive decision which has poisoned the world was not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but building the H-bomb, which ended no war and saved no lives.

Ideology has plagued the argument over Truman's decision since the beginning. The first wrong-headed book about the decision, by a brilliant physicist but ignorant polemicist, P. M. S. Blackett, was based on a fraud: Paul Nitze's claim in the United States Strategic Bombing Survey report that Japan would have surrendered before our scheduled invasion of Kyushu with no bomb, and no Soviet entry. Blackett, accepting Nitze's "official" report as gospel truth, did not check out the whole USSBS series of reports, which showed clearly that the early surrender hypothesis was pure imagination. And a gullible American graduate student in politics at Cambridge, Gar Alperovitz, latched onto Blackett and arranged for the physicist to come up to Cambridge from London as oustide examiner for his dissertation defense. Alperovitz then set the pattern for all the anti-Truman literature that followed: the hierarchy of AHA and OAH bought Nitze, Blackett, and Alperovitz with no careful scrutiny whatsoever.

Dissenters were given short schrift. Sadao Asada, easily the most knowledgeable student of Japan's surrender, presented the evidence that shows Japan would fight to the finish until the Nagasaki bomb proved to Anami that the U.S. did have more bombs. Then, and only then, did Anami give in to the emperor and accept surrender. The Pacific Historical Review carried Asada's article in November, 1998. The establishment paid no heed. In April 2004, the American Historical Review printed Yukiko Koshiro, also arguing that"Japan had neither the intention nor the resources to resist a U.S. invasion of the home islands." The 700,000 troops on Kyushu were there to greet us warmly, presumably.

Comes now Hasegawa, posing as the only student of the Pacific War to incorporate documents from U.S., Soviet, and Japanese sources. Check out these documents. Hasegawa is not only highly selective, he distorts and misrepresents consistently. Scholars of the Truman administration knew Truman was not the bad guy. Robert Ferrell, after whom the SHAFR prize is named, was quite clear that Hasgawa's is an "unfortunate contribution" about the end of the war. Over the long haul, my money is on Asada and Ferrell. The history establishment will find that its knee-jerk acceptance of Hasegawa was as stupid as its award of a prize to Bellesiles for his falsified narrative about possession of firearms in the early U.S.

Peter Charles Hoffer and Jon Wiener have exposed the bias of historians extensively. Those who endorsed Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy were not listening, nor were they checking out his fidelity to the evidence. Do I expect them to ever change their minds? No, only to be embarrassed at their gullibility.

Related Links

  • Michael Kort: Is the latest revisionist account right about Truman & Hiroshima?
  • Lance Gay: Hiroshima bomb didn't end war, according to Soviet archives
  • Robert Newman: What Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin Got Wrong About Hiroshima
  • Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin: The Myth of Hiroshima
  • D.M. Giangreco: Did Truman Really Oppose the Soviet Union's Decision to Enter the War Against Japan?
  • HNN Debate: Hiroshima ...Harry Truman on Trial