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Truman on Trial: The Prosecution, Opening Argument

"The laws of war do not apply only to the suspected criminals of vanquished nations. There is no moral or legal basis for immunizing victorious nations from scrutiny. The laws of war are not a one-way street."
Telford Taylor, The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials


I accuse President Harry S Truman of war crimes under Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter outlawing"the wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity."

Specifically, I accuse President Truman of ordering the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki via an experimental terror weapon resulting in the massacre and maiming of some 200,000 Japanese women, children and old people.

In addition, I accuse Truman's atomic cabinet (e.g., presidential assistant James Byrnes, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Manhattan Project organizer General Leslie Groves, Manhattan Project director Robert Oppenheimer, and Interim Committee chairman Louis B. Conant) and the President's chain of command (e.g., Army Chief of Staff General George. C. Marshall, Acting Army Chief of Staff General Thomas Handy, Army Strategic Air Forces commander General Carl Spatz, Hiroshima pilot Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets and Nagasaki pilot Captain Charles Sweeney) of conspiring to commit two of the most fiendish slaughters in the annals of war.

In the sweep of history, these men have not acted alone. A parade of American politicians have praised the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as patriotic duties and their perpetrators as heroes of war. Closer to our own day, I accuse former President Bill Clinton of callously denying"the Japanese holocaust" (Shimon Peres's term) when he declared in 1995 that Truman did not make"the wrong decision" and that the United States cannot"now apologize for a decision we did not believe, and I don't believe now, was the wrong one."

I also accuse Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of ganging up to suppress, Japanese-style, the first and only government-sponsored history of the Bombs of August--the Smithsonian Institution's 50th anniversary exhibition script titled"The Crossroads: The End of Work War II, the Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War."

Finally, I accuse American historians in general and, in particular, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., William Manchester, Stephen Ambrose, Paul Fussell, David McCullough, Tom Brokaw, and the editorial board of the New York Times of intellectual dishonesty in contributing to the"Nuremberg Consensus"--A.J.P. Taylor's pejorative for the idea that Axis atrocities were satanic while Allied ones were okay and even Providential.


"It will make no difference whether the reasons will sound convincing or not. After all, the victor will not be asked whether he spoke the truth or not. We have to proceed brutally. The stronger is always right." So said Adolph Hitler to military aides on the eve of invading Poland in 1939.

The Führer's insight was vindicated in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Truman and his willing executioners got away with mass murder.

The Allied cover-up commenced on August 6 when Truman claimed in a radio broadcast that target-Hiroshima was"an important Japanese Army base"---so important that it was left untouched during a five-month fire-bombing campaign torching sixty-six other Japanese cities, so important that ground zero was Hiroshima's population center, not the military headquarters a few miles away. Speaking more candidly at the Gridiron Dinner on December 15, 1945, the triumphant commander-in-chief embraced the twin infernos as a welcome trade-off:"It occurred to me that a quarter million of the flower of our American youth were worth a couple of Japanese cities, and I still think they were and are."

Truman's worst Orwellian whopper involved the victims. Oblivious to the flower of Japanese youth--e.g., the 544 students from the First Hiroshima Municipal Girl's School whose eyeballs had popped out from the blast--Truman mislabeled the casualties as war criminals in his August 9 annoucement:"We have used [the bomb] against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved, beaten and executed American prisoner of war, and against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare."

The reference to international laws was, of course, laughable. Early in the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt blasted Japan's air assaults on Chinese cities and Germany's air raids on Warsaw, Rotterdam and London."It is our intention that just and sure punishment shall be meted to the ringleaders responsible for the organized murder of thousands of innocent persons in the commission of atrocities which have violated every tenet of the Christian faith," FDR pledged in 1942. But soon after the United States and Great Britain mimicked the despicable Axis strategy."The hideous process of bombarding open cities from the air, once started by the Germans, was repaid twenty-fold by the ever-mounting power of the Allies and found its culmination in the use of the atom bombs which obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Winston Churchill wrote in The Second World War in 1954.

The Allied cover-up continued at the first Nuremberg Tribunal when German lawyers were blocked from introducing Allied misdeeds."It is not the purpose of this court to try the activities of the Allies," ruled Lord Justice Geoffrey Lawrence. Evidence against the Allies was likewise deemed inadmissible at the trial of Japanese war criminals in Tokyo.

Almost five decades later, the editorialists at New York Times echoed Lord Justice Lawrence's injunction (and Hitler's homage to brutality) when they wrote on August 6, 1995:"It turns history and reality on its head to imply that Hiroshima is America's Auschwitz, that Harry Truman was somehow a war criminal because he grasped eagerly at a wonder weapon to end the war that the Axis powers had begun." And there you have it, at the heart of the American establishment, reckless disregard for a two-way street to Nuremberg.

Truman was a reverse Otto Schindler.

Thanks to the Times and other organs of popular opinion, Truman has entered the pantheon of top Presidents. According to Arthur Schlesinger's 1996 poll of historians, Truman ranks with Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, T. Roosevelt and Wilson as"near-great" just below the"great" Washington Lincoln and FDR. Six historians voted Truman"great," twenty-one"near-great," three"average," and one abstained. Clearly, the Bombs of August did not harm his standing. In some expert minds, they were a plus."I gladly admit to having been one of those who considered Truman 'near-great,' not the least because by allowing the bomb to be dropped, he ended the Second World War, thus saving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of both Allied and Japanese lives," explained Brooklyn College Emeritus professor Hans L. Trefousse in a September 4, 1998 letter to this author.

But stripped of patriotic illusion and viewed through the lens of Nuremberg, Truman was less the rock-ribbed, plain-speaking, God-fearing, buck-stops-here hero of legend, and more a moral scoundrel, a reverse Otto Schindler who hurried the final solution to the Pacific war by mercilessly sending 200,000 innocents to grotesque skin-melting, chromosome-cracking deaths in two Japanese cities in a mere three days in August of 1945.

Although the Nuremberg Charter improvised on crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, the war crimes provisions were hardly novel. International law was clear about the limits of warfare. According to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and the Paris Peace Pact of 1928, civilian slaughters were considered criminal. Consequently, Article 6 Paragraph b of the Charter did not break new ground in its definition of war crimes:

(b) WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoner of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

Note well two points: (1)"Military necessity" refers to emergency battle conditions during which armies and navies are permitted wider latitude under international law. The term does not apply to massacres planned in advance thousands of miles from the front. Accordingly, Truman never argued that destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a"military necessity." (2) While international law did not positively outlaw the aerial bombardment of cities during World War II, thus opening a small technical loophole at Nuremberg for Reich air minister Hermann Goring, the universal prohibition against civilian massacres surely extended to rational atrocities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially by the flexible judicial standards in play at Nuremberg. Would the notorious slaughter of 660 French villagers in Oradour in June 1944 have been less criminal if it had been carried out by the Luftwaffe rather than the 2nd SS Panzer Division?

"Given that the laws of war not only have a letter, but they have a sense, and this sense means that war is something between armed forces, and there are targets and there are no[t] targets," declared German historian Jorg Friedrich when this loophole was raised at Bard College's 1998 conference on prosecuting war crimes."And the unarmed civilian and the soldier who surrenders are no targets at all. This is the sense of all laws of war, the difference between targets."

Nonetheless, Goering was not indicted for the indiscriminate works of the Luftwaffe. Citing the far more damaging firebombing of the Allies, former Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor commented in The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials in 1992 that it was"not surprising that Goering's responsibility for the German attacks played no part in the Tribunal's judgement. Indeed, it might fairly be said if Goering's role in the Third Reich had been restricted to his command of the Luftwaffe, he would have had much less to fear at Nuremberg."

Now is the hour, on the eve of Slobodan Milosevic's trial in The Hague, for American historians to ponder the previously imponderable.

Goering's bombing exemption was one of many flaws in the court. Perhaps the nadir of the proceedings was the Soviet push to blame the Germans for the 1940 execution of 11,000 Polish POW's when the bullets were really Stalin's. The vast imperfections of victor's justice have cheated the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of ultimate legal grandeur and spawned the twisted narratives of the Nuremberg Consensus. But now is the hour, on the eve of Slobodan Milosevic's trial in The Hague, for American historians to ponder the previously imponderable. Although"trying" Truman for war crimes may seem like counter-factual history run amuck, it is a long overdue exercise in intellectual honesty. If we expect the nations of the world to pursue foreign war criminals, we must be willing to face the truth about our own.

Since Truman admitted pulling the atomic trigger, his main defense, expressed in numerous postwar statements, interviews, letters, and memoirs, was, in effect, not guilty by reason of (a) just deserts for Japanese war criminals; (b) ending the war quickly; (c) saving hundreds of thousands of American boys from a bloody invasion; (d) lack of viable alternatives; and (e) following God's will. But do any of these justifications stand up under cross-examination?

Question: Mr. President, let me take you back to the evening of August 9, 1945. You said in a radio address that you dropped the bomb on the perpetrators of Pearl Harbor and the torturers of our prisoners of war. But that statement was false, was it not?

Answer: It may not have been literally true, no.

Q: And even if it were, Mr. President, would that end justify incinerating a whole city?

A: We were desperate to stop a war that had already cost almost a million American dead and wounded. We wanted to stop the killing, and we did.

Q: By killing 200,000 more! Mostly women and children. When Japan was on the ropes. When Hirohito was equally desperate to surrender. When Stalin was on the verge of unleashing the Red Army. When your advisers were imploring you to give Japan a face-saving way out? That's when you decided to kill a couple of hundred thousand more of the enemy?

A: More Japs would have died in the invasion. Don't forget that. The bomb saved lives.

Q: Yes, let's come to that. On August 9, 1945, your figure for American soldiers spared by the bomb was"thousands and thousands," which climbed to 250,000 at the Gridiron Dinner that December, which topped off at 1,000,000 in a draft of Years of Decision, only to fall back to 500,000 in the published version in 1953. Can you produce any War Department document with any of those numbers on it?

A: No.

Q: Isn't it true, Mr. President, that the only casualty numbers you received for the invasion came from General Marshall in a June 18 White House meeting in which 31,000 casualties, meaning 7000-8000 dead, were estimated for the first thirty days of the Kyushu landing scheduled for November?

A: As I said in Years of Decision, General Marshall mentioned a half-million figure at Potsdam in July.

Q: Did he? But you have no record to back you up, no notes, no diary entry, and there's nothing in Marshall's archives, either. You simply made these figures up as you went along, hoping to deflect public opinion from the rain of nuclear ruin showered on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A: More American soldiers were killed or wounded in the Pacific in the first six months of 1945 than in the three previous years. On Iwo Jima we suffered 27,000 casualties in five weeks! On Okinawa, 48,000 in three months! The Japs were fanatics, fought to the death in caves and tunnels. The kamikazes were slicing up our fleet. If we went though with the invasion, we were looking at an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other. I couldn't let that happen, not with the bomb in hand. No American or British or Jap boy died on the beaches of Japan. The bomb may have had something to do with that.

Q: All true, Mr. President, but you are charged here with the killings you ordered, not the ones you claim, in theory, to have prevented. Which brings us to the key question of alternatives. Even if we stipulate that the bomb stopped the war and thereby salvaged hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives, as war stoppages tend to do, we are still far from legal ground. The laws of war are not suspended during final battles. Besides, you didn't know the bombs would stop the war. You had diplomatic means to gain Japan's surrender.

A: But they didn't even surrender after Hiroshima, for Christ's sake.

Q: Mr. President, you were swamped with alternatives to a sneak atomic attack. Stimson, your chief of staff Admiral William Leahy, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, former Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew, Navy Under Secretary Ralph Bard, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they all urged you to demonstrate the bomb and/or give a specific warning and/or change the terms of surrender to allow Japan to keep the Emperor. Even Churchill pressed you at Potsdam to relent on Hirohito, which was the main sticking point for the Japanese, as the MAGIC intercepts revealed. But you refused every entreaty, every appeal. You and Byrnes were hell-bent on dropping the bomb on two defenseless cities as soon as possible. What was the hurry? The invasion was three months off.

A. Hurry? The decision was discussed for months--from April to early August.

Q. The fateful order was sent to General Spatz on July 25, the day before the Potsdam Declaration, your unconditional, surrender-or-else ultimatum to Japan that contained no concession on the Emperor or specific warning about"the most terrible thing ever discovered," as you wrote in your journal on July 25. This was merely ten days after the bomb was tested. What was the hurry?

A. Apart from stopping the war against the beasts who cut off our soldiers' genitals and sewed them to their lips?

Q. Ah yes."When you have to deal with a beast, you have to treat him as a beast," you wrote the Federal Council of Churches of Christ on August 10. I think you know where I'm going with this question, Mr. President, so let's not get sidetracked. Your hurry was made-in-Russia. You sped up the drops to checkmate Stalin, who had promised at Potsdam to declare war in Japan by August 15. You wanted a Japanese surrender by any means necessary before the Red Army reached the Japanese mainland.

A. Stalin was our ally. I invited him to open a second front from the west. Japan had one million troops in Manchuria.

Q. Agreed. Initially, you were thrilled with the prospect of Russian help. Commenting on Stalin's Potsdam pledge, you wrote in your Potsdam journal on July 17:"He'll be in the Jap war on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about." But the very next day, perhaps after the glowing reports from the New Mexico test sank in, your journal recorded a significant shift in strategy:"Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan appears over their homeland."

In other words, Mr. President, virtually overnight you decided to nuke two cities without waiting to measure the effect of Stalin's declaration. You killed 200,000 people in order to end the war on U.S. terms--with the bonus of keeping Stalin out of our show in the Far East.

A. That's pure speculation. You can't prove any of it. Q. The proof lies in your Potsdam diary, Mr. President, which you carefully hid from historians. (The incriminating quotes were not disclosed until 1979.) Furthermore, Mr. Byrnes admitted in U.S. News & World Report in 1960 that the timing of Stalin's intervention influenced you and him. Byrnes was asked,"Was there a feeling of urgency to end the war in the Pacific before the Russians became too deeply involved?" He replied,"There certainly was on my part. And I'm sure that, whatever views President Truman may have had of it earlier in the year, that in the days immediately preceding the dropping of the bomb, his views were the same as mine--we wanted to get through the Japanese phase of the war before the Russians came in."

A. Next question.

Q. Emperor Hirohito. Let's get back to him. In Years of Decision, you said that Ambassador Grew's proposal to permit Hirohito to remain head of state was"a sound idea." This was in May. But the Potsdam Declaration did not move an inch from unconditional surrender. To no one's surprise, Japan rejected your ultimatum. Even after both bombs, the enemy held out for one condition--"that the said Declaration does not comprise any demand that prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as Sovereign Ruler." Now the ball was in your court. Either you surrendered on unconditional surrender, that is, let Hirohito stay on the throne, or the war would continue. We know what happened next. So the question is, Mr. President, what took you so long? Was Grew's"idea" any sounder after August 9 than before? Did two cities have to be destroyed because ...

A. War is war. I've had enough of your egghead contemplations.

Q. Well, let's move on to the divine. In the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima you thanked Providence for delivering the bomb into Allied hands and you said,"We pray that He may guide us to use it His ways and for His purpose." I can list a hundred theologians and church officials who anathematized the bomb. Can you name one who blessed it?

A. I made the only decision I knew how to make. I did what I thought was right.

Q. You thought it was right to sign a single, fire-when-ready order for two atomic bombs without allowing a decent interval for the Japanese to react to the first one?

A. They had two days.

Q. Two days? You killed one-fourth of Japan's Catholics in Nagasaki. Was that part of God's plan?

A. I could not worry what history would say about my personal morality.

Q. Which is why you are on trial, Mr. President, which is why you are a war criminal. No more questions.

Contemporary witnesses close to the scene were extremely hostile to Truman's defense. For example, Admiral William Leahy, chief of staff for both FDR and Truman, wrote in his 1950 memoir, I Was There:"It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was of no material assistance in our war against Japan... In being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

Herbert Hoover, an informal adviser to Truman, expressed his revulsion for the bomb before a gathering of newspaper editors in September 1945:"Despite any sophistries, its use is not to kill fighting men, but to kill women, children, and civilian men of whole cities as a pressure on governments."

Dwight D. Eisenhower told Newsweek in 1963 that he opposed the bomb for two reasons in a July 1945 conversation with Stimson:"First the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that damned thing. Second, I hated to see our country to be the first to use such a weapon."

Stimson wrote in his third-person 1948 memoir, On Active Service in Peace and War:"It was not the American responsibility to throw in the sponge for the Japanese; that was one thing they must do for themselves. Only on the question of the Emperor did Stimson take, in 1945, a conciliatory view; only on this question did he later believe that history might find that the United States, by its delay in stating its position, had prolonged the war." And dropped the bombs!

As the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.

Former Manhattan Project physicist Philip Morrison, who assembled the plutonium core of the Nagasaki bomb, acknowledged his complicity in a war crime in 1992 when he was confronted with Telford Taylor's trenchant opinion--"I have never heard a plausible justification for Nagasaki. It is difficult to contest the judgment that Dresden and Nagasaki were war crimes, tolerable in retrospect only because their malignancy pales in comparison to Dachau, Auschwitz, and Treblinka." Morrison told the Village Voice,"That's a very beautiful statement. That's more like what I feel. I imagine if we had lost the war, I'd be tried for it."

Despite the mountain of evidence linking Truman to Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter, no American historian has published on the subject. Revisionists like Barton Bernstein, Martin Sherwin, Michael Sherry, and Gar Alperovitz have turned out substantial scholarship shredding the official Hiroshima story as lies and propaganda. Yet none has made the logical leap to Nuremberg. It is as if Truman were protected by an invisible cultural shield-- Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have been needless atrocities, but why push the argument?

On the other hand, there are a number of prominent historians who salute Truman for his pro-active role in slaughtering 200,000 Japanese civilians. But they do so at the risk of their reputations. Arthur Schlesinger, for instance, repeated the no-other-choice canard in his 2000 memoir, A Life in the Twentieth Century:"The decision to drop the bomb was the most tragic decision in American History. Yet in retrospect I have come to believe that he had no alternative but to bring the war to the speediest possible end."

Schlesinger knows better. His former Harvard and White House colleague McGeorge Bundy blew the whistle on this approach in his 1988 book, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. As Stimson's ghost, Bundy penned Stimson's lofty explanation in On Active Service that the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was"the least abhorrent choice" arrived at only after"a searching consideration of alternatives." But forty years later, in a burst of candor, Bundy contradicted his mentor and confirmed the major claim of the revisionists:"After the war Colonel Stimson wrote an article intended to demonstrate that the bomb was not used without a searching consideration of alternatives. That some effort was made, and that Stimson was its linchpin, is clear. That it was as long or wide or deep as the subject deserved now seems to me most doubtful."

David McCullough's mammoth-selling, prize-winning 1992 biography, Truman, was the apotheosis of the Nuremberg Consensus. With a blindness that afflicts some Japanese historians of Nanking, McCullough whitewashed the bomb by disappearing five decades of revisionist literature and lowballing the dissent among the President's men. In addition, he seems to have conjured up a War Department document that allegedly supported Truman's bloated casualty estimates for the invasion of Japan."Where I differ with the so-called revisionists is their argument that the figures given by Truman, Marshall, and Churchill of saving upwards of 100,000, to 250,000 to even a half-million lives came after the fact and were used as a justification," he told me in 1992."But I made an effort to try and discover if any such figures were in currency in the high command in Washington or on paper prior to the decision to use the bomb. And in fact they were. Absolutely no question about that." Thus McCullough wrote:

But a memorandum of June 4, 1945, written by General Thomas Handy of Marshall's staff, in listing the advantages of making peace with Japan, said America would save no less than 500,000 to 1 million lives by avoiding the invasion altogether--which shows that figures of such magnitude were then in use at the highest levels.

Not quite. There was no such General Handy memo and the citation was suspiciously missing. What McCullough had purportedly scooped was old news amateurishly mangled. He had misconstrued an undated and unsigned memo from Herbert Hoover that Stimson had passed on to the War Department for evaluation--a document originally uncovered by Bart Bernstein in 1985--as an actual War Department study. Compounding the error, McCullough neglected to quote General Handy's"TOP SECRET" reply-memo repudiating Hoover's numbers as"entirely too high."

"I was told that this was from Handy," he said unpersuasively."If that's mistaken and I'm mistaken, then obviously it should be corrected." Yet almost ten years later, after twenty-two reprintings of the Truman paperback, McCullough's million-man mistake remains in print.

The Nuremberg Consensus is so seductive that even an atrocity specialist like Iris Chang was able to distinguish between the rapists of Nanking and the butchers of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki."It is shocking to contemplate that the deaths at Nanking far exceeded the deaths from the American raids on Tokyo (an estimated 80,000-120,000 deaths) and even the combined death toll of the two atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the end of 1945 (estimated at 140,00 and 70,000, respectively)," she wrote in her acclaimed 1997 book, The Rape of Nanking. Chang rightly excoriated Japan's war criminals, official censorship, collective amnesia, and failure to apologize forthrightly. It is impossible to disagree with her scorching condemnation:"In continuing to avoid judgment, the Japanese have become ringleaders of another criminal act. As the Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.

Yet nowhere in her book, which was partially funded by the Truman library, was there the slightest nod to American criminality or censorship or shortage of remorse vis-à-vis the"Japanese holocaust." When I asked her at a 1998 book signing in New York City whether she regarded Hiroshima and Nagasaki as crimes akin to Nanking, she dodged the question with the bromide of urging ongoing debate on the bomb.

Via The Greatest Generation series, Tom Brokaw has become the troubadour of U.S. soldiers in World War II. Brokaw has deservedly celebrated the abundant sacrifice and bravery of those warriors who defeated Hitler and Tojo. But Brokaw is also a journalist and should be committed to telling both sides of the story."I have a painful question to ask about the greatest generation, so painful that you didn't ask it in your book," I said to him at a New York City book signing in 2000."The question comes from Nuremberg. The Nuremberg [Charter] forbade the 'wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages.' We investigated, prosecuted, and hung Axis war criminals. But no American has ever been investigated under those statutes. Do you think it is our obligation to history and to the greatest generation to consider the war criminals of the greatest generation?"

"No," Brokaw replied to instant applause from the mostly middle age and senior audience. Noting that Truman's decision had been"examined a hundred fold," he sought refuge in the bomb-saved-lives claim.

"We still tried our enemies under [Nuremberg] rules and did not apply them to ourselves," I said.

"There were fair warnings to both Germany and Japan about what they were doing," he said."They were waging war from their shores at that time. There were military installations within range of that. The Japanese feel very strongly now that it was the wrong thing to do, but obviously it was the event that brought the war to an end. And not every war can be solved and resolved legalistically."

Brokaw probably has never heard of the Nuremberg Consensus, but he articulated it well. Something there is in all national psyches that sees clearly the beam in the other fellow's eye while overlooking the one at home. So we cringe reading the amoral Nuremberg testimony of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hess:"We SS men were not supposed to think about these things.We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would never have occurred to anybody." Yet there was no gnashing over a hauntingly similar postwar admission by Hiroshima pilot Paul Tibbets:"I am an airman, a pilot. In 1945, I was wearing the uniform of the U.S. following the orders of our commander-in-chief."

Back to the editorial page of the New York Times for a final lesson in the hypocrisy protecting Truman et al. from equal justice under the Nuremberg Charter. On August 8, 1996, a year after the editorial writers laundered Truman in the massacre of 200,000 non-combatants, they denounced ex-SS Captain Erich Priebke, who had just been tried and acquitted in an Italian court for a far lesser massacre outside Rome in 1944:"Acting under orders does not absolve a soldier of criminal responsibility. It is hard to imagine an act more manifestly illegal than murdering 335 innocent civilians."

"God was good to us when he gave us Harry Truman," said David McCullough, speaking for too many Americans.

Speaking for the Japanese is Dr. Sasaki, a Japanese physician and bomb survivor, who said in the closing paragraphs of John Hersey's Hiroshima:"I see that they are holding a trial for war criminals in Tokyo just now. I think they ought to try the men who decided to use the bomb and they should hang them all."

Until the Nuremberg Consensus is broken, Dr. Sasaki will not get his wish and Truman will remain"near-great."