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What Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin Got Wrong About Hiroshima

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, two indefatigable Truman bashers, were at work for the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender. They have a slightly new version of the big myth about this event: the bomb did not trigger surrender, Soviet entry into the war did. Their "Myths of Hiroshima" was syndicated by the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, most Japanese, and some American Japanophiles, believe this. Bird and Sherwin, finding Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. a Japanese with scholarly paraphernalia who will testify that Soviet entry into the war caused surrender, were ecstatic. Couple this with a false account of J.Robert Oppenheimer's position and you've got a slam dunk.

One problem: Hasegawa's bias is too blatant. In his Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, he sets out to prove that the Pacific War just happened; it "is a story with no heroes, but no real villains, either." So he can ignore the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the hundreds of thousands of Asian slave laborers who died building the Burma railway and starving in Japanese mines and factories. Not to mention beheadings, endless other atrocities, forcing native populations to jump off cliffs rather than be captured by the Americans.

UN and other figures put the number of civilians killed by the Japanese Empire at 10 to 25 million. Some Chinese historians claim 30 million Chinese alone perished. General Ishii and his chemical warfare operations were not villains, just guys doing a job. Sheldon Harris didn't write Factories of Death -- or did that somehow evade Hasegawa's attention?

But there were no villains, just "a human drama whose dynamics were determined by the very human characteristics of those involved: ambition, fear, vanity, anger, and prejudice." Maybe Ishii was prejudiced.

No heroes? If Hasegawa ever gets within earshot, I'll tell him about a few heroes, including some friends of mine who were jerked out of my division bound for Europe in the fall of 1944 because losses in the Pacific were beyond expectations. Oh yes -- Truman, Marshall, Stimson, Joe Stilwell, perhaps even Douglas MacArthur were heroes. Would I insist that there were some Russian heroes? Probably, but I could only identify some who fought in Europe, like at Stalingrad.

Were the Japanese all villains? Did they believe in the divine origin of Hirohito, and his right to bring everybody under one (Japanese) roof? No, but to claim moral equivalence with the nations Japan assaulted is repulsive. And every single Japanese leader interrogated after the war admitted they were in it to the bitter end absent the shock of the atom, and possibly also the Soviets.

Now Hasegawa insists "The Army General Staff . . . speculated that . . . the Soviets would not likely launch a large-scale operation against Japan until February 1946." This remarkable claim is attributed to Hata Hikosaburo, in a 1975 publication. So when it happened on August 8, 1945, it "caught the army by complete surprise." Every military history of the Pacific War notes that concentration of Soviet tanks on the Chinese border was accelerating in early summer 1945. Did the good general think that was because there was no room for them in Germany?

Ed Drea, the top American student of the end of the Pacific War, has read the ULTRA decrypts, and presents the one of May 30, 1945, which was an order to the Kwantung Army to "conduct a delaying action designed to exhaust the Soviet invaders." Japanese troops would withdraw to the rugged terrain near the Korean border, and should be able to hold out for six months. Either General Hata, or Professor Hasegawa, or both, are obscurantists. They had to know the Soviets planned to enter, and were building up to it the minute Germany surrendered. Bird and Sherwin love them though. Sadao Asada, who gives a much more plausible reconstruction of the Japanese decision to surrender in his Pacific Historical Review article of November 1998 makes mincemeat of the "Soviet shock" thesis.

Bird and Sherwin have other falsehoods. McGeorge Bundy may have claimed he pulled the "million lives saved" by Japan's early surrender estimate out of the air, but Bundy was not the source of at least five similar estimates. Readers who want to see for themselves can find in the Truman Presidential Library a memo Herbert Hoover sent to Truman in May 1945 assuming a million casualties if we had to invade Japan; and you will also find Truman's writing on that document in his charactersitic blue pencil, instructing his secretary to send copies to four trusted officials for their comments. If you want to know about the credibility of Hoover's information, go to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and look at the correspondence John Callan O'Laughlin, a close friend of George Marshall, sent to Hoover. You never heard of this intelligence pipeline? You won't from the likes of Bird and Sherwin.

There's more finagling the evidence here. J. Robert Oppenheimer is not ignored by these authors, they just misrepresent him. He supported the use of these two bombs to shock Japan into surrender. He never repudiated that judgment. What he did object to -- and I agree with this -- was the decision to build the H-Bomb, and the obscene creation of what became a 32,500 nuclear warhead arsenal. Bird and Sherwin would have you believe that Oppie thought Truman made the wrong decision. Oppie regretted bringing this horrible weapon into the world, but he knew the carnage Japan was creating every day the war went on, and he knew Marshall was hurting for GIs to finish the Pacific part of the war.

I admire the ingenuity these authors display in bringing Osama bin Laden into a diatribe on Truman's decision. I wish they had also brought some genuine evidence, instead of a "scholar" seeking to reinforce the Japanese victimization syndrome. It is the Hasegawas who legitimate the Yasukuni Shrine worship.

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