Hiroshima: Why the Bomb?

Historian Takaki Discounts the Usual Reasons, Poses His Own Thesis

by Fernando Quintero

In the new book, "Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb," racist attitudes toward the Japanese along with President Harry Truman's insecurity over his masculinity are some of the startling answers provided by Ronald Takaki, professor of ethnic studies.

The bombing of Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945, was one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century, yet the question of why the bombing happened remains.

The most widely accepted theory is that Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Japan to end the war quickly and avoid massive casualties. That explanation, says Takaki, is too simplistic.

He considers such factors as the cultural context of race, reviewing the ways in which stereotypes of the Japanese influenced public opinion and policy makers.

"At the time, the only familiarization with the Japanese was Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado,'" he said.

Takaki also examines what he says are previously undisclosed aspects of Truman's complex personality: his struggle to overcome his childhood identity as a "sissy" and his troubled ambivalence over the decision to drop the bomb.

Relying on top secret military reports, diaries and letters, Takaki reveals, among other findings:

o General Eisenhower advised President Truman in July that Japan had been beaten and that the U.S. would not use such a "horrible" weapon.

o General MacArthur, supreme commander of allied forces in the Pacific, was not consulted but was merely informed 48 hours beforehand. He did not believe using the bomb was a military necessity.

oAdmiral William Leahy, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had urged Truman to allow Japan to surrender with the assurance its emperor could remain, and thus end the war without the atomic bomb.

Takaki, recently named a fellow of the Society of American Historians, is the grandson of Japanese plantation laborers in Hawaii.


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