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Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb: And the Architecture of an American Myth Hardcover – July 30, 1995

3.2 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian Alperovitz argues that America's use of the atomic bomb on Japan was motivated by politics rather than by military necessity.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

The president of the National Center for Economic Alternatives argues that against all advice President Truman was persuaded to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by incoming Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, who saw the bomb as an important tool for dealing with the Soviets after the war.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 847 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (July 30, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679443312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679443315
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gar Alperovitz (born May 5, 1936) is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, College Park Department of Government and Politics. He is a former Fellow of King's College, Cambridge; a founding Fellow of Harvard's Institute of Politics; a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies; and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. Alperovitz also served as a Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and as a Special Assistant in the Department of State. Alperovitz is a founding principal of The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, and a member of the board of directors for the New Economics Institute (NEI).

More information at http://garalperovitz.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
My Father was drafted out of Harvard Graduate school. He scored very highly on IQ tests and was given a very sensitive job in the Ultra Code breaking project. He reported to a Lt General in the US army and was classified as an Army Intelligence officer. The story he told me before this book was ever published is identical to the general outlines of the story as related here by Alperovitz. He has always said that the Japanese were clearly looking to end the war a couple of months before the bomb was dropped. He also said that the general US military command was of the opinion that the Invasion of Japan was not going to be necessary Regardless of the presence of the Atom bomb or not. He cannot speak to what might or might not have been going on in Washington DC but he himself read the decrypts of Japanese messages being sent to intermediaries whom were charged with approaching the Americans with the intent to discontinue the war. He has said that the general consensus of the upper echelons of the military was that the bomb was used to intimidate the Russians who were behaving quite menacingly rather than to save American lives which might be lost in an invasion. He also said that he was always surprised that "nobody wrote a book about it". He was unaware of Alperovitz's work until I found it while in college.
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Format: Paperback
In an age when Truman has become the everyman's president, this book shines an extremely focussed light on what certainly is his most important decision. This book is not for the feint of heart. The story is told by reconstructing minute sequences of events from May through August of 1945 in order to unravel how the decision was made to deliver atomic weapons Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It uses excerpts from every written form of communication that has been found by historians in the past 50 years.
The book is very interesting on three levels. First, it immerses the reader in the flow of information that actually existed for the president an his closest advisors. Second, it highlights for the reader the two most vexing problems for the president -- how to handle the Japanese surrender AND how to handle the Soviets stanglehold on Eastern Europe. Third, it honestly confronts the myths that have explained why the Americans dropped the bomb and how it has been rationalized as the "right thing to do."
If you are a person that believes that the bomb saved "500,000 to a million American casualties and ended the war" and are willing to learn that this may not be true, read this book. Be warned though, it is very unsettling when one has believed this all ones life. I know I have been somewhat shocked.
All this said, the book could be called pedandic to a fault. There is much repetition because many of the key communications are used over and over to make numerous points. On the other hand, the repetition does keep the key stuff close to the uninitiated reader (me).
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Format: Paperback
In spite of a large bibliography, Alperovitz's book managed to overlook some of the best scholarly work on the subject of the Pacific war, the intelligence on the Japanese High Command, and the decision processes in the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations on the use of strategic bombing. That alone makes me wonder about the author's bias; a serious academic study as this book claims to be should not be so careless in its scholarship.

But before quickly summarizing some of those arguments (another Amazon reviewer has given a nice list of some of the major substantive arguments for the use of nuclear weapons to end the war), it is important to point out that this book fails because it is not accurate in some of its critical facts, and is also a very incomplete counterfactual history of the end of the Pacific War.

More specifically, the author does a poor job in assessing proximate alternative decisions. This is a must for any work claiming to examine "the Decision" about something. Decision-making is a specialty research area of mine, and one of the first axioms you learn in management or economics is that all decisions have alternatives, including a no-decision, and all decisions carry benefits, costs, and opportunity costs, vis-a-vie other decisions, and these MUST be assessed in comparison. If you fail to do that, you are failing to analyze the decision in question. On this, all major decision-making scholars across multiple disciplines are in agreement.

Alperovitz's book fails totally and utterly on this point of comparative assessment. This alone would make this book impossible for me to recommend, having spent about 20 years in this field studying and writing about major strategic decisions in business, governments, and the military around the world.
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Format: Paperback
Gar Alperovitz builds a strong case that the atomic bomb was not militarily necessary to end the war in the Pacific, but was used to advance American diplomatic and political interests in the post war period, especially with respect to the Soviet Union. In particular, the apparent reluctance of military leaders to use the bomb is most interesting.
Of equal interest is the implicit suggestion that the after-the-fact efforts to justify the bomb's use and mute public criticism began a fifty year pattern of government secrecy, deception, and propaganda which threatens the democratic process even to this day, and that the cold war was arguably triggered by U.S. efforts to make the Soviet Union more "manageable" during the summer of 1945.
Finally, I was impressed that the author was far less judgmental than he could have been. I expected a political diatribe when I started this book. Instead, I encountered a well researched objective analysis of original source material. Where evidence was missing, conflicting, or subject to varying interpretations, the author said so.
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