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80 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard work to get through -- but worth the trip, February 8, 2000
This review is from: The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 18, 2010 12:59:42 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 6, 2010 12:06:18 PM PDT
James Meek says:
The reviewer writes, "...it immerses the reader in the flow of information that actually existed for the president an his closest advisors."

But in fact it conceals vitally important elements of the historical record so as to give the reader a highly distorted impression of that flow of information.

In particular, despite having ample space to publish all the declassified MAGIC Diplomatic Summary text concerning the famed "peace feelers to the Soviet Union" message exchange between Foreign Minister Togo in Tokyo and Ambassador Sato in Moscow, it reveals only a tiny, cherry-picked sliver of it. Moreover, it does not inform the reader of vitally important context necessary to understand why US intelligence advised US leaders that of three possible interpretations of the import of that message exchange, the most likely was that it was just an attempt to promote rumors of Japanese willingness to negotiate so as to exploit war-weariness in the Allied nations' and heighten opposition to a final invasion.

In addition, "The Decision" conceals from its readers the fact that just weeks before the "peace feelers" exchange began. the MAGIC Diplomatic Summaries had reported on another message in which Tokyo informed Sato of the Hirota-Malik talks in which Japan had proposed, in essence, that the USSR form an alliance with Japan against the US and Britain.

Nor does "The Decision" inform its readers that in the "peace feelers" message exchange Sato repeatedly advises Togo that there is no way that Stalin will allow a visit from the emperor's Special Envoy (Prince Konoye) unless Japan first submits in writing a detailed and concrete description of what the Special Envoy will propose, but Togo never sends one. Nor is there any mention of the fact that Togo never responds to a Sato question which asks, in essence, whether the military (which held four of the six seats on the all-important Supreme Council for Direction of the War) is on board with Togo's willingness to end the war on terms nearly equivalent to unconditional surrender.

Nor does "The Decision" make clear to its readers that a change in the wording of the Potsdam Declaration which it presents as evidence of a secret Truman-Byrnes' conspiracy to forestall Japanese surrender was in fact heavily influenced by input from State Department officials who were among the most politically liberal people in the administration (who apparently were aware, unlike others involved, that the Japanese emperor already was a constitutional monarch, such that Stimson's proposed wording would have given the Japanese grounds to resist meaningful political change).

The above are just a small sample of the ways in which "The Decision" egregiously misinforms and misleads its readers.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2010 2:53:58 PM PDT
James,
Have you attempted to contact Gar Alperovitz with your assertions and, if so, what was his response? Or are you just sniping here?

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2010 9:14:04 PM PDT
James Meek says:
Why would I contact Alperovitz? This is all well-known among professional historians. Among the books written expressly to criticize The Decision are Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series), Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism and Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later dealing with its overall defects, and Hell to Pay: Operation DOWNFALL and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, which addresses its defects with respect to the question of what the casualty levels would have been had the Kyushu invasion come to pass. Indeed, the paperback edition of "The Decision" contains an appendix in which Alperovitz poses as answering the criticisms in those books, but in fact does not because he chooses to reply only on those points where he can mount a plausible defense, cherry-picking as in the book itself so as to mislead readers who have not read those books themselves.

A reader of liberal leanings will, however, be likely to doubt the accuracy of the above-mentioned books because they argue that the bombings were necessary and justified, and so will be better served by the Hasegawa and Kort books I recommended in my earlier comment, as they adequately reveal much that "The Decision" obscures while being more neutral in character.

Please note that I am not writing in the spirit of sniping at your review, but rather am trying to prevent others from being mislead by "The Decision" in the same way it has mislead you. Anyone not already familiar with the historical record by virtue of having read extensively on the subject will inevitably be mislead by Alperovitz's highly skillful presentation of his carefully selected subset of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2010 7:04:30 AM PDT
You would contact Mr. Alperovitz if you were serious about getting a proper response from him to your assertions. Otherwise you are making online comments in a non serious forum for amateurs and, apparently, more interested in pushing your point of view than doing serious scholarship. Your choice.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2010 8:24:22 AM PDT
James Meek says:
Having seen in the appendix to the paperback edition and in the massive debate some years ago on H-Diplo how Alperovitz responds to identical criticisms raised by professional historians, I see no point in contacting him. The facts are there in the historical record, and if an amateur like myself can find them, the implications of the fact that despite the richly funded multi-year research effort underpinning "The Decision" those facts and the issues they raise have disappeared from history in "The Decision" are quite clear -- that research effort looked only for material that would support the argument that the people who funded Alperovitz knew he would make, the same argument he had already made once in his PhD thesis and again in Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power. Why did those people not give that funding to Barton Bernstein, who was then the acknowledged expert on the issues? Probably because they knew he would be likely to write something like what he wrote in his long essay in Judgment at the Smithsonian: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why did they not fund some distinguished historian of politically neutral character who had never written on the subject and so would be more likely to do an objective study?

The techniques used by Alperovitz in "The Decision" are the same as those used by denialists of global warming and evolution, and arguing with him is just as futile as arguing with them.

As Hasegawa appears not to be of that ilk, and I don't completely agree with him, either, though I strongly recommend his book, I will probably correspond with him on some issues after I retire and have the time.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 9, 2010 11:14:31 AM PDT
Please give a specific example of "how Alperovitz respond to identical criticisms...".

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2013 3:34:16 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Mar 3, 2013 3:39:41 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2013 3:37:06 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Mar 3, 2013 3:39:33 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2013 3:39:21 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 3, 2013 3:43:08 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2014 1:18:24 AM PDT
All I got from James' response is a lot of character assassination.
I get it, the standard narrative for decades has been to justify and rationalize with this notion that we had to kill tons of civilians in order to save them.
And all that is threatened by a work that includes a lot of primary sources that cut through all this derivative justification.

But, at the end of the day, there is one thing that can't be argued. The terms of surrender were not affected by the atomic bombs in any way. Why, then, were they dropped?
I appreciate that Alperovitz has done the research and gathered primary sources to cut through the bs. Maybe you think he could've included more, but you can't seem to cite anything specific (except a handful of other derivative sources that push the status quo narrative which doesn't hold water)

In the end you have:
- character assassination
- complaints that it challenges the status quo

I think it's actually you who acts like a Warming/Holocaust/Evolution denier.
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