Compare and contrast the contributions of three historians to the historical debate on the decision to drop the atomic bomb.
Perhaps the most controversial and heavily scrutinized issue of the twentieth century was president Harry Truman’s decision to unleash two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. While the sequence of events preceding that fateful summer morning of August 6th are fully understood, the motives behind Truman’s actions are shrouded in controversy. The decision was justified by the Americans as being necessary because it was the quickest way possible to end the war while saving American lives. Yet why was it essential to achieve this objective through the use of the atomic bomb?
This question has been hotly debated ever since 1945. Historians have constantly continued to analyse what the motivations were that pushed the Truman administration into taking such an irreversible decision. There are a number of profound queries relating to the incident, such as, was the bomb the decisive first act of the cold war? Did Truman drop the bomb to prove the United States superiority to the Soviet Union? In this essay I will endeavour to find some clarity in this multifaceted debate by looking at the contributions of three historians, B.H Liddell Hart, John Keegan and Barton J. Bernstein.
B.H Liddell Hart views the reasons for dropping the atomic bomb as linked to political motives and not military concerns. He argues that, in military terms, it was unnecessary to drop the bomb as Japan was already defeated, and on the verge of disintegration, “with nine-tenths of Japan’s shipping sunk or disabled, her air and sea forces crippled, her industries wrecked, and her people’s food supplies shrinking fast, her collapse was already certain”. He also quotes a US Strategic Bombing Survey report that states, “Air supremacy could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about an unconditional surrender and obviate the need for...