In This Review

The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge Essential Histories)
The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge Essential Histories)
By Wilson D. Miscamble C.S.C.
Cambridge University Press, 2011, 192 pp

There is an irony in Miscamble’s description of the atom bombing of Japan in August 1945 as “the most controversial decision,” as it is well documented that there was barely a decision at all and that the bombing was not particularly controversial at the time. The resources that had gone into the Manhattan Project meant that the weapons were bound to be used when they were ready, especially by an administration determined to explore all means to bring the war with Japan to a speedy end. It became controversial only after the war, as a result of claims, made most notably by the historian Gar Alperovitz, that President Harry Truman and his advisers knew the bombing was unnecessary. Miscamble skewers Alperovitz’s argument, countering that there was no reason to suppose that Japan was close to surrender prior to the bombing, that the bombing turned the debate in Tokyo in favor of surrender, and that the grim calculus of war suggested that if the atom bombs had not been used, many more would have died than were killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.