The Corner

Eric Alterman & Hiroshima

Oliver Kamm :

But Alterman outdoes himself when writing for a domestic audience. In his current Nation column he adduces, as an instance of media bias, a subject I fear I need to return to:

When Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets died November 1, the New York Times repeated Tibbets’s contention that “It would have been morally wrong if we’d have had [the atomic bomb] and not used it and let a million more people die.” That virtually no reputable historian would put the casualty figure for a US invasion of Japan anywhere near that high (leaving aside the question of whether an invasion would have been necessary) was not mentioned in the story.

What can you say? The most charitable explanation I can give is that Alterman is (unlike the late General Tibbets) sufficiently ethnocentric not to take into account the deaths of Japanese civilians that would have resulted from a conventional invasion and blockade of the home islands, sufficiently casual not to distinguish between deaths and casualties, and entirely unaware of research by American and Japanese historians published in the last 20 years concerning the conclusion of the Pacific War. I can name off the top of my head at least a dozen leading historians in this field who would concur with Tibbets’s judgement, owing to their knowledge of Japanese military preparations on Kyushu, the Americans’ experience of battle at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, the casualty estimates used by the Truman administration, the number of American medals struck in anticipation of the appalling costs of a conventional invasion, and other factors.

One of my regular correspondents, the military historian D.M. Giangreco, wrote a definitive paper on the administration’s casualty estimates, published as “‘A Score of Bloody Okinawas and Iwo Jimas’: President Truman and Casualty Estimates for the Invasion of Japan”, in Pacific Historical Review, Feb 2003, and reprinted in Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism, ed. Robert J. Maddox, 2007, pp. 76-115. From his scrutiny of primary sources, he observed: “Truman’s much-derided accounts of massive casualties projected for the two-phase invasion of Japan are richly supported by US Army, White House, Selective Service and War Department documents produced before the use of nuclear weapons against Japan and stretching back through the last nine months of the Roosevelt administration.”

There’s a lot more. 

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