Another September 11th: Stimson, the Bomb, Bush and Iran

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The 5th anniversary of September 11, 2001, certainly produced an outpouring of politically motivated media presentations ranging from conspiracy theories to justifications for pursuing the "War on Terror."

I would like to use the occasion, however, to give renewed attention to the significance of a previous September 11th sixty-one years ago, when retiring Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson sent a top-secret, eight-page, Memorandum to President Harry S. Truman, exploring the implications for the future of the Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a month earlier.

Curiously, it is virtually never mentioned in the criticisms or justification that erupt with regularity each August concerning the decision to drop those bombs on the Japanese people. Yet, for better or worse, those events are history, while the policy implications of Stimson’s Memo remain as relevant today as the day on which he wrote it. The great radical historian, William Appleman Williams, called it one of the most important documents of the then emerging Cold War, and Truman’s failure to respond to it, one of the great examples of The Tragedy of American Diplomacy.

Stimson was a conservative Republican. As a young man in the crisis of the 1890s, like Teddy Roosevelt, his letters spoke of the need for a war to help resolve the social and economic situation. Later, serving to administer America’s "Benevolent" policies in The Philippines, he heeded the advice of his mentor and fellow Yale man, William Howard Taft, to comport himself as a "Pro-Consul" within the American Empire.

He realized, however, that the dropping of the bombs had changed everything! In the Memo, easily Googled at the Truman Library, Stimson argued that any attempt to use the bomb to change Russian behavior would only be resented and counterproductive. He suggested instead, that the US share the technology with the Soviets.

“I believe that the change in attitude toward the individual in Russia will come slowly and gradually and I am satisfied that we should not delay our approach to Russia in the matter of the atomic bomb until that process has been completed…. Furthermore, I believe that this long process of change in Russia is more likely to be expedited by the closer relationship in the matter of the atomic bomb which I suggest and the trust and confidence that I believe would be inspired by the method of approach which I have outlined.”

Stimson reasoned the Russians would at once pursue obtaining such a bomb for themselves. It was not a secret, as Americans were for years led to believe, but an industrial technology being explored before the War, and which the Soviets would obtain in, say, four to twenty, years.

In a reference to the US "having this weapon rather ostentatiously on our hip," Stimson noted, "their suspicions and their distrust of our purposes and motives will increase. It will inspire them to greater efforts in an all out effort to solve the problem."

"The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust."

Truman’s failure to follow Stimson’s advice, ensured that the worst of those predictions would be realized in the long Cold War that followed, ended only by Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to disengage from the Empire Game.

Now, of course, the Cowboy from Crawford has strapped his six-gun rather ostentatiously on his hip, proclaiming his desire to draw preemptively on Iran. But, everything observed by Stimson years ago still holds true except that the caliber of Bush’s weapon today might not be sufficient to do the job, and the Iranians may retaliate.

I would suggest that there is still a window open whereby George W. Bush has an opportunity, by courageously following Stimson’s advice, to reverse a chain of disastrous American policy moves toward Iran dating back at least to 1944. This might serve as a new beginning toward the development a renewed relationship with a part of the Islamic world.

If I were the President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and saw my "buddy" from Texas’ failure to pursue such an initiative, I might consider quoting from Stimson’s Memo myself in offering Iran the technology it needs to enhance uranium. To do so is the best way to build a basis for friendship and trust. Should that nation move toward development of a bomb, as have those nations such as Israel and India, helped along by the US, then the Iranians still lack the delivery system to use it effectively. They simply would have joined, what at this point, is hardly an exclusive club, excepting only the US, which has, of course, used the bomb in warfare to kill thousands of civilians.

Given the lack of such vision and courage of the leaders of the American Empire from Truman to the present, it seems highly unlikely that this nation will initiate the kind of bold diplomacy envisioned by Stimson!

William Marina [send him mail] is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, a Research Fellow of the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and Executive Director of the Marina-Huerta Educational Foundation. He lives in Asheville, NC. He studied Affordable Housing Technologies as a Senior Economist with the Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, of which Mr. Bartlett was then the Executive Director. This article originally appeared on the History News Network.

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