Cold War Q & A

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Lew received an intriguing inquiry from LRC reader Kevin Kelly which he asked me as a history instructor and LRC columnist to address. I was delighted to be of assistance.  Lew thought other LRC readers would also be very interested in (and benefit from) this intellectual exchange.  So I am blogging our little Q and A.

Kevin began by pointing out that he is 19 years old and desperately trying to educate himself on the American empire. He is precisely one of that growing legion of ideal young LRC readers with intellectual curiosity and determination to find out the factual truths of history and economics for themselves. Kevin had three questions that arose while he was researching.

1) Did Truman have to drop the atomic bomb? There are some that say he didn’t have to.

The simple answer to your question is NO. See “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” by historian Ralph Ralco for a concise overview on this controversy. Code breakers in American intelligence had deciphered Japanese diplomatic messages in May, 1945 to officials in the Soviet Union seeking their assistance to end the war. Americans at the highest levels of our military and civilian government therefore knew that the war cabinet of the Imperial Japanese state sought a negotiated surrender to bring the conflict to a halt (with the proviso of leaving Emperor Hirohito intact as ruler of Japan. Under the Shinto state religion, the Emperor was considered a god.) Many of President Truman’s top advisers (and important persons consulted concerning these matters) counseled that such terms should be a starting point for negotiations. But his newly appointed secretary of state James F. Byrnes was a hardliner who pushed Truman to hold out for “unconditional surrender.” This was affirmed at the July Potsdam Conference between the “Big Three” leaders of the allied forces. There is a growing consensus among historians and analysts of this controversy that the principal reasons the atomic bombs were finally used against Japan were calculated political decisions having little to do with the publicly stated post-war rationale of saving of American lives during an anticipated invasion of the Japanese home islands by military forces: 1) the bomb was successfully tested in New Mexico at the time of the Potsdam conference, and not to use it after the incredible expenditure of taxpayer funds for research and development would be unacceptable if known to the American people and would lead to Truman’s probable impeachment; 2) use of the atomic bomb would demonstrate to Joseph Stalin and the leadership of the Soviet Union that the United States was not afraid to use “the big stuff” as a device for intimidation and thus warn the Soviets against any aggressive designs they may have on the post-war geopolitical situation, especially in Europe. After the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in early August, final surrender terms were negotiated. They included leaving the Emperor intact as ruler of Japan (the very terms the Japanese sought in May after the conclusion of the War in Europe) and not those stated in the July Potsdam Declaration calling for “unconditional surrender.” The use of the bombs was unnecessary.

2) Is it true that the U.S. instigated the Cold War? How should we have handled it? I know for a fact that we mishandled it badly.

To address your first question is complex for it rests on the not inconsequential historical matter of when the “Cold War” began. Most persons believe that this ideological conflict began in the years following the Second World War. But actually it started during World War I with the intervention of the German, British, Japanese and US military forces against Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ successful October 1917 coup d’etat (or seizure of power) in Russia, and continued after during the Civil War between the Communist Reds and the anti-Communist Whites (and Greens).  Most persons in the West have long forgotten these foreign military interventions to prevent the establishment of the Soviet Communist State. The Soviets never forgot these unseasonable facts and believed Western anti-communist governments would use any means necessary to imperil and destroy their successful revolutionary foot hold. Generations of their leadership cadre continued to believe this. They helped instigate measures to “defend the Soviet motherland” by internal terror and repression and to spread the revolutionary Communist message world wide by open and covert means of propaganda and the espionage apparat. There is a vast amount of published literature relating to America and its role in the Cold War. I suggest you begin with Garet Garett. Here also is a good place to start to find some more of the answers.

3)  Were we lied into the Vietnam and Iraq wars?

Yes. All governments lie about their wars.

11:37 am on January 23, 2010