Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes

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Lecture Three: Atomic Bomb

  • Kennedy starts with outline

  • then Henry Stimson “The Decision to Drop the Bomb” actually written by McGeorge Bundy in response to articles in Saturday Review attacking morality of dropping the bomb in 1946

    • problem in title is that so much decision was employed

    • disturbing that so little deliberative process was held

    • using it as soon as possible governed the process from ’42 onward

    • Stimson created interim committee

      • How, not whether, to use the bomb

  • Read Richard Rhodes,

    • Idea from 1890s

      • 1902 scientists speculate about explosive nature of discovery

      • 1930s neutron split of atom

      • special uranium U235

      • 1939 scientists knew it would be a big power

  • Read Albert Einstein’s letter about Hungarians (Martians) so smart

    • Szilard, Wigner, Teller tell Einstein to write to president

    • Knew that Nazis were going to corner market on uranium

  • US had ability to design and make the bomb, only country that could

  • Political and Military aspects of the bomb

    • FDR was no fool and refused to share knowledge of atomic project with the Soviets or anyone else except the British

    • FDR anticipated tough bargaining with Soviets so he held his nuclear card

    • Gar Alperowitz’s book:

      • The two atomic bombs of 1945 are not the closing shots of WWIIthe opening two shots in the emerging cold war

      • Soviets were supposed to enter war on August 8 so the US was eager to keep the Soviets out of Asia

      • William Ochem’s razor: simplest solution is best solution

    • Truman’s explanation: “I regarded the bomb and never had any doubt that it should be used.”

    • If Japan was developing the bomb, why were they so surprised when they experienced it?

      • Japanese had a project

        • They were harvesting one thousandth of a gram of fissile worthy uranium, when US was producing a ton per month

        • They could not imagine that the US had enough of the explosive material to make another bomb – ooops

    • Should we have demonstrated the bomb?

      • It is unlikely such a demonstration would move them if Hiroshima did not.

      • Stimson’s interim committee discussed alternatives for about 10 minutes over lunch

    • Lesley Groves estimated that they would use each bomb they produced would be used immediately – would have produced five per month

    • Fire bombing continued after August 6

  • Morality issue should focus on fire bombing and its effects

    • 66 Japanese cities mostly destroyed

      • Curtis LeMay’s superior thought it was morally repellant but he had no qualm and thought he was a war criminal for targeting civilians

      • Interim committee wanted virgin target to highlight the atomic bomb

    • only British officer who did not become Lord, was bombing general Arthur Harris because of the moral qualms and guilt

    • Americans terror-bombed Berlin on February 25, 1945, killing 25 k civilians

  • Numbers are not the issue

    • Legitimacy of targeting civilians is the real issue

  • See Time essay by Kennedy on Atomic Bomb

  • Americans and the History that Made Them: What is the national character? The US was conceived in the Renaissance, born in the Reformation, earned independence in age of enlightenment, grew to maturity in the industrial revolution, and achieved preeminence in age of total war: see David Potter’s People of Plenty

  • McCourt call Freedom from Fear “not a book but a fucking weapon”

Why was North Africa and Italy irrelevant?

  • Strategically unimportant in terms of the main forces in the war

  • British liked that kind of strategy that attacked the periphery all the way back to the Napoleonic wars

  • US liked the idea of massing enough strength to take on the main body of the enemy and overwhelm it, which is Grant’s theory of engaging the enemy and continues in Colin Powell’s theory – the US commanders including Eisenhower and Marshall hated the idea of going through North Africa and Italy – waste of resources and time – it took two years in Italy at great expense while Germany defended Italy with minimal loss of men or resources

Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Theory

  • Avoid the detail or else you’ll

  • Strategic priorities of US were clear and

    • Germany was priority, not Japan

      • FDR said, “The defeat of Germany will mean the defeat of Japan, but the defeat of Japan will not mean the defeat of Germany.”

    • In event of two-front war, only defensive war in Pacific and only 15% of resources would be devoted against Japan, according to Victory Plan

    • Churchill was actually worried that the US would focus on Japan so he flew to DC and lived in White House for two weeks (chronicled in Doris Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time)

    • Impossible that FDR would risk loss of focus on Germany by allowing such an attack of psychological and strategic enormity

    • British would never have been part of the conspiracy because it would run the risk of distracting Britain’s

    • Nov. 1941 message that US should concede China to Japan in order to pacify Japan, FDR wanted to but Chian Kai-Shek and Stalin said no

    • FDR could have used any number of incidents in Atlantic to enter the war – although few would have had the unifying impact of Pearl Harbor

    • We knew Japan had intention to make full war – US thought Philippines

    • MacArthur failed to protect the Philippines even though he had almost a day’s notice about Pearl Harbor

Read William Vanden Heuvel on Holocaust – American Heritage July/August 1999?

  • Refugee phase:

    • Did US respond adequately to German Jewish refugees?

      • Maybe but US did take more than any other nation in 1930s, despite Great Depression and 1924 law that had no provision for refugees

      • Nobody by 1939 knew that the genocide is coming, not until 1942 and German Jews mostly escape

  • Once war broke out

    • Could US actually reach inside German territory to save victims

    • US knew, but didn’t know how to help

    • No troops on ground until 1944

    • Bomb Auschwitz? Formal request in Spring ’44 to save Budapest Jews

      • Request gets to DC in August at point when US was going through France – widespread belief that Germany would collapse soon

Summer History Institute

Dr. David M. Kennedy

DMK @ Stanford.edu

Yale PhD

Wednesday, August 2, 2000

The greatest moment of collective inebriation in American history.”

Philip Roth, American Pastoral, 1997
The United States stand at this moment at the summit of the world.”

Winston Churchill, 1945

I. The road to Pearl Harbor (first morning session).

A. Introduction.

1. There are contingent events in history—happenstance, questions, and no inevitability.

a. What if America had not fought in World War II?

b. What if our strategy had been different?

c. What if our timing had been different?

2. According to Kennedy, World War II changed America more than any other trend, movement, or event of the 20th Century.

a. After the war, America’s middle class doubled.

b. It initiated America’s civil rights movement.

c. At the end of the war, the U.S. controlled 50% of the entire world’s manufacturing and production of electricity.

d. The U.S. was the most powerful country in the world.

B. America in 1940.

1. America still suffered from the Great Depression; during the years 1930 through 1940—eleven years—America’s average unemployment rate was 17%.

2. The U.S. was entrenched in isolationism.

a. World War II changed that permanently.

b. Remember, history is full of surprises, i.e.: post war America.

C. How the U.S. got involved in the Second World War.

1. Adolf Hitler took no notice of America as he planned his aggression in Europe.

a. In 1937 Hitler speculated on the response of nations to his aggressive acts, and he never even mentioned the U.S. See Hassback Memorandum of 1937.

2. The nature of American isolation.

a. It was an old cultural artifact of the nation or a touchstone.

b. America continued to view itself as different, unique, or superior. It was “a city upon a hill.”

c. American isolation goes beyond diplomatic policy.

d. Based and fostered by concepts of American “uniqueness” and “exceptionalism.”

3. The decade of the 1930s was the most isolationist of American decades, why?

a. World War I greatly nurtured isolation. America broke its policy of staying out of foreign affairs, and it appeared to fail—“make the world safe for democracy,” “peace without victory,” the Treaty of Versailles, and the League of Nations seemed futile.

b. “The rejection of Europe is what America is all about.” John Dos Passos.

4. Early in FDR’s presidency, he too was isolationist.

a. In his first inaugural address he downplayed the need for international trade.

b. Roosevelt’s sudden refusal to participate in the world economic conference in 1933 shocked the world and broke-up the conference.

  • Hitler determined by America’s refusal to participate in the conference, that the U.S. was no threat to him and the country would not participate with Europe in foreign affairs. He would have free reign in Europe.

5. [Kennedy predicted that 100 years from now, historians will view the greatest effect of World War II to be igniting the movement to economic and cultural globalization or internationalism. The Cold War will become much less significant that it is viewed today. He noted America was/is more affected by this globalization than any other country of the 20th Century.]

6. Between the years 1935 and 1940, the U.S. passed five different neutrality acts to make certain it would not be sucked into another world war, as occurred in the First World War.

a. They were based on the mistaken concept of attempting to avoid fighting the last war.

b. Kennedy suggested the War Manpower Act of 1973 was an effort to avoid fighting another Vietnam War.

7. When France fell in June 1940 [after a token resistance, and Kennedy correctly stated France still has much to answer for in its defense and then actions during the Nazi occupation], it changed the entire situation of the world and America.

a. It led Roosevelt to call upon the U.S. to become the “arsenal of democracy.”

II. World War II (second morning session).

A. From June 1940 through December 1941 there was great drama in America.

1. By the year 1935 Roosevelt began to focus more and more on international affairs, and he eventually came to recognize the U.S. must become ready to protect democracy and peace.

a. Kennedy stated FDR was a great leader because he was patient in teaching and educating Americans about the threats of the aggressor nations.

b. FDR attempted to get America into the World Court, but isolationists killed the effort.

c. Despite isolationists’ work, after six years Roosevelt was able to get Congress to pass the Lend-Lease Act—one of the great accomplishments.

d. The word arsenal is important when FDR called for America to become the arsenal of democracy.

e. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” were meant to be a world vision or statement.

  • Norman Rockwell’s posters of the “Four Freedoms” are a distortion of Roosevelt’s views.

  • Rockwell’s paintings are illustrative and defensive of American values.

B. The strategic logic of World War II from an American perspective.

1. The Pearl Harbor “conspiracy theory.”

a. No one has ever come up with any reliable evidence that any administration, navy, army, or diplomatic officers knew of the planned attack at Pearl Harbor.

b. Churchill wrote to FDR (May 1940) to focus on the Nazi threat—the Europe first strategy—not Japan. Thus, all agreements and plans called for America to avoid war with Japan at almost all costs.

C. Kennedy’s “Tale of Three Cities,” or the arsenal of democracy strategy.

1. August 1942 through February 1943 three cities and events took place in them that helped establish America’s strategy for World War II—Rouen, France, Washington, D.C., and Stalingrad, Russia.

2. Rouen, France: August 17, 1942 one dozen American B-17 bombers attacked and bombed the rail-switching yard. It was the first “strategic bombing” of the war, and it established America’s concept of using such attacks throughout the war.

a. Attack enemy’s industrial base.

b. Attack cities to destroy the citizens’ morale—psychological attack.

c. Air war took maximum advantage of America’s industry and technology.

d. It spared American lives.

3. Washington, D.C.: October 6, 1942 Donald Nelson, head of the War Production Board (WPB), worked on his goals:

a. Shift the American economy from peace to wartime production.

b. Protect the civilian standard of living as much as possible.

c. The military called for creation of 215 divisions for the army, but Nelson convinced the military to settle for 90 divisions—“the 90 Division Gamble.”

  • The target date for the D-Day invasion was put off for one year.

  • Significantly scaled back the size of American troop strength to keep many more men home and work at the farms and factories to build up the arsenal of democracy.

4. Stalingrad, Russia: February 1943 the Russians defeated Hitler’s army at Stalingrad.

a. Demonstrated the Russians would not collapse or make a separate peace.

b. Showed the Russians could and would continue the fight.

c. Proved the Russians could and would take the offensive against Germany.

d. The “90 Division Gamble” might work.

D. The end of World War II.

1. The United States was the only country that raised its standard of living at the same time it fought in the war—a 15% increase.

2. Various countries’ death tolls.

a. United Kingdom—350,000 (100,000 civilians)

b. China—10,000,000 (7,000,000 civilians)

c. Yugoslavia—2,000,000.

d. Japan—3,000,000.

e. Germany—6,500,000.

f. Russia—24,000,000 (16,000,000 civilians).

g. United States—450,000 (6 civilians)

  • Japan launched 9,000 “firebombs” to be carried by the jet stream to America. In 1945 a firebomb killed people while at a Sunday school picnic (five of them were children).

III. Three World War II topics (afternoon session).

A. The Holocaust.

1. The story is not truly one of American history; it began elsewhere.

2. In 1933 FDR gave America’s ambassador to Germany instructions to protest its treatment of Jews, but stated the U.S. could not do anything to directly assist the Jews by interfering in domestic affairs.

3. Two questions: Why didn’t the U.S. open its immigration doors to the Jews? Why didn’t the U.S. do something to rescue them once the Holocaust began?

a. See book, Arthur Morse, While 6,000,000 Died.

4. The “refugee stage” of the 1930s.

a. There were about 500,000 Jews in Germany and 200,000 in Austria during the decade.

b. Out of the 700,000 Jews under Hitler’s control, America allowed 150,000 to immigrate to the U.S. That was a sizable number considering it was during the Great Depression.

c. Nobody knew in the 1930s that the Nazis would actually commit genocide. The moral imperative was not understood or even known.

d. Although from hindsight, the simplest reaction to Germany’s desire to drive the Jews out was for America to relax its immigration quotas. Why the U.S. did not do so:

  • No one understood what would occur in the future.

  • The most obvious exit was to allow them entrance into Palestine, which was controlled by Great Britain, but England refused to do so and risk war there.

  • Jews in Germany disagreed about whether to leave or not; they did not see the danger of the future.

  • There was widespread anti-Semitism in America.

  • The Great Depression of the 1930s and average 17% unemployment rate prohibited allowing more immigrants in to compete for precious jobs.

  • The Immigration Law of 1924 was the sitting law of the land at the time, and there were no qualifications for refugees. Congress was unwilling to change the law during the emergency of the Great Depression.

  • The evidence is very clear—Roosevelt was not anti-Semitic.

5. The “rescue phase” of the Holocaust during the war.

a. The world was a war.

b. As Germany expanded it conquests, it also expanded the numbers of Jews under its control.

c. As the war began, Hitler sealed in the Jews under his control so they could not leave.

d. In the summer of 1942 a Jewish organization spread word of the “final solution” or “Holocaust” to the West, and the reality of the genocide occurring.

  • There was disbelief at first, and the thought this was another example of the atrocity stories of the First World War.

  • By early in the year 1943 American investigators verified the claims of genocide were true.

e. What could the United States do about the Holocaust in early 1943?

  • Militarily, the British and Americans were still fighting in North Africa; far away from the site of the death camps.

  • Why didn’t American bombers destroy the railways leading to the concentration camps? The army stated other military concerns took greater priority.

  • In an attempt to split the Allies, Romanian and Hungarian authorities offered to release Jews under their control for trucks and equipment for use on the eastern front. Russia would have perhaps broken the alliance if America and Great Britain had taken such a step.

  • During the years 1944-5 the War Refugee Board attempted to assist Jews in escaping from the Holocaust—the board was primarily an America effort. The War Refugee Board did succeed in getting 200,000 Jews out of Romania and Hungary during about an 18-month period.

  • The United Kingdom and U.S. had the basic strategy of rescuing the Jews “through victory.”

f. Even today we struggle to understand the depth and breadth of the Holocaust, how much more difficult would it have been to understand the evil of the “final solution” during the war. There was much disbelief.

g. Professor Kennedy emphasized the need to confront our discomfort with the Holocaust. See Christopher Browning’s, Ordinary Men.

B. The Japanese Internment Camps of World War II.

1. There is widespread agreement among most historians and Americans today that the internment camps were politically, constitutionally, and morally wrong and disgraceful.

a. See Gordon Chang’s Morning Glory, Evening Shadow, or Peter Iron’s Justice at War.

2. It was justified as a military decision.

a. Fear and hysteria/concern came about during the month of March 1942 about Japanese-Americans’ loyalty and subversive plots. Before that time military and public officials asked for calm.

b. General DeWitt led the call for relocating Japanese-Americans inland from the Pacific Coast.

  • About 15,000 voluntarily moved to the Midwest or East Coast.

  • In the spring of 1942 a meeting was held in Salt Lake City for removal of the people to the Rocky Mountain States; however, they did not desire them in their communities.

  • Around 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forced into ten camps.

  • There were about 15,000 German and Italian immigrants to America investigated by the FBI and found to be threats to the nation that were put in internment camps. One was near Missoula, Montana and another one in the Midwest.

C. The Atomic Bomb.

1. It is the story of great scientific achievement, or the development of a super weapon, or a story of the morality or immortality of using the atomic bomb.

2. By the decade of the 1930s the possibility of building an atomic bomb was quite well known among world physicists.

3. The U.S. established the “uranium committee” in 1940 to investigate the possibility of building an atomic bomb. At first it found such a bomb unlikely.

But by 1941 physicists discovered the bomb was a good possibility.

4. In the year 1941 the Manhattan Project was started to build an atomic bomb.

a. Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Russia had similar projects to investigate, research, and if possible build a bomb.

b. Only the United States had the economy, science, electricity production, and technical skills necessary to complete the project.

5. Use of the atomic bomb.

a. When it was dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, it was just another bomb.

b. There was no great “decision” to drop the atomic bomb.

c. The decision to use the atomic bomb came when the U.S. undertook the Manhattan Project. Use of the atomic bomb would end the war.

d. Dr. Kennedy stated we certainly would have used the atomic bomb against Germany if it was ready before V.E. Day.

6. The moral question is really: Is strategic bombing of civilian populations moral?

a. March 9th through 10th American B-29 bombers conducted fire raids on Tokyo, killing 100,000 Japanese. Was that moral?


July 28, 2005

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