Originally Published on Videri.org
Ronald Takaki’s book Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Bomb explores the decision-making process that led up to America’s use of nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II. A professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, Takaki has published much on multiculturalism and ethnicity, especially regarding American history; his earlier works include Strangers from a Different Shore and A Different Mirror. As in these past books, Takaki applies a critical perspective toward race and culture in America with Hiroshima. Takaki argues that the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima was driven by strategic and diplomatic concerns, the phenomenon of anti-Japanese racism in the U.S., and the psychology of key American leaders, with a particular emphasis upon President Harry S. Truman’s psyche.
To advance this thesis, Dr. Takaki uses a variety of historical sources that open up views into the minds of leaders, scientists, and average Americans at the time of the bombings. In the early pages of Hiroshima, the author brings up a quote from Secretary of State Henry Stimson to explain this approach: “No single individual can hope to know exactly what took place in the minds of all of those who had a share in these events…” However, Takaki is reaching for the best approximation of that elusive understanding with this text: “An effort must be made,” he insists, “to learn what was in their minds. Personalities mattered, especially in the decision to drop the bomb.” Operating on this assumption, Takaki draws on many different types of documents to explore the minds of key players like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Stimson, and especially President Truman.