Ecoutez on Kamm on Tibbets
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 17, 2007
TEN DAYS AGO, I wrote a short post linking to three Oliver Kamm pieces on the death of Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets.
Mr. Kamm took author Gar Alperovitz to task for assertions the latter made about the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan. In a private e-mail to me, reader Ecoutez took Mr. Kamm to task for what he says are misrepresentations of Prof. Alperovitz. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read Prof. Alperovitz’s book.)
Ecoutez has kindly agreed to allow his e-mail to be posted here. I’ve removed the personal remarks and included the information relevant to the issue. Here’s what he had to say:
“One thing I’ve noticed about how the media covers pivotal events (wars, and so forth) is that, within six months of the onset of the event, there is always a tendency to devolve into a false “either/or” dichotomy. This has happened recently with the “Bush lied” vs. “Bush is a saint” debate over the invasion of Iraq. The question detracts from where the focus of the debate should be – on the inspections in process just before the invasion (and why weren’t they finished?)
“I believe a similar thing has happened with the A-bomb and WW2 – we’re boxed into an artificial dichotomy. We should be looking at the details of the process that led to the decision. This is what Alperovitz’s book is about.
“I find numerous problems with Kamm’s three articles. Especially his treatment of Alperovitz. Following his reference to Pal’s article, he summarizes the oft-referenced Alperovitz book as such:
And you know what’s coming. Alperovitz is the principal populariser of the notion that Truman’s decision to use the A-bomb was an exercise of “atomic diplomacy”, to intimidate the Soviet Union. On this view, the Pacific War had already been won because Japan was trying to surrender. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less the concluding acts of the Pacific War than the first acts of the Cold War, as presaged by supposed US anti-Soviet hostility at Potsdam.
Every stage in this argument is false. As Michael Kort of Boston University observes in his recent Columbia Guide to Hiroshima and the Bomb, 2007, p. 111: “Despite the difficulties that arose with the Soviets at Potsdam, most historians agree that the United States did not practice atomic diplomacy at the conference.”
“The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that Kort’s book – if I am to believe all the reviews I found online (the book did not get much fanfare) – is in fact entirely neutral on the pro-con issue of the bombing. The book is more a compendium of arguments on both sides. The next thing to be pointed out is the Aperovitz does not “construct” an argument in favor of nuclear diplomacy as an explanation for Truman’s decision, but rather begins with a premise he wishes to falsify – the false dichotomy by which both sides of the debate are usually framed, i.e., that the bombing is what caused the surrender. Throughout the narrative, which is almost literally a day-by-day account of spring/summer 1945, Alperovitz actually keeps afloat a whole host of possible explanations for each of Truman’s decisions, speeches, memoranda, etc. and tests each one of them against the evidence. The issue of civilian casualties resulting from a land invasion is actually quite peripheral in this book – though most pro-bombers treat it as if it is the biggest arrow in the anti-bombing quiver.
“The point is, when Kamm says “there’s no evidence for his thesis,” he’s totally off the mark, and doing a great disservice. Alperovitz actually states, right up front at the beginning, that there is almost no documentary evidence that would confirm Truman’s reasoning in favor of “nuclear diplomacy.” Instead, he is using extensive evidence to debunk the idea that the bombs were necessary for the reasons usually stated (i.e. Kamm’s reasons) – I listed some examples in my previous post. (Ampontan note: This was a reply to the original post here.) He provides extensive documents of many, many officials saying so before their use. And, yes, he does cautiously conclude that intimidating the Soviets seems the most likely reason for Truman’s decision, by process of elimination.
“But he is utterly up-front about what can and cannot be known, and it’s irresponsible of Kamm to imply otherwise. Especially since asserting this “thesis” about Truman is not necessary for debunking the other explanations of his decision -making process. (Actually, something glossed over by Kamm, but central to the book, is Truman’s relationship with Stimson, whose views on the bomb are more widely known and documented, as was his special relationship to Truman).
“But Kamm does worse. He claims that Alperovitz is “not a historian” but a “political economist,” as if this somehow meant Alperovitz’s scholarship were not trustworthy. Here’s his wiki entry:
Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, College Park Department of Government and Politics. He is a former Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge; a founding Fellow of Harvard’s Institute of Politics; a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies; and a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Alperovitz also served as a Legislative Director in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and as a Special Assistant in the Department of State.
“Not that fame and truth are in any way equivalent, but the historians referred to by Kamm as having refuted Alperovitz are ultra-obscure. The books he links to on Amazon lack even a single review. But far worse are his smears of guilt-by-association (his college mentor was an alleged pro-Stalinist, etc.) and then the claim of his editing material in a misleading way. Here’s the funny part – most of the letters and memos quoted in Alperovitz’s book are actually reproduced in full in the back of the book. Within the text, his use of ellipses is minimal. I’d be curious to read the Maddox essay Kamm refers to and do a side by side. Reviews of Maddox, however, all cite this example:
For example, Alperovitz quoted Harry Truman as remarking, just eight days after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, that he “intended to be firm with the Russians and make no concessions.” Truman’s actual statement included the additional phrase “from American principles or traditions in order to win their favor”–which materially alters the sense of Truman’s views.
“Actually, as it is used in the book, this doesn’t alter the meaning of the phrase at all. It’s a red herring, only effective if you haven’t read the book. In fact, IIRC, the quote appears several times in the text, and in full at the first appearance (I’m not 100% sure on this last point, I read it last year and don’t have my copy with me). But more importantly, this quote is not in any way a pillar in the book’s thesis. If I can believe the summaries in reviews of Maddox’s book, it claims that numerous points are unaddressed or ignored by Alperovitz – and yet I remember these specific points being discussed quite thoroughly.
“Kamm goes on:
1995, Professor Maddox also deals with the frequent and – so far as we can tell from all available primary sources – false claims that Truman’s close military advisors counselled him against use of the Bomb.
“This is not what Alperovitz says. He notes the opposition by MacArthur, Eisenhower, etc., but as for direct advisors, he shows, not outright opposition to the bomb, but opposition to not trying other means first. There are many variations and nuances to this, depending on the “advisor” in question, all detailed in the book.
“I could go for many pages. I hope you can see the pattern here. Kamm is erecting a series of straw men. The author has made up his mind in advance, and believes any contradictory arguments are the result of dishonesty and fraud…and he’ll go to absurd lengths to make his case.
“There are other problems. Kamm quotes the historian Robert Newman as saying:
The one group which could have argued most powerfully against the H-bomb was the group of fliers who delivered the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They then, as I now, argue for the abolition of nuclear weapons. So do Tibbets and the rest of his crew.To a man they are peaceniks.
“I’m not maligning Tibbets, but I’ve tried in vain to find any evidence online that he was a “peacenik,” though several accounts describe him doing this:
The U.S. government apologized when Japan complained in 1976 after Tibbets re-enacted the bombing at an air show in Texas, complete with mushroom cloud. Tibbets said it was not meant as an insult.
“The key thing is this – Kamm totally misrepresents what is said in Alperovitz’s book and how he says it. Alperovitz’s book is so thorough, the only way to discredit it is to suggest that he falsifies or distorts data, and Kamm has made this charge irresponsibly.”
In a second e-mail, Ecoutez included this information:
“Here’s an online resource worth checking out: excerpts from Stimson’s diary. On this page you can find him reporting on meetings with Truman, Marshall, etc., and the question of dealing with Russia via the Bomb (“S-1″) is obviously a huge talking point. We don’t have records of Truman’s own thoughts directly (as far as I know) but we have Stimson saying this:
I told him that my own opinion was that the time now and the method now to deal with Russia was to keep our mouths shut and let our actions speak for words. The Russians will understand them better than anything else. It is a case where we have got to regain the lead and perhaps do it in a pretty rough and realistic way. They have rather taken it away from us because we have talked too much and have been too lavish with our beneficences to them. I told him this was a place where we really held all the cards. I called it a royal straight flush and we mustn’t be a fool about the way we play it. They can’t get along without our help and industries and we have coming into action a weapon which will be unique.“