Profession(s): Academic, historian, political theorist, activist
Books: Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam (1965), Cold War Essays (1970), Rebuilding America (1984), The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (1996).
Gar Alperovitz is an American historian, academic and author of the revisionist school. He is also a political activist who has lobbied for progressive economic and labour reforms. Alperovitz was born in Wisconsin, the son of a Russian immigrant of Jewish heritage. He completed a history degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1958, following it with a Masters degree in economics at Berkeley and a doctorate in political economy at Cambridge University. Alperovitz held a 15-year professorship at the University of Maryland and has also taught at Cambridge, Harvard and the Brookings Institution. He also worked in the United States Congress as a legislative assistant and director during the 1960s. In 1971, Alperovitz assisted Daniel Ellsberg with the leaking of the so-called Pentagon Papers, a dossier that exposed critical problems with America’s military intervention in Vietnam.
Alperovitz has authored several texts exploring the origins and political dynamics of the Cold War. He is a Revisionist who argues that American policy was the main contributor to global tensions in the 1940s. For Alperovitz, the rise of Harry Truman was a pivotal moment in the formation of the Cold War. Unlike his predecessor Roosevelt, who preferred to deal with Stalin with careful diplomacy and incremental gains, Truman favoured bluff and “tough-talking”. This is a central theme in Alperovitz’s first major work, the 1965 book Atomic Diplomacy, a critique of Washington’s early nuclear policy. According to Alperovitz, many political and military advisors believed using nuclear weapons against Japan was unnecessary for winning the Pacific war. He argues that Truman authorised these weapons to end the war quickly, before the Soviet Red Army entrenched itself in Asia, and to strengthen his diplomatic position when dealing with Stalin.
“Only 11 days had passed since the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The new President of the United States prepared for his first meeting with a representative of the Soviet Union. Rehearsing his views on the subject of the negotiation – a reorganisation of the Polish government – Truman declared that if the Russians did not care to cooperate, ‘they could go to hell’.”
“Presently available evidence shows the atomic bomb was not needed to end the war or to save lives — and that this was understood by American leaders at the time.”
“There is no longer much dispute that ending the war with Japan before the Soviet Union entered it played a role in the thinking of those responsible for using the atomic bomb. There is also evidence that impressing the Russians was a consideration.”
“The most obvious alternative explanation [for using nuclear weapons in 1945] was put forward by early post-war critics who pointed out that there is considerable evidence that diplomatic reasons concerning the Soviet Union — not military reasons concerning Japan — may have been important.”
“The traditional argument has been that solely military considerations were involved in the decision to use the bomb. Increasingly, however, the once-controversial idea that diplomatic issues – especially the hope of strengthening the West against the Soviet Union – played a significant role in the decision has gained widespread scholarly acceptance.”
“The president was advised that assurances [regarding the treatment of the Japanese emperor] were, in fact, likely to end the war without the [atomic] bombs and long before a first landing on the southernmost of the Japanese main islands — not to mention a full invasion — could take place. So there was plenty time to use the bombs if Japan did not surrender once assurances for the emperor were given.”
“What really happened in the days leading up to the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki may never be known. Enough is known, however, to underscore a critical lesson for the future: human beings in general, and political leaders in particular, are all too commonly prone to making decisions that put near-term political concerns above truly fundamental humanitarian concerns.”
“The Hiroshima story teaches how easy it is for decision makers to lose sight of deeper questions of ethical and global significance in the absence of express public concern and clear citizen constraint.”
J. Llewellyn & S. Thompson, “Historian: Gar Alperovitz”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/historian-gar-alperovitz/.