Two Historical Narratives
Source: Excerpts from “Three Narratives of our Humanity” by John W. Dower,
The following is from a book written by a historian about how people
remember wars. John W. Dower explains the two different ways that the
dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is remembered.
Hiroshima as Victimization
Japanese still recall the war experience primarily in terms of their own
victimization. For them, World War II calls to mind the deaths of family and
acquaintances on distant battlefields, and, more vividly, the prolonged,
systematic bombings of their cities.
If it is argued that the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was necessary to shock the
Japanese to surrender, how does one justify the hasty bombing of Nagasaki only
three days later, before the Japanese had time to investigate Hiroshima and
formulate a response?
Hiroshima as Triumph
To most Americans, Hiroshima—the shattered, atomized, irradiated city –
remains largely a symbol of triumph – marking the end of a horrendous global
conflict and the effective demonstration of a weapon that has prevented another
It is hard to imagine that the Japanese would have surrendered without the
atomic bomb. Japanese battle plans that were in place when the bombs were
dropped called for a massive, suicidal defense of the home islands, in which the
imperial government would mobilize not only several million fighting men but also
millions of ordinary citizens who had been trained and indoctrinated to resist to
the end with primitive makeshift weapons. For Japanese to even discuss
capitulation (surrender) was seditious (against the law).
1. In 1-2 sentences each, explain the two narratives (stories) about Hiroshima.
2. Which narrative do you agree with more? Why?
Document A: Textbook
Even before the bomb was tested, American officials began to debate how
to use it. Admiral William Leahy, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed
using the bomb because it killed civilians indiscriminately. He believed that an
economic blockade and conventional bombing would convince Japan to
Secretary of War Henry Stimson wanted to warn the Japanese about the
bomb while at the same time telling them that they could keep the emperor if they
surrendered. Secretary of State James Byrnes, however, wanted to drop the
bomb without any warning to shock Japan into surrendering.
President Truman later wrote that he “regarded the bomb as a military
weapon and never had any doubts that it should be used.” His advisers had
warned him to expect massive casualties if the United States invaded Japan.
Truman believed it was his duty as president to use every weapon available to
save American lives.
Source: American History Textbook, American Vision, pg. 615.
Document B: Thank God for the Atomic Bomb
My division, like most of the ones transferred from Europe was going to take part
in the invasion at Honshu (an island of Japan). The people who preferred
invasion to A-bombing seemed to have no intention of proceeding to the
Japanese front themselves. I have already noted what a few more days would
mean to the luckless troops and sailors on the spot…. On Okinawa, only a few
weeks before Hiroshima, 123,000 Japanese and Americans killed each other.
War is immoral. War is cruel.
Source: Paul Fussell, a World War II Soldier, Thank God for the Atom Bomb,