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Maintaining (US) collective memory: from Hiroshima to a critical study of security history

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Abstract

Almost 70 years after the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, debates continue in the United States over the morality and strategic necessity of their use. Surveys indicate that slight to significant majorities of Americans continue to approve, in retrospect, the use of the bombs. Far from a definitive explanation for such a consistent understanding of the atomic bombs, this article instead seeks to more precisely delineate what could be considered three ‘provocations’ (via the works of Arendt, Ricoeur, Halbwachs, among others) for such consistent memory. These provocations, considered complementary to one another in a ‘constellation’, provide a way forward for other scholars investigating similar topics and cases of consistent collective memory. In the conclusion, the article suggests how the case of US collective memory surrounding Hiroshima illustrates the need for a potential subfield of critical security studies, what might be titled a ‘critical study on (the making of) security history’.

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Rufus E. Miles, Jr., is a former senior fellow of the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, and a former thirty-year career official of the U.S. government. 1. Harry S. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1, Year of Decisions (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955), p. 417. This figure and others of similar magnitude appear in history texts used by American secondary schools, for example, Madgic, Seaberg, Stopsky, and Winks, The American Experience (Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison-Wesley, 1979), p. 515; and Bragdon and McCutcheon, A Free People (Riverside, N.J.: McMillan, 1970), p. 377. 2. Appendix E, "Letter from James Byrnes," in Robert J.C. Butow, Japan's Decision to Surrender (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1954), p. 245. 3. "The Fortune Survey," Fortune, December 1945, p. 305. 4. Henry L. Stimson, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," Harper's Magazine, February 1947. 5. See, for example, Herbert Feis, The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), p. 12; and The Harvard Nuclear Study Group, Living with Nuclear Weapons (New York: Bantam Books, 1983), pp. 72, 73. 6. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 6, Triumph and Tragedy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), pp. 638-639. 7. Joseph C. Grew, "The Emperor of Japan and Japan's Surrender," in Walter Johnson, ed., Turbulent Era: A Diplomatic Record of Forty Years, 1904-1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952), pp. 1423-1924; and Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1, pp. 416-417. 8. The War Reports of General of the Army George C. Marshall, General of the Army H.H. Arnold, and Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1947), pp. 440-444. 9. Robert P. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins (New York: Harper & Bros., 1948), p. 903. 10. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 924/15, Report by Joint Staff Planners, Subj: Pacific Strategy, 25 April 1945. Modern Military Branch, National Archives, 381 PA-6/10/43-Section 12. 11. Although Assistant Secretary of State William L. Clayton was a member of the super-secret "Interim Committee" to discuss the possible uses of the atomic bomb, there seems to be no evidence that any other State Department official, not even his superior, Acting Secretary Grew, was allowed to share knowledge of the "S-1" project. 12. Len Giovannitti and Fred Freed, The Decision To Drop The Bomb (New York: Coward-McCann, 1965), pp. 180-184. 13. Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1, p. 417. 14. "Minutes of meeting held at the White House on 18 June 1945 at 1530 hours" (Truman Library); also contained in Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers: The Conference of Berlin, 1945 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1960), p. 909. 15. Butow, Japan's Decision to Surrender, p. 129. 16. Ibid., p. 130. 17. Lewis L. Strauss, "A Thousand Years of Regret," in Men and Decisions (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962), p. 188. 18. Ibid. 19. Strauss, "A Thousand Years of Regret," p. 189. 20. Butow, Japan's Decision to Surrender, p. 145. 21. Strauss, "A Thousand Years of Regret," p. 189. 22. Hanson W. Baldwin, Great Mistakes of the War (New York: Harper & Bros., 1950), p. 92; and Butow, Japan's Decision to Surrender, pp. 132-135. 23. Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper & Bros., 1947), p. 628. 24. Ibid., p. 629. 25. The War Reports, p. 243. 26. Ibid., p. 678. Emphasis added. 27. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, from "The Political Target Under Assault," in Walter Wilds, ed., Japan's Struggle to Surrender (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 13. 28. The War Reports, p. 439. 29. Giovannitti and Freed, Decision To Drop The Bomb, p. 333. 30. Louis Morton, "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb," in Kent Roberts Greenfield, ed., Command Decisions (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1960), p. 509. In a footnote, Morton identifies some of the "responsible officials," citing Byrnes (Speaking Frankly [New York: Harper & Bros., 1947], p. 508), Stimson (On Active Service, p. 637), and Leahy (I Was There [New York: Whittlesey House...
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