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2012 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III - Session IV

Atomic Diplomacy

My presentation explores an alternate reading of the motivations and players critical to the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of WWII. The standard narrative still asserts that it was a solely military decision made by Harry Truman and that its primary goal was to avoid the potential American casualties an invasion of Japan would produce. This traditional interpretation, seemed ripe for challenging. My research sought to better understand the debate surrounding this monumental decision. I found that another interpretation emerged in the 1960s, a “revisionist” interpretation highly influenced by Gar Alperovitz’s 1965 book, Atomic Diplomacy. Alperovitz chronicles a time when American policy makers feared Soviet domination in postwar Europe, Alperovitz felt that rather than a purely military weapon, the atomic bomb was intended to give the United States diplomatic leverage against Russia in the postwar world. Alperovitz’s work relied on the records of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who cautioned, “it seems a terrible thing to gamble with such big stakes in diplomacy without having your master card in hand.” In order to test the validity of this alternate “master card” narrative, my work focused on Stimson’s role. As a result, in my presentation I will argue that we need to spend more time looking at how tensions between Russia and the United States led to the bomb’s use rather than continuing to emphasize the earlier narrative. My research, thus, strongly suggests the emphasis should be put on what Alperovitz called “atomic diplomacy”.

Presenter: Nick Tolleson (SUNY Brockport) -- ntoll1@brockport.edu
Topic: History - Panel
Location: 217 Hartwell
Time: 9:20 am (Session I)