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May-June 2018

Volume 106, Number 3
Page 131

DOI: 10.1511/2018.106.3.131

To the Editors:

In the March–April issue’s Perspective column, “The Ongoing Story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” by Bruce Cameron Reed, I find it curious that the mention of Israel among other cited nuclear weapon states is omitted at the end of the article, as are various statements by prominent military leaders (for example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Admiral William Leahy, and Admiral William “Bull” Halsey) that there was no need to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All the dialogue by the students about potential casualties seems irrelevant if the opinions of those military leaders are valid, and distracts from the real motivations of President Harry Truman, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, and others to use the bombs. This is a serious omission. The column, therefore, was not a well- balanced discussion of this still contentious act of World War II. Perhaps the students can be excused, but Dr. Reed should have enlightened them about this aspect of the debate.

My kudos to the physics student in this discussion for holding onto the moral ground.

Morton K. Brussel, Professor Emeritus
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL


Dr. Reed responds:

Professor Brussel’s observation that I did not mention Israel as a nuclear power is correct; this was an oversight on my part. Knowledgeable observers estimate that Israel, which has never declared itself as a nuclear power (or not), possesses about 80 warheads. While historians debate the extent to which President Eisenhower’s opinion on the use of the bombs represented a postwar evolution in his thinking, Professor Brussel is certainly correct in pointing out that concerns were raised by several individuals and groups officially associated with the Manhattan Project regarding the morality of using the bombs and the likelihood of their initiating a dangerous arms race unless some form of international control could be established. In September 1944, project administrators Vannevar Bush and James Conant prepared a report for Secretary of War Henry Stimson concerning future international handling of atomic bombs, and in scientific circles the Zay Jefferies report of late 1944 and the James Franck report of summer 1945 also addressed these issues. In the limited space available to me, I was not able to touch on these initiatives or delve more deeply into the Interim Committee’s discussions along these lines. These documents are readily available and should be consulted by readers interested in the background to this ongoing debate.