Paul Aslanian's Reviews > Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima

Shockwave by Stephen Walker
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Dec 01, 2010

really liked it

Joel recommended this book to me as he so often does. He has a very good sense of the books I seem to like. This was no exception. This book focuses on the three weeks between the first test of the A-bomb in Los Alamos to the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Walker presents a very balanced, well researched, well documented account of the decision to use the bomb. The planning to pull this off is absolutely incredible. He is able to include in the book several Japanese who lived in Hiroshima--you get their story too.

I did learn something that perhaps by this age I should have known: The dropping of the bomb was not a sneak surprise attack on Japan. Indeed, a week before Hiroshima Truman had sent an unltimatem to the Japanese leadership demanding unconditional surrender (by every accounting Japan was whipped almost every town had been burned to the ground by incendiary bombing) or Japan would suffer from "prompt and utter destruction". The Japanese leadership rejected the offer. Again after Hiroshima, Truman demanded unconditional surrender and was rebuffed so Nagasaki was targeted. Only after both were leveled did the Japanese leadership cave--largely because of the Emperor interceded. The lesson here is not to have military people make such decisions. The military firmly believed that it was better for death to take every living Japanese citizen including suicide than to surrender. Death was the honorable alternative.

Couple of other take aways: the Japanese would have been very difficult to take were we to have invaded the island. I'm led to believe there would have been many many deaths on each side. My sense it would have made Iwojima look like a cake walk. Another surprise for me was to learn that Curtis, bomb them back to the stone age, LeMay was against using the nuke. He was in charge of all the B29's dropping the the incendiary bombs so successfully all over Japan. His position was "give me three more weeks" and through the use of conventional fire bombing he thinks he would have gotten the Japanese to unconditionally surrender. We will never know.

You learn a fair amount about the what wss going on in Pottsdam between Stalin, Churchill, and Truman. You also learn that the US and England were trying to keep the news of the bomb from Stalin, only later to find out that one of the scientist at Los Alamos was feeding the entire story to the Soviets. Stalin knew as much if not more that Truman about the bomb, its tests and its shipment to the far east.

I like this type of book where when I've read the final page I feel as though I've learned something. I suspect you would learn from this well written, readable account as I did. It is a different feeling than that which I got when I recently finished the third of the Stig Larrson trillogy. Entertained, yes, but not much else.
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message 1: by todd (new)

todd I'm just getting into How Wars End by Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose. He strongly agrees that the use of the bomb was appropriate policy. Paul's comments about the Japanese military's view of inevitable death as honor versus surrender completely fits with the complete wipe out/suicides on Attu Island as reported in the 1000 Mile War.


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