The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified as an attempt to save (primarily American, but to a lesser extent Japanese) lives that would be lost in a land invasion of Japan allegedly necessary to end the war. In fact, by the time the decision to use the bomb was taken by Truman, most U.S. military leaders held a land invasion to be entirely unnecessary. Nor was this information entirely secret; in his public statements shortly after the war’s end, Truman denied that the bomb had been decisive in ending the war. The argument that the bombing of Hiroshima was an effort to save lives was deliberately constructed in response to the later protest of many of the scientists who had worked on the Manhattan project to convince “the type of person who is both sentimental and verbally minded,” as Harvard president James Conant wrote. This lecture will discuss the construction of a legend that, despite ample historical documentation undermining it, has remained constant in public memory.
Susan Neiman is director of the Einstein Forum. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard and the Free University of Berlin. She was professor of philosophy at Yale University and Tel Aviv University before coming to the Einstein Forum in 2000. Her works include Slow Fire: Jewish Notes from Berlin (1992), The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant (1994), Evil in Modern Thought (2002), Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-up Idealists (2008) and Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age (2014).