Avid Reader Press
June 9th, 2020
Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, is a captivating behind-the-scenes account of the 116 days leading up to the American atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It offers insight regarding those events that led up to the decision to use the atomic bomb. What makes the book riveting is that Wallace wrote it like a novel, creating the tension as the days counted down until the decision was made.
Wallace noted, “I wanted to write, for some time, a historical thriller. Books have been written as to why and how it happened, but never captured the drama of the events. I also had the idea of taking a beginning point and counting down to an ending point. I specifically got the idea to use this event in February 2019 as I was covering President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union speech. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was talking to a handful of reporters, giving the Democratic response in advance. This is a classic Washington phenomenon where the leader of the other party basically says what is wrong with the President’s speech before he even delivers it. But she also told of how this room was where President Truman was told to rush back to the White House. After he got off the phone he said, ‘Jesus Christ and General Jackson.’ Within an hour he would be told that President Roosevelt had died. He would also learn about the top- secret Manhattan Project.”
This project was initiated in 1942 to develop an atomic bomb. If successful, President Truman would have to decide whether to give the order to drop it to end the war with Japan. Now, seventy-five years later Wallace discusses the big moral question, should the US have dropped the bomb on Japan? “I used my training as a journalist to report what was going on and what were the people’s motivations. Of course, it is a lot easier to do seventy-five years later. There is the benefit of the diaries, memoirs, and letters to loved ones of those responsible. I hope readers get a sense of the inner conversation. I wanted to put forth all the facts and let people decide if it is the right decision or not.”
But there is a difference between morality and reality. Using the facts laid out in this book and counting down the events, it appears President Truman made the correct decision. After all, it is the Japanese government that should be blamed. First, America gave a warning to the Japanese with the Potsdam Declaration, stating if Japan did not surrender, it would face “prompt and utter destruction.” Leaflets over populated Japanese cities were dropped warning of the devastation. Then the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6th, 1945. But Japan still did not surrender. Russia entered the war on August 8th, 1945, yet Japan still did not surrender. Three days after the first bomb was dropped the second bomb was dropped on August 9th, 1945.
Wallace noted, “I came away with the belief that Truman really had no choice. In fact, even after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki the Japanese government still did not want to surrender. It was only after Emperor Hirohito going over the head of the militants and telling the Japanese people it is time to surrender that they finally did. A number of people, including Dwight Eisenhower, who was against dropping the bomb, pointed out that even after the dropping of the first bomb the Japanese still did not surrender. As horrific as it was, the Japanese were given a demonstration, the bombing of Hiroshima, and they still did not surrender. So why would someone think with just a pure demonstration that they would have surrendered. As I point out in the book, we gave the Japanese plenty of opportunities, especially days before dropping of the bomb.”
The book shows that the decision was not drop the bomb or do nothing. It was dropping the bomb or invade. “As I describe in my book, the casualty forecast would be horrific with one million Japanese casualties and .5 million American ones. Plus, the war would have gone on for another year and a half. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if people found out that Truman had access to the bomb and did not use it? General MacArthur was against dropping the bomb, but still predicted, ‘the assault on Japan would be the greatest bloodletting in history.’ In fact, after the bomb was dropped 87% supported the bombing and ending the war. It is not irrational to say we should not have used the bomb, but if we invaded it would have been horrific. Think of all the decisions we have made in our own lives. It is not making the right choice versus the wrong one, but the better choice as opposed to the worst choice.”
The other aspect covered in the book is the question, should Truman have ordered just a demonstration to show Japan the power of the bomb? “There were a number of factors I write about as to why this was not a feasible argument. Allied POWs would have been put in harm’s way and used as human shields. Also, since it had only been tested once, what if the demonstration did not work? We alerted the Japanese about this super weapon and it turns out to be a dud. This would have only increased the Japanese resolve. The third factor, we only had two bombs at that point. If one was used as a demonstration, then what?”
Even since those fatal days in August 1945 no other atomic bomb has ever been used in war. Wallace felt, “In 1945, we could afford to use the bomb since we were the only country with it. Now a number of countries have the bomb. There is this doctrine of mutual assured destruction that has kept the peace for 75 years. A bomb dropped before all the other country’s capabilities are taken out could drop a bomb on us. No country seems to have a first strike capability. Ronald Reagan said, ‘nuclear war cannot be won, and should never be fought.’”
Interestingly many of those involved are not looking back. Hidelko Tamura, a ten-year-old living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing had no anger against the Americans. “I wrote how she was deeply grief stricken having lost her mother, other relatives, her best friend, and her city. She understands why the US did it and does not think it was an evil decision. Yet, she desperately does not want the bomb ever to be used again.”
Truman had no regrets about his decision. “I was tremendously impressed by Truman. His meticulous decision-making process covered all the options and factors again and again. He sought out and wanted the best advice. He really agonized over his decision. He could not sleep at night and had searing headaches. The military and politicians involved in the project never had second thoughts. But the scientists who turned the technology into a weapon did.”
Wallace wants readers to get out of the book, “We are so divided and polarized now it was nice to travel back in time to 1945. Even though there were 125,000 people working on the project there was never once a leak about this highly controversial moral question. Today, if there were just a few baking apple pies how quickly would someone go on social media, Twitter, or others saying this is immoral. In 1945, there was a unity of the country with everyone all in to defeat a common enemy, even those who did not agree with it.”
Jacob Beser, the only person to fly on both atomic bomb missions summarized it best. During time of war, America’s leaders must “attempt to ensure victory with a minimum loss of life… Using the atomic bombs against Japan was simply the ultimate step in this approach. I have often been asked if I had any remorse for what we did in 1945. I assure you that I have no remorse whatsoever and I will never apologize for what we did to end World War II. Humane warfare is an oxymoron. War by definition is barbaric. To try and distinguish between an acceptable method of killing and an unacceptable method is ludicrous.”
This book delves into the ticking time bomb with the tension rising with every page. The 116 days were used to start the countdown. As the days progressed, so did the readers’ anxiety. This book is a very definitive account of one of the most significant events in history.