As you read the following, don’t forget that we have entrusted America’s nuclear weapons to a man who had this to offer earlier this year:
Excerpted from a great Op-Ed by Sarah Vowell for The New York Times
There are an infinite number of questions to ask of history. For instance, is Frederick Douglass being recognized more and more? (Yes, partly because he’s doing an amazing job but mostly because he’s dating Taylor Swift.)
Or here’s a basic question we as a species should pose to the 20th century every Aug. 6 (the anniversary of Hiroshima) through 9 (Nagasaki): What if fewer children were killed?
On Aug. 10, 1945, that query was on President Harry Truman’s mind. According to a cabinet secretary’s diary, the day after the five-ton nuclear weapon nicknamed Fat Man obliterated Nagasaki, Truman “didn’t like the idea of killing, as he said, ‘all those kids.’ ”
Lately, President Truman has been in my thoughts. Not because Franklin Roosevelt’s death drop-kicked him into the Oval Office unprepared, though that does resonate, but because of his secretary of war, Henry L. Stimson. He had visited Kyoto in the 1920s and persuaded the president to take the city off the list of potential targets for atomic bombs. As Stimson recalled in Harper’s in 1947: “Although it was a target of considerable military importance, it had been the ancient capital of Japan and was a shrine of Japanese art and culture. We determined that it should be spared.”
On his Restricted Data blog, about nuclear issues, the historian Alex Wellerstein suggests that when Stimson urged Truman to remove Kyoto from the list of target cities because of its cultural and therefore civilian heritage, the president may have gotten the impression that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were more appropriate industrial and military targets.
In his diary on July 25, Truman, either too preoccupied or too oblivious to consider that even industrial cities are packed with noncombatants, records that he instructed Stimson to proceed “so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children.” Anyone who has ever visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima and lingered over the frayed shoe of slaughtered 12-year-old Kazuhiko Sasakiknows how that turned out.
“I don’t think Stimson attempted to purposely mislead Truman, though,” Mr. Wellerstein added. “Rather, I think the root of Truman’s misunderstanding was that he was a very incurious man when it came to nuclear matters.” He continued, “He rarely questioned his advisers, rarely analyzed the issues with independent judgment, and he never grappled with the big ideas.”
We know that our current president reads neither books nor the Australian prime minister’s mood. And thanks to a leaked talk to congressional interns last week, we know that his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, the administration’s supposed voice of reason who is charged with ending the opioid epidemic, brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and presumably proving the existence of God, actually said these words, out loud, to people with ears: “We’ve read enough books.”