Thursday, September 21, 2017

Chief atom bomb adviser

‘We had news this morning of another successful atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. These two heavy blows have fallen in quick succession upon the Japanese and there will be quite a little space before we intend to drop another. During that time I hope something may be done in negotiating a surrender.’ This is from the diary of Henry L. Stimson, born 150 years ago today, who was chief adviser on atomic matters to US Presidents during the Second World War. His extensive and detailed diaries provide a primary resource for historians of the period.  

Stimson was born on 21 September 1867 in New York City, the son of a prominent surgeon. His mother died when he was nine, after which was sent to boarding school, spending summers with his grandmother at her Catskills country house. He was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, then at Yale College, graduating in 1888. He attended Harvard Law School before joining the Wall Street law firm of Root and Clark. In 1893, he married Mabel Wellington White, but they had no children. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and in 1910 he stood, unsuccessfully, for election as governor of New York. However, the following year, President William Howard Taft appointed him Secretary of War. He continued with a reorganisation of the army, begun by Elihu Root, until Taft was succeeded by President Woodrow Wilson.

Stimson served in the regular US Army in France as an artillery officer, reaching the rank of colonel. After the war, he continued military service in the Organized Reserve Corps, rising to the rank of brigadier general. President Calvin Coolidge sent him to Nicaragua to negotiate an end to the civil war there; and he was Governor-General of the Philippines from 1928 to 1929. Under President Herbert Hoover, he served as Secretary of State until 1933. Thereafter, out of office, he was a vocal supporter of strong opposition to Japanese aggression.

With the outbreak of World War II, Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought Republican Stimson, by this time 73 years old, into government as head of the War Department. In this role, he supervised the expansion and training of an expanded US army. He was also chief adviser to Roosevelt and then to President Harry S. Truman on atomic policy. Indeed, he advised Truman to use atomic bombs on Japanese cities of military importance, and later he justified the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on humanitarian grounds, arguing that use of the bomb accelerated the surrender of Japan and thus saved more lives than it cost. He left public service in 1945, and wrote an autobiography - On Active Service in Peace and War - published in 1948. He died in 1950. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, a New York Times obituary, Yale University, or History Net.

Stimson kept a diary from 1909 until his last day in public office in 1945. In 1948, he named Yale University Library as the depository for these diaries (as well as for his other papers). The 52 diary volumes - mostly dictated typescripts - arrived at Yale in 1956; each contains an average of about 180 pages. In 1971, the library’s Manuscripts and Archives department, with the permission of the Stimson Literary Trust, undertook to index the diaries and to (micro)film them for publication. According to Herman Kahn, Associate Librarian for Manuscripts and Archives at the time, ‘the Stimson diaries are probably the best known and most intensively studied single source in twentieth century United States history’.

A useful guide to the microfilm edition of the diaries can be found online at the website of the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies. It says: ‘Although the diaries are full of strongly expressed views on people, issues, and events, many statements are veiled or guarded, and revelations of the private man are few and inadvertent. As a political document, however, and as a political testament the diaries stand as a significant personal account of the career of an American statesman of the first rank.’ The diaries have not - as far as I know - ever been published in print form. However, some selected extracts can be found online, with Yale University Library’s authorisation, at Doug Long’s Hiroshima website. Long, himself, provides many notes and contextual remarks in square brackets and italics. Here are two extracts, as provided, and commented on, by Long - the second being from the day of the second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki.

23 July 1945
‘At ten o’clock Secretary Byrnes called me up asking me as to the timing of the S-1 program. I told him the effect of the two cables [from Harrison] and that I would try to get further definite news. I dictated a cable to Harrison asking him to let us know immediately when the time [for the use of the a-bomb on Japan] was fixed.”

‘At ten-fifteen Ambassador [to Moscow W. Averell] Harriman arrived and he and [Assistant Sec. of War John] McCloy, Bundy, and I had a talk over the situation [relations with Russia], Harriman giving us the information of yesterday afternoon’s meetings. He commented on the increasing cheerfulness evidently caused by the news from us [about the atomic bomb], and confirmed the expanding demands being made by the Russians. They are throwing aside all their previous restraint as to being only a Continental power and not interested in any further acquisitions, and are now apparently seeking to branch in all directions.’

‘At eleven o’clock I went down to the ‘Little White House’ to try to see the President or Byrnes. I am finding myself crippled by not knowing what happens in the meetings [between Truman, Churchill, and Stalin] in the late afternoon and evening. This is particularly so now that the program for S-1 is tying in [with] what we are doing in all fields. When I got there I found Byrnes out, and I asked for the President who saw me at once. I told him that it would be much more convenient for me to form my program on the military side if I could drop in early every morning and talk with him or Byrnes of the events of the preceding day. He told me at once to come; that he would be glad to see me every morning and talk over these matters with me. I then told him of matters that came up in the conference with Mr. Harriman this morning which I just referred to, and told him that I had sent for further more definite information as to the time of operation [when the a-bomb would be ready for Japan] from Harrison. He told me that he had the warning message which we prepared on his desk [The Potsdam Proclamation surrender demand for Japan; see the July 2, 1945 Diary Entry in Stimson Diary, Part 6], and had accepted our most recent change in it, and that he proposed to shoot it out as soon as he heard the definite day of the operation [when the a-bomb would be ready for Japan]. We had a brief discussion about Stalin’s recent expansions and he confirmed what I have heard. But he told me that the United States was standing firm and he was apparently relying greatly upon the information as to S-1. He evidently thinks a good deal of the new claims of the Russians are bluff, and told me what he thought the real claims were confined to.’

‘After lunch and a short rest I received Generals Marshall and Arnold, and had in McCloy and Bundy at the conference. The President had told me at a meeting in the morning that he was very anxious to know whether Marshall felt that we needed the Russians in the war or whether we could get along without them, and that was one of the subjects we talked over. [Until now Truman had said getting Russia into the war against Japan was what he came to Potsdam for; see Truman’s July 18, 20, and 22 letters to his wife Bess in The Truman Diary]. Of course Marshall could not answer directly or explicitly. We had desired the Russians to come into the war originally for the sake of holding up in Manchuria the Japanese Manchurian Army [so that Japan could not move them to the Japanese mainland to fight U.S. troops in an invasion]. That now was being accomplished as the Russians have amassed their forces on that border, Marshall said, and were poised, and the Japanese were moving up positions in their Army. But he pointed out that even if we went ahead in the war without the Russians, and compelled the Japanese to surrender to our terms, that would not prevent the Russians from marching into Manchuria anyhow and striking, thus permitting them to get virtually what they wanted in the surrender terms. Marshall told us during our conference that he thought thus far in the military conference they had handled only the British problems and that these are practically all settled now and probably would be tied up and finished tomorrow. He suggested that it might be a good thing, something which would call the Russians to a decision one way or the other, if the President would say to Stalin tomorrow that ‘inasmuch as the British have finished and are going home, I suppose I might as well let the American Chiefs of Staff go away also’ that might bring the Russians to make known what their position was and what they were going to do, and of course that indicated that Marshall felt as I felt sure he would that now with our new weapon we would not need the assistance of the Russians to conquer Japan.’

‘There was further talk about the war in the Pacific in the conference. Apparently they have been finding it very hard to get along with [Commanding General of the U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific Douglas] MacArthur, and Marshall has been spending most of his time in conferences in smoothing down the Navy.’

‘I talked to Marshall about the preparation of S-1 and he gave us a bad picture of the rainy season weather in Japan at this time and said that one thing that might militate against our attack was the low ceiling and heavy clouds, although there were breaks and good days in between.’

‘In the evening I received a telegram from Harrison giving me the exact dates as far as possible when they expected to have S-1 ready, and I answered it with a further question as to further future dates of the possibility of accumulation of supplies.” [Harrison’s telegram informed Stimson that regarding use of the a-bomb on Japan, there was “some chance August 1 to 3, good chance August 4 to 5 and barring unexpected relapse almost certain before August 10.’ (U.S. Dept. of State, “Foreign Relations of the U.S., The Conference of Berlin (Potsdam) 1945”, vol. 2, pg. 1374.)].

9 August 1945
‘When I reached the office this morning I found that the affirmative news for the press conference was so light that Surles thought we had better call the conference off and simply have me make a direct statement on the effect of the success of the atomic bomb on the future size of the Army. It seems as if everybody in the country was getting impatient to get his or her particular soldier out of the Army and to upset the carefully arranged system of points for retirement which we had arranged with the approval of the Army itself. The success of the first atomic bomb and the news of the Russians’ entry into the war which came yesterday [Russia declared war on Japan on Aug. 8] has rather doubled this crusade. Every industry wishes to get its particular quota of men back and nearly all citizens join in demanding somebody to dig coal for the coming winter. The effect on the morale of the Army is very ticklish... I could see in my recent trip to Europe [in July to the Potsdam Conference] what a difficult task at best it will be to keep in existence a contented army of occupation and, if mingled with the inevitable difficulties there is a sense of grievance against the unfairness of the government [in releasing soldiers from the Army], the situation may become bad. Consequently the paper that we drew last night and continued today was a ticklish one. The bomb and the entrance of the Russians into the war will certainly have an effect on hastening the victory. But just how much that effect is on how long and how many men we will have to keep to accomplish that victory, it is impossible yet to determine. There is a great tendency in the press and among other critics to think that the Army leaders have no feeling for these things and are simply determined to keep a big army in existence because they like it, and therefore it is ticklish to run head on into this feeling with direct counter criticism. Therefore we tried to draft a paper which would make the people feel that we appreciated their views as well as ours...’

[A copy of Stimson’s above mentioned statement can be found at Press release on the a-bombing and demobilization].

‘The press conference thus being off at ten o’clock, I went over to the White House to meet the President who had called a hearing on whether or not we should put out a scientists’ statement as to the making of the atomic bomb. It was a very difficult question for the President and he handled it with great courage and skill. We had given him all the support that we could in the care with which the statement was drawn so as not to give away any secret which would really help a rival to build on our foundations. But the subject was so vast and the scientists’ report was so voluminous that it was impossible for a layman like the President or Byrnes or myself to determine this question and we had to rely upon the opinions of our scientific advisers. I had been through with a preliminary meeting last week in which I sounded out the British scientists as well as our own, and today the President listened to Dr. [Vannevar] Bush, Dr. Conant [Manhattan Project advisors], General Groves, and George Harrison, while Byrnes and I also sat in. After he had heard them all, with great promptness and decision he decided to act on the recommendation of the scientists that the statement [the Smyth Report] should be published at once.’

‘After that meeting was over I conferred with Byrnes in an adjoining room. I had asked for this meeting for the purpose of showing him the paper that I had received from Crossman drawn by deForest Van Slyck and the letter and article which I had received from Stanley Washburn. These papers each in their way advocated strongly and intelligently a sympathetic handling of the Japanese in negotiating a surrender [an interesting point from Stimson - to end the war, some degree of negotiation would be necessary]. The difficult thing is to get negotiators together and I urged very strongly on Byrnes that he should make it as easy as possible for the Japanese.’

‘We had news this morning of another successful atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. These two heavy blows have fallen in quick succession upon the Japanese and there will be quite a little space before we intend to drop another. During that time I hope something may be done in negotiating a surrender. I have done the best I could to promote that in my talks with the President and with Byrnes and I think they are both in full sympathy with the aim.’

‘Tomorrow we [Stimson and his wife] hope to get off for a long rest to Highhold and St. Hubert’s.’ [St. Hubert’s was a club in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state where Stimson sometimes went to relax. But Stimson’s departure would be delayed; just as he was about to leave on Aug. 10, the first Japanese offer to surrender arrived.].

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