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|NUMBER 147||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||APRIL 1998|
Harry Truman on Trial
Curriculum Asks Students to Pass 'Judgment'
The trial is set in 1953, just after Truman's presidency. A Teacher Guide states that the purpose of the exercise is to raise the questions: "Did President Truman commit a crime when he ordered the dropping of the A-bomb? Was he really responding to inescapable military necessity as he claimed or was his act politically motivated?" The class is encouraged to "debate these and other related questions" and to consider whether the American President was culpable in his decision to use the bomb. A Student Guide tells pupils that they "are about to share an experience that has tormented the conscience of Americans ever since the end of World War II."
Before convening the trial, the students study the war. Their first task is to fill out an "Opinion Survey," which examines attitudes about the use of the bomb. The ten-statement survey requires responses from among "Strongly Agree, Agree, No Opinion, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree."
The statements include: (1) The atomic bomb should have been used just as it was, on two Japanese cities, three days apart. (2) The atomic bomb should not have been used under any circumstances. (4) The Japanese should have received a clear warning about the atomic bomb and given a chance to surrender - only if they refused should the bomb have been dropped on their cities. (10) Americans should be ashamed of using atomic bombs on a country that was so obviously on the brink of collapse.
Six of the 10 statements condemn American actions. Of the four supporting statements, one is blatantly provocative: (3) Atomic bombs should have been dropped on more Japanese cities - as many as possible - before they had a chance to surrender. No statement presented the argument that the bomb saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of American troops who were about to invade Japan, though that concept was expressed in other areas of the exercise.
The Teacher Guide also includes a test, a bibliography of information sources, an overview of the tribunal procedure, instructions for the judges, attorneys and witnesses, backgrounders outlining the political and military situations of the time, witness testimony summaries, and a "Nuclear Decision Dilemma" that gives students nine different options with which to "advise" President Truman. There is even a classroom configuration chart that suggests the placement of all the players for a more realistic trial setting.
The class must determine who will play each role, and all students participate. The theme that Japan "should have been given reasonable warning and a chance to surrender before the bomb was used" is woven throughout the exercise, even in the testimony of defense witness General George C. Marshall.
After a verdict is rendered, students are asked to retake the "Opinion Survey" and respond to the "Nuclear Decision Dilemma" and its followup questions. The entire exercise takes about 10 hours of classroom time.
Though both sides are well-represented, "Judgment" lays a guilt trip on America. It fails to present the genuinely pro-Truman side of this controversy. For example, in an interview with veteran journalist Philip Clarke in 1962, Truman said, "The bombs were dropped after Japan had been warned that we had discovered the greatest explosive in the history of the world and then we asked them to surrender. They did not do it."
In a review of this subject, the Phyllis Schlafly Report, Nov. 1995 reported that "What the Hiroshima bomb accomplished was to preempt General Marshall's horrendous plan to defeat Japan: an island-by-island invasion at a projected cost of a half-million American lives. The Hiroshima bomb saved those lives, as well as those of about 400,000 Allied prisoners of war and civilian detainees whom the Japanese had planned to execute in the event of an American invasion.
"For the men who fought World War II, the atom bomb was a lifesaver in every meaning of the word. Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima meant the difference between life and death to hundreds of thousands of our best and brightest young men. Dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima meant that those fine young American men could come home, grow up to live normal lives, marry and raise families, instead of dying a tortured death 5,000 miles away."