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  Library Correspondence Harry S. Truman: Letter, December 6, 1952

Letter to Attain Historical Clarity
From: James L. Cate, Professor at the University of Chicago
To: Harry S. Truman, President
Date: December 6, 1952

The University of Chicago
Chicago 37 Illinois
Department of History
1126 East 59th Street

December 6, 1952

The President Truman
Washington, D. C.


For several years it has been my privilege to serve as one of the editors and authors of The Army Air Forces in World War II , a history published on a non-profit basis under the joint sponsorship of the U.S. Air Force and the University of Chicago. One of my tasks for the fifth volume, now in press, was to write an account of the atomic bomb attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki . In respect to the decision to use the bomb I have been faced with an apparent discrepancy in the evidence which I have been unable to resolve, and, in spite of a reluctance to intrude upon the time of the President, I am turning to you for information for which you are the best and perhaps the sole authority.

I have read with great interest your own statements - that released on 6 august 1945 and that contained in your letter to Dr. Karl T. Compton, dated 16 December 1946 and published in the Atlantic Monthly of February 1947. I have read also the late Mr. Stimson's more detailed account in Harper's Magazine of February 1947 which is in perfect accord with yours - the gist being that the dread decision for which you courageously assumed responsibility was made at Potsdam "in the face of" Premier Suzuki's rejection of the warning contained in the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July, and that the motive was to avoid the great loss of life that would have attended the invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November.

More recently I have seen a photostatic copy of the directive to Gen. Carl Spaatz ordering him to deliver the first atomic bomb against one of four designated targets; the document has been declassified and I am inclosing a true copy. The letter is dated at Washington on 25 July 1945 and bears the signature of Gen. Thomas T. Handy, Acting Chief of Staff during General Marshall's absence at Potsdam. According to General Arnold's statement elsewhere [H. H. Arnold, Global Mission (New York, 1949), p.589], this directive was based on a memorandum dispatched by courier to Washington after a conference on 22 July between himself, Secretary Stimson, and General Marshall.

The directive contains an unqualified order to launch the attack "as soon as weather will permit visual bombing after about 3 August 1945."

The President December 6, 1952

There is no reference to the Potsdam Declaration which was to be issued on the next day and no statement as to what should be done in the event of a Japanese offer to surrender before 3 August. It is possible that the written directive was qualified by oral instructions, or that it was intended that it be countermanded by a radio message if the Japanese did accept the Potsdam terms, or that the directive was an erroneous representation of Secretary Stimson's real intentions. Nevertheless, as it stands the directive seems to indicate that the decision to use the bomb had been made at least one day before the promulgation of the Potsdam Declaration and two days before Suzuki's rejection thereof on 28 July, Tokyo time. Such an interpretation is in flat contradiction to the explanation implicit in the published statements, that the final decision was made only after the Japanese refusal of the ultimatum.

Because of the extraordinary importance of this problem, I am appealing to you for more complete information as to the time and the circumstances under which you arrived at the final decision, and for permission to quote your reply in the volume of which I have spoken. Your well-known interest in history has encouraged me to seek my information at the source, as the historian should, without apology other than for having intruded on your crowded schedule with a letter made overly long by my desire to state the problem accurately. 

Very truly yours,
James L. Cate
Professor of Medieval History


General Landry memorandum for the President


30 December 1952


Mr. President, it would be very desirable, if you could do it, to let this historian have such information as could be used in the history that he is writing concerning the circumstances under which the first atomic bombs were dropped.

Major General, USAF

Original at:  http://www.whistlestop.org/study_collections/bomb/large/folder7/bmg9-1.htm

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