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HOW PROFOUNDLY IRRItating that Elliott Negin (“How the Bomb Was Spun,” 8/18) succumbs to the same temptations he castigates the Washington Post for committing. In attacking that paper’s coverage of the atomic bomb controversy, he uses such loaded phrases as “so-called revisionists were gleefully eviscerated” (those poor innocents); “the Post‘s groupthink” (vs. Negin’s sources, who are of course only after the truth); and “Ringle’s view sounds suspiciously like one espoused by “historian’ Newt Gingrich” (why the quotation marks? Gingrich does have a Ph.D.). Nor do I understand why Negin decries the Post‘s version of events as a “comfy, sanitized version of history” when no one disputes the actual events as they unfolded.
The debate has been, and still is, over motivations and morality, not the physical results. To say the bombs were justified is not “comfy” or “sanitized,” especially since they killed hundreds of thousands of people. And while the critique of Truman does predate the ’60s and Vietnam, these were essentially isolated instances (without documentary evidence) compared to the number of sweeping condemnations (with limited evidence) that appeared in those years. The ’60s Cold War revisionists, led by William Appleman Williams, started a debate on American postwar foreign policy that divided the diplomatic history field to a surprising degree. And it was these historians who most widely raised, rightly or wrongly, the post-hoc moral issues that continue to dodge the bomb debate today.
In light of this, Negin is wrong to say that “Ringle doesn’t know his history.” Anyone who studies Cold War historiography knows that the bomb is intimately tied to New Left explanations of the origins of that conflict. The use of the bomb to intimidate the Soviet Union, with “international market capitalism” thrown in, is crucial to New Left views on the Cold War’s American origin. And again, it was the ’60s that energized and mainstreamed the bomb debate. Chastising the Post is fine. It should be encouraged. But by failing to subscribe to the ideals he faults the Post for missing, Negin’s credibility and his argument are substantially weakened.
Wheaton, Md., via the Internet