Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Five Days in August

Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War

Michael D. Gordin
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 226
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Five Days in August
    Book Description:

    Most Americans believe that the Second World War ended because the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan forced it to surrender.Five Days in Augustboldly presents a different interpretation: that the military did not clearly understand the atomic bomb's revolutionary strategic potential, that the Allies were almost as stunned by the surrender as the Japanese were by the attack, and that not only had experts planned and fully anticipated the need for a third bomb, they were skeptical about whether the atomic bomb would work at all. With these ideas, Michael Gordin reorients the historical and contemporary conversation about the A-bomb and World War II.

    Gordin posits that although the bomb clearly brought with it a new level of destructive power, strategically it was regarded by decision-makers simply as a new conventional weapon, a bigger firebomb. To lend greater understanding to the thinking behind its deployment, Gordin takes the reader to the island of Tinian, near Guam, the home base for the bombing campaign, and the location from which the anticipated third atomic bomb was to be delivered. He also details how Americans generated a new story about the origins of the bomb after surrender: that the United States knew in advance that the bomb would end the war and that its destructive power was so awesome no one could resist it.

    Five Days in Augustexplores these and countless other legacies of the atomic bomb in a glaring new light. Daring and iconoclastic, it will result in far-reaching discussions about the significance of the A-bomb, about World War II, and about the moral issues they have spawned.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2410-6
    Subjects: History, Technology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. xv-1)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. 2-4)
  7. Chapter 1 Endings
    (pp. 5-15)

    The Second World War ended suddenly. On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Japan; on 8 August, the Soviet Union declared war on the Japanese Empire and began early the following morning a staggeringly successful steamroller advance across Manchuria; and on 9 August, a second atomic bomb destroyed much of the Japanese city of Nagasaki. As the story is usually (and frequently) told, this triumvirate of shocks so stunned the Japanese imperial inner circle, and especially Emperor Hirohito, that he unprecedentedly intervened in war-planning deliberations and moved for conditional surrender on 10 August. (The momentous meeting took...

  8. Chapter 2 Shock
    (pp. 16-38)

    The atomic bomb was not used, in the first instance, as many Americans assume it was—as a special, revolutionary weapon that demanded extensive deliberation in the halls of power qualitatively different from that required by other weapons. That does not mean it was used blindly. On the contrary, American decision makers integrated the atomic bomb into what one can call a ʺshock strategy.ʺ In his 1947 article inHarperʹs Magazinethat quickly became the traditional (even ʺofficialʺ) interpretation of Trumanʹs decision to drop the atomic bomb, former Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson explained the weapon within American end-of-war...

  9. Chapter 3 Special
    (pp. 39-58)

    The decision to incorporate the atomic bomb as an essential element of the strategy of shock was not so much a thought-out decision as the fortuitous consequence of the vagaries of timing in military and diplomatic affairs in early summer 1945. From the moment the atomic bomb was linked in decision makersʹ minds to the Potsdam Declaration, they were forced into a series of logical consequences that bound them for the rest of the war. Once Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and his military advisers were committed to this strategy, any public demystification of the atomic bomb would diminish...

  10. Chapter 4 Miracle
    (pp. 59-84)

    The story of the atomic bomb drops often features three sets of places. The first set, including Los Alamos, Washington, DC, and Potsdam, emphasizes the American development of the weapon and then the deliberations over its use by the Truman administration. The second set, consisting of Tokyo alone, concerns the negotiations among the Japanese Big Six with Emperor Hirohito that eventually produced a surrender. The third set, containing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, emphasizes the destruction on the ground after the bombs were detonated. This story, whether told by historians, politicians, journalists, peace activists, or others, has excluded a crucial fourth place:...

  11. Chapter 5 Papacy
    (pp. 85-106)

    The shock strategy was supposed to demonstrate to the Japanese government that the atomic bomb was no ordinary bomb, that it was a qualitatively different form of destruction and therefore merited consideration of a qualitatively different sort than had the punishing campaign of firebombing already underway for over five months. The Japanese government needed to be persuaded that the atomic bombs were special even if planners in Washington, DC, did not all believe it wholeheartedly themselves. If the Japanese cabinet were to count the destruction at Hiroshima (how severe, no one yet knew) as more significant, they needed to be...

  12. Chapter 6 Revolution
    (pp. 107-123)

    The atomic bombings were terribly destructive. By focusing so closely on the contemporary American understanding of events on Tinian and in Washington, DC, I have allowed this devastation to drop from view. It is important to bring it back. Although no one outside Japan knew directly before the surrender of Japan exactly what had happened on the ground in Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the scale of the firestorm, the medical consequences of the blast, the radiation sickness—they found out shortly afterward, once the smoke had cleared so that reconnaissance flights could take photographs, and then more directly when American soldiers...

  13. Chapter 7 Beginnings
    (pp. 124-140)

    The transformation of nuclear weapons from tactical ordnance delivered from Tinianconventionallyandrepeatedlyinto their contemporary role as stand-ins for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse turns out to be more than a historical curiosity. Both the process by which this elevation of atomic bombs took place and its final result began to structure multiple features of the Cold War. Unlike many of the guiding precepts of Cold War diplomacy that now lie discarded, ʺnuclearismʺ— the attitude toward strategy, tactics, and politics that builds on the notion of nuclear bombs as ʺabsolute weaponsʺ—has outlived its Soviet-American incubation period and...

  14. Coda: On the Scholarly Literature
    (pp. 141-144)

    Much excellent work has been published over the last sixty years on the history of the atomic bomb use on Japan, and many of the claims in the preceding pages build on this valuable literature. Both the large-scale and small-scale debates are fully documented in the notes to each chapter. Nevertheless, this valuable scholarship does possess certain limitations, largely stemming from the desire of historians and political scientists to answer one (or both) of two questions: what was President Harry S. Trumanʹs intent in using the bomb? and, what ended World War II?¹ These questions are both compelling, and they...

  15. Abbreviations Used in Notes
    (pp. 145-146)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 147-194)
  17. Index
    (pp. 195-209)