Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan. By Tsuyoshi Hasegawa. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2005. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Index. Pp. ix, 382. $29.95. ISBN: 0-674-01693-9
This book is undoubtedly the definitive study to date on the political activities in the United States, Soviet Union, and Japan surrounding the end of World War II. Professor Hasegawa has employed his fluency in English, Japanese, and Russian to search through myriad documents associated with the vast number of players involved in the final acts of the war. The result is a well-documented and well-analyzed treatment of the political machinations that took place primarily within the three countries. Great Britain and China and their leaders were also involved, but Truman, Stalin, and Hirohito and their respective staffs and advisors are the main players in the drama. And Hasegawa has brilliantly brought their roles into focus.
What the professor well documents is the complexity of the human relationships in any governmental decision-making process. There were many factions in Japan with their own agendas and desires; but it isn't much prettier to watch the players from the American. side. We observe the Departments of War, Navy, and State and the White House interact, outflank, and do whatever necessary to win over the President. Stalin's regime was a bit easier to control internally, but his interface with Truman and Hirohito's representatives and the gamesmanship involved are fascinating. The varying political goals, the driving technology of the bombs, agreements reached at Yalta and Potsdam, and differing cultural aspects all play in the drama.
Several warnings must be posted and understood before one tackles this book. First, it reads like War and Peace. One must keep track of a great number of characters, many with Japanese and Russian names. Second, if the reader is disposed to believing that the atomic bombs were the causal events that brought about the end of mankind's most destructive conflict, you are going to be unhappy with Hasegawa's conclusions.
As a docent at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, I have talked with literally thousands of World War II veterans near the nose of the Enola Gay. Almost to a man, their greeting has been "I'm here today because of that plane." The overwhelming belief is that they were going to die on the shores of Kyushu if the atomic bombings hadn't brought the Japanese to their...