More Liberal Lies About America

I decided to take a few minutes to follow up on yesterday’s post concerning the so-called “Liberal Lies” about American history that can be found in most college history textbooks.  While we didn’t find any evidence yesterday to confirm the FOX News piece perhaps we will have better luck today.  Let’s look at Schweikart’s claim that comes at 3:10 in the video:

Harry Truman ordered the Atomic bombing of Japan to intimidate the Soviets with “Atomic Diplomacy”.

Schweikart goes on to say that there is no evidence in the newly opened Japanese archives (not sure what he is referring to here) to confirm that Japan intended to do anything other than fight to the death. Rather than head straight to the textbooks, however, let’s take a look at the 1988 DBQ that focused specifically on the decision to drop the Atomic Bomb in 1945.  Here is the prompt and question:

The United States decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was a diplomatic measure calculated to intimidate the Soviet Union in the post-Second World-War era rather than a strictly military measure designed to force Japan’s unconditional surrender.

Evaluate this statement using the documents and your knowledge of the military and diplomatic history of the years 1939 through 1947.

We all know that the College Board is a bastion of left wing ideology and that a committee of history professors and history teachers formulate the DBQs so we should be able to find the kind of bias that Hannity and Schweikart, and Richard Williams are trying to protect us from.  Check it out for yourself.  You will notice that the documents force students to acknowledge that the decision to drop the bomb must be understood from multiple perspectives.  Students must weigh the specific sources, along with their background knowledge and come up with a solid thesis statement.  I’ve used this DBQ every year that I’ve taught the AP course and every year my students disagree.  A student can earn a score of 9 for any number of positions.  The 9, however, almost always includes a concession paragraph that acknowledges that the question is complex and can be answered in more than one way.  It is the responsibility of the student to justify why he/she has taken a specific approach.  Is there something wrong with this question?  Are we teaching our students to hate America because we ask them to weigh evidence rather than see American history in black or white?  Where is the “Lie”?

I went and took a quick look at the same textbooks that I referenced yesterday as well a few more and not one offered the simplistic explanation that Schweikart believes is pervasive in college classrooms throughout the country.  In fact, I was pretty impressed with the amount of attention given to this question.  Most give equal weight to the goals of ending the war swiftly to minimize the loss of American life, the role of domestic and international politics, and a host of other factors.

This report is disturbing on so many different levels.  It’s difficult to see how this is “fair and balanced” in any way shape or form.  If a student handed this in as an example of investigative journalism I would give it a grade of F.  There may, in fact, be a liberal conspiracy at work in our history classrooms, but you need to provide real evidence if you hope to convince folks beyond those that already believe that this must be the case.  The quality of this piece and the decision of at least one blogger to post it without any explanation reflects something much more disturbing than anything about the so-called liberal bias in history textbooks.

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20 comments… add one
  • stephen gosling Mar 28, 2010 @ 13:22

    I apologise. I was not attempting to impart a ‘partisan’ point of view but my disgust with them

    • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2010 @ 13:30

      Please do not apologize. I just wanted to make sure you understand that I am not ignoring your comment. As always, thanks for taking the time to write.

  • stephen gosling Mar 28, 2010 @ 12:37

    I am just sick and tired of hearing about the great “Liberal” conspiracy to undermine our institutions and way of life. If it had not been for the Liberal role in our history(FDR etc.,) their would be no institutions and way of life to discuss. I say that as an American Tory(one who sees the role of liberalism and conservatism both contributing to our well being). So enough of this childish nonsense.
    I too have a particular perspective but i recognise its limits and context. May God Bless us, one and all.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2010 @ 13:14

      Please understand that I am not going to get into a discussion about the partisan bickering that frames our political discourse. I was only interested in the claims made in the video, which I showed to be groundless.

  • IR Vick Mar 26, 2010 @ 9:37

    War is hell and Truman knew that. As stated it could have too 1 millon US Servicemen wounded or dead to win the war.

  • James F. Epperson Mar 25, 2010 @ 5:44

    My understanding is that George C. Marshall’s views on the carnage of an invasion had a lot to do w/ Truman’s decision. Truman valued Marshall’s opinion.

  • heidic Mar 24, 2010 @ 17:15

    This is very interesting. Having written my fair share of DBQs in high school, I always found that the key thing to any viewpoint is citing sources and interpreting them in a manner that is not completely absurd. If a viewpoint can be supported, and done so substantially, the key thing is documentation. And I believe, as many of the other people who have written seem to, that the issue should be viewed from multiple angles — if an issue is viewed from only one angle then that takes all the fun out of debate. 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2010 @ 1:07

      Hi Heidi,

      I have a number of problems with the AP curriculum, but the DBQ does an excellent job of placing the student in the position of historian. And one of the things it points to is the student’s ability to acknowledge multiple perspectives even as she makes her case for one in particular.

  • Margaret D. Blough Mar 24, 2010 @ 15:03

    In case Professor Schweikert forgot (or ever knew it in the first place in order which would be necessary for him to forget it), Russia (even its Czarist days) and Japan had a history of competing militarily over spheres of influence. The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 (which, ironically, began with a surprise Japanese attack on Port Arthur) marked the emergence of Japan as a military power with whom the Western powers had to reckon. Any US president who didn’t recognize that the USSR would unquestionably try to take advantage of impending Japanese defeat, after the fall of Nazi Germany took the pressure off its western front, would have been a fool. Only 5 years later, we were fighting in Korea.

    In addition, as a recent mayor of Hiroshima acknowledged, the city was a legitimate military target. If a government doesn’t want to subject its people to military action it might be a good idea to avoid placing military facilities in heavily inhabited areas. As awful as the atomic bomb was, I’m not sure that, from a civilian perspective, there was anything preferable to being the subject of firebombing. As for Japanese treatment of civilians in occupied countries, Japan’s refusal to acknowledge the nature and extent of it is still an ongoing source of tension between Japan and its Asian neighbors, especially China and Korea. Finally, quite a few Allied troops were traumatized by the massive forced (by the Japanese military) suicides at Okinawa. That was definitely expected to happen on a much larger scale during an Allied invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.

    Other than Lincoln, I can’t think of any other president who had a more dangerous situation to deal with as soon as he took office than Truman did. I don’t think he had an option that didn’t involve a certainty that large numbers of people, military and civilian, would die horribly. As for negotiated settlements, it was one thing to allow the Emperor to stay after his intervention played such a critical role in bringing about the surrender, but I can’t imagine the domestic reaction if Truman allowed any of the other Japanese leaders to remain or to escape war crimes prosecution.

  • Peter Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:27

    I certainly don’t mean to imply that Truman faced the decision cavalierly. He has a several good reasons to use the bomb-primarily to speed up, if not effect, Japanese surrender but also the foreign policy implications with the Russians. He has the staff of the Manhattan Project, along with the Interim Committee and various service chiefs, essentially encouraging him to use the bomb. There are few compelling reasons not to use the bomb. The moral component of attacking civilians fell had been answered by the time Truman took office (if you’ve already killed 100,000 civilians on the March 10 raid on Tokyo alone, why bother to sit back and reevaluate the morality of strategic bombing simply because you’re use one bomb instead of many), the radiological effects of the bomb long term were poorly understood, and deployment involved little further expense (the 509th had already completed training to deliver the bombs). In other words, there is lots of potential gain for using the bomb, but at the time, little to lose. But looking at it this way helps frame Truman’s options free of certainties that the bombings would cause Japanese surrender (or be seen in hindsight as the originary moment of atomic diplomacy).

    The Truman library has a nice selection of documents pertaining to the decision online:

    • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:34

      Excellent point, Peter. Sounds like you are also suggesting that this is a complex question.

      • Peter Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:43

        That is definitely the point-this is a question (complex or not). In regards to Schweikart and supporters, it becomes a matter of what do you do when someone approaches something as a matter of faith and doesn’t even acknowledge that there is a question.

    • James Bartek Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:41

      Yes, yes. All true. But let’s not lose sight of the *greater* point in this discussion: too much ambiguity makes Sean Hannity cry.

  • James Bartek Mar 24, 2010 @ 6:45


    Surely you’re not suggesting that we just accept the nuance and ambiguity of history, are you? What are you trying to accomplish here – getting your students to wrestle with a complex issue, or something? 🙂

    For my part, I’ve always cringed at the either/or explanation of the atomic bombing: either the US drops the bomb, forcing an unconditional surrender, or the US invades Japan with the loss of a million soldiers (the usual number given) and countless Japanese lives. Whenever I teach WWII, I always introduce students to the concept of Just War theory. Most, unsurprisingly, are unaware of it, but I find it gives them another tool with which to critically analyze things like Japanese atrocities in China, Nazi aggression and genocide, and the tactics adopted by Arthur Harris and Bomber Command.

    In relation to the atomic bombs, it suggests the possibility that the US had a third option: the acceptance of Japan’s conditional surrender, i.e., surrender without US occupation and with the emperor-position left intact (which MacArthur allowed in any case). I don’t “push” any particular view, but do believe that students ought to be allowed to consider the issue from every angle available.

    On a side note, the archival info Schweikart mentions is probably a reference to Tojo’s diary and other sources which suggest that the militarists in the government were unfazed by the bombing. This, mind you, does not actually counter the charge that Truman also considered the bomb a diplomatic tool in dealing with the USSR, but it does contribute to the “rightness” of his decision to use it as means to end the war. Or so Hannity and Schweikart would have us believe.

    • James Bartek Mar 24, 2010 @ 7:03

      Replying to my own comment – oh, man.

      Now that I think of it, Just War theory is deeply rooted in Christian doctrine, so I suppose certain people ought to be ecstatic that I introduce it in the classroom….

    • Peter Mar 24, 2010 @ 8:28

      An intriguing angle is not so much why did Truman order the bomb dropped, but at that point in the war the question facing him was “why not?” Were there any compelling reasons to not use the atomic bomb? I think that approaching the question in this way helps decouple the atomic bombings from Japanese surrender and places the decision within a number of interlocking and overlapping contexts.

      • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2010 @ 8:52

        Thanks Peter. I like that a lot. The only thing that concerns me, however, is whether it properly frames the way Truman viewed his options.

        • James Bartek Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:14

          I’ve seen Prompt and Utter Destruction sometimes assigned as a survey text. It’s a pretty concise book (of which you may already be aware), which explains Truman’s options, as he saw them.

          The gist of the work, from what I recall, is that Truman – as Peter suggests – decided that there was no compelling reason not to use the bomb (issues of morality aside).

          • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2010 @ 9:20

            That book was published by the University of North Carolina Press, which is obviously a liberal propaganda machine.

  • Kevin Levin Mar 24, 2010 @ 6:03

    I couldn’t agree more. Yes, based on the evidence provided they are just flat out wrong. It has nothing to do with politics, but a failure to understand what an intelligent argument looks like.

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