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Truman's Decision: Kamikazes the Unknown Factor
by Bill Sholin
Mountain View Publishing, 1997, 130 pages

A title of Truman's Decision and a cover with an atomic bomb blast lead one to believe that the book will be an analysis of President Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, only the last of nine chapters deals with this historical controversy, and other chapters cover topics not directly related to dropping the atomic bombs. This privately published book focuses on damage caused by kamikaze attacks, a topic also covered by Bill Sholin in his 1994 book, The Sacrificial Lambs (Who fought like Lions). Sholin served aboard the destroyer Wren during World War II and witnessed kamikaze attacks as his ship served on the Okinawa picket line. Much like his first book on Japanese kamikaze, Truman's Decision tends to lack focus and to resort more to emotional appeal rather than relevant evidence to support Sholin's claims.

The first two chapters discuss who started the Pacific War and show the destruction inflicted by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Chapters 3 to 8 give a pictorial review of U.S. ships hit by Japanese kamikaze planes, with the chapters divided by ship type: fleet carriers, escort (jeep) carriers, destroyers, and auxiliary ships. Most photos take up more than half a page, and some are blurry or distorted. The last chapter examines Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs, and the Postscript describes details of what could have happened if the Allies had decided to invade the Japanese home islands. The book also contains brief comments from various survivors of kamikaze attacks.

The book's main argument is that Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs was sensible because of the great losses that the Japanese, especially by kamikaze planes and other suicide weapons, would have inflicted on the Allies if they had decided to invade the Japanese home islands. Sholin presents limited evidence and reasoning to support this argument, but the five-page Postscript, consisting entirely of an article from a USS LST Association News Bulletin, provides an organized and detailed description of what could have happened during such an invasion. Sholin's most frequently mentioned support for Truman's dropping the atomic bombs is that no American leader seriously could have considered an invasion of Japan after taking into account the devastation by Japanese kamikaze during the Battle of Okinawa. However, Sholin does not discuss other relevant issues such as Japan's possible willingness to surrender, the accuracy of estimated casualties in an Allied invasion of the Japanese mainland, and dropping of bombs on non-military targets.

"KAMIKAZES A DEEP DARK UNITED STATES SECRET," reads the title of one section in the book (p. 109). Sholin writes, "The United States did not talk about Kamikazes at the time, and the press, historians, and film industry -- still choose to minimize or pretend this major catastrophic event never happened!" (p. 2). The facts do not agree with Sholin's assertions. The U.S. Navy did censor information about kamikaze attacks until April 1945, but soon after in 1945 many popular magazines and newspapers published detailed articles about Japan's kamikaze corps. Since the end of World War II until today, numerous books cover the lives and ships lost due to kamikaze attacks. Sholin also claims that Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur did not have information about Japanese kamikazes when they considered the invasion of mainland Japan, because they would have chosen the atomic bomb if they had known the details (p. 119). This suggestion seems far-fetched, since these two top U.S. Army leaders would have had access to any sensitive military intelligence information on kamikaze attacks.

Some WWII U.S. Navy veterans may enjoy this slanted examination of Japan's kamikaze attacks and Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs, especially those who feel in the same way as Sholin that "heroic deeds of Americans [who faced kamikaze attacks] are ignored, minimized, or even denied -- as if they didn't happen" (p. 106). However, other books on these topics provide a more objective and organized presentation of history.