[Editor’s Note: Commander Tangredi holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and has written extensively on the impact of arms control on naval strategy.]
Brilliance in science does not always equate to brilliance in strategy.
I agree with John Merrill that the British physicist P.M.S. Blackett deserves considerable credit for helping to develop the science of anti-submarine warfare [“P.M.S. Blackett: Naval Officer, Nobel Prize Winner, Submarine Hunter,” The Submarine Review, January 1995, pp. 86–89.] However, in deference to history and to those who fought the intellectual battles against the great Soviet diplomatic-arms control offensive, I must point out the other side of P.M.S. Blackett: originator of the theory that the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki primarily to threaten the Soviet Union; and supporter of the view that the U.S. and Soviet Union were morally equivalent.
Blackett’s book Fear, War and the Bomb inspired the historical revisionism that has remained-despite much refutation-the academic new-think influencing the Smithsonian Institution’s controversial exhibit of the Enola Gay. The book was published in 1948, several years after Blackett’s involvement in ASW.
Blackett, like many of the British intellectuals of his era, held socialist leanings and a mild sympathy to the Soviet Union’s social experiment. Following the war, this inclination-combined with his antipathy to nuclear weapons-caused him to adopt an anti-NATO, anti-American defense policy stance. He advocated a British policy of armed neutrality to prevent Britain from being a pawn of anti-communism.
But it is his argument that atomic bombing of Japan had “no compelling military reason” that was more significant. He laid the groundwork for the persistent conspiracy theory that American imperialism caused and maintained the Cold War through the immoral and unnecessary use of atomic weapons. ” … We may conclude,” wrote Blackett, “that the dropping of the atomic bombs was not so much the last military act of the second World War, as the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia
now in progress.”
Blackett remained passionately convinced that the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan on August 8, 1945 was the real reason Japan surrendered, and that the prospect of seeing a victorious Soviet offensive “engaging a major part of Japanese land forces in battle, overrunning Manchuria and taking half a million prisoners” prompted President Truman to drop the atomic bombs in order to prevent the Soviets from participating in the Pacific War. He made no reference in his writings to the necessity for an invasion of Japan or probable American and Allied casualties involved. When confronted with the fact that the Soviets declared war only after the atomic bombs were dropped, Blackett rationalized previous Soviet neutrality towards Japan as “military common sense” and part of an “agreed Allied plan.”
Current revisionist historians have acknowledged their debt to Blackett as the first to articulate the theory that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki were cynical and unnecessary acts. Blackett’s theory provided much of the intellectual foundation for the Ban the Bomb and Better Red Than Dead movements of the early Cold War period.
While his post-war writings do not take away from P.M.S. Blackett’s critical participation in the Allied anti-submarine effort in the Atlantic, they do point to the fact that he was indeed a complex man … one whose positive contributions to operations research may have been balanced by his negative contributions to the policy of containment that won the Cold War.