The 71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Nagasaki and How One Man Tried to Avoid the War

On the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, the city’s mayor Tomihisa Taue urged the international community to use its “collective wisdom” to rid the world of nuclear weapons, according to the Japan Times. Through diplomacy, we can try to work for a peaceful future. But could war with Japan have been avoided all together? Diplomat Saburo Kurusu desperately tried to achieve just that.

On December 7, 1941, the course of U.S. history changed forever with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Three weeks prior, Japanese Special Envoy to the United States Saburo Kurusu visited Washington in an attempt to further peace talks between Japan and America and spare his country the loss he knew would occur if a war began. But as he reported, “Working for peace is not as simple as starting a war.” For more than seventy years, many have unfairly viewed Kurusu and his visit as part of the Pearl Harbor plot. Editors J. Garry Clifford and Masako R. Okura seek to dispel this myth with their edition of Kurusu’s memoir, The Desperate Diplomat.

Kurusu published his personal memoir in 1952, in Japanese, describing his efforts to prevent war between the two nations, his total lack of knowledge regarding the Pearl Harbor attack, and what “might have been” had he been successful in his endeavor for peace, while offering an exclusive perspective on the Japanese reaction to the attack. However, the information contained in his memoir was unavailable except to those fluent in Japanese. With the discovery of Kurusu’s own English memoir, his story can finally be told to a wider audience. Clifford and Okura have used both the Japanese and English memoirs and added an introduction and annotations to Kurusu’s story, making The Desperate Diplomat an essential look at an event that remains controversial in the history of both nations.

A unique and invaluable study of American-Japanese diplomatic history. The authors present a compelling explanation of how Americans—both the general public and critical members of the Roosevelt administration—perceived Kurusu. The authors also highlight Kurusu’s relevance in the run-up to war and do much to bring him out from behind Admiral Nomura’s shadow, while also presenting a compelling portrait of familiar figures including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The use of often overlooked but essential sources such as the Bernard Baruch and Arthur Krock papers make this an impressive volume.— Sidney Pash, author of The Currents of War: A New History of American-Japanese Relations, 1899–1941

1 Comment

  1. Delighted to be followed by such a highbrow outfit. Stylish, thanks.


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