I recall that someone, possibly in Truman's cabinet, noticed that many of Truman's advisers had visible injuries from long-ago fights. This individual commented that their rough upbringing including settling differences by fighting might have influenced their decision to deal with Japan severely.

Who made this observation? What were the details? What are some commentaries from modern historians on this?

EDIT: All I am asking here is about the idea that the boyhood experiences of Truman advisers may have had a bearing on the decision to use the a-bomb -- primarily I am interested in who actually said this (and what exactly was said) and whether any other historians agreed or disagreed.

  • 9
    First I've heard of such a thing. Got a reference for anyone saying it? (Also, was Japan dealt with unusually harshly? They got to keep their head of state, all primarily Japanese-speaking territory they owned, and were economically stronger than ever within 10 years. Sure beats what the Nazis did to Poland...)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 15:15
  • 6
    Well that's during the war. There aren't a lot of non-harsh ways to murder your opponents. This is a country that had developed disease-bombs, used them in China, and was planning to use them on the US. I think its pretty clear if they'd had A-Bombs (which, unlike the disease bombs, were not outlawed by Geneva), they wouldn't have hesitated to use them either.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 16:33
  • 4
    I think it's pretty well documented that the South in that era was more violent than the rest of the country, and that they had a certain type of honor-based culture, which is correlated with violence. IIRC there is an extensive discussion of this in Pinker, The better angels of our nature. Boyhood fights would just be an expression of that adult culture. It would surprise me if harsh attitudes against the Japanese were localized to the South. It was the West that had the internment camps.
    – user2848
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 16:52
  • 4
    I have never seen any indication that the US was any more "severe" to its enemies than any other participant and post-war the US was much the opposite of "severe" to the Japanese. And @T.E.D. is right: every one of the major participants would have used the A-bomb had they possessed one, and with the possible exception of Great Britain, with even less hesitation than the US.
    – user15620
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 18:17
  • 3
    I'm not asking you to dig up "person zero" who made this claim. I'd just like to see an example of anyone saying anything like this. Otherwise this looks a lot like a "Somone once said" question.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


I am recasting the question as follows: "Among the people who helped make the decision to drop the atomic bomb, were they mostly privileged Ivy Leaguers or were they all Trumanesque "school of hard knocks" graduates?"

Truman formed the so-called "Interim Committee" in May, 1945 to help him make this decision. I find it interesting that the two southerners, James F. Byrnes and Paul Clayton appear to be "school of hard knocks" graduates, while the northern-born men were all privileged Ivy Leaguers. The latter included former Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, Ralph A. Bard, Undersecretary of the Navy, Dr. Vannever Bush who headed the Manhattan Project, Karl Compton., James Conant, and George Harrison.

I can't identify any historians that have done the kind of biographical research outlined above, or made the observation cited in the original question, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that someone had done one or both.

  • Minor detail is "Byrnes. I sure wish I had the reference but he definitely would have grown up in a state still recovering from the Civil War. No obvious signs from photo that he was disfigured by a fight as I recall the commentator said.
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 23:05
  • @Jeff: I initially overlooked this question because of its confusing "hook." Here's a suggestion: "Harry Truman came from a less privileged background, as did at least some of his advisors. Did this fact impact their decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan?" Only then would I motivate the question by writing, "I recall that someone, possibly in Truman's cabinet, noticed that many of Truman's advisers had visible injuries from long-ago fights..." because you can lose your audience with this statement before they get to the heart of the question. The numerous comments seem to reflect this.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 0:53
  • Not so interesting to me was background except for the specific detail that the commentator observed the scars of old fights among the advisers. I would mention about Truman specifically that when one critic reviewed his daughter's public singing unfavorably Truman went on at some length about what he would do if he ran into this man on the street; something to the effect that he would need two beefsteaks for his eyes and a supporter -- yes, Truman threatened to damage the man's genitals or cause a hernia, fairly extreme, no? And Harry was president at this point, I believe.
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 1:00
  • Here's Truman on the need for beefsteak: rjgeib.com/heroes/truman/truman-daughter.html
    – Jeff
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 1:01
  • 1
    The anecdote had its uses in "motivating" the question. But as a former boss advised me, "state your conclusions, then state your reasons," which was the basis of my advice on paragraph order. Also, note that one individual routinely downvotes questions with "I read" or "I recall" unless the actual source is named.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 1:03

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