I’ve never seen a docudrama quite like this one, but I’d like to see more. It blends both black and white and rare color film from the World War II archives with staged material almost seamlessly. It tells the story not of the making of the Bomb, which I’ve seen many times before in films like Fat Man and Little Boy and many straight documentaries, but the story of the decision to use the Bomb … or not.
This is a question I have wrestled with most of my life. Was it needed? Did it actually save lives, both American and Japanese? Could it have been detonated elsewhere, reducing the casualty figures while still demonstrating to the Emperor and the suicidally adamant samurai-wannabe Japanese Army generals that America was ready to visit destruction on the Home Islands on a scale never seen before? Which the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did.
It’s a personal question for me. My father was in the Army Air Corps, as it was called then, in August, 1945. If Japan was to be conventionally bombarded and invaded like we did in Normandy, the estimates of American deaths ranged all the way up to half a million. My father would be going into harm’s way. As it happened, he was still stationed in Victorville, California, on August 6th and 9th (coincidentally, my birthday two years later!), and never had to go overseas. So I’ve always been glad, in a way, that the bombs were dropped. I might not have been born if they hadn’t.
Some dispute the assertion that the Japanese would have fulfilled their promise to fight to the last man, woman, and child if the Allies invaded. Myself, I believe it. I believe that, without the bombing of those two cities, American boys would have had to kill women and children charging at them with sharpened bamboo poles. Maybe a million of them.
The film covers a lot of territory, but concentrates on Harry Truman and his advisors pushing him this way and that. FDR had left Harry woefully uninformed about the Manhattan Project (and everything else, for that matter), so this whole question dropped on him like an A-bomb when FDR died. There were good arguments on both sides, I feel. But the one that prevailed was that American taxpayers had spent $2,000,000,000 on the Bomb, and if we invaded on the ground and lost half a million troops, and then the citizenry found out we had this super weapon and didn’t use it … well, impeachment would be the mildest thing that might happen. Swinging on the end of a rope would not be out of the question.
(I was curious as to what two billion would be in 2018 dollars. I mean, two billion would not quite pay for one sixth of an aircraft carrier today. Price tag for the new Gerald R. Ford: $13,000,000,000! And we have ten of them. Turns out the Manhattan Project would cost $27,665,000,000 today.)
This film works very well. The guy they hired to play Truman looks just like him, and speaks just like him. The drama of the delivery and dropping of the Bomb is harrowing. It all fits together seamlessly. It’s too bad this Canadian production wasn’t seen by more people.