United States Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson considered sharing the atomic bomb; in his plan to President Harry Truman. Secretary Stimson expressed a prophetic understanding of the global dynamics of what would soon become an international arms race for dominance of atomic and nuclear armament: The Cold War.  Secretary Stimson’s plan addressed the fundamental facts of human nature through politics and policy, and how Russia and the world reacted.

Secretary Stimson reached further and correctly with a disregard of the political paranoia of the day and suggested sharing for balance with France, China, and the United Nations. Secretary Stimson was able to disregard the heavy rhetoric used to described our World War Two allies and partners and look past the post-war bickering and into the balance of arms for international peace and stability. In his perspective, a mindful and straightforward approach of carrot over stick was required to maintain peace.

Secretary Stimson forged his proposal under utmost secrecy and in an uncomfortable environment. With the recent death of then President Roosevelt, and the rise of Vice President to President Truman following the death of Roosevelt. Truman took the reins to discover that many secrets that were hidden from him, among them The Manhattan Project.

Major sites in the U.S. and Canada involved in the Manhattan Project. - Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Major sites in the U.S. and Canada involved in the Manhattan Project. – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

President Truman was not the idea man of the hour, and he did not have a comprehensive partnership with President Roosevelt; he was a political attachment and was never thought to be in any danger of becoming President. While President Roosevelt was a strong, respected leader, with international clout and earned unwavering rapport for America amongst her allies. Being as this was, President Truman was kept in the dark, and most of his matters were political and domestic in nature.

After the sudden death of President Roosevelt, President Truman was strapped onto a rocket that was programmed in one direction and the instructions were not in any language that he understood. To obtain orbit and manage his new position, and in particular the Manhattan Project, President Truman began by demanding that his staff brief him accordingly, and in full on the issues at hand and plans in motion.

The largest and most comprehensive plan of the day was the Manhattan Project, which was a project that could win the war, and completely rearrange the balance of power across the global, and into American hands. A power that would come with many stipulations. President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had already made the decision to exclude Russia from the Manhattan Project. A decision that was destined to fragment the Big Three Allies, an already delicate Anglo-Saxon and Soviet alliance of convenience.

The Big Three - Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference.
The Big Three – Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman, and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference. – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

The divide was clearly present, but this action was set to push Russia into a more aggressive stance and cement the foundation of the Anglo-Saxon Divide. The next question is, who else would become a foe, an ally or assist in upcoming struggle to maintain the balance of global power and stability needed for peace to prevail in the Nuclear Age. This new weapon, “The Bomb” was the game-changing device that completely upset conventional warfare, incited paranoia amongst those not in command of its power, and sent shockwaves of awe across the globe.

President Truman did not need to technically understand the employment and capabilities of the Bomb; this was for the generals. What President Truman and every other leader in the world needed to know was how to deploy this weapon system diplomatically and who is responsible enough to own it. The ownership of such a device is sufficient to incite war from other nations out of their fear of self-preservation.

In this landscape, Secretary Stimson developed his plan, which was primarily focused on the already failing relations with Russia and the implications that the Atomic Bomb would have on this relationship. Part of the plan called for a diplomacy – approach Russia as opposed to merger negotiations with the Bomb on our hip.

Secretary Simson insinuated that this action was not an appropriate diplomatic approach, but that Russia would develop atomic weapon capabilities on their own. He believed that it would have been wiser to be their partner, rather than their competitor. To him, the Bomb was in-line with the previous military gas use agreements, which were miserable failures but the standard diplomatic policy that led to massive casualties throughout World War One.

The highlight of Secretary Simson’s plan in light of bringing about better relations with the Russia and to turn down the post-World War Two hostilities, in his own words:

Since the crux of the problem is Russia, any contemplated action leading to the control of this weapon should be primarily directed to Russia.

This sentence in a well-written warning that underlines his plan as a whole and is a concise understanding of world affairs. Going to Russia with the bomb, even over the international community would have been the most peace supporting course of action at that time. The problem with that plan is that it went against nearly everything the post-war drummers in the march for American nationalism and isolationism were against.

First Russian Atomic test, Joe One (1949). – Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Secretary Stimson’s Pax Americana plan would have been seen as weak, and as a de facto President; President Truman would have been committing political suicide for the greater good of possible world peace. It would have been a shamble at the time, and only for historians to decide later, yet it was a course of action that was not taken.

We study this history now and are fortunate to not have lived through such a global war that had seen our nation brutally entangled across the globe. In retrospect and out of the context of the post-war rhetoric and politics that then flooded the streets, as Secretary Stimson proposed his plan, a new and default, President took power with a career and reputation on the line. When the powerful force of the Atomic Bomb was born to end World War Two but was still nowhere near the devastating and heavily produced weapon system that it became.

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What did follow were treaties, proliferation, and enough international cooperation to prevent global thermonuclear war. Such diplomatic and political measures which were just as trying in their time. Even though only a few of our current systems existed or functioned and the international dialogue was shattered by the war along with historical grudges.

To retrospectively look from the inside of the United States at that time, which stumbled to its feet from the Great Depression, directly into a global war, and in a fear of returning to the pre-war economic state. The Atomic Bomb was our ace in the hole and a segue into dominance for implementing international policies to reestablish the United States economic strength globally, along with our partner the United Kingdom. We didn’t need the Russians or the United Nations on our level of tactical employment. We needed might to ensure our growth and assure our new partners in NATO. The Russians and the international Communists were to be contained in the third-world as we led the free world economically and bided for power and resources in the second and third-world.

Secretary Stimson’s plan is not how history played out, but for the decision makers at the time, it was what they believed best for whom they felt represented. The decision not to share information with Russia lead to the hyper-ignition of the Cold War and the military standoff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact that lasted until Premier Gorbachev ceded Communism to the people of Russia. The foresight of Secretary Stimson is stunning and accurate, but it was ignored. It is optimistic to consider the alternate course of history had we maintained a working relationship with Russia, and possibly a more advanced and unified global community. Yet we did not, and we have an enemy that is seemingly destined to maintain its role as our chief enemy.


Featured Image – Atomic cloud over Nagasaki, Hiromichi Matsuda – Public Domain.