The Washington Post’s Sunday “Five Myths About…” feature is a weekly irritation, as it begins with a misleading definition, and proceeds to a series of dubious and sometimes dishonest conclusions. In spirit it is like the fact-checking columns, (though, ironically, the Post’s less than most) in that it claims to “disprove” opinions. This week’s installment, however, was too much.
Gregg Herken was this week’s guest bloviator, and the Post gave the emeritus professor of U.S. diplomatic history at the University of California a chance to plug his books on the atomic bomb, so I don’t blame him for taking it. I do blame him for allowing the column’s format and the editors to turn what could have been informative and edifying into lazy scholarship, sophistry, and nit-picking. Now I don’t want to read his books.
His entry was called “Five myths about the atomic bomb.” As is typically the case, no myths were debunked. Myths, in the parlance the Post is evoking, are a “traditional stories of ostensibly historical events that serve to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” They are, by definition, false. Herken, however, neither identifies nor disproves any true myths. What he does is offer contrary opinions to those of others that are as provable as true as the opinions he claims to be debunking, which is to say, not provable at all. That means that the headline/title states an unprovable assertion as fact: “These statements are untrue.” Herken cannot ethically say that, but he does anyway.
Bad historian. Bad.
Herken starts off well:
“On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Another bomb fell Aug. 9 on Nagasaki. Decades later, controversy and misinformation still surround the decision to use nuclear weapons during World War II. The 70th anniversary of the event presents an opportunity to set the record straight on five widely held myths about the bomb.”
His first myth is that “The (Hiroshima) bomb ended the war.” Continue reading