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David Holloway on: Soviet Reactions to Hiroshima
David Holloway Q: So the U.S. nuclear monopoly was really seen as aimed against the Soviet Union?

DH: Oh, yes, I think Stalin and the leadership basically saw [the atomic bombing of] Hiroshima as directed against the Soviet Union. They thought, believed that the war with Japan would be over quickly. Of course, the Soviet Union was moving troops to the Far East in order to enter the war with Japan. Stalin was committed to doing that; he had wanted to do that in order to secure concessions and strengthen the Soviet strategic position in the Far East...

So [bombing Hiroshima] was seen as something unnecessary because...it was clear that Japan would be defeated. And secondly, it was seen as a kind of anti-Soviet, a kind of sly, or cunning anti-Soviet political move. So yes, it was seen very much as directed against the Soviet Union and directed against the Soviet Union, not only in order to deprive the Soviet Union of gains in the Far East, but generally to intimidate the Soviet Union. You know, look what we have. We have this bomb which is so powerful that with one detonation, we can destroy a city. And you better behave yourselves. You better be more tractable, more amenable in the dealing with the post-war settlement in Europe. And I think that's very much how Stalin interpreted Hiroshima.

Q: So how did Stalin respond to the bombing of Hiroshima?

DH: His response was to show that he would not give in to pressure. It was not to become more amenable and more tractable. In fact, if anything, it was to show that the Soviet Union would not be intimidated. And how would you show that? You would show it by being difficult, or if you would like, even more difficult than before. Even less willing to reach agreements on Western terms. So that if anything, I think the political effect of Hiroshima was to reinforce a sense in Stalin's mind of the need to be very tough-minded in dealing with the West. Because any concession would be taken as a sign of weakness. A sign that atomic diplomacy was working and I think his reading was, if you make one concession, then they ask for more concessions, so you just have to be very tough, that was the nature of the game.

Q: In 1946 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin makes his famous Bolshoi speech, which very much alarms the West. What does he say?

DH: One of the curious things about Stalin is that he does not make very many public statements after World War II and the last years of his life. Probably the most important public speech was one he gave in the Bolshoi theater in February 1946 which was a very, kind of somber assessment of the post-war world. In which he said, essentially, that war was inevitable as long as imperialism existed. That this was kind of Lenin's theory that imperialism generated war. That that had been the cause of World War II, and imperialism hadn't vanished, so one could expect wars in the future. And that was linked with a domestic policy focusing again on investment in heavy industry and indeed investment in science and technology, including you know, the atomic bomb, rockets, radar, jet propulsion and so on.

And that speech was taken in the West to mean that Stalin not only thought that war was inevitable and therefore needed to direct his domestic policy towards preparation for war, but also that he was kind of willing to engage in war. I think the interpretation of the speech in the West was actually more alarmist than was warranted. I think Stalin did not want war, but I think that people in the West read this as a sign of a very bellicose and potentially aggressive Soviet Union. So the speech shattered, I think, illusions inside the Soviet Union, that the postwar world would be easier and more tolerant and freer. And it also contributed to the feeling in the West that we are in for a very tough ride in relations with the Soviet Union because this man is intent and willing, in fact, to contemplate starting a war.

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