In this of Talks at GS episode, Chris Wallace discusses his new book Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World and his experience as a journalist covering presidents spanning five decades.
On President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb: “One of the joys of writing about a historical president rather than covering a present one is you have access to his inner conversations through his diaries, and some of the notes he's written to members of his family. And in his diaries, he talks about the bomb. Once he knows about it in the most apocalyptic terms, he compares it to the fire and destruction prophesied in the Bible. So, he agonized over this decision. He ended up making what I think may be the toughest decision, the most consequential decision any president ever has, but he sure took it seriously and worked it over before he decided.”
On how delving into World War II reshaped his view on current politics: “There was the sense of unity. There was a sense that everybody wanted to do their part. There was a sense of the country coming together in common cause for a purpose greater than themselves. I'm not saying that all controversy is bad, and I'm not saying that all whistle-blowing or disclosures are bad. There are times when you need those, you need checks on power, but it does seem that if that was one extreme, the unity of America during World War II, we're now in another extreme where it isn't just a division of opinions. It’s a demonization of the other side. It's not just that they're wrong, it's that they're bad, they're evil. And we were capable of doing such great things when we were all pulling together.”