Krugman, Galbraith and Kamm

by Henry Farrell on July 26, 2006

(one of these things is not like the others … )

I’m reading Paul Krugman’s _Peddling Prosperity_ which I’m enjoying a lot, both the bits that I agree with and the bits that I disagree with. But one thing struck me as a little odd.

There is a longish section in the introduction attacking John Kenneth Galbraith as the first “celebrity economist” and as someone who real economists don’t take seriously. This is a bit peculiar, because the argument of the book doesn’t have anything much to do with Galbraith’s work. I couldn’t help but think that this was a manifestation of some anxiety of influence – Krugman himself being a popularizing, somewhat heterodox Keynesian economist, and trying to make it clear that he’s a “real” economist nonetheless. Which is a pity – because the best bits of the book are quite Galbraithian in tone – a witty discussion of economics and sociology that turns economistic snobbery on its head, but which is too long to quote here, and phrases like:

bq. It is cynical but true to say that in the academic world the theories that are most likely to attract a devoted following are those that best allow a clever but not very original young man to demonstrate his cleverness

which could really have popped up in any of Galbraith’s later writings.

This also reminded me that I’ve been meaning for a while to respond to this rather silly post from Oliver Kamm, attacking my brief obituary for Galbraith of a few months back (I’d have responded sooner, but it appeared in the middle of final exam correcting season). Kamm “says”: (linking to “my post”:

bq. I shall in the next day or so post something on the late John Kenneth Galbraith, but note here merely the tendency of obituarists to take decent respect for the dead to absurd extremes of historical revisionism. Here is one writer – dispiritingly, a politics academic – who believes that Galbraith “was prepared to risk serious damage to his career in pursuit of truth, issuing, for example, a quite damning indictment of the Allied bombing of civilian targets in Japan when he was director of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey and might have been expected to toe the official line.” Galbraith (who was a director, not the director, of USSBS) stated in his memoirs, A Life in Our Times (pp. 232-3), after quoting the USSBS’s conclusions about the dropping of the atomic bombs: “I had no part in writing this conclusion. By the time it appeared in the summer of 1946, I had moved on to other duties….” The author of the conclusion was Paul Nitze, whose inferences about an early Japanese surrender have been refuted, on the basis of information that USSBS had available to it at the time, by the historian Robert Newman. Galbraith’s own comment in his memoirs (p. 232) that “the bombs fell after the decision had been taken by the Japanese government to surrender” is historically without merit.

It’s a matter of historical record that Galbraith was indeed a director (contrary to Kamm’s imputation, I never used the word “the”) of the USBSS, and did indeed issue a damning indictment of the bombing of civilian targets in Japan. See the extended discussionon pp.185-187 in Richard Parker’s “John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Economics, His Politics.” The archival evidence shows that he sought to strengthen the Survey’s opinion that Japan would have surrendered even if the bomb hadn’t been dropped. Quoting Parker (p.186):

bq. In an early draft of the Survey’s “economic effects” findings, Galbraith tried to strengthen these already stunning evaluations. In one sentence summarizing the “conclusions” to be derived from this miserable business,” there is a hand-drawn line through the word “miserable” and pencilled in above, the word “appalling.” But none of this appeared in the final report.

Kamm is correct that Galbraith had left by the time that the final report was issued – but this is completely irrelevant to the point at hand. In many respects that report was a whitewash – Galbraith’s damning indictment didn’t make it in, and the Air Force took considerable exception to what did make it in, claiming the right to include a separate summary report.

To my knowledge, this is the third time that Kamm has linked to one of my posts, claiming purported mistakes on my part as evidence of intellectual dishonesty etc. On each occasion, Kamm himself has been baldly wrong. From my limited acquaintance with his style of writing and argument, I don’t get the impression that Kamm is easily embarrassed, but as someone who claims to be a journalist, he should be. Either (a) he has difficulties in comprehending plain English, (b) he’s dishonest, or ( c) both. I’ll leave it to readers to decide which of these is true.

Update: Oliver Kamm has emailed to suggest that he “wasn’t suggesting [my] observations on Galbraith were dishonest; [he] was criticising their factual basis.” While I think that he could surely have used less loaded terms than “historical revisionism” to make that case, I accept his statement. He still maintains that my post was “misleading.”As stated above, I bluntly disagree, and simply don’t see how the historical record supports any claim that Galbraith wasn’t coming out with an indictment of the Allied bombing campaign in Japan.



Brendan 07.26.06 at 12:31 pm

I have no desire (or interest) in debating anything with Mr Kamm. For a start, he is a master of using ambiguous syntax to make his statements hard to refute. For example: ‘The author of the conclusion was Paul Nitze, whose inferences about an early Japanese surrender have been refuted, on the basis of information that USSBS had available to it at the time, by the historian Robert Newman’. This would seem to be a clear sentence, were it not for the clause beginning ‘on the basis of information…’ which renders the whole statement essentially meaningless. (Is Kamm claiming that Nitze’s conclusions were the correct ones based on what USSBS knew at the time? Or that his theories have been ‘refuted’ based on a close reading of the USSBS information available to ordinary readers (i.e. excluding classified data) at the time? Or including classified data? Or what?).

Also note the euphuism of ‘historically without merit’ when he means ‘false’ or ‘wrong’ (I think: with Kamm one is never too sure).

However it’s worth pointing out that “Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan” by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa essentially backs up Galbraith’s point. I have no idea whether the Japanese had decided to surrender when the bombs fell (unfortunately I haven’t read Hasegawa’s book) but it wouldn’t surprise me as, according to him the key motivation for the Japanese surrender was the declaration of war by the Soviets.

Kamm’s own response to what seems to be a mature, serious, scholarly work is the ungrammatical rant: ‘This is an extraordinary absolution of those responsible for Pearl Harbor and the suffering of those who built the Burma Railway’ (note Kamm’s syntax runs away from him: he seems to be saying that Hasegawa forgives the suffering of those on the Burmese railway, which is nice of him). He also uses the most weaselly possible use of quotations (i.e. not naming the authors and thereby pretending that Hasegawa’s work was generally attacked by the scholarly community, which it wasn’t), and then claims that it is being used as a ‘deux ex machina’ by the peace movement, which indicates that Kamm really needs to read up on his Greek drama (he could get to that AFTER he reads up on the politics of the conclusion of the second world war).


Kevin Donoghue 07.26.06 at 12:31 pm

…Krugman himself being a popularizing, somewhat heterodox Keynesian economist, and trying to make it clear that he’s a “real” economist nonetheless.

I don’t see that Krugman is even somewhat heterodox. He is about as close to what Galbraith called the conventional wisdom as one can get and still be called a Keynesian. I think that’s why he isn’t too impressed with Galbraith.


Henry 07.26.06 at 12:39 pm

Kevin – I meant heterodox as a Keynesian, not as an economist. Galbraith wasn’t a straight Keynesian either.


Kevin Donoghue 07.26.06 at 1:02 pm

I meant heterodox as a Keynesian, not as an economist.

Fair enough perhaps; though I tend to think of him as being in roughly the same part of the spectrum as Tobin, Samuelson and Solow. I used to think of those guys as right-wing Keynesians, but then the world moved to the right and left them in the centre.

I have no desire (or interest) in debating anything with Mr Kamm.

Brendan, that’s probably just what he would say about you. Can’t you just ignore each other? I’d hate to see that bloody Manifesto taking up another thread. It’s for those who live in London, or maybe just Islington.


Brendan 07.26.06 at 1:16 pm

‘Brendan, that’s probably just what he would say about you. Can’t you just ignore each other?’

Fair enough. How about another post about the Tomorrow People instead? I missed the last one.


Shelby 07.26.06 at 2:14 pm

1) Kamm’s “imputation” is really less of an error than yours is, Henry. I might take his “correction” to suggest you said “the”, but I certainly took your “when he was director” to mean he was THE director. That seems to me more misleading, though perhaps inadvertent on your part.

2) Is Kamm’s quotation of Galbraith totally bogus? I ask because of the sentence “I had no part in writing this conclusion.” That seems inconsistent with your quotation from Parker; even if he worked on an earlier draft Galbraith’s edits would have constituted part of “writing this conclusion,” it appears. Or are this irreconcileable, and Galbraith either forgot his earlier involvement or wanted to bury it?


dsquared 07.26.06 at 2:32 pm

Whether or not Galbraith said “I had no part writing this conclusion” makes no odds, because JKG did, in fact, write the controversial bit of the Bombing Survey and tried to make it more controversial, which was Henry’s point.


dearieme 07.26.06 at 2:40 pm

“whether the Japanese had decided to surrender”: since the Japanese government system at the time seems to have been chaos moderated by assassination, it may not be clear just who “the Japanese” were who might have decided.


Shelby 07.26.06 at 2:46 pm

I understood Henry’s point, though it seems Kamm also had a reasonable basis for his own point. But the (apparent) contradiction is interesting on its own.


Henry 07.26.06 at 2:48 pm

Shelby – I’m not entirely clear about what Kamm’s actual argument is (I suspect that he isn’t either). Parker says that the survey’s “endorsement” was drafted separately under Nitze’s authority – this is my best guess as to what Kamm is referring to as the “conclusion.” In any case, it’s completely irrelevant to the issue at hand that Galbraith didn’t write it – the point is that contra Kamm, Galbraith _did_ very clearly and forthrightly condemn the Allied bombing.

I didn’t want to get into it too much in the post, because it’s a not especially interesting saga, but this isn’t the first time that Kamm has accused me of dishonesty on spurious grounds. Take this “pair”: of “posts”: where he uses his telepathic abilities to determine that I was crooked when I said that I didn’t know of any international relations scholars who supported Bush’s foreign policy. Now this is more of a nuisance than anything else – Kamm is a pompous lightweight – but when someone keeps on making silly accusations over time, it’s probably best to respond sooner or later.


dsquared 07.26.06 at 3:14 pm

btw, Henry, the historical reason why Krugman had a go at JKG is, if I remember correctly, that Peddling Prosperity came out at the height of the debate over NAFTA. Krugman was quite vulnerable at this point because, as the godfather of new trade theory, he was seeing a lot of his arguments about strategic trade policy being repackaged as generalised protectionist arguments, and he wanted to protect his baby from being misused in this way. I think that JKG might have been on the anti-NAFTA side – Jamie Galbraith was, and I personally think that there is decent circumstantial evidence from the famous Slate debate to suggest that Krugman often got the two confused.


joshb 07.26.06 at 3:31 pm


i think you’re generally right about PK’s motivations while Peddling Prosperity (not wanting his new trade theories to be invoked in the name of across-the-board protectionism), but, for the record, the younger Galbraith was actually pro-NAFTA, so, this still leaves open the odd hostility he had to JKG the elder.



josh 07.26.06 at 5:10 pm

Oh, man: I read the title, and thought that the post was going to somehow discuss Frances Kamm in relation to modern economics. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be another post about Oliver Kamm being noisome!
Anyway, I can understand wanting to set the factual record straight re. Galbraith; but please, Henry, don’t let O.K. get under your skin, and take up valuable blogging time. Instead, you should get to work on that fascinating discussion of deontology and heterodox Keynesianism that you so teasingly suggested, and so cruely didn’t provide!


terence 07.26.06 at 5:33 pm

On Krugman vs Galbraith,

Krugman’s Keynesianism is mostly decended from the Samuelson / Solow school of thought, which has always been at odds with Galbraith’s take. Robert Solow wrote some pretty critical reviews of JKG’s books in his day. Krugman, I think, is just continuing the tradidition. If you have a look on the PK Archive you can find a fair bit of (unjustified) Galbraith bashing in Krugman’s work. The nadir being when he called James Galbraith a post-structuralist on Slate (mentioned above by D Squared) and then got thoroughly trounced in the subsequent debate.


emmanuel.goldstein 07.26.06 at 6:17 pm

Re #13: Me too!


Robert Vienneau 07.27.06 at 1:01 am

The Krugman-Galbraith interchange starts here.

I had my own run-in with Kamm once.


Max 07.27.06 at 3:26 am

I really enjoyed Krugman’s “The Great Unravelling” (a collection of his columns). I was very put off by his sloppy, nay shitty, column about food in England. It seemed like a column where he wanted to make a point and — contrary to any real evidence — made it.


Nicholas Gruen 07.27.06 at 8:38 am

I am a huge fan of Krugman. But he’s no saint. His attacks on JKG demonstrate a kind of easy intolerance for methodological heterodoxy which Krugman’s style suggests he wouldn’t have. But he has it – indeed, he has it with a fair bit of vengeance. The motive – who konws. Perhaps insecurity (hardly appropriate but some very able people are insecure). That insecurity may relate either to his intellect or to his orthodoxy. Krguman likes to see himself as a bit of a gadfly to the orthodox, but it’s nevertheless very important to him to be and be seen as essentially orthodox – to be a sound chap amongst the peers.

I wrote a little about this here.


sam 07.27.06 at 10:07 am

I happened to read peddling prosperity recently myself and I was struck by the exact same thing.

Nonetheless, the book presents an excellent synthesis of a lot of ideas that are hard for even economics students at a lower level (I’m an undergraduate) to really get a perspective on. I’m curious, which parts you disagree with?


Brian Palmer 07.27.06 at 10:09 am

I do have to agree with Shelby on the grammar point. If I read “When he was manager of McDonalds”, I’d expect he would be the singular head manager, not just one of a collection of (shift) managers.


Oliver Kamm 07.27.06 at 11:26 am

As Professor Farrell states in his update, I have written to him directly to take issue with his post, and as he has invited me to place my comments in this thread, that is what I’m doing. Here is my first email to him.

Thank you for comments regarding Galbraith and the A-bomb; I’ve read your post with interest, and I’m sorry you found mine exceptionable. I wasn’t suggesting your observations on Galbraith were dishonest; I was criticising their factual basis. If you tell me I drew a mistaken inference from your original post, then I naturally take your word on this, but I think I still would have interpreted your comments in the way I did even in the absence of the intellectual or character deficiencies you speculate about. More important, I think others would too.

I do find it misleading to say that Galbraith was “director of the USSBS”, without an indefinite article; that he “issued” an indictment of Allied bombing; and that he did so even though he “might have been expected to toe the official line”. Galbraith was one member of a board of civilian directors with extensive military staff support. Only one of those civilian directors was willing to play a significant role in the Pacific Survey, and it wasn’t Galbraith, who was in Japan for only a month and played no part in the writing of the conclusions of that survey. The “issuing” of USSBS judgements on Allied bombing was done by the chairman, Franklin D’Olier, whose imprimatur was given to only three reports out of the hundreds written by divisions of the survey. I don’t know what you mean by “the official line”, for the conclusions of the Pacific Survey’s report Japan’s Struggle to End the War were entirely consistent with Nitze’s pre-existing conclusion that Japan would have surrendered with conventional strategic bombing allied to naval blockade (which itself would have had appalling humanitarian consequences). The evidence in support of that proposition from interrogations of Japanese officials (of which Nitze attended around ten) is extremely scanty. Galbraith’s later claim that “the [atomic] bombs fell after the decision had been taken by the Japanese government to surrender” is as thoroughly debunked as a historical thesis can be. (The commenter on your post who announces that he hasn’t read Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s Racing the Enemy is at least correct on that autobiographical point if nothing else. Hasegawa, whose book has itself been strongly criticised for “one-sided interpretations and contradictions” by Sadao Asada in The Journal of Strategic Studies, February 2006, certainly does not endorse the claim that Japan had decided to surrender before Hiroshima. His argument is the more limited one that the crucial factor in Japan’s surrender was not the A-bomb but the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific War between the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.)

While of course you are right in your observation about the title of your post, the points I have made about USSBS are accurate nonetheless, and in my view are material to your post. I wonder if you would therefore consider clarifying your earlier remarks to take account of them. You’re welcome to post this email on your blog if you wish.


Oliver Kamm 07.27.06 at 11:27 am

And here is my second email after receiving his reply.

I am highly familiar with the activities of Holocaust deniers, and historians’ reaction to them, and I take strong issue with your assertion that “historical revisionism” carries a connotation of association with that type of systematic falsehood undertaken for sinister purposes. It is because historical revisionism has legitimate scholarly antecedents (e.g. the work of William Appleman Williams concerning the origins of the Cold War) that Holocaust deniers are at pains to appropriate the term for themselves, and that historians deny it to them. Comparing you to Holocaust deniers would be a grotesque calumny, but as it is an inference that cannot reasonably be drawn from anything in the small quantity I have ever written about you, I am unclear why you think the word ‘clarification’ has any applicability here. As you read my blog, let me you refer you to my rejection of the charges of antisemitism, Holocaust denial etc. when levelled against writers I have no time for but will defend against unfair and malign characterisation (e.g. Noam Chomsky).

My comments on Galbraith concerned his role in post-war debates about the role of the A-bomb is Japan’s surrender. I had understood that this, rather than his many personal and professional qualities, was also what you were writing about. Your comments on MY qualities may well be accurate, but so are the historical observations I have made about the USSBS. As such, they are in my view relevant to the observations you made about Galbraith’s role, which as they stand are misleading. I am wary of getting into any further CT comments threads, which seem to me to have become appreciably coarser lately (and likewise one or two of your fellow-contributors’ posts), and I do think that your amendments ought to be greater than you suggest, but as you advise that that is the appropriate place for my comments, then that is where I shall put them. Let me in the meantime recommend to you the work of Sadao Asada, who has pretty much resolved the debate over the role of the A-bombs in the Japanese decision to surrender; Galbraith is very much an outlier in this discussion.


Oliver Kamm 07.27.06 at 11:53 am

BTW, as Professor Farrell is fastidious about the term “historical revisionism”, let me refer him to this recent article, from the History News Network, by the New Left historian Staughton Lynd, entitled “I am a Revisionist Historian”. Professor Lynd is clearly not declaring a sympathy for Holocaust denial: he is alluding to the tradition exemplified by Appleman Williams, and – as he sees it – applying it to today’s debates. Professor Farrell’s complaint is misconceived, and I’m puzzled why he came up with it.


Henry 07.27.06 at 12:26 pm


You seem to be tying yourself up in knots here. If historical revisionism is indeed as legitimate and neutral an activity as you suggest it is, then why did you apply it in a clearly pejorative sense? What exactly did you mean by the term when you applied it to my description of Galbraith’s actions? You have said that you were simply “criticising [its] factual basis” but even the most basic acquaintance with the term “revisionism” would suggest that “revisionism” involves an intentional project to revise.

Moreover: it’s inarguable that “revisionism” has a quite particular meaning with regard to Hiroshima and the role of Japan in World War II – it refers specifically to efforts by Japanese historians to minimize the role of Japan in World War II and to claim that Japan was the victim of Western aggression; see e.g. “here”: Not only that – but this sense of the word revisionism borrows _in extenso_ from the German debate. I’m prepared to accept that you didn’t mean to accuse me of revisionism in the strong sense of the word, and that you’re merely guilty of careless use of language. I’m also prepared to accept that revisionism has sometimes been used as a non-pejorative description (although surely not in these broad debates about Germany and Japan’s role in WWII etc). But to claim that “historical revisionism,” when used, as you used it, in a pejorative sense, doesn’t carry a connotation of systematic falsehood? Come off it.

Nor does the link you have forwarded prove what you seem to think it proves. It’s a not unusual example of someone seeking to reappropriate a term that’s been used pejoratively and making it into a badge of identity.


Oliver Kamm 07.27.06 at 1:15 pm

Well, there are two issues here, which I’ll restate and then leave, because this will otherwise be a circular exchange. The main one is that in my view you greatly overstated both J.K.Galbraith’s significance in the debates over the conclusion of the Pacific War, and the accuracy of his diagnosis. As you rightly observe in your opening sentence, I am not a Krugman or a Galbraith, but I do know my way round the recent scholarship on the Pacific War, not through any attainment of my own but because I am fortunate as a writer to number among my correspondents some of the leading historians in this field, who have guided me through their and others’ research.

The subsidiary issue is the term “historical revisionism”, as you took exception to my use of it in the context of your comments on Galbraith. I naturally regret that you interpreted this as a comparison to Holocaust denial, which any civilised person would take as a gross insult. But not only was this interpretation far from my mind, it’s also one that I consider so strained as to be illegitimate. You are simply mistaken in your account of the term. The origins of the term go back at least as far as post-WW1 reassessment of Germany’s culpability for the war and the justice of Versailles. As you know, Keynes, who termed Versailles a Carthaginian peace, was to say the least respectable and highly influential in arguing this case. More recently, the case that Galbraith argued about the A-bomb became universally and neutrally known as revisionism, exemplified in the work from the 1960s of Gar Alperovitz, as did the work of Appleman Williams and his followers in Cold War history. It is you who have misinterpreted Lynd, who explicitly pays his intellectual debt to Appleman Williams. That is the allusion in his title. “Revisionism” is how the phenomenon is known. It may denote an upward revision or a downward revision in evaluating its subject (consider Conor Cruise O’Brien’s “revisionist” biographies of Burke and Jefferson respectively); there is no necessary association of the term with fraud such as that perpetrated by Holocaust deniers, other than in the minds of the deniers themselves.


Oliver Kamm 07.27.06 at 1:19 pm

Pressed post before I’d finished.

I didn’t, incidentally, imply anything pejorative in my original reference to “historical revisionism”. I referred to “absurd extremes of historical revisionism”. The qualification matters.


Henry 07.27.06 at 1:37 pm

oliver – I’ll repeat. You clearly intended the term “historical revisionism” to be pejorative. When revisionism is used pejoratively, it typically implies that someone is trying to reframe history in a disingenuous and politically loaded fashion, as in the GWB quote from the article that you link to. It furthermore carries a specific weight in the context of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where its usual pejorative use is to identify those who wish to paint Japan as a victim of Western aggression, in an echo of German revisionist historians like Nolte etc. I’m prepared to accept that you were merely sloppy in using the term, although I’m still at a complete loss as to why you viewed my post as being historically revisionist in the sense of the word that you want to defend. But to say that it’s somehow “illegitimate” to complain about this : again, come off it.


Aidan Kehoe 07.27.06 at 2:45 pm

Kamm wins. Are there women you need to impress, or why are you still arguing, Henry?


S. A. Jordan 07.27.06 at 2:48 pm

Henry: You can afford to concede this much of Oliver’s point: “historical revisionism” *has* been used to denote legitimate scholarship as well as self-serving Orwellian rewrites like Holocaust denial.

But he’s backpedaling to claim no dishonesty was implied in his use of the term above, because his full phrase was “_to_absurd_extremes_of_ historical revisionism” — which surely does *not* connote the legitimate variety.


Henry 07.27.06 at 3:04 pm

s.a. jordan – that is indeed my argument. See comment 24.


Walt 07.27.06 at 4:30 pm

Actually, Henry wins.


dsquared 07.27.06 at 4:38 pm

Just to make this clear, by the way, lest it get lost – JKG did issue a damning indictment of the bombing and he did risk his career by doing so. So the person who said he didn’t is wrong.

Oliver keeps saying that JKG didn’t write “the conclusions” of the SBBS. That’s irrelevant. Henry didn’t say he did, with or without definite or indefinite articles. Henry said he wrote a damning indictment of the bombing, which he did. It was then censored and thus didn’t appear in the conclusions.

It’s rather like Alastair Campbell didn’t write Martin Bell’s policy papers in the Tatton by-election, but nobody would be daft enough to claim that Campbell had nothing to do with Bell’s candidature. Just to take a random example.


ralph 07.27.06 at 7:50 pm

OK, let’s see if I have this straight:

1. Henry said “when he was director of…” which sounds like he was THE director. Verdict: Henry should say, “whoops. ‘a'” and move on. He was ‘a’ director, which is all that’s required for Henry’s point.
2. Oliver says Henry’s a “revisionist”, which in historical circles definitely means, “someone interested in rewriting the obvious truth to paint unjustifiably the good side in a bad historical light.” In the case of WWII and Japan, revisionists argue that there was no need to drop the bomb, or two, because we had evidence that Japan would soon surrender. Or something like that. For those who argue that this is false, such as Kamm (I glean), this is a pejorative statement, but it’s essentially the same as a political slam. It has the taint of an attempt to accuse someone of deliberately believing bad arguments for immoral political purposes. Verdict: Kamm should fess up; Henry is a revisionist in that nasty way because Kamm believes he is believing the wrong people deliberately. Henry, on the other hand, should argue that he’s a revisionist on this subject because he is convinced that this version of history is accurate and that Kamm is deliberately ignoring the truth. Then should determine winners on two-out-of-three thumb wrestling.

3. Henry (and dsquared) continue to assert that JKG “issued issue a damning indictment of the bombing”, citing Parker’s work. Verdict: I don’t have the book here, but assuming that Parker did the “archival” work necessary, JKG apparently did issue strong indictments of the bombing, but apparently in drafts and not in the final release, for which we understand that he was not responsible.

4. Kamm quotes JKG has saying, “I had no part in writing this conclusion.” in his memoirs, which seems like a direct refutation but is in fact vague. Is he saying that he disagreed? Is he saying merely that he didn’t write the released conclusion? What IS JKG saying when he says this? Verdict: None; Kamm would be required to provide more context for the quote to enable us to say what JKG was trying to communicate. It is altogether possible, as well, that JKG was trying to fudge the public record, too. Damn. Now I’m going to have to read both books. You people are annoying.


Daniel 07.28.06 at 2:19 am

ralph – you can have a look at the relevant page of the Parker biog using “search inside” on Amazon.

I think your 2) is far too lenient. The charge wasn’t “a revisionist”, it was “absurd extremes of historical revisionism”.


Oliver Kamm 07.28.06 at 4:13 am

Henry (and I’m sorry to return to this when I’d resolved not to, but this is important to get right), no.

The term ‘revisionism’ as applied to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings usually relates not to Japanese victimhood, but to American motives. This is the school of American historians influenced, if at some remove, by Gar Alperovitz’s 1965 book Atomic Diplomacy. To simplify and generalise: revisionism maintains that the bombs were dropped not to force Japanese surrender, which on this reading was imminent in any event, but as a political signal to Stalin. In that form, it is very much a minority and extreme view, but it emphatically does not have the connotation of tacit sympathy for Japanese aggression that you detect. If it did, then the term would not have taken hold as it has. Every standard account of the debate between orthodox historians and their critics over Hiroshima/Nagaski makes reference to the revisionist school, without the implication of illegitimacy that you detect. Even the fiercest of orthodox critiques of revisionist scholarship (for example, Robert Maddox’s Weapons for Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later) do not make such an insinuation. They will argue that revisionists tend to downplay the sheer brutality of Japanese aggression, much as historians critical of Cold War revisionists will argue that the latter understate the terror of Soviet rule, but this is as far as it goes. The term ‘revisionist’ has been widely used in reviews of Hasegawa’s recent book, but again not at all pejoratively but only descriptively (also misleadingly, as Hasegawa – who is an American historian – rejects the traditional revisionist case). Had I imagined you would interpret the term – with understandable anger – as an implict comparison of your remarks to Holocaust denial, then I would certainly have expanded or avoided it. But your complaint of sloppy usage is wrong. I have used the word correctly, in the correct context, in a standard and not idiosyncratic way, and you have misunderstood it.

(The commenter who believes that by referring to “absurd extremes of historical revisionism” I am implying the illegitimate variety of revisionism unfortunately perpetrates the same misunderstanding, so I clearly did assume more than I ought to have done when invoking the term. There is no connotation there of illegitimacy, only of bad history – much as Conor Cruise O’Brien’s now-forgotten denigration of Thomas Jefferson was an absurd extreme of revisionism, whereas his revisionist States of Ireland was highly influential on a generation of historians. I’m glad – seriously, because it’s a terrible thing to imagine you’re being accused of something akin to Holocaust denial – to clear up this misunderstanding, but if I am culpable in this, I am not culpable alone.)

On the main issue, let us try to reach a common understanding on at least some components of it. To say that Galbraith “issued” an indictment as “director of USSBS” struck me as misleading, because “issued” is to my mind a synonym for “publish” rather than “draft” or “contribute to at an early stage”. I also interpreted you to mean that Galbraith was in charge of USSBS, rather than one civilian member of it who played a minor part in USSBS’s Pacific Survey at an early stage. I am willing to accept that on both points I misunderstood you, but in that case I believe others would have misunderstood you in the same way, and some clarification of both points might be in order.

Those are relatively minor points. Your comment about Galbraith’s selfless pursuit of truth when he “might have been expected to toe the official line” is, however, a serious misunderstanding of the background to the Pacific Survey. There was, of course, rivalry among the different branches of the armed services, and Nitze didn’t handle it well, but if there was any “official line” it was precisely that bombing of civilian targets, at the extreme in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had not been necessary to secure a Japanese surrender. On this, Nitze was wrong, and can be shown to have been wrong on the basis of information that was available to USSBS at the time, but this is a separate issue from the one we’re discussing. The relevant point is that Galbraith was firmly in accord with the “official line”, if (as I doubt) that term has any meaning in this context. I believe you may have been misled on this point by relying too heavily on the Galbraith biography to the exclusion of the historians’ studies of USSBS (e.g. Robert F. Newman, “Ending the War with Japan: Paul Nitze’s ‘Early Surrender’ Counterfactual”, Pacific Historical Review, May 1995).


Daniel 07.28.06 at 4:54 am

Given that every single point in your post now appears to be based on a linguistic confusion, Oliver, perhaps you’d like to revise (absurdly and extremely) your assessment that it is “dispiriting” that Henry has a job as a politics academic?


Oliver Kamm 07.28.06 at 10:27 am

I’m sure Henry is a skilled politics academic. I said it was dispiriting that the remarks about Galbraith came from a politics academic, not that it was dispiriting that Henry holds that post.

This was a polemical remark such as I think you’ll find is quite common among bloggers, and I doubt that Henry was upset by it. I have dealt at some length with the issue of “revisionism”, because Henry was upset by that, and I can understand why. The confusion about the term was not mine, however; Henry believed that it denoted something pejorative, akin (and this was the analogy he cited) to Holocaust denial, and on this he was mistaken. As I have explained – doubtless pedantically, but if I had genuinely made such an insinuation against Henry, it would have been a disgraceful thing – revisionism is a standard term used by American historians in the debate that we have been discussing, namely America’s use of the A-bomb.

I also consider that Henry’s comments about Galbraith’s role in the Pacific Survey betray a serious misunderstanding of the diplomatic background. This is an issue on which historical research has been greatly advanced over the last 15 years by Newman, Frank, Giangreco (concerning the US) and Asada (concerning Japan), among others. That is more than a confusion over language. I criticise Henry for not taking account of this work when forming his laudatory judgement about Galbraith, and apparently relying on the sympathetic Galbraith biography.

A lot of misunderstanding (I mean this as a general observation rather than a comment on Henry’s remarks) is generated by the assumption that because Nitze was a well-known hawk and Galbraith was a celebrated liberal, Galbraith must have been striking a bravely heterodox course in stating that the bombings were unnecessary. But he wasn’t. He was taking an establishment view, and one that does not stand up at well in historical retrospect.


Henry 07.28.06 at 11:09 am

So are you really claiming that Galbraith’s stated view in drafting the report that the bombing of civilian targets in Japan was “appalling” was in fact the “establishment view” at the time? This is an interesting and indeed rather an impressive historical claim.

I’m beginning to get some idea of what happened here. I suspect it goes something like this. Oliver comes across my post, which is about Galbraith’s character, and which cites to his willingness to buck the line on Japan as proof of same. He decides that it’s a nice launching pad for his views on whether or not the bombing of civilian targets in Japan was a good or bad thing, regardless of the fact that this isn’t something that the post addresses (whether or not Galbraith made the right call on the facts might be relevant to his judgement, but it’s certainly irrelevant to the point about character that I was making). He tosses in a non-sequitur about how Galbraith didn’t write the conclusion of the report (something that my post never said nor implied), describes me incorrectly as an exemplar of “absurd extremes of historical revisionism” (a claim which is itself absurd; the post wasn’t revisionist in any of the senses in which this word has been employed in this argument), and attacks my standing as an academic. He then moves on (which was his purpose all along) to a discussion of the merits of Nitze’s decision – something which my original post wasn’t about at all, but which it’s easier to discuss if he pretends that it was.


Oliver Kamm 07.28.06 at 11:13 am

This is extremely pedantic, but it’s worth correcting citations. In #35 I cited a paper by Robert Newman. Professor Newman’s middle initial is not ‘F’ but ‘P’. (I particularly recommend the first two chapters of Newman’s book Truman and the Hiroshima Cult as a corrective to those who believe, as Henry extraordinarily does, that the Pacific Survey report was “in many respects… a whitewash”. It was no such thing, which is why it was widely cited by New Left historians of the 60s and 70s in their critiques of the Truman administration.)


Oliver Kamm 07.28.06 at 11:55 am

Henry, the answer to your question is not a simple yes or no, and it requires some supporting detail. I’m pressed for time to do it right now, and will aim to do it over the weekend. But I certainly take issue with your reference to Galbraith’s “willingness to buck the line on Japan”. He wasn’t bucking the line: he was, in broad terms, acceding to it.

Your speculation about my “purpose” is quite unwarranted. I have been careful (look through this thread) to distinguish the historical questions of (a) the justifiability or otherwise of Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb, and (b) USSBS’s evaluation of that decision. Whatever your view or mine of (a), I consider that you have misunderstood (b). I agree that Galbraith was a man of many admirable personal qualities, but your citing as evidence his independence of spirit on this issue is based on a misconception.


Henry 07.28.06 at 1:39 pm

bq. Your speculation about my “purpose” is quite unwarranted. I have been careful (look through this thread) to distinguish the historical questions of (a) the justifiability or otherwise of Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb, and (b) USSBS’s evaluation of that decision.

Ah, but you did accuse me of “absurd extremes of historical revisionism” did you not? I’d be interested to know in quite what sense this accusation was intended to draw the careful distinctions that you refer to above. I also look forward with some considerable anticipation to the fruits of your further research. I rather suspect that the weasel-phrase “in broad terms, acceding to it” is intended to cover some bogus claim along the lines of “describing the consequences of bombing civilians as _appalling_ is the same thing, ‘in broad terms,’ as querying whether it was militarily necessary to achieve victory.” But perhaps you’ll surprise me.


ralph 07.28.06 at 5:29 pm

OK, I’ve had a chance — thanks to Daniel’s suggestion — to read the two main citations that Kamm and Henry play against one another to argue that JKG did either play a part in or not play a part in the USBSS report critical of strategic bombing in Japan. I have two verdicts:

1. Kamm’s quote, taken from the 1982 memior, is so vague as to be useless in Kamm’s favor, unfortunately for Kamm. JKG does say, “I had no part in writing this conclusion.” He could be referring to the preceding graph from the survey, which is at efforts to stress that Japan would have folded had no bombing taken place. My own interpretation is that he is saying that he wasn’t responsible for that part about Japan surrendering even if Russia hadn’t come into the war. (Parker makes it clear his big obsession was with the effect of bombing, not with the surrender issue.) He could be saying, “By the time that was released, I had no official responsibility for it.” as a statement of technical fact. He could also be trying, as I mentioned before, to fudge something there, but as the entire preceding page is given over to a recitation of the abominable destruction and failure of bombing in Japan to have any important effect, I don’t think that’s the case. Here’s the quote from page 231: “But no more than in Germany was it the bombing that won the war.” He then goes on to obfuscate the quote that Kamm cites by saying: “‘Blockading and bombing together,’ we concluded….” So which is it? Did he have no responsibility, or did “we” conclude, meaning he was involved? Kamm cannot rely on this quote for any substantial argument.

2. Henry’s assertion of strong participation against the wishes of the armed forces only gains effect because of the context surrounding the quote that Kamm uses. In addition, Parker’s material makes it clear that the powers that be didn’t like what JKG and cohort were doing at all. It is clear that JKG worked hard to make certain that his points against strategic bombing were in the report, but it is also clear that his personal confidence greatly irritated those who would form the new Air Force…

Oh, and the revisionism dealie. Daniel (and Henry), I don’t hold too much truck with a strong distinction between the historical epithet “revisionist” as opposed to “absurd extremes of historical revisionism.” This word when used around an historical argument means the same thing as “liberal” does in political terms now (in the U.S.). It’s meant to signify to listeners that someone is beyond the pale, with the hint that this is so for very deliberate reasons. To say that someone is from the “fringes of extreme liberalism” is essentially the same as arguing that they’re liberal. Exactly the same? No. One’s stronger. But it’s so vague as to how much stronger that obsessing about the distinction overlooks the main semantic fact: He’s just saying that your history is wrong, that you should know it, and that if you don’t it’s deliberate and therefore perhaps you’re intentially anti-American. THAT you’re free to respond to; Lynd does that by saying that he IS revisionist in the sense that he’s for correctly understanding the past. He might say the same thing for “liberal” too.

But, BUT — Kamm can’t complain that he wasn’t trying to imply that you’re wrong on the historical facts, possibly deliberately. I’m just saying that he would be smearing even had he just said, “revisionist”.


Oliver Kamm 07.29.06 at 12:22 pm

Henry, let me suggest that this discussion, along with any (if any there be) we might have in the future, would advance more smoothly and with greater illumination to anyone still reading it if you weren’t quite so quick to spot possible aspersions on you. I have deliberately not followed you in the personal rhetoric with which you began and continued this discussion, and you may be assured I will not do so in future. I have certainly not levelled or implied the charge that Ralph attributes to me, viz. that you are lying. I accused you of an absurd extreme of historical revisionism because your depiction of Galbraith’s doggedly standing out against the bombings when “he might have been expected to toe the official line” involved a serious misunderstanding of the genuine stance of USSBS and the armed services. The reason I say this is not that I have a nefarious ideological or personal agenda, but that the scholarly literature published in the last 15 years since USSBS files were made available in their entirety supports me. This is the only point in our discussion where I have raised a caution about your mode of argument, because I think it is improper to turn the discussion into speculation on someone’s “purpose” in advancing an argument.

The reason I chose what you term a weasel-phrase, but is actually a fair qualification in the circumstances that you require me to address, is that your question posed a false dichotomy, and it takes more explanation than I was immediately willing to give on a Friday evening in order to outline what, if anything, constituted “the official line”. No, “the official line” was not that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “appalling”, but it was that they were redundant. And that official line certainly and immediately generated powerful moral objections to the bombings – for terrible destruction that is militarily unnecessary deserves the strongest censure.

Thus, two separate USSBS reports concluded: “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to November 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

USSBS was working in the context of its previous investigations in Europe (which Galbraith touted in extravagant prose). Its conclusions on that theatre of war were that bombing had had only a marginal effect in damaging Germany’s military capability until 1944. There was a very powerful presumption in these deliberations that the function of air power was to provide support to naval and ground forces, and not to engage in area bombing.

This was not an idiosyncratic position held by the civilian directors of USSBS. There was powerful support for this view from the armed forces. There was at the time no independent air force, and the air generals pressed for one to be established after the war. For admittedly a brief time – but it was at the time we’re discussing – these military figures were antinuclear. There were institutional reasons for this position. They feared that a single plane armed with the destructive power of the A-bomb would render obsolete the notion of a developed air force.

It is not “bogus”, but highly pertinent to your depiction of Galbraith to note the congruence of these establishment views with Galbraith’s concerns. His indictment of the bombings was perfectly consistent with “the official line”: they had served no useful purpose and the air force didn’t want nuclear weapons. “The official line” (i.e. the exact quoted conclusion of USSBS) has become a mainstay of Japanese leftwing historians, and has thence made its way into Japanese school textbooks. The conduit for this was the popular writing of the Nobel physicist P.M.S. Blackett, a member of the Maud Committee established in 1940 to consider whether Britain should develop an atomic weapon. Blackett argued, long before Alperovitz (whose supervisor he later became) took up the thesis, that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in reality the first acts of the Cold War rather than the concluding acts of the Pacific War.

I have now explained twice that I consider what USSBS concluded and whether it was right to reach those conclusions to be separate issues. Whatever you think of the second is not my concern in these comments. What you assumed about the first is, to use your own phrase, baldly wrong.


Oliver Kamm 07.29.06 at 12:27 pm

My apologies: I inadvertently omitted a phrase from the USSBS conclusion, thereby slightly altering the chronology. The correct wording is: “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to December 31, 1945, and in all probability prior to November 1, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

So the “certainty” in fact applied two months later than my mistranscription stated.


Henry 07.29.06 at 1:40 pm

bq. I have deliberately not followed you in the personal rhetoric with which you began and continued this discussion, and you may be assured I will not do so in future. I have certainly not levelled or implied the charge that Ralph attributes to me, viz. that you are lying.

Let me refresh your memory a little – you may recall this “post”:

bq. the forum in which Professor Gaddis made his remarks was too esoteric for Professor Farrell, he could have found it referenced in this blog last February. Perhaps he has now stumbled across it, for there is a prudent moderation in his tone this week. So “I don’t know of any” is deftly transmuted to “the paucity of”, which is a rather different matter. Having demonstrated what was at the very least – and this is being charitable – a lack of intellectual curiosity and a disinclination to read, Professor Farrell has come up with a linguistic expedient (let us call it assonantly the “Farrell Straddle”, and mentally store it for future reference) to make out that his initial characterisation was right all along.
When pronouncing “Crooked Timber”, recall that it is the first word that is stressed.

Your protestations of injured innocence about imputations of dishonesty are a bit rich (especially when your attack then was based on as tendentious a misreading as your attack now). Entirely as expected, you’re making the hilariously specious argument that the claim that bombing was redundant is equivalent to the claim that it is “appalling.” This isn’t only bogus – it is preposterous. If I say that Israel’s actions in Lebanon are redundant, this is a criticism that is different in kind, and much weaker, than if I say that they are appalling. This isn’t really an argument you’re making, it’s an exercise in face-saving bullshit. But I’m not really telling you anything that you don’t know already.


Oliver Kamm 07.29.06 at 3:31 pm

Sorry, I thought we were referring to this exchange rather than past hurts that you have endured. That’s what Ralph was writing about. If my earlier post, which I thought was fair comment and quite witty in its own way, did you an injustice, then write and tell me, and I’ll correct it.

I don’t see we can go further on this one, however, because you are now clearly misrepresenting my point in your insistence that there were no problems with your original formulation. I don’t anywhere say ‘the claim that bombing was redundant is equivalent to the claim that it is “appalling”.’ On the contrary, I said you’d posed a false dichotomy, i.e. that there is in your scheme an excluded position. That position was the one advanced by USSBS, with powerful support from the military establishment. Of course it’s different in kind from Galbraith’s – his was ethical and humanitarian (and entirely admirable in motivation if not in judgement); Nitze’s was strategic (and self-serving, as he sought to be secretary of the new USAF). My point was that there was no inconsistency between these positions, not that they were the same positions. These positions’ being consistent, your speculation of the pressure on Galbraith to “toe the official line” is bizarrely misinformed. Galbraith was under no pressure to defend the bombings, because the Pacific Survey itself did not defend the bombings.

I fear there may be little I can say that you will not interpret as an attack on you and your “standing as an academic”, but I have said explicitly in this thread that I am sure you are a skilled academic. I criticise you on this particular issue, because you have misrepresented the diplomatic background to it. I suggested you might have been misled by relying too heavily on the Galbraith biography to the exclusion of scholarship about USSBS and the Pacific War, and I stick to that assessment. I fear it may sound ungracious to say so, but as this is a quasi-academic blog on which you are the IR specialist, and as you have been extremely frank and forthcoming in your assessment of my own deficiencies, and as you yourself chose to write about this issue, I feel justified in saying what I would not otherwise voice. I am genuinely surprised by how much of what I have said about the state of recent scholarly debate on one of the defining issues of the modern international order appears to be unknown to you.


ralph 07.29.06 at 3:50 pm

Mr. Kamm,

Just for the record, although one might use the word “lying” when one is “imply[ing] that you’re wrong on the historical facts, possibly deliberately” it’s not quite what I mean. There is a strange human state between lying and honesty in which we intend to believe something that might not be the best argument. It is the squishiness of this state that is interesting, and permits the hint of this, or imputation of that. If we were just deciding whether someone lied, well, that wouldn’t even be interesting. It is the unstated question of why someone persists in believing something poorly demonstrated that is the interesting question…. Or perhaps the issue of why a particular argument is not convincing to one but is to another. Humans. What are you gonna do?

I’ve read Newman’s book, and it’s good, but not quite right. I’ve been meaning to go back and reconcern myself with the problems I had with it (now a few years foggy), and perhaps I shall now do so. If that’s something to come out of the discussion, then there it is.


Henry 07.29.06 at 6:10 pm

bq. Sorry, I thought we were referring to this exchange rather than past hurts that you have endured.

The reason that I brought this up was that you were taking umbrage at being called dishonest and were indeed claiming that it was “improper to turn the discussion into speculation on someone’s “purpose” in advancing an argument.” Given that you’ve a history of engaging in such impropriety yourself, I thought that it was a bit rich of you to wax indignant about this. But in retrospect, “rich” wasn’t quite the right word. “Precious” might have fit better. Or better still, “dishonest.”

bq. which I thought was … quite witty in its own way

No doubt you did.

Your argument, as reiterated above, is casuistry, pure and simple. The USBSS findings had no moral objections, powerful or otherwise to the bombing of civil targets. Galbraith’s expression of such objections wasn’t let make it into the final report. As dsquared said above.

bq. JKG did issue a damning indictment of the bombing and he did risk his career by doing so. So the person who said he didn’t is wrong.

And not only wrong, but trying to double up on a bad bet …

Ralph – I think the concept that you’re looking for is something close to bullshit, as defined by Harry Frankfurt. That is, arguments which are made without regard to whether they are true or not (they may be, they may not; it’s a matter of indifference), but rather with regard to whether they are useful for a preconceived purpose.


ralph 07.29.06 at 6:30 pm

Yes, Henry, that is exactly right, but I think that once you push it into that word, then often people begin to miss the interestingness of that special place. It is bullshit, no question, but really it isn’t “without regard”; it’s more like a place where the regard doesn’t overcome something else that is slightly less than rational, slightly less than “preconceived.” It is this place that is hardest to perceive in oneself, locate, and excavate. Whatever. Despite the somewhat personal dispute, I’m now quite curious to relearn what I once thought about the issue of the surrender. Motivation is good.


Oliver Kamm 07.31.06 at 4:01 pm

My apologies for not having responded till now. This discussion has clearly come to the end of its natural life, but I should correct you on this trivial point, Henry. I haven’t ‘taken umbrage’ at any charge or description, including that of dishonesty, that you’ve levelled at me at any time in this discussion. If you go back through this thread, you will see that this is so. My reasoning on this is a general rule. Accusations are best dealt with not – to use the terms in their proper senses – by rebuttal but by refutation.

What I felt was improper was your speculating on the ‘purpose’ of my contributions rather than deal with my points directly. I have carefully refrained from drawing, as I might have done, any like inferences from the fact that you took this tack when you were contradicted on a central issue of international politics where your contributions have not reflected a facility with the scholarly sources, but have referred to only one biographical study that has apparently not taken proper account of that literature. If I may say so, mere assertion of your correctness and of my turpitude doesn’t add up to an impression of mastery of your brief. The term casuistry has in the circumstances occurred to me as a description of your own unwillingness, even to the extent of manufacturing arguments I have not made, to acknowledge any respect in which your description of Galbraith’s role in this episode was mistaken or might have misled. For my part, I consider your description of Galbraith’s being “prepared to risk serious damage to his career in pursuit of truth, issuing, for example, a quite damning indictment of the Allied bombing of civilian targets in Japan when he was director of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey” to be misleading in the respects I have indicated, though these may be attributable, as I have surmised, to loose language on your part. I consider the speculation that Galbraith “might have been expected to toe the official line” to involve a serious misunderstanding of what, if anything, constituted an “official line”.

On your subsidiary complaint: I felt, as I have stated, it was fair comment at the time to draw attention both to your erroneous assertion concerning the uniformity of a segment of academic opinion, and your different rendition of the same claim in a later post when you had been called on it. I stand open to correction, if you would care to send me an explanation of my error. As it stands, I am unconvinced that correction is necessary.


Oliver Kamm 07.31.06 at 4:36 pm

Ralph – Professor Newman has written more than one book, in addition to the relevant article I have cited in this thread. The most succinct account of his arguments is Enola Gay and the Court of History, 2004. Also see Gian Gentile, “Advocacy or Assessment? The United States Strategic Bombing Survey of Germany and Japan”, Pacific Historical Review , February 1997. This is really the definitive study of USSBS, and was published in much extended form by New York University Press in 2000.

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