Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Remembering Hiroshima

Sixty-four years ago, on August 6th, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Approximately 70,000 Japanese were killed immediately, with many thousands to die later of radiation poisoning and radiation-induced diseases such as cancer (by some estimates, a total of between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths by 1950).

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, photographed from a USAAF B-29 bomber.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The debate over whether the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was militarily and/or morally justified has raged ever since. I'm firmly on the side of those who argue that the use of two nuclear weapons against Japan saved up to a million Allied casualties, and countless millions of Japanese, which would necessarily have been incurred in an invasion of the Home Islands.

The famous ground-level photograph of the rising mushroom cloud from the Hiroshima
explosion, taken from seven kilometers away by Seizo Yamada. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Those who argue that Japan would have been starved into surrender without the need for either the use of nuclear weapons, or an invasion, ignore the fanatical determination of the militarists then in power to fight unto death, even if it meant the extinction of the nation. Indeed, so fanatical were they that they even attempted to seize the Emperor's pre-recorded broadcast accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, and thereby surrendering to the Allied Powers. They were prepared to kill their own Government Ministers and members of the Imperial Household to thwart what they regarded as a disgraceful betrayal. (Many of them would commit suicide in the days to come, rather than live with the shame of surrender.)

Hiroshima after the bombing. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

There's another factor, of course. Today the existence of racist sentiments is considered shocking, evil, unacceptable: but in 1945, the Japanese were regarded in the most racist way possible by most of those fighting them, and by many American civilians as well. Their 'sneak' attack on Pearl Harbor had been neither forgotten nor forgiven. Admiral Halsey's savage outburst, on learning of the attack, that by the end of the war "the Japanese language would be spoken only in Hell", had struck a resonant chord among many, and that remained the case even after three-and-a-half years of war.

St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral, also known as Urakami Cathedral, after the bomb.
The cathedral's dome was blown off by the blast, but remained intact.
(Click for a larger view. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I've spoken to many veterans of World War II (including my father). To a man, they adamantly maintain that not to use the Bomb would have been a monstrous betrayal of themselves as fighting men by their leaders. Why should they have to face death and destruction in an invasion of Japan, when the means existed to render that invasion unnecessary? You can bet this factor weighed decisively in the balance when the politicians considered whether to use the Bomb. I can't blame them.

The remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall,
now known as the Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome,
left in place as a permanent memorial to those who died in the atomic bombing of the city.
(Image courtesy of

Nevertheless, let's remember that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed, no other nuclear weapon has been used in war. Perhaps the example of their total destruction has persuaded aggressors that the cost of using such weapons isn't worth the risk of retaliation in kind. May that state of affairs forever continue!



LabRat said...

Los Alamos maintains a little science museum dedicated to the Laboratory and its history. (And an entirely seperate one dedicated solely to the town itself and its history.) By far the most interesting section, once you've been through it a time or two, is the corner dedicated to opposing exhibits discussing the lab's role in nuclear warfare and the cold war- including a ledger for visitors to enter their sentiments.

From the profane to the retarded to the unexpectedly insightful, I always do love reading that thing.

Mikael said...

Minor quibble - you've added 5 years to actual time passed. 1945 was not 69 years ago, it was 64 years ago.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

I lived in Hiroshima for 2 years (1975 - 1977). I went to the "Enola Gay" exhibit at the Smithsonian. I met Gen Tibbetts at the NOLa D Day Museum. My nuclear troika.

My late father-in-law fought in the pacific. I like to think I have my wife and my grandchildren because of the decision to drop the bomb.

Peter said...

Thanks, Mikael! Good catch. I've edited the text to correct the figure. Put it down to late-night blogging fatigue! ;-)

pops1911 said...

Excellent recap - many people today have no clue about such things.

I would propose we do a re-enactment in Washington DC soon. It will be a good history lesson as well as fix today's problem with the new DNC (Democratic Nazi Conspirators) as evidenced by BHo
s 'new' media czar.

reflectoscope said...

In the context of the rest of the strategic bombing campaign against (hopelessly flammable) Japanese cities, the damage done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki wasn't anything really new; it simply was more dramatic and took far fewer aircraft.

I also had a chance to see Enola Gay, and at a visit to the USAF Museum I was startled to realize I was standing in front of Bock's Car having been distracted by all the other sights to see there.


Sherm said...

To put another context on the expected casualties from an invasion of Japan as recently as just 10 years ago (or so) Purple Heart medals being awarded by the US were leftovers made in WWII in anticipation of the Japan invasion.

Chip said...

The other thing people often overlook is that we had just spent considerable time and resources on a ground campaign in Europe marching to Berlin, fighting an enemy not quite as fanatical but not willing to give in either. Command did not want to go through it again. The casualties from such a campaign in Japan would have dwarfed what happened in Europe.

raven said...

My father and my fater in law were both in the Phillipines training to invade the Japanese mainland when the bomb dropped. Both infantry. Odds are, the bomb is why I am here, and have my wife.

Crucis said...

People forget that the fire-bomb attacks actually killed more in a single night than either of the two nuke bombings. The one that sticks to my mind was the one on Tokyo. I've forgotten the date but it wasn't too much before the Hiroshima bombing.

The big difference was the fire-bombings took hundreds of bombers. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing took one bomber accompanied by two observers.

Anonymous said...

My father fouth in Leyte and Okinawa. He hated the Japanize.

I have thought more than once if I would be here if we had invaded.

Glad we nuked them.

Anonymous said...

My Uncle Bill was a Marine in the Pacific: he fought on Okinawa and Iwo Jima and many other places. His brothers were Army Air Corp --- shot down on a bombing run over Germany in 1943 --- and two Army infantrymen, one of whom worked his way north through the invasion of Italy, and one who landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. All four, to the end of thier lives, believed that dropping those bombs was right and necessary. Judging by the knowledge available at the time, and the situation in 1945,(how can you judge actions taken then by anything learned afterwards?!?), I have always totally agreed.

By the way: I work at the museum housing the Enola Gay; I'm glad to say she is well protected.