America’s decision to use two atomic bombs at the end of World War II on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been an intense subject of discussion for years after the incident. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are one of the best-known historical events in history, though at the same time provoking enduring, fervently heated reactions. The aim of this research paper is to examine the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents, investigate the causes, meanings, and implications of the bombings.
History of Hiroshima
Hiroshima’s early history dates back to the 6th century when some of the first Shinto shrines were erected on Hiroshima Bay (Cÿ, 2005). Modern Hiroshima was founded in 1589, meaning ‘big island’ (Cameron, 2005). The city’s many canals and wharves made importing goods from the countryside easy, while all parts of the growing metropolis were connected by its bridges. Hiroshima had become such an important base for the Japanese military that they temporarily relocated the Imperial Headquarters there.
The time was the summer of 1945, the U.S. and its allies were at war with Germany and had just concluded peace (Mishler, 2008). Even the U.S. has been at war with Imperial Japan since the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor (Mishler, 2008). America had a very important decision to make during the War in Japan. One option was to drop a newly tested bomb on the Japanese in hopes of getting them to surrender swiftly. The latter choice was to have an invasion of Japan by mass land and expect to fight it with complete force. No matter what option was chosen, it was known that there would be a substantial amount of casualties.
Once President Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman became President (Foundation for Constitutional Rights). At this time, President Truman attempted to fill the spot occupied by President Roosevelt for twelve years. Truman was forced into a position he was not really prepared for and into an administration that effectively worked without his input (Kort, 2007). Unfortunately, Roosevelt had never included his vice president in the atomic bomb debates. Two weeks after becoming president, he was eventually thoroughly briefed on ‘the device,’ as General Groves called the Bomb (Foundation for Civil Rights). War Secretary Stimson took on the primary task of filling in President Truman on the specifics of the Manhattan Project, which Truman had not heard (Kort, 2007).
According to Kort (2007), the Manhattan Project was led by a variety of scientific discoveries in the 1920s and 1930s. Hitler had steadily risen to power in Germany during this time of scientific innovation, and physicist Leo Szilard and fellow Hungarian Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller became worried a long time ago (Kort, 2007). They agreed that the U.S. President would be told of the latest fission technologies that had been developed, which they claimed could produce bombs. The three physicists enlisted the aid of the leading scientist of the time, Albert Einstein, and together they drafted a letter addressed to President Roosevelt (Kort, 2007). Albert Einstein’s famous letter of 1939, drafted by physicist Leo Szilard (who was named Humanist of the Year some twenty years later), persuaded President Roosevelt to launch the Manhattan Project, describing their belief that nuclear fission ‘would lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable that extremely powerful bombs of a new type could thus be built’ (Milam 2010).
The mixture of the fall of France to Germany in 1940, the belief that Germany was ahead in the atomic bomb race, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor soon influenced Roosevelt that this atomic research had to do something more (Kort, 2007). Roosevelt assigned his top security advisors to form committees on this project quickly and to determine what to do and how to do it. By the end of 1942, bomb research had become a bomb assembly, and the military now managed the Manhattan Project (Milam, 2010).
Henry L. Stimson, the war secretary from 1940 to 1945, would influence the critical decision of President Truman on whether to invade or attack Japan (Sherwin, 1995). The U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 Enola Gay dropped a uranium gun-style weapon codenamed ‘Little Boy’ on the city of Hiroshima on the morning of 6 August 1945 (Military History, 2009). On August 6, 1945, some 350,000 people were living in Hiroshima, Japan. Around 140,000 died that day, and over the next five months (Military History, 2009). Masses of blackened, bloodied, skinless corpses drifted in macabre places in the Kyuohotagawa and Motoyasugawa rivers. Long lines of shuffling figures–clothes burned right off the body; hair standing on end or singed off the scalp; skin peeling and dripping off arms, legs, backs; hands outstretched, zombie-like–were all wandering blindly after the bombing (Military History, 2009). This hellish scenario was carried out in absolute darkness because the mushroom cloud, the black rain carrier, and eternal destruction, had transformed the day into night and modern technology into the greatest nemesis of mankind (Military History, 2009).
According to Cameron (2005), after the Bombing of Hiroshima, President Truman issued this statement in reference to the use of a new weapon and promising the following:
“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”
The Emperor did not respond and three days later, the B-29 Bockscar levels much of Nagasaki with a plutonium implosion-type device code-named “Fat Man” (Military History, 2009). It’s estimated that the second bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9 claimed another 80,000 lives (Military History, 2009). The same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Hirohito said that “continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation.” He then declared that Japan must accept surrender (Constitutional Rights Foundation).
There are various views related to the use of the atomic bombs and their rationalization. The nuclear attacks on Japan were justified in an effort to win the war with the fewest casualties possible. Some believe that because Japanese soldiers were known for their vicious fighting styles, the invasion of Japan would have led to American casualties in the hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions (O’Connor, 2010). Additional explanations include that the US spent almost 2 billion dollars developing the bombs and those costs needed to be justified (O’Connor, 2010).
Even for their swift demolition, the Hiroshima and the Nagasaki bombs were extremely inefficient. Only one of the fifty kilograms of uranium present is detonated in “Little Boy” the affectionate nickname given to that weapon of mass destruction by those responsible (Milam, 2010). Hiroshima could have been even more horrifying than it was if one dares imagine. After all, the “best minds in the world” were feverishly working on these projects (Milam, 2010). Ironically, Einstein later became a peace activist and days before his death signed Bertrand Russell’s 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto along with ten other esteemed scientists and intellectuals (Milam, 2010). It begins with the words:
“In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction.” It ends with the oft-repeated phrase: “We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest (Milam, 2010).”
Secretary of war, Stimson, later revealed that the decision to use the atomic bomb was in part intended to satisfy the doubts of that rather difficult class of community which will have charge of the education of the next generation, namely educators and historians (Sherwin, 1995). He also wrote that the sole motivation was to save American lives by ending the war as quickly as possible (Sherwin, 1995). What he failed to discuss were the Japanese messages intercepted by the United States military intelligence indicating that the Japanese had been trying to surrender “conditionally” since June of 1945 (Sherwin, 1945).
The effects of the bombings were massive on all levels. The lives of the Japanese were forever affected. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, then a 29-year-old ship engineer with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was walking to the company shipyard in Hiroshima when Little Boy, the world’s first strategic atomic bomb, detonated in midair less than 2 miles away (Military History, 2009). The blast knocked him unconscious, burst his left eardrum, and burned his upper torso. Three days later, back home in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi was recounting his story to a skeptical boss when Fat Man, the second strategic atomic bomb, exploded over that city, also less than 2 miles away (Military History, 2009). The shock wave knocked both men to the floor and tore off Yamaguchi’s bandages (Military History, 2009). The engineer spent more than a decade recovering from his physical injuries. His wife and infant son escaped the Nagasaki explosion with minor wounds, but the family was plagued by poor health. His son died of cancer in 2005 at age 59 (Military History, 2009). Yamaguchi is now formally recognized as a double-hibakusha (“explosion-affected person”) and has become a vocal proponent of nuclear disarmament (Military History, 2009). “The reason that I hate the atomic bomb is because of what it does to the dignity of human beings,” Yamaguchi explained to The Times. “Having been granted this miracle, it is my responsibility to pass on the truth,” (Military History, 2009).
According to Cameron (2005), 226,598 officially certified survivors of the atomic bombings are still alive in Japan today. The actual number of hibakusha is likely much larger, as many could not meet the strict and sometimes subjective qualifications for certification, while others have left Japan. The average age of these witnesses, however, is now seventy-three. Most have been struggling with radiation-related illness for much of their lives, and death will surely have silenced the majority of them by the seventieth anniversary of the bombing in 2015 (Cameron, 2005).
Then fourteen-year-old Akihiro Takahashi remembers waiting to go into his classroom then waking up with burns all over his body. He made his way to the river to try to extinguish his burning flesh (Cameron, 2005). His physical suffering had only begun; he now must visit a hospital daily for hour-long treatments for liver cancer and the admission that he worries every day about his health (Cameron, 2005).
In addition to the health-related effects endured, there were also international effects of the atomic bombings. World War II came to an end and a peace treaty was formed between the United States, Japan, and forty-eight nations (O’Connor, 2010). Creators of the bomb had not received the feelings towards the bomb that they predicted and the scientists soon came to the conclusion that this bomb should not be used (Cameron, 2005).
The decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was one of the most controversial issues of the twentieth century. The bombings will continue to remain a heated debate for many years to come. The exact strength of mind for the use of the atomic bombs will never be fully understood and the same question will be asked time and time again, “Did it have to happen?”.