Nearly seventy years after the dropping of an atomic bomb over this naval port and military base in Japan the debate still rages. Was the action of the United States necessary? How many people died because of the exploded bomb? To what extent were President Truman and General Eisenhower involved in the decision to use the newly invented horror weapon? Would the Japanese have carried on fighting World War II in the Pacific if the bomb had not been used?
Hiroshima was the capital of South Honshu Island. The city was chosen as the ‘ideal’ target for a very special bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ by someone with a macabre sense of humour. Hiroshima was important to Japan because it was a centre of military supply bases, shipyards making vessels for war, and industrial plants. The beaches and hamlets around the port were popular as a seaside resort, and the day selected (6 August 1945) would mean the beaches were full of civilians trying to escape for a moment from the war that their Emperor insisted on continuing, though Germany had lost.
The population of the town was estimated at around 300,000 in 1945. On 26 July the Potsdam Declaration had called on Japan to surrender unconditionally; the rest of the Axis powers had been defeated. Japan refused to accede. Roosevelt had died, and the new President, Harry S. Truman and his advisers decided, against the advice of the scientists who had built it, to drop an atomic bomb without warning on the Japanese target. ‘Little Boy’ was released from a B29 US bomber, which took off from the Marianas and deposited the bomb from 32,000 feet.
This first nuclear bomb to be used in the violent history of this world exploded approximately 1850 feet above Hiroshima, almost exactly as planned. Many people were killed instantly by the explosion itself. Immense heat generated by the bomb etched the outlines of people in pavements and walls. Following the heat came the blast, an extraordinary fireball driven by a 500 mile an hour wind, generating temperatures of 6000 degrees C. A circle with a diameter of two miles filled with the rubble of destroyed buildings was all that remained of Hiroshima.
Those of the population who survived the explosion, blast and fireball died shortly afterwards of radiation sickness. The death toll of that first bomb has been estimated as anything between 100,000 and 150,000 people. Historians tell us that Hirohito still refused to surrender either with conditions or without them, though this seems doubtful. Three days later a second bomb was released above Nagasaki. This time around 75,000 people died and a third of the town was destroyed. On 14th August Japan surrendered and the fighting part of World War II was over.
The controversy mentioned earlier in this post has never really lessened, even with the passing of time and the emergence of Japan as very nearly a super-power and surely an economic miracle. Harry Truman insisted that the dropping of a second bomb was necessary. The Japanese, he said, were so fanatical in their resistance that hundreds of thousands of US troops would have been lost in an invasion of the country and the taking of the capital. But he had already fire-bombed Tokyo. It is a recorded fact that many of Truman’s generals had not recommended the use of atomic bombs. Later, when he himself was President, Eisenhower claimed to have told Truman not to use the bomb. Truman’s Chief of Staff said military intelligence had advised him that the Japanese were ‘quite ready and willing’ to surrender and that ‘the use of two barbaric weapons would not be of any material assistance’.
Most historians insist that Truman’s dropping of atomic bombs had little to do with stopping Japan’s war effort; it was to prevent Soviet Russia’s influence increasing in the Far East. If this is so the scheme was successful and the cynicism startling. Secretary of State Byrnes said that dropping the bombs would ‘make the Russians more manageable’.