On 6th August 1945 at just after quarter past eight in the morning Japanese time, the first atomic bomb was dropped over the city of Hiroshima. The 9,000lb uranium-235 bomb was nicknamed Little Boy and was released from a modified American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay (after the mother of the plane’s pilot Col. Paul Tibbetts).
The testing of the atomic weapon—albeit the plutonium 239 version— had taken place in New Mexico as recently as 16th July [the bomb dropped on Nagasaki on 9th August contained the plutonium-239 isotope]. By the time of the test, Germany had already surrendered to the Allies, but the conflict in the Far East continued as Japan vowed to fight until the bitter end—in fact, America had sustained significant casualties in the Pacific between April and July 1945.
Japan refused a American demand to surrender, which was detailed in the Potsdam Declaration and although senior military leaders preferred the idea of a more conventional approach to fighting the Japanese, a high loss of American life was likely, and despite the ethical and moral issues, US President Harry S. Truman decided that the use of an atomic weapon was the way to elicit a surrender and bring hostilities to a swift conclusion.
Enola Gay took off from the Pacific island of Tinian and five and a half hours later, the bomb was dropped by parachute over the industrial city of Hiroshima, which was situated some five hundred miles from Tokyo. Little Boy exploded roughly two thousand feet above Hiroshima, and its devastating blast obliterated some five square miles of the city, killing 80,000 and injuring 35,000. One third of the buildings in the city were destroyed, and a further 60,000 would perish over the next few months due to effects from the fallout of the explosion.
Despite the truly awful devastation and the massive loss of innocent lives, the Japanese did not surrender and it wasn’t until three days later—when the second bomb (nicknamed Fat Man) was dropped on Nagasaki—that the white flag was belatedly waved.
The photographs and video footage of the bombing of Hiroshima and the aftermath can surely only offer the smallest clue as to the sheer horror of what happened all those years ago. Many would have been killed in a split second, totally—and perhaps thankfully—unaware of the events that were unfolding, but what about those who survived, those who were injured? How can you even begin to come to terms with the fact that one moment you’re simply going about your day-to-day life, and the next. . . .
Did the end justify the means? I honestly don’t know, but right or wrong, I have to say that I admire the courage of President Truman to be decisive in the midst of what was a pretty much impossible ethical dilemma. The loss of any innocent life is obviously an emotive subject, but carnage on such an unprecedented scale is almost as hard to comprehend as the intransigence, perhaps even unshakeable pride, of those Japanese commanders who simply refused to accept the inevitable—and presumably had the consequences on their conscience for the rest of their lives.
Today’s blog isn’t about winning or losing a war though; nor is it about what losses were sustained by any nation, nor how those losses were inflicted; today’s blog is a chance to stop for a brief moment and remember those tens of thousands of people who were simply wiped from the face of the earth on this very date sixty-eight years ago. . . .