No such warning fell on the people of Hiroshima: that was the site of the first of the two uses of the atomic bomb. Historians have debated the necessity, as have students in a classroom studying world history. Whether or not the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was necessary, on August 6, 1945, by the word of President Harry Truman, the city of Hiroshima felt the wrath of science.
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Hiroshima is synonymous with the mentality of Harry Truman; he was a simple man who saw the world in black and white. Truman was told by his advisors (Leslie Groves among them) that the dropping of the bomb would end World War II with as little American casualties as possible. Little or no talk of ethics took place, as Truman believed that the simple answer to the conflict was in the grasp of the United States. Hiroshima was the result of this “quick fix” for the war.
For the eighty thousand plus who died instantly as the extreme blast from “Little Boy” spread quickly overhead and through the streets, it was over before they knew it. This seems a merciful fate when coupled with the deaths and mutations that countless victims suffered from radiation poisoning years after the bomb fell.
So what is Hiroshima? A blunder of men, perhaps. A killer blow to fell the enemy instead of peace talks. The opening of a new era. Whatever one considers it, in finality, one must also see the whole of the bombing, what it was and what it means today.
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Hiroshima, Chugoku Region, Japan, Asia, the World
The atomic attack on Japan known as Hiroshima took place in the city of the same name. Hiroshima was destined to be the sight of the first atomic strike in history once President Roosevelt’s top military advisors were informed of the new weapon. It was left untouched during the entirety of WWII because of the U.S. Department of Defense’s desire to see and accurately measure the total destructive capabilities of their newly developed atomic bomb.
The after effects of what started in a relatively backwater region of Japan have crossed the globe in the near-60 years since Hiroshima. The atomic and nuclear bombs have made their way across all continents except Antarctica (and you can never be fully sure of that). While the dropping of the first atomic bomb took place in Hiroshima, the waves caused as a result have spanned the world.
Before it Happened
The bombing of Hiroshima did not happen overnight. The events leading up to it can be traced back nearly as far as one wants to go, but in this case to January 30, 1933, the date when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. This caused many German and Jewish scientists to flee to the Unites States out of fear for Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Many of these were the great minds that would eventually formulate and make atomic energy a reality. Leo Szilard, one such former-German scientist would place a patent on the concept of using neutrons to break apart atoms and create a chain reaction in July of 1934. Numerous discoveries and firsts occur between 1934 and lead up to the next significant date, December 6, 1941. On this date, one day before the “day that will live in infamy,” President Roosevelt signs over $2 billion to the Manhattan Project for research. Unbeknownst to his vice president, Harry Truman, the weight of this research will eventually fall onto his shoulders.
The next event, which will lead the United States to its destiny of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will serve the generation of the day most strongly in the justification of the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man. December 7, 1941, while entertaining dead-end negotiations over the acquisition of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the Japanese bomb the US naval fleet docked at the Hawaiian island. Also, the Philippines and the islands of Wake and Guam, under the control of the US Navy are bombed and occupied by the Japanese forces.
A little known event in US history is that in July 17, 1944, in a fairly important San Francisco area base, a huge explosion erupted and killed 323 men, totally disintegrated two ships and the entire length of a train stationed there. Recent declassified documents have lead to speculation of a miscalculated nuclear explosion test on US soil.
As the war escalates and the United States begins to regain its composure in the Pacific, the American forces are able to take away greater and greater victories. The US forces begin a campaign of “island hopping,” taking island after island on a route to the Japanese homeland. The fighting gets bloodier and bloodier for the Americans and a ratio emerges from the carnage: about one American will die for every two Japanese killed. The US victories in Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands in March of 1945 are the harshest-fought, as they are getting so very close to mainland Japan. The American troops begin to set up Okinawa as a base of operations for what they anticipate to be a very brutal and very bloody invasion of Japan.
On April 12, 1945, FDR dies in office and leaves the presidency to his vice, Harry Truman. For the first time, on the 25th, Truman is given word of the Manhattan Project and that General Leslie Groves had always intended it for use in Japan.
July 16, 1945, the infamous New Mexico Trinity Test, an atomic bomb is exploded in the desert with the equivalent of 18,000 tons of TNT. Accounts of the day say that some Manhattan scientists in attendance took bets as to whether or not the bomb would start a chain reaction and destroy the world on the spot. The bomb itself was said to have been transported out across the pothole-ridden dirt roads in the back of a pickup truck.
August 6, 1945, in response to Japanese heel dragging over the requisite unconditional surrender, President Truman orders the atomic bomb to be dropped over Hiroshima. The explosion completely devastates the city, annihilating square miles upon miles of buildings and the death toll to a total of around 100,000 persons.
Important Leaders During Hiroshima
Hideki Tojo: Initially a soldier in the Japanese army, he worked his way up to the rank of general, was appointed vice minister of war, minister of war, and eventually prime minister. He was the leader of Japan in title, and in practice, had more power to command than did the Emperor Hirohito. He was a supporter of Nazi Germany and like Hitler, feared the power of the communist USSR. He began to negotiate with the United States but when he was convinced that the negotiations were going nowhere, ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Emperor Hirohito: He was the man who was Japanese emperor-god during WWII. He was a man fascinated by Western culture and took a six-month tour of Europe in his youth. He was a peace-loving man, more interested in marine biology and haiku poetry. While he was in power, he was little more than a figurehead for Japan, the true power of military and state in the hands of the prime minister figure, Hideki Tojo. He called for peace, and attempted to negotiate peace via his son through Russia. On August 15, 1945, the people of Japan heard their emperor for the first time; he expressed to his people the need for their surrender, in which they must “endure the unendurable.
Harry Truman: He was president of the United States who made the final decision to use the newly contrived atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The 33rd president of the United States, he had been vice president to the renowned Franklin Delano Roosevelt up until FDR’s death. His humble beginnings as a farmer in Kansas gave him a very grounded view of life and decision-making. He saw the atomic bomb simply as a way of ending the war swiftly in order to save the lives of American troops.
General Douglas MacArthur: A military man from the cradle to the grave, MacArthur has been called “one of the protagonists of the 20th century*.” He attended West Point and from there, continued on a career of military service until he received the honor of Chief of Staff. He was in control of an air base in the Philippines, which was destroyed as the same time as Hiroshima. He fought the Japanese forces until on September 2, 1945 he oversaw the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.
The Significance of Hiroshima
The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima began a new era. It was essentially the end of the line for Japan’s imagined immunity, it was a power far greater than any weapon seen to that date, and it was the end of World War II. In doing the above, it established the United States as the nation with the biggest stick and made the Soviet Union want to take that stick away. This would be otherwise known as the beginning of the Cold War.
Hiroshima unleashed a new threat to humankind. Using the power of the atom, something so small that it cannot be seen to annihilate whole cities and eventually continents, warfare evolved into an ordeal where the whole world was at stake at once instead of a region. Any nuclear war now has the potential to destroy the entire human race, as we know it.
On the positive side, the secrets revealed with the atom were used to create a new and relatively clean energy source. As Einstein had pressured FDR in his letter
(located in the Primary sources section), the development of nuclear powered energy plants has vastly improved life (if electricity is considered an improvement; some might argue that) for people around the world and within the United States.
Memorable Quotes from WWII-Pacific/Hiroshima
• Winston Churchill in regards to the atomic bomb:
“We seemed suddenly to have become possessed of a merciful abridgement of the slaughter in the Far East… To bring the war to an end, to avoid indefinite butchery, to give peace to the world, to lay a healing hand upon its people by a manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance.”
• President Truman in regards to the dropping of “Little Boy” on Hiroshima:
“…We have used it to shorten the agony of war, in order to save thousands and thousands of Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s capacity to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us.”
•Unknown petty Italian officer visiting Japan after alliance is sealed:
“For Americans, it is the dollar that is the moving spirit. They cannot win.”
• Emperor Hirohito’s announcement to the Japanese people of acceptance of Potsdam Conference:
“Despite the best that has been done by everyone, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage… In order to avoid further bloodshed, perhaps even the total extermination of human civilization, we shall have to endure the unendurable, to suffer the insufferable.”
• Dwight Eisenhower, interview in Newsweek, 11/11/63
“…The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
• Herbert Hoover, reportedly addressing President Truman:
“I am convinced that if you, as President, will make a short-wave broadcast to the people of Japan – tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists – you’ll get a peace in Japan – you’ll have both wars over.”