|Day of Infamy||Go for Broke||Remembering Iwo Jima||Hiroshima|
|What is Love?||Great Nations of the Great Plains||Army vs Navy|
A Noiseless Flash . . . and then the fire
Seventy-one years ago today, on Monday, August 6, 1945, at exactly 8:15 am, the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, immediately killing 70,000 people, including 20,000 Japanese soldiers and 20,000 Korean slave laborers. Within four months, injury and radiation brought the total number of deaths to 90,000–166,000. The population of Hiroshima before the bombing was about 350,000. Nearly 80% of the city’s buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was the first time that a nuclear weapon was ever dropped on a city.
Hiroshima was the primary target that day, with Kokura and Nagasaki as alternative targets. At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a significant industrial and military city, the headquarters of the defense of all of southern Japan, exactly where the Allied invasion of Japan was expected.
The “Little Boy” atomic bomb contained 141 lbs of uranium-235. It took 44.4 seconds to fall from the Enola Gay flying at 31,000 feet to a detonation height of 1,900 feet above the city. The radius of total destruction was 1 mile. The resulting firestorm incinerated 4.7 square miles of Hiroshima’s tiled roofed, wood and paper civilian homes. The Enola Gay continued to fly for two minutes after dropping the bomb, and was 11.5 miles away from the immediate target area when the crew felt the shock waves from the blast upon detonation. The pilot told reporters, “It was hard to believe what we saw.” The co-pilot said, “The men aboard with me gasped ‘My God’ . . . the whole thing was tremendous and awe-inspiring.”
On the ground, an instant flash of white light, a sheet of the sun, cut across the sky from east to west, from the city toward the hills. Almost no one in Hiroshima recalled hearing any sound, but people 20 miles away heard the tremendous detonation. A huge plume of smoke and dust rose into the sky, a turbulent column of dust, heat, and fission fragments, turning the morning into darkness. Children asked, “Why is it night already? Why did our house fall down?”
Japanese atomic bomb survivors are called “hibakusha” ( ), a word that means “explosion-affected people.” Eizō Nomura, who was in the basement of a reinforced concrete building only 560 feet from ground-zero, the hypocenter, at the time of the detonation, was the closest known survivor. He lived into his 80s. A woman, Akiko Takakura, who had been in the solidly built Bank of Hiroshima only 980 feet from the hypocenter at the time of the detonation, was also among the closest known survivors. Soldiers from the undamaged Hiroshima Ujina Harbor used suicide boats, intended to repel the expected American invasion of Japan, to collect the wounded and take them down the rivers to the military hospital at Ujina. Trucks and trains brought in relief supplies and evacuated survivors from the city.
Twelve American airmen were imprisoned at the Chugoku Military Police Headquarters located 1,300 feet from the hypocenter of the detonation. Ten of the Americans were killed instantly. Two of the airmen were later executed by their captors. Two other American prisoners, badly injured by the bombing, were left next to the Aioi Bridge by the Kempei Tai, where they were stoned to death. Eight other U.S. prisoners of war, held in Hiroshima Castle and scheduled to be executed as part of a medical experimental program, were reported killed in the atomic blast. One year earlier, on August 1, 1944, the Japanese War Ministry had ordered the execution of Allied prisoners of war when a POW camp was in a combat zone.
After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Japanese government did not react. Senior government leaders actually decided to subject the Japanese people to future atomic bomb attacks, acknowledging, “There would be more destruction, but the war would go on.” Emperor Hirohito, the government, and the war council did not consider surrender. Instead, they began preparations to impose martial law on the nation to stop anyone from attempting to make peace.
President Harry Truman warned the Japanese government: “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.”
The Japanese port of Nagasaki was the primary target of the second nuclear bombing of a city on Thursday, August 9, 1945. At 11:01 am, the nuclear weapon “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki by an American B-29 bomber, the Bockscar. The “Fat Man” weapon, contained a core of 14 lbs of plutonium, and was dropped over Nagasaki’s industrial valley. Forty-seven seconds after being released, the “Fat Man” exploded 1,650 feet above a tennis court halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south of the city and the Nagasaki Arsenal in the north, nearly 1.9 miles northwest of the planned hypocenter. The blast was confined to the Urakami Valley and a major portion of Nagasaki was protected by surrounding hills. The detonation was equivalent to 21 kilotons of high explosives, and generated heat estimated at 7,050 °F and winds estimated at 624 mph.
Other atomic bombs were made ready for use on August 19, 1945, with three more in September and a further three in October. On August 10, a memorandum stated that “the next bomb … should be ready for delivery on the first suitable weather after 17 or 18 August.”
Even after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, Japan’s war council still refused to surrender, and Emperor Hirohito issued orders to “quickly control the situation . . . because the Soviet Union has declared war against us.” On August 10, a day after the bombing of Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Hirohito ordered his advisers to write a surrender speech. On August 12, the Emperor informed the imperial family of his decision to surrender, because he interpreted the Allied terms of surrender to allow the principle of “kokutai” (the preservation of the Throne) to remain intact.
Hirohito’s surrender announcement was broadcast to the Japanese nation on August 15, 1945, in which the Emperor stated, “. . . the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization . . . how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.”
Two days later, on August 17, in the Emperor’s explanation to the Japanese armed forces, Hirohito stressed the Soviet invasion of Japanese controlled Manchuria as his primary decision to surrender, omitting any mention of the atomic bombs. In his meeting with General MacArthur on September 27, Hirohito did not mention that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was the main reason for surrender. Instead, he gave three other reasons: Tokyo’s defenses would not be complete before the Allied invasion of the Japanese homeland, Ise Shrine would be lost to the Americans, and atomic weapons deployed by the Americans would lead to the death of the entire Japanese race. Despite the Soviet invasion, Hirohito never mentioned the Soviets as a factor for surrender.
On September 2, 1945, the formal surrender of Japan to the Allies was signed on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The Pacific War was finally over.
World War II Japanese soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are among the fiercest and most self sacrificing combatants in all of world history. During the first year of the Pacific War, Japanese fighting men viciously rampaged over their enemies throughout the Pacific with unbelievable cruelty. During the last three and a half years of the war, however, the Japanese military was violently hammered and thoroughly beaten into submission in almost every battle. Bypassed on isolated islands without any hope of rescue, Japanese fighting men refused to surrender, and fought to die, even as western fighting men fought to live.
Japanese civilians in the home islands knew full well that when their men left home for war, they never came back. In the final months of the Pacific War, during the desperate defense of islands like Guam, Tinian, Saipan and Okinawa, Japanese civilians refused to surrender, and instead killed their own children and committed suicide, rather than surrender and accept the care of American soldiers and marines.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led directly to the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, and undoubtedly saved the lives of many hundreds of thousands of people on both sides during Operation Downfall, the Allied invasion of Japan, planned for November 1945.
President Truman’s 1955 memoirs mentioned that the atomic bomb probably saved half a million U.S. lives. Secretary of War Henry Stimson spoke of saving one million American casualties. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said the atomic bombings of Japan saved one million American lives and half a million British lives. Others spoke of outcomes that might have ended the war without an invasion of Japan, but all other outcomes would have certainly resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of thousands more Japanese.
Consider this: If the hundreds of thousands of World War II great grandfathers of today’s younger generations in America and Europe and Japan had not survived the Pacific War to live and raise families, many of us, perhaps as many as half of us, would never have been born at all.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually saved hundreds of thousands of Allied and Japanese lives. As it turned out, the invasion of Japan, planned for November 1945, never happened. The anticipated huge number of deaths of Allied soldiers who were expected to be killed fighting door-to-door against fanatical defenders all across Japan, never happened. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the surrender of Japan before the invasion could take place.
If those men of the Greatest Generation, who were in their 20s in 1945, had not lived and instead were killed, their children and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren would never have been born, and would not be alive today.
As far as I can tell, none of us is here by accident. Each of us is meant to be here just as we are. To have been born, to be alive, is to have been chosen by the Maker of All Things by our own names to share in the majesty of His creation, and to fulfill His purposes for each of us in this world.
We in America owe our freedom to the men and women of the Greatest Generation, to those who were in their 20s during World War II, to those who went into harm’s way to fight for others who could not fight for themselves.
In the silence of early morning, in the presence of the surrounding mountains near my home that hold this valley as if in protective hands, I stood in grateful memory to honor my ancestors and their friends and fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.
I thought of my father and my uncles, some of whom fought in harm’s way in the Pacific War. They fought against those in front of them to protect those around them and defend those behind them. I feel profound respect for those who are brave, and great honor and reverence for those who have fallen.
Who do you remember on a day like this? What would you fight for?