Today marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima by the USA on August 6, 1945 during World War II. It was the world’s first deployment of an atomic weapon and it killed 80,000 people instantly, with tens of thousands dying later of radiation exposure.
On August 9, three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki which killed 40,000 people.
These bombs ultimately brought about the end of the war in the Pacific with Japan, with Emperor Hirohito declaring unconditional surrender given the deployment of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
According to History.com, by the time of the successful atomic test – a plutonium device – in Trinity, New Mexico, had been staged, and in which the Allied powers had already defeated Germany in Europe, the Japanese had vowed to fight to the bitter end in the Pacific, despite little chance of succeeding. In late July, Japan’s militarist government rejected the Allied demand for surrender put forth in the Potsdam Declaration, which threatened the Japanese with “prompt and utter destruction” if they refused.
The president of the United States at that time was Harry Truman, and despite many top military commanders favouring the continuation of conventional bombing of Japan, he decided–over the moral reservations of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, General Dwight Eisenhower and a number of the Manhattan Project scientists–to use the atomic bomb in the hopes of bringing the war to a quick end. Proponents of the A-bomb–such as James Byrnes, Truman’s secretary of state–believed that its devastating power would not only end the war, but also put the U.S. in a dominant position to determine the course of the post-war world, according to an article by History.com.
According to reports on the ground at Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped, there was a brilliant flash of light that turned the sky white, followed by a loud booming sound. Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay B-29 bomber that dropped the 10,000 pound atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, was 30 years old at the time, never expressed any regret over his involvement during his lifetime (he died in 2007), stating that it was his patriotic duty. A fascinating interview with Tibbets was conducted by NPR before his death and you can read it here.
Asked by NPR what it felt like when the 5-ton bomb dropped out of the plane, Tibbets said: "The nose lurched up — I mean it lurched dramatically — because if you immediately let 10,000 pounds out of the front, the nose has got to fly up. We made our turn, we leveled out, and at the time that that happened I saw the sky in front of me light up brilliantly with all kinds of colors.
"At the same time I felt the taste of lead in my mouth. And where we had seen the city on the way in, I (now) saw nothing but a bunch of boiling debris with fire and smoke and all of that kind of stuff. It was devastating to take a look at it."
And from the ground below, Hiroshima survivor Takashi Tanemori, who witnessed the bomb as a child, who lost his entire family and his eyesight as an adult as a consequence of the bombing, describes in this article how he managed to find forgiveness after decades of anger.
“A flash came; the sky turned the purest white. I cannot describe it,” Tanemori recalled. He was 8 at the time and remembers playing a game of hide and seek with other young boys,” he told the Mercury News.
He heard the anguished cries of his classmates: “I’m burning! Come help me!” And then, he said, the cries grew silent. You can read Tanemori’s recollection here.
While a very challenging and distressing period of history to recount, it also marks a critical turning point in history with the advent of the nuclear arms race which continues relentlessly until today.