Welcome to the fourth installment of “Of the Week” on my blog. This time I’ve chosen to do the Historical Event of the week, when I’ll discuss a historical event that had an anniversary over the past week. Today’s feature will discuss one of the seminal moments in human history:
On August 6th, and August 9th, 1945, the United States of America struck Japan with two atomic bombs, ushering in the Atomic Era. B-29s flying from Alaska dropped the newly devastating weapons, obliterating both targets. The two nuclear weapons were the extent of the American nuclear arsenal, but they appeared to be all that was needed. By August 15th, Japan transmitted its willingness to surrender.
Japan, of course, was already in quite the pickle at the time. The massive and battle-hardened (and utterly vicious) Soviet Army had been unleashed on Japan’s puppet Manchukuo (aka Manchuria). The fleet of USAAF B-29s flying from Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa had levelled several Japanese cities with a campaign of firebombing. To all appearances, those Japanese who favoured peace had been ousted from power.
When Okinawa fell, there was no further obstacles to an American invasion of mainland Japan, an invasion that made even the most bloodthirsty US generals more than a little anxious. The vicious campaign for Okinawa had demonstrated the Japanese capacity for defense; despite overwhelming Allied forces and firepower, the defenders of Okinawa had killed or wounded 50,000 Americans while still managing to die nearly to a man.
This may not represent the reality of the situation; some historians have stated that the resistant Japanese psyche was crumbling, and they may have yielded before the invasion of Japan eventually came, or shortly after that invasion. Such historians point to the force already being brought against the island of Japan as evidence that the Japanese would have given in. Truman wanted to use nukes to avoid the huge amount of casualties that would have occurred in the case of a mainland invasion; the generals wanted to test the bombs to see how effective they were in neutralizing enemy hard targets before an invasion.
Since the date, people have accused the United States of being cruel or overly violent. I am disinclined to believe such things; war is a time of unnecessary cruelty in general, and the unnecessary cruelty of Japan’s empire is very well documented. In addition, the US had already inflicted hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries to Japanese civilians in their vicious firebombing campaign, essentially destroying most of the built-up areas on the main islands already. What Truman was hoping for was that the immense shock and awe of the bombs forcing the Japanese to capitulate.
Hiroshima was destroyed on August 6th. The United States waited three days for a response to their demand for surrender; on the 9th, Nagasaki was destroyed. The cities have since been rebuilt but both city cores were utterly obliterated. Somewhere in the range of 110,000-150,000 people were instantly killed, with perhaps as many as half a million more dying of radiation over the next ten years.
Criticism of this ultimate weapon continues to this day; my opinion is not important. But I hope that this interests you enough to further educate yourself on these two days, seared by atomic fire into the fabric of our combined history.
“If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
-Translation of the Bhagavad Gita as recalled by J. Robert Oppenheimer, as he watched the first atomic bomb explode.