Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the End of the War in the Pacific

There were a number of factors that led to the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. Among those factors were the U.S. insistence on Japan’s unconditional surrender; the fact that the Japanese, who venerated the Emperor as a god, would not allow him to admit defeat; and, the knowledge that to a Japanese soldier surrendering or being taken alive was the biggest dishonor (“Ikite kaeru koto o nozomazu” (“We do not wish to return alive.”) (Sakamoto, p. 218, also p. 291). Thus, the Japanese would defend the home islands with even more fanatical intensity than they defended other Pacific islands and that would consequently cost a huge amount of lives. Rather than risk the loss of an untold amount of American troops, estimated to perhaps be in the millions, President Truman, who took over for Roosevelt upon his death in April 1945, chose to use the atomic alternative.

The atomic bomb had been developed by American scientists as part of the Manhattan Project. President Roosevelt, based in part on the advice of Albert Einstein, was convinced that the Nazis might develop an atomic bomb, so he inaugurated a small nuclear research program in 1939 and placed it under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers. Though it eventually included over 30 different research and production sites, the Manhattan Project was chiefly carried out in three secret scientific locations: Hanford, Washington, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The team of researchers included J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Einstein and Leo Szilard. Oppenheimer was the director of the project. In 1942, Enrico Fermi, Nobel Prize winner, produced the first chain reaction in uranium under the University of Chicago’s football stadium.

The Manhattan Project produced three bombs: the first bomb was known as “Gadget” and was used as a test model. The test of the atomic bomb was conducted on Monday, July 16, 1945 in the New Mexico desert. The heat generated by the blast was 4 times the temperature at the center of the sun. It blew out windows in houses more than 200 miles away, and killed every living creature within a mile. Due to the enormous expense and slow production rates for explosive material, no further tests were conducted. The second bomb, known as “Little Boy” was detonated over the city of Hiroshima, and the third bomb, “Fat Man”, was detonated over the city of Nagasaki.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was the site of the first atomic explosion. The bomb was delivered by the B-29 plane Enola Gay, piloted by Paul Tibbets. Paul Tibbets named his plane after his mother. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.

“The Enola Gay”, written and sung by Utah Phillips, from album entitled I’ve Got To Know (https://youtu.be/yp3Yp8g4YDU)

Look out, look out from your schoolroom window,
Look up young children from your play,
Wave your hand at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay.

It’s many a mile from the Utah desert,
To Tinian Island far away,
Standing guard by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay.

High above the clouds in the sunlit silence,
So peaceful here, I’d like to stay,
But there’s many a pilot who would swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay.

What is that sound high above my city?
I rush outside and search the sky.
Now we are running to find the shelter.
The air raid sirens start to cry.

What will I say when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay.

Look out, look out from your schoolroom window,
Look up, young children from your play,
Your bright young eyes will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay.

I turn to see the fireball rising,
“My God, My God” all I can say,
I hear a voice within me crying,
My mother’s name was Enola Gay.

Look out, look out from your schoolroom window,
Look up, young children from your play;
When you see those war planes flying,
Each one is named Enola Gay.

Hiroshima’s devastation failed to elicit immediate Japanese surrender, and on August 9 Major Charles Sweeney flew another B-29 bomber, Bockscar, from Tinian Island. Thick clouds over the primary target, the city of Kokura, drove Sweeney to his secondary target, Nagasaki, where the plutonium bomb “Fat Man” was dropped at 11:02 that morning. More powerful than the bomb used at Hiroshima, the bomb weighed nearly 10,000 pounds and was built to produce a 22-kiloton blast. The topography of Nagasaki, which was nestled in narrow valleys between mountains, reduced the bomb’s effect, limiting the destruction to 2.6 square miles. An estimated 40,000 people were killed.

Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”

With respect to the “The Blast that Shook the World”, the editors of The Story of America commented: “Now that the nuclear genie has been let out of the bottle, the world can never be the same. We know today that the challenge to the intelligence and compassion of mankind is basically different from anything ever encountered before. How we meet this grave challenge will determine our very survival.” (Reader’s Digest, p. 355)

“I Come and Stand at Every Door”, This poem by Nâzım Hikmet was put to music by Pete Seeger in 1962 (https://youtu.be/Im3oxaQ3Ong); the best known version of the song is the one recorded four years later by The Byrds in their “5th Dimension” LP (1965). (https://youtu.be/IYxwQCqHkRw) .

I come and stand at every door
But no one hears my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead.

I’m only seven although I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow.

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind.

I need no fruit, I need no rice
I need no sweet, nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead, for I am dead.