The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings Remembered
On August 9, another B-29, Bockscar, set out for the Kokura Arsenal on the southwest Japanese island of Kyushu. Foul weather, however, persuaded the pilot to proceed instead toward Nagasaki, the home of a Mitsubishi torpedo factory. Over this secondary target Bockscar dropped a larger device, code-named "Fat Man." Local geography spared Nagasaki from the near total devastation suffered by Hiroshima; only one third of the city was destroyed.
|"In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose." |
–J. Robert Oppenheimer
A much more complex implosion-type device triggered Fat Man. It consisted of a plutonium core surrounded by high explosives wired to explode simultaneously. The shock waves from these conventional explosions triggered the fission of the plutonium, which yielded a 22 kiloton explosion.
The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a devastating psychological impact on the already weakened Japanese. Emperor Hirohito accepted the U.S.' terms of surrender on August 14. On September 2, Japan signed an official declaration of surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.
The decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki—the first and last use of atomic weapons in combat—remains one of the most controversial in military history. Altogether, the two bombings killed an estimated 110,000 Japanese citizens and injured another 130,000. By 1950, another 230,000 Japanese had died from injuries or radiation. Though the two cities were nominally military targets, the overwhelming majority of the casualties were civilian.
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Some suggest that Truman, fearing a Soviet attempt to dominate the postwar Asian order as it had the Eastern European, ordered the bombing to force Japan's surrender before Russia had the chance to enter the fray (and thus earn the right to affect the peace settlement). Truman may also have wanted to intimidate his potential rival Stalin with the United States' new destructive capability.
Whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki constituted a needless tragedy or a prudent military decision will never be certain. Those who made the decision, as well as most of the survivors, are long gone. The effects, though—the lingering scourge of radiation, the memory of the ghastly civilian casualties, the psychological impact of simply knowing that such a destructive force exists—remain. One can only hope that those who now wield the tools of armageddon will remember the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a long time to come.