Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hiroshima / Nagasaki

This week is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many of you will see/hear mention made of this noteworthy anniversary in the public media, but please consider with me some of the facts and interpretations of those tragic events.

The first ever atomic bomb dropped in warfare was at 8:15 (local time) on the morning of August 6, 1945. Although not nearly as many people were killed that day as in the firebombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, the use of the atomic bomb ushered in a terrible new age of warfare.
The firebombing of Tokyo was carried out by 279 airplanes, but in Hiroshima one bomb dropped from one airplane instantly killed from 70,000 to 80,000 people. And unlike the bombs up until this time, the atomic bombs caused “radiation sickness” that resulted in the death of more people than were killed instantly.


Just three days later, on August 9, shortly after 11:00 a.m. the second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. About 40,000 people died there that day. The combined death toll from the two bombs, however, was considerably over 200,000 by the end of 1945.

After all these years, the debate about the use of those two atomic bombs continues. Last month I heard a talk by American historian Richard Frank at the Truman Library in Independence. Frank, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999), was emphatic in his insistence that both atomic bombs were completely necessary for ending the Pacific War.

By contrast, Australian historian Paul Ham concludes his book Hiroshima, Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath (2011) with these words:
At the time of war, people will applaud any story their government feeds them. Americans continue to swear blind [sic] that the bombs alone ended the war; that they were America’s ‘least abhorrent’ choice. These are plainly false propositions, salves to uneasy consciences over what was actually done on 6 and 9 August 1945 when, under a summer sky without warning, hundreds of thousands of civilian men, women and children felt the sun fall on their heads (p. 510).
Takashi Nagai (1908-1951)
One of the most intriguing personal accounts of a survivor of the bombings is that left by Takashi Nagai, a medical doctor and professor at the Nagasaki Medical College near the epicenter of the atomic explosion. His first-hand account is found in The Bells of Nagasaki (Japanese, 1949; English, 1984).

Paul Glynn’s Song for Nagasaki (1989) is an excellent biography about Dr. Nagai. Reading the experiences of this devout Christian doctor gives a much different perspective of the atomic bomb from what is usually heard in this country.
Fortunately, no nuclear device has been used in military action since 1945, and for that we can be most grateful. But vigilance is required by the peoples of the world. Perhaps the most frightening realization is that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons—and most probably Israel as well.

And a large number of nukes still remain in Russia--and in the arsenal of Pres. Putin. The Federation of American Scientists reports that Russia now has a stockpile of approximately 4,500 nuclear warheads, including nearly 1,800 strategic warheads deployed on missiles and at bomber bases. And the U.S., the only country to drop atomic bombs in warfare, has about 4,760 with 2,080 deployed.

So, as we think back to the horrors of 1945, let’s continue to cry out with people of conscience around the world, No More Hiroshimas, No More Nagasakis!

13 comments:

  1. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard once again shares significant comments:

    "The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was based on the expectation that the bombings would end the war without any additional American deaths, as indeed it did. But one wonders if a less horrific end could have been arranged.

    "The Japanese navy was down to one ship and the army more or less decimated. The Home Defense force may have been a serious obstacle if we had invaded Japan. Perhaps a naval blockade would have brought an end to the war, but this could have extended the war for many months or longer. It is a difficult and complicated question.

    "As for existing nuclear weapon stockpiles, they seem to be ridiculously excessive. How many warheads are required to destroy another country, even one the size of Russia? I would much prefer that our leaders work tirelessly to reduce the number of nuclear weapons with the goal of eventually eliminating them. But this goal will probably require an effective mechanism to resolve international conflicts peacefully so that nations are not tempted to go to war in the first place."

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    1. There is so much talk, and fear in some circles, about Iran developing an atomic bomb. But I am far more fearful right now because of the nuclear bombs that Russia, and Pakistan, and Israel already have than about a bomb that Iran might possibly make 10 or 15 years from now.

      Why aren't people, especially the Republicans in Congress, so obsessed with the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon and, seemingly, so unconcerned about the thousands of such weapons that already exist in the world and in the arsenal of those who are not our friends?

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    2. "The Japanese navy was down to one ship" , could you please source this for me. "and the army more or less decimated". Totally false! On August 15, 1945 the Japanese military still had millions of well armed soldiers in both mainland Asia an in Japan. The Imperial Japanese Army basically survived the war intact, which was in stark contrast to the fate of the German Army.

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  2. A local Thinking Friend sent me an email with the following comments:

    "If the atomic bomb was not used, I was told the other option was invading Japan. This was predicted to have a tremendous loss of life. I wonder if anyone has researched the plans for this invasion. That might put the use of the A-bomb in a different perspective."

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    1. There definitely were plans to invade Kyushu, the island on which Nagasaki is located, scheduled tentatively for Nov. 1, 1945, and then to invade the main island near Tokyo on March 1, 1946.

      Some reports indicate that Pres. Truman was reluctant to approve such invasions because of the potential loss of life on both sides.

      But there were other alternatives to both invasion and dropping the atomic bombs. For example, blockade of supplies getting into Japan was a possible option for forcing the war's end.

      Of course, the easiest way was probably to have agreed earlier to allow the Emperor to remain at the head of the nation and not tried as a war criminal. That was agreed to after the bombing of Nagasaki, but if the same thing had been done earlier there is reason to believe that Japan would have surrendered before August 6--or sometime in August without the dropping of the atomic bombs.

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    2. A good book on the subject of the challenges to end the war is: Japan's Longest Day by The Pacific War Research Society. The bombing of Hiroshima is a reminder that once war begins, the outcome can be terrible – especially for women and children. Today is a reminder that we need to promote peace. The challenge is how to promote peace in the face of great evil in the world. There are no easy answers.
      I worked in Hiroshima and my hotel was 1 block from the Peace Park where the bomb was dropped. Very moving to go to that park and consider the destruction and suffering. I went to the Etajima Museum of Naval History outside of Hiroshima where the first room is dedicated to the Navy's special attack forces. It has a long bronze tablet on one wall, and the placard in front says that inscribed on the tablet are "2,633 names of members of the kamikaze special attack http://www.kamikazeimages.net/museums/etajima/index.htm
      On my trip back to the US, I stopped in Hawaii and visited Pearl Harbor. Each place told a part of the story of a war that caused such great suffering. It highlights the need to work for peace. I echo the words of George Washington “My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.”

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    3. Doug, I have been to Pearl Harbor and to the Peace Parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki several times, but I have not been to, and did not know about, the Etajima Museum of Naval History. Thanks for writing about--and linking to--it.

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  3. I'm half way through Song for Nagasaki based on your recommendation last Sunday. It's a moving story well written.

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    1. Clif finished reading the book and posted a fine review of it on Goodreads (at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1356714916?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1).

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  4. In July of 2008 I studied abroad at Seinan Gakuin University. During that month I had the opportunity to visit Nagasaki, and while there visited the Atomic Bomb Museum. I remember reading the various stories and accounts, and seeing the pictures of so many victims, and not just the victims of physical harm, but the victims of broken hearts; the victims who suffered the loss of loved ones. I don't remember many specific pictures or many specific stories from that day I visited the museum. What I do remember very clearly is the feeling I had inside; the emotions that I felt as I walked through the silent rooms. Here I was, an American, walking through a museum that is only there because of a horrible act done by my own country. I remember wrestling with my own thoughts inside, wondering if what I had been told was true; that if it wasn't for the bombings, more lives would have been lost. By the end of my tour I came to the conclusion that the decision of killing so many lives in one swift act to possibly save (American) lives was not right nor necessary. May some day not only the use of nuclear weapons, but of all weapons, be mentioned only in history books and museums.

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    1. Thanks, Les, for sharing this -- and I certainly join you in your closing hope/prayer.

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  5. For the record, Paul Ham is not a historian. The book cited above , while very lengthy , seems to be just an aggregation of secondary sources and is riddled with errors.

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  6. @LKS In reference to your post of August 6, 2015,, the US never agreed to allow the Emperor to remain as the head of the nation. They Byne's note made it specifically clear to the Japanese government that SCAP would be the head of the nation after the surrender. Also the US decision not to try the Emperor as a war criminal came well after Japan's decision to surrender.

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