Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki Signpost

Little Boy’s big mistake

People pray for the atomic bomb victims at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: ‘å À—õ

The last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima...has died. - July 29, 2014.

Japan marked the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. About 45,000 people stood for a minute of silence at the ceremony in Hiroshima’s Peace Park near the epicentre of the 1945 attack that killed up to 140,000 people. - August 6, 2014

Between April and May in 1945, World War II was almost coming to an end with the surrender of Germany to the Allied forces in Europe. However, in the Pacific, Japan was still holding out fighting against the American forces and refusing to surrender.

On July 16, 1945 a group of scientists in Manhattan, the U.S. successfully tested the first atomic bomb in New Mexico. Later that month, the heads of the Allied powers – American President Harry Truman, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British PM Clement Atlee - issued the Potsdam declaration to the Japanese government to ‘surrender unconditionally’. When Japan refused to do so, the U.S. decided to use their newly acquired weapon - the atom bomb - to bring an end to the war.

The "Enola Gay" Boeing B-29 Superfortress lands after the U.S. atomic bombing mission in Japanese city of Hiroshima.

The "Enola Gay" Boeing B-29 Superfortress lands after the U.S. atomic bombing mission in Japanese city of Hiroshima.   | Photo Credit: Max Desfor

On August6, 1945 the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, specifically modified to carry the 9000-pound atom bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ flew over Hirsohima, a manufacturing city of around 350,000 people on Japan’s Honshu island and dropped the bomb around 8.15 a.m. What followed was a massive explosion, equivalent to burning around 15,000 tons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT), that rocked Hiroshima. A huge purple cloud rose over the city, killing nearly 70,000 people immediately and an equal number of them in the next few days.

Even before Japan could make sense of the destruction, on August 9, 1945 the second bomb - bigger and more powerful weighing around 10,000 pounds - nicknamed ‘Fat Man’ was dropped by the crew of Bockscar at Nagasaki, located on the island of Kyushu, at 11.02 a.m. While the initial target for the second bomb was the city of Kokura, the target was changed to Nagasaki at the last minute owing to cloudy weather over Kokura.

Nestled in the Urakami valley and surrounded by mountains, Nagasaki, unlike Hiroshima, was able to restrict the devastation owing to its terrain. At least 50,000 people were killed in the explosion but later statistics revealed that more were killed due to exposure to radiation.

The bombings effectively crippled Japan and on August 15, 1945 Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced its surrender in a radio broadcast. The war, lasting for nearly six tumultuous years, finally came to an end. While the WWII, as a whole, triggered widespread devastation and death, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in a sense heralded a new beginning in world history - the nuclear arms race.

Many critics believe that Harry Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs in Japan was a way of showing the Soviet Union the U.S.’s capabilities in modern warfare and weaponry. It was also said to be the best and quickest solution to ending the six-year long war. Critics also feel that in some ways the bombings also justified the U.S.’s persistence in funding the costly ‘Manhattan Project’.

Some believe it was the U.S.’s answer to Japan’s bombing Pearl Harbour in 1941.

As for Japan, picking up the pieces after the bombings has been a difficult exercise. The scars have manifested physically and emotionally. Eyewitness accounts of dead found in crushed buildings, people walking with scarred and burned tissue immediately following the bombing have been documented. Several died within a few weeks due to radiation exposure and in the years that followed, a high rate of birth defects, cancers and tumours were noted among the people.

Today, sixty-nine years later, while much of the two cities have been rebuilt, a portion of Hiroshima now called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park remains as it did after the bombing - a reminder of what nuclear power could unleash over mankind. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have been the first and only time atomic bombs have been used in a war.

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