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70 years ago, a lot of lives changed…

August 5, 2015

Seventy years ago, over 300,000 people died due to the immediate or delayed effects of nuclear bombs.   As the author John Hersey wrote: “What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it’s been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima [and Nagasak].”  I think most people would agree with that.

In 1945, these two horrific events were credited with incentivising a stubborn Japan to surrender to the Allies and essentially end World War II. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 15 1945.

Two bombs were prepared, by the US military – different sorts as scientists were interested to test which type of bomb was the most effective:

  • A plutonium based bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, by the B29 Superfortress bomber ‘Enola Gay’. 90% of the city was destroyed and 80,000 people died immediately of whom about 20,000 were soldiers.  A similar number were injured and thousands more died later or had long-term effects due to radiation such as birth defects.
  • A uranium based, more powerful bomb nicknamed ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th 1945, by the B29 Superfortress bomber ‘Bockscar’.  An area about 2.3 miles by 1.9 miles was destroyed, but the topography of the city saved much of it.  In 1953, a report by the US Strategic Bombing Survey put the number of deaths at 35,000, wounded at 60,000 and 5,000 missing. Later, the Nagasaki Prefectural Office put the figure for deaths alone at 87,000.


Hiroshima, Japan’s eighth-largest city of some 350,000 people, was selected as the first target. Nagasaki was not the first choice of secondary target but, on the day, first choice Kokura had extensive cloud cover and so was passed over.

There are many who look at the horror inflicted upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki and conclude that not only was it wrong but therefore, almost by definition, unnecessary. Journalist Eric Schlosser says “The real adamant opponents of nuclear weapons argue that they’ve never had any use whatsoever,” he says, “that they didn’t help to end the second world war, that they didn’t prevent the Soviets from overrunning Europe, and I don’t agree with that. I think that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably sped the end of the war. I think that in the absence of nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union would have had hegemony over western Europe.”  He points out that the Japanese killed an estimated 1 million Chinese civilians with chemical and biological weapons alone, and altogether killed between “10 and 15 million people in what is now considered an Asian holocaust”. So the Japanese leadership’s willingness to kill was not to be doubted, nor its determination to defend the country against invasion. All of which means that those who say the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands more soldiers and civilians have, at the least, a respectable point. “But,” adds Schlosser, “I’m not celebrating it or saying it was justified.”  Read full article

If you would like to know more, there are some good non-fiction resources available at the library including “Hiroshima, Nagasaki” by Paul Ham, “Yoko’s diary: the life of a young girl in Hiroshima during WWII” by Yoko Moriwaki, and “Japan 1945: from Operation Downfall to Hiroshima and Nagasaki” by Clayton Chun.










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