The Nuclear Age: The 75th Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima

Seventy-five years ago today, August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The five ton uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” detonated at an altitude of 2,000 feet with a force of fifteen kilotons of TNT. 70,000 people died in an instant, with over 200,000 total estimated casualties due to burns and lingering illnesses caused by radiation poisoning.

The city of Hiroshima had been chosen because of its importance to the Japanese war effort as a supply and logistics base, a major communications and weapons manufacturing center, and a key shipping port for the resupply of Japanese forces. Additionally, it had not been previously targeted during conventional bombing raids of the Japanese mainland, and was thought to be the best site to test the efficacy of the newly developed weapon.

Then President Harry S. Truman authorized the air strike to end the war and save American lives. The war in the Pacific had raged on for four years, and the Japanese Emperor in concert with his military leaders was preparing to mobilize the entire country to defend the home islands. Casualty projections for an invasion of the mainland were estimated at another half-million leaving Truman to deliberate prolonging the war and suffering or using a weapon that had the potential to bring about immediate unconditional surrender.

Ethical and legal debate over the use of the device is still being debated today. However, even with the unprecedented destruction and loss of lives at Hiroshima, Japan refused to surrender which led to the decision to drop a second bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” August 9th, 1945 on the city of Nagasaki.  Another 80,000 Japanese citizens perished.

Today, the skeletal remains of the former Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall houses the Peace Memorial Museum, “a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by mankind.” Aging survivors known as Hibakusha (now in their 80’s and fast disappearing from public consciousness) retell their stories to keep alive their memories of  unimaginable destruction and human suffering in the hope that nuclear weapons will never again be used.

The development of nuclear weapons and their proliferation around the world has significantly expanded since the Japanese surrender August 15th, 1945. There are an estimated 145,000 weapons in existence today with nine countries officially listed as possessing the ability to carry out a nuclear attack: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

Given that these weapons are far more powerful than those first two dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us hope and pray that the leaders of those governments resolve to negotiate and settle differences diplomatically, or worst case use conventional warfare, rather than relying on their nuclear arsenals.