For the past several days here, and for more to come, I am counting down the days to the atomic bombing of Japan (August 6 and August 9, 1945), marking events from the same day in 1945. I've written hundreds of article and three books and e-books on the subject: Hiroshima in America (with Robert Jay Lifton), Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).
Also on Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General Curtis LeMay to make the call. At 3:30 p.m., in an air-conditioned bomb assembly hut, the five-ton bombias loaded (gently) on to a trailer. Crew members scribbled words onto the bomb in crayon, including off-color greetings for the Japanese. Pulled by a tractor, accompanied by a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles, the new weapon arrives at the North Field and is lowered into the bomb pit.
The bomb is still not armed. The man who would do, before takeoff, according to plan, had other ideas, fearing that the extra-heavy B-29 might crash on takeoff and taking with it "half the island." He asked if he could arm the bomb in flight, and spent a few hours--on a hot and muggy August day--practicing before getting the okay.
Pilot Tibbets tries to nap, without much success. Then, in the assembly hall just before midnight, he tells the crew, that the new bomb was "very powerful" but he did not mention the words "nuclear," "atomic' or "radiation." He calls forward a Protestant chaplain who delivers a prayer he'd written for this occasion on the back of an envelope. It asks God to "to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies."
Hiroshima remains the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third. The aiming point was directly over the city, not the military base or industrial quarter, guaranteeing the deaths of tens of thousands of women and children.
- Pilot Paul Tibbets formally named the lead plane in the mission, #82, after his mother, Enola Gay. A B-29 that would take photos on the mission would be named Necessary Evil.
Halfway around the world from Tinian, on board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxes. Truman's order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response--even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia's entry into the war on August 7. (See new evidence that it was the Soviet declaration of war, more than the atomic bombing, that was the decisive factor in Japan's surrender.)
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who directed the U.S. war in the Pacific, and would soon become the head of our occupation of Japan, had still not been told of the existence and planned use of the new bomb. Norman Cousins, the famed author and magazine editor, who was an aide to MacArthur, would later reveal: "MacArthur's views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different from what the general public supposed....When I asked General MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no military justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended weeks earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed, as it later did anyway, to the retention of the institution of the emperor." As we've already seen, both Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Truman's chief of staff, Admiral William Leahy, had voiced protest about using the bomb over Japanese cities.
Greg Mitchell, former editor of Nuclear Times and Editor & Publisher, is the author of more than a dozen books, with three on the use of the bomb, including Atomic Cover-Up (on the decades-long suppression of shocking film shot in the atomic cities by the U.S. military) and Hollywood Bomb (the wild story of how an MGM 1947 drama was censored by the military and Truman himself).
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