Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 7-9, 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The United States dropped an uranium bomb called Little Boy on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, followed by a plutonium bomb dubbed Fat Man because of its shape on the city of Nagasaki on August 9. Little Boy exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima in a blast equal to 15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city. More than 150,000 people were killed in Hiroshima. More than 75,000 people were killed in Nagasaki. Roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, another 100,000 people died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition. Diseases and death from the after-effects of the radiation continued for decades. Most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison.

The avowed theory before and after the events was that the bombing was needed to prevent the invasion of Japan with the resulting loss of thousands of United States soldiers. The fear was that the proud Japanese would continue to fight on to the last man. So the terror of the atomic bomb was needed to end the War in the Pacific. There is no concrete evidence to back up this theory. If one wants to make the prevailing strategic military argument for Hiroshima, there is none to be made for the second bombing of Nagasaki three days later other than the wish to test the plutonium bomb. Both acts go down in infamy. There has been no further use of the atomic bomb. We are the only government that has ever used an atomic bomb as an act of aggression.

We don't talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I will always remember the Alain Resnais film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Moving and disturbing, as the subject should be. The American movies like Enola Gay, the name of the plane that carried the bomb over Hiroshima, do the classic American wartime hero treatment of the story. The prevailing American opinion today about the use of the atomic bomb is that we did what had to be done to end the war. Even this year with the 70th anniversary, I have only seen a few articles about Hiroshima and Nagasaki: an account from a survivor in the New York Times; an article in the Telegraph; scattered reports on the Memorial service in Japan.

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. - John Hersey

We should remember it always, and clearly, and with detail. The loss of those 200,000 people vanishing in two lethal flashes of light with their billowing mushroom clouds hanging above is still hard to wrap your mind around. The fact that so many were civilians is horrific. Oh, yes, It was World War II and both sides bombed cities with civilians in them but there is really no measure for this act. And since many military strategists today believe that the Japanese were indeed ready to surrender, it makes it even more awful to ponder.

After Hiroshima was bombed, I saw a photograph of the side of a house with the shadows of the people who had lived there burned into the wall from the intensity of the bomb. The people were gone, but their shadows remained. - Ray Bradbury

The Ancient Egyptians believed that it was very important to keep alive the names of their beloved dead so that their names would live forever to eternity. We think of the Egyptians being obsessed with the trappings of death and funerary arrangements when truly it was to perpetuate life by keeping alive the names of their Pharaohs and loved ones. Let's do that to the extent we can with those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I always like it when they read the names of the people who died in the World Trade Towers every year. Let's us at least remember those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at this anniversary each year.

We must also remember that we were the first and the only nation to make this choice. So many believe that we did it for the right reason and were therefore justified. Who else will have that kind of rationale for their use of an atomic weapon?