More than seventy years ago, on the 6th of August 1945, Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. Little Boy, an inappropriately innocent name for the an atomic bomb, was released at 08:15 and detonated about 600 metres above the ground. The pilot, who named the plane whose cargo was to kill at least 140.000 people after his mother, appears to have no regrets. Instead he seems to have been more than willing to drop the third atomic bomb, a plan that only changed due to Japan’s surrender.
There appear to have been many reasons why Hiroshima was chosen, but I think the most important one was the fact that Hiroshima was the Japanese city with the highest population which had not yet been attacked by the U.S. with conventional bombs. Moreover, when the Enola Gay flew Little Boy to Hiroshima it was accompanied by other planes with equipment and personnel to study the effectiveness of the bomb. Thus Hiroshima was selected so the U.S. army’s scientific experiment would be untainted by death and destruction caused by conventional weaponry. Choosing Hiroshima was all about information gathering and inflicting maximum casualties – I suspect the latter is also why the bomb exploded at that height above the city. Today, there is a plaque symbolising the hypocentre of the atom bomb on the pavement a couple of streets away from the memorials dedicated to the people who suffered. In a way, being at the point of impact would be better than about 500 metres away – people there died (almost) instantly.
Once the bomb was dropped a number of things happened- there was first an enormous explosion:
The detonation of the atomic bomb created a fireball that blazed like a small sun. More than a million degrees Celsius at its center, the fireball reached a maximum diameter of 280 meters in one second. Surface temperatures near the hypocenter rose to 3,000-4,000℃. – Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Then there was a tremendous blast of wind, first away from the explosion and then (as a vacuum was created) back towards it, the fireball and heat rays caused the city to burn, there was gamma radiation and neutrons were emitted and then there was the black, radioactive rain. People died from burns, from being cut in half by flying shards of glass, from extreme radiation poisoning – survivors walked around the demolished city with skin hanging off their bodies, covered in burns and drank the black rain because they were so thirsty. The people that made it out of the burning city developed keloids, bleeding gums, diarrhea, hair loss and often died days, weeks or, even, years later.
When I visited Hiroshima, there were two things I learnt which stood out to me. First, because they were expecting Hiroshima to be bombed they were demolishing buildings to create firebreaks – much of this work was done by children. On the 6th of August, 6300 children were killed while working on such sites. Second, many children were sent away from cities that were likely to be bombed, such as Hiroshima. Many of these children returned to Hiroshima to find out their entire family had died – about 2000 to 6500 children were orphaned on August 6th – and many ended up living on the street, shining shoes to survive.
I thought for a long time about how I wanted to discuss the story I had learnt and whether I should recount the horrors which Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and history tell us took place. In the end I decided it was necessary for the point I was trying to make. I could go on and on about oddly-growing black nails, children with microcephaly or leukemia and the effects of drinking the black rain. I think, though, one must go one step further – realizing that you cannot brush this off as a fact of war and see that such death and torture should be unacceptable and never, ever happen again. People will argue that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war and prevented a US invasion which would have killed far more people. That is, in my opinion, still not an acceptable excuse for simply accepting that people were forced to die in excruciating pain, alone and without having a clue of what was happening to them.
The city of Hiroshima has become a beacon for this message: “This should never happen again. We want Peace.” When you leave the memorial museums, the various memorials and the A-bomb dome, you walk along the Promenade of Peace which is filled with lights. The most impressive constructions, for me, where the lit up phoenix and (paper) crane. Two true symbols of Hiroshima: a city built on hope, healing and its own ashes, which has one wish for the world.
But we cannot pretend that Hiroshima can send out this message by themselves. When I learnt about the bombing in school, it was told as simply a fact: “And then, in 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” This is of course no way to talk about the death of, at the bare minimum, 225.000 people. We need to all take a stand and say that, not only should these weapons never be used again, but we need to make a very real effort to eradicate them – or at least minimize them. The type of demonizing and reductionism that is required for people to think the brutal murder of such a large group of people is not important is arguably one of the main things we need to address in this world
Sources & Further Reading:
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum explores the Atomic Bomb Attack in Depth
World Nuclear Association on the Effects of Nuclear Weapons
JapanVisitor describes Hiroshima’s Memorials
Children of the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki & Hiroshima’s Death Toll
Scholarly Article from Radiation Research on Rates of Cancer caused by Radiation
The Guardian states that President Barack Obama is considering visiting Hiroshima