On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, an American B29, dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed, Little Boy, on the city of Hiroshima. Three days later, another bomb, Fat Boy, devastated Nagasaki. A combined total of 120,000 people were immediately killed in these attacks. Tens of thousands more died later of their injuries. After the second bombing, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito publicly surrendered. This August marks the 75th anniversary of these events, which effectively ended World War II and ushered in a new conflict that we would later refer to as the Cold War.
The United States has the dubious honor of being the only country to ever deploy an atomic bomb against another nation. This decision was made by Harry S. Truman in his fourth month as President of the United States and just three months after the end of the war with Germany. In the weeks leading up to the bombings, America was weary of war. Japan had no hope of winning but swore to fight to the bitter end. American casualties had been very heavy in recent weeks—actually, the heaviest of the war. Truman considered, but decided against demonstrating the bomb on an uninhabited island because only two bombs had been produced. The prospect of using half the inventory on a demonstration that could be a failure, did not seem prudent. Truman received estimates that as many as one million casualties would result from an invasion of Japan and likely compared this to estimates of the death toll from the atomic bombs. I can only assume that this pushed him toward his ultimate decision. Truman’s hope was that utilizing this new weapon in this deadly manner would bring about a swift end to the war.
Truman demanded that the Japanese surrender at the end of July and promised prompt and utter destruction if they did not—he kept his word. There are arguments both against and in support of America’s use of atomic weapons in 1945 and while I can intellectually process the case against, I also appreciate the fact that my father was on a boat headed for Japan to be part of the invasion. As it turns out, he became part of the occupying force, instead of a potential casualty.
Right or wrong, what happened, happened. These events caused the Soviet Union to move faster toward the development of their own bomb, which they had by 1949. The two countries then spent the next several decades matching each other as they built their respective nuclear arsenals. One interesting result of the arms race was that since both sides had the weapon, the likelihood of ever using it again decreased considerably.
How do I feel about all of this? Happy for my father, happy for myself (personally), and sad for all of the Japanese civilians who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I also feel for the weight of the decision that Harry S. Truman was forced to make so early in his tenure as President. I must mention, however, that one comment taken from his official statement after the first bombing gave me pause. He stated, “The Japanese began this war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold.” That remark likely played much better in 1945. Years later, it implies a whole different type of motivation.