The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 75 Years Ago

Political Affairs
4 min readNov 26, 2020

August 6 marks 75 years since the United States unleashed the world’s first atomic bomb attack on the city of Hiroshima, followed three days later by the second and last on Nagasaki, vaporizing lives, buildings and Japan’s capacity for war. Germany surrendered to Allied forces in May 1945, but World War Two continued in Asia as the Allies fought imperial Japan. The United States believed that dropping a nuclear bomb — after Tokyo rejected an earlier ultimatum for peace — would force a quick surrender without risking US casualties on the ground. On 6 August, the US dropped the first bomb — codenamed Little Boy — on Hiroshima. The attack was the first time a nuclear weapon was used during a war. At least 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately in the massive blast which flattened the city. Tens of thousands more died of injuries caused by radiation poisoning in the following days, weeks and months.

When no immediate surrender came from the Japanese, another bomb, dubbed “Fat Man”, was dropped three days later about 420 kilometres (261 miles) to the south over Nagasaki. The recorded death tolls are estimates, but it is thought that about 140,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 population were killed, and that at least 74,000 people died in Nagasaki. They are the only two nuclear bombs ever to have been deployed outside testing. The dual bombings brought about an abrupt end to the war in Asia, with Japan surrendering to the Allies on 14 August 1945. But some critics have said that Japan had already been on the brink of surrender and that the bombs killed a disproportionate number of civilians. Japan’s wartime experience has led to a strong pacifist movement in the country. At the annual Hiroshima anniversary, the government usually reconfirms its commitment to a nuclear-free world. After the war, Hiroshima tried to reinvent itself as a City of Peace and continues to promote nuclear disarmament around the world.

Seventy-five years after the Enola Gay opened its bomb bay doors, 31,000ft above Hiroshima, views on what happened that day are still deeply polarised. Those on the ground who lived to tell the tale see themselves, understandably, as victims of an appalling crime. Sitting and talking with any “hibakusha” (survivor) is a deeply moving experience. The horrors they witnessed are almost unimaginable. Hordes of zombie like people, their skin melted and hanging in ribbons from their arms and faces; mournful cries from the thousands trapped in the tangle of collapsed and burning buildings; the smell of burned flesh. Later came the black rain and the agonising deaths from a strange new killer — radiation sickness.

But any visitor to the Hiroshima Peace Museum might justifiably ask, where is the context? After all, the atom bombs didn’t come out of nowhere. You’ll find scant mention of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, let alone the horrors of the Nanjing Massacre, or the slaughter at Peleliu, Manila, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. And so, to many Japanese, Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand oddly alone, detached from the rest of history, symbols of the unique victimhood of Japan, the only country ever to experience a nuclear attack. The lack of context can feel equally egregious on the other side. When I last visited Hiroshima, I asked a group of visiting American college students what they had learned in school about the attack. One young man summed it up like this: “America embarked on a tremendous scientific effort. The result was that in a flash the war was over.” The idea that Hiroshima ended the war in a single stroke is comforting, but it leaves out the second attack on Nagasaki and quite a lot else.

Before “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, more than 60 other Japanese cities had already been destroyed by American fire bombing. The largest death toll from a single attack (in any war) is not Hiroshima, but the fire-bombing of Tokyo in March 1945. The attack created a fire storm which took 105,000 civilian lives. That ugly record stands to this day. Then there is the little-known fact that several more atom bombs were being prepared for shipment to Tinian Island. If Japan had not surrendered on 15 August, the US air force was prepared to keep dropping atom bombs until it did.

Courtesy : BBC

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