70 Years ago on the 6th August 1945 the United States (US) dropped the an atomic weapon on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Just days later on the 9th August 1945 a second was dropped on Nagasaki. These were the first and only Atomic or Nuclear weapons that have ever been used.
The bombs caused a combined instant death toll of 150,000 people with thousands more dying in the weeks, months and years following due to radiation sickness.
Back in May 1945 when choosing the targets for these weapons the US Target Committee drew up a list of targets based on a specified criteria. They wanted high value mainland targets in Japan and also because the effects needed to be studied afterwards, cities that hadn’t already been destroyed by conventional bombing. On the list, which can be seen here, Hiroshima was 8th, Nagasaki was 16th.
The ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto appeared on list in 7th Place and was considered very favorable to the mission given its importance to the Japanese. In fact, as the list shows the initial selection was Hiroshima and Kyoto. So why wasn’t Kyoto hit, and how did Nagasaki rise up the ranks?
Kyoto was known as a city of excellence in Japan, a cultured intellectual city. This is in fact what spared it. The target committee decided that the people of Kyoto would have a better understanding what this new type of bomb meant. The target committee noted:
“From the psychological point of view there is the advantage that Kyoto is an intellectual center for Japan and the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget. … Kyoto has the advantage of the people being more highly intelligent and hence better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon”
A softer side to the story is that Henry Stimson, Secretary of War, had visited Kyoto and very much liked the city. For that reason the request to not bomb Kyoto was taking right the way up to President Truman. He agreed. As a result a new 2nd target was chosen, Nagasaki. The rest as they say is History.
Another amazing story to recall on this anniversary is that of Tsutomu Yamaguchi.
Tsutomu was in Hiroshima the morning of the 6th August 1945 on business and was just 3km from the ground zero point. He suffered sever burns, ruptured ear drum and temporary blindness from the flash. After initially seeking shelter he managed to make it back to his home town and on the 9th august went to his employers Mitsubishi to tell his supervisor what had happened. His home town was Nagasaki. Again Tsutomu was just 3km from ground zero but this time he was unhurt.
Tsutomu is the only person ever certified as having survived both atomic weapons. Despite suffering the effects of radiation for many years he lived to be 93, dying in 2010. During his life he used his status to speak out against nuclear weapons and addressed the United Nations with the words:
“Having experienced atomic bombings twice and survived, it is my destiny to talk about it.”
So as we look back on 70 years with the atomic bomb we must realise that as we continue to live in a world with Nuclear Weapons they can be, as many things are, weapons of both Peace and Mass Destruction. It is no accident that there has been no major global conflict since the invention of atomic weapons because the thought of one ever being used again puts fear into even the blackest of hearts.
In a nuclear war, he who shoots first dies second.