Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 75 Years Later

Travis Rogers, Jr.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 75 Years Later

5 mins
August 10, 2020

A Sick and Sorry Legacy

Last Thursday, August 6, and Sunday, August 9, was the 75th anniversaries of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, as the closing chapter of World War II. At Hiroshima, more than 70,000 people died instantly with 40,000 more at Nagasaki.

Over the following two months, 146,000 people died of acute radiation poisoning in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki. Deaths from radiation poisoning would continue for decades. To this day, the United States remains the only country in the history of the world to use nuclear weapons.


I have written before about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the man who survived both atomic bombs. Yamaguchi’s double-dose of radiation took its toll. His hair fell out, the wounds on his arms turned gangrenous, and he began vomiting incessantly. He was still languishing in a bomb shelter with his family on August 15, when Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced the country’s surrender in a radio broadcast. “I had no feeling about it,” Yamaguchi later recalled. “I was neither sorry nor glad. I was seriously ill with a fever, eating almost nothing, hardly even drinking. I thought that I was about to cross to the other side.”

Yamaguchi slowly recovered and went on to live a relatively normal life. He and his wife even had two more children in the 1950s, both of them girls. Yamaguchi dealt with the horrific memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by writing poetry but he avoided discussing his experiences publicly until the 2000s, when he released a memoir and became part of the anti-atomic weapons movement. He later traveled to New York City in 2006 and spoke about nuclear disarmament before the United Nations. 

Having experienced atomic bombings twice and survived, it is my destiny to talk about it,” Yamaguchi said in his speech.

Yamaguchi was the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as a “nijyuu hibakusha,” or “twice-bombed person.” He finally won the sad distinction in 2009, only a year before he died at the age of 93.

The Park

In May 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. He called for a "world without nuclear weapons." President Obama visited the Peace Memorial Park and the Museum. "A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself," he said during an address at the site of the first bombing.

The Park is located atop the busy commercial district that had been obliterated by the atomic blast and contains monuments dedicated to the thousands killed in the explosions.

The Peace Memorial Museum sits across the Motoyasu River from the iconic "A-Bomb Dome," the skeletal ruins of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. When the United States dropped the bomb on August 6, 1945, it exploded just above the Genbaku Dome. The dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The organization described the structure as "a stark and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by humankind; it also expresses the hope for world peace and the ultimate elimination of all nuclear weapons."

Then-President Harry S. Truman authorized the attack on Hiroshima. The B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the nuclear bomb, codenamed "Little Boy," on August 6, 1945.

To this day, the United States remains the only country in the history of the world to use nuclear weapons.

Why did the US do it?

American scientists working on the Manhattan Project had successfully tested a working atomic bomb in July of 1945 after the surrender of Nazi Germany in May.

Truman had tasked a committee of advisers, chaired by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, to deliberate whether to use the atomic bomb on Japan.

Sam Rushay, the Supervisory Archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, told CNN: "At the time, there was a wide consensus in support of the decision to strike among the members of the committee. Stimson was very adamant that the bomb be used."

Charles Maier, a professor of history at Harvard University, said that while it was possible for Truman to have made another decision, he said, "It would have been hard to justify to the American public why he prolonged the war when this weapon was available."

"It seemed to offer a potentially magical solution that would spare a lot of pain," he told CNN.

Japan was not ready to surrender unconditionally and there was a concern that a weapons demonstration would have not done the job. Such a demonstration would have detonated a nuclear weapon in a non-inhabited but observable area to compel Japan to surrender, an approach that was favored by a group of scientists and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy.

A Costly Invasion

He added that Truman and his military advisers feared a "very costly invasion" of Japan.

"The recent experience in the battles in Iwo Jima and Okinawa was very costly in terms of US and Japanese casualties, despite the destruction of the Japanese air force and navy," Rushay said. "There was a widespread belief among American military planners that the Japanese would fight to the last man."

Holding the Soviets at Bay

The US military was unwilling to say it could win the war without the bomb. Some historians have speculated that the possibility of the Soviet Union's entry into the war helped spur the decision to bring the war to a quick end by using the bomb.

The Soviets were already looking to grab some of Japan’s holdings in the northern Pacific.

The Targets

Hiroshima was one of four potential targets. Truman left it up to the military to decide which city to strike. According to the Minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee, Los Alamos, May 10-11, 1945, Hiroshima “is an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target. (Classified as an AA Target). Nagasaki was bombed a few days later but it was the secondary target. The primary target was the Kokura Arsenal in Kitakyushu. Dense cloud covering caused the bomber to divert to its secondary target.

In that same meeting at Los Alamos, the minutes state—in Sec.7, Psychological Factors in Target Selection—It was agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great importance. Two aspects of this are (1) obtaining the greatest psychological effect against Japan and (2) making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released.

To this day, the United States remains the only country in the history of the world to use nuclear weapons.

What was the result?

"The five-year death total may have reached or even exceeded 200,000, as cancer and other long-term effects took hold," according to the Department of Energy's history of the Manhattan Project.

In between the two atomic attacks, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union officially declared war on Japan, pouring more than 1 million Soviet soldiers into Japanese-occupied Manchuria, in northeastern China, to take on the 700,000-strong Japanese army.

However, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima by the Americans did not have the effect intended—that is, unconditional surrender by Japan. Half of the Japanese inner Cabinet, called the Supreme War Direction Council, refused to surrender unless guarantees about Japan’s future were given by the Allies, especially regarding the position of the emperor, Hirohito. The only Japanese civilians who even knew what happened at Hiroshima were either dead or suffering terribly and those who, like Yamaguchi, reported the attack were called traitors for “reporting such lies.

After the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Emperor Hirohito began to plead with his War Council to reconsider surrender. Japan unconditionally agreed to accept the terms of surrender on August 14.

What did the critics say?

The utter devastation caused by the bombing has led many to criticize the decision.

In his 1963 memoir, "Mandate for Change," former President Dwight D. Eisenhower criticized the use of the atomic bombs, saying they weren't necessary to force the surrender of Japan.

While the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings "did move the Japanese Emperor to intervene with a divided military and advocate for surrender." Japan may have been willing to end the war with conditions like keeping the emperor in place.

In 1958, the City Council of Hiroshima passed a resolution condemning Truman for refusing to express remorse for using atomic bombs and for continuing to advocate their use in an emergency situation. The resolution said the city's residents "consider it their sublime duty to be a cornerstone of world peace and no nation of the world should ever be permitted to repeat the error of using of nuclear weapons."

The resolution called the ex-president's stance a "gross defilement committed on the people of Hiroshima and their fallen victims."

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum has collected thousands of drawings made by survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The drawings document survivors' memories surrounding that horrible day. In this rendering, Hideo Kimura shows burned and screaming classmates. Some were trapped under heavy gates and houses. Others were in the river, holding onto a stone embankment.

To this day, the United States remains the only country in the history of the world to use nuclear weapons.

Defense of the bombing

Truman responded to the Hiroshima resolution by writing a letter to the Council's chairman, saying that "the feeling of the people of your city is easily understood, and I am not in any way offended by the resolution."

However, Truman stressed the necessity of the decision referencing how the US had "been shot in the back" in the Pearl Harbor attack by Japan and saying that the decision to use the two nuclear bombs saved the lives of 250,000 Allied troops and 250,000 Japanese by helping to prevent an invasion.

"As the executive who ordered the dropping of the bomb, I think the sacrifice of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was urgent and necessary for the prospective welfare of both Japan and the Allies," Truman concluded.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur was convinced that an invasion of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands, would have been successful and the estimated 500,000 American lives lost was a gross exaggeration. Admiral Chester A. Nimitz believed that a naval blockade would starve Japan out of the war.

To this day, the United States remains the only country in the history of the world to use nuclear weapons.

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is the Publisher with Nicole and is the Editor-in-Chief and Sales Manager.