Previous to the decision to drop the bombs, President Harry S. Truman of the United States and other allied leaders had met at Potsdam and presented on July 26, 1945 what has been called the Potsdam Ultimatum. Delivered to Japan, it asked for surrender or the allies would attack Japan. Within the document was this warning: “the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.” No mention was made of atomic bombings. The Japanese government, with Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki as spokesman for Emperor Hirohito announced that the Potsdam Ultimatum was no more binding than the earlier Cairo Declaration. Japanese newspapers on July 28 stated that the declaration had been rejected by Japan.
President Truman, in his position as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the nation’s military, had seriously considered the situation on his way to the Potsdam Conference. In the end, it was he who made the final decision to use bombs from the atomic arsenal to bring Japan to surrender. His reasoning was that to do so would induce a quick end to the war by such devastation and fear of further destruction as would cause Japan to surrender.
On August 6, 1945 the B-29 plane, named “Enola Gay” piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, left North Field airbase on Tinian in the West Pacific. It took about six hours for the “Enola Gay” and two other B-29 planes in the formation, “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil” to make the flight to Hiroshima. At 8:15 a. m. (Hiroshima time) the “Enola Gay” released the bomb known as “Little Boy.” Captain William S. Parsons released the bomb. Although with an innocent-sounding name, the weapon carried 60 kilograms (130 pounds) of uranium-235, with a blast equal to 13 kilotons of TNT. The “Enola Gay” was 11.5 miles away from the bomb site when shock waves were felt. The bomb had detonated about 1,900 feet above the city of Hiroshima, directly over the Shima Surgical Clinic, missing the Aioi Bridge target by 800 feet. The devastation was over a 4.7 square-mile area. About 30% of the population of the city met death immediately (estimated at 80,000) and another 70,000 were injured, many dying later.
With such devastation upon Hiroshima, a surrender was expected, but it did not occur, and a second bomb was released, this one on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It was one of the largest seaports in southern Japan, a city of great importance to the Japanese military. Actually, Kokura was intended as the target, but due to a cloud cover and poor visibility, Major Charles W. Sweeney flew the B-29 Superfortress named “Bockscar” on to Nagasaki, the alternate target. At 11:01 a. m. on August 9, 1945, bombardier Captain Kermit Beahan released the “Fat Man” atomic weapon carrying 6.4 kilograms (14.1 pounds) of plutonium-239. equal to 21 kilotons of TNT.
The Urakami Valley containing the Japanese torpedo works was within the targeted area. Mountains on either side of the valley formed a shield that gave some protection to surrounding areas. Casualties immediately were estimated between 40,000 and 75,000, with wounded who died later bringing the total to 80,000. Survivors of the blasts at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were called “hibakusha,” meaning “explosion-affected people.” It is said many walked around, unattended, “looking like ghosts,” with their skin sagging from searing and atomic burns. Many of the “hibakusha” suffered extensive burns, for the bombs generated temperatures up to 3,900 degrees Celsius or 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Later, many survivors died of complications from cancer and leukemia.
On August 14, 1945 the Japanese Emperor announced to his people that he was surrendering, and officially on August 15, 1945 the declaration was made to the world. Thus ended the long and devastating World War II. Then came the period of military occupation forces in lands that had been the enemy and efforts to bring a World Peace Agreement.
After the surrender, the US Navy ship on which Grover Duffie Jones was a radioman, was ordered to dock in Nagasaki Harbor. The command the crew had was to restore communications to Nagasaki, that devastated spot that had been hit by the second atomic bomb. In recalling that assignment, Jones (who later became my husband) described the land “as though a mighty hand had smashed everything for miles.” That Navy crew was able to fulfill their assignment. But evidently little thought had been given as to the later effects on the health of that crew from atomic radiation and fallout.
Anniversaries like August 6 and August 9, the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are dark parts of history. Sixty-five years later, we are still seriously debating the pros and cons of the action, and always is the dread of some nation breaking atomic bans causing devastation in this and future eras.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 12, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.