US unleashes new warfare era by dropping A-bombs
Some key events from this week in history are reflected in the following reports from the archives of the Argus’s 160-year-old titles
THREE simple concepts were linked in a triple-decker headline in the first week of August, 1945 to convey the import of an event which – quite unusually for news – really was unprecedented.
Yet, who could doubt that “Facts that stagger. No criterion of experience. World changed overnight” were the chilling truths of the moment.
And it was a moment that would reshape the rest of the century, the geopolitical Zeitgeist, the mindset of a whole generation – and even their children – and give an icy edge to its most menacing outcome, the Cold War.
One has a sense of the shattering effect of the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima – a name, like Auschwitz, ever since etched into human consciousness– from the almost poignantly bland line in a news report on August 7, 1945: “Osaka radio, without referring to any damage caused by the bomb, announced the cancellation of various trains in the Hiroshima prefecture.”
That Reuters report added other details: “Last night the United States War Department announced that an impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke covered the target area making accurate reports of the damage impossible.”
It also revealed how the US hoped to capitalise on the atomic terror.
“Dramatised in leaflet form, details of the new bomb will soon be scattered over the Japanese home islands. Experts in Washington think the psychological effect of the bomb may be even more devastating than the physical. They are likely to use their ‘ youare-next’ technique of warning particular target areas once the power of the new bomb has been driven into the Japanese mind.”
It was the Daily Mail that observed: “The facts stagger the imagination. We have no adequate criterion whereby to measure in our own experience this awful thing.”
Victory over Japan, which had conducted a brutal war, was doubtless to be celebrated in August 1945, but it came with the unnerving certainty that a new, very different era had begun. The risks were plainly spelled out in an article published after the second atomic attack, on Nagasaki, on August 9.
“Fiction of the most lurid and fantastic character, is made pale by the flood of speculation that has been released with news of the use of atomic bombs against Japan. The possibilities underlying the discovery are certainly immense, and it may be that the distant future will bring fulfilment of many of the predictions now being made. For the present, however, the immediate implications of the perfection of a new and terrible weapon of destruction provide material for much disturbing thought.”
It went on: “Few of us have standards by which we can assess the real meaning of statements that the bomb has 2 000 times the blast power of the British ‘ grand- slam’ bomb and is capable of more destruction than 20 000 tons of TNT. But expert opinion seems convinced that ‘no power now on earth can stand up against such annihilation’ as that which can be wrought by this weapon.
“And when the end has been achieved, the means to it will continue to exist. A section of the human race will remain in possession of a destructive force far more terrible than the accumulated horrors of years devoted to the study of methods of annihilation.
“Whoever monopolises the secret of that power will have the means of holding the world in subjection. That is not a cause for unqualified elation. We are told that the control of atomic energy will ultimately revolutionise everyday existence, and rosy pictures are painted of the constructive uses to which the discovery can be put.
“Upon those who will direct that work, and upon those who know the secret of the destructive uses of atomic energy, there rests a terrible responsibility. When the immediate task of restoring peace has been completed, everything possible must be done to prevent abuse of the newly found knowledge… ”
The plumes of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima, left, and Nagasaki.
Civilian casualties in a Hiroshima street. Below is a page from The Cape Argus which carried a report on the explosion.