Aug. 6-9, 1945: Using the world’s first atomic bombs
In the final, fevered construction days of the world’s first atomic bomb in 1945, there was a terrible, nagging fear among those building it: that the bomb —when exploded — might actually ignite the earth’s own atmosphere, and thus incinerate the entire globe at once in a blinding flash that completely destroyed the planet.
In fact, none of the top scientists knew for sure — they could only surmise that this wouldn’t happen — and yet, President Harry S. Truman (HST) took the supreme risk and went ahead anyway!
There were also simply no guarantees that it would even work, or not.
Indeed, when he succeeded the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt who died in office at age 63 on Apr. 12, 1945, Vice President HST had never even heard of any such American entity as an atomic bomb at all, until he was told by then Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson that the spectral weaponry existed.
“That so vast an enterprise had been successfully kept secret even from the Congress was a miracle!” Truman wrote in his post-Presidential memoirs.
In summer 1945, all the top members of the government’s military were in favor of using it against the remaining enemy of the Second World War, Imperial Japan, except for the President’s closest naval aide, Adm. William D. Leahy, an ordnance expert of 30 years’ standing who flat out predicted that it wouldn’t work at all.
Having built it, the scientists themselves got cold feet in the end, arguing against its usage at all, fearing that this horrible new means of destruction they’d brought into the world on both humane and moral grounds, but the President overruled them.
Ironically, two top leaders of the Japanese nation upon whom the first — and then the only two existing nuclear weapons — were used, justified their terrible destruction as finally ending the Pacific War that they’d started in 1931, and then against us a decade later.
Asserted the first postwar Japanese Prime Minister Prince Narukiko Higashikuni, “It was the A-bomb, and the military might’ve gone on fighting had it not been for it.”
Added Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Marquis Koichi Kido, “The presence of the atomic bomb made it easier for us politicians to negotiate peace.”
Indeed — fearing that his own Imperial Palace at Tokyo might well become ground zero for a third such nuclear blast — then Emperor Hirohito stamped out a militar y revolt designed to prevent his surrender to the Allies.
He thus retained a crown for his head instead of a convicted war criminal’s rope around his neck, as many of the Allies then wished.
At then Towson State College in my freshman year of 1968, my world histor y teacher Dr. Harry Piotrowski argued that the bombs were dropped not to force the already defeated Japanese to surrender, but to instead impress our future enemies our then Soviet allies with the tremendous new power held by the United States.
That debate continues today. A new book on the American Sherman tank presents information that the late FDR had asked the military if the bomb was available for usage against the German Army then defeating us in the first weeks of the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge, but it wouldn’t come online until July 1945, two months after the Nazis surrendered.
The debate as to where to drop the first bombs preceded HST’s decision to use them against two actual Japanese cities. One school of thought wanted a publicized test drop to scare the Japanese, say, in the Pacific Ocean or on an island, as later took place as a test on Bikini Atoll.
The counter argument to this ran that the enemy might assert we were bluffing, or deployed Allied POWs held in the Japanese Home Islands into and around all their major cities and military targets.
Truman decided on surprise attacks on two cities, mainly to prevent twin but separate sealand invasions of the islands some months apart at different locations to offset what was predicted might be a million US casualties, based on what had just occurred on Okinawa.
Hiroshima was chosen for detonation for Aug. 6, 1945 because it was the headquarters of the Japanese 2nd Army, and also as a production center of equipment and supplies.
The second city selected — Kokura — was to be hit on Aug. 9, 1945, but thick clouds from a conventional bomb air attack two days before on the Yawata Steel Factory obscured that target, so the alternate was struck instead: Nagasaki.
One bomb was nicknamed Thin Man for the late FDR, while the second was named Fat Man after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, his main wartime ally. Thin Man later was renamed Little Boy.
On July 16, 1945, the world entered the Atomic Age when the first American desert test was successfully concluded. The new President was at the final Allied wartime Big Three conference at Potsdam outside defeated Berlin when he was informed, and Churchill immediately noticed the change: Harry started bossing the Russians around.
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin already knew that the American weapons existed, however, due to well-placed Red spies within the top-secret US Manhattan Project structure in New Mexico that also allowed Moscow to build its own atomic weapon four years later.
At Hiroshima, fully 70,000 Japanese died immediately, with the intense heat melting roof tiles, fusing the quartz crystals in granite blocks, and charring the exposed sides of telephone poles for almost two miles.
The blast incinerated humans so completely that nothing remained except their shadows, burnt onto stone walls or into asphalt pavements, bare skin being seared for up to two miles’ distant, from a giant fireball that was two miles across its width.
Nagasaki was destroyed almost as if by accident, while that same day, Stalin’s Red Army crashed into Japanese-occupied Manchuria, also later invading today’s North Korea.
Did dropping the bombs shorten the war and save American lives? Ever y period veteran of that era I’ve ever inter viewed or read about thought so, and new revelations in recent decades have posited that the Japanese were working on their own atomic weapons that could be delivered here against us via nuclear-tipped torpedoes fired from Imperial Navy submarines off our coasts.
Truman never publicly regretted his decision, asserting that, “I was there! I did it, and I would do it again.”
In 1954 — to prevent the looming French Army and Foreign Legion defeat by the Communist Viet Minh at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu — then Vice President Richard Nixon and the then Chief of US Naval Operations jointly advocated that President Dwight D. Eisenhower use a nuclear weapon, but he refused.
Asserted Ike, “You fellas are crazy!”
Thus, the dates of Aug. 6 to 9, 1945, remain now as the sole times that atomic bombs have thus far been used.
Eagle contributor Blaine Taylor stood outside the walls of Hirohito’s Imperial Palace at Tokyo in 1967, and saw giant concrete defenses on the Japanese coast as well. His 23rd book is being published in late 2018, “Teutonic Titans: Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and the Kaiser’s Marshals & Generals of the Great War, 18471955”.
The Allied Big Three wartime conference at Yalta, Crimea/USSR in February 1945. Fat Man was nicknamed for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (seated left), Thin Man for U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (center), and both were designed to...