Aug. 6-9, 1945: Us­ing the world’s first atomic bombs

The Dundalk Eagle - - SENIOR NEWS - By BLAINE TAY­LOR

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...

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