August 06, 2009

64 years ago today

64 years ago today the crew of the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb, code-named "Little Boy," onto Hiroshima, Japan. This action has come to stand for the horror of war and the deliberate killing of civilians (of which this was not an isolated instance, but it was a new way to do it) and continues to cast a long shadow over the entire world, telling every man, woman, and child: You are not safe. You can be killed at any time, without warning, without reason. This has always been true, but Hiroshima brought it home to the most comfortable, the most secure, the most secluded. Death is at your elbow. Live your life now, in this moment.

Wikipedia offers the following stark numbers: 80,000 people were killed instantly, and perhaps as many 140,000 were killed in all, to say nothing of the lingering effects of radiation sickness on the survivors. More than 69 percent of the buildings in the city were completely destroyed.

What lesson will the world learn from Hiroshima today? What about you?

All those still suffering from radiation poisoning and its associated illnesses, all those affected by war and violence, may they be happy, may they find peace, may they be free.

[Image: damian 78. This is the so-called atomic dome, the structure closest to Ground Zero to remain standing, and left as a reminder of the events of August 6th, 1945.]

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Tricycle » Hiroshima, 65 years later's picture

[...] “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, Japan, killing 140,000 people. Here’s what we wrote last year on this solemn [...]

HistoryPuff's picture

More people died in some of the firebombings of cities such as Tokyo, Hamburg, and Dresden, than died in Hiroshima.
The Germans didn't surrender after Hamburg, or Dresden, Japan didn't surrender after the destucition of Tokyo, but Japan DID surrender after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Obviously, the bombs worked.

Carol's picture

If you live in a nation which has leaders who start wars, many people will suffer. First the people of China suffered from the actions of the Japanese leaders. Then the people of many other nations such as Indochina (Vietnam) and Burma.
This situation was not permanent, and after some years went by the people of Japan suffered from the fire bombings of cities such as Tokyo, and then the nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This was a result of the actions initiated by the leaders. When such men have power, many innocent people suffer in every nation involved.

James Shaheen's picture

Thanks for your comment, Rinchen Gyatso.

However the Japanese view it now, I'm taking a look at our own behavior back then. Granted, we have the advantage of hindsight. And there's no doubt the Japanese committed atrocities during the war. But while you offer necessary context for understanding the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that context offers little guidance in determining the ethics of it.

Rinchen Gyatso's picture

The bombs were a horrible thing, but having lived in Japan for three years, I have to say the Japanese in general focus on themselves as primarily victims in the war. They haven't come to terms with the evil they themselves committed--the millions who died at their ancestors hands. I think the "Peace Park" in Hiroshima would be more meaningful if it gave equal tribute to those murdered by the Japanese during their collaboration with Mousolini and Hitler.

James's picture

Whether it made sense to bomb Hiroshima has been debated for decades now. We've all heard both sides. But if it made sense, how did it make sense to do the same in Nagasaki three days later?

I could argue that there were other reasons that our government made the decision it did: Winston Churchill, for instance, wrote that we had done it to intimidate the Russians, who had recently declared war on Japan.

Makers of the bomb knew radiation would have lasting effects and that generations to come would suffer. Another very difficult consideration.

There are no easy answers, and we're left to decide for ourselves. Given human history, I have a feeling individual lives were not sufficiently considered. After all, how to explain Napalm and Agent Orange? We've got a record--not all of it bad--but we've got a record.

Vu Nguyen's picture

Civilians and military personnel were collectively responsible for war causes. However, most are either misguided, forced, manipulated or coerced to do so by the regime at that time. Justifications for using weapons of mass destructions are unnecessary for the following reasons:

- Atrocities and cruelty caused by one group do not justify another group to commit atrocities or unjust.
- Empathy or compassion could have been parts of the terms of peace for the regime (since the people have little choice or have been well manipulated) at the moment to save face or to lessen its aggression or will to accept peace.
- Collective punishment is never just. The regime are the guilty party, not civilians or the majority of military personnel.
- Harming unarmed and innocent civilians, in particularly, women and children cannot be justified.
- Japan is well out of resources at that time, an embargo (under this circumstance is justified) would perhaps allow the regime more time to lessen its ideology and aggression to accept peace.
- The Japanese people could either struggle with famine and diseases or accept peace terms in an embargo. An embargo under this circumstance is lesser of the evils since it giving the people free will to decide or choose.
- Combination of military maneuvers, economic sanctions, and dialogue could have been used to obtain objectives or peace. Weapons of mass destructions were used or hastily used more out of resentment, anger, and hated toward a nation that start the aggression and committed atrocities than reasons of having further war casualties (without empathy): it is the regime that is the true guilty party and not the people.
- The use of weapons of mass destructions at the time not only has to do with anger and hated toward the Japanese regime aggression (started war) and atrocities, but also perhaps has to do with race and culture as well: most of Asia were still under colonization at the time and Japanese American were condemned to concentration camp (which did not happen with other naturalized US citizens from other aggression nations).
- War is never just. However, it does not necessary mean that one can act and set examples unjustly, unreasonably, irresponsibly, unhonorably, and immorally. Again, the decision and action were made or initiated by the allies regimes at the moment, and not entirely the people.

Guido's picture

The bombings were a necessary evil. The empire of Japan has caused enormous suffering and over 10 million deaths in China alone. They otherwise would have fought themselves to death, causing even more suffering and deaths. No one can expect to be safe during war.

The bombings ended WW II and transformed Japan from a militaristic society into one which fosters peace. Although it would have been a harsh decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I firmly believe that the world has become a better place since.