The Bombing Of Hiroshima And Nagasaki History Essay

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5/12/16 History Reference this

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America’s decision to use two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II has been a topic of intense debate for years following the incident. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are one of best documented historical events in history, while provoking lasting, fervently heated reactions. The purpose of this research paper is to explore the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, examine the causes, interpretations and consequences of the bombings.

History of Hiroshima

The early history of Hiroshima dates back to the 6th century, when some of the first Shinto Shrines were erected on Hiroshima bay (Cameron, 2005). Modern Hiroshima, meaning “wide island,” was founded in 1589 (Cameron, 2005). The city’s many canals and wharves made importing goods from the countryside easy, while its bridges connected all parts of the growing metropolis. Hiroshima had become such an important base for the Japanese military that the Imperial Headquarters were temporarily relocated there.

Summer 1945

The time period is summer of 1945, the United States and its allies have been at war with Germany and just concluded peace (Mishler, 2008). The United States has also been at war with Imperial Japan since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941(Mishler, 2008). During the course of the war in Japan, America had a very important decision to make. One of the options was to drop a newly tested bomb on the Japanese hoping to get them to swiftly surrender.  The latter option was to have a mass land invasion on Japan and hope to defeat with total force. No matter what option was selected, it was known that a substantial amount of casualties would ensue.

When President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman became president (Constitutional Rights Foundation). At this time, President Truman attempted to fill the spot that President Roosevelt occupied for twelve years. Truman was thrust into a role that he was not necessarily prepared for and into an administration that had been operating essentially without his input (Kort, 2007). Unfortunately, Roosevelt had never included his vice president in discussions about the atomic bomb. Two weeks after becoming president, he was finally fully briefed about “the gadget,” as General Groves called the bomb (Constitutional Rights Foundation). Secretary of War Stimson took the primary role of filling in President Truman on the details of the Manhattan Project, which Truman had known nothing about (Kort, 2007).

According to Kort (2007), the Manhattan Project was led by a variety of scientific discoveries in the 1920’s and 1930’s. During this time of scientific innovation, Hitler had been steadily rising to power in Germany, and before long, physicist Leo Szilard and fellow Hungarian’s Eugene Wigner and Edward Teller became worried (Kort, 2007).  They decided that the President of the United States must be informed about the new fission technology that had been discovered, which they believed was capable of making bombs.  The three physicists enlisted the help of Albert Einstein, the foremost scientist in that period, and together they drafted a letter addressed to President Roosevelt (Kort, 2007). Albert Einstein’s famous 1939 letter, drafted by physicist Leo Szilard (who was named Humanist of the Year some twenty years later), convinced President Roosevelt to start the Manhattan Project, describing their beliefs that nuclear fission “Would lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed” (Milam, 2010).

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The mixture of France’s fall to Germany in 1940, the belief that Germany was ahead in the race for the atomic bomb, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor soon influenced Roosevelt that something more had to be done on this atomic research (Kort, 2007).  Roosevelt quickly assigned his top security advisors to form committees on this project, and to determine what should be done and how. By the end of 1942, bomb research had become bomb assembly, and the Manhattan Project was now run by the military (Milam, 2010).

The Bombing

Henry L. Stimson, the secretary of war from 1940 to 1945, would influence President Truman’s crucial decision on whether to invade or bomb Japan (Sherwin, 1995). On the morning of August 6, 1945, the United States U.S. Army Air Forces B-29 Enola Gay dropped a uranium gun type device code named “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima (Military History, 2009). There were some 350,000 people living in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. Approximately 140,000 died that day and in the five months that followed (Military History, 2009). Blackened, bloodied, skinless masses of corpses were floating in macabre positions in the Kyuohotagawa and the Motoyasugawa rivers. Long lines of shuffling figures–clothes burned right off the body; hair standing on end or singed off the scalp; skin peeling and dripping off arms, legs, backs; hands outstretched, zombie-like–were all wandering blindly after the bombing (Military History, 2009). This hellish scene was played out in utter darkness, for the mushroom cloud, that carrier of black rain and persistent death, had turned day into night and modern technology into humanity’s greatest nemesis (Military History, 2009).

According to Cameron (2005), after the Bombing of Hiroshima, President Truman issued this statement in reference to the use of a new weapon and promising the following:

“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”

The Emperor did not respond and three days later, the B-29 Bockscar levels much of Nagasaki with a plutonium implosion type device code named “Fat Man” (Military History, 2009). It’s estimated that the second bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki on August 9 claimed another 80,000 lives (Military History, 2009). The same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Hirohito said that “continuing the war can only mean destruction for the nation.” He then declared that Japan must accept surrender (Constitutional Rights Foundation).


There are various views related to the use of the atomic bombs and their rationalization. The nuclear attacks on Japan were justified in an effort to win the war with the fewest casualties possible. Some believe that because Japanese soldiers were known for their vicious fighting styles, the invasion of Japan would have led to American casualties in the hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions (O’Connor, 2010). Additional explanations include that the US spent almost 2 billion dollars developing the bombs and those costs needed to be justified (O’Connor, 2010).

Even for their swift demolition, the Hiroshima and the Nagasaki bombs were extremely inefficient. Only one of the fifty kilograms of uranium present detonated in “Little Boy” the affectionate nickname given to that weapon of mass destruction by those responsible (Milam, 2010). Hiroshima could have been even more horrifying than it was if one dares imagine. After all, the “best minds in the world” were feverishly working on these projects (Milam, 2010). Ironically, Einstein later became a peace activist and days before his death signed Bertrand Russell’s 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto along with ten other esteemed scientists and intellectuals (Milam, 2010). It begins with the words:

“In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction.” It ends with the oft-repeated phrase: “We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest (Milam, 2010).”

Secretary of war, Stimson, later revealed that the decision to use the atomic bomb was in part intended to satisfy the doubts of that rather difficult class of community which will have charge of the education of the next generation, namely educators and historians (Sherwin, 1995). He also wrote that the sole motivation was to save American lives by ending the war as quickly as possible (Sherwin, 1995). What he failed to discuss were the Japanese messages intercepted by United States military intelligence indicating that the Japanese had been trying to surrender “conditionally” since June of 1945 (Sherwin, 1945).

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The effects of the bombings were massive on all levels. The lives of the Japanese were forever affected. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, then a 29-year-old ship engineer with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was walking to the company shipyard in Hiroshima when Little Boy, the world’s first strategic atomic bomb, detonated in midair less than 2 miles away (Military History, 2009). The blast knocked him unconscious, burst his left eardrum and burned his upper torso. Three days later, back home in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi was recounting his story to a skeptical boss when Fat Man, the second strategic atomic bomb, exploded over that city, also less than 2 miles away (Military History, 2009). The shock wave knocked both men to the floor and tore off Yamaguchi’s bandages (Military History, 2009). The engineer spent more than a decade recovering from his physical injuries. His wife and infant son escaped the Nagasaki explosion with minor wounds, but the family was plagued by poor health. His son died of cancer in 2005 at age 59 (Military History, 2009). Yamaguchi is now formally recognized as a double-hibakusha (“explosion-affected person”) and has become a vocal proponent of nuclear disarmament (Military History, 2009). “The reason that I hate the atomic bomb is because of what it does to the dignity of human beings,” Yamaguchi explained to The Times. “Having been granted this miracle, it is my responsibility to pass on the truth,” (Military History, 2009).

According to Cameron (2005), 226,598 officially certified survivors of the atomic bombings are still alive in Japan today. The actual number of hibakusha is likely much larger, as many could not meet the strict and sometimes subjective qualifications for certification, while others have left Japan. The average age of these witnesses, however, is now seventy-three. Most have been struggling with radiation-related illness for much of their lives, and death will surely have silenced the majority of them by the seventieth anniversary of the bombing in 2015 (Cameron, 2005).

Then fourteen year-old Akihiro Takahashi remembers waiting to go into his classroom then waking up with burns all over his body. He made his way to the river to try to extinguish his burning flesh (Cameron, 2005). His physical suffering had only begun; he now must visit a hospital daily for hour-long treatments for liver cancer and the admission that he worries every day about his health (Cameron, 2005).

In addition to health related effects endured, there were also international effects of the atomic bombings. World War II came to an end and a peace treaty was formed between the United States, Japan and forty eight nations (O’Connor, 2010). Creators of the bomb had not received the feelings towards the bomb that they predicted and the scientists soon came to the conclusion that this bomb should not be used (Cameron, 2005).  


The decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was one of the most controversial issues of the twentieth century. The bombings will continue to remain a heated debate for many years to come. The exact strength of mind for the use of the atomic bombs will never be fully understood and the same question will be asked time and time again, “Did it have to happen?”

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