By: Anisha Pattanayak
“Using long bamboo sticks, they were turning over one corpse after the other as they floated down the river, there was an eerie silence and an overwhelming stench,” as the Hiroshima survivor, Hiroyasu Tagawa recalls.”
On 6th August 1945, at 8:15am, as the citizens of Hiroshima were beginning their day, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the US Air Forces (US B-29 bomber, Enola Gay), at the instant of the explosion, intense heat rays and radiation were released in all directions, and a blast erupted with incredible pressure on the surrounding air. This was the first time a nuclear weapon had ever been used; the fireball created by the bomb destroyed 13 square kilometres of the city, and those dead as a result numbered up to 180,000. Hiroshima stands on a flat river delta, with few hills or natural features to limit the blast. The bomb was dropped on the city centre, an area crowded with wooden residential structures and places of business. These factors meant that the death toll and destruction in Hiroshima was particularly high. Three days later, at 11:02am, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN?
World War II was fought by millions of people in all corners of the world. Conflict in the Pacific began well before the official start of World War II. Seeking raw materials to fuel its growing industries, Japan invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria in 1931. In 1934, Japan ended its cooperation with other major powers in the Pacific by withdrawing from the Five Power Treaty. The United States, along with other countries, criticized the Japanese aggression but shied away from any economic or military punishments.
Relations between the United States and Japan worsened when Japanese forces took aim at Indo-China with the goal of capturing oil rich areas of the East Indies. Responding to this threat, the United States placed an embargo on scrap metal, oil, and aviation fuel heading to Japan and froze Japanese assets in the United States. Furthermore, the United States demanded that the Japanese withdraw from conquered areas of China and Indochina. Japan, sensing conflict was inevitable, began planning for an attack on Pearl Harbour by April, 1941.
After President Roosevelt died on April 12th 1945, it became Harry Truman’s job to decide how to end the war. The thought of invading Japan gave Truman and his advisors a pause. The war had shown that the Japanese were fighting for the emperor who convinced them that it was better to die than surrender. Women and children had been taught how to kill with basic weapons. Japanese kamikaze pilots could turn planes into guided missiles. The cost of invasion, they knew, would be high.
Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding the unconditional surrender of the Japanese government, warning of “prompt and utter destruction.” Eleven days later, on August 6, 1945, having received no reply, an American bomber called the Enola Gay left the Tinian Island in route towards Japan. In the belly of the bomber was “Little Boy”, an atomic bomb, at 8:15am Hiroshima time, “Little Boy” was dropped. The result was approximately 80,000 deaths in just the first few minutes. Thousands died later from radiation sickness. On August 9, 1945, another bomber was in route to Japan, only this time they were heading for Nagasaki with “Fat Man,” another atomic bomb. After the first minute of dropping “Fat Man”, 39,000 men, women and children were killed, 25,000 more were injured. Both cities were levelled from the bombs and this, in turn, forced Japan to surrender to the United States. The war was finally over.
The effects of the bombings were massive on all levels as these sole survivors of their families recall, Akiko Takakura was 19, when the bomb fell, detonating above a quiet street close to her workplace, the Hiroshima branch of the Sumitomo Bank. She lost consciousness after seeing a white magnesium flash but later awoke to the sound of a friend, Kimiko Usami, crying out for her mother, according to testimony preserved by the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. The pair managed to escape the building, which had partially shielded those inside with its reinforced concrete walls, and venture into the street. There, they encountered a “whirlpool of fire” that burned everything it touched.
“It was just like a living hell,” Takakura recalled. “After a while, it began to rain. The fire and the smoke made us so thirsty and there was nothing to drink, people opened their mouths and turned their faces toward the sky [to] try to drink the rain, but it wasn’t easy to catch the rain drops in our mouths. It was black rain with big drops.”
The fire eventually died down, enabling Takakura and Usami to navigate through streets littered with the “reddish-brown corpse of those who were killed instantly.” Upon reaching a nearby drill ground, the young women settled in for the night with only a sheet of corrugated tin for warmth. On August 10th, Takakura’s mother took her daughter, who had sustained more than 100 lacerations all over her body, home to begin the lengthy recovery process.
TODAY, 6TH AUGUST 2021
The 76th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki reminds us of the power that nuclear weapons possess. In present times, we have much more powerful bombs, like Hydrogen bombs, which can unleash much more massive destruction than the nuclear bomb.
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?”
Now, as we recall these harrowing events, the fables of the past — nuclear deterrence, racism, inequality, climate exploitation — must all be untold. Seventy-six years from today people must say, ‘Once upon a time, nothing grew but lies and misery;’ children must shout ‘No way!’ when they hear that generations had harboured these delusions.