Remembering the Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

From Life Magazine, this unpublished photo was taken in the ruins of a house in Nagasaki. On Sept 9, 1945, the photographer Bernard Hopkins wrote: "Assume this had been a private dwelling... remains the only evidence of what once had been a home and family."

(see all the unpublished photos taken of the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from Life Magazine)

Today — August 6th, 2010 — marks the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the first use of an atomic bomb for the purposes of warfare in history. 

On this day in 1945, the “Little Boy” bomb was dropped by the United States military on the city of Hiroshima, which was chosen as a military target because  it was “an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target.”

The purpose of the bombing was to convince Japan to enter into an unconditional surrender and end World War II, because there was a belief amongst Americans that the Japanese were so devoted to Emperor Hirohito that they would fight to the last man, woman, and child if invaded, which (if true) would compromise American military strength. Although Japanese loyalty to Emperor Hirohito was high during WWII, the perception of Japanese citizens as mindlessly loyal to their emperor was also predicated — at least in part — on racist stereotypes of the Japanese promoted through American WWII propaganda. Fearing the costs of a prolonged invasion of Japan, the United States decided to use their recently developed atomic bombs on civilian and urban centers, specifically for the purpose of maximizing civilian deaths and demoralizing the Japanese government and citizenry.

At 8:15am on August 6th, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” onto the city of Hiroshima.

After the clouds cleared, 30% of the residents of Hiroshima — 70,000 to 80,000 people — were vaporized in an instant by the initial blast. An additional 70,000 were injured by the resulting explosion. Shockingly, 90% of Hiroshima’s doctors were killed in the blast (most were concentrated in Hiroshima’s downtown sector, which received the most damage in the blast), which severely compromised the medical response in the aftermath of the explosion.

Three days later, on August 9th, 1945, the American government dropped a second atomic bomb onto Japan, this time on the decidedly civilian target of Nagasaki. This time, 39,000 were killed by the initial blast, and another 25,000 were injured by the explosion.

But, the true death toll of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be higher still. By 1950, it was estimated that over 200,000 had died as a result of medical conditions associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings — including burns, radiation sickness, and cancer.

What’s scary is that scientists estimate that roughly only 1/10th of each atomic bomb’s power was actually unleashed onto these cities. Consequently, the true devastation that a single atomic bomb could yield onto an urban center is virtually unfathomable. To me, there is no political, historical or military reason that could justify the kind of mass murder we saw on this day 65 years ago.

While I abhor the idea of atomic bombs, I also do not believe that we can stop the progress of science. I believe that the atomic bomb is only one of many weapons of mass destruction our species has, and will continue to, develop — as a natural and inevitable result of scientific pursuit and exploration. But, as we gain this knowledge, we must work tirelessly to ensure the oversight, the ethics and the morality are in place to wield that power responsibly. We have evolved far past the days when we believed our species to be at the whim of an unseen natural force — we now understand that we are masters of our destiny, yet we still are infants when it comes to accepting the consequences of that realization.

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki irrevocably changed the culture and history of an entire civilization. Thousands of men, women, and children were literally erased from existence in less than a minute by the decisions of men sitting in a smoke-filled room an ocean away.

Today, we must remember those people who should have lived, so that we will never allow this kind of senseless death and destruction to happen again. There are some lines that should never be crossed.

Update: Today also marks the first year that the U.S. government has sent a representative to the Japanese ceremony commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I applaud President Obama in taking this step in attempting to mend relations with the Japanese government over this painful moment in our combined histories.

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