Last month we read in our newspapers dozens of articles on Sri Lanka’s Black July 1983. Here then is an account of perhaps the Blackest August 1945 in the history of the world.
On 6th August 1945 the silence at morning prep at Trinity College, Kandy was broken by the Master-in-Charge, the respected late Mr. A. J. Wirasinha. Such an interruption was rare, when even the drop of a pen was considered a major disturbance. The reason? Mr. Wirasingha had heard a few minutes earlier on his radio (Marconi?), the only one in the three upper school boarding houses and wanted to share with his charges the momentous news of the USA having dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima with devastating results. It meant, he said the early end of the war. Our immediate reaction was one of applause and joy as all the privations we suffered during WW 2 with food rationing and shortages of clothes, books, shoes and numerous other needs would be over. However, normality took long to come and in the months and years before then more details of holocaust came in.
Seconds after 8.15 in the morning that day the sky above the sprawling city of Hiroshima could not be seen on account of a cloud of thick black smoke over 29,000 feet in height and spread over several kilometers in every direction. The quiet of the morning was shattered as never before and the future of the world took a dramatic turn as the first example of the disaster that nuclear weapons can cause; the destruction being caused by the Americans in their effort to defeat Japan in World War II. It is still considered the single biggest human catastrophe caused by man against man in such a few moments.
The ten foot-long uranium bomb which the U.S. airmen called "Little Boy" was dropped from the Enola Gay, a B29 Bomber named after Paul Tibbets’, the pilot’s mother, flying at an altitude of some 28,000 feet over the city. Moments after release from its hatch the bomb was enveloped in flame and 43 seconds later while still about 2,000 feet above target it exploded giving rise to an enormous ball of bluish white fire. Everything within about two kilometers of where the bomb fell was completely destroyed as a result of the blast and heat between 3,000 and 4,000 degrees centigrade. This devastation is not difficult to understand as even iron melts at 1,500 degrees centigrade.
About 100,000 men, women and children died instantly and a further 30,000 to 40,000 within the next few months. A further 100,000 were seriously injured and lived varying lengths of time to suffer and die.
When the bomb burst the Enola Gay and its two escort planes were about 10 miles north of the scene heading back to base in Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas some 1,600 miles from Japan.
Looking back, co-pilot Robert Lewis gasped "My God, what have we done?" awe struck by the sight of the gigantic column of smoke so different from the results of his previous bombing missions and obviously unaware of the potential or type of bomb Tibbets (who died in early March 2007) and he had carried and released over Hiroshima.
One of the B29s beside the Enola Gay named the Great Artiste carried instruments to measure the ‘yield’ of the bomb and photograph whatever was possible in the short time and great height at which it was flying.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on 9th August 1945 a second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki killing over 70,000 men, women and children. This was a heinous crime, to say the least as at that very time Japanese Prime Minister Kintaso Suzuki was announcing to his Cabinet of Ministers "under the present circumstances I have concluded that our only alternative is to accept the Potsdam Proclamation and terminate war." Events leading to this decision had previously been conveyed to President Harry Truman and other US leaders since early in 1945 and many Japanese at the time were of the view "that Japan had already lost the war and the bombing of Hiroshima, and of Nagasaki three days later was wrong and unnecessary. Everybody knows on the left and the right that Japan was finished at the time the bomb was dropped."
The damage caused by the bombs were not only from the intense heat and blast pressure but possibly far worse was the short, medium and long term effects of radiation of gamma rays on humans, animals and vegetation as well. Naturally, everything organic in close proximity to the hypocenter suffered more than those further away but the effects of radiation due to exposure to contaminated material carried by the wind and other means took its toll. It is reported that various food crops were adversely affected for years after the event. Many vegetables like gourds, cucumbers and pumpkins were at maturity abnormal in shape and size.
In addition, 30 minutes after the explosion the dreadful ‘Black Rain’ fell on Hiroshima and its outlying districts causing the affected area to spread even further. The result is that even by the mid 1980s some 90,000 Japanese in both cities were suffering from radiation related diseases like leukemia and malignant tumours in homes and hospitals. Some who were spared of immediate exposure correctly feared to have children lest they pass on any latent disease to future generations while some others who were less conscious of these dangers brought into the world children sick from birth.
One redeeming factor, though small, is that people who were affected in anyway and survived the bombing are not forgotten. They receive from the Japanese Government pensions for life and those who need it the best medical attention free of charge. Survivors of the bombing are called by the mildly derogatory term. ‘Hibakusha’ by fellow Japanese and one such is Yoshitake Kawamoto who in 1985 was the Director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The Museum is divided into several sections each showing the damage caused by the heat, blast, radiation, fire and the massive rescue operation mounted by the civil and military authorities who were totally unprepared for a disaster of that magnitude.
Weird and strange objects are on display, twisted iron beams, charred, melted or otherwise damaged household goods, melted coins, a mass of fused aerated water bottle stoppers, scorched clothing, a pocket watch which had stopped at 8.15 and a stone step with a human shadow imprinted on it by the intense light and heat are among the hundreds of other exhibits. In one display cabinet is a clump of human hair (those exposed to certain levels of radiation lost their hair temporarily) charred teeth, bones and fingernails.
Photographs, drawings and wax figures of victims including a horse, show the degree to which they lost their limbs, skin and flesh. Others show victims with arms outstretched, blinded and running as if in their sleep with their clothes in tatters in a background of burning buildings, fallen leafless tress and human bodies strewn under a sky blazing as if many suns were shining that day. These exhibits left one with feelings of horror, sorrow and fear that scientific advancement which is normally associated with relief from pain, suffering, hunger and as a means to greater material comforts could also cause such untold damage, destruction and misery.
Close to the Museum stands the Atomic Bomb Dome which was part of the Hiroshima Prefecture’s then Chamber of Commerce building. It is left as it was after the bombing with a damaged, roofless steel dome, doorless, windowless, walls with torn off plaster as a further reminder of that fateful day, 6th August 1945. In remembrance of the dead as a result of this catastrophe the Japanese have laid out a beautiful park, the Peace Park. At one end of which is the Museum on the left bank of the Honkava River, the aiming point for the Enola Gay.
Sixty three years after these tragic events people are still debating whether it was wrong and unnecessary to atomic bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese naturally feel strongly that such a catastrophe was entirely needless so much so that last year Fumio Kyuma, Defense Minister "had to resign simply for suggesting the attack was unavoidable." The Japanese are convinced that the US dropped the bombs to test their destructive power and to intimidate the then Soviet Union and to "make Russia more manageable in Europe". Many influential Americans also felt and still feel that way even now.
Maley and Mohan in 2007 wrote "The blast, fire, and radiation from Tibbets’ bomb killed 140,000 people. Many others were scarred and injured for life. Most of the bomb’s victims were women, children, the elderly and other civilians not directly involved in the war. Those victims also included American and Allied POWs and thousands of Koreans forcibly conscripted by the Japanese as wartime labour. Such facts should disturb us. They ought to revolt our souls."
A few declared the bombing was necessary as it "saved hundreds of thousands, may be millions of lives both American and Japanese" but this view was shared by a comparatively few compared to the vast numbers holding an entirely opposite view. The debate could perhaps end with what former Republican President Herbet Hoover wrote to a friend a few days after the Hiroshima was bombed, "the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children revolts my soul."
Sources – American Spreads Hiroshima Legacy by Cathy Bussewitz, Conservative Revisionists and Hiroshima by Leo Maley III and Uday Mohan via a Web site and two previous newspaper articles by this writer.