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The 64th commemoration of the atomic attack on Japan
Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 6 and 9, 1945, have gone down in history as never to be forgotten days of barbaric infamy. For, it was on these two dreadful days that the Americans with the concurrence of their British allies dropped their newly acquired atom bombs on the unsuspecting cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively.

The bombs destroyed beyond recognition these two vibrant cities which were models of the fruits of human endeavour and glorious achievement. The deadly bombs killed thousand of innocent civilians. Many more were maimed for life. The sufferings caused by radiation were immeasurable. Adolf Hitler’s bombing of Rotterdam, Warsaw, Coventry and London paled into insignificance when compared with these two bombings. Even the brilliant scientists who had worked tirelessly to produce this deadly device could not believe that their creation was capable of causing such mind boggling damage. It is to the eternal shame of President Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill that they did not get their advisors to evaluate the extent of the damage that the bomb would cause to the lives of innocent people. They stand condemned by the verdict of history.

Birth of the atom bomb

Since 1939 a panel of famous scientists drawn from British universities had been engaged in a top secret operation to develop a very powerful bomb that could wipe out an entire city in the matter of a few seconds. Intelligence sources had revealed that the Germans were also engaged in a similar exercise.

As their experiments progressed they had submitted an interim report to Winston Churchill the Prime Minister. Churchill informed President Roosevelt of what was being done. Both of them agreed that further work on this project would be carried out jointly by British and US scientists at a secret location in the United States so that Adolf Hitler would not get wind of it. That was how Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and a galaxy of brilliant scientists came to be involved. So great was the contribution of Robert Oppenheimer, a scientific genius, that he was popularly called the "Father of the Atom Bomb".

The story is told that when the fledgling bomb was first tested in the desert of New Mexico Oppenheimer was shocked and amazed by the destructive power of the explosion. I quote from Robert Jungk’s book "Brighter than a thousand suns" -

‘People were transfixed with fright at the power of the explosion. Oppenheimer was clinging to one of the uprights in the control room. A passage from the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred epic of the Hindus, flashed through his mind:

"If the radiance of a thousand suns

were to burst into the sky

that would be like

the splendour of the mighty one"

‘When the sinister and gigantic cloud rose up in the far distance over Point Zero he was reminded of another line from the same source,

"I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds"’.

The political scene

News of the successful atomic explosion reached the White House. Harry Truman was the new President after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Truman was determined to finish the war in the Far East as soon as possible. With the atom bomb in his armoury he declared -

"We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war" (Truman Memoirs)

Truman was however in a dilemma. Considering the monstrous power of the bomb and the terrible devastation it would cause, should the bomb be used against the Japanese or not? As a preliminary measure it was decided to send the Japanese government an ultimatum supported by the British and the nationalist government of China calling upon them to surrender on the terms laid down or face destruction.

The Japanese, a self- respecting nation could not agree with the humiliating terms of surrender that had been laid down. The stage was now set for the most frightening development of all.

The section of the targets

On the advice of the military chiefs four targets had been selected for the dropping of the atom bomb on the ground that these were centres for the production of armaments. The four targets selected were Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki, in that order. The bomb was scheduled to be dropped after August 3, if by that time the Japanese government had not reconsidered its decision not to accept the terms of surrender.

The fatal moment

The first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The name of the aircraft that carried the bomb was Enola Gay. The pilot reported that there was no fighter opposition and no anti- aircraft fire. The destruction was horrendous to say the least. An entire city had been wiped out in a matter of seconds leaving a trail of unimaginable devastation and death. Civilian casualties were very heavy and those who survived were maimed for life.

There was a two day respite for the Japanese government to evaluate the destruction that had been caused and agree to surrender. As there was no response the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. With one cruel and dastardly stroke the bustling city was completely destroyed also with heavy civilian casualties. These inhuman acts shocked the world but they could do nothing about it. The perpetrators were heartless brutes who did not care two hoots about the fate of the many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in a land far away from their centres of decision-making. The power of the atom bomb had deadened their consciences.

It is interesting note how by a strange quirk of fate Nagasaki became the hapless victim of the second bomb. The target was the city of Kokura. By the time Kokura was reached the weather had turned foul with heavy cloud cover. When the pilot reported that he had made three runs over the target without a glimpse of the city he was ordered to proceed to Nagasaki and drop the bomb there. Here too the weather was bad with heavy cloud cover but a sudden and unexpected opening in the clouds enabled the pilot to drop the bomb on this ill fated city. The consequences were as devastating as in Hiroshima. The gods had willed that Kokura should be saved and that Nagasaki should pay the fatal price.

After the disastrous effects of the second bomb the Japanese government capitulated on August 10, 1945. The war was over.

Was this bombing really necessary?

Even the scientists who were responsible for the production of this deadly bomb were filled with remorse when they heard of the terrible destruction that had been caused. To them it had now become a "dilemma of conscience". Hans Beth was one among the many scientists who decried the use of this deadly weapon of mass destruction. As a member of the Emerging Committee of Atomic Scientists, he was profoundly shocked by the terrible devastation and he urged that the public should be enlightened on the dangers of atomic warfare and also insisted on the necessity for international control. What effect it had on the hardheaded and rapacious political hierarchy of the Western world is anyone’s guess. Whatever regrets came later, the fact remains that in their eagerness to meet a challenge posed by their political masters they had created a Frankenstein that could destroy the entire planet.

Although Winston Churchill was one of those who agreed with President Truman that this deadly bomb should be used on Japan to shorten the war, he said something different in his history of the Second World War. He wrote -

"It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atom bomb. Her defeat was certain before the bomb fell and was brought about by overwhelming maritime power. This alone had made it possible to secure ocean bases from which to launch the final attack and force her metropolitan army to capitulate without striking a blow" (Volume 6)

If that was indeed the case why was it necessary to unleash this terrible instrument of human destruction and shatter the lives of an innocent and unsuspecting people? The conclusion is inescapable that the wisest of political leaders could get carried away when dangerous weapons are in their hands. That is why at least for the future, measures need to be taken to prevent a power drunk, irrational political maniac from pressing the nuclear button which could very well result in the destruction of mankind.

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