Soon after arriving at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman received word that the scientists of the Manhattan Project had successfully detonated the world’s first nuclear device in a remote corner of the New Mexico desert.
On July 24, eight days after the Trinity test, Truman approached Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, who along with Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (soon to be succeeded by Clement Attlee) made up the “Big Three” Allied leaders gathered at Potsdam to determine the post-World War II future of Germany.
According to Truman, he “casually mentioned” to Stalin that the United States had “a new weapon of unusual destructive force,” but Stalin didn’t seem especially interested. “All he said was that he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make ‘good use of it against the Japanese,’” Truman later wrote in his memoir, Year of Decisions.
Soviet Intelligence Knew About the Bomb
For Truman, news of the successful Trinity test set up a momentous choice: whether or not to deploy the world’s first weapon of mass destruction. But it also came as a relief, as it meant the United States wouldn’t have to rely on the increasingly adversarial Soviet Union to enter World War II against Japan.
Truman never mentioned the words “atomic” or “nuclear” to Stalin, and the assumption on the U.S. side was that the Soviet premier didn’t know the exact nature of the new weapon. In fact, while Truman himself had first learned of the top-secret U.S. program to develop atomic weapons just three months earlier, after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, Soviet intelligence had begun receiving reports about the project as early as September 1941.
READ MORE: Harry Truman and Hiroshima: Inside His Tense A-Bomb Vigil
While Stalin didn’t take the atomic threat as seriously during wartime as some of his spies did—he had other problems on his hands, thanks to the German onslaught and occupation—Truman’s words at Potsdam made more of an impact than the president realized.
“We now know that Stalin immediately went to his subordinates and said, we need to get Kurchatov working faster on this,” says Gregg Herken, emeritus professor of U.S. diplomatic history at the University of California and the author of The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War and Brotherhood of the Bomb. Igor Kurchatov was the nuclear physicist who headed up the Soviet atomic bomb project—the Soviet equivalent, in other words, of Manhattan Project mastermind J. Robert Oppenheimer.
‘Little Boy’ Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima
On August 6, 1945, just days after the Potsdam Conference ended, the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped the uranium bomb known as “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Despite its devastating effects, Japan didn’t offer unconditional surrender right away, as the United States had hoped. Then on August 8, Soviet forces invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuria, violating an earlier non-aggression pact signed with Japan.
PHOTOS: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Before and After the Bombs
The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Herken argues that the Soviet invasion may have had at least as great an effect on Japanese morale as the first atomic bomb. “The last hope for the Japanese government, the peace faction, was that the Soviet Union might actually agree to negotiate a peace with the United States as a neutral party,” he explains. “But once the Soviets invaded Manchuria, it was clear that was not going to happen.”
On August 9, U.S. forces dropped “Fat Man,” a plutonium bomb, on Nagasaki. Together, the two bombs dropped in Japan would kill more than 300,000 people, including those who died instantly and those who perished from radiation and other lingering effects of the explosions.
Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s unconditional surrender via radio address on August 15, bringing World War II to a close. In the peace negotiations at Yalta, as at Potsdam, the ideological gulf between the Soviet Union and its Western allies solidified, particularly when it came to the fate of Eastern Europe.
READ MORE: WWII Ends: 22 Photos of Giddy Celebrations After Allied Victory
Even today, historians continue to disagree over whether or not the Truman administration made the decision to drop the atomic bomb for political reasons—namely, to intimidate the Soviet Union—rather than strictly military ones.
“The bomb was so top secret that there were no formal meetings about it, there was no official discussion about what to do, there wasn't the kind of decision-making process that we have with most kinds of policy,” says Campbell Craig, professor of international relations in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University and co-author of The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War (with Sergey Radchenko). “So a lot of our opinions about what really drove the United States to drop the bomb is guesswork.”
Whatever the U.S. intention had been at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Stalin certainly saw U.S. possession of the atomic bomb as a direct threat to the Soviet Union and its place in the post-war world—and he was determined to level the playing field. Meanwhile, thanks to atomic espionage, Soviet scientists were well on their way to developing their own bomb.
Truman Doctrine Calls for Soviet Containment
Some members of Truman’s administration would argue in favor of cooperation with the Soviets, seeing it as the only way to avoid a nuclear arms race. But an opposing view, articulated by State Department official George Kennan in his famous “Long Telegram” in early 1946, would prove far more influential, inspiring the Truman Doctrine and the “containment” policy toward Soviet and communist expansionism around the globe.
Later in 1946, during the first meeting of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC), the United States presented the Baruch Plan, which called for the Soviets to share every detail of their atomic energy program—including opening their facilities to international inspectors—before the United States would share anything with them. Surprising no one, the Soviets rejected these terms.
“The Baruch Plan would have required the Soviets to basically surrender their sovereignty for them to have any share in atomic energy,” Herken says. “Stalin was the last person to want to do that.”
READ MORE: The Man Who Survived Two Atomic Bombs
Soviets Reply With Their Own Nuclear Test
By 1949, all thoughts of cooperation were off the table: On August 29, the Soviets successfully tested their own nuclear device, producing a 20-kiloton blast roughly equal to the Trinity test. The nuclear arms race that would define the rest of the Cold War was on, as the two superpowers battled to see who could amass the most weapons of mass destruction, and figure out how to deploy them most effectively.
As Craig says, “The existence of the bomb forced the United States and the Soviet Union more quickly to reckon with one another than if the bomb hadn't existed.”
READ MORE: “Father of the Atomic Bomb” Was Blacklisted for Opposing H-Bomb
Hiroshima ( 広島市 , Hiroshima-shi, / ˌ h ɪr oʊ ˈ ʃ iː m ə / , also UK: / h ɪ ˈ r ɒ ʃ ɪ m ə / ,  US: / h ɪ ˈ r oʊ ʃ ɪ m ə / , Japanese: [çiɾoɕima] ) is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. As of June 1, 2019 [update] , the city had an estimated population of 1,199,391. The gross domestic product (GDP) in Greater Hiroshima, Hiroshima Urban Employment Area, was US$61.3 billion as of 2010.   Kazumi Matsui has been the city's mayor since April 2011.
Hiroshima was founded in 1598 as a castle town on the Ōta River delta. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Hiroshima rapidly transformed into a major urban center and industrial hub. In 1889, Hiroshima officially gained city status. The city was a center of military activities during the imperial era, playing significant roles such as in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and the two world wars.
Hiroshima was the first city targeted by a nuclear weapon. This occurred on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m., when the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped the atomic bomb "Little Boy" on the city.  Most of the city was destroyed, and by the end of the year 90,000–166,000 had died as a result of the blast and its effects. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) serves as a memorial of the bombing.
Since being rebuilt after the war, Hiroshima has become the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan.
The Bomb That Ended the War
The nose art on "Bockscar," nicknamed for its assigned pilot, Fred Bock, traced the bomber's path from Utah to Nagasaki and was applied after the war-ending mission.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, has been the subject of numerous books and articles since that time, many by scientists and others who participated in the development of the world’s first atomic bombs. The personal story of Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, who flew the Boeing B-29 Enola Gay, and the individual accounts of its crew members have also been published since that eventful mission a half century ago.
Strangely, however, the story of the second mission, which bombed Nagasaki, has not been fully told, mostly because of the concurrent rush of events leading to Japan’s complete surrender. Then, too, it may be because that second A-bomb strike nearly ended disastrously. It further proved the verity of Murphy’s Law that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
Tibbets, then a colonel in charge of the 509th Composite Group, had honed his unit of 15 B-29 Superfortresses into one of the finest Air Force bombardment outfits ever assembled. Operating from Tinian Island in the Marianas, then considered the largest air base in the world, he and his crew had made a picture-perfect 2,900-mile flight, and had dropped the uranium bomb called ‘Little Boy’ squarely on target. That single bomb, weighing 8,900 pounds, wiped out nearly five square miles of Hiroshima percent of the city. More than 78,000 of the city’s total population of 348,000 were killed an estimated 51,000 were injured or missing.
It had been an exhausting 12-hour mission. After returning to Tinian, Tibbets was greeted on the tarmac by General Carl Spaatz, commander of the Strategic Air Force, who pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on his rumpled, sweat-stained flying suit. Meanwhile, U.S. President Harry S. Truman was aboard USS Augusta, returning from a conference with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin at Potsdam, Germany. Upon hearing the news, Truman exclaimed, ‘This is the greatest thing in history!’ He promptly announced to the world the existence of an atomic bomb that had been developed under the code name, ‘Manhattan Project.’
The War Department then issued a number of press releases giving the history of the project, information about production facilities, and the biographies of key people. In an unusual example of military and press cooperation, the releases had actually been drafted by William L. Laurence, a science reporter for The New York Times, who had known about the A-bomb for several months prior to the Hiroshima mission. Apprised of the need for complete secrecy, he had visited the production facilities and had followed the group to Tinian.
Within hours, newspapers around the world were carrying stories about the bomb and the principles involved in splitting the atom. They chronicled the bomb’s development, the devastation it caused, the role of Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves in directing the Manhattan Project, and the contributions of 30,000 engineers and scientists in solving the mystery of the atom’s energy potential.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was one of the few top leaders who had been totally informed of the bomb’s top-secret development every step of the way, and he had approved the target selection. He announced that improvements would be forthcoming soon ‘which will increase by several fold the effectiveness’ of the Hiroshima bomb.
The populace of the target cities had been warned. Leaflets had been dropped on 11 Japanese cities on July 27, telling the citizens that America was ‘in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man.’ There had been other warnings given to the Japanese during the preceding weeks, while the Twentieth Air Force’s Superforts firebombed the country’s principal industrial cities.
But the immense havoc a single bomb could produce was unimaginable, and the warnings were not taken very seriously. Just the day before, July 26, a declaration had been issued at Potsdam that notified the world of the intentions of three of the Allied nations concerning Japan: ‘The prodigious land, sea and air forces of the United States, the British Empire and of China, many times reinforced by their armies and air fleets of the west, are poised to strike the final blows upon Japan. This military power is sustained and inspired by the determination of all the Allied Nations to prosecute the war against Japan until she ceases to resist.
‘…We call upon the Government of Japan to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces, and to provide proper and adequate assurance of their good faith in such action. The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.’
The Potsdam Declaration was debated vigorously at the highest levels of the Japanese government. A delegation was sent to Moscow to request that the Soviet Union, then still at peace with Japan, act as mediator. It was hoped that if the Soviets would agree to that role, it might be possible to negotiate terms that would be the most favorable to Japan.
There was great dissension among the Japanese military leaders, for few wanted to submit to a demand for unconditional surrender. Senior diplomats and influential citizens, however, privately urged Marquis Koichi Kido and members of the Japanese cabinet to take advantage of the offer in order to bring a prompt end to the war. On the other hand, War Minister Korechika Anami and the chiefs of the army and navy staffs adamantly refused to accept the terms of the Potsdam agreement. The result was that the Japanese government appeared to ignore the Allied declaration. There was no suspicion that the declaration itself constituted a warning that the most devastating weapon ever devised would be forthcoming. The people of Hiroshima tragically learned otherwise.
Because of the complete disruption of communications in Hiroshima after the atomic attack, the initial reports of damage were meager and fragmentary. While the world waited for their reaction, shocked Japanese officials were trying to grasp the extent of the damage. Meanwhile, President Truman issued the following statement: ‘It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.’
It was known that there had been other diplomatic moves, made previously by Japanese emissaries through neutral nations, which intimated that Japan might surrender under certain terms that were unacceptable to America and its allies. But when nothing definitive was heard from the Japanese, plans proceeded to drop the second atomic bomb.
The second mission was designated ‘Special Mission No. 16.’ A B-29 would carry ‘Fat Man,’ heavier than Little Boy and more complex. The primary target was Kokura. The secondary target was Nagasaki.
The 509th’s Operations Order No. 39 of August 8, 1945, assigned Major Charles W. Sweeney, commanding officer of the 393rd Squadron, as the pilot in command of aircraft No. 297, nicknamed Bockscar. Major James I. Hopkins, Jr., group operations officer, was assigned to fly a second B-29 named Full House, which would carry photographic equipment and scientific personnel. On board would be Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, Winston Churchill’s official representative.
Capt. James Van Pelt, Maj. Charles Sweeney and Lt. Fred Olivi review their route prior to takeoff on the Nagasaki mission.
Captain Fred Bock, instead of flying his own plane, would pilot The Great Artiste, named for Captain Kermit K. Beahan’s ability as a bombardier and his alleged expertise with the opposite sex. That plane would be carrying the same special electronic measuring instruments used when Major Sweeney flew it on the Hiroshima flight. It would also be carrying William L. Laurence, a reporter for The New York Times who had been chosen at the inception of the Manhattan Project. His reporting would win him a Pulitzer Prize. A fourth aircraft was to proceed to Iwo Jima and stand by in case of an early abort by either of the backup aircraft.
Two weather observation planes were to proceed to the target areas one hour ahead of the strike aircraft. Since the order was to bomb visually for the greatest accuracy, it was essential that the area be visible to the bombardier.
Sweeney’s crew normally had 10 men. Three others were added: Lt. Cmdr. Frederick L. Ashworth, U.S. Navy, the weaponeer in charge of the bomb his assistant, Lieutenant Phillip M. Barnes and the radar-countermeasures specialist, Lieutenant Jacob Beser. Captain Charles D. Albury was the copilot Lieutenant Frederick J. Olivi, a third pilot Captain James F. Van Pelt, Jr., navigator Captain Kermit Beahan, bombardier Staff Sgt. Abe M. Spitzer, radioman Staff Sgt. Edward K. Buckley, radar operator Staff Sgt. Albert T. DeHart, central fire control gunner Master Sgt. John D. Kuharek, flight engineer and Staff Sgt. Raymond G. Gallagher, mechanic/gunner. Beser was the only man who flew on both atomic bomb missions as a member of the crew of the strike aircraft. Many of the others in the formation, including Sweeney, had flown the other aircraft on the Hiroshima flight.
The crews of the 509th had trained together for almost a year under top-secret conditions. They had first gathered at Wendover Field, an isolated base in western Utah, and then had flown individual long-range, over-water navigation missions from Batista Field, Cuba. The personnel of the 509th moved to Tinian by air and sea in late May and early June 1945, where their top-secret status was the subject of much curiosity and constant ribbing. The crews designated for the atomic missions practiced by dropping giant 10,000-pound ‘pumpkins’ on 12 Japanese targets. Each pumpkin contained 5,500 pounds of explosives.
The B-29s of the 509th had been modified to deliver the atomic bomb and were thus unable to carry conventional bombs. Instead, they carried the pumpkins, painted orange and shaped like Fat Man. The pumpkins also had been used during their Stateside training. Proximity fuses that produced an air burst, a feature of the atomic bombs, were installed. About 45 of the pumpkin bombs had been brought from the States. According to Tibbets, his crews were so accurate with them that Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, then commanding the Twentieth Air Force, ordered 100 more.
The carefully planned elements of one of the world’s most singular air units came together on schedule, backed by the highest national priority for supplies. The two atomic bombs were the result of the work of thousands of people. They had accepted the responsibility to try to split the atom, and to explore its potential as a bomb that could be controlled and released on demand.
The development of the atomic bomb can be said to have begun in the 1920s and early 1930s. It was then that several physicists, most of them in Europe, originated theories about ways to unlock the energy they believed existed within the atom. One of those physicists was Leo Szilard, a Hungarian who had fled from Nazi Germany to England in 1933. Szilard theorized that ‘in certain circumstances, it might be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction, liberate energy on an industrial scale and construct atomic bombs.’ He urged British officials to conduct research to prove or disprove his theory.
Meanwhile, two German physicists, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, experimented with radioactive uranium in an effort to produce a chain reaction. Meitner fled from Nazi Germany to Sweden in 1938 and, together with Otto Frisch, passed the results of their experiments to physicist Niels Bohr, who left soon after for the United States. Bohr contacted Albert Einstein, also a refugee scientist, and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize for physics, to explain the military potential of atomic energy.
Einstein, by then well-known in America, wrote a letter in August 1939 to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. ‘Some recent work,’ his letter said, ‘…leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future and it is conceivable…that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed.’
Roosevelt appointed a group of scientists to an advisory committee on uranium, but at the time there was no real stimulus to proceed with any definitive action. Meanwhile, scientists in Germany and Japan were also considering the potential of atomic energy for war use. It took the attack on Pearl Harbor to stir the United States into action.
In 1942, Dr. Vannevar Bush, head of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, confirmed to the president that an atomic weapon could be developed. The Manhattan Project was authorized. General Leslie R. Groves, a tough, no-nonsense Army Corps of Engineers officer, was put in charge.
Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist working with a team of fellow scientists at the University of Chicago, built the first nuclear reactor on a squash court under the stands of the university’s football stadium. On December 2, 1942, the world’s first self-sustaining, controlled nuclear reaction was achieved.
There were at least two methods that could be used to produce an explosion, both expensive but possible. Extensive facilities were built at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., to produce uranium and plutonium, the fissionable material needed for the bombs. A central laboratory to design both bombs was established at the so-called Site Y near Los Alamos, N.M., with Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer in charge.
Little Boy, 10 feet long and 28 inches in diameter, was similar to a gun in which a ‘bullet’ made of uranium 235 was fired into a target also of uranium 235. When the two collided, a supercritical mass was attained, and a chain reaction and explosion would occur. No preliminary firing tests were made.
Fat Man measured 10 feet 8 inches long and 5 feet in diameter. It contained a sphere of plutonium. Conventional explosives surrounding the plutonium were fired so that the plutonium was compressed into a supercritical mass, producing a chain reaction and an explosion. Fat Man was tested in the New Mexico desert, near Alamogordo, on July 16, 1945. A blinding explosion, the world’s first nuclear blast, was equivalent to 18,600 tons of TNT. By the time the more complicated Fat Man had been tested, most of Little Boy’s elements were already en route to Tinian.
After Tibbets returned from Hiroshima, Sweeney’s crews watched as Fat Man was loaded on August 8. Sweeney’s greatest fear, he said later, was of ‘goofing up.’ He said, ‘I’d rather face the Japanese than Tibbets in shame if I made a stupid mistake.’
Sweeney did not make any ‘stupid mistakes,’ but the second atomic mission seemed jinxed from the start. When queried recently, General Tibbets called the second mission a ‘fiasco’ through no fault of Sweeney’s.
The two target cities had been carefully selected. They had purposely not been bombed heavily by LeMay’s B-29s so that, as the after-action report noted, ‘The assessment of the atomic bomb damage would not be confused by having to eliminate previous incendiary or high explosive damage.’
Kokura, on the northeast corner of Kyushu, was chosen as the primary target for Fat Man because it was the enemy’s principal production source for automatic weapons. It was also the site of the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and was one of the largest shipbuilding and naval centers in Japan.
Nagasaki, the secondary target, was the third largest city on Kyushu. It was also one of Japan’s leading shipbuilding and repair centers. It was not considered a completely ‘virgin’ target, however, because it had been bombed many weeks before by Twentieth Air Force bombers. Niigata was originally considered as a third target, but it was too far away from the other two cities.
The crews were given their final briefing during the early morning hours of August 9. They would cruise-climb to the bombing altitude of 31,000 feet. Meanwhile, the two weather planes would report the conditions over both targets. Radio silence between the bombers was to be absolute. If any of the planes had to ditch, rescue ships and submarines were in position also, aircraft were on alert, to be dispatched to locate a downed plane or its crew.
With his airplane stripped of all armament except two .50-caliber tail guns, Sweeney lifted Bockscar off at 3:49 a.m., Tinian time. The flight route to Kokura was originally planned to proceed via Iwo Jima, but bad weather forced a change to Yaku-Shima in the Ryukus. En route, Commander Ashworth armed Fat Man.
When Bockscar arrived at the rendezvous point, only The Great Artiste was there. Due to poor visibility, Hopkins, in Full House, had lost contact with the other planes.
It had been agreed that Sweeney would not linger more than 15 minutes over the rendezvous point, but he circled for 45 minutes looking for Hopkins. Meanwhile, Hopkins was circling at another point many miles to the south. Breaking radio silence, Hopkins called out, ‘Chuck, where in the hell are you?’
Sweeney did not answer. Frustrated, he told the crew, ‘We can’t wait any longer,’ and turned toward Kokura with the single B-29 escort. He wanted the mission to be a complete success, but it would be difficult to call it that if the explosion were not properly documented by the photography that the equipment on Hopkins’ plane would produce. Meanwhile, in the bomb bay, something had gone wrong. The black box containing the electrical switches that armed the bomb had a red light. As long as the light blinked in a regular rhythm, it meant that the bomb was properly armed. If it blinked irregularly, something was malfunctioning.
Lieutenant Barnes, the electronics test officer, was the first to notice that the red light suddenly began to flash wildly. He and Ashworth frantically removed the black box’s cover to search for the trouble. Quickly tracing all the wiring, Barnes found the problem: the wiring on two small rotary switches had been reversed somehow. He quickly hooked them properly. It could have been worse. If it had been the timing fuses, they would have had less than one minute to find the trouble before Fat Man might have gone off.
Although Sweeney had heard fragmentary reports that the weather over Kokura would be favorable for visual bombing, it wasn’t. Instead of the three-tenths cloud cover originally reported, the city was now obscured by heavy cloud cover. In addition, smoke from a firebomb raid the previous night on nearby Yawata made conditions worse. Staff Sergeant DeHart, in the tail-gun position, reported flak ‘wide, but altitude is perfect.’ Fighters were detected on radar Staff Sgt. Gallagher thought he saw fighters through the haze.
Lieutenant Olivi recalled what happened next: ‘We spent about 50 minutes and made three passes from different directions, but Beahan [the bombardier] reported he couldn’t bomb visually. It was at this time that the crew chief [Master Sgt. Kuharek] reported that the 600 gallons of fuel in the bomb bay auxiliary tanks could not be transferred. We needed that extra 600 gallons badly.’
They had no choice now. After conferring with Ashworth, Sweeney turned toward Nagasaki, hoping that the weather there was better. When they arrived, the city was obscured by nine-tenths cloud cover with very few holes. Ashworth and Sweeney considered bombing by radar against orders. Despite the risk of having an armed bomb aboard, they had been ordered to bring it back if they could not bomb visually. Niigata, the unofficial tertiary target, was too far away, especially considering their reduced fuel supply. No one wanted to have to ditch in the East China Sea or try to land on Okinawa, the nearest friendly base, with the armed Fat Man aboard.
‘We started an approach [to Nagasaki],’ Olivi said, ‘but Beahan couldn’t see the target area [in the city east of the harbor]. Van Pelt, the navigator, was checking by radar to make sure we had the right city, and it looked like we would be dropping the bomb automatically by radar. At the last few seconds of the bomb run, Beahan yelled into his mike, ‘I’ve got a hole! I can see it! I can see the target!’ Apparently, he had spotted an opening in the clouds only 20 seconds before releasing the bomb.’
In his debriefing later, Beahan told Tibbets, ‘I saw my aiming point there was no problem about it. I got the cross hairs on it I’d killed my rate I’d killed my drift. The bomb had to go.’
When Beahan shouted, ‘Bombs away!’ over the intercom, Sweeney wheeled the B-29 around in a sharp, 60-degree left bank and turned 150 degrees away from the area as they had all practiced many times before. Approximately 50 seconds after release, a bright flash lit up the cockpit, where everyone had donned dark goggles. ‘It was more dazzling than sunlight,’ according to Olivi, ‘even with my Polaroid glasses on. I could see fires starting and dust and smoke spreading in all directions. An ugly-looking mushroom began to emerge from the center. It spread and began rising directly toward our B-29.
‘Right after the blast, we had lunged downward and away from the radioactive cloud. We felt three separate shock waves, the first being the most severe. As the mushroom cloud kept on climbing toward us, bright flames, a sickly pink, were shooting out of its interior. I had a sickish feeling in the pit of my stomach that we were going to be enveloped by the cloud. We had been warned many times about the possibility of radiation poisoning if we flew into it.
‘Actually, I think the mushroom cloud missed us by about 125 yards before we pulled away from it. The briefings and all the practice we had on evasive tactics now had special meaning.’
Reporter Laurence, flying nearby in The Great Artiste, was transfixed in awe at the scene. ‘We watched a giant pillar of purple fire, 10,000 feet high, shoot upward like a meteor coming from the earth instead of from outer space,’ he wrote later in his award-winning book Dawn Over Zero. ‘It was no longer smoke, or dust, or even a cloud of fire. It was a living thing, a new species of being, born right before our incredulous eyes.
‘Even as we watched, a giant mushroom came shooting out of the top to 45,000 feet, a mushroom top that was even more alive than the pillar, seething and boiling in a white fury of creamy foam, a thousand geysers rolled into one. It kept struggling in an elemental fury, like a creature in the act of breaking the bonds that held it down.
‘When we last saw it, it had changed its shape into a flowerlike form, its giant petals curving downward, creamy white outside, rose-colored inside. The boiling pillar had become a giant mountain of jumbled rainbows. Much living substance had gone into those rainbows.’
Major Hopkins saw the column of smoke from 100 miles away and flew toward the area after the explosion. However, the area was completely covered by clouds and smoke, hence no ground damage could be observed.
Sweeney made one wide circle of the mushroom cloud, then headed toward Tinian. Now they had a new danger confronting them. The fuel was dangerously low. They changed course for Okinawa with everyone on the flight deck watching the fuel gauges on Kuharek’s flight engineer console. Sweeney had pulled the props back to a range-extending low rpm and leaned out the fuel mixture controls as far back as he dared while he descended he figured they would land about 50 miles short of the island. Even when they spotted Yontan Field, it still seemed likely they would have to ditch short of the runway.
While Sweeney flew, Albury called the tower for landing instructions. He received no reply. He broadcast a Mayday while Sweeney told Van Pelt and Olivi to fire every emergency flare on board. No one seemed to pay any attention. In desperation, Sweeney took the mike and shouted, ‘I’m coming straight in!’
‘Someone must have gotten the message,’ Olivi recalled, ‘because when we lined up on the approach, we could see emergency equipment racing out to the runway. We had only enough gas for one pass, so if we didn’t make it, we were going to end up in the ocean.
‘Sweeney came in high and fast–too fast. Normal landing speed for the B-29 was about 130 mph. We used up half the strip before we touched down at about 150 mph, a dangerous speed, with nearly empty gas tanks.
‘As we touched down, the plane began to swerve to the left and we nearly plowed into a line of B-24s parked along the active runway. Sweeney finally brought the plane under control, and as we taxied off the runway the No. 2 engine quit. Ambulance, staff cars, jeeps, and fire engines quickly surrounded us and a bunch of very jittery people debarked, very glad to be safe on the ground.’
What Olivi did not mention was that the airplane used up all of the runway trying to come to a halt. Sweeney stood on the brakes and made a swerving 90-degree turn at the end of the runway to avoid going over the cliff into the ocean. Beser recalled that two engines had died, while ‘the centrifugal force resulting from the turn was almost enough to put us through the side of the airplane.’
Kuharek, before refilling the tanks, estimated that there were exactly seven gallons left in them. The Nagasaki mission had taken 101ž2 hours from the takeoff at Tinian to the landing at Okinawa. After they landed, the crewmen were told that the Russians had just entered the war against Japan.
For Sweeney and his crew, a nagging question haunted all of them: Had they hit the target? Ashworth didn’t think they had. In his anxiety about obeying the order to bomb visually, Beahan had released the weapon about 11ž2 miles northeast of the city, up the valley of the Urakami River. The bomb had exploded over the center of the industrial area, not the densely populated residential area.
While their Superfort was being gassed, Sweeney and Ashworth commandeered a jeep and went to the base communications center to send a report to Tinian. They were refused permission to send such a message without the commanding general’s personal permission. Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle had been newly sent to Okinawa to oversee the arrival of Eighth Air Force units from Europe to prepare them for future combat.
Doolittle, not privy to any of the A-bomb plans or operations, listened intently as Sweeney and Ashworth explained what had happened. Both men were nervous about telling a three-star general that they did not believe the bomb had hit the target directly. As they talked, Doolittle pulled out a map of Japan where they pointed out the industrial area over which they thought the bomb had exploded. Doolittle said, reassuringly, ‘I’m sure General Spaatz will be much happier that the bomb went off in the river valley rather than over the city with the resulting much lower number of casualties.’ He promptly authorized the communications section to send Sweeney’s coded after-action report.
Sweeney and his crew, thoroughly exhausted, took off for Tinian after a three-hour layover, and arrived there about midnight. Sweeney received the Distinguished Service Cross as pilot-in-command. All of the other crew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross as ‘members of a B-29 aircraft carrying the second atomic bomb employed in the history of warfare….Despite a rapidly dwindling gasoline reserve, they reached the target and released the bomb on the important industrial city of Nagasaki with devastating effect. The power of this missile was so great as to threaten the disintegration of the aircraft if it had been detonated while still in the bomb bay by a burst of flak, or a hit by enemy fighters, or if it was dropped while the B-29 was close to the ground, as might have occurred during engine failure.’
In his 1962 book, Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project, General Groves answered the question about the results of the Nagasaki mission: ‘Because of the bad weather conditions at the target, we could not get good photo reconnaissance pictures until almost a week later. They showed 44 percent of the city destroyed. The difference between the results obtained there and at Hiroshima was due to the unfavorable terrain at Nagasaki, where the ridges and valleys limited the area of greatest destruction to 2.3 miles by 1.9 miles. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey later estimated the casualties at 35,000 killed and 60,000 injured.’
The force of the Fat Man explosion was estimated at 22,000 tons of TNT. The steep hills had confined the larger explosion. Although the industrial area had been flattened, it caused less loss of life than Little Boy.
The events that followed the Nagasaki mission happened quickly. Russia declared war on Japan on August 9. On that day, Emperor Hirohito spoke to the Japanese Supreme Council. ‘I cannot bear to see my innocent people suffer any longer,’ he said. ‘Ending the war is the only way to restore world peace and to relieve the nation from the terrible distress with which it is burdened.’
The Japanese announced their acceptance of unconditional surrender on August 14. World War II officially ended at 10:30 a.m. Tokyo time, September 2, 1945, when Japanese emissaries signed the surrender document aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Although a few pumpkin bombing missions were flown by the 509th between the second A-bomb drop and the surrender announcement on August 14, for all practical purposes, the Nagasaki mission had ended the war.
This article was written by C.V. Glines and originally published in the January 1997 issue of Aviation History.
For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History Magazine today!
A generational divide
Historical narratives have their time and season, and though both stories about the bomb legitimately incorporated the Enola Gay, both stories may not have been equally appropriate for a public display in 1995—the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the most destructive war in human history. As evidenced by the national outcry, America wanted to reflect upon the end of World War II and leave complex analysis of the bomb’s consequences for a different day.
Both my grandfathers fought in the Pacific theater, and one of them was actually on the island of Tinian the day the Enola Gay left the runway. But both my grandfathers are dead now, and most of their generation is too. Now that the veterans are gone, it seems that the season for celebrating the end of the war has passed. Unfortunately, I don’t know if America is capable of complex analysis.
Over the last seventy years, the idea that the atomic bomb is evil has lodged itself in the popular consciousness. We all learned in elementary school that nuclear weapons are bad and that they will end of all life on this planet. Most Americans think Little Boy and Fat Man were many times more powerful than they were and overestimate the severity of the radiation fallout. Though a majority still believe use was justified, popular opinion has steadily moved towards the opposing position. Most Americans who decry the bombing of these two Japanese cities do so merely because America used The Bomb. Many Americans today can’t imagine a world in which someone would entertain using such an evil weapon.
Historical realities have faded and our culture has replaced them with the easy maxim that a bad weapon is bad. In asking whether America should have dropped the bomb, people no longer take into account the fact that every world power was working on a bomb. People also forget that American leaders were just as worried about their Soviet allies as they were about their Japanese enemies. It is also hard for us to understand that in the twentieth century, industrialization of the war effort had blurred the distinction between soldiers and non-combatants. Everyone was a target because everyone was part of the war machine.
My grandparents thought the bomb was good, and most contemporary Americans think the bomb is bad. It seems the bomb is morally complicated, because war itself is morally complicated. Merely arguing about whether we should have dropped the bomb misses the larger questions. When should America go to war? What should the goals be? How much force is appropriate? These questions and myriad others surround the bomb, but these are not questions with easy answers.
Is an atomic bomb evil, or is it merely another tool for destruction that humans have created in their long history of warfare? Augustine suggested that the City of Man used warfare in an attempt to bring about peace which was a noble goal. However, based on his dim view of human nature, he also believed that our motivations in war are probably always mixed at best. According to Augustine, the real evil in war isn’t the killing it’s the lust for violence and power that manifests itself in the killer. It seems that the best we can hope for is that our side has less evil mixed in than the other side does.
Most people consider World War Two America’s “good war,” but no war will ever fully meet the criteria for a “just war.” After the bombing of Hiroshima, Robert Lewis, one of the pilots on the Enola Gay, wrote in the log, “My God, what have we done?”Augustine would be pleased that though the goal was just, the means to bring it about caused revulsion rather than lust for more violence in some of those who witnessed it.
The Enola Gay’s flight over Hiroshima belongs to many different stories. It is part of the story of the end of the Second World War. It is part of the story of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear winter. For many Japanese people, it is part of the story of Japan’s transition from imperial power to pacifist state. The atomic bomb belongs to all these stories, but as we tell these stories, we need to transcend the idea that this or that inanimate object was good or bad. History—including the bombing of Hiroshima—is ultimately about people, and people are complicated messes who will inevitably engage in war. As we reflect on August 1945, let us give more attention to the motivation of human beings than we do to the technology they used.
A-bomb ended World War II, but set stage for the Cold War
The release of two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945 helped end World War II but ushered in the Cold War, a conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that dragged on nearly half a century.
In the United States, the use of the bombs was widely praised by a public tired of war and high casualties. America heaved a huge sigh of relief that the blasts ended the need to shift hundreds of thousands of troops who had survived Europe to fight yet another bloody war on Japanese soil.
In the decades that followed, however, as the passions of that era have cooled, historians have taken another, dispassionate look at the events of 1945. A number have concluded that while the bomb may have helped end the war quickly, it fueled the U.S.-Soviet Cold War confrontation whose effects still bedevil us today.
After the surrender of Germany and Japan, the two world powers maneuvered for decades to increase their spheres of influence around the globe, spurred on by competing ambitions and ideologies of capitalism and communism. Cold War calculations led to a divided Germany and U.S. involvement in wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Some form of Cold War would have commenced whether or not the U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on Japan, said Arnold A. Offner, Cornelia F. Hugel professor of history emeritus at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of several books on the Cold War. “It might not have been as intense, but you would have had a kind of political-economic Cold War standoff regardless of the bomb,” he said. “It would be a long way to détente.”
But some historians cite the explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago as among the key events that metastasized the ideological rift between the two powers into a full-blown Cold War dominated by nuclear brinkmanship.
“Hiroshima changed international relations, probably permanently,” said Martin J. Sherwin, author of “A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies” and history professor at George Mason University near Washington. “It sent a message to the world that the most admired and most powerful nation, the USA, believed that nuclear weapons were legitimate instruments of war and could be used again.”
Although the Cold War ended in 1991 with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, its legacy lives on — from the rocky relationship between Russia and the West to America’s thorny dealings over nuclear weapons programs in countries such as North Korea and Iran.
Things weren’t always so contentious between the U.S. and the Soviets.
During World War II, they never completely trusted each other even though they were fighting a common enemy. But even into the last year of the war, the nations were in general agreement about postwar power sharing. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met to discuss Europe’s postwar reorganization during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
Until America’s first successful atomic bomb test in July 1945, its entire planned postwar policy toward Germany was geared to controlling and weakening its economy so that it could never again build militarily, said historian Gar Alperovitz, author of “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth.”
That plan required the assistance of France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, which was expected to occupy much of Eastern Europe by war’s end.
“If you control Germany, the Russians could ease up on Eastern Europe,” Alperovitz said. “If they thought Germany was a new threat, they would clamp down on Eastern Europe.”
Germany’s “industrial disarmament” was a postwar policy Roosevelt maintained up to his death in April 1945, an understanding between the two powers that “had nothing to do with liking each other,” he said.
“The bomb changed all that,” Alperovitz said. “The bomb made it possible for the United States to do whatever it wanted in Europe because we alone could control Germany. The Russians didn’t have that.”
The new president, Harry S. Truman, and other U.S. negotiators arrived at the Potsdam Conference in Germany in late July, meeting again with Churchill and Stalin on the heels of the first successful atomic bomb test. The tenor of America’s negotiations with the Soviet Union changed with the atomic breakthrough, which hard-liner Secretary of State James Byrnes described as “a gun behind the door” in the dealings.
In Potsdam, the U.S. began to emphasize rebuilding a self-sustaining Germany that would pay far less in reparations to the Soviets than had been previously agreed.
“There’s no question that ownership of the bomb — and being the only power with the bomb — definitely put a chip on the American shoulder during their negotiations,” Offner said.
Truman, unsophisticated in foreign affairs and greatly influenced by Byrnes, believed using the bombs on Japan would shock Stalin and contain his ambitions, Sherwin said. “He was right about the former and wrong about the latter.”
Byrnes soon found that the Russians were not cowed by the gun behind the door, said Gregg Herken, professor emeritus of history at the University of California-Merced and author of “The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War.”
“What actually happened was sort of the reverse of what Byrnes expected,” Herken said. Byrnes found that his Russian counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov, aggressively pushed Soviet demands in Eastern Europe.
“The bomb was not very useful — and not useful at all in diplomacy in the early Cold War with the Russians,” he said.
Alperovitz argues that Truman’s use of the bomb was the first of several events over the next two years that would fully spark the Cold War.
“In the spring of 1946, we started rebuilding Germany, and you could almost see the Russians clamping down more and more in Europe,” Alperovitz said. And while the U.S. felt assured it could control a stronger Germany in the future with the threat of atomic weapons, the Russians didn’t share that assurance and began bringing down the Iron Curtain as a buffer between it and Germany, he said.
Devastated by Germany in two world wars — with at least 20 million Russians dead defending against the Nazis — the Soviets took drastic actions to prevent a rising Germany from ever threatening their homeland again. The decision by the Western Allies in 1949 to merge their three occupation zones into a single entity — West Germany — was followed months later by the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, dividing the country for nearly a half-century.
“That, I think, is the most important way to understand the early Cold War getting started,” Alperovitz said.
Dropping the atomic bombs “reassured Stalin that we were as bad as he thought we were,” Offner said. “All the bomb did was reinforce their view that we had it and would try to leverage them.”
Although the Soviet Union was just beginning to rebuild from the war’s devastation, Stalin made it a priority to possess a store of atomic weapons — an endeavor aided greatly by Soviet spies planted in the U.S. program.
Four years after Hiroshima, the Soviets successfully tested their first atomic bomb, and by then they had come to view America as a greater threat than a divided Germany. The nuclear arms race that came to define the Cold War was on in earnest.
Sherwin ponders the possibility that today’s world would be much different had Truman made a different choice 70 years ago. He describes the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs as the “Adam and Eve” of our modern-day nuclear-armed world, where much of the Pacific remains on edge as North Korea develops a missile for delivering an atomic weapon anywhere in the world, and where Iran’s possession of the bomb would dramatically alter the Middle East.
Consider what the world would be like today had the U.S. not used the atomic bombs, declaring instead after the war that it had created the weapon only because it feared Germany was doing the same, Sherwin said.
“Then, what if we had announced that we did not use them because they are illegitimate, that their use in any way, under any circumstances, would be a crime against humanity?” he said.
The Debate to Use Atomic Bombs Against Japan
When you purchase an independently reviewed book through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.
The Japanese Surrender in World War II
By Marc Gallicchio
Every August, newspapers are dotted with stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, accompanied by a well-picked-over — but never resolved — debate over whether atomic bombs were needed to end the Asia-Pacific war on American terms. What is left to learn 75 years (and with so much spilled ink) later? For Marc Gallicchio, the answer is in the domestic politics of the United States and Japan, which drive a narrative that unwinds less like a debate than a geopolitical thriller.
“Unconditional” offers a fresh perspective on how the decision to insist on “unconditional surrender” was not simply a choice between pressing the Japanese into submission or negotiating an end to the conflict. It also traces ideological battle lines that remained visible well into the atomic age as the enemy shifted from Tokyo to Moscow.
President Harry Truman believed unconditional surrender would keep the Soviet Union involved while reassuring American voters and soldiers that their sacrifices in a total war would be compensated by total victory. Disarming enemy militaries was the start consolidating democracy abroad was the goal. Only by refusing to deal with dictators could Germany and Japan be redesigned root to branch.
But Truman faced powerful opposition from the Republican establishment, including the former president Herbert Hoover and Henry Luce, whose Time/Life media empire presaged Fox News today. Republicans fought Truman on two fronts: First, they sought to undo New Deal social and economic reforms second, they argued that giving Japan a respectable way out of the conflict would save lives and, at the same time, block Soviet ambitions in Asia. Conservatives believed the left in the United States was more determined to use unconditional surrender to destroy Japanese feudalism than to confront Soviet ambitions — future manna from heaven for postwar redbaiters like Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Gallicchio characterizes conciliatory State Department “Japan hands” as dupes of cosmopolitan Japanese who persuaded them that Japan’s emperor was actually a progressive who would help America build a stable, anti-Communist East Asia. But New Deal Democrats believed these experts did not know what they did not know about Japan. And prefiguring neoconservatives of a later era, they insisted that only the deposition of the emperor — as part of a full transformation of the country’s political culture — would usher Japan into a peaceful postwar community of nations.
The left-wing journalist I. F. Stone joined the fray. He railed against “reactionaries” who he said were determined to stir a red scare to roll back reform in America, purge progressive officials and deliver a conditional unconditional surrender to their friends in Tokyo. Gallicchio, the author of several books of military history, sorts out these players — and many others — with great clarity, noting that Truman played coyly with both sides as the war shifted decisively in the Allies’ favor.
Convinced that the Japanese would not surrender short of a final, decisive battle — or (once the A-bomb was available) a final incendiary event — Truman was unwilling to suggest American resolve was weakening. He used the Potsdam Declaration of July to remind the Japanese that only more devastation awaited if they held out. He understood that imperial cooperation would ease the difficult task of disarming 5.5 million Japanese soldiers — and he ultimately spared Hirohito — but he would not guarantee the emperor’s status before the end of the war.
Japan’s leaders felt little urgency. The imperial military had amassed an astonishing number of troops for a desperate homeland defense, while politicians fantasized about a Soviet-brokered peace. Lacking a guarantee of his safety, the emperor supported the effort to reach out to Moscow and busied himself with protecting sacred relics. Even after the first A-bomb incinerated Hiroshima, he asked the government to seek Allied concessions, underscoring Gallicchio’s claim that Japanese officials “seemed uncertain of what they were doing.”
With the Red Army suddenly deep into Manchuria, Japanese leaders were weighing evaporating options when the second bomb incinerated Nagasaki. What had been chimeric was now clearly delusional.
The emperor finally intervened. Overruling his generals, he broadcast a decree Gallicchio sardonically calls “almost comically evasive” because it omitted the words “surrender” and “defeat.” While many Japanese were confused and saddened, they accepted the emperor’s most famous edict to “endure the unendurable.” Some military officers, though, committed suicide after a failed mutiny on what has become known as “Japan’s longest day.”
Gallicchio deftly recounts how debate about Truman’s decision persisted well after the surrender. In Japan, aggressive reforms early in the occupation were opposed by the same Western-educated Japanese who had influenced America’s Japan hands. These elites were keen on defanging the Japanese military, but tried to block land, labor and electoral change.
“Unconditional” documents how conservatives back home targeted New Dealers within the occupation as Communist sympathizers and hatched revisionist histories of Truman’s motives, exaggerating the emperor’s antimilitarism. Their revisionism was replaced by a New Left brand in the 1960s. Truman, some now argued, instigated the Cold War by trying to intimidate the Soviet Union with America’s nuclear might.
In 1995, a half-century after the war, the debate was reignited when curators at the Smithsonian Institution tried unsuccessfully to use this account of United States aggression to frame an exhibition in which the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, was the leading artifact. “Unconditional” is a sharp reminder of the power, imperfection and politicization of historical narrative — and of the way debates can continue long after history’s witnesses have left the stage.
Cold War Timeline
In an attempt to end the war in the Pacific without a costly invasion of Japan, the US dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 respectively. A uranium gun-type atomic bomb named Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. When Emperor Hirohito did not heed President Truman’s call for surrender, the US dropped a plutonium implosion-type bomb named Fat Man on Nagasaki.
The two atomic bombings, together with the Soviet Union’s declaration of war on Japan, finally convinced Emperor Hirohito to surrender to the Allies, effectively ending World War II. Use of the atomic weapons demonstrated America’s technological superiority, but also increased existing tensions with the Soviet Union, setting the stage for the Cold War.
1948 - 1949
After WWII, control of Germany was divided between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Berlin was located in the Eastern Soviet sector, but since it was the country’s capital city, its control was also divided between the Western powers and the USSR. In June of 1948, the USSR attempted to gain control of the entire city by cutting off all surface traffic to West Berlin.
The United States responded with a daily airlift of food and supplies into the besieged city. The airlift lasted until September of 1949. In all, the western allied powers would deliver 2.3 million tons of supplies and fuel to West Berlin during the airlift.
The Soviet Union had begun research on its own atomic bomb program in 1943. Aided by information and plans stolen from the Manhattan Project by Soviet spies, the USSR was able to develop its own nuclear weapon within only a few years after the end of World War II.
In August of 1949, it conducted a successful test of a 20-kiloton bomb years ahead of American predictions, effectively creating the nuclear arms race between the two super-powers.
On November 1, 1952 at 7:15am local time (October 31, 1915 hours GMT), the United States tested its first thermonuclear device (hydrogen bomb) on the island of Elugelab in the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands about 3,000 miles west of Hawaii. Code named Ivy Mike, the device was detonated remotely from a distance of about 30 miles.
The resulting fireball was 3 miles wide and reached a height of 120,000 feet. The mushroom cloud that followed the fireball was 100 miles wide. The yield of the explosion was a little over 10 megatons, more than 700 times larger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Elugelab was vaporized and the crater left behind was more than a mile wide and more than 160 feet deep.
1950 - 1953
Japan began ruling Korea in 1910, but ceded control of Korea when it surrendered at the end of WWII. The United States and the USSR agreed to split Korea into two occupation zones. The zone north of the 38th parallel was occupied by the USSR and it helped the Koreans living there form a communist government. The US occupied the south and it oversaw elections that resulted in a democratic government.
When the two major powers withdrew, friction between the north and south finally erupted into war in 1950 when North Koreans invaded the south. The south was unprepared for the aggression and was immediately overrun. Eventually, the US stepped in to help the South Korean military, essentially creating a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. No final peace treaty was ever signed to end the Korean War. Instead, the two sides signed an armistice in 1953 that ceased hostilities and formed the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a no-man’s land between the two countries which constituted the new border.
The US and the USSR each wanted to achieve technological superiority over the other. Included in that struggle was the race to become the first country to build a rocket capable of launching an object into space. Not only would this be an immense technological achievement, but a rocket that was powerful enough to carry a payload into space could also carry a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the other country.
In October of 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Average Americans could turn on their AM radios and hear Sputnik transmit its beeping signal. Sputnik caught Americans off guard and embarrassed the nation. For the US military, this was proof that the USSR had the missile technology to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. The USSR put Sputnik 2 in orbit before the US was able to put its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit in January of 1958. Both countries then began a race to the moon.
1959 - 1975
Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, was considered an important sphere of influence by both US and Soviet leaders. When nationalist forces created North Vietnam in 1956, the USSR and China recognized and backed the new communist country while the US became committed to stopping the spread of communism in the region and backed South Vietnam.
As in Korea, the US and the USSR avoided direct warfare by backing the opposing governments and forces. The war was immensely unpopular in the US, which finally withdrew the last of its forces and aide to South Vietnam in 1975. North Vietnam ultimately prevailed in the war and Vietnam was unified into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.
Known as Big Ivan to the Soviets and as Tsar Bomba in the US, RDS-220 was the largest nuclear weapon ever built. Designed as a 100 megaton hydrogen bomb, its yield was reduced by 50% when it was tested. The device was air-dropped from an altitude just above 34,000 feet over the Mityushikha Bay test site on Novaya Zemlya Island on October 30, 1961.
It detonated at 13,000 feet and its fireball still reached the earth. The blast pressure was measured at 300 psi and the flash of light was visible more than 600 miles away. The mushroom cloud reached an altitude of 210,000 feet.
By 1961, massive numbers of East Berliners were fleeing through the open border to West Berlin. Late on August 12, in an effort to stem the tide of defectors, Soviet Premier Khrushchev gave the East German government permission to stop the flow of emigrants by closing its border for good.
Construction of the Berlin Wall on the border between East and West Berlin began on August 13. The first construction of a barbed wire and concrete block fence was created in just two weeks. The wall was more than 26 miles long and eventually the barbed wire fence was replaced with a 13-foot wall.
On October 16, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was briefed by the CIA that an American U-2 spy plane had taken photographs of Soviet nuclear missile launch sites under construction in Cuba. He formed a group of advisors that would later become the Executive Committee (Ex Comm) to develop the US response.
Over the next 13 days the Cuban Missile Crisis would unfold, bringing the US and the former Soviet Union the closest we have ever been to nuclear war.
1963 - I
The largest land-based missile ever deployed by the US, the Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile was 103 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter. The Titan II could launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds and it carried the W-53 warhead with a yield of 9 megatons (9,000,000 tons of TNT).
With a range of more than 5,500 miles, the Titan II was an important component of the US strategic triad. Fifty-four Titan II ICBMs were deployed in groups of eighteen around three Air Force Bases, with the first units coming on alert in early 1963. All fifty-four missiles were on alert by December of that year. Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona hosted the 390th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) which was comprised of the 570th and 571st Strategic Missile Squadrons (SMS). Little Rock AFB, Arkansas hosted the 308th SMW which was comprised of the 373rd SMS and 374th SMS. And McConnell AFB, Kansas hosted the 381st SMW which was comprised of the 532nd SMS and 533rd SMS.
1963 - II
The Cuban Missile Crisis prompted the US and USSR to set up a direct line of communication between the two countries to enable rapid and direct communication between them in crisis situations which might impact the security of either country (such as the accidental launch of nuclear weapons).
Commonly referred to as the “Red Phone,” the communication link was actually a tele-typewriter that transmitted written messages—not voice. The “Hot Line” reduced the time it took for the US and USSR to communicate directly with each other and reduced the possibility for misunderstandings. It was first used extensively in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli War. The US used the Hot Line to explain US fleet movements in the Mediterranean.
In early November of 1983 the world may have come closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. NATO was conducting what it considered a routine exercise named Able Archer, a simulation designed to train and test the procedures for shifting from conventional to nuclear war.
However, the Soviet Union interpreted the exercise as a prelude to a first strike by the United States. Much remains classified about what came to be known as the War Scare of 1983. But the National Security Archive has amassed and published a large collection of documents that are available online. Included in this library is a 100-page report by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from February of 1990 entitled The Soviet “War Scare.” Declassified in 2012, the moderately redacted report concludes that the intelligence community did not “attach sufficient weight to the possibility that the war scare was real”, and as a result “the President was given assessments of Soviet attitudes and actions that understated the risks to the United States.” The Board further concluded that the US had “inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.”
On May 5, 1987, the last active Titan II ICBM came off alert at Launch Complex 373-8, Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. While missile crews would continue to pull custodial alerts at the complex as deactivation progressed, this day marked the end of the operational life of the largest land based missile in the US arsenal.
Designed to function for just 10 years, 54 Titan II ICBMs stood alert in their underground silos for almost 24 years, ever vigilant, ever ready, maintaining peace through deterrence.
In June of 1987, US President Ronald Reagan stood at the infamous Brandenburg Gate, part of the Berlin Wall, and challenged the Soviet General Secretary: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
A little less than 18 months later, millions of Germans celebrated as thousands of their compatriots tore down the Berlin Wall—one of the most iconic symbols and enduring images of the Cold War.
Riding the wave of unrest symbolized by the opening of the Berlin Wall, leaders of every Eastern European nation except Bulgaria were overthrown by popular uprisings by the end of 1989. The Soviet Union was in turmoil and there were several attempts to overthrow General Secretary Gorbachev.
Finally, on December 8, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. The president of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin, formed the Commonwealth of Independent states. After 45 years, the Cold War, the longest war in US history, was over.
12 Advantages and Disadvantages of Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan
There are two significant events that define the second world war: the Holocaust and the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. The decision by the United States to use these weapons in August 1945 is credited with the end of World War II. It is also important to note that those who issue that credit are the ones that were part of the Allied forces during the conflict.
The U.S. only dropped two of these bombs on Japan during the war, but it was a detonation that would be devastating by any definition. More than 80,000 people were killed instantly in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when the Little Boy uranium-based bomb was dropped over the city.
Then the plutonium-style bomb called Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki, which instantly killed 70,000 people. It would take just five days after the second bomb for the emperor to proclaim an unconditional surrender.
When all the effects of the radiation from these two bombs is taken into account, the acute effects would kill up to another 250,000 people in
List of the Pros of Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan
1. Despite its devastating impact, each atomic bomb ultimately saved lives.
After the conclusion of the European front in March 1945, Allied forces began turning their attention to Japan. This island nation was the lone holdout in the battle for world domination at the time. The military minds of these countries put together a plan that was called Operation Downfall.
One of the most significant issues in planning this invasion was that the landing locations for an invasion where highly predictable. Japanese forces came to the same conclusions as the Allied planners, so they began to reinforce their key structure points. An all-out defense of Kyushu was planned, with casualty predictions on both sides expected to be very high.
Although the final estimates would vary based on the assessment of the individuals involved, one such document created for the Secretary of War’s staff placed the number at up to 800,000 Allied fatalities, with an additional 10 million Japanese fatalities.
Despite the high number of casualties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, without the need for Operation Downfall, the actual number of deaths became much lower than anticipated.
2. The action of dropping the two atomic bombs issued in an era of global peace.
The conclusion of World War II created a shift in priorities for the world’s governments. The United Nations came about as an organization to fill in the gap left by the first attempt at the League of Nations. Countries went to war as a way to limit authoritarianism instead of allowing it to spread until it could no longer be contained. Although the United States would face significant conflicts in Korea and Vietnam in the decades following the second world war, the 50-year period between 1951-2000 was one of the most peaceful in the history of recorded human history. There were more threats of wars that governments faced than actual conflicts to fight.
3. We often forget about the fire-bombing campaigns that happened first.
When people debate the morality and ethics of the atomic bombs that were dropped in Japan, they often look at the numbers and discuss the sheer magnitude of the civilian casualties involved – and rightly so. Innocent deaths are always one of the most significant disadvantages of any conflict. The horrors of radiation only magnify this issue exponentially.
What gets left out of this debate was the bombing of Tokyo that occurred before the atomic bombs were dropped. In March 1945, over 100,000 civilians were killed, and another 1 million left homeless, when B-29s dropped a firebomb assault on the city. The government of Japan didn’t blink an eye when that happened. Only the shock of the atomic impact, with its ability to instantly wipe any city off the map, was enough to create movement toward peace.
4. There is no guarantee that the casualties would have changed.
The United States military was planning to firebomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of their military influence if the decision on the atomic bombs did not receive a go-ahead. After the destruction experienced in Tokyo, there is an excellent chance that the casualty count would have remained the same. The only difference in the outcome would have been a reduction in future casualties due to the cancer development and birth defects related to radiation exposure. Everyone in these cities were doomed from the moment Allied forces began plotting an eventual end to World War II.
5. It stopped the Soviet Union from repeating its demands from Europe.
When the European theater resolved itself after Allied troops took over Berlin, the Soviet Union began to carve out for itself a nice chunk of space that would eventually become known as the Iron Curtain. It would take over four decades for that veil to fall. The Soviets had their sights set on Japan in the closing days of the war in 1945 as well, envisioning another joint occupation scenario.
Despite the casualties caused by dropping the atomic bombs, the action itself stopped any Soviet ambitions cold in their tracks. The devastating results were so impressive that the Russians backed down from any potential demand to be involved in the Pacific theater. If that hadn’t taken place, the implications of the Cold War to come would have been very different for American politics.
List of the Cons of Dropping the Atomic Bomb on Japan
1. Most of the people killed in these two bombs were innocents.
When one nation targets another and kills over 200,000 people who are not engaged in active conflict, then it could be argued that such an act is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a national group. Although the legal definition of genocide was not created until 1948 under Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, far fewer people have been killed by an oversight organization and charged with this act. Incinerate civilians as a way to put pressure on their government might save American lives with an atomic bomb, but isn’t all human life equally valuable?
2. American POWs were killed by the atomic bombs in Japan.
There were a dozen American prisoners of war who were killed when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were being held in a police station when the bombs went off. These men, along with up to at least 3,000 American citizens who were living in the cities with relatives, were killed during or immediately after detonation. When history books from the Allied perspective tell the story of what happened, these lives are often not spoken about whatsoever. It shows that Americans were willing to kill their own as way to prevent future casualties.
3. The U.S. killed Allied troops during the bombing runs as well.
There were another 8 British and Dutch prisoners of war that were killed during or immediately after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. Even though the Quebec Agreement required that nuclear weapons would only be used when there was mutual consent, so Britain was on-board with the two bombing runs. It should be noted that even President Truman told his Secretary of War that they would only be used on military objects, on soldiers and sailors, and not any women or children. That was why Tokyo and Kyoto were spared in the first place. Unfortunately, the results didn’t end up as intended, even if the cities held military significance.
4. There were more atomic bombs planned for Japan too.
There was another atomic bomb planned to be ready for use on August 19 if the Japanese had decided not to surrender. Another three additional bombs were in the process of being ready for September, with another three to follow in October as well. The actual order for these weapons was to drop them on cities in Japan as they were ready to go. It wasn’t until a response to a memorandum placed on August 10 that changed this to the order of the President.
5. Cancer increases are directly linked to these atomic weapons.
Radiation exposure does not immediately create a surge in cancer cases after the dropping of an atomic weapon. They have a minimum latency period of at least five years, while leukemia cases can sometimes appear in as little as two years, but peaking about 6-8 years after the event. Almost all of the cases of leukemia associated with these bombs involved an exposure of at least 1Gy. Up to 46% of the cancer deaths from the region between 1950-2000 could be potentially related to the fallout of the weapons involved in these attacks.
6. There was an increase in birth defects after the bombs were dropped.
It wasn’t just the current generation that experienced a negative impact because of the atomic bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was an increase in birth defects that occurred in the years after the event as well. Anyone with an exposure of 0.2Gy or higher faced an increased risk of experiencing this risk. The actual number of miscarriages, stillbirths, and other infant health issues was never documented in Japan after the war, so exact figures are not known.
7. Blockades were just as effective as a fighting strategy to cut off supplies.
Some military strategists argue that Operation Downfall was not even necessary because of the impact that naval blockades around the islands were having. Over 60 significant cities in Japan were already destroyed through conventional bombing techniques before the atomic bombs were dropped. The Soviet Army had attacked Japanese troops in Manchuria with great success. With more resources funneled into this strategy, the potential for an unconditional surrender was possible without changing the way we perceive warfare today.
How the Hiroshima Bombing Ended WWII—And Started the Cold War - HISTORY
between the United States and Russia and that if we continue to pursue the present course, our initial advantage may be lost very quickly in such a race.&rdquo
Eleanor Roosevelt, who received a copy of Szilard's letter to President Roosevelt , replies to Szilard proposing a meeting in her Manhattan apartment on May 8. The president, however, died on April 12.
Franklin Roosevelt dies, and Harry Truman becomes the 33rd President of the United States.
Secretary of War Stimson and General Groves brief President Truman on the bomb. In this briefing, Groves insists that Japan had always been the target of the bomb's use.
Joint Chief Planners advise Joint Chiefs of Staff that "unless a definition of unconditional surrender can be given which is acceptable to the Japanese, there is no alternative to annihilation and no prospect that the threat of absolute defeat will bring about capitulation."
The Target Committee meets for the first time to decide which Japanese cities to target with the atomic bomb. By the end of May the following cities are selected: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kokura and Niigata. [See minutes of the second meeting of the Target Committee in Related Sites.] Eventually Kyoto is replaced by Nagasaki and the listed cities are spared further conventional bombing by the American Army Air Force.
In a report entitled Unconditional Surrender , the Joint Intelligence Committee informs the Joint Chiefs of Staff that "numbers of informed Japanese, both military and civilian, already realize the inevitability of absolute defeat."
War in Europe ends.
The Interim Committee meets for the first time. Its purpose is "to study and report on the whole problem of temporary war controls and later publicity, and to survey and make recommendations on post war research, development and controls, as well as legislation necessary to effectuate them." The Interim Committee appoints a Scientific Panel, which included Oppenheimer, Lawrence, Fermi and Compton.
William Donovan , Director of the Office of Strategic Services, reports to President Truman that Japan's minister to Switzerland, Shunichi Kase , wished "to help arrange for a cessation of hostilities."
Leo Szilard visits White House with letter of introduction from Albert Einstein to warn President Truman of the dangers atomic weapons pose for the post-War world and to urge him not to authorize use of atomic weapons against Japan. Szilard is referred Matthew J. Connelly , Truman's appointments secretary, to James Byrnes in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy argues to Secretary of War Stimson that the term "unconditional surrender" should be dropped: "Unconditional surrender is a phrase which means loss of face and I wonder whether we cannot accomplish everything we want to accomplish in regard to Japan without the use of that term."
In a State Department Memorandum of Conversation, Acting Secretary of State Joseph Grew describes a meeting with President Truman that day. Grew writes: "The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne. If some indication can now be given the Japanese that they themselves, when once thoroughly defeated and rendered impotent to wage war in the future will be permitted to determine their own future political structure, they will be afforded a method of saving face without which surrender will be highly unlikely."
Wanting to influence the Interim Committee, Szilard arranges a meeting with Oppenheimer in Groves' office. Oppenheimer tells Szilard, "this is a weapon with no military significance. It will make a big bang - a very big bang - but it is not a weapon which is useful in war."
The Interim Committee agrees that "the most desirable target would be a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers' houses." Among those agreeing is James Conant, the president of Harvard University.
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) reports on receiving a Japanese peace feeler through a Japanese diplomat stationed in Portugal. The Japanese diplomat says that the actual terms are unimportant so long as the term "unconditional surrender" is not used.
Interim Committee makes formal decision decides not to warn the civilian populations of the targeted cities.
Chief of Staff General George Marshall , in a memo to Secretary of War Stimson, writes, "We should cease talking about unconditional surrender of Japan and begin to define our true objective in terms of defeat and disarmament."
The Franck Committee on the social and political implications of the atomic bomb, headed by Nobel Laureate James Franck , issues a report advising against a surprise atomic bombing of Japan. The report states, "If we consider international agreement on total prevention of nuclear warfare as the paramount objective.this kind of introduction of atomic weapons to the world may easily destroy all our chances of success." The report correctly predicts that dropping an atomic bomb "will mean a flying start toward an unlimited armaments race."
The Franck Committee Report - with its recommendation that bomb be demonstrated to Japan before being used on civilians - is taken by Compton to Los Alamos, and copies were given to Fermi, Lawrence and Oppenheimer.
Compton, Fermi, Lawrence and Oppenheimer conclude: "We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use."
McCloy tells Stimson that "there were no more cities to bomb, no more carriers to sink or battleships to shell we had difficulty finding targets."
President Truman convenes a meeting of his chief advisors to discuss the military's contingency plans for the invasion of Japan. The invasion was to begin no earlier than November 1, 1945 and, according to Admiral William Leahy , "The invasion itself was never authorized." McCloy is asked to prepare language for what is to become Article 12 of the draft Potsdam Declaration. It specifies that the post-war Japanese government "may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty."
Admiral Leahy makes diary entry noting, "It is my opinion at the present time that a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America's defense against future trans-Pacific aggression." He also notes that General Marshall believes that an invasion of Kyushu, the southern-most Japanese island, "will not cost us in casualties more than 63,000 of the 190,000 combatant troops estimated as necessary for the operation." This may be compared to later estimates, after the atomic bombings, of 500,000 to 1,000,000 American lives saved.
James Forrestal's diary describes top-secret "State-War-Navy Meeting" in which surrender terms are discussed. He writes, "Grew's proposal, in which Stimson most vigorously agrees, that something be done in the very near future to indicate to the Japanese what kind of surrender terms would be imposed upon them and particularly to indicate to them that they would be allowed to retain their own form of government and religious institutions while at the same time making it clear that we propose to eradicate completely all traces of Japanese militarism."
A meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council before Emperor Hirohito is held on the subject of ending the war. According to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, "the Emperor, supported by the premier, foreign minister and Navy minister, declared for peace the army minister and the two chiefs of staff did not concur."
Stimson , Forrestal and Grew agree that a clarification of surrender terms should be issued well before an invasion and with "ample time to permit a national reaction to set in." The three agreed that "Japan is susceptible to reason."
Szilard begins circulating a petition to President Truman expressing opposition on moral grounds to using the atomic bomb against Japan.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson advises Truman to offer a definition of unconditional surrender, and states, "I think the Japanese nation has the mental intelligence and versatile capacity in such a crisis to recognize the folly of a fight to the finish and to accept the proffer of what will amount to an unconditional surrender."
James Byrnes becomes U.S. Secretary of State.
New York Times reports, "Senator [William] White of Maine, the minority [Republican] leader, declared that the Pacific war might end quickly if President Truman would state, specifically, in the upper chamber just what unconditional surrender means for the Japanese."
Szilard writes to a colleague regarding the petition to president: "I personally feel it would be a matter of importance if a large number of scientists who have worked in this field went clearly and unmistakably on record as to their opposition on moral grounds to the use of these bombs in the present phase of the war."
Truman leaves for Potsdam on the Augusta accompanied by Secretary of State Byrnes .
At a meeting of the Supreme War Direction Council, Emperor Hirohito urges haste in moves to mediate the peace through Russia.
Washington intercepts and decodes a cable from Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo to his Ambassador in Moscow that states, "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace.."
Secretary of Navy Forrestal writes in his secret diary: "The first real evidence of a Japanese desire to get out of the war came today through intercepted messages from Togo , Foreign Minister, to Sato , Jap Ambassador in Moscow, instructing the latter to see Molotov if possible before his departure for the Big Three meeting and if not then immediately afterward to lay before him the Emperor's strong desire to secure a a termination of the war."
Farrington Daniels , Director of the Met Lab at the University of Chicago, reported to James Compton that 72 percent of the scientists favored a military demonstration of the bomb in Japan or in the U.S. with Japanese representatives present before using the weapon on civilians.
President Truman lands at Antwerp on his way to Potsdam meeting . Byrnes has convinced him to drop Article 12 of the Potsdam Declaration, which had provided assurance that the Emperor would be allowed to retain his throne as a constitutional monarch.
Trinity test, a plutonium implosion device, takes place at 5:29:45 a.m. mountain war time at Alamogordo, New Mexico. It is the world's first atomic detonation. The device has a yield of 19 kilotons, which is equivalent to 19,000 tons of TNT. J. Robert Oppenheimer recalls a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu classic: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds." Brigadier General T.F. Farrell , General Groves ' deputy commander, describes the explosion in this way: "The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined.."
President Truman at Potsdam writes in his diary, "Just spend [sic] a couple of hours with Stalin.. He'll be in the Jap War on August 15 th . Fini Japs when that comes about."
Leo Szilard , unaware of Trinity test, prepares final draft of Petition to the President of the United States, calling on the President to "exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender second, that in such an event the question whether or not to use atomic bombs be decided by you in the light of the considerations presented in this petition as well as all other moral responsibilities which are involved." The petition was signed by 155 Manhattan Project scientists.
President Truman writes in his diary, "P.M. [ Churchill ] & I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe the Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan [reference to Manhattan Project] appears over their homeland. I shall inform about it at an opportune time."
President Truman approves order for atomic bombs to be used.
UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarks, "[I]t is quite clear that the United States do not at the present time desire Russian participation in the war against Japan."
July 23 and 24
McCloy writes in diary in Potsdam, "Throughout it all the 'big bomb' is playing its part - it has stiffened both the Prime Minister and the President. After getting Groves' report they went to the next meeting like little boys with a big red apple secreted on their persons."
Walter Brown , special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes , writes in his journal that Byrnes was now "hoping for time, believing after atomic bomb Japan will surrender and Russia will not get in so much on the kill, thereby being in a position to press claims against China."
Secretary of War Henry Stimson passes on orders for atomic attack.
President Truman writes in his diary: "We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley era, after Noah and his fabulous ark. Anyway we think we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling - to put it mildly.. This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10. I have told the secretary of war, Mr. Stimson , to use it so that military objectives and soldiers are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old capital or the new. He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
General Carl Spatz , commander of the United States Army Strategic Air Forces, receives the only written order on the use of atomic weapons from acting Chief of Staff, General Thomas Handy .
Potsdam Declaration calls upon Japanese government "to proclaim now the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces." The alternative, the Declaration states, is "prompt and utter destruction."
Forrestal secret diary states, "In the past days Sato in Moscow has been sending the strongest language to the Foreign Office at Tokyo his urgent advice for Japan to surrender unconditionally. Each time the Foreign Minister, Togo , responds by saying that they want Sato to arrange for the Russians to receive Prince Konoye as a special representative of the Emperor to Moscow. Sato's persistent reply to these messages was that this is a futile hope, that there is no possibility of splitting the concert of action now existing between Great Britain, the United States and Russia."
July 28 |
Japan rejects Potsdam Declaration.
President Truman aboard Augusta receives new report that Japan is seeking peace. Walter Brown, special assistant to Secretary of State Byrnes, writes in his diary, "Aboard Augusta - President, Leahy , JFB agreed Japs looking for peace. (Leahy had another report from Pacific.) President afraid they will sue for peace through Russia instead of some country like Sweden."
The world's second atomic bomb, Little Boy , a gun-type uranium bomb, is detonated 1,900 feet above Hiroshima, Japan. It has a yield of approximately 15 kilotons TNT. Some 90,000 to 100,000 persons are killed immediately about 145,000 persons will perish from the bombing by the end of 1945.
Upon hearing the news of the atomic bombing of Japan on his way home from Potsdam, President Truman remarked that this was "the greatest day in history."
Leo Szilard , the atomic scientist who had worked so hard to prevent the use of the bomb, writes to a friend, "Using atomic bombs against Japan is one of the greatest blunders of history.
Decision is made to drop warning pamphlets on Japanese cities.
Soviet Union informs Japan that it is entering the war.
Decision is made to set up International Tribunal at Nuremberg.
At 9:44 a.m. Bockscar , a B-29 carrying Fat Man , the world's third atomic bomb, arrives at its primary target, Kokura. The city is covered in haze and smoke from an American bombing raid on a nearby city. Bockscar turns to its secondary target Nagasaki . At 11:02 a.m. the world's third atomic bomb explosion devastates Nagasaki, the intense heat and blast indiscriminately slaughters its inhabitants.
President Truman speaks to the American people via radio broadcast He states, "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in the first instance to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians." [The official Bombing Survey Report stated: "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population." More than 95 percent of those killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians.]
Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
Soviet Union begins its offensive against Japan in Manchuria.
U.S. drops warning leaflets on Nagasaki on the day after the bombing.
Japanese physicists investigating the epicenter of the Hiroshima bomb burst start noticing high levels of radioactivity.
Emperor Hirohito of Japan, in a radio broadcast to his nation announces that Japan has lost the war. The Emperor's announcement is hard to understand because he speaks in archaic court Japanese, but one fact is understood: "Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to damage is indeed incalcuable, taking the toll of many innocent lives."
New York Times reports, "Russia's entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding its end and would have been so, even if no atomic bombs had been dropped, is the opinion of Major-General Claire Chennault .."
Soviet Union announces that the Japanese Manchurian Army has surrendered.
Japan formally signs documents of surrender.
The Trinity test site is opened to the press for the first time. General Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer dispel rumors of lingering high radiation levels there.
United States Strategic Bombing Survey states: "The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs did not defeat Japan, nor by the testimony of the enemy leaders who ended the war did they persuade Japan to accept unconditional surrender. The Emperor, the lord privy seal, the prime minister, the foreign minister and the navy minister had decided as early as May of 1945 that the war should be ended even it meant acceptance of defeat on allied terms." The Survey also states: "On 10 July  the Emperor again urged haste in the moves to mediate through Russia, but Potsdam intervened. While the government still awaited a Russian answer, the Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August." The Survey concluded: "Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."
Exhibiting the Enola Gay
In 1994, the National Air and Space Museum completed an exhibition script titled “The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Origins of the Cold War.” Over the next year, this script, and the versions following it, would generate one of the greatest controversies the Smithsonian ever experienced.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and another on Nagasaki three days later. In the years leading up to the 50 th anniversary of these attacks, National Air and Space Museum director Martin Harwit and curators Tom Crouch and Michael Neufeld imagined an exhibition that would provide a balanced look at the bombings. The original script, completed on January 14, 1994, contained five sections: "A Fight to the Finish," depicting the last year of World War II "The Decision to Drop the Bomb," raising questions about the need to use nuclear weapons against Japan "The World's First Atomic Strike Force," illuminating the experiences of the bomber pilots "Cities at War" describing ground zero and "The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," discussing the beginning of the arms race and the Cold War. In all, the script was over 300 pages.
Plans for the exhibition began as early as 1987, and Harwit had already been in discussions with the Air Force Association while the script was under development. Once complete, he sent the script to the group for comment. Many veterans had advocated for the display of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress used to drop the bombs, as a celebration of American triumph over Japan, but there were already concerns that the Smithsonian was creating a politically correct, revisionist interpretation of the events. For many, the script only confirmed those fears. What Harwit and the curators saw as a balanced history of the bombings and their consequences, many interpreted the script as a depiction of vengeful Americans and an attempt to garner sympathy for the Japanese.
The Air Force Association publicly responded to the script on March 15, 1994. John T. Correll, Editor-in-Chief of Air Force Magazine, a publication of the Air Force Association, wrote that "many visitors may be taken aback by what they see" and "the presentation is designed for shock effect." He detailed the plans in the script to include images of melted and carbonized objects along with life-size photographs of victims and words of survivors recalling the horror of the bombs. Correll also noted that the script warns that "parental discretion is advised." He argued that this was not the objective setting that many World War II veterans envisioned when they petitioned for the display of the historic aircraft.
Under pressure from both organized groups and the general public, the National Air and Space Museum began revising the script. On May 31, 1994, the new version, retitled "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II," was completed. Three additional revised scripts were drafted between late August and late October 1994. Despite negotiations over content and presentation with both the Air Force Association and the American Legion, each version of the script was met with severe criticism.
On December 6, 1994, the museum completed a script for a supplementary segment to be placed at the beginning of the exhibition. Titled "The War in the Pacific," it was intended to create greater context for the decision to drop the bombs. Initially, it was believed that this addition would be more sympathetic to the Americans, but there were significant disagreements about the anticipated number of American casualties if the war had continued without the use of the atomic bombs.
By the end of January 1995, the Air Force Association and the American Legion had both called for the cancellation of the exhibit. Concerns in the United States Congress were expressed as early as September 1994 and only grew with threats of hearings, budget reductions, and calls for Harwit's resignation. The exhibit was officially cancelled on January 30, 1995.
That wasn't the end of the controversy, though. The cancellation sparked protest and criticism from the academic and museum communities, though arguably not as widespread as the earlier responses from the military organizations and the general public.
In addition, many Congress members were still outraged and insisted on an investigation into exhibition development practices at the Smithsonian. Harwit resigned on May 2, 1995, just days before he was scheduled to testify in Senate hearings.
On June 28, 1995, an exhibition, simply titled "Enola Gay," opened at the National Air and Space Museum. Unlike the cancelled exhibition, "Enola Gay" contained no interpretation, no graphic images, and no melted objects. Only the fuselage was on display, accompanied by basic facts and information about the plane's restoration.
The entire Enola Gay bomber is currently on display in the "World War II Aviation" exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.