Hiroshima: 77 years since the bombing that killed more than 70,000 people

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On this date, 77 years ago, the US dropped the first of two atomic bombs on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing more than 70,000 people instantly.

A second bomb occurred three days later over Nagasaki and killed 40,000 more. The US remains the only country to use an atomic bomb in war. Nuclear war marked the end of World War II and a devastating chapter in world history.

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Here’s what you need to know about the attacks and how Hiroshima honors those who died.

where is Hiroshima

The city is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, located in southwest Japan on the island of Honshu.

Peace Memorial Park

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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is located on top of the bustling commercial district destroyed by the atomic blast and contains monuments dedicated to the thousands killed in the blasts.

The newly renovated Peace Memorial Museum is across the Motoyasu River from the iconic “A-Bomb Dome”, the skeletal ruins of the former Industrial Promotion Hall of Hiroshima Prefecture.

The dome was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The organization described the structure as “a strong and powerful symbol of the most destructive force ever created by mankind; it also expresses hope for world peace and the final elimination of all nuclear weapons.”

In May 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. He called for a “world without nuclear weapons”.

“A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that humanity has the means to destroy itself,” he said during a speech at the site of the first bombing.


According to the Japanese census conducted in 2010, the city has 1.17 million inhabitants.

Population in 1945

In World War II, the local population was between 300,000 and 420,000, according to the Department of Energy and Hiroshima City website.

the bombing

Then-President Harry S. Truman authorized the attack on Hiroshima. The US B-29 bomber aircraft, the Enola Gay, dropped the nuclear bomb, codenamed “Little Boy”, on August 6, 1945.

Why did the US do this?

American scientists working on the Manhattan Project successfully tested a working atomic bomb in July 1945, following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May.

Truman had commissioned a committee of advisers, chaired by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, to deliberate whether to use the atomic bomb in Japan.

Sam Rushay, the supervising archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, told CNN : “At the time, there was broad consensus in support of the strike decision among committee members. Stimson was very adamant that the bomb be used.”

Charles Maier, a professor of history at Harvard University, said that while it was possible for Truman to make another decision, he said: “It would have been difficult to justify to the American public why he prolonged the war when that weapon was available. ”

“It seemed to offer a potentially magical solution that would save a lot of pain,” he told the CNN .

Maier, who teaches a course on World War II, said Japan was not ready to surrender unconditionally and that there was concern that a weapons demonstration had not done the job. Such a demonstration would have detonated a nuclear weapon in an uninhabited but observable area to force Japan to surrender, an approach that was favored by a group of scientists and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, according to Rushay.

He added that Truman and his military advisers feared a “very expensive invasion” of Japan.

“Recent experience in the battles on Iwo Jima and Okinawa was very costly in terms of American and Japanese casualties, despite the destruction of the Japanese air force and navy,” Rushay said. “There was a widespread belief among American military planners that the Japanese would fight to the last man.”

Maier said: “Suicide attacks are quite common today, [mas] At the time, the Japanese use of Kamikaze suicide attacks had a strong psychological impact on US military decision makers who calculated that the entire country would be mobilized to defend the home.”

“The US military was not willing to say that it could win the war without the bomb,” he added.

Maier said some historians speculated that the possibility of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war helped drive the decision to end the war quickly using the bomb.

Rushay said Hiroshima was one of four potential targets and that Truman left it to the military to decide which city to attack. Hiroshima was chosen as a target due to its military importance. A few days later, Nagasaki was bombed.

The US remains the only country to have used nuclear weapons.

What was the result?

At least 70,000 people died in the initial blast, while approximately 70,000 died due to radiation exposure. “The five-year death toll may have reached or even exceeded 200,000 as cancer and other long-term effects took hold,” according to the Department of Energy’s Manhattan Project history.

The US dropped another bomb on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945, killing up to 80,000 people. Japan unconditionally agreed to accept the terms of surrender on 14 August.

What do critics say?

The total devastation caused by the bombing led many to criticize the decision.

In his 1963 memoir Mandate for Change, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower criticized the use of atomic bombs, saying they were not necessary to force Japan’s surrender.

Maier said the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “led the Japanese emperor to intervene with the divided military and advocate surrender.” But he added that Japan might be willing to end the war on conditions such as keeping the emperor in place.

In 1958, Hiroshima City Council passed a resolution condemning Truman for refusing to express remorse for the use of atomic bombs and for continuing to advocate their use in emergency situations. The resolution said the city’s residents “consider their duty sublime to be a cornerstone of world peace and no nation in the world should be allowed to repeat the mistake of using nuclear weapons.”

The resolution called the former president’s stance a “serious contamination committed against the people of Hiroshima and their fallen victims.”

Defense from bombing

Truman responded to the Hiroshima resolution by writing a letter to the Council’s chairman, saying that “the sentiment of the people of your city is easily understood and I am in no way offended by the resolution.”

However, Truman stressed the need for the decision by referencing how the US “was shot in the back” in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and saying that the decision to use the two nuclear bombs saved the lives of 250,000 Allied soldiers and 250,000 Japanese by helping to prevent an invasion.

“As the executive who ordered the dropping of the bomb, I think the sacrifice of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was urgent and necessary for the future well-being of Japan and the Allies,” Truman concluded.

How do Americans and Japanese feel about this?

A 2015 Pew Research Center poll found that only 14% of Japanese thought the bombing was justified, while 79% said it was not.

A Gallup poll conducted immediately after the 1945 bombing found that 85% of Americans approved of Truman’s decision. But last year’s Pew poll found that the share of Americans who believe the use of nuclear weapons against Japan was justified has dropped to 56%.

Source: CNN Brasil

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