August 6th, 2015

Five things your class should know on the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing

World War II, Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right), August 1945, Japan. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)


By Gabby Shacknai

On August 6, 1945, in an attempt to bring World War II to an end, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing tens of thousands. Three days later, another plane dropped a second atomic bomb over the city of Nagasaki. This week marks the 70th anniversaries of both of these catastrophic events.

  1. The United States began funding an atomic weapons development program in response to concerns from a group of American scientists, many of whom were refugees from fascist regimes in Europe, over nuclear weapons research being conducted in Nazi Germany. The top-secret operation was code named the Manhattan Project in honor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Manhattan district. Over the next few years, a team led by J. Robert Oppenheimer in Los Alamos, N.M. worked to turn materials sent to them from the Manhattan Project into a functioning atomic bomb. On the morning of July 16, 1945, the first successful test of an atomic device was held at the Trinity test site at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
  1. By the time of the Trinity Test, the Allied Powers had already defeated Germany, but Japan, vowing to battle to the bitter end, was still very much willing to fight. Upon assuming the presidency in 1945 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman — who was never informed about the construction of the atomic bomb — faced a series of difficult decisions. With war in Europe over, Truman was eager to end the war in the Pacific.
  1. In late July of 1945, the Japanese militarist government rejected the Allied demand for surrender. Though top American military commanders, including General Douglas MacArthur, wanted to continue the traditional bombing of Japan that was already in effect, Truman approved the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in an effort to prevent massive American casualties expected to result from an invasion of Japan.
  1. On August 6, 1945, 80,000 people in and around Hiroshima — a manufacturing center with a population of about 350,000 — died immediately after the first atomic bomb, code named “Little Boy”. Tens of thousands more people would die of radiation exposure in the weeks and months to come. Hiroshima’s devastation failed to produce an immediate Japanese surrender, however. On August 9, President Truman explained his reasoning for the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima in a radio address to the American people. He warned of the second bomb, which would drop later that day, and urged Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities for their own safety. A second bomb, code named “Fat Man,” was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people initially. On August 15, 1945, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
  1. President Truman’s choice to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains one of the most controversial and highly debated wartime decisions to this day. Every year on August 6, the city of Hiroshima comes together to remember its destruction and honor those killed by the bomb at the peace memorial and lantern floating ceremonies. A similar ceremony happens each year on August 9 in Nagasaki in honor of those who were lost.

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