atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#130: The Day They Vaporized Hiroshima

Just about every year on this day the newscasts dwell on the fact that the first atom bomb ever used in anger was used on this day in 1945.

They show the ringing of the temple bell in Hiroshima; they show the blasted remains of the one building to survive (sort of) the blast; they extoll the statistics of how many people were killed, how many were burned, and so on.

The only two atomic bombs used in actual combat (so far) were the second and third atom bombs detonated. One was a plutonium implosion bomb; the other was a uranium gun bomb. Both used technology which hadn't existed two years earlier, but which had been invented in a pressure cooker by some of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century.

America's use of the atom bomb in the war was a good thing.

OMG how can you say that, Mr. Fungus? Atom bombing two cities was a good thing? What kind of person are you, a Nazi deathmonger? A psychopath who lusts for nuclear armageddon?

See if you can follow my reasoning:

No one can argue that war is horrible. It is a meat grinder which runs on human lives. It's an instinctual behavior; humans fight. We always have, and always will, until we evolve into something that doesn't need to fight. People who think that eliminating guns will stop murder don't understand the basic fact that sometimes humans get violent. There were murders long before there were guns. There were murders long before there were police to catch the murderers and courts to try them.

War is a bit different than murder. Over the millennia it has been codified into something which a society decides to do, which has legitimized the use of violence. Nations must be allowed to war; if they don't, they will be subjugated by nations which will war.

In 1945, the United States was on the verge of winning a war it had not sought against an enemy which had attacked before declaring war. The last thing to do was to invade that enemy, an operation which would have cost easily 1,000,000 American lives. But the USA had an "ultimate weapon", developed in secret at enormous cost, which could obviate an invasion, make it utterly unnecessary.

Truman made a decision.

The vaporizing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed everyone just how horrible atomic war was. One plane, one bomb, 60,000 people dead instantly, with tens of thousands more injured. The entire city was virtually leveled instantly. Fires killed more people than the initial blast did. People were horribly burned by the detonation of the bomb. Accounts talk about the "black rain", the greasy mix of water and fallout, which some people drank because they had no other source of water. People got radiation poisoning and died. People got cancer (later) and lived or died depending on how serious the cancer was.

In The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Rhodes shows us a graph of the annual death rate due to war. It was rising exponentially until about which point it fell sharply to a figure of around 1,000,000 people per year.

The use of the atomic bomb provided an example of what "atomic war" meant. It was not just theory; there were photographs and movies of the suffering of real people which showed how horrible atomic war was. Not "could be" but "was"--and this is a crucial difference.

Atomic weapons drove the price of war too high. Simply by existing, atomic weapons prevented wars. Why did the Soviet Union never try to expand its influence too far in Europe? Because it didn't want to fight an atomic war, and their strategists knew as well as ours did that any serious conflict in Europe would turn nuclear pretty quickly.

That's why we had proxy wars, in Korea and Viet Nam. That's why Iran turned into such a mess under Carter. That's why Reagan was able to stare down the USSR, leading to its eventual collapse. No one wanted to fight an atomic war.

And no one wanted to fight one because Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shown us what the aftermath of one bomb, used on one city, was like. The idea of expending an entire arsenal in a Mutual Assured Destruction scenario was horrific--to say the least--to any world leader with any conscience whatsoever. You might win the war, but you would not be around to enjoy your victory; even if you gave your opponent twice the pounding he gave you, you were still dead.

At the time that Nagasaki was blown off the map, the United States did not have enough weapons-grade fissionable material of any kind on hand to make another atom bomb. It would have taken a few weeks or months to generate it. But after that, the US could have vaporized another city about every month or so--and additional refining capacity could have been brought on-line. No one in the world could counter that threat--no one.

So let's play a little game of "what if".

What would Stalin have done with that capability? If the US had not done it, but the USSR had--what would have happened once Japan was defeated?

Do you honestly think that Stalin would not have gone on to dictate terms to the rest of the world? "You will accept the USSR as your leader, or face the fate of Tokyo and Kyoto." (He wouldn't have spared Kyoto the way Truman did. Truman had been to Japan. He'd seen Kyoto. He took it off the target list.)

Stalin would have used his strategic advantage to the fullest. He would not have tossed two bombs at the country he was at war with and then stop. Europe was split into West and East blocs because Stalin was committed to world communism. He would barely have hesitated, had he been in the position that the US was in at the end of World War II.

The position of the United States in World War II was unique. It was the only country which had not had serious hostilities take place on its soil. (Hawaii was a territory, not a state; there's a difference. And by "serious hostilities" I mean ground war, anyway.) The industrial machinery of the US was never seriously threatened with aerial bombardment or ground action. The ability to develop the atom bomb was one result of this. The oceans were too big for our enemies to cross; Hitler hadn't really bothered with a navy and the Japanese couldn't project force that far. Even if the Japanese had wiped out the entire Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, that would only have gained them time; it would not have stopped their inevitable defeat. Yamamoto understood that in a way his superiors did not.

At the end of the war, the US had all its industry running at 150% of its former peacetime capacity. We could have kept fighting; we could have subjugated entire nations and no one could have stopped us.


After Japan's surrender, we stood down and stopped fighting. We sent the troops home--most of them, anyway--and moved in to help our former enemies rebuild. And today, neither Japan nor Germany are threats to world peace. They have too much invested elsewhere to fight wars, now.

* * *

All of that is a good defense of the use of the atomic bomb. But I have another one, one which is very personal.

On August 6, 1945, my father was in boot camp, learning how to be a Marine. He would have been one man in an army of men storming the beaches of Japan, invading that country for the final win of the war.

Conservative estimates say that we would have lost 500,000 to 1,000,000 men in that attack. The chance is high that my Dad would have been one of them. If it were not for the atom bomb....

I might not be here.

So, yes, I think that the use of the atomic bomb by the US in 1945 was a good thing.

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