Opinion: 'Most cruel bomb' should be remembered on Hiroshima Day
Last updated 8/6/2022 at 11:25am
“Hiroshima Day” is a day for mixed feelings.
It is a day to remember what many would prefer to forget. It commemorates a day of honor and horror, a day that ended World War II and gave birth to the nuclear age, a day that offered the world new hope for scientific progress — and new reasons to feel very afraid.
On Aug. 6, 1945, a clear sky over the Japanese city of Hiroshima was disturbed by a solitary American B-29 bomber. Its belly doors snapped open and dropped the world’s first nuclear weapon to be deployed in war.
Three days later, another American B-29 dropped a second “A-bomb,” as headline writers abbreviated the new atomic weapon, on Nagasaki.
The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, by various estimates, with the explosive equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT. They also unleashed an abundance of radiation poisoning that would sicken and kill thousands more. On Aug. 15, 1945, Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in a radio address, citing the devastating power of “a new and most cruel bomb.”
The bomb that essentially ended the war also launched a new nuclear age, along with endless debates about its awesome power, devastating enough to discourage any country from using it again, so far.
Hiroshima Day came into being to honor the dead, promote peace and raise awareness of the horrible effects of nuclear war. That awareness is particularly important now in an era in which nuclear capabilities are measured not only in kilotons but in megatons and, in the measuring unit from “Dr. Strangelove” that inspired a famous rock band, megadeaths.
Even in the 1940s, the major arguments against the bomb were numerous. It was immoral. An offshore demonstration of the bomb might have sufficed.
Invasion was a more “humane” alternative. Japan’s wartime leaders were reportedly about to surrender anyway.
But that debate was largely muted in 1945. On troop ships, for example, where hundreds of thousands of Americans were steaming across the Pacific to battle Japan when they heard the news, the jubilation was deafening,
With Germany defeated a few months earlier, Russia under Josef Stalin already was invading Japan from the north, aiming to grab as much land as it could, as it already was doing in eastern Europe.
And imagine the consequences if Hitler’s Germany had won the race to produce the first A-bomb.
Indeed, the world would never be the same.
Today the nuclear age has evolved into a new and increasingly worrisome age of nuclear proliferation. Nine nuclear powers — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — have a total of about 13,000 nuclear warheads, according to the independent nonprofit Arms Control Association, based only on publicly available information, although there could be many more.
Changing times bring a new significance to Hiroshima Day. It began as an occasion to remember and mourn the deaths of so many innocent humans.
Over time it increasingly has become a time for peace movements and for global citizens to reflect on nuclear hazards and seek ways to push it back.
“The world learned that nuclear weapons should only be a deterrence,” Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who negotiated nuclear control issues with both North Korea and Iran, recently said in a television interview, “not a war-fighting weapon.”
— Chicago Tribune