Reaction to the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
by Diana Steele
A specter is haunting this country--the specter of nuclear energy. As a scientist who worked on the atomic bomb, I am appalled that the public is so apathetic and so uninformed about the dangerous social consequences of our development. There is no secret of the atomic bomb. In my opinion, in two to five years other countries can also manufacture bombs, and bombs tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times more effective than those which produced such devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This country with its concentrated industrial centers is entirely vulnerable to such weapons; nor can we count on, or even expect, effective counter-measures. Unless strong action is taken within the near future toward a positive control, this country will be drawn into an armament race which will inevitably end in catstrophe for all participants. . . . It is the responsibility of the press to stimulate public discussion on this vital matter and to educate the people as rapidly as possible. Where security permits, my colleagues are eager to help with scientific information. It was our hope in developing the bomb that it would be a great force for world cooperation and peace.1
On the 6 August 1945, a specially designed B-29 bomber carrying only one bomb departed from Tinian air force base at 2:45 a.m. Thus began the course of events, in which this simple plane and its single piece of cargo, would in five hours and thirty minutes change the course of human history forever. For this plane, the Enola Gay, carried in its belly the first atomic bomb ever to be used on a populated area: Hiroshima. Three days later the Bock's Car would deliver a second atomic bomb, the third ever tested, to destroy Nagasaki. These two events shattered a nation, claimed the lives of 350,000 human beings, including nine of ten American POWs being held in Hiroshima Castle, and unleashed a new era of horror, fear, and death for the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, Japan and the world.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will forever live in the pages of history as two of the most significant turning points in modern history, initiating the world into the nuclear age. The lives destroyed, the torture endured, the repercussions still felt today haunt not only the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the American psyche as well. In the remaining months of 1945 much was written and discussed concerning the atomic bombs and the discovery of nuclear energy, yet very little was written about the fate of the two cities destroyed by the atomic bombs or the suffering of the Japanese people as a result of the atomic bombs. The question is why did America, the country that dropped the two atomic bombs, say so very little about the results of the atomic bombs in ways other than in terms of physical damage to the cities or in relationship to winning the war? In this document I shall examine editorials, letters to the editor, and articles written from 7 August until 24 December 1945 in order to illustrate what the collective American public was writing and thinking in regards to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the future with atomic energy. At the same time, I shall also present the lives of individual Japanese citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the atomic bombings and juxtapose them against the American responses to atomic energy and bombs, in order to illustrate how litttle the American public knew of the plight of these bomb victims and how little concern they had for the fate their government had handed the Japanese citizens. There is, of course, no one answer to the question, and no collective answer can be given, as there are exceptions to be found everywhere, but it is clear that the majority of the citizens of the United States, faced with a moral dilemma larger than they could handle, had little to no visible concern for the Japanese people, but instead concentrated on the future of atomic energy, thereby avoiding the then present situation surrounding the newly released atomic energy and the effects that accompanied it. The co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Robert Lewis wrote in his diary shortly after his plane dropped the bomb on Hiroshima: "My God, what have we done?"2 Yes, what did the United States do, but more importantly, what did it not do?
The Enola Gay,
piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, departed Tinian with the same objective
as any other mission: destroy the target. Only two men on the plane,
though, were privy to the knowledge of the cargo they were carrying and
the goal of the mission. During the course of the flight, Navy Captain
William S. Parsons, the man in charge of arming the bomb, kept close watch
on his Little Boy, making sure nothing happened to his pride and
joy. At 7:25 a.m. Tibbets received a coded message revealing the
target and announced over the intercom: "It's Hiroshima!"3
Just after 8 a.m., the plane came upon the unsuspecting city, and bombardier
Thomas Ferebee, began searching for the intended target: Aioi Bridge.
"I've got it!"4
he exclaimed, followed shortly by "Bomb away!"5
At 8:15:17 a.m., the bomb bay doors sprang open and Little Boy,
as the bomb has been nicknamed, began his descent on the city. Forty-three
seconds later, Hiroshima ceased to exist.
Three days later on 9 August 1945, the Bock's Car delivered the same fate as Hiroshima to the city of Nagasaki at 11:01 a.m. At 3:49 a.m., the Bock's Car, the bomber carrying the Fat Man plutonium bomb, left for Nagasaki. Unlike the Enola Gay mission, the Bock's car mission encountered bad weather and was almost unable to drop the bomb due to cloud cover. After making three wasted attempts over the primary target of Kokura, Major Charles W. Sweeney, pilot of Bock's Car, decided to go to the secondary target of Nagasaki. With only enough fuel remaining to make one attempt over the city and safely arrive at the air base, the Bock's Car made one pass over a completely cloud-covered Nagasaki. Then, at the last possible instant, a break in the clouds occurred and Fat Man was released on Nagasaki. The atomic bomb exploded one and a half miles from the aiming point, but destroyed 44 percent of the city and killed up to 70,000 people.6 Fat Man had done his job just as well as Little Boy.
6 August 1945: Hiroshima
A day like any other began for the quiet yet bustling city of Hiroshima. Only lightly bombed during the war, the people of Hiroshima considered themselves the lucky ones. If only the citizens had known that the reason their city had not been bombed was because Hiroshima had been chosen two years before as a guinea pig for a still yet uncreated atomic bomb. Each morning the air raid sirens would sound throughout the city, but rarely was a bomb dropped. Around seven o'clock on the morning of 6 August 1945, the air raid sirens went off again in the just waking Hiroshima. Many rushed to the air raid shelters, others ignored it. By 7:30, the warning had passed, another false alarm over a reconnaissance plane, and every one was free to begin their day. Yohko Kuwabara, a 7th grade girl at the time of bombing, remembered her morning before the bomb dropped:
It was a clear but sultry morning. The midsummer sun was so bright it almost hurt my eyes. I looked at my watch. It was already past seven. 'I'll be late for school!' I started getting ready for school in a hurry. The awful scream of the air-raid siren began to echo across the morning sky, but the all-clear signal was given soon after. I left home and rushed over the dry and dusty asphalt to the Yamaguchi-cho streetcar stop. After I had waited thirty or forty minutes, a streetcar bound for Koi pulled up, already packed. Everyone at the stop moved toward the door at once, pushing and shoving. It looked as if I would not be able to get on, no matter how hard I tried. . . . I pushed my way through until I was standing behind the driver. through the windshield I looked at the pedestrians hurrying on their way, and soon we got to Hatchobori.*7
Meanwhile, Mr. Yukiharu Nakagawa, a 16 year old electrical engineer, was working for the Hiroshima Dentetsu Company at the old power plant building. The day began as any other working day for Yukiharu and his coworkers: "The building was a very old red brick building which was approximately one and a quarter miles away from the explosion center. It was before the starting time for work. I was chatting to several colleagues. There was a group of employees who were stretching their bodies. There was another group of employees who were having a morning meeting."8
In Yasufuruichi, near the mountains outside of Hiroshima, Ms. Toshiko Saeki was at her parents home with her children and sister. She was 26 at the time of the bombing. "I remember an airplane appeared from behind the mountains on my left. I thought it was strange to see an airplane flying that time all by itself. I looked at it and it was a B-29. It seemed very strange since there were on anti aircraft guns firing at it. I watched it for a while, then it disappeared. As soon as it disappeared, another airplane appeared from the same direction. It seemed very, very strange. I was still wondering what would happen."9
Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, director of the Hiroshima Communications Hospital, kept a diary from 6 August until 30 September 1945. He tells his story, and the stories of his friends and co-workers as it happened, as it was lived during that chilling first month and a half after the bomb was dropped. He begins: "The hour was early; the morning still, warm, and beautiful. Shimmering leaves, reflecting sunlight from a cloudless sky, made a pleasant contrast with shadows in my garden as I gazed absently through wide-flung doors opening to the south."10
Then 8:15 am struck on the clock, and the sky over Hiroshima became illuminated with a flash brighter and more powerful than the sun. A wave of heat swept through the city and back again. The beautiful day, in an instant, became a nightmare. Any object within a two kilometer distance from the hypocenter suffered significant burn damage, and those located near the hypocenter were instantaneously vaporized. The Shima hospital, the hypocenter of the atomic bomb was vaporized, along with all her patients. Dr. Hachiya, standing in his living room when the bomb exploded, recounted the moment in his diary:
As the streetcar arrived in Hatchobori, Yohko continued to watch the pedestrians hurry along on their way to work. The next moment, "I was blinded for a moment by a piercing flash of bright light, and the air filled with yellow smoke like poison gas. Momentarily, it got so dark I couldn't see anything. There was a loud, dull, thunderous noise. The inside of my mouth was gritty, as if there were sand in it, and my throat hurt. . . . Then I looked down at myself. Gone was the bad I had been carrying in my hand. Gone were the clogs I had been wearing. All I had left was the first-aid bag on my shoulder."12Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me-and then another. . . . A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked. . . . All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My cheek was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.11
Toshiko's entire family was in Hiroshima when the bomb exploded, and she desperately wanted to go to the city to search for them, but when she wanted to leave, "things and flames were falling from the sky" and she waited until it was safer. On her journey to the city, she asked all whom she saw where in Hiroshima was the most badly hit, everyone replying "'Hiroshima was attacked. Hiroshima badly hit." Finally she stopped a man, who was completely naked and covered in burns. To her surprise, this man recognized her, but she could not recognize him. Finally she did: "He was my second eldest brother." Toshiko finally arrived in Hiroshima late that afternoon. When she arrived, she found chaos: "The whole town of Hiroshima was just in a mess. . . . Everywhere was filled with mourns and groans and sobs and cries."14[T]here came a flash of light. I can't describe what it was like. And then, I felt some hot mask attacking me all of a sudden. I felt hot. I lay flat on the ground, trying to escape from the heat. I forgot all about my children for a moment. Then, there came a big sound, sliding wooden doors and window were blown off into the air. I turned around to see what had happened to the house, and at one part of the ceiling, it was hanging in the air. At some parts, the ceiling was caved in, burying my sister's child and my child as well.13
7 August 1945: The Day After
The day after the atomic
bomb destroyed Hiroshima brought new challenges, new hardships, new sufferings,
more death and despair. Hiroshima
had been completely destroyed. The atomic bomb had detonated
about 2,000 feet over Hiroshima, and almost every building in the city
had been turned to dust. In less than half a second, heat rays with
temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees Celsius caused primary burns within
two miles of the hypocenter, and the city turned into a sea of fire.16
The thousands of victims who had fled the day before returned in the desperate hope that some shred of their lives remained for them to collect and hold dear. Most found nothing but ashes where once stood their house, broken glass that once served as their dinnerware, twisted metal that they once rode as a bicycle. Burned bloody corpses were piled high everywhere. Huge funeral pyres burned throughout the city, while mass graves for the ashes were being dug wherever the pyre was built, by whomever was strong enough to dig. The search for relatives and loved ones rarely met with success or joy. At the Red Cross Hospital, patients let their presence be known by painting their names on the wall in their own blood in the chance that someone would come looking for them. Along the rivers floated boats with large white flags with the names of people written across them in the hopes that someone would see their name and come to be reunited with their loved ones.17 Most, however, found the search hopeless and fruitless. Toshiko Saeki went everyday into Hiroshima to search for her lost family members, but "I couldn't identify people by their faces. Trying to find my family, I had to take a look at their clothing . . .I couldn't find any of my family, so I went out to the playground. There were four piles of bodies and I stood in front of them. I just didn't know what to do. . . . If I tried to find my beloved ones, I would have to remove the bodies one by one. It just wasn't possible. I really felt sad."18 Toshiko would lose 13 family members to the bomb, including her mother and father and brother.
Those who came to Hiroshima from other towns and cities were not prepared for what they saw. Familiar landmarks were gone, buildings were gone, and only a few shells of structures remained to haunt the smoldering city. Two friends of Dr. Hachiya arrived in Hiroshima from his home town to check on his condition. They continuously repeated the horrors they had seen to convince themselves what they had witnessed was reality, not a nightmare. Mr. Katsutani, one of his friends, recounted in a broken tone, "I came onto I don't know how many [Japanese soldiers], burned from the hips up; and where the skin had peeled, their flesh was wet and mushy. . . . And they had no faces! Their eyes, noses and mouths had been burned away, and it looked like their ears had melted off. It was hard to tell front from back."19 He explained further of countless bodies along the river, dead from drowning as they tried to get a drink or cool their burns; the thousands of burned corpses filling the roads that led to Hiroshima; the smell everyone who was burned gave off; the pain of having nothing to help them.
Dr. Hachiya, as many of the people of Hiroshima, was a broken man, devoid of hope and spirit: "I found myself accepting whatever was told me with equanimity and a detachment I would have never believed possible. . . . I felt lonely, but it was an animal loneliness. I became part of the darkness of the night. . . ."20 The second day found Hiroshima a city of broken souls, on the edge of death still clinging to life.
9 August 1945: Nagasaki
Sakue Shimohira was but a little girl of ten years in the fifth grade when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. From the beginning of August until the morning of the eighth, Sakue had been living in a bomb shelter with her little sister and nephew as a result of alarms from conventional air attacks. On 8 August, they were able to go home, and when the sirens began the following morning at 7:30, Sakue did not want to leave her mother. But her mother, premonising that a terrible event awaited them, forced Sakue to return to the shelter. Around 8 am on 9 August, Sakue waved good-bye to her mother for the final time. Shortly after arriving at the air-raid shelter, the alarm was canceled, and the little boys in the shelter quickly ran outside to play:
After finishing his shift at the factory, Akio Sakita returned home and went to his backyard to do the washing. He heard the drone of airplanes above, but since the air raid alarm had been called off, he assumed that the planes he saw were Japanese planes out on surveillance runs. At that moment, he heard a loud roar in the sky, and as he looked up, "wondering if it had in fact been the enemy, a blinding flash of light filled the sky and my body was showered in a wave of intense heat. I felt a searing pain in my face and threw myself on to the ground with my eyes firmly shut. The rush of heat continued for several seconds. It was like a glimpse into the horror of hell. . . . I had suffered terrible burns all over the upper half of my body."22My sister, nephew and I were playing inside the shelter when there was a sudden, brilliant flash of light. I remember nothing else. We were spared the heat rays generated by the explosion but everything went dark and I fell unconscious. I do not know how much time had elapsed when someone shook me and brought me back to my senses. When my vision cleared, I could not believe the sights before my eyes. People with gruesome wounds were filing into the shelter one after another. They were horribly burned, covered with glass splinters like pin cushions, and so disfigured that it was impossible to distinguish one person from another. . . The stench inside the shelter became so strong that I could hardly breathe.21
They Got What They Deserved, What is There to Feel Bad About?
Hailed as the ender
of the war and the reason the Japanese surrendered without an invasion,
the atomic bomb's destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki received very little
praise from the America public, at least in print that is. From the
time of the atomic bombings until the end of the year, only a few letters
or editorials were written in direct praise of the destruction of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. One of the first appeared on 16 August in The New
York Times in a response to a letter printed on the 11 August.
William O. Morse of Greenwich, Connecticut wrote in a letter to the editor,
a response to the letter from William Church Osborn. He writes "It
is my opinion that only a minority will concur in that verdict [eventually
we shall feel shame toward the atomic bomb] and certainly on my own behalf
I want to protest vigorously against even an implication of being included
among the 'we' who subscribe to any such view."25
Morse then reveals that he has no sympathy for the victims of the bombs,
saying it "is precisely what war is today. . . a senseless, dirty, brutal
He goes on to justify the bombing of Hiroshima by concurring with the official
statements given by President Truman that "Hiroshima is (or was) a manufacturing
and distribution center and the military purpose of bombing it is obvious.
. . . We, as a nation, are not to blame for the monstrous advances made
in the science of war, nor that women, and indeed the whole civilian population,
being quite as essential to its waging as the fighting men themselves,
have become the objects of its merciless fury."27
Finally, he concludes his praise of the atomic bomb and United States government
by writing: "That our Government had the courage, the foresight and
the wisdom to resolve as it did the challenge of the grave decision which
confronted it need never, as I see it, bring the red blush of shame to
any American, but rather a sense of thankfulness and pride."28
Few others, however, were as clearly unremorseful for the deaths of the Japanese civilian as Morse. Others were more subtle, using language to convey their feelings instead of saying outright the Japanese deserved to die. Irving H. Flamm of Chicago, Illinois wrote to Time magazine, believing that the atomic bomb had done much for mankind and should be praised for doing such an incredible job at it. He saw the atomic bomb as having "in one fell swoop, struck down three enemies of human progress. It destroyed the hopes of the Jap fascists and their followers; it shattered the illusions of the isolationists; and it all but demolished the silly argument that governmental planning is ineffective and incompatible with democracy. It was public investment and government planning--the kind of planning that we rejected in peacetime--that enabled us to discover the instrument which finally smashed the last hopes of those who still think in terms of superior and inferior people, predatory individualism, and unrestrained aggressiveness."29 When referring to "those who still think in terms of superior and inferior," Flamm was referring to the "Jap fascists" who finally received what they deserved.
Although the American public was not quick to publicly state their opinions on the destruction of human life in Japan in letters such as these, the support behind the dropping of the bomb was overwhelming. When the American people were asked in a Gallup Poll taken from 10-15 August 1945 whether or not they approved or disapproved of the use of atomic bombs on Japanese cities, 85 percent approved, ten percent disapproved and five had no opinion.30 Then when asked if the development of the atomic bomb was a good or bad thing, 69 percent said it was a good thing, 17 percent said it was bad, and 14 percent had no opinion.31 This was asked just eighteen days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and two weeks after the second. After this date, no further Gallup Polls were taken concerning the approval of Americans of the atomic bomb; however, later unofficial polls taken in December showed that support for the atomic bomb had not decreased from the August Gallup Poll figures and Americans still felt that the atomic bombing of Japan was a good decision.
We Can't Bring Ourselves to Say Dead Japs is a Good Thing, so We'll Just Praise the Bomb!
Although most Americans
would not say or write in a public forum that the death of hundreds of
thousands of Japanese was a favourable to them, they would praise the atomic
bomb and saw it as a wonderful discovery. A. Garcia Diaz of New York
who expressed a concern for the future, not knowing what the United States
government was going to do with their new discovery, also noted in his
letter that the United States was now "in possession of a formidable secret"
and had entered "a new phase of stupendous energy-releasing discoveries."32
The same day, Florence Green, also of New York, thanked The New York
Times, for its coverage of the bomb because "only now can I appreciate
the true significance of this stupendous scientific revolution."33
Others did not necessarily extole the virtues of the atomic bomb, but rather the success of scientists in creating nuclear energy. Walter Niebuhr of New York saw glory and great prospects for the future in the scientific discovery of the atomic bomb: "Perhaps the modern scientists have found a means of ending all wars, after centuries of futile efforts by statesmen, pacifists and economic groups. . . . Modern science has won this war for us. Modern science is winning the peace for us. And modern science will provide a means of living and a security of living for the generations to come which this world has never dreamed of."34 He was excited by the possible future the bomb could bring to America and the world, and had no regard for the loss of life, but referred to the bombing of Hiroshima as the "sensational news of the past few days about the catastrophic effects of the new atomic bomb,"35 and then immediately began to praise the scientists and their invention.
John L. Balderston Jr. of Oak Ridge, Tennessee chided the American public, writing in his letter to Time that "[i]t is of no use to cry that we should have suppressed our discovery of how to harness atomic energy. Other nations would have discovered it within a very short time."36 He then went on to say that "it is to the good of the whole world that we, a normally peace-loving nation, did discover it first."37 He believed the power atomic energy to be a positive force and wanted America to stop complaining that the bomb and nuclear energy was discovered, because it fell into the proper hands of the United States and not to the wrong hands of the rest of the world.
Theodore E. Merritt of Salem, Oregon likened atomic energy to electricity, writing: "In any case, the split atom is here to stay. Let us accept it with some fear and trembling, but let us also accept it with all the faith we can muster in man's intelligent capacity and desire to harness it beneficently, as he has electricity. . . ."38 He saw no reason to fear atomic energy but rather embrace it as something as beneficial to mankind as electricity and steam power.
Still others did not want to say that they were happy to know that many Japanese were dead, and disguised this through praising the bomb, while also mentioning the dead Japanese. Carter Holmes, of Dallas, Texas believed that Americans who condemned the atomic bomb and spoke out against it are what "we have to fear in the future."39 Holmes viewed the atomic bomb as a great asset to the future of humans and warfare, and wrote that, "If those who share Mr. Taylor's [referring to a letter previously written to Time] opinions will look under the ashes of those dead Japs, they will probably see that our strict control of this menace can turn it into the most powerful deterrent to future wars of aggression which has or is likely to come to light."40
Agreeing with Holmes that Americans who denounce the bomb and make comparissons of the atomic bomb to Nazi behavior have no sense of the magnitude of the atomic bomb, R.E. Cody of San Francisco denounces Americans who have "the colossal gall to decry democracy, and to compare us to the recreants who planned the mass murder at Dachau."41 He further states in answer to those accusations that: "I can only say that thousands of us owe our lives to the 'brutes' who devised this bomb, and the 'monsters' who had the courage to use it."42 The atomic bomb was his lifesaver and although he does not say it directly, it is clear that he believes it is far better for the Japanese to have died than any American.
We Like the Bomb, But Mommy, We're Scared
Many other Americans
saw atomic energy as a great force, but were frightened by the future that
was certainly to accompany such a terrific force. Some, like Camilla
and Peter Flintermann of Chicago, Illinois questioned the implications
of the atomic bomb, writing that the "use of atomic force for destruction
are overwhelming, and to call it a force for peace is at best wishful thinking."43
They did not believe that the atomic weapon would be used for peace or
sustain the future of mankind, and further wrote, "[w]e must look for other
ways of ending war than by increasing its destructiveness or we shall end
by the total destruction of human society"44
W.G. Martin of Kerrville, Texas believed that it was too soon to fully evaluate the "infinite possibilities for good and evil" that the atomic bomb held, but noted that his, "initial reaction is a feeling of deep regret that science has apparently learned how to utilize atomic energy."45 He then goes on to state his fear that "[i]t looks as if humanity is moving inexorably toward Armageddon and into the limbo of forgotten things, an oblivion of its own making. . . . Unless prompt action is taken it will again be 'too little and too late,' and this time destiny plays for keeps."46
Similar to Martin, Julius Zirinsky and William Fanning expressed their concern for the future of mankind. Zirinsky said that: "Horrible as it may be to those who at present are getting the taste of the destruction, we must not forget that we can be boomeranged in just as hellish manner--not from the enemies, but through mistakes in handling the weapon, because many unforeseen, uncalculated reasons."47 While Zirinsky was worried about ourselves destroying our futures, Fanning felt that human beings had gone too far and as humans, people are incapable of controlling a power, heretofore only available to the Gods: "Science has reached to the fringe of the universe and stolen the secret of life inviolate since the beginning of time. . . . Man is too frail a being to be entrusted with such power as atomic energy possesses."48 His one gratitude toward the atomic bomb: it was in the control of the Americans and not his enemies.
A. Garcia Diaz of New York expressed in his letter the concerns and questions that many Americans had at the time: "what exactly would be the use made of the discovery of the atomic power which was revealed after the dropping on Japanese soil of one of the most destructive weapons ever devised by the technological ingenuity of man."49 Many Americans feared the new atomic bomb because they did not understand it fully, but realized the destructive power of the bomb, and began to fear for their own lives and futures. As Diaz further wrote: "The now man-harnessed terrific power of atomic energy poses for human beings the greatest of moral choices they have ever had to face--between educating themselves for doing good or allowing their latent bestial passions to bring total catastrophe upon themselves. . . . May intelligence, warm sympathy and affection guide us safely through a future pregnant with possibilities for much good or for evil more hellish than any yet known."50
Recognizing that the atomic bomb "will probably save American lives, and may shorten the war materially, may even compel Japanese surrender,"51 Hanson W. Baldwin, writing for The New York Times, expressed in his editorialized article "The Atomic Weapon" a concern toward the atomic bomb, writing: "Yesterday man unleashed the atom to destroy man, and another chapter in human history opened, a chapter in which the weird, the strange, the horrible becomes the trite and the obvious. Yesterday we clinched victory in the Pacific, but we sowed the whirlwind."52 He was skeptical at the price the atomic bombing of Japan would bring to the world. Noting that "much of our bombing through this war-like the enemy's--has been directed against cities, and hence against civilians. . . Americans have become a synonym for destruction. And now we have been the first to introduce a new weapon of unknowable effects which may bring us victory quickly but which will sow the seeds of hate more widely than ever."53 Concluding, Baldwin predicted the possible futures for mankind: "Atomic energy may well lead to a bright new world in which man shares a common brotherhood, or we shall become--beneath the bombs and rockets-a world of troglodytes."54
Like Baldwin, Maynard W. Kendall of San Francisco saw the atomic bomb in both a positive and negative light. He saw that the atomic bomb was not only the enemy of the entire people of the world, but also the unifying factor of all peoples: "In the atomic bomb all the nations, all the people of the earth have a mutual enemy. This enemy is an inanimate object that cannot be fought with men's lives against men's lives. This new-found fear in this new-found age is what will be used to unite the world. . . . To get flowery--the atomic bomb is the long awaited antagonist against which the world, a United World, will be the protagonist."55 Unfortuanely, the bomb served to position countries against one another in nuclear arms races instead of establishing the United World of which Kendall writes.
It's Not Our Fault: Blame the Government!
Little was said
about the propaganda used by the government to convince the American public
that the atomic bombings were necessary and good, but Felix Morley, editor
of Human Events, complained that "[r]ivers of racy material prepared
in our various agencies of Public Enlightenment poured out to the press
and radio commentators whose well-understood duty it is to 'condition'
However, he further stated that "[n]ever has any totalitarian propaganda
effort fallen more flat."57
Did it though?
The the day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, The New York Times printed on its editorial page a piece on the atomic bomb. After briefly discussing the new creation and its effects on society, and need to spread democracy throughout the world, the article came to the conclusion that no person would want war if it knew the consequences would be those of the atomic bomb, further stating:
Meant in a sincere manner, this statement is quite ironic in that the United States government had for two years kept the entire public in the dark about the creation of the atomic bomb, and once it had been dropped on Hiroshima, censored any reports coming from Hiroshima that might possibly be published in America, and proceeded to give the American public limited information on the bomb. Within the first three days, there was dissension and criticism of the new atomic bomb, but before the American public could fully digest the concept of the atomic bomb, the United States government dropped a second on Nagasaki. Perhaps the editor meant this strictly for the future and not applicable to the United States and the current situation. Nevertheless, two days after this was published, without notifying the American public or warning the city of Nagasaki, "Fat Man" was delivered to Nagasaki with a force greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima."All that we have to fear, in that case, is that a totalitarian government, by suppressing information and free discussion by feeding its people on a propaganda of lies, will prevent its people from knowing the facts until it is too late, while it plots secretly against the rest of the world. Wherever the press and information and discussion are free, wherever the facts are known and the government is really the choice of a liberated people, that people will want peace and can force its government to keep the peace."58
It's Alive! Now, give it to everyone
At end of 1945 there
was also a great movement to disclose the "secret" of the atomic bomb to
allies in the war and especially Russia, as the United States government
had directed much of its propaganda of the atomic bomb to the Russians.
Many believed that the only way to achieve a peaceful, world-cooperation
to ensure another world war would never take place again was to disclose
all information on the atomic bomb and atomic energy thus known, and offer
an olive-branch of trust and goodwill between the great powers of the world
at the time. Captain R.C. Cogswell, Captain C.R. Henderson, First
Lieutenant C.W. Denko and Senior Sergeant W.E. Grundy believed that if
the United States kept the secret of the bomb, it would experience "distrust
and eventual aggression from nations claiming to be fearful for their own
They saw only good resulting when all information surrounding that atomic
bomb was given to the international community. Outlining these benefits,
the men wrote, "we 1) show the Russians (against whom, after all, this
secrecy is being directed) that we are ready to trust them, 2) give a strong
impetus for success of the United Nations Organization, 3) furnish a strong
moral persuader to other nations to follow our example in cosmopolitan
behavior, and 4) lose nothing which we won't lose shortly in any event,
if we haven't already done so."61
Freda Kirchwey, a writer for The Nation, discusses in two separate articles the effects of the atomic bomb on the world and future, emphasizing the need for collective control of nuclear power, not control only by a select few. She notes, "The suffering, the wholesale slaughter it [the atomic bombings] entailed, have been outweighed by its spectacular success; Allied leaders can rightly claim that the loss of life on both sides would have been many times greater if the atomic bomb had not been used and Japan had gone on fighting. . . . The danger is that it will encourage those in power to assume that, once accepted as valid, the argument can be applied equally well in the future."62 A revolution of man's thinking in regards to political and social readjustment is needed now that atomic energy has been harnessed, but until this article, "No one has spoken the simple truth that the exploding atom had exposed to the whole world."63
She argues for the collective control of atomic energy, stating simply: "Suppose the United States, Canada, and Britain attempt, as they seem prepared to do, to corner the knowledge of atomic power even for a brief period. . . . No nation shut out from our closely guarded knowledge can possible do other than speed up its own collective effort to gain the same ground. . . . Are we to be asked to believe that the Anglo-Saxon peoples have alone been granted the god-like power to crack atoms?"64 Krichwey saw no benefit from retaining secrets of the atomic bomb. She believed that giving Russia all information surrounding the atomic bomb "is so evident that the question no longer seems arguable."65 Kirchwey wrote that the United States' government was withholding information on the atomic bomb to buy time. Time that they would use to "accumulate a lot of improved atomic bombs" and also create a control system so that when other countries are capable of building their own nuclear weapon, the United States can "take charge of the situation."66 She argues the advantages of giving the Russians the secret of the atomic bombs and that nothing can be gained by keeping secrets. It may be the natural course of action, but it is "futile, and therefore stupid."67 Concluding, "within each nation the people must establish public ownership and social development of the revolutionary force war has thrust into their hands. . . . We face a choice between one world or none."68
However, others feared that other countries would soon discover the secret of the atomic bomb and believed the United States should do everything in its power to keep complete control over the new weapon. Many feared that the Russians or a country other than an American ally would soon acquire the knowledge of the new atomic bomb, and bring the world into nuclear war. Robert Harrow believed "the United States should use all its power to obtain military and political control. If this is not done soon other nations will soon use atomic power themselves, and a world state will become an impossibility."69 If the United States was not in control, many believed the world would fall to pieces.
Harvard research assistance Lawrence W. Baldwin provided the readers of Newsweek a detailed solution to the problem of secrecy surrounding the atomic bomb. He believed that because the "United States has control, only the United States should maintain control."70 He saw the key to the future as the United States becoming a world police force, keeping "a constant vigil over the entire world"71 in order to control nuclear energy and supplies. Baldwin gave specific methods of controlling the world, suggesting:
He, of course, makes certain to note that "These are only suggestions." He concluded by saying that the key is for the United States to "immediately take a firm stand and insist that no one else-no one-produce, or try to produce, any atomic weapons."73we must have a large staff of both uniformed and secret agents to ferret out any factories, or parts of factories, to see that no contraband is being produced. Aerial photographs, especially near deposit areas, might prove of value. . . . We could prohibit foreign universitites from experimenting in dangerous directions, and counter by offering fellowships at our own universities for certain talented foreigners. . . . insist on knowing what each item is used for, and where it is at all times. . . it should be feasible to investigate any large amount of money seeping into some unknown project.72
The atomic bomb, did of course, create moral dilemmas among Americans, who had always seen themselves on morally higher ground than the rest of world, especially in regards to the German concentration camps and the Japanese death marches. Many could not justify the mass killings of women and children in the name of war, and openly criticized the United States for having committed such an act against humanity."I submit that the problem is not the control of the Atom but of Adam. We do not stand in terror of a thing but of ourselves. In this subterfuge of speaking about the Atom we simply give credence to the words of Jeremiah: The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked."74 --Gilbert A. Jensen, U.S. Naval Reserve Chaplain
One of the most out-spoken critics of the bomb, David Lawrence, editor of United States News, also spoke out using the analogy of the atomic bomb to the gas chambers of Nazi concentration camps writing: "If the right to use the atomic bomb is sanctioned, then the right to invent weapons that will deal a so-called merciful death--indeed as quick and instantaneous as the lethal chambers of Buchenwald--is also sanctioned."82 He further calls on the United States to be the first to "condemn the atomic bomb and apologize for its use against Japan," saying that the government and military knew the bomb were not necessary to winning the war, and that "[c]ompetent testimony exists to prove that Japan was seeking to surrender many weeks before the atomic bomb came,"83 referring to a press conference held by Major General Curtis E. LeMay of the United States Army Air Force where he says explicitly that the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war. Yet this was not the last time Lawrence would use the analogy. In November, he told the American public to admit the truth: "The truth is we are guilty. Our conscience as a nation must trouble us. We must confess our sin. We have used a horrible weapon to asphyxiate and cremate more than 100,000 men, women and children in a sort of super-lethal gas chamber--and all this in a war already won or which spokesmen for our Air Forces tell us could have been readily won without the atomic bomb. . . . We ought, therefore, to apologize in unequivocal terms at once to the whole world for our misuse of the atomic bomb"84The United States of America has this day become the new master of brutality, infamy, atrocity. Bataan, Buchenwald, Dachau, Coventry, Lidice were tea parties compared with the horror which we, the people of the United States of America, have dumped on the world in the form of atomic energy bombs. No peacetime applications of this Frankenstein monster can ever erase the crime we have committed. We have paved the way for the obliteration of our globe. It is no democracy where such an outrage can be committed without our consent.81
John Haynes Holmes of The Community Church of New York believed there was no justification for the atomic bombings: "We denounce the use of the bomb under whatsoever circumstances as a hideous atrocity and an outrage upon every principle of ethics and religion. Our nation stands disgraced before the world as the perpetrator of this monstrous crime."88 The disgrace of the use of the atomic bombs against women and children, coupled with the lack of solid moral ground upon which to stand would plague some Americans for years to come, and there are some, even today, who cannot erase the guilt they feel as citizens of the only country to use such a weapon against humanity.Military necessity will be our constant cry in answer to criticism, but it will never erase from our minds the simple truth that we, of all civilized nations, though hesitating to use poison gas, did not hesitate to employ the most destructive weapon of all times indiscriminately against men, women and children.87
The bombings of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki forever changed the world in which we now live. Two
cities were virtually wiped off the face of the planet, hundreds of thousands
of lives were lost, and countless others bear the scars of the 6 and 9
August 1945. Yet, it is clear that while the Japanese citizens of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki were desperately trying to stay alive and hold on to their
humanity, the people of the United States were surprisingly apathetic to
the plight of the Japanese while concentrating intensely on the power of
the atomic bomb. There were some, primarily religious leaders and
humanitarians, such as David Lawrence, who spoke out again the bombings,
calling them inhumane and immoral, while others, thought the United States
should have used more while they had the chance. Yet, for as ground
shaking and life changing the events of the atomic bombings were, very
little was written or said by the American public to the American public
in any form of open discussion or forum. One would have expected
a greater reaction from the citizens of the country that dropped the first
atomic bomb, instead there is little visible reaction-positive or negative-at
all. Although this paper contains many letters, articles, and editorials,
they are collected over a four month period, and this amount is relatively
small in comparison to the magnitude of the event and the destruction it
brought. The reasons for the lack of response to the destruction
of human lives incurred as a result of the atomic bomb are many and varied.
One reason for the lack of discussion on the loss of lives was that the American public forced itself to feel apathetic towards the atomic bomb for sake of its conscience. The atomic bomb had, in the mind of the average American, won the war with Japan and was the reason their boys were finally coming home. At the same time, though, isolated reports of radiation sickness and immense suffering seeped into the news, coupled with the fact that the victims of the bomb were not soldiers or military personnel but women, children and the elderly. America was caught in a moral dilemma: "For Americans, however, the bomb suddenly manifested itself as the decisive or 'winning' weapon in the bloody Pacific war, and celebration was inevitable. It was our awesome scientific and technological achievement--something to celebrate in itself, and then celebrate further as a way of avoiding the more painful question of moral consequences. . . . By thus rendering the weapon a preserver rather than a destroyer of life, celebratory emotions have been sustained to this moment."89 Americans also justified the atomic bombings by "what can only be called notions of 'revenge.' Time and again, the question of whether the use of the atomic bomb was militarily required has become entangled with the quite separate issue of our anger at Japan's sneak attack and the brutality of her military."90
On the other hand, though, there was an intense "sense of radical evil, of having crossed a terrible boundary into an unprecedented realm of mass killing. We had done something that seemed to endanger the whole world. Such feelings of self-accusation were rendered especially painful by our sense of ourselves as a people of special goodness, indeed as people living always in God's grace."91 It is well known that throughout the world then and today, "Americans are famous for a certain naive self-righteousness, even arrogance. We like to see ourselves as possessed of special, unique virtue. Ours is a great nation."92 If America was truly the "chosen" people of God and the purveyors of goodness and righteousness, then how could we have committed such a horrid act against our fellow humans beings? The question was too much for the average American to answer, so a process of inversion and apathy began to emerge.
As news of the suffering of the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became more prevalent and help was being asked for, the United States' military and people, for the most part, chose not to send aid to these two cities. The reason the American military and government chose not to send any type of medical help or relief to the victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was because "whoever provided medical care to the survivors would be accepting moral and historical responsibility for what had happened to them. Hence the American insistence that the Japanese government be the ones to make treatment available. . . . In other words, to avoid historical and moral responsibility, we acted immorally and claimed virtue. We sank deeper, that is, into moral inversion."93
By using the atomic bomb, many Americans felt that the United States fell from grace and were suddenly forced to contemplate a dark moral question. This sense of falling from grace created a disillusionment in the American psyche which led to scapegoating, apathy, cynicism, and the eventual submission of feelings toward the bomb and any mention of it in a way other than the official narrative: we dropped this bomb to save lives. Period. Editorials, letters to the editor, and articles written to condemn the atomic bomb were themselves condemned, and the use of atomic bombs to end the war was being constantly re-justified to the American public. Americans could not bring themselves to take a moral or political stance on the atomic bomb, lest they show themselves wrong, and immoral, "for even if one were to accept the most inflated estimates of lives saved by the atomic bomb, the fact remains that it was an act of violent destruction aimed deliberately at large concentrations of noncombatants. We do not like to speak of such things. 'The knowledge of horrible events periodically intrudes into public awareness,' professor of psychiatry Judith Herman observes, but it 'is rarely retained for long. Denial, repression, and dissociation operate on a social as well as an individual level.' "94 It is easier to ignore and suppress, than to acknowledge and admit ones guilt.
The majority of American citizens were ignorant of the facts of nuclear energy and the effects that it has on people. They did not know that hundred, even thousands of Japanese men, women, and children would die each day from the resulting radiation sickness from the two nuclear bombs or that thousands more would die in years to come from cancer and leukemia. A vast amount of information surrounding the atomic bombings was suppressed by the United States' military as being militarily sensitive, when in actuality, the government did not want the public to know the incredible amount of suffering and destruction it had brought on the average Japanese citizen. However, the government and military are not entirely responsible for the lack of knowledge the average American had concerning the atomic bombs. Americans did not "probe for the truth behind the bomb, or even ask tough questions about what we were being told. We seem to have preferred the myth. Few wished even to see whether there might be something behind the troubling information which somehow kept seeping out."95 It was far easier for the average American to live in ignorance than face the harshness of enlightenment.
The result was an incredible silence among the American public in regards to the atomic weapon. The silence, however, was compromising in itself. As Gar Alperovitz wrote, "To be silent about the past is to accept the decision silently, with no challenge. It is thereby also to sustain and silently nurture the idea that nuclear weapons can and should be used or threatened to be used. To confront Hiroshima requires that if we choose to be silent we know what it means to be silent--to be acquiescent."96 By their silence, the Americans directly following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki became as comparable in the resulting destruction and horror as the scientists who invented it and the men who let the bombs drop from their airplanes' doors. Thus the average American after World War II became like the average German during World War II: guilty by silence.