Hiroshima, 70 years on

Last year, on July 4th, I visited Hiroshima with Izumi and the kids to see first-hand the city and the memorial.

Hiroshima (literally means flat island) was one of two sites bombed by atomic weapons. It was chosen because it was relatively unscathed by previous bombings and military scientists wanted to measure the effectiveness of an aerial detonation. Nagasaki (long cape), the other target, was on different terrain and that bomb was detonated on the ground. In each case, military personnel were sent to each city to carefully measure the destruction they had wrought.

The lone standing building survived the blast because it occurred directly overhead by several hundred meters.

Hiroshima Aerial Detination

The museum in Peace Park has many artifacts from August 6, 1945 including section from a stone bridge that still has the shadow of a person that was literally vaporized by the blast. There are many personal stories told by survivors posted next to items salvaged from the wreckage. How one man saw his hand melt off because it was on a windowsill and a schoolgirl who was home sick from school and was the only one from her entire class to survive.

There is also a stopwatch frozen at the exact moment the bomb went off.

Hiroshima Pocket Watch

What really struck me were some of the documents preserved which captured the debate on the US side over the deployment of this terrible weapon and presaged the arms race that would follow. There is a letter from Albert Einstein to FDR, minutes from a meeting with some of the contractors that worked on the bomb (General Electric, duPont), and declassified Top Secret notes from the Target Committee.

But most disturbing was an excerpt from the Franck Report from June 11, 1945 written by some of the scientists involved with the Manhattan Project that built the bomb. In it they plead with military leadership to consider demonstrating the power of the atomic bomb on an uninhabited island as a way to coerce Japan into surrender.

Franck Report

Highlighted above is a passage that would come to haunt our world for many years hence.

We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.

Something to think about as we debate our current negotiations with Iran.

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