History of the Second World War, Volume 7

National Archives Truman and Oppenheimer: a question of scruples It is hard to bring back to mind the weird and deadly atmosphere of August 61945. It is one of the few days inhuman history of which it is possible to say with truth that after it was over nothing for mankind would ever be quite the same again. It was the day on which in the flat and haunted prose of the American official report 'what had been a city going about its business on a sunny morning went up in a mountain of dust- filled smoke black at the base and towering into a plume of white to 40000 feet. If this had been a natural disaster it would have been appalling enough but it was not. An American aircraft had dropped anatomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and in a single white hot blinding second a large part of the city had quite simply dis­solved. Even now it is almost impossible to com­prehend the significance of that moment. The statistics of course are familiar and im­pressive. The Bomb had more power than 20.000 tons oft n t :when it was dropped at 9.00 am the explosion was so terrific that it was 48 hours before photographs of the damage could betaken from the air and when they were taken it became clear that of the 7 square miles of Hiroshima more than 4 square miles had been completely obliterated and houses were destroyed a mile from where the Bomb fell. Of the 90,000 buildings in the city 65000 or about 72%, collapsed or were severely damaged. No accurate estimate was possible of the number of people who died. The official guess Working together with the British we thus made it possible to achieve a great scientific triumph in the field of atomic energy. Nevertheless basic and historic as this event was, it had to be considered at the time as relatively incidental to the far-flung war we were infighting the Pacific at terrible cost in American lives. We could hope for a miracle butthe daily tragedy of a bitter war crowded in onus. We labored to construct a weapon of such overpowering force that the enemy could be forced to yield swiftly once we could resort to it. This was the primary aim of our secret and vast effort. But we also had to carryout the enormous effort of our basic and traditional ..military plans I had realized of course, that anatomic bomb explosion would inflict damage and casualties beyond imagination. On the other hand the scientific advisers of the committee reported 'We can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use. It was their conclusion that no technical demonstration they might propose such as over a deserted island would be likely to bring the war to an end. It had to be used against an enemy target. The final decision whereof and when to use the atomic bomb was up tome. Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used. The top military advisers to the President recommended its use and when I talked to Churchill he unhesitatingly told me that he favored the use of the atomic bomb if it might aid to end the war. In deciding to use this bomb I wanted to make sure that it would be used as a weapon of war in the manner prescrib­ed by the laws of war. That meant that I wanted it dropped on a military target. I had told Stimson that the bomb could be dropped as nearly as possibly upon a war production centre of prime military importance. in the American headquarters at Guam at the time was that 100000 or more had died. This was later revised in figures issued on February 21946 to 78150 killed—a pic­ture in someways more chilling than the original round figure especially as the official final casualty figures also listed 13983 people six months after the ex­plosion as 'missing. In the sombre jargon of nuclear physics: 'From the explosion there was produced avery high temperature estimated to be about 000°C 3 400°F) (5 on the ground immediately below the burst. The resulting intense thermal radiation caused deaths at distances up to three-quarters of a mite from ground zero. About 60% of the fatalities were due to heat flash and fire burns. Or to put it more simply more than 50,000 people were suddenly and comprehensively burned to death. Three days later the 48-hour pall of dust and smoke rose for the second overtime a Japanese city. At noon on August 9 the second atomic bomb was dropped on Naga­saki the great port and armaments centre on the west coast of Kyushu. American air­men reported that Nagasaki 'went up in a roar of smoke and flame that could be seen 250 miles away. The black cloud rose 10 miles into the air although some parts of Nagasaki lying in valleys escaped destruc­tion one-third of the city was wiped out. The casualties were fewer than those of Hiro­shima but there was little comfort in this for the Japanese. As the Los Alamos Scien­tific Laboratory has since outpointed in its report on the effects of atomic weapons (1950) in Tokyo the mortality rate per square mile of city destroyed by high- explosive bombing was 5200 in Nagasaki and Hiroshima the rates rose to 20000 and 15000 respectively. Almost a quarter of a century later these figures have lost their power to shock or even to disturb the surface of minds attuned to the violent acceleration of science and technology. Since then we have had the hydrogen bomb the Soviet Union has tested a weapon with a power equal to that of over 60000000 tons of conventional explosives intercontinental ballistic missiles can carry 'megaton nuclear warheads across thou­sands of miles to hit targets accurately and almost without warning nuclear bombs in permanent orbit around the earth are well within the reach of the military engin­eers of the superpowers and even these monstrous scientific achievements seem cosily reassuring beside the half-realised potential of chemical and germ warfare. In 1945 we were not so sophisticated we could still be impressed by a thousand- bomber raid and astonished by the appear­ance of a crude rocket that nowadays would be scarcely beyond the resources of a science sixth form. We were pre-nuclear man —a primitive race novices in the science of mass destruction. What happened at Hiro­shima and Nagasaki was more than anew development in military technology: 2690
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