On 6 August 1945, a number of eyes in the Japanese city of Hiroshima turned skyward at the drone of a US B-29 bomber flying across the cloudless sky, accompanied by two other aircraft. Their arrival was not a surprise; the early warning radar net had detected the incoming planes and an air-raid alert had been issued for the city. But soon the Japanese military realized that only three planes were incoming, and the alert was lifted. The anti-aircraft guns sat silent, and the fighter planes lingered in their hangars.
The sound of the American planes drew the attention of the city’s residents, many of whom were outdoors participating in work programs. A few saw a large parachute unfurl beneath the B-29 before it flew away, but most saw only the flash that soon followed. The events that unfolded that morning on the streets of Hiroshima were recorded by those who survived. These survivors would come to be known as hibakusha– “people exposed to the bomb.”
For those who didn’t see the planes, the sudden flare of harsh light was the first indication that something unusual had happened. In that eerily silent moment, white clouds sprung from the clear blue sky as the ‘Little Boy’ spilled the destructive equivalent of thirteen thousand tons of TNT over the city, projecting intense radiation in every direction.
(Eyewitnesses to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Alan Bellows, 03 May 2006 at Damninteresting.com)
The nuclear weapon “Little Boy” was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed seventy-six hours later by the detonation of the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb over Nagasaki. In a blinding, searing flash of light, one bomber and one bomb instantly blasted the two cities to rubble. The great difference between the devastation of the two cities was a result of the different topography. Hiroshima was on a low flat delta interlaced by seven tributary rivers; Nagasaki was divided by a mountain spur into two distinct valleys.
In Hiroshima, the bomb exploded over the center of the city, destroying everything in a one-mile radius. In Nagasaki, the bomb was detonated in an industrial valley flanked by a mountain spur so that the total destruction took place within a half a mile that shielded the major business and residential districts. Yet the more powerful Nagasaki bomb of 20 kiloton (TNT equivalent) compared to the Hiroshima bomb caused a far greater radius of damage than in Hiroshima.
Earlier, on April 25, 1945, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson met with the new president Harry S. Truman to brief him about a major military secret. “Within four months,” Stimson said, “we shall in all probability have completed the most terrifying weapon ever known in human history.” This briefing lasted 45 minutes. There was no debate over whether to use this weapon. The leaders of the United States condemned tens of thousands to an awful death, without hesitation.
On August 6, 1945, the U.S. military plane Enola Gay circled over Hiroshima, and released a single bomb. It plunged toward the Japanese city below and detonated in an enormous fireball as hot as the sun. At Ground Zero almost everything was simply destroyed and every human being died. Even two miles from the blast, human skin was severely burned.
The wind blew at 1,000 miles per hour—shattering the bodies of thousands of people as it hurled them through the air or brought buildings crashing down upon them. When the firestorm died down, the former city was a scorched plain. A heavy black rain brought radioactive dust back down to earth. Some of the dead had been vaporized; many others lay where they died, in their thousands and thousands.
When President Harry Truman was told of the Hiroshima bombing, he said, “This is the greatest thing in history.” The U.S. high command felt that the destruction of one city was still not enough. Three days later, also without warning, they dropped a second bomb on the city of Nagasaki. Long after the bombing, people kept dying, from a then-mysterious illness — radiation. Five months after the bombing 140,000 people had died in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki.
(Burning Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Name of freedom at revcom.us)
The Atomic bomb, named “Little Boy” was created by Robert Oppenheimer under what was called The Manhattan Project. The first test was known as “Trinity.” It was conducted by the United States on July 16, 1945, at a location 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico on the White Sands Proving Ground, headquartered near Alamogordo.
A blinding flash and unbelievable heat seared the New Mexico desert—the world’s first nuclear explosion. Code-named Trinity, the Manhattan Project’s test of the plutonium implosion bomb was a stunning success. The explosion almost equaled 20,000 tons of TNT, many times what some had expected. General Groves and his Project leaders were jubilant and relieved. But for some, the spectacle also cast an ominous shadow.
The plane that carried “Little Boy” was named Enola Gay (named after Colonel Tibbets’ mother) and was accompanied by two other B29s. The Great Artiste, commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney, carried instrumentation; and a then-nameless aircraft later called Necessary Evil (the photography aircraft) was commanded by Captain George Marquardt.
The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, roughly half on the days of the bombings. Amongst these, 15–20% died from injuries or the combined effects of flash burns, trauma, and radiation burns, compounded by illness, malnutrition and radiation sickness. Since then, more have died from leukemia (231 observed) and solid cancers (334 observed) attributed to exposure to radiation released by the bombs. In both cities, the majority of the dead were civilians.
In essence, the Little Boy design consisted of a gun that fired one mass of uranium 235 at another mass of uranium 235, thus creating a supercritical mass. A crucial requirement was that the pieces be brought together in a time shorter than the time between spontaneous fissions. Once the two pieces of uranium are brought together, the initiator introduces a burst of neutrons and the chain reaction begins, continuing until the energy released becomes so great that the bomb simply blows itself apart.
Hiroshima was chosen as the primary target since it had remained largely untouched by bombing raids, and the bomb’s effects could be clearly measured. While President Truman had hoped for a purely military target, some advisers believed that bombing an urban area might break the fighting will of the Japanese people. Hiroshima was a major port and a military headquarters, and therefore a strategic target. Also, visual bombing, rather than radar, would be used so that photographs of the damage could be taken. Since Hiroshima had not been seriously harmed by bombing raids, these photographs could present a fairly clear picture of the bomb’s damage.
In the immediate aftermath of the bomb, the allied occupation authorities banned all mention of radiation poisoning and insisted that people had been killed or injured only by the bomb’s blast. It was the first big lie. “No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin” said the front page of the New York Times, a classic of disinformation and journalistic abdication, which the Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett put right with his scoop of the century. “I write this as a warning to the world,” reported Burchett in the Daily Express, having reached Hiroshima after a perilous journey, the first correspondent to dare. He described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries but who were dying from what he called “an atomic plague”. For telling this truth, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared – and vindicated.
(The lies of Hiroshima live on, props in the war crimes of the 20th century by John Pilger, The Guardian, Wednesday 6 August 2008 at guardian.co.uk)
Since 1945, the United States is believed to have been on the brink of using nuclear weapons at least three times. In waging their bogus “war on terror”, the present governments in Washington and London have declared they are prepared to make “pre-emptive” nuclear strikes against non-nuclear states. With each stroke toward the midnight of a nuclear Armageddon, the lies of justification grow more outrageous. Iran is the current “threat”. But Iran has no nuclear weapons and the disinformation that it is planning a nuclear arsenal comes largely from a discredited CIA-sponsored Iranian opposition group, the MEK – just as the lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction originated with the Iraqi National Congress, set up by Washington.
The role of western journalism in erecting this straw man is critical. That America’s Defence Intelligence Estimate says “with high confidence” that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons programme in 2003 has been consigned to the memory hole. That Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” is of no interest. But such has been the mantra of this media “fact” that in his recent, obsequious performance before the Israeli parliament, Gordon Brown alluded to it as he threatened Iran, yet again.
This progression of lies has brought us to one of the most dangerous nuclear crises since 1945, because the real threat remains almost unmentionable in western establishment circles and therefore in the media. There is only one rampant nuclear power in the Middle East and that is Israel. The heroic Mordechai Vanunu tried to warn the world in 1986 when he smuggled out evidence that Israel was building as many as 200 nuclear warheads. In defiance of UN resolutions, Israel is today clearly itching to attack Iran, fearful that a new American administration might, just might, conduct genuine negotiations with a nation the west has defiled since Britain and America overthrew Iranian democracy in 1953.
(The lies of Hiroshima live on, props in the war crimes of the 20th century by John Pilger, Wednesday August 6, 2008 at guardian.co.uk)
In 2005, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an “Interim Global Strike Order” that reportedly includes a first strike nuclear option against a country such as Iran or North Korea. There were also nuclear weapons options in the planning guidelines for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bush administration has taken steps toward the development of new “bunker-busting” nuclear weapons specifically designed for use in combat situations. Existing stockpiles have been modernized, and according to a New York Times article from February 7, 2005, “American scientists have begun designing a new generation of nuclear arms meant to be sturdier and more reliable and to have longer lives” than the old weapon stockpiles.
The US repeatedly issues threats against countries over their alleged development of nuclear weapons and other “weapons of mass destruction.” The most recent target has been Iran, which the US has threatened with military attack if it does not abandon its nuclear energy program. All these threats are meant to justify future US invasions, in which the use of nuclear weapons by the United States is by no means excluded.
Through the policy of preemptive war, the US has arrogated for itself the right to attack any country that it deems to be a threat, or declares might be a threat sometime in the future. There is no part of the world in which the United States does not have an interest. It has sought to progressively expand its influence in Central Asia and the former Soviet Union through the war in Afghanistan and political intervention in countries such as Ukraine. It is seeking to dominate the Middle East through the war in Iraq and the threat of war in Iran. It is expanding its activities in Africa and has made repeated threats against North Korea and China as part of its efforts to secure its influence in East Asia.
Under these conditions, there are innumerable potential scenarios in which a war will erupt leading to the use of nuclear weapons. This includes not only invasions of countries such as Iran; an American war against a smaller power could easily spark a broader conflict—with China, Russia or even the powers of Europe, all of which have nuclear weapons themselves.
The catastrophe that befell Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten. Their fate will stand forever as testimony to the bestiality of imperialism. Against the backdrop of the renewed eruption of American militarism, the events of August 1945 remind us of the alternatives that confront mankind—world revolution or world war, socialism or barbarism.
(Sixty years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Part three: American militarism and the nuclear threat today, By Joseph Kay, August 9, 2005 at wsws.org)