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Wherefore Nagasaki?

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I was inspired to write about the question of a second nuclear bombing of Japan on August 6, the date every newspaper in the world runs a story on the anniversary of the first nuclear bombing at Hiroshima. That attack is normally put into a nice journalistic box of a moral dilemma faced by President Truman and his confidants. You know the line by now. Kill a half million now to save even more through a dragged-out end of the war.

But I was busy and couldn't hit the keyboard in time. I got distracted by reading the entire entry at Wikipedia, where the two biggest bombings in the history of man-unkind are allotted just a single page. It is a very well-presented summary of information and I am glad I read it.

It took me a while. There was all sorts of stuff that just had to go in my essay (and probably won't). No matter, I thought, I will publish my childish protestations on the anniversary on the Nagasaki bombing.

Well, three days is a short time, and my bedtime is approaching. I wonder if that's how Emperor Hirohito felt when he got unbelievable news for the second time in three days. The Wikipedia story really didn't have all that much to say about the period between the two bombings: four paragraphs to be exact.

It informs that "after the Hiroshima bombing, President Truman announced, "If they do not not accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth." Honest guy.

The situation was basically this: there were two factions within the Japanese power structure fighting over how best to surrender. One group wanted to offer to surrender provided the imperial throne continue to be respected. The other group wanted three additional demands. Both factions understood the need to surrender. According to many sources (but disputed, of course), this was obvious from the time of Soviet Union's unilateral abrogation of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact on April 5. The war was clearly lost, and the Americans were firebombing like crazy.

Japanese machinations of state at the time would have been predictably and unavoidably slow, one would presume. Thusly, how could the decision to drop a second nuclear bomb just three days after the first possibly be anything other than an act of sadism?

There are many ways. One often-heard argument is that the U.S. was more concerned about demonstrating its nuclear formidability than forcing Japan to surrender. This suggested motive is a controversial theory that reframes both bombings as war crimes.

Or, there is the simpler (mine) theory that our leaders imagine themselves to be playing some really important game of chess. The Red Russkies had just made a move, it can be gleaned from reading carefully, the relevant four Wikipedia paragraphs mentioned above:

At two minutes past midnight on August 9, Tokyo time, Soviet infantry, armor, and air forces launched an invasion of Manchuria. Four hours later, word reached Tokyo that the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan.

So, we have a double anniversary today. And a historical headache. But, I'll bet they didn't have a double headline.

Interestingly, the bombing of Nagasaki was moved ahead two days, due to weather according to standard accounts. The America's third bomb wasn't supposed to be ready until August 15, but the standing plan was to keep dropping them as fast as they could be readied. Actually, there was one alliance within the chess team that wanted to save up the bombs for a few months and then drop them all in one big whammy. Yes, reality is very strange sometimes.

In a twist of fate, or a twist of something anyway, the captain of the photography plane on the Hiroshima run, Major Charles W. Sweeney, flew the payload plane on the Nagasaki run. Oh, the humanity. He had to go back for more. He defended the decision to bomb until the day he died. I'll bet he also had a habit of grouping both bombings together into one discourse.

There is an interesting timeline of the Nagasaki bombing here. You can learn tidbits like, "8/7/45 - In the rush to complete the bomb, the firing unit cable was installed backwards, requiring B. J. O'Keefe to cut the connectors and reinstall them at the very last minute."

or how about this drama:

8/9/45; 4:00 AM - Commander Ashworth, the Weaponeer, opened the small hatch to the bomb bay and crawled inside. Approx. 15 minutes later he reappeared and said that he had changed the "green plugs to red". He also said that we had to maintain altitude because the bomb could pre-detonate if we dropped below 5,000 feet. Lt. Barnes, the other Weaponeer, turned to the black box that had been placed on the table beside Abe Spitzer, our radioman. This box had lots of dials and lights and one big red bulb that slowly blinked off and on. Lt. Barnes set on a small stool in front of the box and never took his eyes off the blinking bulb until we dropped "Fat Man" almost six hours later. When asked at one point why he was so absorbed by the blinking light, Lt. Barnes said that as long as it continued to blink slowly, everything was ok with the bomb. If it started to blink rapidly, well......

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Peter Dearman is a Canadian teaching English and living in Taiwan. (edit) Now he runs a bar too. He is concerned about the generally high level of bad things happening in the world today, especially on the matters of depleted uranium, repression (more...)

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