Should We Have Dropped the Atomic Bomb?
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The atomic bomb killed many innocent people, but it was necessary to end World War II.
After World War II began in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced the neutrality of the United States. Many people in the United States thought that their country should stay out of the war. The people wanted the Allied Forces to have the victory. President Roosevelt also wanted an Allied victory because an Axis victory might endanger democracies everywhere. The United States equipped nations fighting the Axis with ships, tanks, aircraft, and other war materials. The Axis did not like this. Japan wanted to take over China, but China refused. China was led by Chiang Kai-Shek at the time. Japan wanted the United States to stop sending China supplies, but the United States refused. The United States opposed the expansion of Japan in Asia, so they cut off important exports to Japan.
General Hideki Tojo was the Premiere of Japan. He and other Japanese leaders did not like the fact that Americans were sending war supplies to China and other countries in Asia. A surprise attack was ordered by Japan on December 7, 1941. The target was the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. 360 planes bombed the naval base killing about 3,000 people and destroying many warships, aircraft carriers, and submarines. This was a catalyst that brought the United States into World War II.
Albert Einstein predicted that mass could be converted into energy early in the century and was confirmed experimentally by John D. Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in 1932. In 1939, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered that neutrons striking the element uranium caused the atoms to split apart. Physicists found out that among the pieces of a split atom were newly produced neutrons. These might encounter other uranium nuclei, caused them to split, and start a chain reaction. If the chain reaction were limited to a moderate pace, a new source of energy could be the result. The chain reaction could release energy rapidly and with explosive force.
Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, and Edward Teller, Hungarian-born physicists were frightened by the possibility that Germany might produce an atomic bomb. They insisted that Albert Einstein inform President Roosevelt about the possibility of the Germans making an atomic bomb. In late 1939 President Roosevelt ordered an American effort to make an atomic bomb before the Germans.
This project to produce the atomic bomb was named the Manhattan Project. Industrial and research activities took place at such sites as Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington. The Manhattan Project was led by J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer directed the design and building of the bomb. He and other scientists worked on this project from 1943 to 1945. He was known as the father of the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was successfully exploded on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Vice President Harry S. Truman became President of the United States because of the death of Roosevelt. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered. Truman proclaimed May 8 as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). In July, President Truman went to Potsdam, Germany, to discuss war issues with Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain and Premier Stalin of the Soviet Union. During his time in Posdam, the President received secret word that the atomic bomb had been successfully tested. On his way back to the United States, President Truman ordered American fliers to drop an atomic bomb in Japan.
On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay left the Pacific island of Tinian to bomb the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The Enola Gay was named by the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, after his mother. The crew of Enola Gay were told that no one could be sure what would happen when the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. The atomic bomb was named "Little Boy." The Enola Gay carried the "Little Boy" and 7,600 gallons of fuel that made it very heavy. No one was sure if the Enola Gay could be able to lift of the ground, so the final assembly of the bomb was done in the air. The bomb was dropped from an altitude of 31,600 feet and detonated at 1,800 feet above the center of the city. The copilot of the Enola Gay recalled:
"I don't believe anyone ever expected to look at a sight quite like that. Where we had seen a clear city two minutes before, we could now no longer see the city. We could see smoke and fires creeping up the sides of the mountain."
The atomic bomb wiped out 4.1 square miles of Hiroshima. That is about sixty percent of the city. The atomic bomb crashed with the explosive power of 20,000 tons of TNT. The explosion from the bomb was indescribably loud. There was a tremendous fireball of white light. This fireball was a hundred times brighter than the sun and was 250 feet in diameter. The fireball sucked up millions of tons of dust and debris and formed a mushroom cloud that rained radioactive material on the city. The smoke cloud was visible as much as 160 miles at sea and hung over the city for at least four hours. Eighty percent of all buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed and the rest were severely damaged. All means of communication were gone. Eighty percent of the firefighting personnel could not respond to alarms and most of the firefighters were killed or wounded. Seventy percent of the firefighting equipment was destroyed. Water mains broke and pipes melted in the heat. Of Hiroshima's forty-five hospitals only three were standing. The city burned for three days. No one knows exactly how many people were killed in the initial blast, because thousands disappeared without a trace. The official estimates vary between seventy thousand and eighty thousand. Many more were injured. Thousands died after days, months, and years later from radiation effects. Through the Potsdam Conference that had ended a few days earlier had resulted in a general threat. At Potsdam, the allies had issued an ultimatum that called for unconditional surrender. The ultimatum was apparently ignored by the Japanese leaders. The New York Times quoted President Truman as saying:
"It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not know except our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth."
August 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, when the Japanese government did not surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This atom bomb was named "Fat Man." It was more powerful than the one dropped in Hiroshima. "Fat Man" was dropped by a bomber named Bock's Car. New York Times reporter, William L. Laurence rode in an observation plane that accompanied the bomber. After the bomb was dropped, he described the blast:
"...a giant ball of fire rose as though from the bowels (and) a giant pillar of purple fire ...shooting skyward with enormous speed."
Laurence said of the mushroom cloud that it was:
"...even more alive ...seething and boiling in a white fury of creamy foam, sizzling upward and then descending earthward, a thousand geysers rolled into one."
The citizens of Nagasaki was very surprised because the Japanese government tried to minimize knowledge of the extent of damage to Hiroshima. The Japanese government told the people of Japan that it was a "special-type bomb." The "Fat Man" bomb killed nearly a hundred thousand people. Twelve hours later fires in Nagasaki were burning so brightly that pilots two hundred miles away could see the blaze.
Japan surrendered to the Allied forces on August 14, 1945. In his announcement of intention to surrender, the Emperor of Japan included this statement:
"...I cannot endure the thought of letting my people suffer any longer. A continuation of the war would bring death to tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of persons. The whole nation would be reduced to ashes."
President Truman justified his decision to drop atomic bombs on television in February 1965. He said:
"It was a question of saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. I don't mind telling you that you don't feel normal when you have to plan hundreds of complete, final deaths of American boys who are alive and joking and having fun while you are doing your planning. You break your heart and your head trying to figure out a way to save one life.
The name given to our invasion plan was "Olympia," but I saw nothing godly about the killing of all the people that would be necessary to make an invasion of the Japanese mainland. The casualty estimates called for 750,000 Americans -- 250,000 killed, 500,000 maimed for life.
I could not worry about what history would say about my personal morality. I made the only decision I ever knew how to make. I did what I thought was right."