Tag Archives: hiroshima and nagasaki

A Tale of Two Cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki


 I.                   Introduction

To tell the tale of the two cities that experienced one of the most negative effects of World War II is to examine two points of views. First is that of the American side which shall justify the dropping of the weapon of mass destruction that resulted to the death of thousands and the destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Second is that of the Japanese side which shall explain why they waited for another atomic bomb to be dropped before accepting the Potsdam Declaration.

To study these, the author used Wilhelm Dilthey’s definition of history. Dilthey says that history is an expression of life. Expressions of the self make up history, an embodiment of the different actions and emotions that enable man to understand one another. Art expresses how the experiences of the world ties to the experiences of the self. Therefore, it is possible to interpret history through art, which is an expression of life.[1] Dilthey defines art as text and uses hermeneutics to interpret it but the author did not limit to that definition. For this paper, art is all expressions of life that man has written, heard and seen. These include books, pictures, paintings, films and music.

To understand art is to understand man. To understand man is to understand history. In the process of this understanding, a historical interpreter gains meaning. This meaning change over time for it will always be dependent on the interpreter’s time and milieu. Therefore, history is relative, subjective and open to different interpretations.[2]

This relativity of history is what the author will center, as this paper shall also discuss how a war that launched a thousand men, planes and ships ended only after two bombs delivered the Apocalypse to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

To apply historical relativism in World War II, the author used Sun Tzu’s Art of War. For Sun Tzu, lengthy campaigns are costly, financially and spiritually. A lengthy war means defeat to one side if they cannot sustain it by seizing provisions from the enemy. A general must be able to win a war with the lowest cost: the least sacrifice of men and materials. Victory must be secured and an army must fight for it when it can only be secured.[3] This principle is what the Americans used to win World War II. In using only two bombs to attack two cities, they brought complete destruction and defeat to what was once a strong empire.

On the other hand, the Japanese adhered to the second part of this same principle: victory must be secured and an army must fight for it when it can only be secured.[4] The Japanese believed that their invincibility in Asia provided enough protection against the Allies and whatever battle they may encounter with them would mean victory. Their invincibility has a dent and this paper shall show how this dent ended World War II.

II.                Imminent defeat, stubborn Japanese

As the war raged by the early 1940s, Japan caught colony after colony in Asia in a matter of months. The Japanese thought that this was an assurance from the gods that their existence as warriors was to fight to the death for the emperor. The emperor believed that it is necessary for Japan to unite Asia to fight the Whites and maintain the balance of power at the Pacific Ocean.[5] As warriors, the Japanese embodied the bushido or the samurai code, which held that the true and perfect warrior fought to death. This is the ultimate perfection for the sacrifice of life for the nation is serving of the emperor-god. A warrior, according to the bushido, never surrenders for it will only bring shame and dishonor those who died in battle.[6]

This same code is the root of Japanese brutalities in Japanese occupied countries. These brutalities are what the Allies wanted to end. Hence, the West fought with the East to stop the spread of the Japanese empire. By the mid-1940s, Japan is losing her territories with the Allies retaking Manila and Rangoon. The Allies advanced as Iwojima and Okinawa fell to their hands. Undaunted, the prevailing mood in Japan is still to fight to the last.[7]

The Allies knew that the war is going to end and it must end soon. With the suggestion of Albert Einstein to no less than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the United States began developing a weapon that will use uranium as source of a chain reaction.  This chain reaction will release vast amounts of power and generate large quantities of radium-like elements. This would lead to the construction of bombs that may destroy a port and the surrounding territory.[8]Roosevelt responded to this when he authorized the establishment of The Manhattan Engineering District, also known as “The Manhattan Project”. They raced against Germany in developing the atomic bomb since according to Einstein, Germany is also developing its own bomb.

As the Manhattan Engineering District developed what would be the atomic bomb, the United States started to mobilize the Allies in proposing a demand for Japanese surrender. Harry Truman of the United States, Winston Churchill of Great Britain and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union gathered at a suburb in Berlin, Potsdam, from July 7 to August 2, 1945 to formulate what the world will call as the Potsdam Declaration.

The Potsdam Declaration aimed to prosecute war against Japan until she ceases to resist as the signatories are about to deliver the final blows upon Japan. They will bring the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and the Japanese homeland if she will not follow the path of reason.[9] The signatories called for the unconditional surrender of Japan and defined the terms for this:

  1. Debunking of world conquest;
  2. Limiting Japanese sovereignty to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and other minor islands to be determined;
  3. Disarming of the armed forces;
  4. Stern justice for war criminals;
  5. Kindling of democratic tendencies; and
  6. Industries for sustenance, not for rearming[10]

The Allies made it clear in the Potsdam Conference: surrender unconditionally or face prompt and utter destruction.

During the meetings for the drafting of the Potsdam Declaration, on 19 July 1945, President Truman shook hands with Generalissimo Stalin and told the latter that America is expecting to drop the most powerful explosive ever made to the Japanese. Stalin smiled and replied that he appreciated Truman’s information.[11] What Stalin did not know was:

Figure 1. Harry S. Truman’s Note: (“but he did not know I was talking about—the Atomic Bomb!”)

A day before, the United States Army successfully tested the atomic bomb. It was the first full-scale test of its kind done in Alemogordo Air Base in New Mexico.[12] President Truman’s description of the atomic bomb as “the most powerful explosive ever made” was an understatement. In a Memorandum for the Secretary for War, Leslie Groves detailed the process of the bomb’s explosion.

The bomb generated light clearly seen from points 180 miles away. A blind woman who happens to be an eyewitness also saw the light. Then a huge ball of fire appeared that later mushroomed and rose to 10,000 feet. The blast also generated a sound heard 180 miles away. After the main explosions, there were two supplementary explosions that razed the vegetation in the crater and wiped out a 16 feet high and 4 inch iron pipe 1,500 feet away.[13]

In Leslie Groves’ words:

Figure 2. Excerpt of Leslie Groves’ Memorandum for the Secretary of War

The Japanese will be Japanese and they will adhere to fight to the last. They rejected the Potsdam Declaration and with that, the United States decided to use the atomic bomb in Japan as they were keen to avoid heavy loses with an attack Japanese mainland.[14]

III.             The dropping of the Atomic bomb

The first atomic bomb attack happened on August 6, 1945 at Hiroshima. It was 0815, workers were on their way to work or already at work and schoolchildren are at school. Since this was wartime, air raids signals are common. The bomb came forty-five minutes after a previous signal and came as a surprise to the general populace. There was no warning so people had not taken shelter.[15] America chose Hiroshima as its primary target for its flat terrain and its population, being the seventh largest city in Japan at that time.[16]

As the United States waited for the Japanese response, they issued leaflets for the Japanese as part of their psychological warfare[17]. These leaflets warned the Japanese that America has in their hands the “most destructive explosive ever devised by man”. If they doubt this statement, they should ask what happened to Hiroshima when America used such a bomb to that city. The leaflet also states that America had made every effort to stop such a prolonged war and if the Emperor would not accept an honorable surrender, they should evacuate their cities for America is firm on their decision to end the war.

The United States Military also released another version of this leaflet on the same day. It warned of an impending war with the Soviet Union, thus making “all powerful nations of the world now at war” against Japan.[18] This second version describes the power of the atomic bomb as the equivalent of “2000 of our giant B-29’s could have carried on a single mission.” It also details the source of the information regarding the “virtual[ly] destruction” of Hiroshima.[19]

Figure 3. The translated leaflet, AB 11, Declassified: 17 August 1967

Figure 4. Translated version of the leaflet AB-12, Declassified: 17 August 1967

 Not heeding these warnings, the Japanese Government did not waver. The United States had no choice but to drop another bomb three days later on 9 August 1945 at the city of Nagasaki. The Japanese foresaw this attack compared to the first one as they had two earlier air raid alerts (on 0748 and 0759 of the same day). Even after the cancellation of the alert, the city remained at warning alert. This alert level stayed until two B-29s came in and dropped the atomic bomb in one of the two mountain valleys of the city on 1102 Japanese time. The warning gave an air raid signal seven minutes later. As a result, about 400 people or 30% of the city’s population took shelter at the city’s tunnels. [20]

IV.             Atomic Bomb damages

1.      Physical damages

Of the two cities, Hiroshima suffered more than Nagasaki. The atomic bomb generated three kinds of energy: heat, radiation and blast or pressure. When the plane dropped the bomb, the explosion alone (the combination of the three energies)—estimated at 1013 calories (10,000,000,000,000 calories) with a temperature of 3,000-9,000°C—killed people and animals instantaneously within two kilometers at ground zero.[21] On the other hand, heat and pressure produced fires that were detrimental to a city whose dwellings were clustered, made of wood, tiles and poor quality concrete. The blast destroyed houses. It also smashed, crushed and scattered trees and structures.

Figure 5. Hiroshima before (L)  and after (R) the bombing                                                   

The geography of Hiroshima did not help in minimizing the effects of the bomb. The flat terrain made a “uniform and extensive devastation” that formed a circular shape. Since nothing hindered the energy from the bomb, “fire-storms” occurred throughout the city. There were fires because of the blast that drew in air that combined with the heat generated by the explosion.[22] These fires were not present on areas near the seven mouths of the Ota River for these served as fire breakers. Eventually, these became temporary shelters for those who lost their homes, the dying and those who struggled to live.[23]

Nagasaki is the direct opposite of Hiroshima. It is mountainous and had an irregular city lay-out. This city housed four of the largest companies in the city for shipping, electricity, steel works and military arms. It had a higher percentage of buildings, wood framed and steel-framed. A higher percentage of these buildings survived as hills protected some parts of the city, leaving only a mere 27.2% destroyed.[24]

This can be attributed to the point of fall of the bomb. Since it was dropped in a valley (Urakami River to be exact), the uneven terrain helped block the energy released and resulted to a smaller area of devastation. Unlike in Hiroshima, no fire-storms occurred as the wind shifted in direction the time the atomic bomb fell.[25]

Figure 6. Nagasaki before (L) and after (R) the bombing.    

It is important to note that Nagasaki was not the primary target of the atomic bombing. Since the United States already issued warnings days after the bombing of Hiroshima, they expected quite a number of civilians had been evacuated, thus, reducing the number of would-be injuries. The weather also in this area is a little unpredictable, making the dropping of the bomb difficult for the trained personnel. In fact, the bombing would not have occurred had it not been for enemy fighters tailing the B-29 plane that carried Fat Man. Smoke and haze stalled the dropping of the bomb at the primary target, making the men who carried the atomic bomb to proceed to the secondary target, Nagasaki.[26]

2.      Damages to the People

To have a clear understanding on how the atomic bomb destroyed the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is to discuss first how it works. When Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt on 2 August 1939, he briefly and simply tackled how it works.

Figure 7. Excerpt of Albert Einstein’s second letter to President Roosevelt.

     Figure  8.  Diagram of a nuclear fission

Einstein is best known for his Theory of Relativity that states how energy is produced when mass moves twice the speed of light. For the sake of discussion on how the atomic bomb works, mass is the element Uranium carefully compressed to make a bomb. When a neutron collides with the element Uranium, the collision produces two by-products, Cesium and Rubidium. Two more neutrons split from Cesium and Rubidium that will collide with Uranium and the process repeats itself. A powerful energy originates from the splitting of the atoms that occur at the speed twice the speed of light. [27] This chain reaction releases radiation in the form of gamma rays, lethal for humans as it can penetrate the human body and cause damage similar to exposure to X-rays.[28]

More than the burns, the gamma rays killed survivors silently. Those who were at the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exposed to these rays. They did not feel anything odd at the first two to three days after the bombing[29]. Shortly thereafter, residents who live far away from ground zero experienced the following symptoms:

  • Bloody diarrhea;
  • Mild nausea and vomiting;
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inflammation of the gums, mouth and pharynx;
  • Fever within 12-48 hours;
  • Loss of hair;
  •  Small “livid spots”;
  • Larger hemorrhages of gums, nose and skin; and
  • Low white blood cell count.[30]

Figure 9. Children losing their hair.

Figure 10.  A man suffered flash burns, burn injuries from the flash of the explosion.

As in cases of tragedies, people suffered from fear and uncontrolled terror. They were in a state of shock. People instinctively emigrated as they searched for shelter and food in other places. Others wandered around the city senselessly. As living witnesses to what Apocalypse could have been, residents of the cities could not help but think of the war. Surely, defeat was inevitable; victory was impossible.

The bombing of innocent civilians produced two things: hatred towards the Americans and admiration from the scientific community.[31]

 V.                Emperor accepts the Potsdam declaration

On the evening of 9 August 1945, top-level officials met to decide the future of Japan. Some preferred destruction than to surrender. Others wanted to continue fighting hoping the Allies would give them a better deal.

However, as early as 26 June 1945, the Emperor gave instructions to prepare two plans: one in case he decides to end the war and another in case he decides to resort of defense of Japan. These plans are result of the divided opinion among the Supreme War Guidance Council. The former Prime Ministers belong to the Emperor’s first plan but the Army and Navy Chiefs of Staff—convinced that they could have the Soviet Union to talk with the United States—refuse to surrender.[32]

Emperor Hirohito wanted to surrender, provided the Allies will preserve the imperial institution.[33] This request was granted when the Allies stated that the Emperor will be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers and to the will of the Japanese people.[34] With this development, the decisive vote was cast.

The radio aired the voice of the Emperor for the first time on the noon of 15 August 1945. The Emperor had ordered to communicate with the Allied Powers “to accept their Joint Declaration” for in doing so, he believes that Japan will be preserved and East Asia will be stabilized. This complies with the Japanese obligation to give common prosperity and happiness to all nations. Continued warfare will only result to Japanese extermination and total human extinction. He offered his apologies to his subjects, for time and fate calls upon them to comply with a military power to which they cannot yield. Japan must foster peace and to do it, they must “endure the unendurable and suffer the insufferable”[35].

Western sources call this event as the “surrender” of Japan. However, the Emperor’s statement did not specify that Japan is indeed laying down its arms for there are no definite terms such as “surrender” and “defeat”. Even documents offering Japanese ‘surrender’ used phrases such as “termination of hostilities”[36] or “cease fire and return to peace”[37].

 VI.             Conclusion

The United States did not know the atomic bomb’s effects on humans before they dropped it at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It took the work of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey to determine the catastrophe of the atomic bomb. President Harry Truman, wary of the questions he will face on the justification of using such a weapon, explained his side on one of his post-presidential notes:

“The world is faced with a situation that means either total destruction or the greatest age in history can be its lot. The decision must be made and it must be made as soon as possible.”[38]

The dilemma of the Allies was how to end to war as quickly and cheaply as possible. The solution was to use a bomb that would deliver the ultimate destruction to the enemy and lead to his surrender. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey states that one bomb is equivalent to:

  • One plane;
  • One pilot;
  • Large area destroyed; and
  • High mortality and casualty rate.[39]

Figure 11. Atomic Bomb versus other weapons

Thus, the atomic bomb is the perfect weapon to end the world war. The burden of answering the question of mortality over morality regarding its use will lie on the historian for he cannot judge the values of war using the values of his time. It is the historian’s ability to interpret an event in different points of views makes history not as the story of past victors but the story of past human actions.




 Bulhof, Ilse Nina. Wilhelm Dilthey, A Hermeneutic Approach to the Study of History and Culture.Netherlands: Martinus Nuhoff Philosophy Library 2, 1980

Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan. USA: St. Martin’s Press, Inc, 1999.

Minear, Richard H. ed., Hiroshima: three witnesses.  Princeton, N.J.: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1990.

Palmer Richard. Hermeneutics: interpretation theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer. USA: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

Sun Tzu and Sun Pin trans. Ralph Sawyer. The Complete Art of War. USA: Westview Press, Inc, 1996.

Electronic Sources

Emperor Hirohito’s Broadcast to the Japanese People, 14 August 1945. Accessed on18 July 2010. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450814c.html.

Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XIII, No. 320. Offer of surrender from Japanese Government. Accessed 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450729a.html.

Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XIII. Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, No. 318. Accessed 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450729a.html.

Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and General Theory, (Einstein Reference Archive, 2002). Accessed 20 September 2010. Available from: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/einstein/works/1910s/relative/relativity.pdf.

Leslie R. Groves to Henry Stimson, 18 July 1945, Research Material, Lamont Papers. Accessed on 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/pdfs/2.pdf#zoom=100.

Letters of Albert Einstein to F. D. Roosevelt, 2 August 1939 and 25 March 1945, Accessed on 11 August 2010.Available from: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/pdfs/3-5.pdf#zoom=100.

 The Manhattan Engineering District. The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The PennsylvaniaStateUniversity: PennState Electronics Classics Series Publication. Accessed on 7 August 2010. Available from: http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/poldocs/a-ww2.pdf.

Truman’s handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb.. Accessed on 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=14584.

U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, President’s File, Truman Papers. Accessed on 11 August 2010. Available from http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/large/documents/pdfs/65.pdf#zoom=100.

State War-Navy Coordinating Committees, Politico-Military Developments in the Far East: United States Initial Post-Defeat Policy Relating to Japan, 11 August 1945. Accessed 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/shiryo/01/020/020_001r.html.

War Minister Higashi-kuni’s surrender order to Japanese troops. 17 August 1945. Accessed 11 August 2010. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450817b.html.

[1] Ilse Nina Bulhof, Wilhelm Dilthey, A Hermeneutic Approach to the Study of History and Culture (Netherlands: Martinus Nuhoff Philosophy Library 2), p. 72.

[2] Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics: interpretation theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer. (USA: Northwestern University Press, 1969), p. 118.

[3] Sun Tzu and Sun Pin trans. Ralph Sawyer, The Complete Art of War (USA: Westview Press, Inc, 1996), p. 46, 53, 58.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Kenneth Henshall, A History of Japan (USA: St. Martin’s Press, Inc, 1999), p. 124.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, p. 130

[8] Letters of Albert Einstein to F. D. Roosevelt, 2 August 1939 and 25 March 1945

[9] Proclamation Defining Terms for Japanese Surrender, Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XIII, No. 318, 29 July 1945

[10] Ibid.

[11] Truman’s handwriting on the back of a Potsdam photograph describing telling Stalin about the atomic bomb; Available from: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/photographs/view.php?id=14584; Internet; Accessed on 11 August 2010.

[12] Leslie R. Groves to Henry Stimson, 18 July 1945, Research Material, Lamont Papers, p. 2-4

[13] Ibid.

[14] Henshall, op. cit., p. 130

[15] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effects of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 19, 1946. President’s File, Truman Papers, p. 2.

[16] The Manhattan Engineering District, The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (The PennsylvaniaStateUniversity: Penn State Electronics Classics Series Publication), p. 10

Primary target is the area where the bomb was to be dropped. Secondary targets are alternates.

[17] Translation of Leaflet dropped on The Japanese (AB-11), Miscalleous Historical Documents Collection

[18] Translation of Leaflet dropped on The Japanese (AB-12), Miscalleous Historical Documents Collection

[19] Ibid., Brackets mine

[20] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op cit. p. 2-3

[21] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op. cit., p. 32.

Technically, ground zero is the ground directly below the point of detonation. Air zero is the point of detonation or the air space where the bomb exploded.

[22] Op. cit., p. 2

[23] Richard H. Minear ed., Hiroshima: three witnesses.  (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990).

[24] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op. cit.  p. 15

[25] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op. cit.  p. 3

[26] The Manhattan Engineering District, op. cit., p. 15

[27] Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory, (Einstein Reference Archive, 2002), p. 45

[28] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op. cit. p. 6.

[29] Ibid., p. 19

[30] Ibid.

[31] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op. cit. p. 23-24.

[32] Op. cit., p. 28

[33] Henshall, op. cit., p. 131.

[34] State War-Navy Coordinating Committees, Politico-Military Developments in the Far East: United States Initial Post-Defeat Policy Relating to Japan, 11 August 1945. available from: http://www.ndl.go.jp/constitution/e/shiryo/01/020/020_001r.html; Internet; accessed 11 August 2010.

[35] Emperor Hirohito’s Broadcast to the Japanese People, 14 August 1945; available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450814c.html; Internet; accessed 18 July 2010.

[36] Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XIII, No. 320, Offer of surrender from Japanese Government. Available from: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/450729a.html; Internet; accessed 11 August 2010.

[37] War Minister Higashi-kuni’s surrender order to Japanese troops. 17 August 1945, Ibid.

[38] Robert H. Ferrel. Handwritten notes by former President Truman, 1958, Available from: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/bomb/ferrell_book/ferrell_book_chap21.htm; Internet; Accessed on :11.August 2010.

[39] U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, op cit. p. 53