Seventy four years have passed since Aug 6, 1945 when the American B-29 flown by Air Force Colonel Paul Tibbets dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city Hiroshima. According to various estimates, it exploded with an energy equivalent to 15-18 thousand pounds of TNT, about 2000 times greater than any bomb used prior to that time.
How it was
On Aug 5, 1945, 66 thousand people perished in the flames of a nuclear explosion over Hiroshima; another 140 thousand subsequently died of wounds, burns and radiation sickness. In order to maximize the effect of the bomb, the Americans flew single planes to Hiroshima for several days before the bombing. Simulating reconnaissance aircraft, they flew over the city without dropping bombs and then returned to base. The Japanese became accustomed to seeing heavy aircraft flying harmlessly over their city, and some people stopped hiding from them in bunkers.
A diversionary pair of reconnaissance aircraft also passed over the city on Aug 6, 1945 an hour before Tibbets’ B-29 arrived and disappeared. The all-clear sounded; and people emerged from the bunkers and went about their affairs. The streets filled with people. At 8:15 AM, Tibbets’ B-29 dropped the bomb over the center of Hiroshima. Tibbets had named his aircraft the “Enola Gay” in honor of his mother and painted it on the side of the plane.
The bomb was dropped on a parachute precisely over the center of densely populated Hiroshima. It fell slowly enough for the American aircraft to fly at top speed at least 18 km from the drop point so as to escape the effects of the blast. When the bomb exploded, the temperature flashed to several thousand degrees; radiation burned people alive where they were walking or standing. Afterwards, the shadows of people incinerated by the explosion could be seen on Hiroshima’s scorched sidewalks. The people were gone; their shadows remained.
Three days later, on Aug 9, 1945, the Americans dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 80 thousand people. After that, the US Air Force had one bomb left in its depot that was ready for use. It would take several more months to make additional bombs.
Prior to Aug 6, 1945, the most terrible and destructive attack was the two-day bombing of the German city Dresden by British and American air forces on February 13-15, 1945. But in that attack “only” 25 thousand people were killed.
The Enola Gay is now one of the central exhibits in the National Air Museum in Washington D.C.
The USSR enters the war
A TASS article about the Aug 8, 1945 declaration of war on Japan said, “After the defeat and surrender of Nazi Germany, Japan remains the only great power that still stands for continuing the war… Given Japan’s refusal to surrender, the Allies requested the Soviet Government to join the war against Japanese aggression and thus shorten the war, reduce the number of victims and contribute to the speedy restoration of universal peace. Faithful to its duty as an ally, the Soviet Government has agreed to the request by the Allies…”.
However, the Japanese government learned that the Soviet Union had begun military operations against it not directly, but from a Soviet radio message intercepted on August 9. But it decided to surrender on the following day, August 10, because the Soviet offensive against the Kwantung Army, Japan’s most powerful, was so resolute and irresistible that the outcome of the war was clear to any reasonable person.
Prime Minister Suzuki said, “We received an enormous shock from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Soviet Union’s entry into the war this morning puts us in a hopeless position and makes it impossible for us to continue the war.”
During the first few days of the offensive, Soviet forces immediately advanced 50-150 km. The crushing blows inflicted on the Kwantung Army deprived it of its ability to resist and led to a dramatic change in the entire military-strategic situation in the Far East.
Why was it necessary to bomb a peaceful city?
For many decades, each new anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima has caused people to ask the “accursed question”: was it necessary to bomb a city that presented virtually no military threat? And if so, why was it necessary? Historians of many countries have argued that despite the intentional demonstration of power, the atomic bomb was not the main factor that caused Japan to surrender. For the Japanese mentality, the entry of the two-million man Red Army into the war was more terrifying. It was the only military force at that time that had a tremendous amount of ground combat experience and had just defeated Germany. Therefore, historians argue that in using the atomic bomb, the Americans desired to do more than just achieve maximum psychological effect in the war with Japan. Washington wanted to frighten the Soviet Union with the power of the new bomb and strengthen its bargaining position at the Potsdam Conference, which at that time was discussing the postwar arrangement of the world and the USSR’s entry into the war with Japan.
It was at the Potsdam Conference that Stalin’s Western allies – Churchill and Truman – agreed to use the atomic bomb if Tokyo rejected the surrender proposal. At the time, however, even Truman did not think that it would be a decisive factor in forcing Tokyo to surrender. He later recalled that he was relieved to hear from Hopkins (the US Secretary of State who had returned from Moscow) that Stalin would honor the Yalta agreement concerning Russia’s entry into the war against Japan. He said US military experts believed the invasion of Japan would cost at least 500 thousand American lives even if Japanese troops remained in China, and Russia’s (the Soviet Union’s) entry into the war against Japan was extremely important to the United States.
After studying the Allies surrender demand from Potsdam, Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki characteristically said on July 28, “We will ignore it. We will move relentlessly ahead and fight to the end.” Tokyo was hoping that fundamental disagreements would develop between the USSR and the Western Allies, and he believed the Soviet Union would not enter another war. The Japanese leadership overlooked Stalin’s desire to wipe the shameful defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 from people’s memory.
No military necessity
Two years after the end of World War II, in 1947, Truman reminded Stalin about the USSR’s promise at the Potsdam Conference to enter the war against Japan and suddenly said Russia made no military contribution to the victory over Japan. Thus began the campaign to downplay the Soviet contribution to the victory over the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis that continues to this day.
However, Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, admitted that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the time of the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan was not dictated by military necessity. Recalling a conversation with US Secretary of War Henry Stimson in 1945, he wrote, “I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”
In 1960, the commander of Allied forces in the war against Japan, Douglas MacArthur, also admitted that the atomic bomb was completely unnecessary from a military point of view. After the war, even the Japanese press recognized the Red Army’s decisive role in Japan’s surrender. On Aug 9, 1950, the newspaper Jiji shimpō wrote, “Japan’s military forces continued to resist after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, while the Soviet Union’s action forced it to surrender… Judging from the results, it was the actions of the Soviet Union toward Japan that played a huge role in achieving peace.”
Japan’s Emperor ordered an end to the war on August 14. The surrender ceremony marking the end of World War II, the most violent and bloody war in history, took place September 2 on board the American battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Representatives of the United States, Great Britain and the USSR accepted the surrender.
However, intelligence Lieutenant Hiro Onoda of the Imperial Army, who was then in the Philippines, refused to recognize defeat. He continued his own war and killed or wounded 130 people. In 1974, Japanese student Norio Suzuki found him in the jungle and gave him an order from his commander, Major Taniguchi, to surrender.
Lieutenant Onoda surrendered to authorities on Mar 10, 1974, 29 years after the end of World War II. He emerged from the jungle in full uniform, carrying his Arisaka Type 99 rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition for it, several hand grenades and a samurai sword.
That tells us something about the Japanese national character and resolve to fight despite everything.
The San Francisco agreement
In September 1951, a peace treaty signed by 48 countries was concluded with Japan. Although the USSR took part in the conference, the Soviet delegation refused to sign it at Stalin’s order because the text of the agreement did not include Moscow’s amendments. Other countries not signing the agreement were Burma, Vietnam, India, the DPRK, China and Mongolia.
One of the first articles of the San Francisco agreement states, “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands, and to that portion of Sakhalin and the islands adjacent to it over which Japan acquired sovereignty as a consequence of the Treaty of Portsmouth of 5 September 1905.” That should have put an end to all Japanese claims to the Kurile Islands and other territories it had seized when it defeated Russia in the early part of the 20th century.
Soon after the war ended, however, the Japanese government tried to challenge its outcome and demanded the return of the Kurile Islands, which it called the “Northern Territories,” as a condition for signing a peace treaty. The USSR agreed and in 1956 signed and ratified the Joint Declaration ending the state of war with Japan and a protocol on the development of trade and the mutual granting of most favored nation status. The document provided for the transfer of the islands of Shikotan and Habomai to Japan after the signing of a peace treaty. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev hoped by doing so to induce Japan to become a neutral state.
But the US occupation of Japan had a tremendous influence on Tokyo’s position. As the Joint Declaration of 1956 was being discussed, Japan’s ambassador in Washington was told that Japan had no right to discuss the disposition of the islands because it had renounced them in the San Francisco agreement, and the fate of the Kuriles was no longer theirs to decide. It was understood that the United States wanted to decide the disposition of those territories.
However, Japan then signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with the United States, which allowed the Americans to use military bases on Japanese territory and maintain land, air and naval forces there. In response, the Soviet government stated that the treaty was directed against the USSR and China. It therefore refused to consider transferring the islands to Japan because that would expand the Japanese territory that could be used by American forces.
By and large, that is exactly what would have happened. If Moscow had transferred the two Kurile Islands to Japan, there would be American bases there today. And the ships of the Soviet Pacific Fleet would have been locked in their berths.
Seventy-four years have passed since the atomic bombing of peaceful Japanese cities, and humanity’s horror at the nightmare of this weapon remains acute. That horror is now one of the reasons why no country in the world can employ nuclear weapons against anyone without being punished. In that sense, the victims of Hiroshima did not suffer in vain.