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The Second World War & Hiroshima
The Atomic Bomb
The secret research to build the first atomic bomb started in 1940 when the United States believed Germany was developing the weapon. Top Allied scientists were brought together in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The military control was represented by General Leslie Groves and Robert Oppenheimer was the lead scientist. Only a handful of people knew of the programme. When President Roosevelt was in office, Vice President Truman did not have access to information about the atom bomb even when he queried a budget of $2.4 billion for this secret programme called "The Manhattan Project" of which he knew nothing until he assumed the Presidency upon Roosevelt's death in April 1945.
When military intelligence discovered that the Germans had abandoned their programme the scientists were not informed and they carried on their work as if it was a race against time. The War in Europe was already over when the first atom bomb was tested. The test was on 16th July when the Allies were in Potsdam deciding on the new boundaries of Europe. The first test bomb, codenamed Trinity, was a success although the degree of radiation released was a surprise to the scientists. They had expected their Geiger counters that measured radiation fallout to be recording up to a three mile radius from the detonation site. In fact the Geiger counters recorded radiation in a band 30 miles wide by 100 miles long from the site.
In his Potsdam diary Truman had written that the atom bomb should not be used on women and children:
"I have told the Secretary of State for War, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives, and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children... he and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one".
On July 26th the Potsdam declaration announced the Allies' demand for Japan's unconditional surrender; the Japanese government said it would ignore the ultimatum. At 8.15 am 6th August the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Classes of 12 and 13 year old children were outside clearing the streets for fire breaks. Out of 8,400 schoolchildren some 6,300 died. Some of those survivors are interviewed in the film. In all 100,000 people died instantly from the blast and thermal wounds. Many victims were incinerated and the only evidence of their death is a shadow on a wall they were walking by, or a shadow on a stone step where they were sitting. Another 100,000 died in the first few months afterwards from radiation sickness. The rest were to be at risk from leukaemia, and various other radiation-linked cancers.
On August 9th a different bomb, made from Plutonium rather than Uranium, was detonated over Nagasaki - again a city that had had relatively little conventional bombing during the war. Seventy thousand people died instantly.
Truman always claimed that the bomb was needed to end the War in Japan, to defeat the Japanese who would never surrender and to avoid a land battle in which many more US and Allied soldiers would be killed. Figures for the number of soldiers that would die in a land war ranges from 48,000 to 65,000 as stated by military advisors in 1945, to over a million in later years according to politicians defending the use of the bomb. Those against the use of the bomb included many of the scientists in Los Alamos including Robert Oppenheimer. Many have claimed that the bomb was not need to bring Japan to surrender, that Japan was on the brink of surrender; that its use was to demonstrate to Russia on the eve of the Cold war that the US had this superior weapon. Still others maintain that in view of the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were almost preserved during the war with little conventional bombing that this shows the bombs were dropped as an experiment on a population to see its effect and to justify the expenditure of so much money; they point out that there was no consideration of whether a demonstration bomb could have been detonated just off the Japanese coast, and that the bomb was dropped at a time of day when many people were out on the streets and therefore more at risk from the thermal and radiation effects.