During my time in Japan we partook in a UCEAP field trip to Hiroshima via shinkansen bullet train. The city today is very beautiful and the food is also delicious.The most memorable part of the trip was the visit to Hiroshima’s Atomic Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum.
Here it is important to note that in the U.S. when talking about the bombings, it is often exalted and emphasized as necessary.The long-standing view in the West is that the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th and Nagasaki on August 9th resulted in Japan’s speedy surrender thereby ending the necessity of a full-scale invasion of the Home Islands; yet the reality is far more complicated and dark. Professor Hasegawa of UC Santa Barbara and many other historians now believe that the biggest blow to Japan was the abrogation of non-aggression with the Soviet Union and subsequent invasion of Manchuria on August 9th. This is supported by the fact that not much was known about the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but given that most large cities in Japan had already been destroyed by conventional bombs there was still sentiment for continuing the war.
We should also note that the Japanese had been willing to surrender since early 1945 under the condition that the Emperor remain, the U.S. refused. Japan hoped to use the USSR as a mediator in the conflict but their hopes were shattered when Russia also entered the war in accordance with the Tehran Conference. With their last armies defeated in China and the mineral and factory rich region under communist control, Japan felt that further resistance was futile. They surrendered on September 2nd, 1945.
So why then did the U.S. drop the bombs?
Initially they were developed to use against Nazi Germany but with millions of dollars invested into them and with Germany surrendering before their completion, the focus shifted to Japan. Certainly there was a racist undercurrent guiding military leaders as well as President Truman in their use against Japan. However one of the objectives was to frighten the Russians who the U.S. now viewed as rivals and enemies rather than potential partners in the post-war world. The bomb indeed frightened the Soviets but it pushed them to create their own as a way of defending themselves and in the decades afterwards there was a hellish scramble for stronger weapons on both sides.
When one visits Hiroshima, when one talks to the hibakushas (nuclear attack survivors) and sees with one’s own eyes the effects on the artifacts that survived then it becomes evident that there was no necessity to obliterate a civilian city. The most haunting images were the drawings done by survivors in the hellish aftermath of the bombing, one can almost feel it but one will never have to be there.
The memorial for child victims is in memory of Sadako and thousands of others that died not only because of the blast but the radiation sickness and leukemia that affected so many, years after the war. For them the war never ended, for them there would be no apology, no aid. The U.S. and their proxy ally Japan ignored these people as much to maintain an alliance during the Cold War as because they both wanted to continue nuclear development.
The city today only has one visible scar, the atomic dome, in its ruins and the park that surrounds it there are clear signs of destruction inflicted on the innocents. From paper cranes in memory of the children that died, to stories of heroes that gave their lives for others, to the trees that regrew in what was expected to be an eternal wasteland; these marks will remain as a somber reminder of what transpired and should never again occur. From the ashes of the old Hiroshima rose a city dedicated to peace; through the city’s experience rose a call for international disarmament that resonates across Japan but that every year seems muffled by new nations acquiring nuclear arms. As the victims of the bomb grow older and the memory of the war fades, maybe we as a world are destined to forget the horrors of nuclear fire and indiscriminate killing of hundreds of thousands. I sincerely hope not.