Was the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified? – Part 1

I will be presenting this post in three parts. My original intent was to make it one big post, but as I researched and wrote, it gradually became so big and unwieldy that I think the best thing to do is split it up. Be warned that this series of posts is not very likely to entertain you, but if you will be patient and read the material presented, you will have a deeper understanding of one of the pivotal moments in human history.


Foreword: Any discussion concerning the use of nuclear weapons tends to be spirited at least and openly hostile at worst. The intent of this series of posts is not to smear the American fighting men of World War II who served with honor, with valor, with bravery, and with distinction. What Tom Brokaw has labelled the greatest generation left home as boys and through the hardships and sacrifices of war returned as men, tempered and resolute, to forge the modern society that we still enjoy today. Many have passed from life into history, and the ones who remain bear the wrinkles of time. I humbly thank them for their service.


On August 6, 1945 an American B-29 super-fortress, the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, another B-29, Bocks Car, dropped the second atomic bomb, “Fat Man” on the city of Nagasaki. In both cities, unimaginable destruction and horrific death followed. In the years since the bombings, it has been widely believed that dropping the bombs saved lives, both American and Japanese, but is that a factual assessment or an opinion based on repeated tellings, popular sentiment,  and a carefully crafted government “official reason”? It is my contention that the use of these terrible weapons on the civilian population of Japan was unnecessary and unwarranted.

It will be impossible to exhaust a subject such as this with a series of  blog posts, nor will I try. My intent is to provide a summary of the salient events and points, providing links for the interested reader should more information be desired. This topic will be presented in three sections.

  1. The History of the Atomic Bomb.
  2. Arguments Against Using the Atomic Bomb.
  3. Reasons Why the Atomic Bomb May Have Been Used.


“Little Boy” – the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima

1. The History of The Atomic Bomb

The genesis of what would become the atomic age occurred almost 50 years prior to Hiroshima when French physicist Henri Becquerel noticed that uranium gave off a radiation that fogged film. Two years later in 1896, Marie Curie discovered noticed that thorium gave off similar radiation and formally called it radioactivity. In 1903 a chemist from New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford,  began to postulate the possibility of atomic energy. And in 1905 well  known scientist, Albert Einstein, presented his now famous special theory of relativity and explained radioactivity as a mass energy equivalence.


“Fat-Man” – the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki

Beginning in August of 1939,  Albert Einstein and a Hungarian physicist, Leó Szilárd wrote the first in a series of four letters  alerting President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the possibility of  creating atomic bombs. The final letter, dated March 25, 1945, expressed deep concerns over the use of nuclear weapons. It never reached President Roosevelt; he died on April 12, 1945.

Motivated by fears that Nazi Germany had begun to conduct research into the potential for atomic weapons, the United States began her own research into the subject. The Uranium Committee , headed by Lyman Briggs was formed in 1939 at the direction of President Roosevelt.

By mid 1942, with the United States directly involved in World War II, the research committe had become the Manhattan Project, a massive project with 30 over thirty sites although most of the research was conducted at three specific locations: Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Richland, Washington. Administered by the Army Corp of Engineers, the Manhattan Project was headed up by General Leslie R. Groves. J. Robert Oppenheimer  was the lead scientist. So secret was the project that the governor of Tennessee was unaware of its existence within his own state.


“The Gadget” Fully assembled and ready to be tested.

Several years of research resulted in the Trinity test near Alamogordo, New Mexico. On July 16th, 1945, the United States detonated an implosion type plutonium bomb nicknamed “the Gadget.”  (The bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Fat Man, was of the same type.) The resulting explosion was the equivalent of 20 kilotons of  TNT. The resulting fireball was about 600 feet wide and blasted a crater ten feet deep and 1100 feet wide. Sand was instantly turned into radioactive glass. The mushroom cloud rose 7 miles into the atmosphere. In reaction, Oppenheimer quoted a passage from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. He said: “I am become death. The destroyer of worlds. Test director, Kenneth Bainbridge said to Oppenheimer, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”


Fireball from Trinity test, July 16, 1945

Following the successful test of the Gadget, two bombs were prepared.  The order to use Atomic weapons against Japanese cities was issued on July 25, 1945 by General Carl Spaatz who was the commanding general of the United States Army Strategic Air Forces.  Four targets were identified: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki. These cities were unscathed from Allied bombing attacks, enabling the United States to better judge the effects of the weapons.

On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, commanded and piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr.,  took off from Tinian in the Western Pacific.  The Enola Gay was accompanied by two other B-29s, The Great Artiste, which carried instrumentation, and Necessary Evil, which carried the photography crew. It was a six hour flight to the target. The bomb was armed in route by Navy Captain William Parsons. The safeties were removed by 2nd Lt. Morris Jeppson about 30 minutes before arrival at the target.


Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr. and the Enola Gay

Enola Gay arrived over the target at 8:15 am local time at an altitude of  32,000 feet, and released “Little Boy”. The aiming point was the Aioi Bridge but due to crosswinds missed by about 800 feet, exploding 1900 feet above the city. Ground zero was the Shima Surgical Center.

“Little Boy” was a gun type fission weapon and  was highly inefficient. Only about 1.38% of the nuclear material fissioned. Even so, the yield was the equivalent of 13 kiltons of TNT. The radius of total destruction was a mile wide. Another 4.4 miles was consumed in fire. The fireball from the blast was 1200 feet in diameter and had a temperature of 7200 degrees F. At least 69% of all Hiroshima’s buildings were completely destroyed. Some 70,000 to 80,000 people were instantly killed. Anyone near ground zero was instantly vaporized or incinerated into carbon. Another 70,000 were injured.



Aftermath of Hiroshima attack

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, Nagasaki was bombed. While the mission to Hiroshima proceeded without a hitch, the deployment and use of “Fat Man” would not be as easily accomplished. The B-29, Bockscar, commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney failed to rendezous with another B-29, Big Stink, which carried the photographic equipment as well as some scientific instrumentation. Sweeney circled at the rendezous point for thirty minutes before making the decision to proceed without Big Stink. The primary target was Kokura. Upon arriving, the B-29 crews found the city obscured by a heavy cloud cover. After making three passes over the city, Sweeney abandoned Kokura as a target and headed to the secondary target, Nagasaki. A last minute break in cloud cover allowed a visual sighting by Bockscar’s bombadier Captain Kermit Beahan.

 “Fat Man” was dropped at 11:01 am local time and exploded with the equivalent force of 21 kilotons of TNT. Along with the fireball and intense heat, winds were generated that were 624 miles per hour. The bomb missed the planned hypocenter by two miles, exploding between Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works (Torpedo Works) in the north. Due to the surrounding hills, parts of the city were spared damage with most of it contained within the Urakami Valley.

Anywhere between 40,000 and 75,000 people were instantly killed and 80,000 people may have died as a direct result of the bombing by the end of 1945.

On August 15, 1945 at 12:00 local time Emperor Hirihito broadcast the Gyokuon-hōsō or capitulation announcement. In his speech, he included these words:

“The enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage.”


Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989)

With the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, World War II officially came to an end.


6 Responses to “Was the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Justified? – Part 1”

  1. I”ve glanced at it….but will have to read it about three or four times to be able to absorb all of this info! Terrific writing and research! I ♥ U, you nerd!!!!

  2. debeyepps Says:

    Very, very interesting blog. I’ve never been really good at history but have discovered that I like it much more now than when I was in school. Especially when someone makes it more interesting then mere textbook writing, which you have. I look forward to reading the next post.

  3. Good writing Moe, but I will tell you now, before reading the other two posts, I’m in disagreement with your contention that the use of these weapons were unwarranted; infinitely more complicated to determine if they were necessary. Though I may decide to write more extensively in support of my position, perhaps the most succinct support is Emperor Hirohito’s own words… “The enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage.”

    • theworldofmojo Says:

      Rick, all I ask is that you read the facts I present with an open mind. For most of my life I believed the use of the bomb was necessary, but I can find no compelling argument to show that it was. The arguement regarding massive allied casualties should an invasion of the Japanese homeland is a myth. There never would have been an invasion, with or without the bomb. During my research I came across some informtion that internal US government figures regarding allied deaths should an invasion have occurred is much smaller than the numbers that have been sold to the public over the years.

      Hirohito indeed said those words, but it is a matter of historical record that he attempted to find a way to end the war prior to the bombing, offering the same surrender terms that were ultimately accepted after the bombings.

      • Love the emotive avatar! I don’t have any those so I’m stuck with the silly one the blog issues. Good for a laugh this morning.

        I have read all three parts and posted comments on 1 and 3; plan to post on 2 as well just need to work out my reply a bit. Your last paragraph in the previous reply is quite a statement. I am not sure your posts support a statement of that magnitude or precision. You are essentially saying the US knowingly refused the same surrender terms they later accepted in order to use the bomb to send a signal to the rest of the world. (?). I would like to see a post providing detailed support for that paragraph alone.

        I do not think we can rightly analyze what happened in the year of the bombing from where we sit today. The times were different, attitudes were different, the culture was different and we did not have our loved ones on the field of combat or in the Baatan prison camps. We have not felt the extend preoccupation with the enemy, the war, the possibility of defeat. This poses a real challenge in evaluating events that occurred within the past decade as the preset witch hunt on interrogation tactics is revealing much less half a century ago. Also, the decision to drop the bomb was not made in an isolated vacuum; we were at war with multiple national powers and foreseeing a looming conflict with one of our allies; the dust was far from settled and we were still vulnerable in many ways. We must be careful when applying a static analysis to a dynamic situation.

        Your posts were insightful and I found a lot of information that I have never read before. Without doubt the scrip given for publication to the masses is something less than the whole truth. And while I may have been a 10 in my resolute opinion on the subject I would still rank the strength of that opinion at an 8 or better.

        I have wanted to read more about this period in our history and unfortunately you are forcing me to the task. Please provide me with 2 additional hours per day in order that I might take up the cause.

        And by the way, you have now blown my cover and revealed by secret identity! SPOILER!

  4. theworldofmojo Says:

    Well refused is not the word I would use. Ignored is more like it. Since they had broken the Japanese code long ago, the US government knew of the Japanese desire to end the war although there was no formal notification. (BTW: the Japanese also sought to enlist help from the Vatican in order to end the war.)

    One thing I did not touch on was the ambiguity of defining exactly what “unconditional surrender” looked like. Truman had been advised by Stimson, prior to Potsdam, that allowing the Japanese to retain the imperial system would likely result in a surrender, but Truman did not have that language included in the Potsdam declaration. I will not say that was so the bomb could be used, but it is obvious our government missed a chance to end the war due to not making that one allowance.

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