Michael KreponThe Day After Hiroshima

69 years after Hiroshima, a look at the dome that survived - The ...

Quote of the week:

“If necessary, we shall continue the war alone, and we are not afraid of that. But I trust you realize, Mr. President, that the voice and force of the United States may count for nothing if they are withheld too long.” – new Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s first secret cable to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 as the French Army was collapsing. (Found in Erik Larson’s wonderfully readable The Splendid and the Vile.)

Pandemics are rare. The use of nuclear weapons in warfare is, so far, a one-off. What actions will we take to ward off another pandemic, once the immediate, stunned stupefaction and pain wears off? Will we take preventive measures? Will we come together as a society? Will fractious major and regional powers act differently toward one another? Or will we all revert to bad habits?

The Bomb was universally viewed as a threat, but selectively viewed as a necessary instrument of power and deterrence. The virus is a universal threat that harms the old, infirm, poor and city dwellers more than others. The Bomb and its means of delivery are expensive. A virus can cause a global recession or even depression. As much as we spend for missile defenses, there are no effective defenses against the Bomb; not so for this virus, but it will still take an enormous toll.

Very few of us remember the sense of stupefaction and dread that the Bomb’s sudden appearance caused. Here’s a look back to some of the immediate reactions to Hiroshima.

Here are the two lead paragraphs of the 2,500-word report in the New York Times on the atomic bombing of Japan:

The White House and War Department announced today that an atomic bomb, possessing more power than 20,000 tons of TNT, a destructive force equal to the load of 2,000 B-29’s and more than 2,000 times the blast power of what previously was the world’s most devastating bomb, had been dropped on Japan.

The announcement, first given to the world in utmost solemnity by President Truman, made it plain that one of the scientific landmarks of the century had been passed, and that the ‘age of atomic energy,’ which can be a tremendous force for the advancement of civilization as well as for destruction, was at hand.

On August 7, 1945, the Washington Post carried this editorial:

If the imagination was numbed by the story of German rocket bombs, it is utterly paralyzed by President Truman’s revelations concerning the new “atomic bomb.” It is probably correct to say that most Americans received this news not with exultation but with a kind of bewildered awe.

The New York Times editorialized thusly:

A revolution in science and a revolution in warfare have occurred in the same day… In the bewilderment that such a stupendous announcement must bring, one consequence stands clear. Civilization and humanity can now survive only if there is a revolution in mankind’s political thinking.

In August 1945, the American Institute of Public Opinion asked U.S. citizens whether they approved or disapproved of the use of atomic bombs. Eighty-five percent answered in the affirmative. Later in the fall, when asked whether the Bomb should be controlled by the United Nations or the United States, seventeen percent answered the UN; 71 percent answered that the United States should maintain control.

Comments

  1. SUBARAYAN KALYANARAMAN (History)

    Dropping an Atom Bomb was an historic and a landmark decision taken by the USA to end the Second World War. There were no other means of bringing an end to WWII. The whole world is grateful for the leadership and the timely action taken by the USA.If Japan had reacted after the first bomb, there would have been no need to drop the bomb second time.It is noteworthy to observe that the relations between the USA and Japan are extremely cordial.No ill feelings by the Japanese towards USA.

  2. Phil Tanny (History)

    I’ve been curious what happens the day after the next detonation. For this post let’s hopefully imagine that it’s a nuclear accident, terror attack on a single city, or a small exchange. That is, not
    “The Big One”, because what happens the day after that pretty much answers itself.

    The day after the next detonation….

    What is the role for nuclear weapons activists once nuclear weapons are the only thing everyone is talking about and consciousness raising is no longer necessary?

    What is the status of nuclear weapons experts once it becomes clear that 75 years of analyzing technical and diplomatic details has not prevented a nuclear weapons disaster?

    The Times makes the bottom line point when it opines, “….one consequence stands clear. Civilization and humanity can now survive only if there is a revolution in mankind’s political thinking.”

    What is that revolution? What does it look like?

    Presumably it must be some shift of thinking that we don’t wish to make, or after 75 years we already would have done so. If that is true, doesn’t it follow that we should be shifting our focus to those ideas that we currently consider to be unreasonable, unrealistic, offensive, impossible, out of the question, crackpot etc?

    Could we define the challenge of such a revolution as a need for trusted authority figures who are both willing and able to sell such crackpot ideas, even though doing so may very well present an existential threat to their authority status? Or will the revolution in thinking arise from the bottom up and have to be forced upon political and intellectual “leaders”?

    Or, will the next detonation take us in the opposite direction, where we cling to the old thinking even more stubbornly?

    How about an article on such topics from each of the expert authors associated with this site? All the articles could then be collected in to a book called something like “The Needed Revolution”. C’mon you expert guys and gals, don’t be shy 🙂 flood the zone!

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