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The Bombing of Nagasaki: The Unplanned Attack and the Forgotten Tragedy
Nagasaki was not supposed to be bombed. Rather, the intended target was “Kokura Arsenal, a massive collection of war industries adjacent to the city of Kokura.” (“The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki”) A series of cruel twists of fate led to an atomic bomb being dropped over Nagasaki, the unfortunate alternative.
During World War II, after an atomic bomb was released over Hiroshima, the U.S. planned to bomb a second Japanese city. The options originally were as follows: Kokura, Kyoto, and Niigata. Nagasaki was not even on the list until Kyoto was removed due to its religious affiliations. Niigata was the next to be deleted from the list as it was thought to be too far away. “Therefore, the Americans were left with just two targets—Kokura and Nagasaki.” (“The Bombing of Nagasaki”) Kokura was chosen to incur the bomb’s wrath, but things would not go according to plan.
On August 9, 1945 at 3:47 a.m., a B-29 nicknamed “Bock’s Car” departed from Tinian, which is one of the Northern Mariana Islands and headed for Kokura. A mere 10 minutes after lift-off, aircraft commander Major Charles W. Sweeney dictated that the bomb be armed to enable the airplane to pressurize and rise above the lightning and violent windstorms that threatened the entire flight. New York Times journalist William L. Laurence, who was aboard an escorting airliner, noticed flashes of “St. Elmo’s Fire” radiating from the edges of the plane. An unsettling concern entered Laurence’s mind: What if the static electricity made the bomb go off? Later, Sweeney realized he could not use his reserve fuel because of a small glitch. When it arrived there, Bock’s car was forced to circle above the Japanese city of Yokohama for nearly an hour before it could meet up with two escort B-29s, and only one ever showed up. Earlier that same day, reports indicated that weather conditions were fine in the skies above Kokura Arsenal. When Bock’s Car at last reached its destination, however, the mark was concealed by smoke and haze. The aircraft flew over the site a few times without being able to locate the target. Eventually, it was realized that a drop over Kokura was impossible at the time. The plane had just enough fuel to get back to the secondary airfield in Okinawa, which would allow for a quick pass over Nagasaki. The team aboard could have abandoned its mission, but an aircraft crewman, Jacob Beser, would later voice the consensus among them that “there was no sense dragging the bomb home or dropping it in the ocean.” Thus, the plutonium bomb dubbed “Fat Man” was released over Nagasaki but not before more cloud cover had to be dealt with. Captain Kermit K. Beahan dropped the bomb only after catching a glimpse of the town’s stadium. It exploded 1,650 feet over the city at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. It was later approximated that the bomb had a yield of 21 kilotons, which was 40 percent more than the bomb dumped on Hiroshima. (“The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki”)
Fumiko Miura, a survivor of the assault, was 16 years old when the incident occurred. The following comes from the book she would later write, Pages from the Seasons: “[…]At about 11 o’clock, I thought I heard the throbs of a B-29 circling over the two-storey [Japanese imperial] army headquarters building. I wondered why an American bomber was flying around above us when we had been given the all-clear. There was no noise of anti-aircraft fire. We were working in our shirt sleeves; and all the windows and doors were wide open because it was so stiflingly hot in our two-storey building. At that moment, a horrible flash, thousands of times as powerful as lightning, hit me. I felt that it almost rooted out my eyes. Thinking that a huge bomb had exploded above our building, I jumped up from my seat and was hit by a tremendous wind, which smashed down windows, doors, ceilings, and walls and shook the whole building. I remember trying to run for the stairs before being knocked to the floor and losing consciousness. It was a hot blast, carrying splinters of glass and concrete debris. But it did not have that burning heat of the hypocenter, where everyone and everything was melted in an instant by the heat flash. I learned later that the heat decreased with distance. I was 2,800m away from the hypocenter. When I came to, it was evening. I was lying in the front yard of the headquarters—I still do not know how I got there—covered with countless splinters of glass, wood, and concrete, and losing blood from both arms. I felt dull pains all over my body. My [clothes] were bloody and torn. I felt strangely calm. I looked down at my wrist watch; it was completely broken. […]We were injured, and suffering from a strange weakness with no adequate treatment. […]Shortly after the explosion, many survivors noticed in themselves a strange illness: vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, high fever, weakness, purple spots on various parts of the body, bleeding from the mouth, gums, and throat, the falling-out of hair, and a very low white blood cell count. We called the illness ‘atomic bomb disease,’ and many of those who were only superficially injured died soon or months after. […]Decades afterwards, I had a series of operations for cancer, which may be attributable to my having been exposed to radiation. However, I am not yet destroyed. With the blessing of gods and Buddha, I have been allowed to live. For the sake of those who were killed without mercy during and after the Nagasaki atomic bombing, and also for myself, I want to be able to survive for many more years. My physical being may be transient, but I believe that my spiritual being can remain undefeated. I wish sincerely that human beings will become wise enough to abandon all forms of nuclear weapons in the near future.” (“Nagasaki”)
A Nagasaki Prefecture Report described the scene as “like a graveyard without a tombstone standing.” (Goldstein, Dillon, and Wenger 94) Sadako Moriyama, who had been fortunate enough to get to a bomb shelter, caught sight of what appeared to be two sizable lizards crawling into the shelter; they were actually human beings whose skin had been ripped off by the blast. Fujie Urata, who lived on the Koba Hillside and was shielded by a mountain, witnessed victims “with great sheets of skin hanging off of their bodies; grotesque swollen faces; torsos covered with large blisters.” (“The bombing of Nagasaki”) Most life was exterminated within 1.5 km of the outburst. On that horrific day, approximately 263,000 people were in Nagasaki. This figure encompasses an estimated 240,000 Japanese residents, 10,000 Koreans who lived there, 2,500 compulsory Korean workers, 9,000 Japanese soldiers, 600 involuntary Chinese laborers, and 400 prisoners of war. It is believed that anywhere from 22,000 to 74,000 people perished, including about 2,000 Koreans and a minimum of 100 POWs. Around 35 deaths caused by leukemia, 175 deaths from other cancers, 85 deaths of other causes that happened post-1950 are accredited to the radiation left by the bomb. 75,000 people or so were impaired as a result of the attack. (“Nagasaki atomic bombing, 1945”)
Despite the great damage and pain it caused, the bombing of Nagasaki is often forgotten. It is the attack on Hiroshima that people are most likely to think of or know about. One can only guess that this is because Hiroshima was hit first. In my opinion, it is a shame that the thousands of people who had their lives taken from them or drastically altered in such an atrocious manner are so frequently unremembered.
Defenders of the atomic bomb claim its use was necessary and acceptable because it supposedly negated the need for an invasion that would have resulted in the deaths of 50,000 or more Americans. (Maddox 59-60) I do not agree with this at all. The way I see it, there is absolutely no justification for dropping an atomic bomb on to other human beings. It was not simply “our enemy” that was hurt by this. Rather women, children, the elderly, the infirm, unborn babies, and plenty of other innocent people were maimed, mutilated, tortured, and/or murdered by the atomic bomb. How could the more than 260,000 people in Nagasaki that day have been such a threat to us or done anything so terrible that an entire city would deserve such a gruesome fate? To put it simply, they couldn’t have.
Goldstein, Donald M., Katherine V. Dillon, and Michael J. Wenger. Rain of Ruin: A Photographic History
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Washington: Brassey’s, 1995.
Johnston, William Robert. “Nagasaki atomic bombing, 1945.” Database of radiological incidents and
related events—Johnston’s archive. 16 October 2005. Johnston’s Archive.
Maddox, Robert James. The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri
Simkin, John. “Nagasaki”. Spartacus Educational.
Trueman, Chris. “The bombing of Nagasaki”. History Learning Site.
U.S Department of Energy Office of History and Heritage Resources. “The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki.”
The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History. U.S. Department of Energy.