Facing the Seto Inland Sea, Hiroshima City is one of the most prominent cities in the Chugoku region and the center for administration and economy of the Hiroshima Prefecture. Six rivers flow through the city, so it is often called the “City of Waters”, but internationally as well as locals refer to their city as the “City of Peace”.
The highlight of our time here was spent at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The entire experience was a solemn and, at times, painful reminder of the events of August 6, 1945 when the American B-29 Super fortress bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the world’s first atomic bomb at 8:15 a.m. in the center of Hiroshima. Instantly the entire city was destroyed with over 90 % of its buildings, both residential and commercial, leveled.
The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was approximately ten feet long and weighed over four tons. It carried 50 kilograms of uranium 235, but the instantaneous fission of less than 1 kilogram released the energy equivalent of 16,000 tons of high-performance explosive. The target was the T-intersection of two bridges and it was missed by only a few hundred yards. The hypocenter of the blast was approximately two thousand feet above the Genbaku Dome, now known as the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, and, because of its heavy concrete and steel construction, was one of the few buildings to miraculously survive albeit heavily damaged as you can see by the photos.
The intense heat rays (2000 degrees) and blast crushed and burned nearly all buildings within two miles of the hypocenter and instantly killed 140,000 people. In addition to those who died at the time of the bombing, another 128,000 subsequently died from radiation poisoning. Photos taken in the memorial museum attempt to show before and after effects of the bombing, the red ball indicating the hypocenter in some photos. It was a very moving experience and one I think every American should see or at least attempt to understand.
Why did the U.S. develop the bomb? Well, we began studying the atomic bomb when WWII began in 1939. In August, 1942 the “Manhattan Project” was launched as a possible way to hasten the end of the war. The bomb was successfully tested for the first time on July 16, 1945. One wonders if they had filmed that test, clearly showing the devastation that would be the result of using it and sent that film to General Tojo and the Emperor whether that might have encouraged them to surrender, but we will never know.
Why did we drop the bomb on Japan? Four options were considered. First, invasion of mainland Japan with ground troops. It was estimated this could have caused as many 100,000 Allied casualties. Second, it was considered to convince the Soviets to join the war against Japan but we were concerned about Soviet influence spreading after the war was over. Third, assure the continuation of the Emperor system and convincing him to end the war. This was a long-term diplomatic solution that was given little chance of success by the military. Finally, it was decided dropping the atomic bomb would end the war far more quickly saving thousands of Allied troop lives and at much lower cost.
Why was the bomb dropped on Hiroshima? Four potential target cities were considered. They wanted an urban area at least three miles in diameter and in a flat area with no mountains. The order was given to drop bombs over Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata and Nagasaki. Hiroshima was thought to have been the first choice because it was the only one of the four target cities without an Allied prisoner-of-war camp.
Certainly, the Japanese started the war with an attack on our naval and military bases at Pearl Harbor. Of course, their attack was directed only at military targets. Clearly, the way that the Japanese conducted their war effort, which was particularly brutal, ignored the accepted conventions of war and took a high toll of both military and civilian casualties, was abhorrent. But seeing the destruction of both property and lives in Hiroshima was a startling and somber reminder of the horror of nuclear war. We didn’t feel guilt or even shame, but we did feel sorrow for this dark event in history. Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community. After what we saw at this memorial and museum, I would have to agree with that objective.
Juxtaposed with the Peace Memorial, our next stop at the Shukkeien Gardens was a peaceful respite. I will let the photos of this private garden in the middle of the city speak for themselves.
We are cruising tomorrow across the Yellow Sea to Inchon, South Korea, the port for Seoul. Until then,
God Bless you all.