Basic Facts: The Atom Bombs of WW2

The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first of their kind, and up to the present day, the only time they have ever been used in war time. The story surrounding “the decision to drop the bomb” has been rehashed many times in the decades since. The high school-textbook-summary maintains that the United States made the decision based on projected deaths comparing an invasion of the Japanese mainland and dropping the bomb; the atomic bomb producing fewer American solder deaths as well as Japanese soldier and civilian deaths. When I took U.S. history in high school, this was still the story taught us. I wonder if this rhetoric has changed over the years or if it diverged any in different school districts?

The fact of the bombing generally revolves around the number of actual deaths (which are somewhat contested) and the results of dropping them; undeniably, the war ended shortly thereafter – on August 15, 1945. Little Boy was a uranium-fueled bomb, dropped on August 6, 1945. Japanese deaths are estimated at about 60,000-80,000 in the immediate blast, another 135,000 died of radiation exposure in the following months. Several of these deaths were Korean laborers and Allied POW’s. Six square miles of the city (about 90%) were completely destroyed in the blast or consumed by fires. In Nagasaki, approximately 40,000 people were killed instantly. After the effects of radiation took their toll, the death toll rose to some 50,000. A third of the city was destroyed.

The Soviet Union’s entrance into the Japanese campaign is also a source of explanation for using the atomic bombs. The theory is that it was an opportunity to also demonstrate the U.S.’s new weapons technology. That the Soviet’s were already aware of the existence of the atomic bomb, via  spies embedded in the Western Allies’ atomic bomb program, could explain Stalin’s unusually cool attitude when Truman announced to him the “new weapon of unusual destructive force.”

Helen Cleary, Phil Edwards, Bruce Robinson, Victoria Cook. 2003-2005. “WW2 People’s War.” www.bbc.co.uk. June-September. Accessed September 6, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/timeline/factfiles/nonflash/a6652262.shtml.

n.d. “The Manhattan Project an Interactive History.” www.osti.gov. Accessed September 6, 2017. https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1942-1945/espionage.htm.

n.d. “The Manhattan Project an Interactive History.” www.osti.gov. Accessed September 6, 2017. https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945/potsdam_decision.htm.

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