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Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima is a beautiful modern city located near the southwestern tip of the main Japanese island of Honshu. It had been a military center with the headquarters of the Japanese southern army and a military depot prior to the end of World War II. The city is now a manufacturing center with a major university and medical school. It is most profoundly remembered because it was the first city to be exposed to the devastation of an atomic bomb.

At 8:15 A.M. on the morning of August 6, 1945, a single B29 bomber flying in from Tinian Island in the Marinas released the bomb at 2,000 ft (606.6 m) above the city. The target was a "T"-shaped bridge near the city center. The only surviving building in the city center after the atomic bomb blast was a domed cement building at ground zero, just a few yards from the bridge. An experimental bomb developed by the Manhattan Project had been exploded at Alamagardo, New Mexico, only a few weeks earlier. The Alamagardo bomb had the explosive force of 15,000 tons of TNT. The Hiroshima uranium-235 bomb, with the explosive power of 20,000 tons of TNT, was even more powerful than the New Mexico bomb. The immediate effect of the bomb was to destroy by blast, winds, and fire an area of 4.4 mi2 (7 km2). Two-thirds of the city was destroyed. A portion of Hiroshima was protected from the blast by hills, and this is all that remains of the old city. Destruction of human lives was caused immediately by the blast force of the bomb or by burns or radiation sickness later. Seventy-five thousand people were killed or were fatally wounded; there was an equal number of wounded survivors. Nagasaki, to the south and west of Hiroshima, was bombed on August 9, 1945, with much loss of life. The bombing of these two cities brought World War II to a close. The lessons that Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) teach are the horrors of war with its random killing of civilian men, women, and children. That is the major lessonwar is horrible with its destruction of innocent lives.

The why of Hiroshima should be taken in the context of the battle for Okinawa which occurred only weeks before. America forces suffered 12,000 dead with 36,000 wounded in the battle for that small island 350 mi (563.5 km) from the mainland of Japan. The Japanese were reported to have lost 100,000 men. The determination of the Japanese to defend their homeland was well known, and it was estimated that the invasion of Japan would cost no less than 500,000 American lives. Japanese casualties were expected to be larger. It was the military judgment of the American President that a swift termination of the war would save more lives than it would cost; both American and Japanese. Whether this rationale for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was correct, i.e., whether more people would have died if Japan was invaded, will never be known. However, it certainly is a fact that the war came to a swift end after the bombing of the two cities.

The second lesson to be learned from Hiroshima is that radiation exposure is hazardous to human health and radiation damage results in radiation sickness and increased cancer risk. It had been known since the development of x rays at the turn of the century that radiation has the potential to cause cancer. However, the thousands of survivors at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to become the largest group ever studied for radiation damage. The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, now referred to as the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), was established to monitor the health effects of radiation exposure and has studied these survivors since the end of World War II. The RERF has reported a 1015 times excess of all types of leukemia among the survivors compared with populations not exposed to the bomb. The leukemia excess peaked four to seven years after exposure but still persists among the survivors. All forms of cancer tended to develop more frequently in heavily irradiated individuals, especially children under the age of 10 at the time of exposure. Thyroid cancer was also increased in these children survivors of the bomb.

War is destructive to human life. The particular kind of destruction at Hiroshima, due to an atomic bomb, continues to be relentlessly destructive. The city of Hiroshima is known as a Peace City.

[Robert G. McKinnell ]

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