Friday, August 10, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #68 - Part 2

67th anniversary of bombing of Hiroshima

Monday was August 6. Not too many people, at least not too many in the US, make note of the day anymore. We used to back in the '60s but not much now. But in Japan, they still do. Monday was the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Early on the morning of August 6th, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress bomber nicknamed "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island in the Pacific, headed for Hiroshima, a city of about 250,000 people. It carried a single bomb, codenamed "Little Boy." At 8:15 am local time, Little Boy was dropped.

I want to pause for a moment to give you a sense of the kind of power we are talking about here. The bomb contained 64 kilograms - about 141 pounds - of highly-enriched, fissionable uranium. Of that amount, only about .7 kilogram, or about 1.5 pounds, actually fissioned - that is, split - and only about 600 milligrams was converted into energy. That 600 milligrams equals six-tenths of a gram, or a little more than 1/50 ounce.

The energy released was enough to do this. It had the explosive force of 14,000 tons of dynamite. Around 70,000 people died instantly; some of them were literally vaporized. Another 70,000 died by 1950 due to injuries, radiation poisoning, and cancer.

Just three days later, another nuclear bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, with tens of thousands more dead and another city destroyed.

I'm not going to get into the history of the decision to drop the bomb, I don't have time here. If you want to debate it with me, fine. But I will say that the bombing of Hiroshima was quite likely the second biggest war crime the US has ever committed. It was a crime because the bombing was unnecessary. Before - before - the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan was so thoroughly defeated that it had already offered to surrender. But there was one condition: Japan wanted to be allowed to keep its emperor. The Truman administration rejected the offer because it wasn't "unconditional" - only to, after the bombing of Nagasaki, accept a surrender on essentially the same terms it had rejected before, including retention of the emperor. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gained nothing in terms of surrender terms.

But you may think that's the past, nuclear weapons are no longer an issue - except, of course, when it involves fear mongering about Iran. You'd be wrong.

There are today eight known nuclear powers: Russia, United States, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. In addition, Israel is universally believed to possess at least a few score nuclear weapons but refuses to admit it. Estimates are that there are today about 4,400 nuclear weapons deployed and ready; most of those, but not all, are held by the US and Russia. Add up the reserves and the stockpiles, and we are talking about around 11,500 nuclear weapons in the world today, weapons that make the Hiroshima bomb look like a popgun next to a howitzer.

This is not an issue whose time has passed.

Footnote: I called Hiroshima the second greatest war crime the US had committed. What was the first? Nagasaki, which was even less necessary than the unnecessary bombing of Hiroshima and occurred only because the military, unwilling to wait to see Japan's reaction to the first bomb, was rushing to get in another strike before a predicted run of bad weather and the sky over the main target was too cloudy. That's why Nagasaki was bombed.


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