Donated by Kazuo Nikawa
1,600m from the hypocenter
Kengo Nikawa (then, 59) was exposed to the bomb crossing the Kan-on Bridge by bike going from his home to his assigned building demolition site in the center of the city. He suffered major burns on his right shoulder, back, and head and took refuge in Kochi-mura Saiki-gun. He died on August 22. Kengo was never without this precious watch given him by his son, Kazuo.
Sixty three years ago today, on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshima was the first target ever attacked with nuclear weapons in the history of the world.
The bomb exploded about 200 yards over the city, creating a 13 kiloton explosion, a fireball, a shock-wave, and a burst of radiation. On the day that the bomb was dropped, there were about 255,000 people living in Hiroshima.
The explosion completely incinerated everything within a one mile radius of the city center. The shock-wave and the fires ignited by the explosion damaged or completely destroyed about nine-tenths of the buildings in the city. Somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people–about one third of the population of the city–immediately died. The heat of the explosion vaporized or burned alive many of those closest to ground zero. Others were killed by the force of the shock-wave or crushed under collapsing buildings. Many more died from
acute radiation poisoning–that is, from the effects of having their internal organs being burned away in the intense radiation from the blast.
By December 1945, thousands more had died from their injuries, from radiation poisoning, or from cancers related to the radioactive burst or the fallout. It is estimated that the atomic bombing killed about 140,000 people, and left thousands more with permanent disabilities.
Almost all of the people maimed and killed were civilians. Although there were some minor military bases near Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped on the city center, several miles away from the military bases on the edge of town. Hiroshima was chosen as a target, even though it had little military importance, because
It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focussing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. 1. Hiroshima was also one of the largest Japanese cities not yet damaged by the American firebombing campaign. Military planners believed it strategically important to demonstrate as much destruction as possible from the blast.
Thomas Ferebee, a bombadier for the United States Army, was the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His commanding officer was the pilot of the Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets and Ferebee were part of the XXI Bomber Command, directed by Curtis LeMay. LeMay planned and executed the atomic bombings at the behest of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry Truman.
Kengo Nikawa died on August 22nd, 1945 because of the bombing. This is his pocket watch.
We will never know the names of many of the 140,000 other residents of Hiroshima who were killed by the bombing. We have only estimates because the Japanese government was in a shambles by this point in the war, and countless records, of those that were successfully kept, were consumed by the flames, along with the people whose lives they recorded.
The late, great Utah Phillips called this one of the first songs he ever wrote that ever made any sense. It’s certainly one of his best.
Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Wave your hand
at the shining airplane
Such a beautiful sight is Enola Gay
It’s many a mile
from the Utah desert
To Tinian Island far away
A standing guard
by the barbed wire fences
That hide the secret of Enola Gay
High above the clouds
in the sunlit silence
So peaceful here I’d like to stay
There’s many a pilot
who’d swap his pension
For a chance to fly Enola Gay
What is that sound
high above my city
I rush outside and search the sky
Now we are running
to find our shelter
The air raid sirens start to cry
What will I say
when my children ask me
Where was I flying upon that day?
With trembling voice
I gave the order
To the bombardier of Enola Gay
Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Your bright young eyes
will turn to ashes
In the blinding light of Enola Gay I turn to see
the fireball rising
My god, my godall I can say
I hear a voice
within me crying
My mother’s name was Enola Gay
Look out, look out
from your school room window
Look up young children from your play
Oh when you see
the war planes flying
Each one is named Enola Gay.
–U. Utah Phillips (1994), on I’ve Got To Know
As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, in which forces acting on behalf of the United States government deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of all the people living in the city at the time, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world.
For the past week, there’s been a lot of hubbub over All Things Beautiful’s Ten Worst Americans challenge. For a lot of reasons, I don’t have a comprehensive list, and I’m not that keen on the whole project (there’s lots of evil and ugliness in the world without going out of your way to seek it out, compile it, and cross-index it; I have no idea what the criteria would be for choosing ten people as more evil than any others; and I think that most of us are already far too fascinated with and fixated on demonology as it is). So I don’t have a Worst Ten list to provide. But I do have a list of additions that I think ought to be there, if lists are to be made. Coming out for the left-liberal corner we have Ampersand at Alas, A Blog (2005-12-27) with a list of seven villains, Patrick at Tiberius and Gaius Speaking… with a list of ten, and Glenn Greenwald and Hypatia at Unclaimed Territory (2005-12-28) with another ten to throw on the barbie. With the exception of Glenn’s silly inclusion of Harry Blackmun, they are pretty much right, as far as it goes, but there are some notable names that I notice tend to get left out. I suggested some additions at Alas and some dishonorable mentions at Tiberius and Gaius, which have been followed up with some debate.
Here’s my contribution of evildoers. I make no attempt to be comprehensive — there are lots of truly rotten people who aren’t on the list, mainly because they are mentioned elsewhere. But these folks are truly rotten, and often overlooked — sometimes because they get shoved out of the way by contemporary contenders that contemporary writers tend to give disproportionate space to, sometimes because the villains are overlooked by pop history anyway, and sometimes simply because political blinders prevent their names from being given serious consideration. The interesting thing is that the blinders rarely constitute defenses of their deeds — although in at least two of the three cases I discuss with Patrick that is what’s happening. It’s just that, for whatever reason, some folks whose crimes are readily admitted, if mentioned, aren’t thought of when you sit down thinking
Who should I put down as a terrible evil-doer? I have some ideas about the reasons behind that, but I’d be interested to hear what you think in comments, too.
In any case, here’s my unordered list of overlooked evildoers, cobbled together from my suggestions elsewhere:
Curtis LeMay. He carried out the murder of 500,000 – 1,000,000 Japanese civilians over the course of half a year in 1945. He planned and carried out the low-altitude firebombing of Kobe, Tokyo, and 65 other Japanese cities. A nuclear maniac who explicitly denied that there were any innocent bystanders in war, went on to coin the phrase
bomb them back into the Stone Age(in reference to the Vietnam War), and went on to become George Wallace’s running mate in 1968, on a platform of white supremacy and more militant anticommunism. During World War II, he repeatedly indicated his belief that the Japanese deserved wholesale slaughter of civilians, and his own public statements and the reminiscences of the soldiers who served under him reveal him as simply reveling in death and destruction.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a pseudo-leftist demagogue who created the military-industrial complex; imprisoned political opponents; seized sweeping censorship powers; pandered to the worst sorts of racism, first in his political alliances with arch-segregationist Dixiecrats and then in whipping up war fever for war against Japan; ordered internment of Japanese-Americans; happily allied with, propagandized for, and consigned 1/2 of Europe to the totalitarian terror of, Joseph Stalin; and became one of the three men who came the closest to becoming a dictator in the United States.
Woodrow Wilson, unreprentant liar and war-monger, KKK fan, arch-segregationist, ardent anti-feminist. His published academic work delighted in white supremacist myth-making; his warmongering drew the United States needlessly into one of the worst and most senseless wars in world history; he built a slave army with the second federal draft in American history, and shredded civil liberties with abandon, happily imprisoning political opponents both during and after the War and presiding over the devastating Palmer Raids. Wilson is one of the three men who came the closest to becoming a dictator in the United States.
George Fitzhugh, who fused the worst elements of statist utopian socialism with a nostalgic view of feudal hierarchy to provide the most militant theoretical defense of white supremacy and race slavery in the prewar South. He authored Slavery Justified, Sociology in the South, and Cannibals All!.
William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the inventors of modern scorched-earth warfare, ravager of the South and murderer of Southern civilians. Sherman followed up his most famous role by pursuing genocidal campaigns against the Plains Indians and Indians in the Southwest from 1869 until his retirement in 1884.
James Eastland, the militant white supremacist Senator from Mississippi, mad dog McCarthyist, and founding father of the White Citizens Councils.
In addition to another Alas commenter’s suggestion of Larry Flynt, I’d also like to add Chuck Traynor, the pimp / pornographer / rapist / batterer / slave-driver who forced Linda Boreman into Deep Throat (among other pornography) and played an instrumental role in founding the mass-market, above-ground film pornography industry in the U.S. through repeated filmed rapes.
Sergio Méndez reminded me that Ronald Reagan certainly needs a mention, yet he seems notoriously absent from many of the lists. I mention him here not because I think he’s often overlooked on lefty lists of rotten people, but rather because I think the primary reasons to include him — his complicity in the formation of the death squads of El Salvador and the plainly genocidal massacre of some 200,000 Indians in Guatemala — is often overlooked in favor of a frankly silly focus on his contributions to the rhetoric of the contemporary Right in America.
The exercise, whatever its demerits, does seem to be a good conversation-starter. What do you think?
The easiest way to begin is with the numbers.
Some 60 years ago today, at 11:02 in the morning, the American B-29 bomber dropped a 10,200 pound plutonium bomb (nicknamed
Fat Man) over the city of Nagasaki, a tourist destination, industrial center and sea-port in southwestern Japan with a population of about 230,000. The bomb exploded about 500 yards above Nagasaki, creating a fireball, a shockwave, and a massive burst of radiation. Some 74,000 civilians — about 1/3 of the population of Nagasaki — were burned alive, crushed to death by the shockwave, or sickened and died over the next few months due to severe radiation poisoning (the burning away of their internal organs by intense radiation) and cancer.
Three days before, with no prior warning, a B-29 bomber had dropped an enriched uranium bomb over Hiroshima, an industrial center in western Japan, with a population of about 255,000. The bomb had exploded about 670 yards above the city. 80,000 civilians were burned alive or crushed to death by the explosion. By the end of 1945, another 60,000 people died due to severe radiation poisoning and cancer, raising the death toll to about 140,000–about 55% of the city’s population.
One of the reasons that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets is that they were considered to be good sites to demonstrate the killing power of the Bomb: they had been mostly untouched during the six months of low-altitude firebombing of Japanese cities. The first major raid of that campaign was the firebombing of Tokyo in the middle of the night on March 9-10, 1945. 334 American B-29 bombers raced over the city at about 7,000 feet, and dropped about 1,700 tons of napalm bombs. It is estimated that about 100,000 civilians were burned to death in one (1) night. Over the next 6 months, from March 10 to Japan’s surrender on August 15, over 100 Japanese cities were firebombed; about 500,000 civilians were burned to death.
All told, the firebombing and nuclear attacks and
conventional air raids on Japan killed somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Japanese civilians over the course of half a year.
Then there are the names.
Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War
Harry Truman, President
The B-29 Major Charles Sweeney. The actual dropping of the bomb was carried out by the plane’s bombadier, Captain Kermit Beahan.
The B-29 Colonel Paul Tibbets. The plane’s bombadier, Major Thomas Ferebee, dropped the bomb over Hiroshima.
Sweeney, Beahan, Tibbets, and Ferebee were members of the XXI Bomber Command, directed General Curtis LeMay. LeMay opposed the nuclear attacks, but he directed it under orders from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and President Harry S. Truman, who had made the decision to use atomic weapons in order to terrorize Japan into unconditional surrender. LeMay was also the architect of the low-altitude firebombing campaign, acting on advice and research from his subordinate, Lt. Col. Robert McNamara.
We will never know the names of most of the 1,000,000 or so civilians who were killed in the onslaught. The Japanese government was in disarray in the closing months of the war, and many of the records were consumed by the flames along with the lives of the victims.
Then there are the statements of intent.
The purposes of the bombing was to achieve victory through catastrophic bloodshed and terror. LeMay, when asked about his bombing campaigns, stated
There are no innocent civilians, so it doesn’t bother me so much to be killing innocent bystanders. (He also mused, later,
I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal.) The interim committee deciding to drop the bomb stated, on May 31, 1945,
that we could not give the Japanese any warning before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. About 24 hours before the incineration of Nagasaki, U.S. planes began dropping leaflets all over Japan, threatening more destruction but naming no targets that could be evacuated. The leaflets did not reach Nagasaki at all until August 10, the day after it was destroyed. The leaflets read:
TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE:
America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.
We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.
We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.
Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan.
You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
Shortly before the leaflets were dropped, Harry Truman also publicly declared his aims:
It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.
Of course, no specific warning was given to the civilians of Nagasaki, at any point.
After the war, Truman defended his decision to burn nearly 1,000,000 civilians to death on the grounds that it was necessary to secure the unconditional submission of Japan to surrender and occupation without a costly marine invasion of the home islands.
Then there are the effects. For most of these there are no words.
Aftermath of the Tokyo firebombing, 10 March 1945
Aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, 6 August 1945
A boy caught by the bombing in Hiroshima
The explosion and mushroom cloud, seen from ground level in Nagasaki on 9 August 1945.
Nagasaki railroad station
A clock from Nagasaki, stopped at 11:02 AM
A woman caught by the bombing in Nagasaki
Iwakawa-machi residential neighborhood, Nagasaki
Here are some facts you do not need to remind me of today: that the government of the Empire of Japan launched a war of aggression against American territory and killed both American military and civilians; that they conducted a brutal war of conquest against China in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were mercilessly tortured and killed; that some fanatical elements of the military regime wanted to fight the United States down to the last man. That’s all true, but it’s quite beyond the point. None of these vicious acts by a vicious government justifies doing this to people, to civilians who had no meaningful role in either the decision-making or in the fighting. Nothing could. If you want to make a plea on behalf of terror-bombing, fine; do so. But not here. I’ll post again tomorrow or in a couple days, and we can argue there about the merits and demerits of burning 1,000,000 innocent people alive when you think you can get good results from it. But for now, the dead deserve at least a day of quiet mourning.
Today there’s a memorial for the victims standing in the Hiroshima Peace Park, with an inscription that reads
Rest in peace, for this mistake will not be repeated. Let us remember the dead, and pray that those words are true.