The bombing of Hiroshima ushered in the nuclear age with a force never been seen before. 140,000 people were killed. On most other days, Kimie Mahara would have been one of them, but she lived to talk about it. (Aug. 4)
Seventy-five years ago Thursday, the U.S. became and remains the only country in the world to detonate a nuclear weapon against an enemy.
At 8:15 a.m. local time on Aug. 6, 1945, an American Boeing B-29 aircraft named Enola Gay dropped a 9,700-pound uranium bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, Japan. About 70,000 people were killed instantly by the explosion, which had a radius of around a mile.
Three days later, on Aug. 9 at 11:02 a.m. local time, a second atomic bomb, named “Fat Man,” was unleashed by the U.S. over Nagasaki, Japan. This time, 40,000 people died straight away within five years, the number of deaths approached 140,000, according to archived estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Hiroshima death toll reached an estimated 200,000 by 1950 as those who survived the blast succumbed to fatal burns, radiation sickness and various cancers.
On Aug. 14, 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally, effectively bringing an end to World War II.
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Three-quarters of a century later, tensions, complications and uncertainties over nuclear weapons and how to ensure they are not used again are still very much with us.
Among the recent developments:
- The Trump administration has withdrawn from a2015 nuclear accord with Iran and world powers designed to limit Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
- President Donald Trump-led talks with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un aimed at denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula have stalled.
- The Trump administration has suspended compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Reagan administration-era initiative that slashed the number of midrange missiles held by the U.S. and Russia.
- Trump has abandoned the Open Skies Treaty negotiated by President George H.W. Bush after the collapse of the Soviet Union and designed to be a check on nuclear weapons by allowing surveillance flights over signatories’ territories.
- Trump has signaled he may not renew New START, the last major U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control treaty, unless China also agrees to be bound by its constraints. Beijing has not committed either way. New START expires in February, just weeks after there’s a new, or renewed, U.S. president in the White House.
- Marshall Billingslea, the top U.S. envoy for nuclear negotiations, has confirmed the Trump administration has discussed holding the first nuclear test since 1992. “I won’t shut the door on it, because why would we,” Billingslea said in late June in Vienna, Austria, although he said there is no reason to carry out a test “at this time.”
Fred Carriere, who teaches international relations at Syracuse University, said that one of the major impediments to getting countries to denuclearize, whether the U.S., North Korea or Iran, is that “everybody always wants everything up front, with the promise that good things will follow later on, but few will ever be able to accept this strategy.”
In the case of North Korea, for example, negotiations broke down over Pyongyang’s insistence that Washington immediately halt economic sanctions.
“North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons unless it can be absolutely confident that it has turned over a new leaf with the U.S,” said Carriere.
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Meanwhile, the stories of atomic bomb survivors, a dwindling number, have shaped the way we think about the consequences of using nuclear weapons.
When Robert Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist and one of the designers of the atomic bomb, was asked in an NBC television interview in 1965 to reflect on the legacy of what’s known as the Trinity test the code name for the first detonation of a nuclear device on July 16, 1945 Oppenheimer responded to the question by saying that as he watched the huge blast wave ripple out over a remote desert area of New Mexico, a line from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita ran through his head:
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Koko Tanimoto Kondo, 75, is one person whose world was destroyed on Aug. 6, 1945.
A recent photo of Koko Tanimoto Kondo in Hiroshima, Japan.
Kondo was 8 months old and with her mother when the house in Hiroshima they were in, a parsonage of the church where her father was a minister, caved in and buried them under mounds of twisted metal and rubble as Japan’s most industrialized city was consumed by the searing heat of the world’s first nuclear attack.
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They escaped after her mother, who flitted in and out of consciousness, saw a tiny crack of light through the wreckage and, working the hole bigger bit by bit, was eventually able to make an opening large enough to push her baby out and then crawl out herself.
In a recent Zoom call, Kondo described how a medical student told her parents that he did not think that their baby, racked with fever and injuries, would survive.
“But here I am today, 75 years later,” she said.
For years, Kondo underwent annual examinations so doctors and scientists could study the impact of radiation on the human body, a process she described as “humiliating.”
In 1946, Kondos father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, made an appearance in “Hiroshima,” a book about survivors by American journalist John Hersey. In Hersey’s account, Tanimoto is described in the wake of the blast as frantically running around trying to help the wounded and dying and encountering “rank on rank of the burned and bleeding.”
Tanimoto later started a program called Hiroshima Maidens that enabled Japanese girls physically altered by the bombing to travel to the U.S. to have corrective plastic surgery.
In the Zoom call, Kondo, who has devoted her life to campaigning for peace with various organizations and civil society groups, said that one of her earliest memories of Hiroshima was being comforted by a group of teenage girls Hiroshima Maidens.
“I could not see their faces. Their lips were seared to their chins. Their eyes would not close because of the burns. One girl, I recall, was trying to comb my hair but when I turned to look at her hand I saw that all her fingers had been melted away,” she said.
Kondo said she vowed that day to find the person who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
“I wanted to kick or bite or punch this person,” she said.
Some years later, in 1955, Kondo would get her chance when, on a trip to the U.S. with her family, she appeared on an NBC show called “This Is Your Life.”
Also appearing on the show that day was Capt. Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the American Boeing B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
Kondo changed her mind about revenge as she watched the show’s host ask Lewis how he felt after dropping the bomb. With tears welling up in his eyes, the pilot said that he had written in his flight log on Aug. 6, 1945: “My God, what have we done?”
On the Zoom call, her voice cracking and tears welling up in her own eyes, Kondo said her encounter with Lewis made her realize she “shouldn’t hate this person. If I should hate anything, I should hate the war itself.”
In a follow-up email, Kondo said: “I constantly remind young people that they need to learn from history, that what happened in Hiroshima must never happen again.”
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