Bebe Taian: Hiroshima Anniversary

August 6, 2011

Hiroshima Anniversary

On this day, August 6th, 1945, American President Harry S. Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

On August 6, 1945, President Harry S Truman announced:
"Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T.  It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare."

He told Americans that this location was a military base and a threat to our country- and then used the public support to use a largely untested atomic bomb what was actually a civilian city. He followed up with a second bomb on August 9th, knowing full-well what it would do as evidenced by what happened to Hiroshima, on Nagasaki. The bombs killed around 200,000 people. Most of them were civilians. Most of them died from flash or flame burns resulting from the bombs. Other died from debris, or fallout. Uncounted many afterwards died from radiation poisoning or leukemia.

And this was still not enough for the Americans. There were seven more atomic bombs waiting to be used on Japan- another scheduled for August, three for September, and three for October.

Somehow, many Americans still excuse this today by saying that more would have died if we hadn't done this. Of course, no country wants to be responsible for one of the greatest tragedies that has ever occurred... but the fact is, we need to take responsibility for these past actions and learn from them instead of excusing them.

Some background information:

In 1923, Emperor Taisho was still alive. However, he was very ill for most of his life, and was forced to leave his wife, Empress Teimei in charge for much of the time. Her eldest son, Hirohito (who became Emperor Showa), was a devout Shinto practitioner and patriot. Much of his life and education was centered around war; with his induction into the Japanese army and at 19 years old, he was made Major. By 1921, after a tour of Europe, Showa took power from his father. He was not officially Emperor yet, but due to his fathers' loss of faculties, he was given ruling abilities.

During the rule of Meiji and Taisho, alliances had been made all over Europe. It was a time of relative peace and prosperity. This was dissolved in 1921 under Hirohito/Showa, with the termination of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance treaty. In 1923, the country was in turmoil when the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo and many other regions. That same year, Showa ascended to Lieutenant-Colonel status, and became full Colonel in 1925. By this time, Japan was in financial and political turmoil. Hirohito became Emperor with the death of Taisho in 1926. That's about when all hell broke loose for Japan.

Showa was a warmonger. He believed that Japan was sovereign above all other countries, having been made by the Gods themselves. As such, he wanted to conquer every other country, and set out his armies to do it. He never held any opposition to attacking China; Showa's armies invaded Manchuria in 1931 and the rest of China in 1937. In the interim, armies were spread out over various small island countries in the area; all of this triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War. Showa and his advisers believed that they could use China to harvest the mainlands' material resources and labor forces, and fulfill their destiny as "rightful" rulers. Along with fighting against the Chinese, the Americans and the Russians lent their support to the side of the Chinese, so Showa was suddenly fighting them as well!

Of course, the average Japanese did not know about most of this. They knew that they were at war, but were told daily how they were winning, how other troops were giving up, how many resources they'd acquired, etc. They had no idea why people weren't coming home; it wasn't that a soldier had been reassigned... the soldiers were dead. Citizens had no idea what was really going on. Propaganda was the only news available to everyone. And of course, with the idea of patriotism and national loyalty so firmly implanted in everyone's minds, who wouldn't want to support their country?

The Americans cut off supply of petrol to the Japanese in 1940 with the invasion of French Indochina and the signing of the Tripartite Act, when the Japanese joined forces with Nazi Italy and Germany. Showa mistakenly believed that Hitlers' armies were going to win the war, and thus, secure a way for him to conquer other countries and expand Japan's powers.

Again, the worse it became for the Japanese, the more the Emperor and his followers declared that they were WINNING. (Charlie Sheen, is that where you got your strategy from?) They say it's darkest before dawn... could that explain how bad things were getting for the average citizen? Women were cutting their sleeves from the decadent lengths of days past, wearing kimono less and less simply because shorter clothing and other styles of Japanese clothes used less fabric, and publications like Shufu no Tomo were rising due to their stories of housewives with military sons and husbands, patterns and ideas for reusing stained and torn clothing, and of course, plenty of encouragement for those who were secretly deeply worried and stressed with thoughts about the real state of their country. The Japanese have an 'outer face' and 'inner thoughts'; the two do not necessarily match. So on the outside, public support of their country was priority- following their Emperor, who was seen as a God incarnate, was priority over private feelings of discontent over the direction of politics and the current state of affairs. There is little they could have done anyways; the Emperor could have had anyone he liked executed for what he would interpret as treason.

The Japanese expanded even further, into the Phillipines, Indonesia, Vietnam, New Guinea, and the islands surrounding it. The armies were starving in the fields at this point. Some Japanese troops started to cannibalize captured soldiers, dead or alive. Others preferred to engage in battle, preferring to die fighting.

So, when the years passed and World War 2 was at it's worst, when Showa became exceedingly arrogant and starting bombing on US soil, the President was likely looking for any excuse to shut them down. Propaganda flooded America, claiming that every Japanese citizen was bloodthirsty and tyrannical, and that they would slaughter Americans without fear. As if Japan had innumerable armies at their disposal. The combination of anger over Pearl Harbor and fear of a country most knew nothing about was powerful, and Truman used it to justify the use of two barely-tested atomic devices on civilian cities full of people who had little to no idea what their countries' armies were actually doing. Instead of bombing actual military sites, or perhaps choosing a less deadly and dangerous method, the Americans decided that atomic bombs were the best course of action for the time. It certainly ended the Japanese side of the war; the Japanese declared surrender on August 15th, 1945.

Today, whether or not the use of atomic bombs is still debated. Certainly, they should not have been used on civilian towns of innocent people who had little to no idea what was happening overseas. But the result of the show of power is debated; did it save more lives in the long run than it ended? Were the lives of innocent people somehow worth less than the actual war criminals engaging in battle? The Americans had no real concept of what the atomic bombs did, either. They only had very limited testing in deserts; there was no comprehension of what it would do in an actual city, to actual people, or of the radiation that would destroy the entire area for decades. The actual effects of the bombs weren't mere giant explosions, leveling everything, as it would appear when testing it in a desert. And once the actual bombs had been tested/demonstrated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, why were seven more scheduled for Japan?

There are so many questions left unanswered today. It is understandable that many Japanese would feel apprehension towards nuclear devices of any kind, and especially feel angry about the loss of friends, family members, and of everything they knew during the events of the 1940s. Many of the people who were there at the time are still alive to recall those days. It certainly doesn't help that textbooks about the war on both sides of the ocean are slanted towards their own country, which further muddies the matter by spreading an incomplete and sometimes outright false account of what happened.

So how do we move on today? It has been 66 years, and even now, the world is still reeling from the fallout.

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