August 6, 1945. The people of the city pretty much ignored the single airplane. Wave after wave of bombers had flown over the city in the past few months but always on their way to someplace else, to military targets or to firebomb Tokyo. Many Japanese cities had been reduced to ash, but not Hiroshima. Little did they know that it was their turn, that the single plane held a bomb that would unleash a firestorm far greater than even the one that leveled the German city of Dresden.
A blinding flash and an enormous pressure wave leveled the city. Many were killed instantly. Some trapped in the rubble were scorched as the firestorm raged across what was left of the city. Survivors had skin hanging off of their bodies like rags. On the first day some 70,000 people died. But it wasn’t over. People who had no physical injuries started to sicken and die. It was a strange new disease. They had radiation poisoning. Over all about 140,000 people died from that single bomb. Others had their lives changed. Malformed atomic babies were born. Even the healthy were shunned because people didn’t know if their genes had been mutated by the radiation.
This was the first use of atomic weapons in war. Three days later the second and final bomb was dropped. The damage was so horrific that much of it was kept secret for decades.
One thing young people don’t understand is the fear of nuclear war. There was a time when most people believed it was inevitable. And the later bombs would be much worse than those that were dropped on Japan. Thermonuclear weapons, i.e., H-Bombs, were created that were 100 times more powerful than those early bombs. Think of the destruction of Hiroshima and then multiply it by 100. Try to imagine the effect on a city. The Soviets actually made some 10 megaton bombs, almost a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. A thousand times more powerful. One Thousand Hiroshimas.
There were several times that the US and the USSR came within minutes of an all-out thermonuclear war. There were also accidents that almost triggered disaster. For example, a soviet missile sub sunk off the coast of the US. If the captain had followed protocol around 100,000,000 Americans could have died. One hundred million people. In one accident. Every city on the east coast would have been destroyed. More people than died in all of WWII would have died almost instantly. It almost happened. The person who saved 100,000,000 was sent to Siberia for his trouble.
As a kid I did a lot of research. I looked at estimates of what a single 1 megaton bomb would do to cities. I read reports of the Soviet strategy if a nuclear war broke out. I grew up in America’s industrial heartland. Because of the vast number of ultra-powerful weapons that would be unleashed in the area between Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the east to Gary and Chicago in the west there was no place isolated enough or shelter deep enough to allow any survivors. Perhaps the deepest salt mines in Cleveland. Perhaps, but doubtfully. Thousnads of square miles would briefly be hotter than the surface of the sun and then become a radioactive wasteland for thousands of years to come.
People born in the 90’s and beyond, or even in the 80s, can’t remember the fear that was always there. It had happened once, it could happen again.
But it didn’t happen.
70 years after their city was destroyed we need to remember the people of Hiroshima. And we need to ensure it never happens again.
Note – There are arguments back and forth about how many lives may have been saved by the nuclear bombing. I will not argue one way or the other. That is not what this is for. Any political argument in the comment section WILL be deleted.