What Was the Bombing of Hiroshima?
In the early morning on August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber flew toward Japan. The plane was named the Enola Gay
after the mother of its pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. In its cargo was a weapon unlike any the world had known.
As the bomber flew closer to its target, Tibbets revealed to his crew what the secret weapon was. Their plane was carrying the first atomic bomb that would ever be used in war.
The bomb was nicknamed “Little Boy.” And it was going to be dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Below, the 350,000 citizens of Hiroshima were beginning their day. Eating breakfast, walking to school, reading a newspaper, arriving at work. They had no idea what was about to happen.
At 8:15, the Enola Gay
’s bomb bay door opened, and Little Boy was dropped. Less than a minute later, the atomic bomb exploded.
Suddenly, for miles in all directions, fires ignited. Metal melted, and sixty thousand buildings were destroyed. About seventy thousand people died instantly or were fatally injured. Eventually, over two hundred thousand people would die from the bomb.
For the first time ever, an atomic weapon had been let loose. Its ability to kill and destroy was nearly beyond imagination. Who decided to drop it? And why? Was the decision right or wrong? That debate continues, even as you read this. What cannot be debated, however, is that on August 6, 1945, the world changed forever. Chapter 1: Japan
Before the late 1800s, Japan had little contact with Europe or the Americas.
Emperors had controlled Japan from about 660 until the 1100s. Then military rulers, called shoguns, took over. The shoguns commanded samurai, who were noble soldiers similar to European knights. Ranked below the samurai were foot soldiers, called ashigaru
The samurai dressed in armor held together by silk cords. They followed a code of conduct known as Bushido, or “the way of the warrior.” Samurai were to be honest, loyal, and above all, brave. No samurai could bear to live in dishonor. In the 1500s, European traders first sailed to Japan. They wanted to buy and sell goods with the Japanese. Shoguns, fearing change and loss of their own power, banned almost all outsiders in 1641.
After that, Japan remained largely cut off from the Western world until 1853. That’s when the US Navy commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo, Japan’s biggest city. Commodore Perry forced the shoguns to allow trade with the United States.
From then on, the country began to blend Western ways with its own values. And emperors again replaced the shoguns. But the emperor also served as Japan’s religious leader. His ministers controlled the government. Japan became a military power, and it set up big businesses, moving people from farms to factories. However, Japan lacked many natural resources, such as oil and rubber. It needed them to make many products. So Japan depended on buying these things from other nations.
In the 1930s, Japan continued to grow in might. Meanwhile, the United States was going through the hard years of the Great Depression. Millions lost their jobs and homes. Poverty spread throughout the country. The United States elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1932. President Roosevelt promised people a New Deal. That meant that the government would start large programs to try to get people working again.
Countries in Europe were suffering through the Depression as well. In Germany, Italy, and Spain, people turned to dictators—rulers with total control—to solve their problems. There was Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and Francisco Franco in Spain. Hitler was the most powerful. His plan was to take over all of Europe.
The United States was against these dictators but hoped to stay out of Europe’s problems. After all, many Americans said, Europe was far away, across an ocean. And the United States was not under attack.
But that soon would change. Chapter 2: World War II
In 1939, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi troops stormed into Poland and took over the country. In response, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and Italy sided with Hitler. This was the start of World War II.
The Nazis conquered one country after another. In 1940, Denmark, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg fell. Great Britain was left alone to fight Hitler’s forces.
President Roosevelt was willing to provide equipment—such as planes and weapons—to help the British. But he did not send American soldiers.
Japan saw Germany’s success as its chance to attack parts of Asia, some of which were controlled by European powers. Japan had already begun a brutal invasion of China in 1937. In 1940, Japan invaded French Indochina (what today is Vietnam).
However, for its military goals, Japan needed lots of metal and oil. The problem was that these came from the United States. Americans did not like selling Japan these materials, knowing of its plans. Also, Japan and Nazi Germany had been allies since 1936. President Roosevelt soon banned the sale of metal and oil to Japan. This made the Japanese government really angry.
The Japanese military wanted to end American power in Asia once and for all. The United States knew this, and believed that an attack might come. In fact, it looked almost certain. But no one imagined where it would take place.
Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii. In 1941, Hawaii was part of the United States, but was not a US state yet. The United States had airfields, power plants, and nearly eighteen thousand military personnel stationed at Pearl Harbor. Eight battleships were anchored together. They were lined up neatly, in what was called Battleship Row.
In the early morning of December 7, 1941, over 350 Japanese planes suddenly filled the skies above Pearl Harbor. Bombs fell. Nineteen US Navy ships were damaged or destroyed, and more than 2,400 Americans were killed.
The next day, the United States declared war on Japan.
Now America was part of World War II. Roosevelt sent troops to fight the Japanese in the Pacific as well as troops to Europe to help the British defeat the Germans.
At first, Japan scored victories against the United States and its allies. It won attacks on Hong Kong, British Malaya, and the Philippines. In the Philippines, the United States suffered one of its worst defeats, at the Battle of Bataan. Seventy thousand American and Filipino soldiers had to surrender.
By midsummer 1942, the tide of war turned. The Americans put Japan on the defensive. The Allies now advanced steadily toward Japan. Island after island in the Pacific was captured. Eventually Japan itself was within reach of US bombers.
In Europe, Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, and by 1945 Hitler’s army was at the point of collapse. Major cities in Germany had been bombed. Destroying them helped ensure Allied victory.
Would massive bombings destroying Japan’s major cities end the war in the Pacific as well? Or would a new kind of weapon be needed to make Japan surrender? For years, Roosevelt had had a group of scientists working on a new kind of weapon. Something way more deadly than anything seen before.
An atomic bomb.
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