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The US Nuclear Attack That Changed History

Al Jazeera


On August 6, 1945 the US aircraft Enola Gay dropped an untested uranium-235 gun-assembly bomb nicknamed "Little Boy" over Hiroshima. The devastation was unlike anything in the history of warfare, ushering in the era of weapons of mass destruction. Hiroshima was immediately flattened. The resulting explosion killed 70,000 people instantly; by December 1945, the death toll had risen to some 140,000. The radius of total destruction was reportedly 1.6km. But the damage did not end there. Thousands more died from their injuries, radiation sickness and cancer in the years that followed, bringing the toll closer to 200,000.


Japan was a fierce enemy of the US and its allies, Britain, China and the Soviet Union during World War II. By 1945, the allies had turned the tide of the war and pushed the Japanese forces back from many locations. The Japanese had publicly stated their intent to fight to the bitter end, and were using tactics such as kamikaze attacks, in which pilots would suicide dive against US warships. In July 1945, US President Harry Truman and allies demanded the "immediate and unconditional" surrender of Japan, but Japan did not issue a clear response. Shortly after, the US attacked Hiroshima, which was seen as a strategically sound target due to weather conditions, aircraft range, military impact and morale impact upon the enemy.


"What has been done is the greatest achievement of organised science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure," Truman said 16 hours after the atomic bomb was dropped. "We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war.”


After the bomb obliterated Hiroshima, the Japanese did not surrender. Three days later, the US launched another mission to bomb Kokura, however, the city was obscured by clouds. The city of Nagasaki was chosen as a target instead. The bomb was dropped over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, instantly killing at least 40,000 people.


The second bombing was as questionable back then as it is today. Six out of seven five-star US generals and admirals at the time felt there was no need to drop the bomb because Japanese surrender was imminent.


On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender, and on September 2, the surrender was formally signed, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close. 


The power of the atomic bomb would usher a change in geopolitics that still reverberates to this day, with several countries currently vying to acquire this technology.