“A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.” – John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” The New Yorker, August 24, 1946
Today marks the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima when planes from the 393d Bombardment Squadron of B-29 aircraft participating in Operation Centerboard, including the Enola Gay with a 9,000-pound uranium-235 atomic bomb named Little Boy, flew to Japan on August 6, 1945, and killed 140,000 people. Intended for a bridge, the bomb was caught in a crosswind and detonated over a clinic.
This is not the kind of anniversary one celebrates any more than the August 9th bombing of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people, or the prior firebombing of Dresden in four raids by British and U.S. bombers in April 1945, killing 21,000 people and creating up to 200,000 refugees.
All of these controversial bombings have been debated by many panels, hearings, and books, including Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (Dresden) and John Hersey’s 1946 non-fiction Hiroshima which grew out of the New Yorker article. Hersey had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1944 novel A Bell for Adano.
President Truman argued that the bombs saved lives; be believed more people would die if the U.S. invaded Japan instead. Even if his prediction of 500,000 American and Japanese deaths in an invasion was reasonably accurate, I consider our attacks to be war crimes.
Why? As we remember both immediate deaths and the long-term radiation poisoning from those horrible days in August, let’s also remember that we broke a “rule” of war–the intentional killing of civilians in our version of Nazi Germany’s London Blitz.