WHAT IF HIROSHIMA HAD NEVER HAPPENED
It is a hot August evening in Tokyo, just after nightfall, in the summer of 1945. Workers scurry home through darkened streets still littered with the charred rubble of the spring fire-bomb raids. The Cabinet sits late, pondering the accumulating evidence of Japan’s almost certain defeat; but the diehards, led by War Minister Korechika Anami, want to fight to the last breath. Suddenly, air-raid sirens wail. In the sky, just short of the city, two Superfortresses wheel, and a single huge projectile drops through the dark toward the bay. A mile above the water, it detonates.
A blinding flash turns the night instantly, terrifyingly, into day. A pillar of fire roils up toward the sky. Windows shatter. A mighty wind whips the stunned onlookers peering upward from the streets, government buildings, the Imperial Palace. But there are few injuries, even fewer deaths. The blast, the Japanese people are told by a U.S. radio broadcast the next day, was a fearful new weapon, the atomic bomb. It had been deliberately triggered at a high altitude, offshore, to show them its power but spare them its hideous consequences. If they do not want the next Bomb on one of their cities, they must surrender within a week. Six days later, the Emperor himself breaks a Cabinet deadlock by declaring that Japan must submit.
IT is one of mankind’s many tragedies that the scenario is not true. The facts, so grimly and indelibly recorded a quarter-century ago this week, are quite different. Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 1945: a weapon called Little Boy, right on target; at least 68,000 dead. The actual number of dead may never be known; several estimates place it higher than 200,000 (see THE WORLD).
... Ridge had finally produced enough uranium 235 for a single bomb. The bomb was partially assembled into two sections.In July these were ... was proclaimed V-J (Victory of Japan) Day (Roleff, 31). The war was over. The atomic bomb is perhaps the single most influential ... invention to ever see the light of day. No other object ...
Nagasaki, Aug. 9, 1945: a weapon called Fat Man, over a mile off target; at least 35,000 dead. In the face of such insistent horror, the question still haunts the mind: Was Hiroshima—and was Nagasaki—necessary?
Wishful thinking, and a good deal of armchair remorse, has compounded the question. So have the ironies of history. The Bomb was originally conceived as a counter to the threat of Hitler and the further threat that Nazi Germany might build it first. But it was not ready until after Germany had surrendered. Thus only by historical circumstance was the Bomb ever juxtaposed to an even bloodier alternative—the massive invasion of the Japanese mainland.
By the spring of 1945 the Japanese Empire was clearly sagging, blockaded from vital supplies, harassed daily by air, living precariously off a fast-decreasing cache of fuel and food. But the Japanese refused to surrender, and invasion seemed the only possible next step. A million American casualties were anticipated, including a half-million dead. Japanese casualties would certainly be in the millions.