|The Atomic Bomb
Interpreting Primary Sources
Nuclear bombs cannot possible remain a "secret weapon" at the exclusive disposal of this country for more than a few years. The scientific facts on which their construction is based are well known to scientists of other countries. Unless an effective internal control of nuclear explosives is instituted, a race for nuclear armaments is certain to ensue following the first revelation of our possession of nuclear weapons to the world....In the war to which an armaments race is likely to lead, the United States, with its agglomeration of population and industry in comparative few
metropolitan districts, will be at a disadvantage compared to nations whose population and industry are scattered over large areas.
We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable. If the United States were to be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, we would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race for armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching international agreement on the future control of such weapons.
Scientists' petition against use of the atomic bomb, June, 1945
I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb. Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken....But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we know the disaster which would come to this nation...to all civilizations, if they had found it first....
Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned the pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.
President Truman defends his decision to drop the atomic bombs, August, 1945
Truman's Diary on the Atomic Bomb
Digital History ID 1186
Author: Harry S. Truman
Annotation: In 1945, Harry S. Truman faced one of the most difficult decisions a President has ever had to make. Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in April 1945 had made Truman President. Nazi Germany had been defeated, and now the new chief exective had to decide how best to end the war with Japan. "I have to decide Japanese strategy," he wrote in his diary, "--shall we invade Japan proper or shall we bomb and blockade."
Truman was told that Japan was prepared to fight to the end rather than surrender. Some officials believed that U.S. bombing raids, which had already killed hundreds of thousands of people, would defeat Japan. Others felt that the United States would have to invade Japan at the cost of tens of thousands of casualities. Then, less than two weeks after becoming President, he was informed about a secret project to develop an atomic bomb. On July 16, 1945, Truman learned that the weapon with the power of thousands of tons of TNT had been successfully tested.
The United States and Britain gave Japan an ultimatum: surrender or face total destruction. When the Japanese government failed to respond, Truman authorized the use of the bomb. When asked to give his formal approval, he wrote without hesitation: "Suggestion approved. Release when ready."
Document: We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.
Anyway we "think" we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexico desert was startling - to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower 1/2 mile away and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.
This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop that terrible bomb on the old capital or the new.
He and I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I'm sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler's crowd or Stalin's did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.
Account of the bombing of Hiroshima
Digital History ID 1185
Author: Michihiko Hachiya
Annotation: A Japanese physician offers a first-hand account of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Document: The hour was early; the morning still, warm, and beautiful. Shimmering leaves, reflecting sunlight from a cloudless sky, made a pleasant contrast with shadows in my garden as I gazed absently through wide-flung doors opening to the south.
Clad in drawers and undershirt, I was sprawled on the living room floor exhausted because I had just spent a sleepless night on duty as an air warden in my hospital.
Suddenly, a strong flash of light startled me - and then another. So well does one recall little things that I remember vividly how a stone lantern in the garden became brilliantly lit and I debated whether this light was caused by a magnesium flare or sparks from a passing trolley.
Garden shadows disappeared. The view where a moment before had been so bright and sunny was now dark and hazy. Through swirling dust I could barely discern a wooden column that had supported one comer of my house. It was leaning crazily and the roof sagged dangerously.
Moving instinctively, I tried to escape, but rubble and fallen timbers barred the way. By picking my way cautiously I managed to reach the roka (an outside hallway)and stepped down into my garden. A profound weakness overcame me, so I stopped to regain my strength. To my surprise I discovered that I was completely naked How odd! Where were my drawers and undershirt?
What had happened?
All over the right side of my body I was cut and bleeding. A large splinter was protruding from a mangled wound in my thigh, and something warm trickled into my mouth. My check was torn, I discovered as I felt it gingerly, with the lower lip laid wide open. Embedded in my neck was a sizable fragment of glass which I matter-of-factly dislodged, and with the detachment of one stunned and shocked I studied it and my blood-stained hand.
Where was my wife?
Suddenly thoroughly alarmed, I began to yell for her: 'Yaeko-san! Yaeko-san! Where are you?' Blood began to spurt. Had my carotid artery been cut? Would I bleed to death? Frightened and irrational, I called out again 'It's a five-hundred-ton bomb! Yaeko-san, where are you? A five- hundred-ton bomb has fallen!'
Yaeko-san, pale and frightened, her clothes torn and blood stained, emerged from the ruins of our house holding her elbow. Seeing her, I was reassured. My own panic assuaged, I tried to reassure her.
'We'll be all right,' I exclaimed. 'Only let's get out of here as fast as we can.'
She nodded, and I motioned for her to follow me….
We started out, but after twenty or thirty steps I had to stop. My breath became short, my heart pounded, and my legs gave way under me. An overpowering thirst seized me and I begged Yaeko-san to find me some water. But there was no water to be found. After a little my strength somewhat returned and we were able to go on.
I was still naked, and although I did not feel the least bit of shame, I was disturbed to realize that modesty had deserted me. On rounding a corner we came upon a soldier standing idly in the street. He had a towel draped across his shoulder, and I asked if he would give it to me to cover my nakedness. The soldier surrendered the towel quite willingly but said not a word. A little later I lost the towel, and Yaeko-san took off her apron and tied it around my loins.
Our progress towards the hospital was interminably slow, until finally, my legs, stiff from drying blood, refused to carry me farther. The strength, even the will, to go on deserted me, so I told my wife, who was almost as badly hurt as I, to go on alone. This she objected to, but there was no choice. She had to go ahead and try to find someone to come back for me.
Yaeko-san looked into my face for a moment, and then, without saying a word, turned away and began running towards the hospital. Once, she looked back and waved and in a moment she was swallowed up in the gloom. It was quite dark now, and with my wife gone, a feeling of dreadful loneliness overcame me. I must have gone out of my head lying there in the road because the next thing I recall was discovering that the clot on my thigh had been dislodged and blood was again spurting from the wound.
I pressed my hand to the bleeding area and after a while the bleeding stopped and I felt better Could I go on?
I tried. It was all a nightmare - my wounds, the darkness, the road ahead. My movements were ever so slow; only my mind was running at top speed.
In time I came to an open space where the houses had been removed to make a fire lane. Through the dim light I could make out ahead of me the hazy outlines of the Communications Bureau's big concrete building, and beyond it the hospital. My spirits rose because I knew that now someone would find me; and if I should die, at least my body would be found. I paused to rest. Gradually things around me came into focus. There were the shadowy forms of people, some of whom looked like walking ghosts. Others moved as though in pain, like scarecrows, their arms held out from their bodies with forearms and hands dangling. These people puzzled me until I suddenly realized that they had been burned and were holding their arms out to prevent the painful friction of raw surfaces rubbing together. A naked woman carrying a naked baby came into view. I averted my gaze. Perhaps they had been in the bath. But then I saw a naked man, and it occurred to me that, like myself, some strange thing had deprived them of their clothes. An old woman lay near me with an expression of suffering on her face; but she made no sound. Indeed, one thing was common to everyone I saw - complete silence.
All who could were moving in the direction of the hospital. I joined in the dismal parade when my strength was somewhat recovered, and at last reached the gates of the Communications Bureau.