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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum



The Bomb: Did we have to drop it?

 Rebecca visits the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos, NM

A few years ago, I stepped out of a bustling train station and boarded a tram in the steady rain. When I reached my stop and the doors opened, I hiked my way through the crowded city until I reached a beautiful green park. I could have been in any city, anywhere in the world, until I spotted the "A-dome" and confirmed that something terribly significant had happened here. It was a crumbled skeleton of a building, looking out of place in the modern city around me. The building had been preserved in ruins as a harsh reminder of the horror that occurred August 6, 1945. The A-dome proved that I was standing on land once burned to a desert of desolation. Land once covered with black rain. Land where thousands of people were incinerated immediately while thousands more died painfully slowly. It was here that time stopped at 8:15 a.m. never to begin again for some 300,000 people. Beyond the A-dome lay the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

Not a bad view!  The Manhattan Project was kept secret in a remote town in New Mexic

At the museum, I encountered artifacts from August 6th, which pieced together the horror of the day's events. Intense heat had warped the iron doors like plastic and burned the shadows of humans into nearby stones. There were clothes and personal belongings of the victims, even melted-off skin and fingernails which a mother had saved as a memory of her dead son. I encountered photographs of unidentifiable human bodies; a pile of hair lost by a cancer victim and stacks of sewing needles fused together, unable to ever be broken apart again.

The museum at Hiroshima impressed upon me the need to find peaceful solutions to our global problems. So when The Odyssey assigned me to research the dropping of the atomic bomb, I was intrigued to look at the reasons we built it, the reasons we dropped it, and to find out, in the end, if it was really necessary that we used it at all?

 Little Boy was still bigger than Irene

Since the bomb was developed in the secret little town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, Irene and I drove there to learn more. We found excellent exhibits about the science behind the Manhattan Project which is the name given to the development of the atomic bomb. We read about uranium, learned how plutonium was created, the size and shape of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" (the names given to the bombs dropped on Japan) and discovered the testing procedures for the bomb in the deserts of New Mexico. We learned that scientists left the "real world" and headed out for the barely-habited mountains of Northern New Mexico where they lived and worked on this project of utmost importance to the U.S. Government. Amazingly, all this work went on without the American public knowing that Los Alamos even existed. Our trip was informative, but we did not see much about the effect of the bomb on humans, and the politics behind using this weapon capable of unmatched destruction.

So I turned to the history books to determine how the events unfolded which led to the destruction of two villages in Japan - Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 Manhattan Project Scientists met and ate at the Lodge in Los Alamos

There is no question that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan ended WWII in the Pacific. The Japanese surrendered on August 11, 1945 two days after we dropped our second atomic bomb. The bombs together and their radiation after-effects killed over 300,000 people. Many people argue that these bombs were essential to the war effort, ultimately saving thousands of American soldiers' lives.

How could a bomb actually save lives? Well, the United States had been in a tough war against Japan ever since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The next step would require the U.S. to send troops to Japan for a risky land invasion. The U.S. Military estimated that American casualties could have ranged from 500,000 to 1 million in a land invasion. So to some, the bomb meant a "shortening of the war and the saving of lives."

 Did we have to drop it?

Other people believe the war with Japan could have had a different ending. The Japanese elected a new government in April of 1945 whose mission was to "make peace." Japan looked to Russia to negotiate a compromise with the Allied powers, which the U.S. government certainly knew about. We had early on broken Japan's military code, and were regularly reading their top-secret messages.

On July 13, 1945, the U.S. intercepted a message from Japan to Russia insisting that "unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace...." However, as a condition of their surrender, the U.S. demanded that the Japanese get rid of their Emperor, an important holy figure in their country. The U.S. refused to compromise on this issue, and instead chose to drop two atomic bombs one month later to end the war.

The world's balance of power shifted as a result of the two world wars in the 20th century. The United States used the atomic bomb to demonstrate its dominance as a major superpower in world politics. At the time, Russia was the only other superpower, and the U.S. worried that communism would spread to other countries if Russia increased its power and influence. The use of the bomb would give the U.S. the upper hand over the Soviet Union by displaying their advanced technology and military power.

Rebecca learns a lesson from "Oppy"
 Rebecca learns a lesson from "Oppy"

Was it fair to use Japan as a "proving ground" for our frightening power of devastation? In 1948, Chief of Staff General Omar Bradley, implied that we had created and used the bomb without truly considering its consequences. He stated that we have "achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience..." He believed that our political leaders simply weren't ready to play with this sort of power. "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants," he continued. "We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living." Even Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project, reacted in horror to the mushroom cloud that billowed over the desert after the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in New Mexico. "I am become death, destroyer of worlds" he quoted from an ancient Hindu scripture. <<>> We were the first country ever to use a nuclear bomb during war. This has indeed helped cement our position as a global leader for the past 50 years. Some advocates of the bomb claim that its mere existence has created a more stable world peace, since no one wants to experience the disastrous effects that befell Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others see the creation of nuclear weapons as a challenge to other countries, such as Russia, France, England, Israel, India, and Pakistan to achieve nuclear technology themselves and stockpile an unimaginable amount of nuclear weapons. Ironically, the use of just one atomic weapon would create an international crisis of unfathomable proportions.


Weapons of war have always been an exercise in one-upmanship. Sticks and stones became spears and arrows. Spears and arrows were swapped for cannons and rifles. Cannons and rifles turned into machine guns and bombs. Then came the unbelievable power of a nuclear bomb. And still, we wanted more. From hydrogen bombs to biological warfare to heat seeking missiles, countries continue to search for and develop weapons with more and more horrendous killing power, even in times of peace. This vicious cycle will continue until enough people agree that they've finally had enough.

Why are ugly things always made in such beautiful places?

The Peace Museum in Hiroshima advocates an end to all nuclear weapons creation and testing. Those who survived the bomb remember the carnage too clearly to ever condone the use of these weapons again. A poster in one room of the museum made me stop, sit down, and get out a pen and paper to copy down the words. "We must learn the lessons of history," it said, "that we may learn to identify and avoid the paths that lead to war." If we don't, we'll undoubtedly destroy ourselves in the race to the top.



Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - The sweet solace of a farm in war time
Nick - When you must survive, you will find a way
Becky - Suit up! It's time for Zooting in Los Angeles
Irene - You are a U.S. citizen but we will still put you in a concentration camp
Daphne - Saving the world is a full time job
Nick - You work hard and still that isn't good enough
Stephen - What did the war mean to the fighters?
Team - Why wouldn't you help, if you could?