World War II: Atom Bomb and Hiroshima Part 2

About the dropping of the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima in World War II, the first use of a nuclear weapon in war, a description of the aftermath.


WHEN: 1945

Within an hour or so, 100,000 Japanese had died outright. So did 22 American men and women, who were prisoners of war. A 23rd, a young soldier surviving the explosion, was dragged from the rubble of the detention camp and slaughtered by angry Japanese. The population still able to walk wandered about the smoking ruins in a bewildered daze, unable to find their loved ones, incapable of orienting themselves, as all landmarks had vanished. Amazingly, the survivors felt little pain. It was as if the greater terror of the unknown canceled the lesser horror of suffering. Most of the walking wounded were naked, their clothes having been burned or blown off, but among the sizzled bodies it was impossible to tell men from women. Those who had been wearing white were less scarred than others, since dark colors absorbed, rather than deflected, thermo-nuclear light. Friends did not recognize each other, because some had lost their faces. Others had "imprints" of their nose or ears outlined on their cheeks. Those who reached out to help the more severely disabled drew back their hands only to find they were holding gobbets of charred flesh. Wounds smoked when dipped in water.

In time, another 100,000 Japanese would slowly die from thermal burns and radiation sickness. This, one of the most horrifying side effects of atomic bombing, manifested and continues to manifest itself capriciously--sooner or later--among persons badly injured and whose keloid scars have healed, as well as among others who apparently had originally escaped unharmed. The symptoms, erratic and sudden as they may be, are unmistakable--loss of hair, sudden and immobilizing weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, fever on the coldest days, chills at the heights of summer, boils, blood spots under the skin, and a massive drop in white corpuscle blood count. Most terrible to the people of Hiroshima was the biological aftereffect: An extraordinary number of birth defects and genetic mutations were found in infants born to mothers who lived through the bombing. For the 1st time in history, as one correspondent wrote, not only had innocent people been killed, but the as-yet-unborn were maimed.

Although it was Americans who dropped it, the atom bomb was the product of many men past and present pooling knowledge from all over the world. From Roentgen's 1895 discovery of the negative electricity of X rays, the Curies' discovery of radium, and Einstein's 1905 discovery that matter and energy are one, to Rutherford's establishing in England how radioactivity works and the "look" of an atom, history steadily delivered piece after piece of the atomic bomb's jigsaw puzzle. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Japanese physicist Shimizu and his counterpart in the U.S.S.R., Kapitka, shared information with the Italian Fermi, who produced the 1st chain reaction in uranium; with the German Hahn, who uncovered nuclear fission; with the Danish Bohr, who produced "heavy water" as a booster to radioactivity and thereby speeded "the chain reaction in natural uranium under slow neutron bombardment"; and with the American Lawrence, who separated isotopes in thermal diffusion. Fascism in Europe drove many of the most distinguished atomic scientists in the world to America, and it was here that the know-how, means, method, and money all crystallized the reality. It began in October, 1938, when Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt about the possibility of creating a fission bomb of superlatively destructive power. "This requires action," Roosevelt said to an aide.

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