Hiroshima: The World's Bomb

Hiroshima: The World's Bomb

Hiroshima: The World's Bomb

Hiroshima: The World's Bomb

Synopsis

The US decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima remains one of the most controversial events of the twentieth century. But as this fascinating new history shows, the bomb dropped by an American pilot that hot August morning was in many ways the world's bomb, in both a technological and a moral sense. And it was the world that would have to face its consequences, strategically, diplomatically, and culturally, in the years ahead. In this fast-paced and insightful narrative, Andrew J. Rotter tells the international story behind the development of the atom bomb, ranging from the global crises that led to the Second World War to the largely unavailing attempts to control the spread of nuclear weapons and the evolution of the nuclear arms race after the war had ended. He details the growth in the 1930s and '40s of a world-wide community of scientists dedicated to developing a weapon that could undo the evil in Nazi Germany, and he describes the harnessing of their efforts by the US wartime government. Rotter also sheds light on the political and strategic decisions that led to the bombing itself, the impact of the bomb on Hiroshima and the endgame of the Pacific War, the effects of the bombing and the bomb on society and culture, and the state of all things nuclear in the early 21st-century world.

Excerpt

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August 1945, seems in many ways an event characterized by clarity and even simplicity. From a clear blue sky on a radiantly hot summer morning came a single American B-29 bomber (warily flanked by two observation planes), carrying a single bomb. The plane was called the Enola Gay, after its pilot’s mother; the bomb bore the innocent nickname ‘Little Boy’. There were no Japanese fighter planes to challenge the Enola Gay, no airbursts of flak in its way. Japanese civil defense, evidently having been fooled by a lone American reconnaissance plane over the city an hour before, now did not bother to sound the alert that would have sent people in Hiroshima to air-raid shelters. The target of the bomb was the Aioi Bridge, which spanned the Ōta River at the heart of the city. At 8.15 Hiroshima time the crew of the Enola Gay released the bomb. Forty-three seconds later, at an altitude of about 1,900 feet, Little Boy exploded.

One plane, one city, one morning in August, one atomic bomb: simple. The commander of the Enola Gay, a 29-year-old air-force colonel named Paul W. Tibbets, had practiced many times during the preceding weeks and months dropping mock equivalents of atomic bombs, filled with concrete and high explosives, on an isolated patch of the Utah desert and in the Pacific Ocean. The way his plane bounced upwards once the bomb had been dropped and then detonated was no surprise to him. That the bomb worked, creating an awesome cloud of fire and smoke and dirt and buffeting the Enola Gay with its shock wave, was testimony to the technological competence of an American-based team of scientists, who had solved many (though hardly all) of the scientific problems the Second World War had presented. And there seemed to the crew of the plane that bright morning a moral simplicity to what they had done. The criminality of the Japanese—all Japanese, without distinction—was to them unquestionable.

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