Nagasaki commemorates atomic bombing | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 09.08.2010
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Nagasaki commemorates atomic bombing

The Japanese port of Nagasaki has marked 65 years since it was flattened by a US atom bomb, that killed over 70,000 people. The debate on whether the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were at all justified rages on.

Representatives of 32 countries attended the ceremony in Nagasaki on 9 Aug. 2010

Representatives of 32 countries attended the ceremony in Nagasaki on 9 Aug. 2010

When "Little Boy" - the first atom bomb - was dropped on Hiroshima, the reactions among the scientists who had worked for years on perfecting the technology were mixed.

"A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent," recalled Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the Manhattan Project.

Although his colleagues later said that Oppenheimer was triumphant about his part in developing the technology, he is famous for the following quote from Hindu mythology: "Now I have become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Robert Oppenheimer was the wartime director of the Manhattan Project that developed the atom bomb

Robert Oppenheimer was the wartime director of the Manhattan Project that developed the atom bomb

Flash burns, falling debris and radiation sickness

Nobody had known exactly how devastating the impact would be and what the effect of the atom bomb on humans would be.

Tens of thousands were killed instantly. Flash or flame burns, falling debris, radiation sickness and other injuries and illness killed even more.

US President Harry Truman was aware of the death and destruction in Hiroshima as he made the decision to drop a second bomb - "Fat Man" - on Nagasaki. The plan was then to drop another in the third week of August and continue until Japan surrendered.

Truman was relentless, announcing "if they do not now accept our terms they can expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth."

The main term of the Potsdam Declaration issued on July 26, 1945 was that Japan should surrender unconditionally. However, sources indicate that the US was aware of how important it was for Japan to be able to surrender on one condition – that of retaining the emperor, who some historians argue made it clear was in favor of surrendering.

It remains unclear why the one condition that seemed of utmost importance to Japan was not included in the declaration especially as after Japan's capitulation, Emperor Hirohito was allowed to reign on until his death in 1989.

Survivors of the atomic bombings were called hibakushas

Survivors of the atomic bombings were called hibakushas

Sources indicate Japan was on verge of surrendering

What is clear is that the possibilities of ending the war without recourse to the atom bomb were not fully exhausted.

Sources show that Japan would probably have surrendered after the threatened Soviet invasion, which finally began on August 9, and certainly before the US invasion that was planned for the autumn.

Yet, not only was Hiroshima bombed but Nagasaki too. This is a fact that is greatly troubling to historians and many others, including the Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie, whose latest novel Burnt Shadows has a protagonist who survives the bombing but loses all of her loved ones.

"What was important to me," she told Deutsche Welle, "was not just that I start with the nuclear bomb but that I start with Nagasaki rather than Hiroshima, which was something that I'd been interested in since I was a student in America.

"I remember going to a lecture once and someone in the middle of a conversation said: 'Well, even those people who justify bombing Hiroshima, how do you justify Nagasaki three days later?' and it was something that really stuck with me: This idea of being able to obliterate a city in a second and to see the photographs of the damage that was done as we know Truman did and then three days later to say 'I'll do that again'. It seemed to me that more than anything else, that single moment when the bomb is dropped on Nagasaki is to me a kind of acknowledgement that in war there are no limits to what we'll do to destroy others in the pursuit of victory."

US President Truman took full responsibility for ordering the atomic bombs be used on Japan

US President Truman took full responsibility for ordering the atomic bombs be used on Japan

"One million American lives were saved"

The much bandied-about justification for dropping the atomic bombs was that they saved one American million lives. Even today, many Americans believe this myth.

However, today it is known that even the wildest of official calculations had estimated there would be a maximum of 46,000 American casualties if the US invaded Japan.

Leading historians, such as Gar Alperowitz, have argued that there is strong evidence to support another reason for dropping the bombs – the desire to frighten the Soviets and give the US the "upper hand in diplomatic relations".

Hibakushas campaign for nuclear disarmament

Takai Miashita is a hibakusha, "an explosion-affected person", who volunteers at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

"I was in class six when the atom bomb was dropped," he recalls. "My school was about 40 kilometers away from the epicenter. But I saw many victims and many of my relatives, who lived in the city, died. I will never forget this experience. That's why I work in this museum."

The US has never apologized for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today, it is still one of five nuclear powers allowed to have an arsenal by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

However, under President Barack Obama, who is a strong advocate of a world free of nuclear weapons, the US has revised its policy on the use of atomic weapons and renounced the development of any new ones.

This year for the first time, the US ambassador to Japan attended the ceremony in Hiroshima commemorating the bombing. Nonetheless, no representative from the US attended the commemorations in Nagasaki.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Disha Uppal

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