President Obama will be in Japan for the G7 conference later this month. While there, he plans to visit Hiroshima, whose claim to fame is being the first city destroyed by an atomic weapon. I have seen some discussions about expected Republican responses, suggesting there will be backlash about the visit.
The bomb we detonated over Hiroshima, code named “Little Boy,” contained less than a kilogram of enriched uranium and exploded with the energy of about 15 kilotons of TNT. This single detonation pretty much leveled the city of 350,000 and killed 80,000 people outright. By the end of the first year, that number was doubled by deaths from injuries and radiation sickness caused by the attack .
The biggest of the bombs later created by the US had the power of 25,000 kilotons of TNT, and the USSR detonated one with 50,000 kilotons (and developed the technology for one with twice that much). The most recent nuclear test was performed this year, in January, by North Korea. They are just starting their nuclear program, so their current plutonium-enriched technology yields only about 2/3 the power of “Little Boy” . Seattle is the closest American target. The threat of nuclear attack is still with us.
If you haven’t seen footage of nuclear explosions, I recommend watching The Atomic Cafe (1982) . It was hard for me to imagine before I saw actual detonations. The film also presents clips from government propaganda films, such as “Duck and Cover,” meant to train school children on what to do in case of nuclear attack, and to reassure the public there was nothing to fear from The Bomb.
I remember the air raid siren going off at school when I was a child, and all of us quickly dropping to the floor, curling up under our desks with out hands held protectively around our heads. We were instructed to face away from the windows in case they shattered into the classroom. By the end of the Sixties, these exercises were relabeled as “earthquake” drills.
It’s been seventy years since that summer morning, August 6, 1945, when the American B-29 Superfortress bomber, Enola Gay, left its base in the Mariana Islands and headed for Hiroshima, Japan. Most of the people who were alive when it happened are no longer with us. Controversial visits by American Presidents to places the United States has adversely affected present opportunities to remember the events, such as the obliteration of Hiroshima. We should also take the opportunity to have crucial discussions about the current state of the world with respect to the way we interact with the global community and the perceived notion that we actually need weapons of mass destruction.