At about 8:15 a.m., on Aug. 6, 1945, 50 years ago, the world changed. It entered a new era as the Enola Gay released a uranium weapon nicknamed “Little Boy” over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, that country’s second largest. Less than a minute after Col. Paul Tibbets banked his specially prepared B-29 away from the city after the bomb dropped from its belly, more than 70,000 of the city’s 350,000 people would be dead. Another 70,000 would be injured and the era of the atom was born.
It is important to note some of the events that brought the country to use the atomic bomb for the first and only time in warfare. The Potsdam Declaration in July demanded Japan’s surrender and threatened an attack on the Japanese homeland and destruction of its military if it did not comply. Japan rejected the declaration. The Allies determined that an invasion force might suffer as many as 800,000 killed and another 600,000 wounded. There were more than 2 million Japanese Army troops ready to defend the island.
Even with the carnage the bomb wrought, the Japanese were undeterred -- and they miscalculated. They figured the stockpile of atomic weapons were few and their nation could withstand the onslaught. What the Japanese didn’t know is that the U.S. had several more atomic bombs in the pipeline with targets identified. Again, Japan was given the option to surrender and they refused even as the Soviet Union declared war and invaded Manchuria.
Three days after Hiroshima, Maj. John Sweeney, piloting a B-29 named “Bockscar” headed for the primary target of Kokura, but weather conditions made them defer to the secondary target of Nagasaki. This time a plutonium bomb fell from the plane. When it exploded at roughly 1,650 feet above the city, it unleashed temperatures estimated at 3,900 degrees centigrade, producing 624 mph winds. While estimates vary, as many as 80,000 people may have perished.
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Much to the dismay of many of his military commanders who wanted to fight on, Emperor Hirohito finally decided to surrender. When notice of the surrender was broadcast to his people, it was the first time they had ever heard his voice.
On Sept. 2, aboard the Battleship USS Missouri, Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay. The War in the Pacific had ended, but a new, more troubling era had begun.