Two dates in August seventy-one years ago.
The sixth and the ninth of August 1945. Not many people alive today were also alive back then. Those old enough to remember are at least in their late 70s or in their 80s. The rest of us… we only knew the dates through newsreel footage, brittle newspaper or magazine headlines or books on World War II.
Two bombs dropped from B-29 bomb bays, two Japanese cities leveled.
Seven decades later, historians still debate the number of dead and wounded as a result of President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bombs. The best estimates: 150,000 killed and wounded in Hiroshima, 75,000 in Nagasaki. The experts say those numbers are overly conservative. But how can you really know… when the great fires raging in the cities consumed many bodies.
Back in the day we used to debate whether or not those two bombs should have been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve heard some say that detonating a bomb off the coast of Japan would have spurred them to surrender. Leaflets dropped all over Japan would have read: “See what we can do to your cities.”
Yet I’ve read the historical accounts. How the fight-to-bitter-end faction of generals tried a coup d’état to prevent the emperor from accepting the terms of surrender. Those diehard military men from the Ministry of War and the Imperial Guard were willng to accept a rain of atomic bombs rather than undergo the humiliation of surrender. And I know the U.S. was preparing to invade the Japanese mainland, an offensive that could cost as many as 750,000 American casualties and three times as many Japanese.
So I do understand Truman’s decision to drop the bombs. And no doubt Truman meant the bombing missions as a warning to future adversaries. We did it twice… we could do it again if attacked. A brutal mission delivered by American leaders hardened by four years of brutal war against Imperial Japan, Mussolini, and the Nazis.
Back in the early 1980s I read a science fiction book that offers up an alternate world where the United States actually invaded mainland Japan. Written by Alfred Coppel, the novel’s titled The Burning Mountain: A Novel of the Invasion of Japan. Coppel presumes a what-if. Suppose the Trinity atomic bomb test in New Mexico had failed and Truman had to order the invasion to proceed. It was a riveting book, and brought home just how devastating an invasion of the Japanese homeland would have been. Yes, we would have prevailed, but at great cost.
Baby-boomers like me can remember the nuclear attack alerts that took place in school. Sometimes we took cover under our desks. Other times we were allowed to rush home. Things got scary in the fall of 1962 – the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was nine years old, a few weeks from turning 10. Mom and dad went out and got war supplies – nonperishable canned goods, etc. – in case the Russians attacked us. It was weird seeing the stacks of canned goods lined up against the hallway walls in our Rialto, California, home.
Thankfully, those days are passed. While the world is still a dangerous place with Putin rattling his saber and terrorists hatching plots, it’s not like the 1950s and 1960s when our bombers flew constantly in the air and our missile silos were on 24-hour alert.
We and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons. Other countries are nuclear powers as well – United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, Israel and possibly North Korea. Online sources say 16,300 nuclear weapons in all. It remains a very dangerous world, just remember that. A miscalculation like what happened to start World War I, and mushroom clouds can bloom all over the world. Remember Carl Sagan and his Nuclear Winter scenario? Not a world I want to live in, if by chance I’m not turned to ash.
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Get out of your reading rut. It’s time to try something new. My suggestion? Fantasy. Three fantastic novels — The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. I’m the author. They’re available at the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.