Any visit to Hiroshima is traumatic, but my visit to Hiroshima this week was traumatic for a most unexpected reason. I knew the scenes of melting flesh, charred bodies and children on fire would strike the deepest chords within me, just as the visit to Auschwitz had some years before. But what I wasn’t prepared for were the display of officials letters by Senior Commanders in the American military which exposed the truly darkest side of humankind.
The most incriminating letter was written by the Acting Chief of Staff of the US armed forces to the Commander of the US Air Force the year prior to the A-bombs being dropped. What is crystal clear is that the US military intended for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to have precisely the effect they did - the more monumental the carnage the better.
As outlined in the infamous letter of 1944 written by US Acting Chief of Staff General Thomas Handy, the four cities of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata were selected as targets as they would ensure the most devastating damage possible. “Hiroshima is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage.” Hiroshima was therefore classified an AA target.
The letter identifies a second AA target – Kyoto, notably due to the fact it had a population of 1 million and was an intellectual centre, hence “the people there are more apt to appreciate the significance of such a weapon as the gadget.” It was clear as day – the greater the incineration the better, the more dead civilians the better, the more dramatic the impact the better. Kyoto and Niigata only escaped incineration as it was cloudy that day.
The second thing the letter made clear was that the US interest was in testing its newly developed atomic weaponry, to determine the precise effects of using such a bomb on the civilian population and the extent of damage which could be caused. The beginning of the letter stipulates that “additional aircraft will accompany the plane carrying the bomb, so that military and civilian scientific personnel from the War Department can observe and record the effects of the explosion.”
It was the most diabolical form of military experimentation, and clearly the victims must have been regarded as sub-human as the scorched earth policy and the excruciating death that would be suffered by over 140 000 people was of no concern to the military’s top brass. But the US executive was equally culpable, as it was US President Harry Truman who on July 25, 1945 ordered the atomic bombing of Japan. The following day the US, UK and China issued the Potsdam declaration demanding Japan’s unconditional surrender.
The Potsdam declaration contained no provision guaranteeing the continuance of the emperor system, which was known to be an important condition of surrender. Neither did it hint at the existence of an atomic bomb, nor any intent to use such a weapon on Japan. Japan did not accept the declaration, giving the allies the excuse they needed to justify the incineration of Japanese cities and implementation of their military experimentation.
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the culmination of a three year experiment known as the Manhattan project, that began in 1942 and had cost US$2 billion. The development of the atomic bomb was an immense military engineering enterprise that mobilised military, scientific, and industrial personnel nationwide. Once completed, it needed to be tested as the ultimate weapon of war.
It seems the human element of the indescribable suffering of the tens of thousands of local residents was not adequately captured at the time. The world saw the ominous mushroom cloud in the wake of the bombing, and later the images of naked burnt children screaming in the streets, but reports emerging out of Hiroshima following the war were limited. That was due to the occupation of American forces which censored news and analysis about the after- effects of the bomb for at least ten years.
Few of us will have the opportunity to engage with the survivors of that fateful day in Hiroshima, or listen to their warnings to our current leaders who seem hell bent on developing nuclear weapons with forty times the capacity of the bombs dropped in August 1945. I was fortunate to spend a few hours with 80 year old Keiko Ogura in Hiroshima this week. On August 6th 1945 she was an eight year old child, living 2kms from the site of direct impact of the Atomic bomb, now known as the hypo-centre.
This is Keiko Ogura’s Story.
At 8:15am Ogura was at home with her parents and older brother, when the A-bomb was dropped. She remembers seeing a blinding light and then darkness followed by blood curdling screams outside the house which sent the family running outside. Ogura and her family were among the fortunate ones who lived just beyond the core circle of impact which incinerated everything in its wake. As the minutes unfolded, a mass of humanity came streaming into their neighbourhood in the direction of the nearby Shinto shrine which had served as a first aid station throughout the war.
What Ogura witnessed was a sight no child should ever be exposed to. Naked people with their clothes burnt off, screaming in agony from the burns, their skin hanging off their bodies and crying out for one thing – water. All she remembers hearing was the anguished screams for water, water, water. One will never fully comprehend the trauma such a scene would exact on a child - a child who was totally overwhelmed by a horror scene that has only been accurately depicted in the horror drawings of survivors. The only colours that could be scene that day were black, orange and brown - the colours of hell. For years Ogura had recurring nightmares of those first hours and days of extreme human suffering. As a survivor, Ogura's wish today is for Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un to have the courage and fortitude to listen to her story, and visit Hiroshima.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor