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70 years after the world’s first real taste of US “exceptionalism”

August 6 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Approximately 30% of the population -70,000 people – died immediately from the blast and resultant fire storm. At least 100,000 more would die in the years to come from radiation sickness and cancer. Having observed the horror they had unleashed, three days later they dropped another bomb, this time on the city of Nagasaki.

Seventy years on, and the United States – exceptional by its own estimation in so many ways – remains exceptional also for being the only country that has ever used a nuclear weapon against a large civilian population. That it feels less than proud of this distinction is evidenced by the number of myths it has wrapped around the event. For years we were told that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were essential for the saving of lives and the swift ending of the war, and this is still the “official” story told by such reliable organs of the state as the BBC.

The bomb was dropped to force a quick Japanese surrender. American commanders said it would save money and the lives of American servicemen and Japanese soldiers and civilians too. They said that to continue the war for weeks or months with conventional bombing and a US land invasion could have caused millions of Japanese deaths.

But beyond such anodyne and cosy reassurances, it seems this was never true. Even at the time many of the top military men – including Eisenhower himself – were of the opinion that Japan was already beaten and dropping “the bomb” was completely unnecessary.

The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. Dwight D. Eisenhower

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. Admiral William Leahy, Memoir

It’s a sign of how fragile the official interpretation is becoming that the same BBC is simultaneously running another article that describes that interpretation as “sanitised.” Apparently it’s hard even for propagandist news outlets to entirely overlook the true, cynical, even psychopathic, rationale that lay behind the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man, though they still do their best to elide and/or bury it.

To mark the seventieth anniversary of the biggest and most monstrous weapons test ever, here are a few voices from the time, reminding us of what it meant to be one of the people deemed expendable by the Exceptional Land of the Free.

Hiroshima 1945

Hiroshima 1945

I climbed Hikiyama Hill and looked down. I saw that Hiroshima had disappeared… I was shocked by the sight… What I felt then and still feel now I just can’t explain with words. Of course I saw many dreadful scenes after that—but that experience, looking down and finding nothing left of Hiroshima—was so shocking that I simply can’t express what I felt… Hiroshima didn’t exist—that was mainly what I saw—Hiroshima just didn’t exist. A college history professor


Nothing remained except a few buildings of reinforced concrete… For acres and acres the city was like a desert except for scattered piles of brick and roof tile. I had to revise my meaning of the word destruction or choose some other word to describe what I saw. Devastation may be a better word, but really, I know of no word or words to describe the view. Medical doctor Michihiko Hachiya

Hiroshima Marks the 69th Anniversary of Atomic Bomb

I reached a bridge and saw that the Hiroshima Castle had been completely leveled to the ground, and my heart shook like a great wave… the grief of stepping over the corpses of history pressed upon my heart. Writer Yoko Ota


The feeling I had was that everyone was dead. The whole city was destroyed… I thought this was the end of—of Japan—of humankind… This was God’s judgment on man A Protestant minister


Near the bridge there were a whole lot of dead people… Sometimes there were ones who came to us asking for a drink of water. They were bleeding from their faces and from their mouths and they had glass sticking in their bodies. And the bridge itself was burning furiously… The details and the scenes were just like Hell. A six-year old boy


My immediate thought was that this was like the hell I had always read about… I had never seen anything which resembled it before, but I thought that should there be a hell, this was it—the Buddhist hell, where we were thought that people who could not attain salvation always went… And I imagined that all of these people I was seeing were in the hell I had read about. a sociologist

I had the feeling that all the human beings on the face of the earth had been killed off, and only the five of us (his family) were left behind in an uncanny world of the dead. A boy in fifth grade

The appearance of people was… well, they all had skin blackened by burns… They had no hair because their hair was burned, and at a glance you couldn’t tell whether you were looking at them from in front or in back… Many of them died along the road—I can still picture them in my mind—like walking ghosts… They didn’t look like people of this world. a grocer

shadow of a human being vaporised in the blast

shadow of a human being vaporised in the blast

Bloated corpses were drifting in those seven formerly beautiful rivers; smashing cruelly into bits the childish pleasure of the little girl, the peculiar odor of burning human flesh rose everywhere in the Delta City, which had changed to a waste of scorched earth. a sixth-grade girl

Night came and I could hear many voices crying and groaning with pain and begging for water. Someone cried, ‘Damn it! War tortures so many people who are innocent!’ Another said, ‘I hurt! Give me water!’ This person was so burned that we couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. The sky was red with flames. It was burning as if scorching heaven. fourteen-year old boy

Not published in LIFE. Nagasaki, September, 1945.

Not published in LIFE. Nagasaki, September, 1945.

All the buildings I could see were on fire… Electricity poles were wrapped in flame like so many pieces of kindling…It seemed as if the earth itself emitted fire and smoke, flames that writhed up and erupted from underground. The sky was dark, the ground was scarlet, and in between hung clouds of yellowish smoke. Three kinds of color—black, yellow, and scarlet—loomed ominously over the people, who ran about like so many ants seeking to escape… It seemed like the end of the world. Tatsuichiro Akizuki


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