Wednesday, August 5, 2015

World War Wednesdays: Hiroshima Remembered, 70 Years On

     As this year of major First and Second World War anniversaries marches on, we find ourselves in solemn observance of the seventy years since the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima tomorrow, 6 August. In the time since this day quite literally shattered human history as we knew it, countless historians have weighed in on the numerous political, racial, ethical, and military issues it simultaneously presented. Having explored a few of these myself, I have decided that the post for this week will focus on real accounts and experiences rather than a discussion on the endless theories and arguments out of respect for those who still remember that day with horror. 

Part One: Background

     As the Second World War entered its sixth year, it saw the official surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May following a lengthy and dramatic political and military downfall. This meant that the Allies' attention could be entirely focused on the theater of war which still raged on: the war in the Pacific against Japan. As a dangerous invasion of the Japanese mainland was being discussed, a massive firebombing campaign was directed against the people of Japan with no change in their refusal to surrender.  Together with the United Kingdom and China, the United States called for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces in the Potsdam Declaration on 26 July, 1945; this was buttressed with the threat of "prompt and utter destruction". By August, the $2 billion Manhattan Project had yielded the successful detonation of an atomic device in the New Mexico desert. On 6 August, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped a uranium gun-type atomic bomb code-named "Little Boy" over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. 2,000 feet above the city, in a blast equal to 12-15,000 tons of TNT, five square miles were completely destroyed. Around half of deaths occurred on the first day, but within the first two to four months the acute effects of the bomb killed 90,000-166,000 people. In the months that followed, large numbers of civilians continued to die from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, other injuries, illness, and malnutrition. 
The Enola Gay and her crew
A man sitting on a step was instantly vaporized by the blast

A child jumping was also vaporized
     Part Two: Resilience

     I recently came across a pretty unbelievable story related to the bombing of Hiroshima that I thought would be interesting to include, courtesy of

     On August 6, 1945, at a quarter-past 8 a.m., bonsai master Masaru Yamaki was inside his home when glass fragments hurtled past him, cutting his skin, after a strong force blew out the windows of the house. The U.S. B-29 bomber called the “Enola Gay” had just dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, at a site just two miles from the Yamaki home. But besides some minor glass-related injuries, Yamaki and his family survived the blast, as did their prized bonsai trees, which were protected by a tall wall surrounding the outdoor nursery. 

     For 25 years, one of those trees sat near the entrance of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum in Washington D.C., its impressive life story largely unknown. When Yamaki donated the now 390-year-old white pine bonsai tree to be part of a 53 bonsais gifted by the Nippon Bonsai Association to the United States for its bicentennial celebration in 1976, all that was really known was the tree’s donor. Its secret would remain hidden until 2001, when two of Yamaki’s grandsons made an unannounced visit to the Arboretum in search of the tree they had heard about their entire lives. Through a Japanese translator, the grandsons told the story of their grandfather and the tree’s miraculous survival. 
     “After going through what the family had gone through, to even donate one was pretty special and to donate this one was even more special,” says Jack Sustic, curator of the Bonsai and Penjing museum. Yamaki’s donation of this tree, which had been in his family for at least six generations, is a symbol of the amicable relationship that emerged between the countries in the years following World War II.
     In all, this day should be observed with consideration for the legacy of immense loss and destruction caused by the events of 6 August, 1945. However, the story of the bonsai is a reminder of both the strength and resilience of the Japanese people and the changes made in regard to international relations since that day. Regardless of how you feel about the bombing of Hiroshima, it was a human experience and part of history that provides so much for us to learn from. 

Thanks for reading,

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