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For a long time, history books told us one thing about the destruction affecting over 2 million people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That it was the decisive event that made Japan surrender and end the war. Now we know this and other ‘facts’ about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may not be accurate.
Surprised? Curious? It’s time to reveal myths about the atomic bomb and misconceptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki that we may have been harboring for decades. It’s time to get history and the facts straight.
10. The bomb ended the war.
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History books have taught us that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made Japan surrender on August 15, 1945. But this may be one of the many myths about the atomic bomb. Scholars studying Japanese government documents of the time have found it may have been the Soviet Union’s doing.
Japan had a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and had been hoping Stalin would help them negotiate the end of the war. When Stalin attacked Japan instead on August 8, it may have been the act that made Japan surrender.
9. Radiation exposure increased rate of cancer in survivors and genetic defects in kids
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Nuclear radiation is harmful, and exposure to it in the long-term can increase the risk of cancer and genetic defects. But modern scientists, who have been studying the 200,000 survivors and their kids have found that the effects of the radiation in survivors may not have been as terrible as we thought.
Most of the injuries from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were due to heat and the blast itself. The bombs didn’t contain a lot of radiation then, as compared to nuclear weapons today. Those that were in its direct path did sustain radiation poisoning. But injuries caused by radiation in survivors were a lot less than history books suggest. Most survivors did not develop cancer, and we haven’t yet found any defects or health problems in the children. Scientists say that these misconceptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have arisen because we didn’t understand radiation then. Today, we use it in our CT scans and X-rays.
8. The bomb saved half a million Americans
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There is a myth that the bombings were necessary to save half a million Americans who could be killed in an invasion of Japan. This number seems to be one of the exaggerated misconceptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US Joint War Plans Committee data from June 1945 say that attacking Japan would kill 193,000 Americans, and not half a million. Maybe President Truman was thinking of all the Americans who would be angry if their soldiers died when the bomb was ready.
7. Hiroshima was a military target
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President Truman notes in his diary that Hiroshima was a military target, unlike Kyoto, which was a cultural center and in his words, had ‘women and children’ that he didn’t want to destroy. But Hiroshima didn’t even have a large enough military base at the time. And Truman seems to have been under the impression that there were no women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The original misconception in this case, was his.
6. The only options were to either bomb or invade Japan
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One of the common myth about the atomic bomb and the misconceptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that the bomb was the only option. The alternative was to invade.
We don’t talk about two other options that existed. One was to test the atomic bomb on a deserted island, before viewers in Japan and other enemy countries. But there were only two bombs, so they didn’t want to risk a dud demo.
The second option was to let Japan surrender conditionally, and agree to not treat the Japanese emperor as a war criminal. It’s not clear why this option was ignored before the bomb.
5. The Japanese received a warning before the bombings
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President Truman addressed Japan via radio, warning about a ‘rain of ruin’ from the air. One of the myths about the atomic bomb is that the Japanese were warned.
But the warning was vague, unspecific about which cities would be attacked and the locals were already used to air bombings to pay special heed to the radio address. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were complete surprises.
4. The bomb was meant to gain a diplomatic advantage over Russia
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Some historians say the bomb was used to prevent Russia from scoring a point when it entered the war as an intermediary. But the choice was a military one. The bombs were ready, so the US chose its target. The Russians could not be scared by the bombs into giving in to US diplomacy demands later.
3. The atomic bomb was an act of racism against Japan
Image Source: Atomic Archive
The H-bomb was originally made for Germany, not Japan. But the premature collapse of the Third Reich left it free for use in Japan. There was no racism involved.
2. Kyoto was spared because it was a cultural center
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Henry Stimson, Secretary of War, went to a lot of trouble to convince President Truman that Kyoto should not be bombed because it is a cultural center. There may be truth in that, but he also had personal connections to Kyoto. It’s where he and his wife went on their honeymoon.
1. Nuclear weapons keep us safe
Image Source: Fukushima Watch
It may be that the misconceptions about Hiroshima and Nagasaki are what has led to confused ideas about nuclear weapons. The H-bomb has been used to suggest that nuclear weapons can keep us safe. But a disaster like Fukushima tells us that even in a tightly regulated country like modern Japan, such tragedies can occur.
We hope this post has given you some insight about what really happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how history can change. New information from archival documents that entered into the public domain can shed light on more such incidents from the past. Liked this article? Please share!