Friday, August 6, 2010

When Everything Changed

Ordinarily, I suppose it is overly dramatic to assert that everything changed on a given day.

There have been few things in human history that were powerful enough to sweep away the old order the minute they came into existence.

But that certainly seems to have been the case on this day 65 years ago, when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on a densely populated city (Hiroshima, Japan), killing tens of thousands of people instantly and condemning tens of thousands more to die in the years ahead from radiation poisoning and burns.

On this day in 1945, an old friend of mine wrote on Facebook today, "there was a bright flash of light and 80,000 people, men, women and children, were suddenly, instantly incinerated. They were the lucky ones."

I suppose that is a matter of opinion, but it seems to be beyond dispute that what happened on this day 65 years ago changed the course of human events.


From that day forward, the world truly was a different place. As the years went by, the United States ceased to be the only nation that possessed nuclear weapons. Others joined the club — Russia, China, Britain, France — and the earth's inhabitants learned to live with the knowledge their country could be obliterated in a matter of minutes.

I hadn't been born when "Little Boy" was dropped on Hiroshima 65 years ago today. In fact, my parents were merely teenagers themselves — and they may or may not have realized the significance of what was happening.

In hindsight, that may be hard to understand. After all, nuclear weapons have dominated our lives for more than six decades — perhaps not as much now as they did before the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, although concerns have been expressed in recent years that terrorists may acquire and use "dirty" bombs.

However, in the context of that day in 1945, I wonder, did my parents realize how radically things would be altered? For that matter, while I'm sure it was clear to most adults that a new and powerful force had been unleashed, how many of them knew just how far–reaching its influence would be?

After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, a debate began over whether horrific casualties had been avoided, which was the main reason that President Truman gave for dropping the bombs in the first place.

And he said that it had been payment in kind for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor less than four years earlier — although he tended to emphasize the more humane objective of saving lives (by avoiding an invasion of Japan) over the desire for revenge.

But both seem to have played roles in the decision.
"Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war."

Harry Truman

No comments: