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COUNTDOWN TO HIROSHIMA: August 5, 1945 (X Minus 1 Day) | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

COUNTDOWN TO HIROSHIMA: August 5, 1945 (X Minus 1 Day)

Sixty-six years ago at the end of July and early August, US policymakers and President Truman made fateful decisions that meant the use of two atomic bombs against Japanese cities was almost inevitable—virtually unstoppable. Then film footage and other evidence of the true effects of the bomb were suppressed for decades. We’ve been living with the nuclear after-effects ever since, from Hiroshima to Fukushima.

Starting July 25, and related to publication of my new book and e-book Atomic Cover-up on that film’s suppression, I began offering a daily record of what transpired leading up the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. (For more, including video, see my personal blog. E-mail: epic1934@aol.com)

On this day in 1945:

—Pilot Paul Tibbets formally named the lead plane in the mission, #82, after his mother, Enola Gay. A B-29 that would take photos on the mission would later be named Necessary Evil.

—Pentagon summary based on “MAGIC” cables finds several intercepted messages from Sato, Japan’s ambassador to Moscow, who conveyed his despair and exasperation over what he saw as Tokyo’s inability to develop terms for ending the war: “[I]f the Government and the Military dilly-dally in bringing this resolution to fruition, then all Japan will be reduced to ashes.” The Soviets are two days from declaring war on Japan and marching across Manchuria. (See new evidence that it was the Soviet declaration of war, not the atomic bombing, that was the decisive factor in Japan's surrender.)

—On Tinian, Little Boy is ready to go, awaiting word on weather, with General Curtis LeMay to make the call. At 3:30 pm, in an air-conditioned bomb assembly hut, the five-ton bomb was loaded (gently) on to a trailer. Crew members scribbled words onto the bomb in crayon, including off-color greetings for the Japanese. Pulled by a tractor, accompanied by a convoy of jeeps and other vehicles, the new weapon arrived at the North Field and was lowered into the bomb pit.

—The bomb was still not armed. The man who would do, before takeoff, according to plan, was xxx Parsons. But he had other ideas, fearing that the extra-havy B-29 might crash on takeoff and taking with it “half the island.” He asked if he could arm the bomb in flight, and spent a few hours—on a hot and muggy August day—practicing before getting the okay.

—Pilot Tibbets tried to nap, without much success. Then, in the assembly hall just before midnight, he told the crew, that the new bomb was “very powerful” but he did not mention the words “nuclear,” “atomic’ or “radiation.” He called forward a Protestant chaplain who delivered a prayer he’d written for this occasion on the back of an envelope. It asked God to “to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies.”

—Hiroshima remained the primary target, with Kokura #2 and Nagasaki third. The aiming point was directly over the city, not the industrial quarter.

—Halfway around the world, on board the ship Augusta steaming home for the USA after the Potsdam meeting, President Truman relaxed. Truman’s order to use the bomb had simply stated that it could be used any time after August 1 so he had nothing to do but watch and wait. The order included the directive to use a second bomb, as well, without a built-in pause to gauge the results of the first and the Japanese response—even though the Japanese were expected, by Truman and others, to push surrender feelers, even without the bomb, with Russia’s entry into the war on August 7.

Greg Mitchell’s new book (also out as an e-book) is Atomic Cover-Up: Two US Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made. He also co-authored, with Robert Jay Lifton, Hiroshima in America. Email: epic1934@aol.com

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