This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
I can’t help myself. I still think it’s worth bringing up, even for the 64th time. I’m talking, of course, about the atomic obliteration, at the end of a terrible, world-rending war, of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, 1945, whose anniversaries– if that’s even the appropriate word for it–are once again upon us.
In this, at least, I know I’m not a typical American: Hiroshima and Nagasaki still seem all too real to me. As the child of anti-nuclear activists, I was raised to pay attention to two significant dates in American history–the day when the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress bomber named after the pilot’s mother, dropped Little Boy, a five-ton uranium explosion bomb, on Hiroshima; and the moment, three days later, when another plane, jokingly named Bock’s Car (after the plane’s original pilot), dropped Fat Man (a moniker supposedly given it in honor of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill), a more complex plutonium implosion bomb, on Nagasaki.
When I was little, in preparation for those dates–and in this we were truly a minority of a minority in this country–we showed films documenting the aftermath of the atomic bombings. To this day, I can remember threading our old 16mm projector and then watching the shocking, shaky, grainy, black-and-white footage of ruined cities and ruined bodies filling the living room wall as one of those somber male over-voices narrated the facts.
So now, as the 64th anniversary of so many deaths approaches and thinking the unthinkable remains incomprehensibly in vogue, it seems worth the bother to recall one more time just what it means for the unthinkable to become reality.
The Death Count
In Hiroshima, Little Boy’s huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured. As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: “In one terrible moment, 60% of Hiroshima… was destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter.”
Three days later, Fat Man exploded 1,840 feet above Nagasaki, with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. According to “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered,” a web resource on the bombings developed for young people and educators, 286,000 people lived in Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped; 74,000 of them were killed instantly and another 75,000 were seriously injured.