The Blaze in the Icy Waters: The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb
Andrew J. Rotter’s modern book, Hiroshima, the World’s Bomb, is a compilation of the various points of views of each country involved in the dropping of the atomic bomb. The history of bombs dates back several decades before the dreadful day that the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima on August 9th, 1945. Rotter describes in depth the reasoning behind why the bomb was created and specifically why the decision to drop the bomb was made. The destruction and agony that occurred on that day was not only contained to that day, year, or even decade - “More than sixty years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people still have nuclear nightmares.”1
The beginnings of the methodology and reasoning behind the first atomic bomb begin several years before the outbreak of the First World War. Chemicals first appeared in gas canisters thrown across the battlefield towards the enemy trenches. The gases, containing destructive chemicals such as phosgene and chloropicrin, thrived in the close quarters of trenches and often destroyed entire regiments of the army. The horrors of the introduction of poisonous gas that destroyed human bodily functions became reality in the 1917 when mustard gas was fired at the battlefield in Ypres. Otto Hahn, a German chemist, said that “[the Germans] tried to use [their] own respirators to help some of them, to ease their breathing, but they were past saving.”2 If soldiers encountered poisonous gas, there was a very high chance that fatality was inevitable. Casualties from gas inhalation were too numerous to count, and historians predict that the amount of casualties were unprecedented in military history. The ethics of hazardous gas were debated in the years before, during, and after WWI. If gas enters the body through the respiratory system, it will gradually choke and strangle the human. Gas was unrivaled in the history of weapons because there was no weapon that would cause a slow and painful death while the person afflicted was conscious of what was happening to his body. Scientists and historians alike debate that gas should not have been used in warfare because unlike other weapons, it does not create a quick and painless death. The gases “inflame respiratory tissue, causing in it lesions and drawing fluid from elsewhere in the bloodstream… the victims die from asphyxiation, drowning in the plasma of their own blood.”3 After the poisonous gases were showcased at Ypres in 1917, other countries were interested in the complex methodology of the creation of the gas. However, the Soviet Union was not confident in the power of the science, and as a result lacked the progress on chemical weaponry that other global powers had achieved. The Germans, similarly, exiled several ingenious scientists that happened to be of Jewish descent. These scientists wished to go to a place that would be suitable for the continuation of their studies: Great Britain. England started to import several hundreds of people and hired them to be their top researchers at the top universities, such as Cambridge and Oxford. Scientists also travelled to the United States, where science was promoted to the same extent as in England. Progress in science exploded during the eras of WWI and WWII mainly because the need for new and innovational chemical and biological weapons was so strong. During the Second World War, Great Britain was struck by German air raids that dropped the British morale. The attacks on defenseless civilian-filled cities were condemned by the British government, but were justified by the German government since “there was no choice but to attack the enemy’s cities, since technology did not permit of any defense against bombers.”4 However, the discovery of nuclear fission changed the world of bombs completely. Without nuclear fission, bombs would be present in the world today. However, bombs would be used more in depth by both the Japanese and the Germans. The Germans had discovered uranium at a place known as Joachimsthal in Northern Austria-Hungary, but the power of uranium had not been properly extracted to its full extent. Scientists, however, knew about the true power of uranium since a few years after its discovery. After the German advances in 1939, scientists started to extract uranium and other radioactive material from these mines and brought them to safe zones in the U.S. and Great Britain. Scientists knew that the materials’ true potential could be in the wrong hands and exploited in bombs with tremendous power. On the other hand, Japan’s nuclear projects lacked the depth that other global powers had. One reason for this was the lack of enthusiasm in the nuclear world. People were not motivated enough to create a bomb that would destroy half of the world. Another reason was the lack of certainty that a bomb would even be created. Nevertheless, a Japanese nuclear program was started by General Takeo Yasuda. Although they met every week, and ultimately created a “hexafluoride crystal the size of a grain of rice… [They] lacked the space, the money, the isotope separators, and even the electricity needed to create the fissionable uranium necessary for a bomb.”5 The German nuclear projects were slightly more successful, as there were enough resources captured to create a large-scale bomb. However, with the exile of some of the world’s most important and knowledgeable scientists, progress was slow. Werner Heisenberg, one of the world’s most renowned scientists, was one of the few scientists that stayed in Nazi Germany during World War II. Numerous American and British attempts to infiltrate the German lines and spy on the German nuclear projects were unsuccessful. Later in the war, progress would begin to slow down on the German side and quicken on the American side.
The United States was one of the premier nuclear researchers in the world during World War II. The MAUD (Military Application of Uranium Detonation) Committee, held during the summer of 1940, encouraged nuclear research in both the United States and in Great Britain. After that meeting, American scientists started to increase research on nuclear weaponry immensely. Progress paused from 1939 to 1941 because there was no incentive to move on ahead with the nuclear project. However, the United States, under the direction of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and later President Harry Truman, would eventually imagine, create, and drop a bomb. The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 involved bombs and other chemical weapons, and as a result, the Americans realized the true potential of these lethal weapons. Progress on creating an immense bomb would begin in 1941 and the United States finally had a reason to start a nuclear project. Americans wanted to create a bomb in as little time as possible since they thought “that German scientists were ahead of them, or at least even with them, in the race for the bomb.”6 The bomb was rushed in order to end the war as fast as the Americans could while allowing as little bomb attacks from the Japanese as possible. In 1942, the Americans found radioactivity within piles of uranium and generated atomic power from them. Robert Oppenheimer was one of the leaders of nuclear research in America. He started to research how to separate the atom’s nucleus and eventually was involved in the Manhattan Project, a project to create an immense world bomb. The bomb was eventually used in warfare in August of 1945, in Japan. While the members of the project feared that the Germans were ahead in progress on creating one of the world’s largest bombs, it was evident now that they were behind. A plane, the Enola Gay, dropped the first of two bombs, dubbed Little Boy, on Hiroshima. The pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, surged upward after the bomb was dropped, and was immediately hit by the shockwaves that rebounded off the floor. Below him lay absolutely nothing. An area of 2 square miles was completely void of any organic organism. The Americans had made a considerable impression on the Japanese that would eventually lead to talks of an unconditional surrender.
The Japanese had other influences that would convince them to end the war. The Soviets to the North had previously been fighting mainly in Europe against the Germans. Almost all of their attention was directed away from the border with Japan. However, with the German surrender in the 1st half of 1945, the Russians began to show signs of entering the war against the Japanese. They had “abandon[ed] the Neutrality Pact.”7 Emperor Hirohito had previously believed that the Japanese morale was still holding up and that everything were fine. However, starting with the Battle of Midway, the tide of the war was turning against the Japanese. American victory after victory was reported, and war seemed to be coming closer to the Japanese mainland. A plan, called “Downfall,” was created in May of 1945. It described how an American force would invade mainland Japan and fight the hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops stationed there. However, doubts in the plan begin to appear, mainly in the form of fear that the Japanese would gladly fight to the death instead of surrendering to the American troops. As a result, hundreds of thousands of American troops would die in their efforts. Dubbed “Mission 13,” the plan to drop an atomic bomb was preferred to Operation Downfall. Immediately after the dropping of the atomic bomb, Truman received news of the success. In addition, the Japanese realized that a bomb had demolished Hiroshima when television channels began to shut down and telephone lines were cut. Patients overflowed the Hiroshima and the cities around it, looking for hospitals. Makeshift wards were created to accommodate the patients. There was no standard account from the survivors of the bomb that dropped that day.
The Soviet Union was the one of the countries that had a considerable influence on Japan’s unconditional surrender. Progress on the creation of an atomic bomb had begun, but was initially very slow. America realized that “a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union… would leave the Red Army, intact and angry in Europe.”8 As a result, they came to the conclusion that a bomb dropped on the Soviet Union would not occur. Stalin had been spying on the Americans for several years and knew about the atomic bombs being created at the time of the Potsdam and Yalta Conferences. The American bombs were a symbol of America’s power and dominance in world affairs. It was only after the reign of Stalin that Nikita Khrushchev realized that nuclear weaponry was very important in the steps for a country to become a world power.
Rotter’s reason for writing this novel was to portray his opinion that the close examination of the people that are affected by any weapon, whether biological or chemical, is necessary. He believes that the United States, or any other country in the future, should take into consideration which country the bomb would be dropped on. The bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima was dropped by pilots that were fortunately on the good side, but if in the wrong hands, could be exploited in negative ways. He relates this bomb to the bombs used today by terrorists. The chemical methodology that had required several years to completely figure out in the 1930s and 1940s is now used commonly to create bombs, whether in cars or dropped by airplanes. Many groups used large-scale bombs, such as the “Iraqi government against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 [and] the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo in the Tokyo subway in 1995.”9 Rotter also explains that even though a large destructive bomb had exploded on Hiroshima more than sixty years ago, today it is a site that promotes peace.
Andrew J. Rotter has written several books not only on World War I and World War II, but also the Vietnam War. It is quite apparent that he is considerate toward the people affected by the world’s weapons and that he cares about the people that are endangered in the future by these weapons and possibly those that are slightly more complex. He explains that anyone “who is victimized by weapons ought to be our main concern.”10 His other books regarding the Vietnam War also talk about how the Vietnamese people, while innocent, were targeted and killed by strafe bombing by the American pilots in the Vietnam jungle. It is evident that he favors the side affected by the bombing, not the people that committed the horrible atrocities.
Rotter’s choice to write this book in the modern era reflects the humongous amount of information readily accessible in countless places around the world. More than a half century after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the question of whether they were justified has not been answered. Many authors today wonder what the true reason is, but there is no concrete answer. Rotter strives to find the true answer through reasoning and looking through the past from the perspective of each of the major world powers at that time. By methodically going through the past in this way, Rotter hopes to come to the conclusion about this very controversial issue while leaving as much uncertainty out as possible. In a world filled with bombs in the wrong hands and destruction at a moment’s notice, “the questions linger.”11
Reviews of this book have been scarce, although some recent reviews have shone light on the issues presented in this book. A well-known book critic, Jason Krupar, talks about this book and how it relates today’s world. He discusses how the bomb was “never solely an American or even Anglo-American creation.”12 As a result, he describes how Rotter says how the bomb was the result of all the atomic projects of the world powers. Krupar also describes how the book’s central core is the discussion of the dropping of the atomic bomb starting from a period that most historians do not even consider. Rotter takes a lot of consideration in attempting to achieve a feasible explanation to this issue.
Andrew J. Rotter’s book talks about issues as if the reader were at the place as the event occurred. His description of the various influences on the dropping of the atomic bomb is very detailed and allows the reader to visualize exactly who was there and what it would have been like. The careful methods used by Rotter ensure the validity of his statements and allows his statement to be believable by many who read the book. By bridging the two time periods (the 1st and 2nd half of the 20th century), Rotter creates the question of “whether the world is safer from nuclear holocaust than it was in the bewildering days following that clear August morning in 1945.”13
Rotter’s book truly explains why the 1940s were a watershed in America’s history. By describing in detail why the bomb was dropped and how it was created in the first place, Rotter explains that the bomb changed the world forever. The technology created during this time period was unprecedented in that time period. Without the advances made, the world today would not be in the same place scientifically. In the 19th century, many of these chemicals had yet to be discovered and consequently exploited. Now, many of the world powers after this dreadful event respect each other and their powers. Not many wish to relieve the moments of WWII again. By fearing the destruction that would unfold if provocation occurs, the global powers live in relative peace in comparison to the times of the 1940s. The million of lives lost during the two world wars ultimately lead to the peace of today. While being the site of possibly the most destruction the world has ever seen, Hiroshima is now “the world’s city.”14
There is no doubt that the world has gone past the destruction that unfolded in the earlier part of the 20th century. The world has changed leaps and bounds since the introduction of FDR to the presidency to the exit of Truman on January 20th, 1953. The world has changed for the better of mankind, and will continue to change for the foreseeable future. The “horrible and predictable death of innocent people”15 has now been replaced with peace and cooperation between the global powers.
1. Rotter, Andrew. Hiroshima, The World’s Bomb. New York City, New York. Oxford University Press, 2008. 304.
2. Rotter, Andrew. 15.
3. Rotter, Andrew. 19.
4. Rotter, Andrew. 52..
5. Rotter, Andrew. 68.
6. Rotter, Andrew. 97.
7. Rotter, Andrew. 182.
8. Rotter, Andrew. 252.
9. Rotter, Andrew. 306.
10. Rotter, Andrew. 307.
11. Rotter, Andrew. 307.
12. Jason Krupar. "Hiroshima: The World’s Bomb (review)." Technology and Culture 50.3 (2009): 720-21. Print. 720.
13. Rotter, Andrew. 6.
14. Rotter, Andrew. 309.