“I told him there was one city that they must not bomb without my permission and that was Kyoto.”
– Henry L. Stimson
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were on my list because of the a-bombs being dropped. I am a bit of a history buff, and visiting these places, actually standing where monumental historical events took place is very special to me.
The highlight of my visit to Hiroshima was the hypocenter (where the bomb detonated) and the museum. I already knew a lot about the bombings, but “re-learned” some things I had forgotten and learned somethings new. Most poignant was the feeling of standing there though. When I saw the blasted building from the pictures in the books it was pretty powerful. I found my way to Aioi bridge, the landmark used as a target by the pilots because of it’s distinctive T-shape, and from there the Genbaku Dome is visible next to the river.
It was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, and now commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome. It is part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1996). The ruin serves as a memorial to the people who were killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (over 70,000 people were killed instantly, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the radiation).
The choices of targets remains a chilling read today, and a stark reminder of how horrible and sometimes arbitrary warfare can be. (Referencing Stimson’s saving of Kyoto, for example).
The Target Committee nominated five targets:
- Kokura, the site of one of Japan’s largest munitions plants;
- Hiroshima, embarkation port and industrial center, the site of a major military headquarters;
- Yokohama, an urban center for aircraft manufacture, machine tools, docks, electrical equipment and oil refineries;
- Niigata, a port with industrial facilities including steel and aluminum plants and an oil refinery;
- Kyoto, a major industrial center.
The target selection was subject to the following criteria:
- The target was larger than 4.8 km in diameter and was an important target in a large city
- The blast would create effective damage.
- The target was unlikely to be attacked by August 1945
These cities were largely untouched during the nightly bombing raids and the Army Air Forces agreed to leave them off the target list so accurate assessment of the damage caused by the atomic bombs could be made. Hiroshima was described as “an important army depot and port of embarkation in the middle of an urban industrial area. It is a good radar target and it is such a size that a large part of the city could be extensively damaged. There are adjacent hills which are likely to produce a focusing effect which would considerably increase the blast damage. Due to rivers it is not a good incendiary target.”
The Target Committee stated that “It was agreed that psychological factors in the target selection were of great importance. Two aspects of this are obtaining the greatest psychological effect against Japan and making the initial use sufficiently spectacular for the importance of the weapon to be internationally recognized when publicity on it is released. Kyoto has the advantage of the people being more highly intelligent and hence better able to appreciate the significance of the weapon. Hiroshima has the advantage of being such a size and with possible focusing from nearby mountains that a large fraction of the city may be destroyed. The Emperor’s palace in Tokyo has a greater fame than any other target but is of least strategic value.”
Edwin O. Reischauer, a Japan expert for the U.S. Army Intelligence Service, was incorrectly said to have prevented the bombing of Kyoto. In his autobiography, Reischauer specifically refuted this claim: “the only person deserving credit for saving Kyoto from destruction is Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, who had known and admired Kyoto ever since his honeymoon there several decades earlier.”
The museum is heartbreaking. There was a tricycle burned to crisp, quotes from survivors, people who would later die from the effects radiation, hopeful messages about rebuilding and forgiveness and memorabilia from the people of Hiroshima… I also got to see the wristwatch in person. The stopped watch I had seen in my history books from school. I don’t know why this particular image set itself so firmly in my head, but it did, so seeing the watch for myself after all these years was powerful too… I struggle to find the right words to describe this experience… It was just powerful.