Reliving the day they dropped the bomb

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By Jay Miller

The Hiroshima bomb didn’t jolt Japan as we had hoped. Its military leaders still refused the unconditional surrender demanded by the Potsdam Proclamation.
 But it did shake the Russians. Stalin feared he had waited too long for his oft-promised invasion of Japan. If Japan surrendered before he got his troops into Manchuria, the Soviets would have no claim to Japanese spoils.
 On Aug. 8, Russia declared war on Japan and at dawn on the 9th, tanks rolled into Manchuria.
The night before, Major Charles Sweeney and crew rolled “Bock’s Car” down the runway on Tinian and took off for Japan carrying “Fat Man.” Unlike the flight of “Enola Gay,” three nights earlier, this was not a textbook operation.
There were technical problems getting the device armed. Weather reports were threatening. A reserve fuel tank malfunctioned and couldn’t be used, even though the plane had to carry the dead weight of unusable fuel.
The camera plane, which was to rendezvous off Japan never arrived. They waited over two hours, using precious fuel. When they arrived at the prime target of Kokura, it had clouded over during the wait.
They flew on to Nagasaki, which also was clouded over. There was only enough fuel left for one run. At the last minute, the clouds broke slightly and the bomb was dropped over a secondary target three hours late.
 But it worked. The blast was even stronger than at Hiroshima. But because the hills of Nagasaki shielded the effect, there was less damage and loss of life.
 The prime target had been Nagasaki’s huge shipbuilding and repair yards, the largest in Japan. The secondary target was the Mitsubishi torpedo and munitions factory. It is easy to imagine that the factory was completely destroyed by the blast.
 It must have been obliterated, because at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, the only relics displayed are from churches and schools. And even though the Japanese aren’t big on English subtitles, every exhibit in the atomic museum has English text.
 It is a very definite attempt to sway world opinion in their favor by portraying themselves as the victim and the United States as inhumane for having resorted to nuclear weapons.
 This campaign began even before Japan’s formal surrender, when it was decided that it would be easy to sell a victimized Japan, and the bomb as a crime against humanity. Japanese leaders could explain that the only reason they lost was because we didn’t fight fair.
And, as American POWs were returning from Japanese prison camps with stories of unbelievable atrocities, the subject could be shifted to our wanton use of atomic weapons. Some Japanese leaders even fantasized that many Americans might be talked into condemning their own government.
Those fantasies, as we know, have come true. Every year, on the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Americans gather in Los Alamos to decry the unnecessary American deployment of the Bomb.
Perhaps some of their fathers and grandfathers lived to have children and grandchildren because of the bombs. It is estimated that a million Americans were able to come home and resume their lives because the war was ended quickly.
The estimates of Japanese lives saved by the bomb range as high as 70 million, because their civilians would have been the major component of their casualties. American conventional bombing already was inflicting more casualties in a night than the atomic bombs did.
Anti-war and anti-nuclear protesters often cite statements made by American generals and admirals after the war contending that we could have won without atomic bombs. The admirals said they could have won the war with a naval blockade. The Air Corps generals said they could have bombed Japan into submission.
 These groups are holding a four-day protest for 2012 and predicting it will be bigger than usual because they will be joined by the Occupy protesters.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.