tv Stephen Walker Shockwave - Countdown to Hiroshima CSPAN August 7, 2020 8:30am-9:47am EDT
description of what happened when that bomb dropped. then i'm going to read you a little bit about the reaction from the enola gay when the plane was literally just diving away from the bomb having dropped it. just to set a little background the city. there are three planes up there. one carries photographic instruments. one carries observers. the third is the enola gay which is carrying the bomb. the bomb is dropped over a tea-shaped bridge in the center of hiroshima, which looks from the air like fingers of an outstretched hand. a lot of rivers. and this bridge at the center. very distinctly standing out from 30,000 feet. the bomb tumbles out of the bomb bay and it drops for 44 seconds through the air. indeed, in tests that were done for this particular bomb design the ballistics of the bomb were
very poor which meant it actually made the most terrible sound when it dropped. a lot of the scientists i spoke to talked about this. i had never read this before but i heard about it from the scientists. it shrieked and wailed like a banshee shout and made a terrible racket. one wonders if this might have been the last sound that thousands of people heard without knowing quite what it was, the shriek as this bomb ripped at almost the speed of sound, its terminal velocity toward the ground. the bomb explodes 1903 feet above a clinic, 200 yards from the aiming point which is this bridge. i followed the bomb down at the end of the previous chapter and then i pick up just in the immediate aftermath of the detonation. so i'll just read that bit to you now. the impact was at once immediate and catastrophic. in the first billionth of a second the temperature at the
burst point reached 60 million degrees centigrade, 10,000 times hotter than the sun's surface. the heat almost instantaneously expanding outwards across the city in a visible, searing, alien, unimaginably brilliant flash of light. afterward, they gave the flash a name, lightning, the opening act in a terrifying drama. but for many who survived it was also astonishingly beautiful, a swirling wave of myriad colors, of electrically vivid greens and blues and reds and golds that burned into the retina and seemed to last forever. these witnesses were fortunate. before the flash even ended, thousands of other human beings were already dead, burned beyond recognition by the extreme primal heat, instantly carbonized into little charred smoking bundles where they stood or sat or slept or walked littering what was left of hiroshima's streets.
within a one kilometer radius of the hypercenter the thermal energy contained in that single moment's flash was intense enough to evaporate internal organs, literally boiling off intestines in less than a fraction of a second. birds ignited in mid air. telegraph poles, trees, clothing, thatched roofs, wooden buildings, household pets, and entire street cars spontaneously combusted. steel framed buildings liquified like wax. rubble and bone fused together in a single amorphous mass. watches and clocks stopped suddenly, their hands permanently burned into their faces, forever recording the precise moment of detonation. hundreds of fires sprang up simultaneously all across the city, overwhelming the fire breaks so carefully prepared in the months before. accidents of clothing determined
how and whether people died. black or dark colored garments absorbed the heat, making it white or lighter colors reflected it. in some cases individuals were so completely incinerated that nothing remained but the shadows. one man was sitting on the steps outside a bank 260 meters from the hypercenter when the fire ball struck. all that was ever left of him was the imprint of his pose, scorched into the stone like a photograph. the heat was visceral and horrifyingly destructive as if the sun had suddenly descended to earth. it all happened in the first three seconds. so that's -- this is 8:15 in the morning japan time. 9:15 as far as the crew is concerned. if i may, i'll just read you one other section which is the view of the same event from the air. this is from the enola gay at 31,000 feet.
i need to give you a couple character names. as you i'm sure possibly know the commander of the mission is paul tibbits. he is the pilot flying the plane. still alive today. age 19. -- age 90s. and the tail gunner is a man called bob caron, rather remarkable man. died in 1995. i interviewed a number of people including his best friend at the time. he becomes one of the key stories in my book. he was the rear gunner. the enola gay was only armed with a tail turret. they took everything else and stripped the planes out completely so they were going to be able to carry this very heavy bomb. they basically are unarmed apart from the tail. caron was a very small man about 5'5" and he fit into this claustrophobic turret. he carried with him all the way to hiroshima not only several packs of lucky strikes which he smoked all the way there and back but also a photograph of his wife and his little baby that were dangling in a photograph from his oxygen chart.
so they were with him all the way there and back and gave him sort of succor if you like as he flew this mission. he also carried with him a camera, a little k-20, called pistol grip camera that was given to him at the very last moment by the photographic officer of the squadron just before he boarded the plane. the guy said, look, you'll have a ring side view. i want you to take whatever photographs you can. don't reset the aperture or focus. just press the button. whatever you see just press the button. he gave this guy the camera and, sure enough, as the airplane dived away from the shock wave of the bomb trying to flee the blast wave as it rushed toward the airplane, bob caron picked up his camera. i'll just read you what he said. bob caron saw it first. from his turret at the rear of the plane, he had a ring side view looking directly back at the city as they dove away.
one minute he was peering through his world with goggles barely able to see. the sun through the darkness. the next he was blinded by a terrific flash. at that moment enola gay was 11 1/2 miles from the bomb blast. the dazzling light filled the plane. for several seconds every part of it was bathed in a strange, unearthly radiance. tibbits experienced a peculiar tingling sensation on his teeth and the distinct taste of lead on his tongue. his fillings he later learned were interacting with the bomb's readation. nobody spoke. then car ron yelled over the intercom, an incoherent animal shout of warning. through his goggles he watched in astonishment as something that looked like the ring of a distant planet detached itself and came hurtling toward him. before he could utter another word the shock wave had caught up with them. it smashed against the fuselage, tossing the big bomber up in the
air like a scrap of paper. a voice shouted over the intercom in panic. the plane bucked violently under the impact. tibbits fought to keep it under control. at that point enola gay was still traveling directly away from the city. only bob caron in the tail could see it. he removed his goggles and now he was staring through his wind screen in amazement. boiling up from the ground was a spectacular and terrifying mushroom shaped cloud, at least a mile wide, with a fiery, blood red core. it was climbing and expanding at an astonishing rate. a monstrous, angry, purple gray mass of turbulence punching up into the sky at almost 10 miles a minute. beneath it hiroshima had completely disappeared. everything down there was burning. thick, black smoke covered the entire city, rolling out into the surrounding foot hills and into the valleys like larvae
spilling from a volcano. caron grabbed his camera and started shooting. the gun site got in the way. he asked tibbits to turn the plane 5 degrees, pointing the lens instead through the escape hatch window to his right. one after another he snapped images of the mushroom cloud. seven of them in all, each frozen black and white frame capturing those first instance of hiroshima's destruction. they would stay in his memory forever. i can still see it he said years later. that mushroom and that turbulent mass. it was, he said, a peep into hell. the copilot bob lewis picked up his pencil and turned to his log. my god, he wrote, what have we done? if i live for a hundred years, i will never quite get these few minutes out of my mind. in fact, the pilot, copilot bob lewis who wrote this log all the
way through the trip and which i found a fax simile of in the smithsonian, his previous entry to that is quite extraordinary and he says, there will be a short intermission while we bomb the target. then you got this, my god, what have we done? if's quite chilling to read that. that is the moment when it happened. so that also gives you some sense of how i'm dealing with really the most difficult part of it all and really the last act of the book is about the impact of that moment and how it affected those people who were most actively involved in it. so anyway, that's really all i wanted to say from this perspective. and obviously i know i've gone way over time here. i'll get told off. why don't i take any questions. i'll do my best to answer them. i think i've been told when people do ask questions, if they could go up to the microphone
that would really help matters. okay. yes? [ question inaudible ] >> both sides was there consideration of just what -- how seriously it was the collateral and civilian damage considered by the u.s. government? and i'm curious on the part of the japanese, it seems like the bomb probably allowed us to demand complete surrender. i mean, do you see this all -- >> let me just -- i should also comment briefly on this, actually just before the crews took off they were blessed by a priest, by the chaplain, which i think is very standard, who blessed their mission and blessed the men who were taking the war against our enemies.
i think you said. i actually have the text in the book. some of the guys were religious. others were not. it was a very interesting sort of story. this guy bob lewis actually, actually not bob lewis. another guy who was actually on the captain of the great artiste it was called, the observer plane, who went to confession that morning, but because of security restrictions was not able to confess what exactly it was he was confessing so it made for an interesting confession. but on the larger scale, it's very interesting to talk about religion. the target selection committee i interviewed the last surviving member of the target selection committee that chose the target of hiroshima and in fact the first target as you probably know was going to be kyoto, the city of a million people, japan's oldest, who actually its original capital, obviously the most important religious center in japan. one of the reasons why it wasn't chosen was because henry stemson then secretary of war had
visited kyoto as a tourist twice in the 1920s and loved the city very much. as a result of his love for that city and his appreciation of its importance in japanese culture, he actually persuaded the president not to drop the bomb on kyoto. so because stemson happened to be a very happy tourist in kyoto, in 1926, kyoto was spared atomic destruction. when those guys are sitting around a table deciding which city to bomb, they actually decided at one point, or discussed at one point, the possibility of following the atomic bomb almost immediately with a full scale incendiary raid. the idea being to send in the bombers and drop incendiaries on the city at the point when it was most vulnerable. this was discussed very seriously. the reason they didn't do it was not for any religious or other scruple.
it was because they were worried it would muddy the effects of the bomb. it would make the impact of this new weapon less obviously discernible and the most important thing here was public relations. the word is not mine. it's theirs at the time. the pr of the bomb was as important as the actual bomb itself. the fact this bomb was a new weapon and could shock the japanese into surrender was the key. so, you know, you're talking about a level, if you like, very cynical destruction that is a long way from any kind of obvious sense of christian ethic that i can understand. but also i can understand perhaps the context of the time in which that decision was taken. yeah? >> i'm absolutely amazed that even if there was just the slightest possibility of the earth's atmosphere catching on fire and destroying all life on the planet that the u.s. government would take that chance and test the bomb. now, was it because the scientists felt they could rest safe in the knowledge that if indeed that did happen there would be no bad public relations afterwards? why would they do that? >> well, actually that is the
point i do make in the book. that is actually true. they wouldn't be around to have to justify that. the mathematical probability of that happening were not huge. it was all to do with the temperature. was the temperature hot enough literally to set fire to the earth's atmosphere? a mathematician actually calculated the probabilities. they were relatively slight. really nobody knew what was going to go on and the impetus to get this thing tested and moving was terrific. it's very important to understand the rollercoaster the manhattan project had become by this time. it was massive. we're talking about a project which cost $2 billion in 1945 dollars of taxpayer money, a project which employed well over 100,000 people. entire cities had been built to man production plants which in themselves in some cases were half the size of the state of rhode island to make this happen. the entire silver deposit of the united states treasury had been melted down to get uranium
processing parts working. this is huge you know? for some guy to say there is a slight possibility we might actually destroy the planet and all life as we know it, let's not do it, just wasn't real. exactly as when people turn around and say why did truman make the decision to drop the bomb? truman said it was no great decision. it was not a decision, his words, you had to worry about. the reason he said that, which sounds, you know, terribly calloused to us today, is can you imagine a situation in which truman sent in the boys into japan and then turned around to his taxpayers and said, you know, guys, i actually had a bomb which you guys have paid for. it cost $2 billion. but actually i decided not to use it. it could have ended the war and your sons needn't have died? i mean, it is not thinkable. it's not real. that's not how the real world works as we all know today. it doesn't work like that. so it's a rollercoaster. if i answer your question. there is no way these guys can say actually we've had second thoughts and we're not going ahead.
just as worried there would be a dud. general groves, this amazingly large, tough guy that ran the manhattan project and a total chocoholic, one of his more endearing features, had an aide whose job was to top off the chocolate bars in his safe along with top-secret files of the atomic bomb. he said if this thing doesn't work he said, if this thing doesn't work, they will stick me in a dungeon so deep in fort leavenworth they'll have to pump sunlight in. so, you know, he was worried about a dud just as much as setting fire to the u.s. earth's atmosphere? am i all right for time? okay. fine. yeah? >> what channels did the government in tokyo become aware of the extent of the devastation and how long did it take them to glean that? >> great question. again, it's part of the story of my book, actually. it's a very dramatic story. within about -- there was actually, there were no sirens that went off when the bomb was dropped. it was -- there were warnings
coming in as these bombers were approaching but it was too late to stop the sirens. there was an announcer in the radio booth at the hiroshima local radio station. he actually began to get the words out over the radio, broadcasting to the people of hiroshima there were three planes approaching and usually then an air raid alert starts up. but at that moment the radio station goes off air because the bomb drops. in fact he was literally hurled right up into the air and the entire radio station tilted on its side. at that point the tokyo operator of the nhk, japanese national broadcasting, noticed hiroshima's station had suddenly gone off the air. 40 minutes later the signals people on the railways in japan railways noticed that there was a signal break in the line just north of hiroshima. they couldn't get through to the city. and about two hours after that, a reporter, and this is in the book, from the domai news agency, who would actually be in the center of the city just before the bomb had gone off but
had gone to visit a friend of his and stayed with his friend because he was waiting for a suit or a pair of pajamas to dry and didn't get back to his home in the center of the city where he would have been killed, he then goes back in afterwards. he's a reporter. he sends one of the most famous news faxes of all time to his -- he managed to get to a telephone and one of the very few lines still working and he manages to get the news out to tokyo and he says in this news flash that the city has been hit by a huge bomb and at least 80,000 people are dead. the guy, this is how he tells the story, and he is a primary source where he describes it in japan which has been translated for me, his boss on the other side, you know, in tokyo simply refuses to believe this could have happened. and he actually refuses to broadcast this or have anything to do with it at all. that night on the 6:00 news in japan there was a reference to some american bombers dropping some bombs on japan and some
damage but nothing more, on hiroshima forgive me, and some damage but it was by later that evening that it was becoming obvious something horrific had happened to the city. at that point the news basically the president, the president of the united states' statement, which said that an atomic bomb had dropped on the city of hiroshima with the power of 20,000 tons of tnt went across the airwaves, was intercepted by a guy in tokyo, who made six recordings of the president's statement, and then cycled through glistening potato fields, that's how he remembers it, to his superior and very quickly that news was passed to the prime minister. it was obvious then that something horrific had happened. as part of that statement the president made he said that the japanese do not now surrender. he said famously, they will face a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth before.
yeah? >> mr. walker, i lived in japan four years and i've been to new mexico to some of these places you've been to. >> yeah. >> a few questions i'd like to ask quickly the relationship between oppenheimer and groves is a bit bizarre. groves didn't want to be there and oppenheimer was a security risk according to the government yet they were joined at the hip to create this monster of a bomb. they both somewhat benefited from it in a sense, prestige and stature and so forth. >> sure. the second question has to do with this bomb seems to have historically warped the history of this period where the united states as you know during the 50th anniversary of the smithsonian they couldn't put together a thing because they started to turn into a political football which got very nasty and ugly. on the other hand having lived in japan a lot of japanese school children are told they tried to get rid of european colonialism and then they dropped the bomb on them. forget about korea and china and the activity that happened there. so i find this bomb not only kind of like this monstrosity
you talk about but historically the whole country's ability to understand the bomb and maybe your book fills in those gaps. >> let me tell you, i think the relationship between oppenheimer and groves was fascinating and actually quite comic. groves is extraordinarily large. he is -- his weight was a secret almost as classified as that of the atomic bomb program. he was famously rude to everybody who worked with him. any person who did work with him was a secretary, a widow in her 30s, actually the only person in the pentagon office pool who actually stood up to groves and simply shut up when he was rude to her. she knew more about the atomic bomb program than the united states. she was known as major o'leary, a terrifying figure. i think he was actually quite scared of her. he was a complete bastard. his deputy called him the greatest son of a bitch i've ever known and also the most capable. in 1945 he employed a headset in
which he sort of yelled commands. his empire was across the world. he was very tough but the guy that was needed to get this thing working. oppenheimer on the other hand is the exact opposite, very thin cadaver of a man, he weighs 116 pounds by the time of the trinity test. he is on five packs a day by then really smoking himself into an early grave and died of throat cancer in the early '60s. he is a very, very nervous man, very thin. he is a man who believes in an open society. he thinks scientists should be able to talk to each other. groves is a security freak. groves really is a security freak. not only did he actually set spies on oppenheimer and bugged his phones and tapped his everything but he also was such a security freak that even his own family, his wife and two children who lived actually quite near here in washington had absolutely no clue what he
was doing every day in his life when went into the office running the most important and expensive weapons program in history. the first time they found out about it was on the day the bomb was dropped on hiroshima when he rang up his wife and said you should listen to the radio today. i'm on it. at 11:00, he said. and they switch on the radio, and they hear this man living with them the last three years going to his office just in the new war building across from the pentagon is actually the man who is responsible for the whole of this program. had no idea. they actually say, we were completely flabbergasted when we heard it was dick's bomb that was dropped on the japanese. i mean, we were as flabbergasted as the japanese is the expression she uses when interviewed by cbs. and so, you know, unquestionably, you know, this relationship is an extraordinary one and, yet, absolutely pivotal. the one key thing about groves, apart from the fact that he terrified everybody, was the fact that he was a brilliant
judge of character. he had an uncanny instinct for character. sure he was a right wing absolutely, you know, oppenheimer had associations with people who were communists although himself was never a member of the communist party. but he saw that oppenheimer was not the most brilliant of scientists in the nuclear project which had a, you know, its fair share of super sized brilliant egos. he was not a nobel prize winner. he saw that but he saw he was very ambitious and he recognized that by putting him in charge of all of these as he said all these egg heads who couldn't as he once described it run a faculty meeting let alone a bomb program, he realized this guy would actually keep them all in control because he had to prove himself. he was a brilliant talent but he wasn't a deep thinker. and actually so it proved.
he kept them all in line. and actually that gave him his prestige and his importance. they kind of needed each other in a way. it was a fantastic relationship. as far as your other point is concerned, the answer is simply, yes. yes. it's a political football. and i think will continue to be a political football through time immemorial. if that answers your question. >> this question addresses the survivors of hiroshima. >> yeah. >> they've been living with a sort of second shock wave if you will and that is a greatly increased risk of cancer due to their radiation exposure. >> yeah, yeah. >> secondly, they've had to deal with survivor guilt. i wondered if when you talked to the survivors if they talked to you about how they felt about these two issues related to their own survival of this ghastly event. >> the issue of radiation sickness is obviously a profound and complex one. i'll tell you something that is quite interesting, from my reading of the archives, i spent
some time in the national archives in washington and interviewed some key people involved in that project that are still alive. this is extraordinary about the privilege i have, i'm dealing with something not exactly history, but it's in the twilight zone of memory and history which is why i think it is important and why i chose to write this book. one thing that was very clear is they genuinely were not expecting the radioactivity of the bomb to be the key killer in the bomb. what they were genuinely expecting was the heat of the bomb, which i describe, and also the blast wave, the shockwave, my book title of the boom, to be the principal killers effectively. not so much the radioactivity. indeed, there were memoranda from oppenheimer which describe how he sets in very, very specific tests, they set the detonation height of the bomb at about 1850 feet and that was designed to be the most effective detonation height for the maximum demolition of structures. they're not talking about
radioactivity. they thought the higher you go the less radioactivity there would be. if you detonate on the ground you get massive radioactivity and higher up less radioactivity. they are looking at other things at that point. gives you an insight into the mentality of the time. the bomb makes this tremendous flash at the test in trinity. the flash was so extraordinary that it was a very famous story, a documented story of a blind girl called georgia green on her way to a music lesson in albuquerque. she was being driven by her brother, joe, brother-in-law actually. it was obviously still night time when the bomb went off. she was 50 miles away and she grasped her brother-in-law's arm and said, what's that light? so this is a bomb so bright that it could make a blind girl see it, see the light. so you're talking about an incredible flash. immediately afterward several very key and prominent figures
in that program wrote a memo to oppenheimer and groves which i have a copy of and which is in my book in which they actually suggest that they could exploit this blinding brightness from this bomb by dropping super -- not my word but theirs -- dropping super powerful sirens at the same time as they drop the bomb so people will hear the sirens and look up at the precise moment when the bomb's flash occurs thus blinding them even if they don't kill them. this was actually suggested in a memo very clearly about a week or two afterward. it was suggested very clear they should do this. they are not looking at radioactivity but other things. however of course people did die of radioactivity. you asked me about survivors. well, there was one story that hugely affected me of a doctor who told me his story in osaka i think it was. he was a remarkable man who was actually in a little village six kilometers to the north of
hiroshima when the bomb went. he describes this in my book. he was actually looking after a little girl age 6 who had a heart condition. he was at the point when he was actually injecting a sedative with a syringe, actually into her arm, when the shock wave struck. the bomb went off. sort of a grandstand view of it, a bit like bob caron in the tail of the enola gay. the extraordinary thing is he tells this story which really stuck in my mind where he grabbed a bicycle and he started to cycle down this long, white, dusty road toward the mushroom cloud in the city, and he turned a corner and he actually was going so fast at that point that he actually fell off his bike. the bike skidded and he fell. this is not quite answering your question but it does in a moment. i'll explain. he fell off his bike and fell into the road. as he got up and picked himself up and wiped the dust off his clothes he saw this object
coming toward him. that's how he describes it. this object coming towards him. the object had huge, bulging eyes like golf balls and a massive, gaping mouth like it might be grinning and there were strips of what he thought was clothing hanging from its arms. i say "it" because he didn't know whether it was a man or woman or indeed even a human being. he thought at first it might be clothing in strips and then realized it was actually burned flesh and this thing was staggering toward him and he was so horrified he backed away and as he backed away it collapsed and then convulsed and then appeared to die. and he went toward this thing, this monster, and he's a doctor, and he thought, i've got to do something. and he just didn't know where to touch the flesh at all.
and finally he very hesitantly, i remember him telling me this. it was quite a story when he told me this. he touched the flesh, the burned sort of blackened flesh on this thing, and then he said a prayer and stood up to get back on his bicycle to continue his journey down into the city because they're going to need a doctor. and then as he looked down this white road he suddenly saw hundreds if not thousands of these same figures coming up the hill toward him all looking the same all with their arms outstretched and these horrible strips of blackened flesh hanging from their arms and all coming toward them. there were literally became thousands of them. he actually said, and i quote it here, when he gave me this interview, he said, my god, how many of them are there? they're all coming up the hill. he tried to treat them in his little village hospital. they had nothing there but a bit
of soybean oil and some rags. they were doing their best. he had this description he would go among the people lying in the field with a little torch and having to decide which to treat and which to not and talking about how the ones beyond treating would follow him with their eyes and yet there was nothing you could do about it at all. and one extraordinary story about a naked girl who was rushing. she was hysterical and rushing among these bodies and other people trying to get her to cover up her legs. they hadn't been burned. in a way the bomb was so instantaneous her upper part was completely burned but her legs were almost unseemly naked and white and untouched. he describes that detail which is in that book and how other people around were trying to kind of cover her up to give her some sense of modesty in that moment, you know. she was flinging their clothes away. and then of course what started to happen was that people began to get dysentery and then other things began to happen so, you know, that came later.
and as you rightly say it continued and they say, some historians argue that 30,000 or 40,000 people died in the four or five months after the first 80,000 or 90,000 died from the first day or two of the impact of the bomb from radiation poisoning. you are actually right that many live with those effects to this day. >> but is it actually possible u.s. scientists didn't know? >> they knew there would be radiation. they absolutely did. >> but they thought the impact would wipe out most of the population so there would not be so many -- >> yes, in fact, that was one of the things they were determining in the test. indeed, there were fallout monitors through the state of new mexico and beyond for the test that night. guys waiting in jeeps ready to evacuate entire cities if the fallout cloud went that way. guys with -- they chose names from the wizard of oz like the tin woodsman, you know? and their role was basically to
evacuate entire populations that night. so all these sleeping americans who might themselves to be evacuated because the fallout cloud was coming their way. the cloud went five times around the world before it dissipated from the atomic test in new mexico. >> did truman tell churchill and stalin or when did they find out about the atomic bomb? where were the japanese fighters on the day the bomb was dropped? >> sorry? >> where were were the japanese fighter planes? >> oh, yeah, right, sure. on the first question, truman did actually obviously had told -- churchill knew about the bomb project and the british scientists involved in the manhattan project, he knew everything about it. when he was told by the secretary of war and read general groves' account of the trinity test famously he said, stemson, he said, what is electricity? meaningless. what is gun powder? it's nothing.
he said, this atomic bomb is the second coming, great churchill phrase. so churchhill knew. stalin was not supposed to know about the bomb. in a very, very carefully staged managed event in the middle of the conference one evening after one of the sessions, truman casually wandered over to stalin and told stalin they had a weapon they were intending to use on the japanese. churchhill was watching every moment. they worked this out together. stalin said oh, that's great, do use it and said nothing more. stall stalin and churchhill were convinced they got away with it and stalin knew nothing about this bomb. they were pleased. stalin knew everything about the bomb because he had spies los alamos. he had a spy claus brooks who
was at the trinity test who was sending back information all the time. there was a recorded conversation that took place between molotov, foreign minister and stalin after that event. that very night. this is recorded. where stalin turns to molotov and says, right. we have to get quitrotov on this and start getting it moving. he was the soviet oppenheimer. what they meant by that is right, we are now in the arms race and we've got to get moving. in a way the cold war is born in that conversation at that table in potsdam. and the fighters -- very briefly, the fighter planes, there were no fighter planes. nothing happened. there was no flak. i mean, there was no anti-aircraft fire, there was nothing. one of the reasons why that happened is because the japanese, there had been a number of practice missions that these guys had flown carrying what they call pumpkin bombs, which were very big bombs, but they were regular bombs. they would fly these missions with one or two or three planes
unlike the classic, big array of missions that the americans would fly and they were doing it with the express and specific purpose of getting the japanese used to high-flying airplanes that did virtually no damage at all. and it worked. it worked. tibbetts says this expressly in his autobiography. they flew this mission, what on earth is one or two or three planes going to do? nothing. they're not dangerous. maybe a reconnaissance mission, whatever. and there's so little fuel left that they're saving their fighter planes for the serious stuff, which are the incendiary raids. so they weren't touched. they weren't touched. actually, you know something, tibbetts said after the war that the hiroshima mission was the most boring mission he'd ever flown. which, in a way, is a terrifying advertisement to my book. but it's also astonishingly revealing about how perfect that mission was. it was the perfect mission. last one. i'm sorry. i'm being told it's the last question. >> first of all, i would like to say that today is the last day
for me to be a japanese. and tomorrow i'm going to be a u.s. citizen. >> oh, wow. [ applause ] >> after being here for 33 years. i finally decided to become a u.s. citizen. i'm going to swear in tomorrow. i have known about hiroshima a lot, naturally as a japanese, but i am really looking forward to read your book to get more detailed information. >> thank you. >> two very, very basic questions. number one, is that when this manhattan project has been conceived, has this been specifically designed to bomb japan? has america ever thought of dropping this bomb to germany? to end the war? that's number one. number two question is, that you say somebody like kyoto so much and wanted tokq%o preserve kyot. why hiroshima, why not tokyo, why not hokkaido or other place?
>> to take each question in turn briefly. let me tell you a very brief little story. the scientists, a hungarian scientist, hungarian jewish scientist, fled actually very presciently fled berlin in 1933. he was working at the major physics department. he was a nuclear physicist, and this is before anyone thought about atom bombs. he came to london and he was standing on a street corner in bloomsbury, in a part of london, and he was staring at the traffic light, and in the moment that the traffic light changed, this is his words, not mine, from red to green, he suddenly saw how an atom bomb would work. he actually saw what we now all the chain reaction. he saw how it could work in that instant.
and an abyss opened up in front of him. he came from nazi germany. he thought my god, if i thought this, there might be some german scientist in berlin who had exactly the same inspiration on some other, you know, traffic light junction. and it so terrified him that he then campaigned to get the atomic bomb built by the americans or the british to stop or to get ahead of the germans doing exactly the same thing. and he finally managed to enlist the help of his teacher, einstein, and together they drafted a letter to the president, roosevelt at the time, in which they urged the president to construct atomic bombs, to get a program going, and roosevelt famously told his aide, michael general powell watson, he opened a bottle of napoleon brandy and he said, powell, this requires action. and thus began what we call the manhattan project. its fundamental purpose was to make sure that the americans had
an answer to a german atomic bomb. not to a japanese atomic bomb. and when it was quite clear by late 1944, early 1945, the germans did not have an atomic bomb and we're actually way behind the americans, they got somewhere, but they were still way behind, partly because they loathed so-called jewish physics, the next obvious target was japan. the japanese had a very fledgling atomic program that had hardly got anywhere at all. and people like leo turned against the very program that he had been so hard campaigning for because he couldn't see the point of it any longer. he said what on earth are we developing this weapon for, which will be such a terror for future generations when actually the japanese are to the an atomic threat. even petitioned the president at one point to stop this thing from being developed just before it was dropped on hiroshima, and his petition which was signed by 69 scientists at the university of chicago actually went via general groves, god help us, and
as a result of that, general groves stuck the petition in a drawer and it never got to president roosevelt -- president truman, excuse me, he never saw it. you're absolutely right, it wasn't japan. and very briefly on the issue of hiroshima as the chosen target and why it was number two, hiroshima satisfied a number of criteria which expressly and explicitly described in the minutes of the target selection committee which took place both in los alamos and in the pentagon around the corner. the target was a perfect target. it was untouched by bombs, virtually. all these other cities had been pulverized. it could show the effects of an atomic bomb very clearly. it also had one very, very major advantage. it was surrounded on three sides by mountains. and very expressly, a number of people involved in the target selection committee described how the mountains would create a
focusing effect which would increase the blast from the bomb. so it was untouched. its geography was bomb perfect. you know. the weather patterns look good there. they check the weather for the last 150 years. 150 years, in order to see where the best bombing days would be and it came down to somewhere in early august. they picked out two or three possible days. the weather was good then. and it was in some sense also japanese military installation. there were 43,000 japanese troops in the city, but there were also 300,000 inhabitants, as well. that were not actually in the army at all. and interestingly enough, when the president made his statement i mentioned before, broadcast his statement to the world that he dropped this bomb, i've seen various drafts of that statement, and in earlier drafts of that statement it just says 16 hours ago a bomb was dropped on blank, city name to be
provided. when the name hiroshima was put in, there was a series of debates and discussion that took place with the secretary of war in long island, and it was decided to add the phrase, an important japanese army base. that was actually added at the very last moment. added only hours before the president actually broadcast that statement to the world. that was not in earlier drafts of the statement. so it was important to provide worldwide justification for the use of that bomb, even then. i hope that answered your question. [ applause ] >> thank you. week nights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight a look at hiroshima, nagasaki and the end of world war ii for the 75th anniversary of hiroshima. we'll show you a documentary coming the august 6, 1945,
atomic bombing of hiroshima, japan, through the stories of several survivors. the film features a young family in hiroshima born after the bombing trying to make sense of the tragedy during the 50th anniversary. enjoy american history tv tonight and every weekend on c-span 3. >> during the summer months reach out to your elected officials with c-span's congressional directory. it contains all the contact information you need to stay in touch with members of congress, federal agencies and state governors. order your copy online today at c-spanstore.org. welcome, everyone, to the national world war ii museum. we're here in the warehouse district in downtown new orleans. here at the museum we have several different permanent exhibits and we're here today in the road to tokyo exhibit which is going to take us through the
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