tv Stephen Walker Shockwave - Countdown to Hiroshima CSPAN August 7, 2020 1:22pm-2:40pm EDT
world war ii for the 75th anniversary of hiroshima. we'll show you a documentary examing the atomic bombing in japan. through the stories of survivors. it also features a young family born after the bombing. we're trying to make sense of the tragedy during the anniversary. enjoy "american history tv" every night and every weekend on c-span 3. the purge ri case against president trump's former national security adviser michael flynn will be reheard by the full u.s. court of appeals for the d.c. circuit on tuesday. the panel of ten judges will decide whether a federal district court judge must dismiss the charges as recommended by the justice department. hear the case live tuesday at 9:30 a.m. eastern on c-span. and c span.org or listen live with the free c-span radio app. up next on history book shelf, from 2005, author steven
walker talks about his boom "shockwave." the story begins with the first atomic bomb in new mexico on july 16th, 1945. and documents key events leading up to the august 6th, 1945 bombing. which the author then tribes in detail. >> thanks very much. you can hear me i hope. thank you for coming on actually the most wonderful evening in this glorious city, which my daughter has pleatly fallen in love with. and her first visit here. it's such a lovely evening. it's great you could come here and listen to horror stories about the atomic bomb. i want to talk to you from the heart about what this book is and what it means to me and the journey i have taken over the last two and a half years since i started the documentary.
i was asked to make this documentary in april, 2003, by a friend of mine who i do everything to resist the offer to make this film. not because the money was appalling, which was, but this is a terrifyingly difficult and complex and frightening and challenging subject to have to tackle. you're dealing with one of the events in world history. and yet, actually, what happened in my case was the thought buzzed around in my brain and it wouldn't go away. it didn't go away and finally almost reluctantly i accepted this offer and started to make a film. the film i made really was exactly was described as a
24-hour story. it was a story that starts at 8:15 on the morning of august 5th, 1945 and ends 24 hours later 1,903 feet above a clinic in the middle of hiroshima on august 6th. it took me to so many different places and people. and became a an obsession with me, which is a dangerous thing for a film maker or writer. but in this instance i decided after that is something i couldn't leave and would write a book about. this is a product of that book now. i just say that i remember somewhere in the middle of my research, i started a journey which took many around the world. it was a journey i was privileged to take. this city as in new york, i us went across to new mexico. i spent is a lot of time in new mexico.
it's where the missions flew. >> it caps lates the feeling i'm trying to put across in this book. it's about the size of manhattan. so muff so that the construction battalions that built the huge air bases from which those missions and others were flown in 1945 actually nailed the streets after the manhattan streets. there was a broadway, an 86th street, you go down 42nd street and it's the muld of the jungle. somewhere near 125th street you find yourself on the runway from
which it took off for its mission to hiroshima. these days what's extra ord nar is the only way to get to the island is from japan. which is interesting. so what you do is take off from japan and fly the 1500 miles and you land very nearby. but what you're doing is flying that mission backwards. you're flying back over the same featureless sea. you pass over the volcanic rock. and it's quite a strange sensation. you're surrounded by japanese people on board that plane. and indeed i mentioned to two or three of them that this was actually the site of the atomic missions that they were going back to. and they were shocked because what's actually there today is a casino. a place where people go to gamble. and this is on the southern edge
of the identisland. right at ingredient itch village. one of the japanese tourists that was with me actually want ed to get their money back because it was so distraught at the idea this is a place that had been lost in history. it was the site of the first atomic mission. i drove up in a sort of jeep northwards to find these runways. it was absolutely massive. four huge runways. it was sort of the size of kennedy airport. it was also the busiest in the world. and it's completely empty. there's nothing there at all. just jungle and these runways. one of which you can just about drive on. the other three had to succumb to that incredibly fertile jungle. and i then took a walk away from
these runways. down a little pathway in a thick jungle. and wound its way towards the coast. about a quarter mile. i was frightened with snakes. i wound my way towards this coast through a little path and found myself where i hoped i was finding myself which was on the site of the actual assembly buildings where the bombs, which destroyed here sheet ma were both built. i'm standing on the foundations of this building. this was for a few short weeks in the summer of 1945 possibly one of the most secret places on earth. if i had been there 60 years previously, i would be shot on
site. there's nobody there now. it's just me and the birds and the rustle of the leaves and the sound of the sea. and nothing else. just me. it was a very strange feeling where everybody had gone home so many years ago from what was actually one of the most extraordinary things in his print and at that point, i traveled in a way. i was there where it was developed. when the first atomic bomb was tested, which we'll talk about in a moment. i followed the bomb and the pilots who trained to deliver this bomb and this really windy, dusty air base, 120 miles west of salt lake city. a place so remote at the time that all the guys that flew are from there hated it. it was actually an extraordinary air base where the state line was right down the middle of the
hotel lobby. so you can basically be on one side and get drunk and gamble on the other side. and they all taught me about that. and i also went to san francisco. and underneath the golden gate bridge, the ship sailed with the car ego in a 300-pound bucket welded flagship of the cabin floor on its way to the island. from there was taken and delivered and dropped on here sheet is ma. so in a way, i went to all these places. when i was going to try to follow individual stories from policymakers like presidents and
secretaries of war and very key figures in the japanese come at the time down to ordinary people in hiroshima of when the bomb was dropped. scientist, people i met, interviewed, spoken to, and the aviators who trained in that windy, dusty, airfield. it's between all these different people as the clock ticks down towards that final second on august 6th.
it should give you flavor of what this is all about and the tone it's written. before i do so, i should stress it's very important to understand that although i have conceived and written this book in way i hope will be engaging to people who might not otherwise touch the subject. there's been so many books written that many people don't read about it. and because it's daunting, heavily footnoted, academic, whatever. but everything i have written is as far as i can verify true. i have used my own historian's training to universities to be able to test skmoois challenge myself constantly. these are not fake stories.
it's the test of the first atomic bomb in the desert. on july 16th, 1945, the world's first atomic bomb looks like a giant four ton sphere. it has things sprouting out of it and sitting on top of a 103-foot tower in the middle of the desert. and there's massive storm taking place. and here is this bomb on top of this tower in the middle of the desert.
>> there were bets taking place in base camp which is not very far away. it's a safe distance away. when nobel prize winning scientists are actually taking bets on whether or not this might destroy the earth's atmosphere by setting fire to it, this is a serious mathematical probability that this could actually happen. it work out as a mathematical probability. they don't know what's going to happen. there's rain, wind and thunder. in the middle of all this, the director of the bomb being this ruthless, fat, powerful, who ran the manhattan project in his previous job tofs build the pentagon which he did under b
budget and in time. this guy, these two guys together formed an extraordinary marriage decided there might be security concerns. she sabotaged that bomb. so they decide to send a man who is a physicist to go and babysit the bomb in the the middle of the storm in a the very last hours. and he just got the card. he's the guy that sent to go and babysit the bomb. and so i will just read you how my book starts. it's a flavor of what it's all about. this story is told to me by donald himself when i sat in his living room a year ago in cambridge, massachusetts. he talked to me and this is exactly how he told it to me. sunday, 9:00 p.m. trinity test site, 40 miles south in new mexico.
don horn staired up at the tower. the storm that had been building throughout the day had finally erupted in all its fury. flashes of lightning licked the mountains to the south and the desert echo ed with the thunder. the tower loomed 103 feet above his head. a network of those reaching upward like a giant electric pilot. by now, the clouds were racing so low across the sky he could barely see the top. which was just as well really. he didn't want to think what was at the top. he began to climb. the wet steel slipped through his fingers ask the rain stung his eyes making it difficult to see. he worn a safety harness. rung by rung, he pulled himself up the ladder. once or twice, he stopped and he
could see the guards below him looking up like ants on the desert floor. thaw seemed a long way down. at the top of the tower, a simple corrugated shag are rested on a square wooden flat form. it was a flimsy structure. a huge dimly desellable shape crouched inside. it was a bare bulb hanging from the roof. horn i guess switched it on and appeared in side. hulking on a cradle was a metallic gray 4-ton steel drum. it took up almost every inch of space. even by day, it would have looked ominous. but looked so now with the wind whipping the tin walls and swaying from the ceiling and the
lightning and thunder edging nearer. a fantastic complex of cables sprouted from its sides like a spillage of guts. as it was somehow not in there at all, but actually organic. a growing, living, autonomous embryo awaiting the moment of its birth. the device, they just call it. the one thing nobody ever called it was what it actually was. the world's first atomic bomb. it was a thousand hammer blows. the wind rattled the walls. a scientist standing in a concrete bunker exactly 10,000 yards to the the south of this tower. it would initiate the final act
in the biggest and most expensive scientific experiment in history. they would press a switch on a panel and 45-second countdown. the bomb could fail to go off. or it could detonate with varying magnitudes of explosion. or as one never applies it could set fire to the atmosphere and the process is destroying all life on the plan it. i decided to go straight in. i make no apologies of this at all. it goes straight in with that story and start with that moment, which begins three weeks before the book actually ends in here shia ma. heiroshim hiroshima. what is also important in this
story is the japanese side of it. i went as us said and made a lot of different people who was survivors from the bomb. they were told to me. and there was one story that really struck me, which i never forgot. and kept turning around and around in my mind. and i'll tell you what the story was. a man in his 80s, i met him in his living room in hiroshima. he was clearly somebody who had a badly burned face from the bomb 60 years previously.
he told me about the good things and the bad things. it's a hit in 1945. it was "four weddings." if you look at the newspapers from that time, which i have, the newspaper which was printed in hereiroshima, you can see th cinema. he told me about the rumors. the city had not been bombed. it was touched twice by bombs, but compared to almost every single other major japanese city. it was being quite dlubtly reserved.
that's the air force's word for atomic attack. but they saw it differently. they began to wonder what was going on. there was a rumor spreading around the substitute. that was why the city had not been destroyed. it's many miles away. and the president's orders, if you like the opposite. and i just asked them a question. and he burst into tears. i department want to upset him. he said i want to tell you something.
something i have never told anybody before. i want to tell it to you. he said the night before the bomb was dropped was the happiest night of my life. it was a love story. about a woman that he fell in love with early that summer. they had met. and they had fallen in love. and they spent most of that summer together. what made it particularly poignant was their respective families were not happy with this relationship at all. they disapproved of it. it's romeo and juliette. both his brothers had been killed in the war.
more thanes were going to invade. and he would be dead. so that night they went to the the beautiful garden. a beautiful japanese garden. and they lay on the grass or under the stars and they lay for a long time together. and then for the very first time, they held hands. they didn't kiss. they just held hands. that's all they did. and they lay like that for a long time. around mud night they parted at the gate. he went one way and she went the other way. and the next day the bomb was
tropped. he searched for his lover. about the time that they parted at that garden gate, the crew would have been just sit issing dune to breakfast of pineapple fritters. so those kind of contrast really made poignant. that was one of the stories i told. what i decided to do in the book was to start and finish the book. for various different reasons. yet it's something some might be able to identify with. if us may, just read you the
preface to the book. this is not chapter one, which i just read parts of. this is the preface before it. sunday august 59th, 1945, hiroshima, for the rest of his life, he would never forget how beautiful the garden looked that night. the trees, the lake, the little rain bow bridge, the ancient tea houses dotting the banks, the smell of fresh pine, the perfect stillness of it all. outside beyond the garden walls, the city slept in the darkness. in the blackout, it was almost possible to believe there was no city out there at all. if they are lying together under the stars, were the only people alive in the world. that's how he remembered it the night before the bomb.
as always, they had to be discreet. the authority is not to mention their own families disapproved of unmarried couples spending frivolous hours. these are times of self-sacrifice and denial. every day the newspapers urged the citizens to work harder and longer and faster to focus all their energies of a single victory. japan was facing its greatest test in history. this was no moment for love. it was beautiful. they remembered the first moment he'd seen her earlier that summer. she was sitting on a bridge with a party of other girls and laughing. he was very shy. perhaps there was something about his shyness that appealed toer had. or perhaps she liked him because there were so few young men still left in the city. he was 20 and shfs younger. just out of school. a movement were full of grace
and years later he remembered there was something in her voice and her smile that was like a breath of summer. they saw each other all through that hot july. sometimes she sent him letters with just the faintest whiff of sent. the luxury in those times of war. but they never kissed. they never even touched until that final night. she had cried when he told her. of course, it was inevitable he was young and the war wanted him. time had run out for both of thoem. he would be in the army by september only a few short weeks away. they lay on the grass and she cried and that was when they touched hands. he would never forget that. at some point in the evening, there was an air raid alert, but still they did not move. there were awful alerts these days as the americans pass north over the city. they flew high in their silver planes.
sometimes so high in daylight all you could see was a white trail in the blue sky. but they always took their bombs elsewhere. a little after midnight, they parted. they said good-bye at the gate. he walked away she never looked back. and then he turned slowly towards his home. the memory of her touch still fresh in his mind. afterwards he would remember this as the happiest night of his life. he looked up at the sky, the stars were clear and brilliant. tomorrow was going to be a beautiful day. so that's a little bit of the beginning of the book. if i could, i'm -- have i got time just to move on to -- what i would like to talk about now is obviously the moment the bok impacted on the city itself.
this was a really difficult thing to write about for obvious reasons. it's a fantastically banal thing to say. obviously it was a very difficult thing to write about. and i'm writing about it from numbers of different perspectives, from the perspective of the ground, from the perspective of the plane, from the bomb makers, also from the politicians as well. it became at one point almost impossible to write. i would love to share with you just what that feels like. there's a point at which language stumbles when you try to describe this pain and this horror and you literally -- the expression that i used at one point was that -- is it the adjectives begin to pile up like dead bodies in the street. that might sound kind of very clumsy. what i mean by that is that you literally -- there's nothing but silence at some point. you cannot describe this stuff without it sounding repetitive or trivial or pointless. and i did find it very hard to do until i decided to write about how difficult it was to write about it. in a way that became the key to describing what happened.
and obviously holding on to individual personal experience. i'm not just talking about japanese, i'm talking about guys in the plane and elsewhere as well. the experiences were fascinating and raw on all sides. what i'm going to do very briefly is just to read you two small sections, if i may, of the moment of impact. i'm just going to -- the first moment i'm going to read to you is literally a very clinical description of what actually happened in the first moments when the bomb was actually dropped. it's not personalized at all in the way that other bits that i've read to you have been. it's simply a clinical description of what happened when that bomb dropped. and 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 bit of background here, we're at 31,000 feet over the city and in the enola gay. there are three planes up there. one of them carries photographic instruments, one carries observers, the third is the enola gay which is carrying the bomb. the bomb is dropped over a
t-shaped bridge in the center of hiroshima which looks really from the air like fingers of an outstretched hand. a lot of rivers. and this bridge at the central, 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. and indeed in tests that were done for this particular bomb design, the ballistics of the bomb were very poor which meant that it actually made the most terrible sound when it dropped. a lot of the scientists i spoke to talked about this. something i've never read before but i had heard about this from these scientists. it shrieked and wailed like a banshee shout as it came all the way down. it really made a terrible racket. and, you know, one wonders if this might have been -- would have certainly been the last sound that thousands of people heard without knowing quite what it was. this shriek as this bomb ripped at almost the speed of sound its terminal velocity towards the ground.
the bomb explodes 1903 feet above a clinic, 200 yards away from the aiming point which is this bridge. i followed the bomb down at the end of the previous chapter and i pick up just in the immediate aftermath of the detonation. i'll 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. afterwards, they gave the flash a name pika or 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, 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 midair. telegraph poles, trees, clothing, thatched roofs, wooden buildings, household pets and entire streetcars spontaneously combusted.
steel frame buildings liquified like wax. rubble and bone fused together in a single amorphus 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 their shadows. one man was sitting on the steps outside of a bank 260 meters from the hyper center when the fireball 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. and it all happened in the first three seconds. so that's -- i'm sorry? this is 8:15 in the morning, japan time. 9:15, as far as the crew is concerned. so if i may, i'll just read you finally 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 of character names. as you know, the commander of the mission is paul tibbits. he's the pilot flying the plane. still alive today. age 90. and the tail gunner is a man called bob karen. a rather remarkable man. died in 1995, but i interviewed a number of people who knew him well, 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. they stripped the planes out completely so they were going to be able to carry this very heavy bomb. they basically unarmed apart from the tail. karen was a small man. about 5'5" and he fitted 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, but also a photograph of his wife and his little baby that were dangling in a photograph from his oxygen chart. they were with him all the way there and back. he also carried with him a camera, a little k-20. it was called a 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. and the guy said to him, look, you're going to have a ringside view here. i want you to take any photographs you can. don't reset the aperture. don't reset the focus. he set it all for him, just press the button. just press it.
he gave this guy the camera and sure enough as the airplane dived away from the shockwave of the bomb trying to flee the blast wave as it rushed towards the airplane, bob karen picked up his camera and i'll just read you what he said. bob karen saw it first. from his turret at the rear of the plane, he had a ringside view looking directly back at the city as they dove away. one minute he was peering through his 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 burst. the dazzling light filled the plane. the several seconds every part of it was bathed in the strange unearthly radiance. tibbets experienced a peculiar tingling sensation on his teeth and the distinct taste of led on his tongue.
his fillings he later learned were interacting with the bomb's radiation. nobody spoke. then karen suddenly yelled over the intercom an incoherent animal shout of warning. through his goggles he watched as something that looked like the ring of a distant planet detached itself and came hurdling towards him. the shockwave had caught up with them. it smashed against the fuselage, tossing the bomber up in the air like a scrap of paper. a voice shouted. the plane bucked violently under the impact. tibbets fought to keep it under control. at that point, enola gay was still traveling directly away from the city. only bob karen and 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 massive turbulence punching up into the sky. beneath it, hiroshima has completely disappeared. everything down there was burning. thick black smoke covered the city like lava spilling from a volcano. karen grabbed his camera and started shooting. he asked tibbets to turn the plane five degrees. he snapped images of the mushroom ground. each frame capturing the 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 a peep into hell. the copilot picked up his pencil. my god, he wrote, what have we done? if i live for 100 years, i will never 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 facsimile of in the smithsonian, he says there will be a short intermission while we bomb the target. and then you get this, my god what have we done? it's quite chilling to read that. that's the moment when it happened. so that also gives you a 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'm going to get told off. why don't i take any questions. i think i've been told that when people ask questions, if they could go up to the microphone, that would help matters in turn. yes? >> i was very interested in how you see religious thinking playing a role in both sides. [ inaudible question ]
>> the demand was complete surrender and the emperor claiming -- >> let me -- i should answer briefly on this. 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 he said. i have the text of it in the book. some of the guys there were religious, others were not. this guy bob lewis who -- not bob lewis, another guy who was on the -- the capture of the observer plane who went to confession that morning 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, you talk about religious. the target selection committee, i interviewed the last surviving member of the target selection committee that chose the target of hiroshima and the first target was going to be kyoto. a city of a million people. it was japan's original capital and the most important religious center in japan. one of the reasons it wasn't chosen was because the secretary of war had actually visited kyoto as a tourist twice in the 1920s and loved the city very much. and as a result of his love for that city and his appreciation of its importance in japanese culture, he persuaded the president not to drop the bomb on kyoto. because he happened to be a happy tourist in kyoto in 1926, kyoto was spared destruction.
when they were 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 insend ri raid. to send in the bombers and drop incendiaries at the point when it was most vulnerable. this was discussed very seriously. the reason they didn't do it was not for any kind of religious or other scruple. they were worried that it would muddy the effects of the bomb. i would make the impact of this weapon less obviously discernible. the most important thing here was public relations. the word is not mine, it's theres. the pr of the bomb was as important as the bomb itself. the fact that it could shock the japanese into surrender was the key. you're talking about the level of -- if you like a cynical destruction that is a long way from any kind of obvious sense
of christian ethnic that i can understand, but i can understand the context of the time that that decision was taken. >> i'm 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. was it because the scientists felt they could rest safe in the knowledge that if that did happen, there would be no bad public relations afterward? why would they do that? >> that's a point that i make in the book. that's true. they wouldn't be around to have to justify that. well, the mathematical probabilities of that happening were not huge. it was all to do with the temperature, was the temperature hot enough to set fire to the earth's atmosphere. a mathematician calculated the probabilities and they were slight probabilities. but nobody knew what was going to go on and the impetus to get this things tested and moving is
terrific. it was important to understand the roller coaster that the manhattan project had become by this time. it was massive. we're talking about a project which had cost $2,000,000,095. entire cities had been built to man production plants were half the size of the state of rhode island in order to make this thing happen. the entire silver deposits in the united states treasury had been melted down to get uranium processing plants working. this is huge, you know. for some guy to say, you know, there's a slight possibility that we might destroy the planet and all life as we know it, let's not do it, you know, it wasn't real. when people say, why did truman make this decision to drop the bomb. truman said it was no great decision. it was not a decision that you had to worry about. and the reason why he said that which sounds callus to us today, can you imagine a situation in which truman sent in the boys
into japan and then turned around to his taxpayers and said, do you know, guys, i had a bomb which you guys have paid for, it cost $2 billion, but actually, i decided not to use it it could have used it and your sons needn't had died. there's no way these guys can say, actually, we've had second thoughts. we're not going to go ahead with it. they were just as worried it was going to be a dud. and the amazing enormously large tough guy that ran the manhattan project used to keep -- had an aide whose job was to top off chocolate bars in his safe along with top secret files of the atomic bomb. he said, if this thing doesn't work, they will stick me in a
d dungeon they'll have to pump sunlight in. so he was worried about it being a dud just as much as it setting fire to the atmosphere. >> 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. it's part of the story of my book, actually. within about -- there was actually -- there were no sirens that went off when the bomb was dropped. there were warnings coming in as these bombers were approaching but it was too late to stop the sirens. there was an announcer at the hiroshima local radio station who actually began to get the words out over the radio, broadcast to people that there were three planes approaching. and an air raid alert usually starts up. at that moment, the radio station goes off because the
radio was hit. at that point, the tokyo operator of the nhk noticed that the hiroshima station had gone off the air. 40 minutes later, the signals people on the railways noticed that there was a signal break in the line north of hiroshima. they couldn't get through to the city. two hours after that, a reporter -- this is in the book from the news agency who had actually been at 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, he then goes back in afterwards, he's a reporter, and he sends one of the most famous news flashes of all time to his -- he managed to get to a telephone and one of the very few lines that is 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. and the guy -- this is how he tells the story, there's a primary source where he describes it in japan which has been translated for me. his boss on the other side in tokyo does not believe him. he simply refuses to believe that 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 american bombers dropping bombs on japan and some damage, but -- on hiroshima and some damage. but it was by later that evening that it was becoming obviously that something horrific had happened to the city. at that point the news basically -- the president of the united states's statement which said that an atomic bomb has dropped on the city of hiroshima went across the air waves was intercepted by a guy
in tokyo who made six recordings of the president's statement and cycled through glistening potato fields to his superior and very quickly that news was passed to the prime minister. and it was obvious then that something horrific had happened. as part of that statement the president made, he said if the japanese do not surrender, they will face a rain of ruin for the like which has never been seen on this earth before. >> i lived in japan four years and i've been to new mexico, some of these places that you've been to. two questions. the relationship between oppenheimer and groves, bizarre to say the least. groves was forced there. oppenheimer was a security risk, yet their joined at the hip to create this monster of a bomb and they benefitted from it in a
sense, prestige and stature. this bomb seems to have warped the history of this period where the united states, they're in the 50th anniversary of the smith se smithsonian. having lived in japan, a lot of school children get taught -- they tried to get rid of european colonialism and they drop the bomb on them and forget about criteria akorea and china. i find this bomb historically -- >> it's become -- >> the whole country's ability to understand the bomb. >> yeah. i devoted -- i think the relationship between oppenheimer and groves is fascinating and quite comic, actually. groves is extraordinarily large. his weight was a secret almost as classified as that of the atomic bomb program. he was rude to everybody. the only person who worked with him was his secretary who was a
widow in his 30s who was the only person in the pentagon office pool who stood up to groves and shut up when he was rude to her. she knew more about the atomic bomb program than the president of the united states. she was known as major o'leary. and i think he was quite scared of her. he was a complete bastard. he was -- this is in 1945, he employed a headset in which he bold commands -- his empire was across the world. he was very tough but he was the guy that was needed to get this thing actually working. on the other hand, oppenheimer is the opposite, he's a corpselike man. he weighs 116 pounds by the time of the trinity test. he's on five packs a day by then. he's smoking himself into an early grave and he died of throat cancer in the '60s.
he's very, very thin. a very, very nervous man indeed. he's a man who believed in an open society. he thinks that scientists should have been able to talk to each other. groves thinks -- he's a security freak. not only did he actually -- he sent spies on onnppenheimer. his wife and his two children who lived here near in washington had absolutely no clue what he was doing every single day of his life when he went into the office running the most expensive and most important weapons program in history and the first time they found out about it was actually on the day the bomb was dropped in hiroshima when he rang up his wife and said, you should listen to the radio today. i'm on it. and at 11:00, he said. they switch on the radio and they hear that this man that's been living with them for the last three years going to his
office, just in the building across from the pentagon is the man who is responsible for the whole of this program. they actually say, they were completely flabbergasted when we heard it was his bomb when it was dropped on the japanese. and so 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. sure, he was a right-wing bastard at one level and oppenheimer had associations with people who were communists or 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 its fair share of supersized
brilliant egos. he was not a noble prize winner. he saw that he was very ambitious and he recognized that by putting him in charge of all these eggheads who couldn't run a faculty meeting let alone a bomb program, you know, he realized that 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 he kept them all in line and that's what gave him his prestigious and important. they 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 we'll continue to be a political football for time in memorial. >> this question addresses the survivors of hiroshima. they've been living with a sort of second shockwave, if you will, and that is the greatly
increased risk of cancer due to their radiation exposure and they've had to deal with survivor guilt. and 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. something that is quite interesting, from my reading of the archives, i spent some time in the national archives in washington and interviewed key people involved in the project who are still alive. i'm dealing with something which is not exactly history. it's in that twilight zone of memory and history which is why i think it's so important. they were not expecting the radio activity of the bomb to be the key killer in the bomb. what they were expecting was the heat of the bomb, which i
describe, and also the blast wave, the shockwave, my book title, of the bomb to be the principle killers effectively. not so much the radio activity. there were memorandum which describes how he sets -- 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 radio activity. they felt the higher you go, the less radio activity there will be. higher up, less radio activity. they're looking at other things at that point. it gives you an insight into the mentality of the time. the bomb obviously makes a tremendous flash at the test in trinity, the flash was so extraordinary that there's a story, a documented story of a blind girl called georgia green
who was on her way to a music lesson in albuquerque. she was being drove by her brother-in-law joe 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. several very key and predominant figures in that program wrote a memo to oppenheimer and groves which i have a copy of in which they actually suggest that they could exploit this blinding brightness from this bomb by dropping super -- this is not my word, its there, by dropping superpowerful sirens at the same time that they drop the bomb so people will hear the sirens and look up when the bomb's flash
occurs, thus blinding them if they don't kill them. this was suggested in a memo about a week or two afterwards. they're not looking at radio activity, they're looking at other things. however, of course, people did die of radio activity and you ask me about the survivors. 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 off. he was actually looking after a little girl who had a heart condition and he was at the point when he was actually injecting a sedative with a syringe into her arm when the shockwave struck. he had a grand stand view of it. and the extraordinary thing is, he tells the story which really stuck in my mind where he
grabbed a bicycle and he started to cycle down this long, white dusty road towards the mushroom cloud in the city and he turned a corner and he actually was going to fast at that point that he fell off his bike, the bike skidded. 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 towards him. that's how he describes it. this object coming towards him. and the object had huge bulging eyes like golf balls and a massive mouth like he 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 if it was a man, woman or human being. he thought at first it might be clothing and then he realized it was burned flesh and this thing was staggered towards him and he was so horrified, he backed away. and as he backed away, collapsed and then convulsed and then appeared to die. and he went towards this thing, this monster and he's a doctor and he thought, i got to do something. and he didn't know where to touch the flesh at all. and he very hesitantly, he told me this, he touched the flesh, the burned blackened flesh on this thing and then he said a prayer and stood you have to get back on his bicycle to continue his journey down into the city because they were going to need a doctor. and then as he looked down, this white road he saw hundreds, if
not thousands of these same figures coming up the hill towards him all looking the same, all with their arms out stretched and these horrible strips of blackened flesh hanging from their arms and it became thousands of them. he said, and i quoted him, when he gave me this interview, he said, my god, how many of them are there. they're all coming up the hill. so he tried to treat them in his little village hospital. they had nothing there but soybean oil and rags. and they were doing their best. he would go out amongst these people, thousands of them lying in the fields with a torch and having to make decisions about which ones to treat and which ones not. and talking about the ones beyond treating would follow him with their eyes and there was nothing that you could do about it at all. and one story about a naked girl who was rushing amongst these
bodies and other people trying to get her to cover up her legs. they hadn't been burned. the bomb was to instantaneously, her upper part was completely burned but her legs were untouched and he describes that detail. and how other people around were trying to kind of cover her up, to give her some sense of modesty in that moment. she was flinging their clothes away. and then of course what started to happen was that people began to get dysentery. some historians argue that 30 to 40,000 people died in the four or five months after the first 80 or 90,000 died from the first day or two of the impact of the bomb from radiation poisoning. many live with those effects to this day. >> is it actually possible that u.s. scientists didn't know that
there would be -- >> they knew there would be radiation. >> but they thought the impact would wipe out most of the population so there -- >> yeah, yeah. in fact, that was one of the things that they were determining in the test, indeed, there were fallout monitors through the state of new mexico and beyond during the test through that night. guys waiting ready to evacuate entire city it was the fallout cloud went that way. they chose names from the wizard of oz. and their role was to evacuate entire populations at night. so all of these americans who might have had to have been evacuated because the cloud was coming their way. the cloud went around the earth five times before it dissipated. >> when did church hill find out about the bomb? where were the japanese fighters
on the day the -- where were the japanese fighter planes? >> on the first question truman did actually obviously told -- churchhill new about the project. when he was told by the secretary of war and read general groves' account, he said, what is electricity meaningless? what is gun powder, it's nothing. he said this atomic bomb is the second coming. very churchhillen. so stalin was not supposed to know about the bomb. in a very, very carefully staged managed event, one evening after one of the sessions, truman causally wandered over to stalin and told stalin that they had a
weapon of unusual destructive power which they were intending to use on the japanese. churchhill -- they worked this out together like a couple of school buy boys. and stalin said, that's great. use it. and they were absolutely convinced that they got away with it and stalin knew nothing about this bomb. they were pleased with it all. stalin knew everything about the bomb because he had a spy at los alamos. and there was a recorded conversation that took place between the foreign minister and stalin after that event, that very night, this is recorded, where stalin turns and says, right, we have to get him onto this and start getting it moving. he was the soviet oppenheimer. they meant, right, we're in the arms race and we got to get moving. in a way, the cold war is born
in that conversation at that table. and the fighters -- the fighter planes, there were no fighter planes, nothing happened. there was no flak. there was no antiaircraft. there was nothing. one of the reasons why that happened was because the japanese, there have been a number of practice missions that these guys had flown carrying pumpkin bombs. they would fly on these missions with one or two or three airplanes. and they were doing it with the express and specific purpose of getting the japanese used to high-flying airplanes that did no damage at all. and it worked. tibbets says this expressly, it worked. they flew this mission. what is one or two or three planes going to do? they're not dangerous. and there's so little fuel left that they're saving their
fighter planes for the serious stuff. they weren't touched. tibbets said after the war that the hiroshima mission was the most boring mission he had ever flown which in a way is a terrifying advertisement for my book but it's astonishing revealing about how perfects that mission was. it was the perfect mission. >> last one. last question. >> first of all, i would like to say that today's the last day for me to be a japanese. tomorrow i'm going to be a u.s. citizen after being here. [ 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'm really looking forward to read your book, to get more detailed information. 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 american ever thought of dropping this bomb to germany to end the war? that's number one. number two question is that you say somebody liked kyoto so much so much, why hiroshima? why not tokyo? why not he chi dough or why not any other place. >> let me tell you very briefly a little story. the scientists, a hungarian scientist, fled berlin in 1933. he was working at the institute which is a major physics department. he was a nuclear physicist.
he came to london and he was standing on a street corner in a part of london and he was staring at the traffic light. in the moment that the traffic light changed, this is his words, not mine, from red to green, he suddenly saw how an at t -- atom bomb could work. and an abyss had opened up in front of him. he thought, if i thought this, there might be some german scientists who has exactly the same inspiration on some other traffic light junction. and it's so terrified him that he then campaigned to get the atomic bomb built by the americans or the british 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 told his aide, he opened a bottle of brandy and said, this is requires action and thus began what we call the manhattan project. it's fundamental purpose was to make sure that the americans had an answer to a german atomic bomb, not to a japanese atomic bomb. when it was quite clear by late 1944 the germans did not have an atomic bomb and were way behind the americans, partly because hitler loathed jewish physics, the next target was japan.
and people 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 would be a terror for future generations when actually the japanese are not an atomic bomb threat. he petitioned the president to stop this thing from being developed just before it was dropped in hiroshima and his petition that was signed by 69 scientists went -- and general groves stuck the petition in his drawer and it never got to president truman. he never saw it. so 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 are expressly and
explicitly described in the minutes of the target selection committee. he -- the target was a perfect target. it was untouched by bombs. virtually. all of these other cities had been pulverized. it could show the effects of an atomic bomb very clearly. it had one major advantage, it was surrounded by mountains and very expressly a number of the people involved in that target selection committee describe how the mountains would create a focusing effect which would increase the blast from the bomb. it was untouched. its geography was bomb perfect. the weather patterns looked good there. they checked 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. the weather was good there.
and it was in some sense also a japanese military installation. there were 43,000 military troops in the city but also 300,000 inhabitants as well that were not in the army at all. interestingly enough, when the president made his statement that i mentioned before, broadcast his statement to the world that he dropped this bomb, i've seen various different drafts of that statement. in earlier drafts of the 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 discussions 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 added at the very last moment. it was added 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 answers your question. [ applause ] >> thank you. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight at 8:00 eastern, a look at hiroshima, nagasaki, and the end of world war ii for the 75th anniversary of hiroshima. we'll show you a documentary examining the august 6th, 1945 atomic bombing of hiroshima japan. the film also features a young family in hiroshima born after the bombing who are trying to make sense of the tragedy during the 50th anniversary. enjoy american history tv tonight and every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3 exploring the people and events that tell the american
story every weekend. coming up this weekend, sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of nagasaki japan and on american history tv and washington journal, live at 9:00 a.m. eastern, we'll look at how the bombings ended world war ii with richard frank, author of "down fall" and professor at american university's nuclear studies institute. they'll take your calls, texts, facebook questions and tweets. at 4:00 p.m. eastern, the 1946 film, affects of the atomic bomb on hiroshima and nagasaki and 1,000 cranes documenting the peace park. and the 75th anniversary of the conference where the new president, harry truman, informed winston churchill about the new u.s. superweapon. explorin t
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