A Brief History
On August 9, 1945, a Boeing B-29 bomber named “Bockscar” dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan, incinerating 39,000 people within seconds. In the following weeks, thousands more would die from exposure and their injuries, and more would keep dying from radiation-related illnesses for years to come. The Japanese quickly surrendered after this second nuclear attack, but the question of whether or not this bomb was necessary still haunts Americans to this day.
“Bockscar” was part of a special B-29 unit specially trained for dropping atomic bombs. The bombers were modified B-29s that had their bomb bays adapted to fit extra large bombs (the Uranium “gun” type and the Plutonium “pumpkin” type) and whose armor and guns had been removed to save weight. They had also been fitted with improved engines. Not only were these planes able to carry either the “Little Boy” or the “Fat Man” bombs, but their superior performance allowed them to escape the blast zones more quickly.
The first atomic bomb, “Little Boy” which had the “gun” type configuration, was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The stunned Japanese had already started to debate whether or not to surrender when the second bomb, called “Fat Man,” a Plutonium-implosion “pumpkin” type, was dropped on Nagasaki.
The “Fat Man” bomb was considerably more powerful than the “Little Boy” bomb, but poor visibility caused it to be dropped off target, killing fewer people.
Normally the debate about the use of the atomic weapons against Japan focuses on whether the first bomb should have been dropped on a populated place at all, something we here at History and Headlines have discussed here. Whether or not the second bomb was needed is even more debatable. Why did the U.S. not give the Japanese a little more time to sort out the chaos of the first attack or, after a day or 2, communicate an ultimatum? Were the American planners that eager to test the effects of another type of bomb on real people? Some have speculated that the second bomb was needed to prove that the U.S. had more than one such weapon. This implies that the U.S. might have continued to drop atomic bombs until Japan finally surrendered.
The statement “With great power comes great responsibility” may come from a comic book, but it is certainly true. Was the United States using its great power responsibly in August of 1945? Most Americans would say yes, but many people around the world would say no. Question for students (and subscribers): What do you say? Should the U.S. have dropped that second bomb on Nagasaki, or should America have pursued other means before rushing to nuke another city? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below this article.
History and Headlines Note: “Bockscar” is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The pilot of “Bockscar,” Major Charles Sweeney, later became a Major General in the Massachusetts Air National Guard and died in 2004 at the age of 84.
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For more information, please see…
Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. Penguin Books, 2001.
KidCaps. The Atomic Bomb: A History Just For Kids! CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.