History Lesson: Hiroshima

Rooster discusses Hiroshima on this edition of History Lesson.

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As the bomb fell over Hiroshima and exploded, we saw an entire city disappear. I wrote in my log the words: ‘My God, what have we done?‘” – Capt Robert Lewis

Hiroshima means “Broad Island” in Japanese, and it is the largest city in the Chūgoku region of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It sits right on Hiroshima Bay and resembles a fan shape from above. The city was first established by a powerful daimyo (feudal lord), Mōri Terumoto, in 158. After the feudal system was abolished in the Imperial period, Hiroshima became the major urban center and capital city of Hiroshima Prefecture. With the switch from rural to urban industries, the city became an important port city and home to one of Japan’s seven government-sponsored English language schools.

During the First Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese government briefly relocated to Hiroshima and Emperor Meiji kept his headquarters at Hiroshima Castle for more than six months. Further industrialization occurred at Hiroshima during the Russo-Japanese War for the use of military development. The city proved its military worth again when the Japanese joined the Allies for World War I; about 500 German POWs were held in Hiroshima Bay.

During World War II, Hiroshima was once more an army headquarters and a critical military port. The people of Hiroshima were expecting something — rumors stewed that something big was coming, and everyone was on edge. Air-raid warnings went off nightly for weeks leading up to the atomic bomb. On the morning of August 6, 1945, a low level air-raid warning blasted and went largely ignored since this frequently occurred around the same time. At 8am the all-clear sounded. Fifteen minutes later, a silent white flash enveloped the city. It was impossibly bright, brighter than anything anyone had experienced in 1945.

After the explosion, anyone still alive was in a daze, as seventy percent of the city had been destroyed and a thick miasma of smoke and dust darkened the sky. A child asked, “Why is it night already? What happened?” Only a few electrical fires started, but many survivors of the initial explosion had terrible burns on their faces and limbs from radiation. Bodies were instantly vaporized, skin and flesh melted into barely recognizable husks of people. In the largest hospital, only six doctors out of thirty and ten nurses out of more than two hundred were alive and well enough to work. Yet the hospital was overflowing with people on the verge of death.

Japan surrendered on August 14th, and shortly after, Allied troops began occupying the country. The aftermath of the atom bomb attacks was deliberately kept from the public by US military censors, and the effects of radiation exposure were officially denied. Later that same year, Hiroshima was hit by Typhoon Ida which killed approximately 2,000 people. By the end of 1945, around 140,000 people had died from the bomb, Little Boy, and the resulting radiation.

Hiroshima was rebuilt after the war. All land previously owned by the military was donated to the city, and the Japanese parliament proclaimed it a City of Peace in 1949. This designation made Hiroshima a popular host for international peace and social issue conferences. To this day, the city government staunchly advocates the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Rooster stars in the history/spooky/society and culture/current events/everything show, Phone It In. She also covers the broad, daunting topic of ‘general history’ on History Lesson. Follow her on Twitter @SoBroRooster

Check out the SoBros Shop. Become a Patron. Give us money for no reason. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @SoBrosNetwork. Watch on YouTube. Image courtesy of @rapdelarea on Unsplash!

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