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In the eighteenth chapter of their book, O’Reilly and Dugard describe the point in time when WWII was nearly over, with the German troops capitulating, yet the long-lasting confrontation between the United States and Japan had not ended yet. The preparation for the launching of the atomic bombs is taking place. O’Reilly and Dugard spend a significant amount of the chapter on the description of the bombs and the mechanics behind the implementation of the plan. For instance, the unceasing supervision of the process with the assistance of Captain Parsons. The latter interacts with the people involved in the process actively, with the preparation for the launch of the bombs being in development.
In the meantime, the Japanese government and its emperor Hirohito remain unsuspecting of the events that are about to happen. O’Reilly and Dugard mention that the situation observed in Japan could be summarized using the local term “bukimi,” or the state of uncertainty (p. 272). Due to the presence of the political tension in the relationships between the U.S. and Japan, the feeling of impending doom permeates the atmosphere of the Japanese society, affecting the way in which people interact.
However, remarkably enough, Emperor Hirohito remains calm throughout the entire time, managing the issues of home and foreign politics. While Japanese citizens follow their daily routine, the test for the Trinity A-bomb is performed in the New Mexico desert, thus concluding the preparation stage and leading to the next step of the Manhattan Project.
In the U.S. setting, the impression that the Manhattan project, which was started by Oppenheimer and was about to be implemented by Colonel Paul Tibbets was not merely an inevitable evil but a crucial step toward world peace. The air of unease between the participants of the mission piques as the aircraft is about to be piloted to Hiroshima: “There is tension between the two men, for Enola Gay was Lewis’s aircraft before Tibbets chose to change the name and fly it on this mission” (287). O’Reilly and Dugard switch between the discussion of the mission in the U.S. and the calm and peaceful daily life of Japanese people to juxtapose the environments and emphasize the scale of the tragedy that is about to take place.
For this purpose, the next chapter is dedicated to the description of Japanese citizens’ lives, specifically, the plans and aspirations of sixteen-year-old Akira Onogi, twenty-year-old Akiko Takakura, and other innocent people. As Japanese citizens hear the siren, Enola Gay flies above the state and drops the first bomb on Hiroshima. A minute later, Little Boy, the second bomb, is dropped on Nagasaki.
However, after the bomb is dropped, the internal problems within the U.S. government remain unresolved. The lack of trust between President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur stays a point of concern, with most Americans remaining unaware of the ethical implications of the Manhattan Project. In Japan, Hirohito is rather morose. Finally, the second bomb, the Fat Man, is dropped on Nagasaki, leading to even more devastating results.
Even though Hirohito considered joining forces with Russia to oppose the U.S. after Hiroshima had been destroyed, the final attack leaves Hirohito in shambles. As Bockscar completes its mission, the U.S. plans to drop the third bomb on Japan, yet the message received from Hirohito indicates that the empire is about to collapse, and Hirohito discusses the idea of the complete surrender with his subordinates. Being manipulated by his prime minister Hideki Tojo, Hirohito finally yields, and a range of uncomfortable truths about the Japanese government and especially Tojo is exposed, the ugliest one concerning the “comfort stations” and the infamous “Unit 731” (O’Reilly and Dugard 363-366).
The U.S. suggests that Japan should surrender, while Hirohito will remain protected from further trial. With the introduction of Russian troops into the picture, the process of managing the military confrontation remains problematic for the U.S. troops. In their attempts to locate Hirohito, the troops search the entire area of the underground bunker, yet to no avail. Finally, President Truman receives a message from the Japanese government stating that Hirohito surrenders, which leads to the conclusion of the war.
While the Japanese society is trying to process the defeat, the United States Navy creates premises for the U.S. to display “a massive show of force” (O’Reilly and Dugard 395). However, the war continued for Hideki Tojo, who continues struggling for victory. Tojo attempts suicide, yet his plan is thwarted, and the war is finally declared to be over. During the International Military Tribunal, several Japanese men are sentenced to death, while the latter is imprisoned for life for their war crimes (O’Reilly and Dugard 418).
Connecting Three Themes: Hirohito, Oppenheimer, and Stimson
Being one of the most devastating tragedies of the 20th century, WWII infamously ignited conflicts between countries across the entire globe, leading to horrendous outcomes and prompting completely inhumane acts of violence.
The conflict between the United States and Japan, which ended in the notorious atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is worth exploring as the scenario that created a significant ambiguity regarding the surrender of Japan in the global community (Reed 89). Furthermore, the scenario created by Oppenheimer and implying the immediate bombing of Nagasaki after the attack on Hiroshima is worth questioning whether the way in which WWII ended was a necessity or whether it was a tragic mistake that should have never taken place in the history of the humankind.
It would be an understatement to claim that the Pacific War was fuelled and sustained by a large number of political figures. However, in the described events, Hirohito, Oppenheimer, and Stimson seem to be the key players that defined the way in which the events of the bombing took place. Exploring the outcomes of Hirohito’s choices, one will have to concede that his figure was by far the most controversial one.
On the one hand, his misguided attempts at taking charge of world politics, at the same time remaining in blissful ignorance about the Manhattan Project and its implications for Japan are deservedly scorned by the global society. On the other hand, given the fact that Hirohito was, in fact, a shadow puppet of Tojo, his lack of concern for American politics and the impending doom of the U.S. attack can be seen as quite predictable.
Thus, when assessing the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, it impossible to pin down the weight of responsibility for the lives of innocent people on either of the parties. The project that Oppenheimer developed was a shocking and despicable concept, yet the lingering belief in its necessity as the crowning achievement in ending the global confrontation was an understandable rationale for addressing the ostensible threat (Sullivan 217).
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Oppenheimer, in turn, was a much more controversial figure. Looking back at the concept of the Manhattan Project, it was evident that the lives of millions of people were sacrificed for the sake of reaching a dominant position in a political confrontation. The overall tone of his message during his speech to the American people was self-congratulatory rather than containing any semblance of bitter necessity:
Robert Oppenheimer stands before an auditorium filled with the scientists who designed and produced the atomic bomb. Clasping his hands over his head like a boxer entering the ring, he tells the cheering audience that it is “too early to determine what the results of the bombing might have been, but I’m pretty sure the Japanese didn’t like it.” (O’Reilly and Dugard 323)
Thus, arguably, Oppenheimer created the platform for the idea of the Manhattan Project to become not only palatable but also acceptable in American society. In retrospect, the roles that Oppenheimer, Hirohito, and Stimson played in the tragic events were closely connected to one another, each representing a link in the chain of events that led to the deaths of millions of people.
Therefore, it can be assumed that the events of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing, which took millions of lives and was marked as one of the greatest tragedies in world history, could be seen as the effect of the anxieties and decisions of two powerful states and two powerful people colliding. In the grand scheme of events and the tremendous role that both Hirohito and Oppenheimer played in the implementation of the project (O’Reilly and Rooney 175).
While Oppenheimer, who planned the bombing and made the necessary decisions, and Hirohito, who chose the line of behavior that led to the bombing, embodied the political powers that tore Japan asunder, Stimson represented the attempts at reconciling the sides of the conflict. Nonetheless, each of the three parties contributed to the aggravation of the conflict, fuelling it until it reached the point of no return.
O’Reilly, Bill, and Martin Dugard. Killing the Rising Sun. Henry Holt and Company, 2016.
O’Reilly, Charles T., and William A. Rooney. The Enola Gay and the Smithsonian Institution. McFarland, 2015.
Reed, Bruce Cameron. “The Ongoing Story of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Decades After the Use of a Previously Unthinkable Weapon, a Consensus on Making That Choice Remains Elusive.” American Scientist, vol. 106, no. 2, 2018, pp. 88-95.
Sullivan, Neil J. The Prometheus Bomb: The Manhattan Project and Government in the Dark. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.