Source B was written by an American soldier who helped drop the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy” on the Japanese town of Hiroshima, and is a primary source. It is a letter to the airman’s son and is contained in a secondary source, a book called “No High Ground”, by F. Knebel and C. W. Bailing, published in 1960. The fact that the book was written by an American, who was involved in the dropping of the first atomic bomb, makes this a valuable source. As the letter is a private communication, the airman is likely not to have embellished it with falsified information, or glorification of his own acts.
The letter was not meant for publication. The first sentence of the letter is factual, and the events of the day are still fresh in the airman’s mind, “… Today the lead plane of our little formation dropped a single bomb”. The airman tells of the devastating power of the bomb, and the damage it has no doubt done to the Japanese city, “a single bomb which probably exploded with the force of 15,000 tons of high explosive. ” He goes into further detail about the bomb, all the time being very informative about its destructive clout, telling us he has probably aiding in killing thousands of Japanese.
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He does try to justify the bomb. He sees the bomb as a way to stop the threat of future war in the world, “This terrible weapon … may bring the countries of the world together and prevent further wars”. The airman clearly feels guilty about taking part in the dropping of the bomb. However, it could be said that the source may not be reliable. The airman may be embroidering the truth in order that his son will see his father in a good light. He may be trying to keep details from his son, because the whole truth is too disturbing for the young boy to handle.
He also is an American pilot and could have suffered some form of indoctrination from his superiors, and could have been told to put forward pro-US propaganda in his personal letters. Letters from the airbases would have been checked anyway, and especially at a time of such importance, so his letter may have had to have been vetted by people in higher positions in the military. It is also useful to remember that during the 1960’s there was a strong ant-nuclear movement in the USA and Europe. This letter was published in a book supporting this movement.
The extract published may be the only points in the letter to have contained anti-nuclear points, so this part of the letter may give a false impression overall of the authors views. In my opinion, the points supporting the fact that this is a useful source outweigh the argument against. The man probably did feel extremely guilty for the actions of his country, and his own, but saw the bomb as a violent means for peace. How is the reaction to the dropping of the first atomic bomb represented in source F? Why was it represented in this way? (ANALYSIS, REPRESENTATION/INTERPRETATION, RELIABILITY)
Source F is photograph taken after the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It shows a group of American servicemen reading a paper with the headline “ATOM BOMB DESTROYS ENTIRE CITY SAY JAPS”. The men appear to be celebrating and are all looking pleased at this great ‘victory’ for their country. One of the men is drinking what appears to be a glass of Coke. The photographer’s name is not given, so we don’t know who took the photo. As it the photographer’s name is not specified, the photo could have been taken for several reasons.
It could have been taken merely to show the elation, from an American point of view, that the war was drawing to end. The photo looks staged as all the men seem to be in very rigid poses and none are looking at the camera. The photo could have been used in a paper to show the ordinary American people how important it was to use the bomb, and the euphoria the servicemen now felt, as they would, almost certainly, not have to go into Japan on foot, to take it over. The servicemen did not want to do this because the Japanese were notoriously brutal to any prisoners taken, and were known to fight to the death and never surrender.
In fact surrender was the last thing the Japanese were likely to do. However, there is another possibility for the origin of the photograph. It may have in fact been taken by a Japanese photographer in one of the many Prisoner of War Camps on the Japanese mainland. Any American captured during skirmishes in the war was kept in one of these camps in dreadful conditions. The were often malnourished and tortured while in captivity, as depicted in David Lean’s ” Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957).
These Americans may have been forced to take part in this ‘celebration’ by their Japanese captors as a way to gain sympathy for the Japanese from the worldwide community. When the pictures were seen of American prisoners looking well in a camp, celebrating the death of huge numbers of Japanese innocents, many countries may have thought it was an outrage to bomb the Japanese. People of the world may have thought that prisoners were being well treated, as these men are all looking in the best of health, so could have thought it was a mistake to use such a devastating weapon.
This, however is very unlikely, and it seems these are real American servicemen, posing for an American propaganda photograph, showing their relief that the war was nearly over. Look at the video extract (source K). How was the dropping of the first atomic bombs represented here and why? Why was some of the evidence not made public in 1945? (ANALYSIS, REPRESENTATION/INTERPRETATION, RELIABILITY) Source K is a video showing how the dropping of the atomic bombs were represented in the years following 1945. The power that the world had seemingly achieved was portrayed as a giant leap forward in technology and the art of warfare.
This new source of energy was seen to be a clean, cheap and efficient way to bring electricity to peoples homes. Even the dropping of the bomb was seen as a great thing. Sheldon Johnson went as far as to describe the bomb as a “beautiful, great thing”. People saw the bomb as a lifesaver, not destroyer. This bomb would mean an end to the hand-to-hand combat currently being used on the Japanese islands. Rather than letting the war drag on and let many more die, the Americans felt it was their duty to kill many Japanese at once in order to save many more. This source graphically tells us of the complete devastation caused by the bomb.
It tells us of the thousands that died in each city, and of the fate of the many other victims of radiation poisoning. In Hiroshima 70,000 died of the initial impact of the bomb, and that amount again died of the mysterious illness that swept through the city. In the August 1945 bombing of Nagasaki, 40,000 died straight away, and another 30,000 taking ill and dying in the following year. The source also tells us that every single person within a half-mile radius of the drop were killed. People living up to two and a half miles away were severely burnt. To emphasize the horrific burns the blast caused, we are shown a young boy.
The skin on his back is literally peeling away, and he describes the immense pain he was under during the 20 months he spent in hospital, lying on his back, with doctors reconstructing the skin. This video was kept away from the prying eyes of the public until recently, for obvious reasons. First of all, if the complete truth about the bombing was known at the time, America would have been severely criticised by other countries for this dreadful action. The governments of these countries may have refused to talk to America, and America’s reputation would have been damaged in the eyes of the world.
On top of that, the American authorities wanted to carry out additional tests on the power of the bomb, and develop viable tactics to sweep areas devastated by the bomb. During these further tests, American ground troops were unwittingly cajoled into being the ‘guinea pigs’. The soldiers were told nothing of the carcinogenic effects of radiation, or the illnesses cause by over exposure. Many of these troops have fallen ill with cancer since the tests, and some have won lawsuits against their own government. Another important reason for the cover-up was the possible use of the atomic bomb on the Soviet Union during the upcoming Cold War.
At this time America and the Soviet Union were still allies, so it was important for morale that the American people thought they were not aggressors. America also didn’t want to share their powerful knowledge of the atomic bomb with the Soviets. The American government probably saw 1945 as a bad time, for their own safety, to reveal the devastating full affects of the atomic bomb to it’s people. Feelings in America were still raw from the wartime losses, and the government would have had to have been mad to destroy the high morale that now existed in their country. Sources G, H and I are supplied by Allied POWs who were in Japan in 1945.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of this type of evidence to an historian writing about the atomic bomb? (EVALUATION, ANALYSIS, UTILITY, RELIABILITY) All of these sources were written by Allied POWs in Japan during the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, therefore they are primary sources. However, they are contained in secondary sources, which were written many years after the event. The authors of sources H and I seem to have witnessed the dropping of the bomb, whereas the author of source G seems to have only witnessed the after effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb.
These sources contain many strengths and weaknesses. First of all I will concentrate on the strengths. Sources H and I are both graphic eyewitness accounts, telling us about the horrendous effects of the bomb on the Japanese people. Source H is written by Ron Bryer, who was a prisoner of war. When the bomb fell on Nagasaki he was standing in a trench, and actually watched the bomb coming down from half a mile away, “There was no explosion – just a series of rocking vibrations”. The source tells us that that “It was pitch black, except for the moving pin-pricks of people on fire.
No noise. No screaming”. The deathly silence seems to have disturbed the author. This source is supported by authors of other sources, particularly Michihiko Hachiya’s Source J, from the book ‘Hiroshima Diary’. The fact that this source was written by a Japanese person further backs up the evidence in Source H, as it proves the author is not biased in favour of his country. This source tells us “There were the shadowy forms of people, some of whom looked like walking ghosts. ” Again this source is very graphic. Source I was written by Stanley Lawrence, a prisoner of war in Nagasaki.