Holocaust From The Sky: American Atomic Genocide (Nagasaki, August 9, 1945)

On this date, August 9, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb, one of the most disgraceful and evil inventions ever consummated under state-sponsored science, on a city full of non-combatants in Nagasaki, Japan.

Nagasaki Genocide against a defeated non-nuclear power.

The second atomic bomb, was nicknamed “Fat Man”, contained plutonium fissile material and was a war crime of inestimable proportions.

“The Day After.” Nagasaki Genocide, August 10, 1945; photograph by Yosuke Yamahata

These acts of butchery during World War II created a moral parallel with Adolph Hitler and reduces the notion that morality and ethics were the sole province of the allies in their war against National Socialism and Japan. These events constituted, perhaps, the greatest single assault on human morality and civilisation ever perpetrated during war. This nuclear war hopefully will induce reflection whether the “Good War” was really won by the western exterminators, as the world struggles to contain proliferation of this potentially Earth-eliminating technology. Let us honour the innocents in Japan and so many other lands that were destroyed and slaughtered by American violence and its ruthless martial culture that adores war and those who wage it. This is an article I published on Nagasaki.

“Terrorism from the Sky: The Destruction of Nagasaki,” New Ground

by Peter N. Kirstein, Ph.D.

Sky full of fire, pain pourin’ downBob Dylan1

The last time an atomic weapon was used in combat was the incineration of Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. Most of the world’s attention, however, has concentrated upon the first B-29 Enola Gay mission that rained nuclear death over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. During the fiftieth anniversary of the atomic attacks in 1995, a flurry of press coverage and specials emphasized the Hiroshima, “Little Boy” bombing. Both print and electronic media explored the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, but virtually ignored its most recent application, when Nagasaki’s civilian population was decimated. While the Hiroshima nuclear attack represented the first use of a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic slaughter is the tale of two cities destroyed for reasons other than military necessity. In part, it was driven by the terrorist policy of unconditional surrender, that prolonged the carnage and deterred the Axis Powers from seeking an armistice on terms that might conclude the conflict. As the debate over the nuclearization of World War II continues to rage almost sixty years later, one should remember that the indiscriminate slaughter from America’s weapons of mass destruction, were visited upon two non-white civilian populations for revenge, a thirst for mass murder and atomic diplomacy.

Inside the world’s oldest and largest avionics museum, the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, is displayed the perfectly-restored Bokscar, the frequently ignored B-29 Superfortress that released over Nagasaki the plutonium, “Fat Man” bomb. Its commander was Major Charles Sweeney. Although the propeller-engine bomber bore the eponymous reference to Captain Frederick C. Bock, he switched aircraft prior to takeoff from Tinian in the Mariana Islands.2

President Harry S. Truman, through a White House-issued press release, announced the Hiroshima bombing on August 6. He finally gave an atomic warning to Japan, with a minatory promise that America would continue its nuclear attack in a manner, heretofore, unachievable through air power: the destruction of an entire people and nation:

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications… If they do not accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.

The strategic bomber that killed babies and other Japanese during the genocide: Bokscar, B-29.

Truman’s threatening of the pastoralization of Japan, which was not dissimilar to the Morgenthau Plan for Germany, did not occur, but additional butchery and destruction were unleashed. As the pace of the scientific and technological revolution had already accelerated beyond humankind’s capacity to control and harness it, three days later, Nagasaki became Truman’s next victim of a “rain of ruin.”

Kokura had been chosen as the primary target since it would be easier to demolish than Nagasaki. The latter was a less accessible countervalue target because the bomb’s impact “would be wasted outside the built up areas.” Target selection anticipated a diminution of Nagasaki’s damage due to surrounding hills of the relatively intact city, a port on the west coast of the southern island of Kyushu.4 Kokura’s residents were spared annihilation, however, because of cloud cover and the strict rules of engagement that required, in addition to radar, actual visual sighting of the target before discharge of the gravity bomb. Prior to abandoning its primary, Bokscar unsuccessfully attempted three bombing runs over cloudy Kokura. As the B-29 propeller-driven aircraft was running out of fuel, Sweeney and Commander Fred L. Ashworth, the weaponeer, raced to Nagasaki for one last desperate bombing attempt, before heading to Okinawa for an unscheduled emergency landing. Tinian was beyond return at this point. Nagasaki weather temporarily cleared to permit “Fat Man’s” journey of death, and with two engines sputtering halfway down the runway, Bokscar landed at Okinawa.5 It was the first B-29 to appear on the island, and after refueling and concealing their atomic mission, the crew promptly returned their aircraft to Tinian.6

In the hours preceding the United States bombing of the city, there were several alerts of an impending air attack. A general alert had sounded at 7:48 a.m., with an air raid alert lasting from 7:50 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. While Nagasaki remained on general warning, there was no repetition of an air raid signal until 11:09 a.m., seven minutes after the bomb exploded in airburst fashion over the city. The weapon did not impact the Earth’s surface, and was designed to implode in the atmosphere for purposes of maximizing its destructive-blast radius. Unfortunately, only 400 Japanese were in tunnel shelters which, had they been fully occupied, could have protected 30% of Nagasaki’s population.

At 11:02 a.m., an atomic bomb exploded in the sky over Nagasaki. It completely eradicated one-third of the city with its unique sequence of blast, heat, shock wave and prompt and delayed radiation. The fission weapon killed initially at least 35,000 people, and an additional 35,000 perished from radiation sickness and other post-attack atomic injuries. “Fat Man” contained a core of Plutonium 239, weighed 4.5 tons, was eleven feet long and had a yield of twenty-one kilotons, equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT. Some of America’s current strategic-terrorist weapons dwarf the Nagasaki plutonium bomb, such as the W88 warhead inside the Mk-5 reentry vehicle, that is deployed on Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It contains a destructive yield of 475 kilotons.7

The fireball, a ghastly but hauntingly mesmerizing force, reached a zenith of 656 feet in one second. Shadows of bodies were burnt into the walls of the Nagasaki Fortress Command, which was 2.2 miles from the hypocenter, the area directly under a nuclear explosion. Humans that were approximate to the hypocenter were nearly carbonized.

The Mitsubishi Steel Works factory was reduced to rubble and schools full of children crumbled and collapsed.8 At Shiroyama Primary School, 131 out of 151 children were killed as the three-story concrete building collapsed around them. The catastrophe was repeated at Chinzei Middle School where only fifteen children survived out of a student population of 118. The force of the Bokscar bomb also ended the lives of 414 medical students whom were attending Nagasaki Medical University, a school founded by Franciscan missionaries. Of the seventy Nagasaki physicians in private practice, twenty died and twenty more were critically injured, leaving only thirty of them to provide medical treatment to a stunned, atomic-ravaged population.

Nagasaki had been visited by St. Francis Xavier in 1549, and was the most Christian of Japanese cities with 10% of its population being Catholic. It contained the largest Catholic cathedral in East Asia; during the atomic attack, its roof crumbled killing dozens of parishioners that were about to give confession. Of Nagasaki’s prebomb population of 22,000 Christians, most of whom were Catholic, only 13,000 survived the A-bomb.9

In this second senseless nuclear holocaust, Americans also perished from a weapon allegedly intended to “save lives.” Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell was at Trinity in New Mexico when the first nuclear device, “The Gadget,” was tested on July 16, 1945, and at Tinian. He was a powerful, yet still relatively obscure, military figure who played a significant role in the atomic bombings at the end of World War II. Serving as chief deputy to General Leslie R. Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, Farrell exulted, in an extensive eyewitness summary of the bombings, how “all concerned should feel a deep satisfaction in the success of the operation.”10

Farrell was also one of the first Americans to reach Nagasaki for bomb damage assessment (BDA) of the nuclear carnage. American BDA provided scant reference to “friendly” nuclear fire. Farrell states laconically, “there was a prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki and that some few [American] prisoners were made casualties by our bombing.” While it had been previously reported that American POW were in Kokura, the Target Committee that developed the nuclear targeting plan rejected any consideration to sparing American lives that could give Japan a “prisoner’s veto.” While not knowing in advance that POW were in Nagasaki, nuclear targets were chosen regardless of the known or suspected presence of American military personnel.11

Initial American reports of the nuclear terrorism came from spotter aircraft that accompanied Bokscar. Their crews reported a city covered with smoke, and engulfed in a conflagration of twenty immense fires that emanated from the Mitsubishi Steel Works that was close to the hypocenter. Large explosions were frequent and visible for miles.12 Unlike American damage-assessment surveys that emphasized the destruction of buildings, infrastructure and raw numbers of dead and wounded, Japanese studies of the carnage included humanistic accounts of the impact of the atomic bomb on ordinary citizens, far removed from the counsels of war.

Dr. Masoa Shiotauki was a physician at the Omura Naval Hospital near Nagasaki when the explosion occurred on atomic Thursday. He described a “bright sunny day,” during a dry spell of a Japanese summer, that would tragically facilitate the required visual sighting of the intended target. Then he witnessed a bright flash followed by a “thunderous roar.” Subsequent to this initial, weapons effect of a nuclear explosion, was blast pressure that converted Dr. Shiotauki’s hospital into a killing field where glass was transformed into deadly shards hurtling throughout the facility.

The physician rushed outside to an air raid shelter and saw “a large white cloud in the shape of an opened umbrella with a pink (or light orange) shadow.” His city was destroyed “beyond description” in which every building was damaged or destroyed. Looking at the mountains surrounding the city, he noted later how the leaves had been scorched up to eight kilometers from the hypocenter. Although the date was August 31, Shiotauki noted how “it looked as though autumn had come.”13

Shiotauki, however, soon returned to Omura Naval Hospital where he witnessed the medical consequences of nuclear war: Too many patients and too few surviving physicians to triage in an environment of mass casualties and symptoms unknown to Japanese medicine. Within hours of the explosion of “Fat Man,” 600 Japanese were brought to Omura. Shiotauki stated starkly the condition of the hibakusha the atomic survivors:

The appearance of the patients…was horrifying. Their hair was burned, their clothes torn to pieces and stained by blood, and the naked parts were all burned and inflamed. Their wounds were contaminated by filth. Many among them had numerous pieces of glass and wood projecting from the skin of the face and back. Many were in such a state that they were with difficulty recognized as human beings.14

While most historians and political scientists confine their analysis of the decision to use the atomic bomb to geostrategic themes of motivation, strategy and nuclear proliferation, the A-bomb’s impact on the Japanese population is usually peripheral to their core analyses. Nations that defend their war crimes, and liberal analysts who assess causes and rationale, frequently remain within the narrow international relations and national-security confines of realism and neorealism. Even the most significant historical-revisionist studies of the A-bomb seldom depict its impact on the hibakusha. Survivors or journalists dominate that terrain.15

Seventy-one patients had been transported by train on August 9, and received preliminary treatment at Zatsumura Elementary School in Omura. Then they were moved by truck on August 10, when they were finally hospitalized at Omura Naval Hospital. Fuyoko Araki was a forty-one year old “housewife,” who was only 750 meters from the explosion. She received flash burns on her face, and contusions and abrasions on her lower extremities. On the morning of August 13, Araki suddenly lost her eyesight, and a spinal puncture produced “dark red blood.” She died the next day on August 14.16 Hatsuko Ikei was a seventeen-year old female. She was about 1150 meters from the explosion and was severely burned. Her appetite was suppressed; her eyesight was deteriorating and she suffered brain damage. Ikei developed petechia: purple spots on her body that were as large as a thumb. She died at 4:30 p.m. on August 15, 1945. In Ward 12 at Omura Naval Hospital, a Japanese patient, Chizuko Yamada, was treated for abrasions on her chest, left arm and hip. Her medical condition degenerated into herpes, epilation (hair loss), fever and petechia. She died eleven days after the nuclear explosion. A young fourteen-year-old male student, Todachi Kusumoto, was a patient in Ward 6, and at the time of the “Fat Man” attack, was only one kilometer from the hypocenter. Initially, Kusumoto had no external signs of injury; there were no burns or wounds but he carried a fever and experienced total scalp-hair loss. Typical of radiation disease, hair loss is pronounced, and exacerbated even if touched by a wet hand. His body was covered with petechiae, and then he exhibited cardiac arrhythmia symptoms. Kusumoto became one of Nagasaki’s 70,000 nuclear-noncombatant casualties on August 25, from what was probably radiation disease.17

One cannot effectively assess the decision to incorporate atomic weaponry into the campaign of strategic bombing without confronting Truman’s decision to use a second A-bomb, the last significant military event of the war. Unleashed in combat only three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, it allowed insufficient time to determine Japan’s response to this crushing new reality of American-military power. According to Barton J. Bernstein, the emperor was preparing to end this horrible war, and had decided to seek peace prior to the Nagasaki carnage.18 Furthermore, Washington had neither anticipated nor expected an immediate Japanese response after the initial-atomic blast of August 6, 1945.

 Hirohito, 124th Emperor of Japan

Was the decision to bomb Nagasaki based on reasons other than attempting to bring the four-year Pacific War to an end? It should be recalled, almost sixty years after the pivotal, but hotly-disputed Yalta Conference (February 4-11, 1945), that a pre-nuclear United States had prevailed upon the former Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan. Stalin, who did not want to fight a two-front war, agreed at the Crimean conference to initiate hostilities against Japan within three months after the defeat of Hitler. On August 8, exactly ninety days after V-E Day, Russia declared war on Japan, and launched cross-border military operations to liberate Manchuria from the oppressive occupation of a million-person Japanese army. The next day Nagasaki was bombed.

Possessing an atomic monopoly and a belief in its invulnerability, the U.S. abruptly abandoned its pursuit of Russian assistance in the war against Japan. This was the beginning of the containment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. With the proto-Cold War unfolding, the spectre of a joint Soviet-American occupation in Japan was unacceptable to hegemonic Washington. Given the unnecessary use of the A-bomb to defeat Japan, the weapon might forestall or limit a Soviet-Japanese war that could confer a postwar-Soviet sphere-of-influence in northern China and Japan.19

Avoiding a climactic invasion of Japan’s home islands, with its projected casualties of thousands of Americans and Japanese, was not a legitimate excuse for using the A-bomb. A preliminary invasion, called “Operation Olympic,” would not commence until November 1, 1945 on the island of Kyushu, and the full-scale landings on the Tokyo Plain (“Operation Coronet”) were not planned before March 1, 1946, almost seven months after the Nagasaki bombing. Clearly other military or diplomatic options were available that could have obviated the nuclear-strategic bombing of civilian, noncombatant targets.20

Had the United States been willing to modify, even slightly, the policy of unconditional surrender, and allowed Japan before, and not after the atomic bombings to retain its emperor, an atomic attack on a now-reluctant belligerent may have been averted. Certainly, a preattack atomic warning, a demonstration on an unpopulated area such as Tokyo Bay or elsewhere (as Edward Teller once retrospectively advocated), the continuation of the naval blockade and conventional bombing, were options that might have concluded the Pacific War without the introduction of weapons of mass destruction into combat.21

As the controversy continues over the justification for Truman’s epochal decision to incorporate nuclear weapons as a component of strategic bombing, the atomic memory of Nagasaki must be preserved.22 The last nuclear battlefield, perpetrated by a terrorist democracy that has long proclaimed itself as the ethical and moral model for the world, must not be driven from our history and its chroniclers censored or suspended into silence.23 During World War II, the United States committed war crimes that were equivalent to those of Nazi Germany and Japan. While public awareness of the war’s tragic legacy appropriately recalls the deaths in concentration camps, the Rape of Nanking and the wehrmacht’s ravaging of Soviet Russia, Nagasaki’s destruction must also endure as a symbol of senseless inhumanity. Coming to terms with America’s use of nuclear weapons, and its ruthless pursuit of victory over an Asian race, which it dehumanized and despised,24 requires that we never forget the tragic and haunting history of Nagasaki.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Peter Kirstein is Professor of History at St. Xavier University in Chicago. He may be reached at kirstein@sxu.edu


1 Bob Dylan, “Mississippi,” Love and Theft, 2001. The album was released on September 11, 2001.

2 Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Touchstone, 1986), 739.

3 Statement by the President of the United States, August 6. 1945; roll 6, file 74, Harrison-Bundy Files Relating to the Development of the Atomic Bomb, 1942-1946, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, Record Group 77, National Archives-Great Lakes Region (Chicago, Illinois). (Hereafter referred to as H-B Files). It was delivered at 10:45 a.m., Washington time, August 6, 1945. The president was at sea on the U.S.S Augusta returning from the Potsdam conference.

4 Thomas F. Farrell, “Report on Overseas OperationsAtomic Bomb,” September 27, 1945, 2; roll 13, Manhattan Engineer District History, Records of the Defense Nuclear Agency, RG 374, NA-Great Lakes Region (Chicago, Illinois). [Hereafter referred to as Manhattan Files].

5 “Nagasaki Plane Landing on Two Engines,” ND and no author; roll 8, H-B Files; Ibid., 5.

6 The Beverly Review (Chicago), August 16, 1995, 10.

7 Robert Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Nuclear Notebook,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May-June 2003, 74-5.

8 Peter N. Kirstein, “Will Fat Man be the Last?” Op-Ed, Chicago Tribune, August 9, 1984.

9 New York Times, August 9, 1995.

10 Farrell, “Report,” 6.

11 Ibid., 2.

12 Memorandum, 20th Air Force, Guam to War Dept. Headquarters, US Army Strategic Air Forces, Guam, August 9, 1945, roll 1, H-B Files.

13 Masoa Shiotauki, “The Effects of the Explosion of the Atomic Bomb on the Human Body,” September 10, 1945, 1, Appendix 2, Preliminary Report of Findings of Atomic Bomb Investigating Groups at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; roll 14, Manhattan Files.

14 Ibid., 2.

15 Hideko Tamura Snider, One Sunny Day (Chicago: Open Court, 1996); John Hersey, Hiroshima (New York: Vintage, 1989); Michihiko Hachiya, Hiroshima Diary (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

16 Shiotauki, “Explosion,” 6-7.

17 Ibid.

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