Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Hiroshima (part 1): 220,000 lives lost to a 'Little Boy'

Atomic Blast, Hiroshima
I suspect that if you ask someone to name cities in Japan, then after Tokyo and perhaps Kyoto, many people will find the next city that comes to mind is Hiroshima. Like Chernobyl in the Ukraine, it is one of those places that is infamous rather than famous, and most of us will forever associate the name with the city's past, rather than its present.

I have split this post into two parts, because it's not a subject that I feel can or should be constrained by the size of a blog posting. The second part will be posted tomorrow.

Replica Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima
We really didn't know what to expect of Hiroshima. We knew that there was no ongoing threat from radiation, and that it is a flourishing city, but we didn't know what to expect in terms of the feel of the city, how it deals with its past, and how the people of Hiroshima would feel about visitors.

What we discovered was an amazing city, with great places to eat and drink, and friendly and welcoming locals. In the downtown area, you would have no idea that anything bad had happened here.

The red bomb blast over Hiroshima
But something bad did happen. By the second half of 1945, World War II had ended in Europe, but as a nation famed for the ideal of death before dishonour, the Japanese were showing no sign of surrender. Incendiary bombings in Tokyo had killed over 100,000 people, and it was inevitable that if the war with Japan was to be won, many more thousands would die in the process. If the allies could even win it.

Hiroshima survivors, 2.2 miles away
Reluctant to seek help from the Soviet Union, not wishing to allow a spread of communist influence, and seeing no end in sight through conventional warfare, the USA decided to use its new weapon, the atomic bomb. The aim was to send such a message of strength and superiority to Japan, that it would end the war. As it turned out, it would work.

Clothes and photos of survivors, Hiroshima
I understand the logic of the argument. It may well even be true that the number of deaths in Japan and the surrounding area would have been much higher had the bombs not been dropped. What I'm not so sure about was whether, in this case, the ends really did justify the means.

It isn't a new dilemma in warfare, and it is one we are still facing as we battle against terrorism and the likes of Daesh. It is the kind of decision that is easy to criticise, but must be unbelievably hard to take, and to live with afterwards.

The order to drop the A-bomb, Hiroshima
Right or wrong, the decision was made, and four cities were selected as optimum targets, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura and Niigata. I have to wonder how the people of Kokura and Niigata felt when it was revealed years later that it could have been them instead of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. It seems Hiroshima may have been favoured because it did not have an allied prisoner of war camp as the others did, but the final selection was made by the weather conditions.

Black rain on a wall, Hiroshima
On 6 August 1945, at 8:15am, the B29 bomber the Enola Gay, dropped the 'Little Boy' atomic bomb, the first in the world, over Hiroshima. The 3m long, 4 ton bomb, contained 50kg of uranium 235, which was designed to react with plutonium to create nuclear fission. When the bomb exploded, some 600m above the city, less than 1 kg of the uranium actually reacted, but that alone caused the kind of damage that would take over 16,000 tons of high performance explosives.

Turned to dust, Hiroshoma
Within a second, the temperature reached over 1 million degrees Celsius, and caused a fireball with a diameter of 280m. The surface temperature rose to 3000-4000 degrees Celsius. The intense heat and blast from the explosion crushed and burned nearly all buildings in a 2km radius. Some 80,000 people were believed to have been killed instantly, some being literally turned to dust.

That very soot and dust, that was now radioactive, was carried into the air, mixed with water vapour, and fell back to earth, covering a much greater area with black, or acid, rain.

Fused glass bottles, Hiroshima
The heat of the blast can be seen by the way that glass bottles fused together. The ones in the photo were 1800m away from the blast, and the four year old child who lived next door, died the next day.

The heat was also visible in the photo of the water tap, the shadow of which was imprinted onto the wall next to it by the intensity of the heat and light.

Imprinted shadow, Hiroshima
The radiation from the blast severely affected anyone within 1km of the hypocentre, and most died within a few days. Those that didn't, or were further away still suffered the effects of the radiation. There were around 350,000 people living in and around Hiroshima in 1945.

Fingernails that keep growing, Hiroshima
Some 140,00-160,000 were dead by the end of the year, and the register of the dead, contained in the memorial, holds over 220,000 names of victims. Many others suffered horrible effects throughout the rest of their lives.

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