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From Atlantic Unbound:

Flashbacks: "Pearl Harbor in Retrospect" (May 25, 2001)
Atlantic articles from 1948, 1991, and 1999 look back at the attack on Pearl Harbor from American and Japanese perspectives.

Flashbacks: "Living With Fallout" (March 28, 1999)
What happens when people are exposed to nuclear radiation? Three articles from the 1970s through the 1990s consider the health and policy implications.

Flashbacks: "Nuclear Warnings" (June 11, 1998)
Lest we forget, in the wake of nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, here are two first-hand accounts of the devastation of Hiroshima—vivid reminders of what nuclear weapons do to human beings. Plus, a few words from Albert Einstein.



Flashbacks
 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 5, 2005
 
ixty years ago this week, the United States dropped two atomic bombs, unleashing mass death and destruction—and an arms race lasting a half-century. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, coupled with the firebombings of many other cities, including Tokyo, unquestionably shortened the war and halted a tide of Japanese militarism that had been rising for years. Even now, many continue to wonder, Was it necessary? At several moments in history, authors in the pages of The Atlantic Monthly have probed this haunting question.

In August 1980, William R. Byron translated an article written by a French journalist, Robert Guillain, containing an eyewitness account of the explosion at Hiroshima early one Monday morning. The memories of hibakusha, or survivors, contained in "'I Thought My Last Hour Had Come...'" are ghastly:
"And what happened to the sky, so blue a moment ago? Now it was as black as night. Everything seemed vague and fuzzy. It was as though a cloud covered my eyes and I wondered if I had lost my senses … People by the hundreds were flailing in the river. I couldn't tell if they were men or women; they were all in the same state: their faces were puffy and ashen, their hair tangled, they held their hands raised and, groaning with pain, threw themselves into the water."
In December 1946, Karl T. Compton, president of M.I.T. and an adviser to the Secretary of War, argued that the bombs were necessary. In "If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used," Compton noted that the nuclear explosions killed far fewer people than the firebombings. Moreover, without the nuclear attacks, the Japanese would not have surrendered, even though they were militarily beaten: "I cannot believe," he wrote, "that, without the atomic bomb, the surrender would have come without a great deal more of costly struggle and bloodshed."

Finally, in July 1995, Thomas Powers plumbed the depths of the debate for the fifty-year anniversary of the bombings in his article "Was It Right?" Powers's answer was, reluctantly, that it was necessary, but that it could never have been "right." "The bombing was cruel," he wrote, "but it ended a greater, longer cruelty."
[H]ow could the killing of 100,000 civilians in a day for a political purpose ever be considered anything but a crime? Fifty years of argument over the crime against Hiroshima and Nagasaki has disguised the fact that the American war against Japan was ended by a larger crime in which the atomic bombings were only a late innovation—the killing of so many civilians that the Emperor and his cabinet eventually found the courage to give up.
—Ivan Boothe


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Ivan Boothe was a new media intern for The Atlantic.

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