Edward Teller, 87, preparing a paper, "The
Physics" in his Hoover Institution office in Palo Alto, Calif.,
says he prefers
not to be called the "Father of the H-bomb."
HIROSHIMA and Nagasaki
claimed yet another victim in May.
This time it was Martin Harwit, director of the
National Air and Space Museum, the most popular museum in the
Harwit resigned to defuse criticism by conservatives in Congress
over the museum's
initial plan for exhibiting the Enola Gay,
the Boeing B-29
that bombed Hiroshima,
The Air Force Association that led the attack on
exhibit commemorating the knockout punch that ended the war.
Smithsonian curators wanted a broader exhibit,
horrors of the two bombings and the dawning of a terrible new age.
"When people look at the Enola Gay, they
bring lots of
them," said Thomas Crouch, a curator for the exhibit.
started before the first script was completed. This one was just
difficult. These issues are enormously complex."
And sometimes surprising. Consider, as examples,
the feelings of
Nakano, a Boeing engineer who lives in Kirkland and who was a
victim of the
Hiroshima bombing, and Edward Teller, the famed hydrogen-bomb
physicist and Cold
Nakano thinks the Hiroshima bombing was
Teller regrets that scientists didn't push for a
The 64-year-old Japanese American was born in
1931 in Portland
by the Nakano family of Tacoma. He is one of about two dozen atomic-bomb survivors
who live in the Seattle area.
In 1937 his adoptive family decided to return to
Japan, and he
Hiroshima until 1952. On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, he was lined
up with his
seventh- and eighth-grade classmates preparing to work in a
about 1 1/4 miles from where Little Boy would detonate. He saw two
fly high overhead, and then the white parachute that slowed the
fall of the bomb
so the planes had time to dive away.
"A few seconds later, there was a
sound and the
wind knocked everybody down," Nakano recounted. He was
wearing a jacket and
hood, which helped save him from serious burns. "I opened my
eyes - all the
surrounding area was fire and smoke." His hood caught fire as
its black color
absorbed heat and he had to shake it off. His face and hand were
His biological mother, who had also returned to
Japan, would die
later of massive radiation poisoning. His older sister was cut by
Nakano's home was four miles from the blast, far enough to
survive, and he took a
circuitous route around the
burning city to reach it. "I almost stepped on
the arm of a child. That was the worst thing I experienced."
"My parents were so happy to see me return
to my home. My
immediately took care of my left hand and left face by (applying)
medicine. Our family friend Key Okigawa provided me with a vitamin
Vitamins were very scarce in those days. Most survivors didn't
have medicine. . .
. It took me over two months to recover from the wound."
Nakano has not developed any long-term disease
exposure. Eventually, he used his American citizenship to join the
attend the University of Washington, and work for Boeing on
civilian jets and Air
Force One. "I never worked on a military airplane."
Despite having half his classmates wiped out by
the bomb - older
were working closer to the city center, clearing fire lanes for
bombing that was expected to come - Nakano thinks Hiroshima was
"Japan had time to surrender before that
"We in Hiroshima never thought Japan would surrender."
There were 43,000 soldiers based in Hiroshima,
and Nagasaki was
industrial city that had turned out the torpedoes used at Pearl
shipyards had built some of Japan's biggest warships.
Japanese troops had fought to nearly the last
man on island
after island in
the Pacific. Japanese civilians on Saipan hurled themselves off
cliffs rather than
surrender. Kamikaze pilots at Okinawa had inflicted on the U.S.
Navy its worst
losses of the war. Japan still had 2 million troops and 8,000
Estimates of U.S. casualties in an invasion of
Japan were in the
of thousands. In the context of the times, Nakano argues, "I
there's a need to apologize. Japan hit first. The revisionist
historian idea that
the Japanese will soon surrender is a very wrong guess."
That has long been the mainstream view. Argued
Air Force Gen.
after the war: "We had had 100,000 people killed in Tokyo in
one night of
(conventional) bombs and it had seemingly no effect whatsoever. It
Japanese cities, yes, but their morale was not affected as far as
we could tell,
not at all. So it seemed quite necessary, if we could, to shock
action" with the atomic bomb.
Still, many historians argue that the bombing
might have been
Japan's navy was destroyed, its cities were being reduced to ashes
firebombing and its coast was blockaded. The Soviet Union had just
offensive against Japanese troops in Manchuria. Did Americans give
a chance to work?
Certainly there was confusion and delay on both
example, had leaflets dropped on it warning of the power of atomic
urging surrender, the day after it was bombed.
No scientist has been more intimately connected
worked on the Manhattan Project, was an early proponent and
developer of the hydrogen bomb, and later argued for the
Strategic Defense Initiative. Teller, 87, still has offices at
and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
and keeps up a vigorous travel and
speaking schedule. A staunch anti-communist, he believes the
standoff bought the time necessary for the Soviet Union to
But while Teller believes the American
development of nuclear
necessary, he is less sure that their use on Hiroshima and
"It was not the scientists' decision how to
said in a still-strong accent from his native Hungary. "But I
have one very
great regret in connection with the bomb. We should have worked
out, in detail, a
way to demonstrate it. To work out an alternative was the
What could the United States have done? "I
the idea of
a nuclear-bomb explosion over Tokyo Bay, at 8 p.m. in the evening,
with a clear
sky. It would light up the whole sky for 10 million people to see.
They would hear
a sound like they had never heard before. And we would say, `Give
up, or we will
use this on your cities.' The emperor would have seen it."
The idea of a demonstration was briefly
discussed by American
decision-makers but apparently dismissed because only two weapons
There was concern that a fizzle would harden Japanese resolve.
Historians are still arguing whether other
thinking, including the desire to impress the Soviet Union, the $2
billion cost of
the Manhattan Project, or simply revenge for Pearl Harbor, the
Bataan Death March
in the Philippines and savage island warfare in the Pacific.
Historical opinion has been cyclic. Historians
the decision, then criticized it in a revisionist wave during the
1970s and 1980s.
A new wave of books this year defends the decision again, arguing
saved more lives, both American and Japanese, than it cost.
Barton Bernstein is a Stanford historian who
curators on their initial exhibit. He is critical of estimates of
casualties in an invasion of Japan, suggesting a figure of 63,000
dead instead of
half a million. He considers the atomic bombing a horror that went
conventional firebombing because of its radiation aftereffects on
But would the Japanese have surrendered without
the use of the
"I don't think it's knowable," Bernstein said.
The historian says the initial script for the
exhibit "was reasonably on target" and I would agree. My
after reading it was that the museum got a bum rap.
If displaying the Enola Gay was meant to
celebrate victory in
World War II
and a remarkable airplane, then veterans had a right to complain.
exhibit intended to go far beyond that into the difficult
historical questions of
One passage of the ill-fated script, seeking to
put the bombing
context, understandably drew fire when quoted out of context.
Because of Pearl
Harbor, the script contended, "For most Americans, this war
different than the one waged against Germany and Italy - it was a
vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique
But those are two sentences in a first draft of
more than 400
explore Japanese "naked aggression and extreme
brutality" in some
detail, as well as the horror of the bombing. To my reading, the
Smithsonian exhibition (it opened June 28) was an honest attempt
at balance now
lost to political acrimony. Instead, the forward nose of the Enola
Gay is being
displayed with little comment.
In that sense it is like Bock's Car, the B-29
that dropped the
Nagasaki. Placed at the Air Force museum at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base in
Ohio in 1961, Bock's Car has since been visited by about 1 million
people a year
without controversy - but also without meaningful museum comment.
Half a century after the bombings, feelings are
so strong that
each of us
is left to make up his or her own mind.
Ken Nakano has made up his. Regardless of the
Nagasaki, he said, "The meaning of the 50th anniversary is
that we not use
nuclear weapons again against human beings."
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