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When we talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we tend to focus on August 6 and August 9th. But August 8th, 1945, is one of the most important dates for understanding these events, as well. A thread:
August 8th was when the Japanese confirmed that Hiroshima had been attacked by an atomic bomb. The bombing had happened at 8:15am on August 6, but the American announcement about its nature was not released for 16 hours — midnight, Japanese time.
The Japanese high command sent a team of scientists the next day (August 7) to confirm whether this was true or not — WWII was full of propaganda on all sides. Yoshio Nishina, the head of one of Japan's own modest fission research projects, led the mission to Hiroshima.
(Nishina is a fascinating figure in his own right, and was the builder of the first working cyclotron outside of the United States. In late 1940 he obtained permission for his staff to visit Berkeley to talk with his friend Ernest Lawrence about cyclotron construction.)
Nishina found Hiroshima destroyed, and made the physical measurements necessary to confirm the bomb's nature. He wired his results back to Tokyo on August 8: "What I've seen so far is unspeakable. Tens of thousands dead... the so-called new-type bomb is actually an atomic bomb."
So the evening of August 8th (Japanese time) is the first time that the Japanese high command knew, for sure, that the atomic bomb was real. But that's not all — the morning of August 8th (Washington time) is when Truman got the first casualty estimates of the bombing.
At a meeting with his Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, he was shown photographs of the tremendous damage done to the city (attempts to make photographs prior to this were hindered by the amount of smoke from the bombing), while newspapers proclaimed huge civilian fatalities.
For the first time, the coverage was about the practical effects of the bombings — it wasn't an abstract political move, it was a massacre. This clearly had an effect on Truman; his way of talking about the bomb immediately changed.…
If, as I argue in an article published earlier this year, Truman did not understand that Hiroshima was a city — and not an isolated military base — this would have been his unambiguous wake-up call.…
And at 5pm on August 8th (Moscow time), Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov finally met with Japanese Ambassador Sato. Sato had been trying to meet with Molotov for weeks, but now it was urgent: he was tasked with enlisting Soviet assistance in negotiating peace with the US.
The members of the "peace party" in the Japanese Supreme War Council had believed that the still-neutral Soviets might be willing to help them come up with better terms with the US than unconditional surrender. (The US knew this, as it had cracked their foreign codes.)
The militarists on the Supreme War Council were still under the delusion that they could fight the US to a standstill... but even they knew they couldn't hope to win against the US *and* the USSR. So Soviet neutrality was key for them, as well.
(On all things Japan and Soviet and end of WWII, see especially the account given in Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy, which covers this very well.)…
But right as Sato came in, Molotov cut him off and read him a statement, explaining that: "the Soviet Government declares that as of tomorrow, that is, as of August 9, the Soviet Union will consider itself in a state of war with Japan." Sato was stunned and dejected.
Sato had planned to send a telegraph to Tokyo several hours later, explaining what had happened and his failure. But the Soviets halted all telegraph service to Japan to keep the attack a surprise.
Stalin had known of the Japanese goals, but had planned to invade anyway — he wanted territory that the other Allies had promised him if he did. His initial invasion plan was for mid-August, but after Hiroshima, he moved it up to ASAP.
Sato thought that he had several hours before the invasion would begin — after all, it was slated to begin "tomorrow, August 9th." But the Soviets didn't specify which time zone! They were using Transbaikal time. The Soviet invasion started *one hour* after the meeting had begun.
And, also on, August 8th, the Fat Man bomb was assembled, and that evening (Marianas time) auspiciously loaded in the B-29 named Bockscar, readied for take off at 3am the next morning.
August 8th isn't usually a day we focus on, when we talk about anniversaries, but it's hugely important for making sense of the atomic bombings and the end of WWII. /fin
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