Aug 6 1945


Fireball of the Trinity Test, 0.016 second after explosion, July 16, 1945

At 10 a.m. on May 31, the committee members filed into the dark-paneled conference room of the War Department. The air was heavy with the presence of three Nobel laureates and Oppenheimer. Stimson opened the proceedings on a portentous note: “We do not regard it as a new weapon merely,” he said, “but as a revolutionary change in the relations of man to the universe.” The atomic bomb might mean the “doom of civilization,” or a “Frankenstein” that might “eat us up”; or it might secure world peace. The bomb’s implications “went far beyond the needs of the present war,” Stimson said. It must be controlled and nurtured in the service of peace.

Enola Gay

Stimson, meanwhile, was personally preoccupied with saving Kyoto, the ancient capital whose temples and shrines he had visited with his wife in 1926. He requested that it be struck from the shortlist of targets. Japan was not just a place on a map, or a nation that must be defeated, he insisted. The objective, surely, was military damage, not civilian lives. In Stimson’s mind the bomb should “be used as a weapon of war in the manner prescribed by the laws of war” and “dropped on a military target.” Stimson argued that Kyoto “must not be bombed. It lies in the form of a cup and thus would be exceptionally vulnerable. … It is exclusively a place of homes and art and shrines.”

gold temple


With the exception of Stimson on Kyoto—which was essentially an aesthetic objection—not one of the committee men raised the ethical, moral, or religious case against the use of an atomic bomb without warning on an undefended city. The businesslike tone, the strict adherence to form, the cool pragmatism, did not admit humanitarian arguments, however vibrantly they lived in the minds and diaries of several of the men present.


Stimson w/ Truman. George Skadding, LIFE Magazine.

Those quotes from this interesting Atlantic article by Paul Ham, excerpted from his book.

This blog goes deeper into the Kyoto decision, and the idea that Truman didn’t totally understand the power of the atomic bomb.  (where I found that Stimson photo)

Highly recommend a listen to Allison Silverman’s 20 minute piece about “This Is Your Life” on This American Life, which includes a story about how they introduced a (drunk) Captain Robert Lewis of the Enola Gay to “Hiroshima maidens” on TV.

”If I live a hundred years, I’ll never quite get these few minutes out of my mind,” Captain Lewis said in his log of the Enola Gay’s mission, written in pen and pencil on the back of War Department forms, on Aug. 6, 1945.

”Everyone on the ship is actually dumbstruck even though we had expected something fierce. It was the actual sight that we saw that caused the crew to feel that they were part of Buck Rodgers’ 25th century warriors.”

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