On August 6, 1945, a single bomb dropped from a single B-29 Superfortress bomber and, in little more than an instant, obliterated the Japanese city of Hiroshima and an estimated 100,000 people. Three days later, another atomic bomb detonated above the city of Nagasaki killing untold thousands more. The use of this powerful new weapon all but ended the Second World War (along with the Soviet Union declaring war on Japan) forcing the Japanese to surrender.
But with the bomb’s bright flash, hellish heat, destructive blast wave, and subsequent radiological catastrophe came a clear warning that a new age had dawned for mankind. This new age would feature great promise of technological and scientific advances, but would also present the danger of worldwide destruction by nuclear weapons.
The editors of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader understood this new threat immediately. On August 7, 1945, one day after the obliteration of Hiroshima, the Times Leader ran an editorial on the new dangerous new era that had just begun. In it, they make several keen predictions. They wrote that this bomb changed everything and ended the American political isolation that marked the aftermath of World War I. They acknowledged that the atomic weapon was crude and primitive and that quickly scientists would discover ways to make it infinitely more powerful. They spoke out about the dangers of the weapon falling into the wrong hands. But most presciently, they recognized that in this weapon, humanity could wreak its own destruction.
On the day after the Hiroshima bombing, they also got things wrong. They suggested that this new weapon might mean the end of war. In that, we know today that this was wishful thinking, but it did change the equation for the outbreak of conflicts around the world. No more would massive empires collide in nightmarish global war – they couldn’t or risk their own destruction in a flash of nuclear energy. They also overestimated the impact of nuclear power on the coal and oil industry. They couldn’t have imagined the many challenges the drive for civilian nuclear energy would face. Little more than 30 years later, a Pennsylvania city located down river from Wilkes-Barre on the Susquehanna faced its own destruction when a nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island threatened to melt down.
This is an imperfect editorial, as they all are, but it provides an opportunity for us to look back 75 years and see what Americans were thinking in the days after the atomic bomb “reverberated throughout the world.”
From the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, August 7, 1945:
Atomic Bomb Ushers in New Era For Mankind
The dropping of a small bomb on the port of Hiroshima in Japan yesterday reverberated throughout the world.
This was no ordinary bomb; it was an atomic bomb, the force of which was equal to 20,000 tons of TNT or the explosive that heretofore might be carried by 2,000 of our Superforts. It is difficult for man to conceive of the power in this destructive agent, yet it is only the beginning, as crude as our first automobile or our first airplane. When it is fully developed, what might happen staggers the imagination. It is not too much to suggest the earth itself could be destroyed by such a weapon.
It is fortunate for us our scientists won this race. It had been no secret the Germans were experimenting along the same line and this was to have been Hitler’s ace in the hole. If the Nazi effort had succeeded, he would have been master of the world.
The conquest of the atom, as suggested by the bomb, makes anything that has happened in the past 2,000 years trivial by comparison. The defeat of Japan is now a foregone conclusion and, like the defeat of Germany, becomes relatively unimportant. The war itself is now a mere incident, for this opens up a new world if it does not prove to be a monster to destroy us. Perhaps we shall rue the day our scientists unlocked this secret of nature at a cost of $2,000,000,000, although it was inevitable somebody would.
Immediately, it suggests there can be no more wars, for bombs of the future, hurled across the oceans, could destroy a country in a few minutes. If we produce an atomic bomb with a force of 20,000 tons of TNT now, there is nothing to prevent the perfection of a bomb with the force of 1,000,000 tons of TNT and upward. That means nations must maintain peace at all costs for their own preservation. Isolation is a word that may as well be stricken from the dictionary, as we shall have no further use of it.
On the other hand, what will happen if these bombs get into the hands of unscrupulous individuals, as they undoubtedly will? It is a fearful thought.
In the realm of peace, the harnessing of atomic energy has startling possibilities. It will make over our world completely. This will not happen overnight, but most of us alive today will see the transformation.
What the effect will be on the coal and oil industries is anybody’s guess. The new source of energy will relegate them to other uses than the creation of heat and power, for a handful of earth contains enough energy to take care of the needs of a city once it is released.
Although the atomic bomb means victory for our cause in the war against Japan, let us hope the knowledge which made it possible will be deployed to other purposes than destruction. If it is, then a new era will be ushered in with untold blessings and progress. Whatever be the result, the public saw on the front page of this and other newspapers yesterday the most astounding story it will ever be privileged to read.
Just nine years after Hiroshima, the United States tested weapons that were significantly more powerful than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs. This footage, from the 1954 Castle Bravo test in the Pacific Ocean shows the terrifying reality of thermonuclear weapons and proved the editors of the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader correct in their estimation that these weapons would grow immensely in destructive power.
Featured Images: Photographs of the mushroom clouds that grew over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945