Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
This is the BBC. This podcast is supported by advertising outside the UK. The following podcast contains some graphic descriptions which some listeners might find upsetting. Leo Salade has never felt so powerless in his life, he knows the bomb is going to be used, bringing untold death and destruction. Salaat has created a petition to the American president going on the record against the use of the bomb. But he is under no illusion that this will stop the outcome that now seems inevitable.
The chain reaction is in motion. All he can do is wait. Finally, the news he has been awaiting and dreading arrives scientists, British and American, have made the atomic bomb at last. The first one was dropped on a Japanese city this morning. President Truman gave the news this afternoon in a statement from the White House.
Up until the moment it was dropped, the atomic bomb was the world's best kept secret. Even some members of the flight crew did not know what they were being sent to drop until they were airborne.
President Truman added that the atomic bomb opens up a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power against Japan. This atomic bomb, the president added, is a harnessing of the basic powers of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East all over the world.
There's a sense of shock that this new weapon even exists, which only grows when its devastating impact is revealed. We have entered a new era, the nuclear age. My name is Emily Strasser. From the BBC World Service, this is the Bob. Episode seven, The Doomsday Clock. There is just a single bomber in the sky, nobody had time to run for shelter, nobody had time to duck and cover. I found myself pinned under the collapsed building, totally dark and silent, strangely.
On the day the atomic bomb falls on Hiroshima, Setsuko Thurlow is 13 years old. She's a mile away from the blast on that summer's day in 1945.
And they tried to move my body, but I couldn't move. So I knew. I was facing death that same morning, Setsuko had joined a group of 30 school girls to begin work decoding messages for the Army, then faint voices started around me.
Mother, help me, God help me, this is what I heard from the girls around me, so at least I recognize I wasn't alone. Somebody was around and then all of a sudden some strong human touch on my left shoulder from behind and the strong voice don't give up. It's one thing to learn about the bomb in mind numbing facts and numbers, but it's another entirely to take it in on the human scale. And he obviously loosened the timbers or something which would crush in midterm.
I was free, I could move, I could crawl out, and by the time I got out of the burning building, he was beginning to burn. I thought of my girlfriends, about 30 girls who were with me in the same room. But when I turned back. The big flame of fires and I couldn't go back. And although it happened in the morning at 15, by the time we came up, I came out, it was like Twilight, very dark moments earlier.
It had been a bright, clear morning. As my eyes got used to, I started seeing some moving object near me. And it was the stream of injured people who didn't look like human beings.
My grandfather, George Strasser, was one of the scientists who helped to create that scene of horror. He helped to build the bomb that destroyed Tetsuko City and tens of thousands of lives. I spent years trying to unpack the layers of secrecy around his work and to make sense of this violent legacy. Scientists from across the world helped build this bomb, and I don't think we've ever really come to terms with what we did that day in August 1945. It looked like ghost to me.
Here was just just all over in all. Rising upwards in the parts of the body were missing in. Burned them blackened, swollen and bleeding. And some people carrying their own eyeballs in their hands. And in this tiny stretch. And the soldiers said you girls joined the procession and escaped to the nearby hill. The weather made it possible for them to fly to the target city. That's Janette Kornet. The weather was important. Too much cloud and moisture in the air would absorb some of the blast and it wouldn't be as effective.
Control of the Enola Gay is handed over to Bombardier Thomas Ferebee. This is Cynthia Kelley Furbies aiming point. The TSA IoE bridge is in clear range. The 60 second sequence to automatic release of the bomb is engaged.
At precisely 815 Hiroshima time, the bomb bay doors of the Enola Gay snapped open. The plane has been named Enola Gay after the pilot's mother.
Her name is about to go down in history. And little boy drops clear evidence restraining cook.
Perry watches the bomb wobble before it picks up speed and falls away. Somewhere between 60 and 80 thousand people were killed instantly. The death toll would eventually climb to somewhere between ninety thousand and one hundred and forty five thousand people. While Hiroshima had a sizable military presence, most of the casualties were civilians, elderly people, children gone in an instant or due to die a slow, painful death from the excruciating long term effects of radiation exposure.
When you arrive in Hiroshima today, you see a pristine modern city with wide streets covered shopping arcades, children, softball games in the lush and green Hiroshima peace park. I stood in front of a stone tomb, which contains volumes inscribed with nearly 300000 names of deceased bomb victims, those who died in the bombing and those who've died since I was there because I needed to see for myself the place where it happened. I needed to visit the epicenter of the suffering my grandfather helped to cause.
I interviewed survivors, hibakusha, who told me the story of that day, their stories were all different, all harrowing. It is an act of courage for them to speak at all after the war, the hibakusha faced enormous prejudice based on fear of the health effects of radiation. Many kept their histories of secret. I told them about my grandfather and his role in helping to create the bomb. What surprised me was how readily the hypoxia offered forgiveness. But I began to worry that just by being there, I was asking for their forgiveness.
Then I met Minoru Horikoshi, former director of the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Mr. Hedgie kept his status as a survivor secret until his appointment to the museum forced the disclosure. But promoting peace doesn't necessarily equate to forgiveness. I told him of my grandfather's struggle and mental illness, Mr. Head, a guy said he was glad my grandfather suffered for his work. I was somehow relieved by his bluntness and anger, possibly because his emotions mirror my own on some level.
I, too, am glad my grandfather suffered for his work in Hiroshima. I encountered incredible forgiveness and righteous anger. I think there needs to be room for both. It feels more honest. We learn how to step over the bodies, and by the time we got to that huge military training ground, which was the size of the two football fields. The place was packed with the dead bodies and seriously injured people, dying people, and you would expect in a situation like that, big noise, people screaming for help and running around, that's not what I saw.
What I saw was a dead city so silent, the only sound I heard was people whisper, just begging for water. Everybody was. Asking for what? We've we girls were not so severely injured. We wanted to help. But we didn't have the cups, a bucket to carry water, so we went to the nearby stream and washed off the blood from our bodies and tore off our blouses, soaked them in the cold water and put those clothes of the mouth of injured people.
They desperately sucked the water. And that was the only kind of so-called rescue operation we were able to offer. I quickly looked around and see if there were anybody helping them. I didn't see a single medical doctor or nurse. Everybody was dying or begging for water. And we kept that all day, and the one the darkness fell, we sat on the hill and. Watch the entire city burn.
I suppose it sounds strange to you, but I had no trouble defending Odia or my my house must be burning Obeah, my favorite dress, my favorite books, or they must be burning, you know, none of that. I was so serene.
Actually, that's not the right word. It should be. I, I was stunned, not very stunned. I'm feeling the way I was simply looking down this city of Hiroshima and I spent all night on the hill. Three days later and a second bomb is headed to a second city, Kokura, Japan, but the plane finds the city covered in cloud and smoke, no good for bombing. So they change course for Nagasaki. When it was used three days later, a jaw droppingly brief time on Nagasaki, the scientists were stunned.
They were completely unprepared for that. I think for them it was just a tragedy beyond anything they could imagine.
The Japanese, despite the Hiroshima bomb, they did not decide to surrender.
Kyoshi Hasegawa, August 7th, the day after the bomb. Japanese are still waiting for the answer of the Soviet government, still pinning their hole for Moscow's mediation.
Their policy doesn't change. They do not surrender.
There were those within the government that implored Hirohito to discuss terms of surrender.
Hirohito is the Japanese emperor and the Japanese take the role of emperor extremely seriously. He's a godlike figure. The preservation of his position is crucial in any surrender. But he kept hoping right through August that Russia might serve as an intermediary for a negotiated peace.
Two days after Hiroshima, the Soviet Union sends its army into Japanese occupied Manchuria and declare war on Japan. The cabinet was dysfunctional. They could not come to any consensus the president is supposed to make a decision and never made a decision. But since the Japanese cabinet could not make a decision for this unprecedented thing happened and the prime minister asks the emperor's decision and emperor decided, OK, I am going to accept the Boston declaration.
By the time the news came through about a second bomb on Nagasaki, the decision had all been made. Listen to Professor Hasegawa.
Explain how the Big Six, a group more powerful than the cabinet, responded to the news of that second bomb. The news of a bomb was relayed when the Big Six meeting was held for the first time of August 9th. And in the middle of a heated discussion, the news of another subject was given to the big six. But it had practically no no effect on the discussion. Like Hiroshima, we still don't have the final death toll from Nagasaki.
We do know that tens of thousands of Japanese citizens were killed instantly. On August 15th, nineteen forty five, for the first time ever, the Japanese hear their emperor speak. We're going north to the north. You're going on. He said the war was over. He never used the word surrender.
Seventy five years. Why? Did we have to wait that long and we still haven't solved that problem? Shortly after. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think it was January nineteen, forty six United Nations met and the first resolution was something to do about. Abolition or elimination of nuclear weapons? That was the very first item they debated and the world agreed and well, we all know what has been happening. We remember Hiroshima as the first city to be destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
Up to now, Nagasaki has been the last. But while countries hold nuclear weapons and threaten their use, there is no way to ensure that humanity won't unleash that deadly power again. My dad grew up in Oak Ridge thinking that all fathers were scientists who never talk about their work. My mom, by contrast, was a budding anti-nuclear activist and founding member of the Chicago Chapter of Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament. She was understandably nervous to be in her boyfriend's father, a retired nuclear scientist.
So she brought some of her activist friends along for moral support. It was nineteen eighty three. They were eager to meet this retired nuclear scientist. This was a passionate intellectual crowd and they had serious questions they wanted to ask about the morality of bombs and about disarmament. George wore a red suspenders stretched tight over his beer belly, and he was unperturbed by their questions. George told them no country should possess nuclear weapons. He thought the U.S. should disarm even if the effort was unilateral.
My mother was stunned. This was a radical position. Even more so given that George had spent his career as a nuclear scientist. She reflected later that he was probably the most anti-nuclear person she had ever met. The story makes me sad because my grandfather never shared these feelings with anyone else and he never acted on them. They stayed buried like so many other secrets. Like the guilt he felt over the way his nuclear work had poisoned the very land he called home with radioactive and toxic chemicals.
My grandfather died six months after that meeting. How can I draw meaning from this life, from his story, how can we all learn from what happened 75 years ago? When Leo Szilard hears the news, there's a rush of emotion, anger that the bomb was dropped, grief for the pain inflicted on the Japanese people and fear of what comes next. He never stopped chasing the ideal of a peaceful future, and he spent the rest of his life wondering whether he had made the right choices, whether he had done enough.
One thing he held true throughout his life was the need for people to know what had happened, for people to understand the choices he and others had made. This turned out not to be so easy in 1960, in a hospital bed in California, Leo Solah told his story to a guy called Albert Rosenfeld.
Yeah, yeah. When that interview was recorded, Sellards petition was still classified. It was still classified. Top secret, 15 years after the bombs had dropped and the war had ended. Nobody could know that the scientists had dissented. The scientists had to do more.
Salade went on to help found a publication called The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists with a twin mission to persuade scientists to become active in policymaking and to educate the public about the perils of nuclear weapons. The publication gave them a way to keep speaking out, to keep sharing what they knew to be heard. They created a symbol, the Doomsday Clock, to show exactly how many minutes to nuclear midnight the world is. Each year, experts meet to discuss and decide how close we are to causing our own annihilation.
After I visited Japan and listened to the testimonies of the hibakusha, after years of digging to uncover my own family's dark legacy, I actually felt better, lighter and freer.
I could both condemn my grandfather's work and have compassion for him as a flawed and limited human who lived and worked in a system that institutionalized secrecy and an unquestioning loyalty to authority.
Unlikelier salad. My grandfather did not make extraordinary choices to step outside of and challenge the systems that built his world. For me, traveling to Hiroshima, telling this story, searching for the truth, is an antidote to the toxicity of secrecy. It's not an end in itself, but an important beginning.
If you stay in your comfortable chair and say nothing, do nothing, that's not going to change. I want you to get busy and change the world so we can have more decent, more just society. Setsuko Thurlow accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 on behalf of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, for which she is a founding member, I can is an international effort advocating for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
It is only when everyday people decide that the costs of nuclear weapons outweigh their benefits, that we can have a future where no one needs to worry about the destroyer of worlds dropping from the sky, where we don't have to stay up nights worrying about who has access to the nuclear codes, where we don't feel the need to create death on an extinction level scale.
Are we prepared to risk another Hiroshima or worse? Leo Szilard was the father of the atomic age and his shadow still lingers, as does his radical imagination and the hope that drove him forward against all odds. Today, the Doomsday Clock stands at one hundred seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. The choice is ours.
The bomb from the BBC World Service is hashtag the bomb on social media, the show was presented by me. Emily Strasser, the producer was Glenn Tansley. Our writer was Azy Smith and her scripts were edited by James Robinson. Title music was composed especially for us by Trevor Gorecki's. Our sound design was by Richard Gould at Skywalker Sound. The program was mixed by Martin Williams with additional sound elements by Louise Whitmore. The production team was William Richards, Amelia Parker, Alice McKee and Amy Will, our series editor was Martin Smith.
And our commissioning editor at the BBC World Service was Simon Pitts'. We'd really appreciate it if you would leave us a rating, a review, wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit our website, BBC World Service, dot com, slash the bottom. What do our most successful innovators think about the inventions they unleashed upon the world, a thousand songs in your pocket, no one ever had that experience before.
Do they like the way it turned out? Do you use GPS? Oh, absolutely. But it dismays me because people are losing their capacity to read maps and do they proud of what it's become.
I looked over at the next table and there was a family and all four of them were sitting there looking at their cell phones. I thought that was terrible.
In our podcast, World Wide Web, teenagers like me get to question the people who invented the tech we take for granted. When did you come up with the idea and what were you doing whenever you thought of it?
That's World Wide Web from the BBC World Service. Are you kidding me? All this math, science and code I've been learning can come together to create worlds and characters and tell stories. And that is like absolutely the coolest thing I've ever heard in my whole life.
Search for a World Wide Web, wherever you get your podcasts.
That is the most thrilling experience of a human being could ever have.