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Photos: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Before and After the Bombs

July 28, 2020 in History

By Madison Horne

Before the 1945 atomic blasts, they were thriving cities—and virgin targets. In a flash, they became desolate wastelands.

In early August 1945, warfare changed forever when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, devastating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing more than 100,000 people. America’s immediate goal was to hasten Japan’s surrender, end World War II and avoid further Allied casualties. But it also wanted to showcase to the world—the Soviet Union in particular—the hugely destructive power of its new technology. The images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki below illustrate that power: what Japan’s Emperor Hirohito called in his statement of surrender “a new and most cruel bomb.”

WATCH: Hiroshima: 75 Years Later premieres Sunday, August 2 at 9/8c.

Hiroshima: Before and After

Satellite view of Hiroshima, Japan

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., the crew of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the first wartime atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, a bustling regional hub that served as an important military communications center, storage depot and troop gathering area. The bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” detonated with an estimated 15,000 tons of TNT, destroying five square miles of the city and directly killing some 70,000 people. Final casualty numbers remain unknown; by the end of 1945, injuries and radiation sickness had raised the death toll to more than 100,000. In subsequent years, cancer and other long-term radiation effects steadily drove the number higher.

The downtown Hiroshima shopping district, c. 1945. After the bombing, only rubble and a few utility poles remained.

A man wheels his bicycle through Hiroshima, days after the city was leveled by the atomic bomb blast. The view here is looking west/northwest, about 550 feet from where the bomb hit.

Looking upriver on the Motoyasu-gawa River, circa 1945.

View of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial with the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome), seen from the bank of the Ota River in Hiroshima, Japan in 1965, 20 years after the atomic bomb blast that destroyed the city center.

Nagasaki: Before and After

Satellite view of Nagasaki, Japan

Three days after the destruction of Hiroshima, another American bomber dropped its payload over Nagasaki, some 185 miles southwest of Hiroshima, at 11:02 a.m. Not the original intended blast site, Nagasaki only became the target after the crew found that city, Kokura, obscured by clouds. The Nagasaki explosive, a plutonium bomb code-named “Fat …read more


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Operation Tidal Wave: U.S. forces attempt risky air raid on Axis oil refineries

July 28, 2020 in History

By Editors

On August 1, 1943, 177 B-24 bombers take off from an Allied base in Libya, bound for the oil-producing city Ploiești, Romania, nicknamed “Hitler’s gas station.” The daring raid, known as Operation Tidal Wave, resulted in five men being awarded the Medal of Honor—three of them posthumously—but failed to strike the fatal blow its planners had intended.

Operation Tidal Wave began ominously, with an overloaded bomber crashing shortly after takeoff and another plunging into the Adriatic Sea. 167 of the original 177 bombers made it to Ploiești, whose oil fields and refineries provided the Germans with over 8.5 million tons of oil per year. Whereas most Allied bombing in …read more


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How the Greensboro Four Sit-In Sparked a Movement

July 28, 2020 in History

By Nadra Kareem Nittle

When four Black students refused to move from a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, nation-wide student activism gained momentum.

On February 1, 1960, four Black college freshmen, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond, sat down at a “whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and politely asked for service. The white waiter refused and suggested they order a take-out meal from the “stand-up” counter. But the students did not budge. The store manager then approached the men, asking them to leave. But they did not move. They also did not give up their seats when a police officer arrived and menacingly slapped his nightstick against his hand directly behind them.

While lunch counter sit-ins had taken place before, the four young men from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University drew national attention to the cause. By simply remaining in their seats peacefully and quietly, they flummoxed the staff and left them unsure on how to enforce their “whites-only” rule. Eventually the manager closed the store early and the men left—with the rest of the customers.

It was a small victory—and one that would build. The Greensboro Four’s efforts inspired a sit-in movement that eventually spread to 55 cities in 13 states. Not only were lunch counters across the country integrated one by one, a student movement was galvanized.

“The sit-ins establish a crucial kind of leadership and organizing of young people,” says Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College political science professor. “They mean that young people are going to be one of the major driving forces in terms of how the civil rights movement is going to unfold.”

WATCH: The Civil Rights Movement on HISTORY Vault

Greensboro Sit-In Took Months of Planning

The Greensboro sit-in wasn’t a random act of rebellion, but the result of months of planning. The students had received guidance from mentor activists and collaborated with students from Greensboro’s all-women’s Bennett College. They also took inspiration from civil rights causes of years earlier, including the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till and the Montgomery bus boycott.

One member of the Greensboro Four, Joseph McNeil, resolved to integrate lunch counters after a 1959 trip to New York, a city where he hadn’t encountered Jim Crow laws. Upon his return to North Carolina, the Greensboro Trailways Bus Terminal Cafe denied him service at its lunch counter, making him determined to fight …read more