Remembering Hiroshima . . . and still feeling the heat

We didn't warn the Japanese before we dropped the first atomic bomb because we weren't sure it would work. As originally planned, the first atomic mission was to be a ``split action'' -- simultaneous bombs on Germany and Japan. Germany's early surrender caused the change.

When the second primary target -- Kokura -- was clouded over, the atomic bomb was dumped on Nagasaki.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower let it be known to the Chinese and Russians that we were prepared to use nuclear weapons to bring the Korean war to a conclusion.

These are only a few of the facts uncovered in a startling look backward and forward reported by Walter Cronkite: CBS Reports: Hiroshima Plus 40 Years . . . and Still Counting (CBS, Wednesday, July 31, 8-9 p.m.).

Four decades later, it is still difficult to realize the magnitude of the action taken by President Harry S. Truman when he gave the order to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima as millions of American troops were preparing for an invasion of Japan. According to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, ``We had pretty well written off the first four waves of American troops. . . . It could end the war.''

Writer-producers Burton Benjamin, Walter Pincus, and Bob Blum have provided special correspondent Cronkite with a thoughtful and thought-provoking script which includes interviews with such personages as former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter, former national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, former Secretaries of Defense Robert McNamara and James Schlessinger, and physicist Harold Agnew.

The writers delved deep into previously unplumbed files and have come up with information from recently declassified documents, newly discovered film footage, a Kennedy White House tape recording made during the Cuban missile crisis.

Also appearing is Col. Paul Tibbets, the pilot and commander of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. He says: ``I was convinced that we'd bring the war to a halt, thereby saving many lives. . . . I did what I was told to do. And I have to add this: I have no regrets of doing what I did at that particular time. And I've never lost a night's sleep over it.''

However, many others have lost many nights' sleep over this delicate and uncertain legacy, among them Walter Cronkite, obviously. In this superb survey he explores the nuclear buildup from just about every point of view and considers the pros and cons of nuclear weapons as deterrents. It is a serious, meaningful, and somehow fitting remembrance of Aug. 6, 1945, rather than a celebration.

One of the most vital -- and earthy -- statements on nuclear weapons comes from Dr. Harold Agnew, a nuclear physicist who helped develop the first bomb. ``I'm convinced that unless a person has actually felt the heat . . . from a high-yield multimegaton weapon, the danger of a person saying, `Let's use nuclear weapons' will persist,'' he says. ``Perhaps we ought to have a requirement . . . that leaders of nuclear power states every five years o r so witness in their underwear a nuclear multimegaton detonation.''

``The world was permanently changed in 1945,'' intones Walter Cronkite. ``The very existence of life on earth was made subject to human error, human anger, human frailties -- and human madness.'' However, it is documentaries such as ``Hiroshima Plus 40 Years'' which may help put it into some kind of perspective.

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