At 31,000 feet above Japan, Tom Ferebee sits hunched over his bombsight. Below him lies the primary target of an operation called "Special Mission Number 13" by the few military personnel aware of its existence -- Hiroshima, a city of over 300,000. He waits until the aiming point is directly below the crosshairs and releases his cargo -- a five-ton bomb known as Little Boy by the scientists who built it. If all goes as theorized, the resulting destruction will lead to Japan's surrender and the end of World War II. But right now, a very real question occupies the minds of everyone involved:
Will it work?
The historical record is clear: It did work. On a quiet Monday morning in August 1945, the bomb detonated as expected, resulting in the deaths of nearly 100,000 people.The Japanese Supreme Council surrendered nine days later, after a second bomb, to similarly devastating effect, had leveled Nagasaki. But if, in retrospect, the bombing of Hiroshima represents the climax of one of the signal events of the twentieth century -- indeed, in the history of mankind -- at the time it was but another episode in an unprecedented drama whose final act had begun three weeks earlier, at Los Alamos, a secret laboratory in the high plains of New Mexico.
Shockwave is the story of those terrible three weeks, as seen through the eyes of the pilots, victims, scientists, and world leaders at the center of the drama. Extraordinary interviews with American and Japanese witnesses tell the story of the bombing of Hiroshima with unparalleled immediacy and veracity -- including the story of the copilot, who writes a minute-by-minute diary on board the Enola Gay; the atomic scientist who arms the bomb in midair, equipped with a screwdriver; and the Japanese student desperately searching for his lover in the ruins of the city.
Combining a brilliant gift for storytelling and a keen eye for detail, Walker constructs a shocking and unforgettably moving portrait of an event that changed the world forever.
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Stephen Walker directed the award-winning feature film Prisoners in Time (starring John Hurt) and wrote and directed an Emmy Award–winning BBC documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.From The Washington Post:
Those who revere John Hersey's Hiroshima as a classic piece of reporting about an act unprecedented in human history -- the instantaneous annihilation of tens of thousands of civilians by human agency -- may approach a new book on the subject with lowered expectations. But in Shockwave: Countdown to Hiroshima (HarperCollins, $26.95), Stephen Walker has painted on a larger canvas, beginning this tale of both ghastly destruction and a gamble to end a protracted war by visiting the site in the New Mexico desert where the atomic bomb was first tested. From then on, he switches back and forth from the United States to the doomed Japanese city, from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo to the so-called "Little White House" near Potsdam, Germany, where President Harry Truman got a briefing on the new weapon's progress in late July 1945.
In Hiroshima, Walker zeroes in on the experience of a soldier named Toshiaki Tanaka. Separated from his wife and child by his military duties when the bomb fell, Tanaka went searching for them the next day but knew there was no hope once he found a neighbor, recognizable only by a telltale belt buckle he had worn. Then Tanaka saw "two figures, like charcoal sticks, fused together on the ground, facing what was once the doorway [to the family-owned liquor store]. One of the figures was much smaller than the other, a tiny, shapeless bundle pressed against the other's back, as if somehow clinging to it. He knew immediately this was his wife and baby daughter.
"He stood perfectly still, staring at them. Despite the terrible burns their bones stood out. They were extraordinarily white. He could not understand how it was possible they were so white. He bent down beside them. Then he picked up the bones, placing them one by one in his handkerchief. . . . He walked out into the street that no longer existed and took the bones of his wife and child all the way back to the barracks in Ujina. There he placed them, still in their handkerchief, on a shelf above his bed in his quarters. It was the only home he had left."
Countdown to Hiroshima
Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
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