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Editor’s Note: Evidently in recent years historians have discredited the “old” official story about these leaflets (which this piece was based upon). It seems that leaflets were dropped on Hiroshima prior to the atomic bombing, but they were ordinary bomb warnings, they did not allude to the atomic bomb. Atomic warnings may have been dropped on Nagasaki before its destruction but after the Hiroshima event, sources conflict.
Shortly before the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the United Stated showered the Japanese cities of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and 33 other potential targets with over 5 million leaflets warning civilians of the impending attack. In Japanese, the back of the pictured leaflet read:
“Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”
An American-controlled radio station on Saipan was broadcasting a similar message to the Japanese people every 15 minutes. Five days after the fliers were distributed, Hiroshima was destroyed by the “Little Boy” atomic device. Following the first attack, the U.S. air force dropped even more leaflets:
America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet. We are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever devised by man. A single one of our newly developed atomic bombs is actually the equivalent in explosive power to what 2000 of our giant B-29s can carry on a single mission. This awful fact is one for you to ponder and we solemnly assure you it is grimly accurate.
We have just begun to use this weapon against your homeland. If you still have any doubt, make inquiry as to what happened to Hiroshima when just one atomic bomb fell on that city.
Before using this bomb to destroy every resource of the military by which they are prolonging this useless war, we ask that you now petition the Emperor to end the war. Our president has outlined for you the thirteen consequences of an honorable surrender. We urge that you accept these consequences and begin the work of building a new, better and peace-loving Japan.
You should take steps now to cease military resistance. Otherwise, we shall resolutely employ this bomb and all our other superior weapons to promptly and forcefully end the war.
Three days after Hiroshima, the “Fat Man” bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
The distribution of these leaflets, along with the radio broadcasts, does put a dent in the argument that America was unconcerned about the potential civilian deaths as a result of an atomic attack, but the debate over the bombs’ necessity in ending the war will never be truly resolved. Also interestingly, one of the original potential bomb sites was the Japanese Emperor’s Palace, but it was scratched from the list due to its cultural significance.