06 August 2021

Salt Lakers Reaction to the Atomic Bombs and V-J Day 1945

Today and Sunday, August 6 and 9 are the anniversaries of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

University of Utah Physics professor
Dr. Thomas J. Parmley, Des News 1945-08-07

The reaction of Salt Lakers to this news followed 3 broad sequences as the understanding of the situation unfolded over the next couple weeks. People asked themselves: 1) What is this new technology?; 2) What does it mean for the war?; 3) What does it mean for me?

The first announcement of the bombing was made by President Truman on Aug 6, 16 hours after the bombing of Hiroshima. He specifically identified Hiroshima as “an important Japanese Army base” and he explained the technology staying “It is the atomic bomb. It is harnessing the basic power of the universe.”
The next day, Aug 7, the local newspapers scrambled to explain atomic energy. The Deseret News interviewed #UofU Physics Professor Dr. Thomas J. Parmley (Image 1) but also sought to balance the science with comments from David O. McKay of the LDS Church who said “Let us hope that the discovery of the atomic bomb will result in the ending of all wars, so that nations and people of this world may not be exterminated.”
Illustration of atomic theory, SL Trib Aug 7 1945

By Aug 8 very little seemed to have changed for Americans in the War. The USSR had declared war on Japan but it seemed that the war was going to continue.

Aug 9, news came that a second and larger atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. People were uncertain what this meant for the war. As with Hiroshima, very few details were released to the American public about the bombs, the destruction, and the impact on the Japanese people.

Aug 10, President Truman called on Japan to surrender or be destroyed by atomic bombing saying “We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.”

Although talks of surrender were underway, there was still uncertainty around the war.

It wasn’t until Tues Aug 14 when a Tokyo radio station broadcast Emperor Hirohito’s surrender and headlines ran in the US newspapers with the announcement that Japan Surrenders! (On Aug 15 a ceasefire was formally implemented.)
SL Tribune headline. From SL Trib 1945-08-14

With the headline of “Japan Surrenders!” on the Aug 14, 1945, Salt Lake Tribune, spontaneous celebrations started all along Main Street with Salt Lakers celebrating Victory over Japan (V-J) Day. The official V-J Day would not be declared until Aug 15 but people were just too excited not to celebrate immediately.

Streamers were thrown out of office windows, cars packed downtown with their horns blaring, Strong’s military band played music, and people danced in the street.

On Aug 15, President Truman announced a 2-day national holiday for V-J Day. Celebrations continued but people were also encouraged to attend church services. Most businesses closed for the holiday- including State Liquor stores so as not to encourage rowdiness. 

 V-J Day Celebration in SLC, note Tribune headline.
From UDSH.

Crowds on Main Street, V-J Day Celebration.
From UDSH. 

Crowds on Main Street, V-J Day Celebration.
From UDSH. 

Crowds on Main Street, V-J Day Celebration.
From UDSH. 

 Aug 15 also saw the beginning of the end of wartime rationing. Gasoline and canned fruits/veggies were immediately available without ration cards. In response, Salt Lakers swarmed the local gas stations and people started taking pleasure rides up through the canyons again.
Gasoline rations end. From SL Trib 1945-08-16

Motorists ride through Parleys Canyon, From SL Trib 1945-08-17

Rationing ends on canned fruits From SL Trib 1945-08-16

Once the celebrations subsided people began wondering what the end of the war meant for them personally. A Q&A was printed in the newspapers with Washington DC’s answers to common questions such as when will troops return, when will rationing end, will rent control continue, how will war surplus be distributed, will returning troops get their jobs back, etc. 
The last street car line, From Des News 1945-08-18

Locally, people wondered about their wartime jobs and what would happen with large employers such as Geneva Steel. Northern Utah had experienced an economic boom during WWII with the building of military installations, hospitals, and industrial plants and people wondered without the war dollars would the local economy fall back into a depression.

 One thing was certain, with the war over things were about the change. One of the first anticipated changes of SLC was the elimination of the City’s electric street cars in favor of personal automobiles.

Without the rationing of rubber, gasoline, and metals people could return to using their personal automobiles. Some people specifically commented that they were looking forward to not needing to walk or rely on public transportation anymore.

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